1569 was just another year in the turbulent history of England. But all was not well in the realm of Elizabeth 1 in the eleventh year of her reign. Catholic magnates continued to plot against her, hoping to install her Catholic half-sister Mary Queen of Scots in her place. A year before, after suffering a military defeat at the Battle of Langside, Mary had landed in Workington, Cumberland, but been taken prisoner by Richard Lowther, who was forced to hand her over in Carlisle, from where she was taken to imprisonment in Bolton Castle.
The two leading northern magnates plotting against Elizabeth were Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland, and Charles Neville, 6th Earl of Westmorland. They were encouraged in their schemes by the Cumberland lord Leonard Dacre, who would later betray them. In November 1569, Percy and Neville rebelled. They wrote to Queen Elizabeth:
We, Thomas, Earl of Northumberland, and Charles, Earl of Westmorland, the Queen’s true and faithful subjects, to all that came of the old Catholic Religion, know ye that we, with many other well-disposed persons, as well of the Nobility as others, have promised our Faith to the Furtherance of this our good meaning. Forasmuch as divers disordered and well-disposed persons about the Queen’s Majesty, have, by their subtle and crafty dealings to advance themselves, overcome in this Realm, the true and Catholic Religion towards God, and by the same abused the Queen, disordered the Realm, and now lastly seek and procure the destruction of the Nobility; We, therefore, have gathered ourselves together to resist by force, and the rather by the help of God and you good people, to see redress of these things amiss, with the restoring of all ancient customs and liberties to God’s Church, and this noble Realm; lest if we should not do it ourselves, we might be reformed by strangers, to the great hazard of the state of this our country, whereunto we are all bound. God save the Queen.
Their revolt is often called rather misleadingly the Rising of the North. The alternative name The Revolt of the Northern Earls is more apt. They hoped to put Mary on the throne. With their retainers they marched on Durham and then south to Bramham Moor. ‘Elizabeth struggled to raise forces sufficient to confront them. But hearing of a large force being raised by the Earl of Sussex the rebels abandoned plans to besiege York and captured Barnard Castle instead. They proceeded to Clifford Moor, but found little popular support. Sussex marched out from York on 13 December 1569 with 7,000 men against the rebels’ 4,600, and was followed by 12,000 men under Baron Clinton. The rebel earls retreated northward and finally dispersed their forces, fleeing into Scotland’. Percy was hung for treason in 1672, while Neville died in poverty in Flanders.
But this is not a story of political and religious plots, counter-plots and battles, fascinating though those are. Here I want to tell a more prosaic tale. It’s about the little-known history of early industry in England. How German miners and smelters brought modern techniques to England and how rural Cumbrian ‘bauern’ (farmers) were drawn into the venture – usually as suppliers to the more advanced Germans. Queen Elizabeth played a pivotal role in this development, as did, in a negative sense, Thomas Percy, Earl of Northumberland, and as did, in a different way, Leonard Dacre, in his efforts to inherit the barony of Greystoke. But we can also find on the periphery of all this dozens of simple Cumbrian folk, including members of the Matterdale Grisdale clan. Maybe the juxtaposition of national political events, industrial history and one local family might be worth telling?
Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, had made several attempts to modernize mining and metal extraction/working in England; from which he might derive more money, on top of what he had earlier expropriated through the dissolution of the monasteries. Elizabeth also had made various attempts to attract the industrially advanced Germans to come to England to develop a mining and smelting industry. She hoped to be able to find gold with which to rival the huge gold bonanza being reaped by England’s enemy Spain from her new colonies in South America. Prior to 1564 this was all to no avail. But in that year Elizabeth granted the rights to exploit her ‘royal monopoly’ to an Augsburg firm:
On 10 December 1564, an indenture was made by the Queen on one part, and Thomas Thurland and Daniel Hoechstetter on the other, by which these two were empowered to search, dig, try, roast, and melt all manner of mines and “ures” of gold, silver, copper, and quicksilver, in the counties of York, Lancaster, Cumberland, Westmorland, Cornwall, Devon, Gloucester, and Worcester, and in Wales. The Queen was to have one-tenth of native gold and silver, and one-tenth of gold and silver ore holding 8 lbs. weight in the cwt.; of every cwt. of copper, 2s., or one-twentieth during the first five years, and afterwards 2s. 6d. or one-fifteenth; “and too have the preferment in bying of all Pretious stones or pearls to be found in the woorking of these mines”; also rights over tin and lead.
