Posts Tagged ‘Wythburn’

‘Wythburn’s modest house of prayer, / as lowly as the lowliest dwelling.’ – William Wordsworth in The Waggoner

Most of the farm and buildings in Wythburn were flooded in the late nineteenth century when Thirlmere reservoir was created to supply water for Manchester, only the chapel and one farm remain, the rest is under water or has been demolished.  In 1768 a young Joseph Grisdale was already a ‘husbandsman’ there. This Joseph farmed at Wythburn for at least the next twenty years and had six children there with his first wife Sarah Graves, who he married in Crosthwaite (Keswick) church in 1773. The second of these children was the Joseph Grisdale (born 1778) who would go on to farm at Orrest Head near Windermere (see here).

Wythburn Valley by Joe Hush

Wythburn Valley by Joe Hush

In 1894 when the work on the reservoir was just finished, the famous Canon Rawnsley wrote about Wythburn church’s bell:



We have come “over t’ Raaise Gap” now (Dunmail Raise). We are in Manchester at the Lakes. … That brand-new bell and its brand-new belfry of the little Wythburn Church is a bit of Manchester work … For how many years the little bell had hung in its simple cobble-stone rough-cast belfry at Wythburn Chapel one cannot say.

In a moment, at the bidding of new lords of the soil, the rough old things are demolished; replaced by something spick, span, and new. One almost wishes the good fairies would take away in the night the well-dressed stones and build up again that queer old cobble belfry; one would forgive the parish clerk, if next Sunday he should be found as his fore-elder in the office at Wythburn was once found, “astride of the roof-ridge waiting to give the ‘third ring’ to call the worshippers to prayer.” On asking that clerk of olden time why he was perched roof-high, his answer to the Wythburn priest was, “O Sir, Jemmy Hawkrigg brak yan o’ his car reapps tudder day i’ t’ hayfield, and they gat t’ bell reapp an’s forgitten to bring ‘t back ageaan, seah I’ve been fworst to git up on t’ riggin and ring wi’ my hands, and I thowt it was neah use comin’ doun ageaan between time and I’se stoppan to give t’ third round and than I’se be wi’ ye.”

Also threatened by the dam was ‘The Rock of Names’, on which Wordsworth had written:

O thought of pain / That would impair it or profane! / And fail not thou loved Rock! to keep / Thy charge when we are laid asleep.

The rock was on the right hand side of the old road, now submerged, and on it were carved the initials:

W.W. (William Wordsworth).

M.H. (Mary Hutchinson).

D.W. (Dorothy Wordsworth).

S.T.C. (Samuel Taylor Coleridge).

J.W. (John Wordsworth).

S.H. (Sarah Hutchinson).

‘As the rock could not be saved from submergence, various applications were made to the Corporation of Manchester for leave to remove it, and ultimately it was agreed to allow it to be taken to the Wordsworth Institute, Cockermouth. In attempting to do this, however, it went to pieces – it was blown up by the workmen making the dam. The fragments containing the initials were preserved, and have been built into a cairn on the solid base of the mountain, at a point above the new road diversion, in a line with the rock from which they were taken. This was done by persons in the neighbourhood.’ So wrote Philip Wilson in the 1890s. Later, in the 1980s, they were removed to the Wordsworth Museum at Dove cottage in Grasmere.

The Rock of Names

The Rock of Names

Wythburn church

Wythburn church

Joseph Grisdale the eighteenth-century Wythburn farmer was the son of a Matterdale-born ‘Waller’ also called Joseph who was born in Dowthwaite Head, Matterdale in 1704. As a Waller he moved around a lot. He married twice and lived in Martindale and then in Dacre. Our Wythburn Joseph was born around 1748 or slightly earlier, and was most likely the son of ‘Waller’ Joseph Grisdale and his second wife Mary Sisson, who were married in Barton church in Westmorland (on the east side of Ullswater) in 1738. When his father Joseph died in Bald End How in Matterdale (to where he had returned in old age) in 1768, his Letters of Administration mention his son Joseph a ‘husbandsman in Wythburn’.

When Joseph’s mother Mary (nee Sisson) died aged seventy-seven in 1781 in Matterdale, she refers to a number of children in her Will, namely, Joseph, John, Jane, Ann, Mary, Martha and Sally. She also refers to her ‘step-daughter’ Betty Otley, who was born to Joseph Grisdale, the Waller, and his first wife Agnes Lancaster in Martindale in 1737.

Dacre on Ullswater where many of Joseph the Waller's children were boirn

Dacre on Ullswater where many of Joseph the Waller’s children were boirn

Joseph and Sarah had six children, all baptized in Wythburn Chapel. When Sarah died in 1788 aged forty, Joseph married Betty Gately the next year in Crosthwaite parish church.

It’s most likely that Joseph then took his family to farm in Langdale because we find several mentions of a Joseph Grisdale farming there in 1798.

wyhtburn wiborn 1760

Wythburn (Wiborn) in 1760

wythburn 1800

‘Withburn’ in 1800


wythburn sheepfold

Wythburn sheepfold


one wythburn farm

One unsubmerged Wythburn farm



I thought I’d try something a little different. Over the next few weeks I’ll try to tell just a little about one long line of Grisdales who farmed for centuries in different parts of the Lake District. As there are few documents or interesting anecdotes, I’ll do this by focussing on their farms and by using photographs and paintings to give an impression of the places they lived and worked. Towards the end I’ll give a few genealogical pointers. Let’s start with Orrest Head Farm near Windermere.