Daniel Hoechstetter was acting as agent for David Haug, Hans Langnauer & Co., of Augsburg. They were, writes W. G. Collingwood in his Elizabethan Keswick, Extracts from the Original Account Books, 1564-1577, of the German Miners in the Archives of Augsburg (1912), ‘already great dealers in silks, cloths, and draperies, in groceries and the spices of the East Indies, and like other wealthy business men of the time, in banking and bill discounting. They had widespread branches, reaching from Venice to Antwerp and from Cracow to Lyons; and though not originally interested in mines, they had recently taken over from the successor of the famous Augsburg house of the Fuggers the control of the copper mines of Neusohl in Northern Hungary. One of their branches was at Schwatz, in Tyrol, near Innsbruck, a celebrated mining centre, where silver, copper, and iron were produced ; and we find… that it was from Schwatz that some of the first miners were sent by them to England’.
German surveyors and mining experts arrived in Cumberland and soon started to find sites where they believed the mining of copper, gold, silver and lead could profitably be started. German managers continually informed Queen Elizabeth of their progress. In April 1565 Hoechstetter had invented a new engine for draining mines, patented in 1568, and he applied for the “privilege of waterworks”, offering to form a company and allot shares. The Queen ‘excused the Company from royalties until work should be established’. And after silver was found in copper ore she ‘gave leave to fell timer in her woods’ and to ‘apprehend disorderly persons employed by them’.
In August 1566, a very rich mine was discovered at Newlands, later to be called the Goldscope mine. Thomas Percy, the earl of Northumberland and lord of the local manor, stopped the Germans working by force but only after 600,000 lbs. of ore had been raised. In October Hoechstetter wrote that the Germans had been ‘ill-treated by the English workmen’. ‘He said that Leonard Stoultz had been murdered by one Fisher and his accomplices.’ This information was passed to the Queen, who, ever desirous to gain a profit from the venture, wrote to Lord Scrope, the Lord Warden of the Western Marches, and to the Justices of the Peace of Westmorland and Cumberland, ‘bidding them repress the assaults, murders, and outrages on the Almain (German) miners lately come there for the purpose of searching for and working minerals’.
Early the next year William Cecil, Elizabeth’s chief adviser and Secretary of State, together with the earls of Pembroke and Leicester wrote to the earl of Northumberland ‘requiring him to allow Thurland and Hoechstetter, or their assigns, to carry away ore dug at Newlands’. The Queen herself also commanded Northumberland to ‘offer no further obstruction to the miners at Newlands’, and that ‘any lawful claim he may have in the minerals shall be reserved to him’. But the earl thought that any minerals found at Newlands belonged to him. He had, he wrote to the Queen ‘ascertained beyond doubt that the minerals dug at Newlands belong to him only, and that the workers are trespassing on his land’. He requested the Queen, the Lord Treasurer, Sir Walter Mildmay, Lord Chief Baron, and other Barons of the Exchequer, ‘that the injunction respecting the ore dug on his land at Newlands may be dissolved’. The stand-off dragged on and it was important who won because Northumberland’s opposition to Queen Elizabeth wasn’t just about religion, it was about money as well! In September of 1567 Thurland could write to the Queen that they ‘had at length attained to the making of fine and perfect copper’. He sent a specimen. He added that ‘they only want workmen’ and that ‘they desire a conclusion between the Queen and Northumberland’. Collingwood commented wryly on the Earl of Northumberland’s rebellion: ‘Next year Northumberland led the hasty and fatal Rising of the North, and escaped only into prison in Scotland. But it is interesting to observe that while he was plotting against Queen Elizabeth, and planning to put Queen Mary on the throne, he was letting his woods on Derwentwater to the Royal Company for their building purposes and selling them charcoal..’