Orrest Head lies just a mile or so up a hill from the village of Windermere in Westmorland. When you get to the top on a clear day there is a wonderful panorama over the lake of Windermere and to the high Langland Pikes on the other side. In 1930 the great Lakeland walker and writer Alfred Wainwright first visited the Lake District from his home in Blackburn. Leaving the train at Windermere he climbed the path that starts just outside the station and goes to Orrest Head. He wrote later in his autobiography:

Suddenly, we emerged from the trees and were on a bare headland, and, as though a curtain had dramatically been torn aside, beheld a truly magnificent view…

‘So enchanted was he by the views of fells and lakes that they changed his life.’ Eventually he was able to move to the Lakes and started to write his pictorial guides.

Orrest Head Farm

Orrest Head Farm

In the nineteenth century just before one got to the viewpoint there were a few farms. One rather unsurprisingly was, and still is, called Orrest Head Farm. For a great part of the mid nineteenth century the tenant farmer there was called Joseph Grisdale. Actually the farm had two houses; in one lived the wealthy ‘squire’ John Braithwaite with some servants – Braithwaite owned the farm – and in the other lived Joseph Grisdale with his family, who actually farmed the land – which meant mostly sheep rearing.

The BBC visited the farm in 1986 and wrote:

A typical farmer’s day at Orrest Head  farm will depend on the time of year.  Throughout the year he will get up at 6.30 a.m. to milk the cows and then have his breakfast at 8.30 a.m. In spring, much of his day will be spent  with the new lambs. Most of them are left outside and only those which are ill or without a mother are brought in to the warmth of the farm. Once they are strong enough, they rejoin the flock.

In summer, hay and silage making are the main tasks; often he does not get to bed until 1.0 a.m. In autumn he is mainly concerned with selling the lambs at the local market in Kendal, while in winter, all the repair work around the farm is undertaken, such as mending the miles of drystone walls  and repairing broken fencing.

John Braithwaite was a local worthy and benefactor of Windermere church. When he died in 1854 a memorial inscription was placed in the church:

John Braithwaite of Orrest Head in 1846 by William Bowness

John Braithwaite of Orrest Head in 1846 by William Bowness

In memory of John Braithwaite of Orrest Head Esquire, whose love of God and man prompted him to munificent acts in furtherance of education and religion, this monument is erected by friends and neighbours desirous to record their grateful sense of his benefactions and their esteem for his virtues. A sound understanding, kindly affections and firm integrity were united in him with a singular modesty, and rendered him, both in public and in private, useful, be- loved, and respected. For the benefit of the poor around him he added at his private cost an aisle to St. Mary’s chapel, Birthwaite; and dying on the 1st of March A.D. 1854 left the endowments herewith inscribed to promote the improved education of youth in this and adjacent parishes. His mortal remains are interred on the south outside this church in which he was for many years a devout and constant worshipper; his whole life bearing witness that he was a sincere, a humble, and a faithful Christian. Bequests of Mr. Braithwaite £2000 to the trustees of the endowed school, Bowness, the annual proceeds to be applied as an exhibition to St. John’s College, Cambridge, tenable for four years by a youth born in Applethwaite or Undermillock, educated two years in the said school and nominated by a majority of the trustees thereof; and during vacancy of exhibition, in any manner for the benefit of the said school, or of any youth or youths under the age of twenty five years who shall have been educated thereat, according to the discretion of the said trustees. £1200 to the same; the annual proceeds of one moiety to be applied towards the salary of an undermaster of the boys, of the other moiety to be applied to the salary of the mistress of the girls. £1000 to the trustees of the school for Great and Little Langdale; £1000 – for Troutbeck; £1000 -at Birthwaite ; £1000 at Ings. In the last four cases the annual proceeds to be applied as an increase to the salary of the master or otherwise for the benefit of the school according to the discretion of the respective trustees. The above bequests were left free of legacy duty.

At the time of Braithwaite’s death Joseph Grisdale had lived alongside him at Orrest Head Farm for about thirty years. In the same church there is a much more modest memorial to the first wife of one of Joseph’s sons called Jerimiah:

Sacred memory of Elizabeth Wife of Jeremiah Grisdale of Orrest -Head who died February 24th 1839 Aged 24. Weep not for me my Husband dear, I am not dead but sleeping here; My Glass is run, My Grave you see, Prepare for Death, and follow me.

Modern Painting of view towards farms at Orrest Head

Modern Painting of view towards farms at Orrest Head

Joseph Grisdale was born in Wythburn in Cumberland in 1778 the son of farmer Joseph Grisdale and his wife Sarah Graves. The family of course originally came from Matterdale and we can trace it with certainty back to 1600 if not before. I might return to Joseph the Wythburn farmer at a later date. It’s possible that after the death of his wife Sarah in 1788 Joseph senior moved with the family to the Grasmere area of Westmorland. Whatever the case it was in Grasmere church that son Joseph married a local farming girl called Margaret Coward in 1803.

At first Joseph and his wife Margaret farmed or worked on a farm somewhere nearby; I believe in Langdale. Then they moved to farm in Staveley near Kendal before finally arriving at Orrest Head Farm in about 1824; they had already had ten children and three more were soon to be born at Orrest Head. I’ll follow their second son John, born in Grasmere in 1806, in the next article. He farmed in the higher mountains at Stool End Farm in Langdale.

Just before his death Joseph moved to the Westmorland village of Crook where he died in 1861 aged eighty-three.

For Joseph’s father Joseph see here. For his son John see here.

Here are some more photographs and paintings of Orrest Head.



Orrest Head Large

View in winter


view from orrest head by robin lowry

view from orrest head by robin lowry


Windermere. from Oorrest Head - James BakerPyne. Lithograph by W Gauci

Windermere. from Orrest Head – James Baker Pyne. Lithograph by W Gauci