On May 25th 1568, the Charter for the Governors, Assistants, and Commonalty of the Mines Royal was signed; authorizing the election of two governors, four deputy-governors, and six assistants…
In October 1568, the Earl wrote to William Cecil requesting ‘a final answer whether he is to have a reasonable composition for the mines or not; otherwise he must assert his right and title to them’. The argument was finally and definitively settled when: ‘The matter went before all the judges and the barons of the Exchequer. It was decided by a majority that as there was more gold and silver in these mines than copper and lead the Queen was within her rights in claiming them ; and this remained the leading case regarding Royal rights in mines until the time of William III.’
All this palaver had not stopped the Germans from continuing their work: digging the mines and building smelters at Keswick. The ore from Newlands was carried over to the shores of Lake Derwentwater and then transferred by boat to Keswick. Pretty soon nearly a dozen mines had been dug in the area; at, for example, Borrowdale, Stonycroft, Fornside, Grasmere, Newlands, Minersputt, and Buttermere. Keswick itself became the smelting centre. ‘The woodlands in the area were decimated to provide charcoal, needed for fuel in the smelting process.’ With a great deal of belief in the benefits of ‘progress’, a later writer wrote: ‘Although the valleys were denuded of trees… prosperity was brought to many whose previous existence had been limited to scraping a living from fell farming or simple rural trades’; a debatable view at best.
Ian Tyler writes: ‘In 1569, the acquisition of Derwent Island by the Company of Mines Royal provided the miners with somewhere safe to live and form a community. At 250 yards long and 170 wide, the island soon became a veritable German colony, with its own bakery, pigsty, windmill and orchard. Evidence is too scanty to prove that the miners moved to the island because of hostility from local people, however having an area to themselves must have relieved tension between the two groups.’
Most of the mining and smelting work was undertaken by the skilled Germans, although Englishmen were later employed as well. In general the English were used as fetchers and ‘carriers’. The surviving Augsburg account books of the Company, translated and edited by Collingwood, list all the payments made for such things as carpentry, wood and boards, smithy and iron, tallow, charcoal, stone coal, building, sacking and the carriage of peat and many more necessary industrial supplies. The names of the English (and German) workmen and carriers are listed as well. There are dozens of local English names, a veritable catalogue of local Cumberland families in the sixteenth century. Just one of these families (and not the most important) were the Grisdales of Matterdale.
Once the mines and the smelters were fully up and running in 1569, we find a certain John Grysdall mentioned twice. In the August 1569 accounts – the Germans did accounts seven times a year- John is listed as a ‘peat carrier’. He received payment for delivering 3 hundred (loads) of peat from ‘Flasco’ (present-day Flaska near Troutbeck in the north of Matterdale) to the copper smelter at Keswick. He did the same again later in the year. And in 1571 an Edward Gristal (Grisdale) of Threlkeld was also paid as a peat carrier for deliveries from Flasco.
In the middle of 1567 the Company began keeping its own carts and horses, for building and for carriage of special articles close to Keswick; but this did not supersede the use of English packhorses for charcoal, peat, ore, and a little later for stone-coal.
While one can imagine why charcoal was needed for the smelting of ore, what was the peat for? Chemistry, Society, and Environment: A New History of the British Chemical Industry (ed. Colin A. Russell et al, Royal Society, 2000) explains:
Copper ore was mined and smelted at Brigham, near Keswick in Cumberland, under the auspices of the Company of Mines royal… The sulphide ores used at Keswick were subjected to preliminary roasting to burn off excess sulphur, and then treated with nine horseloads of peat and five horseloads of ‘stone coals’ (a horseload was equivalent to 109 litres). Limestone was added as a flux and after smelting a matte or “green stock” was run off. Subsequently, about eight days’ recovery of matte was roasted with six peat fires, each hotter than the last, to produce “copper stone” or “black copper”. This was smelted once a month to give “rough copper”, and involved three separate smelting with lead ore to extract the silver from the copper matte. This process of making copper at Keswick took eighteen weeks and five days.
So that’s all clear then!
Do we know anything more of the ‘peat carriers’ John and Edward Grysdall? Maybe a little, but not much. Unlike the rich and powerful, our records of ordinary people are scant. Matterdale’s parish records don’t start until the early 1630s. The church itself was only founded in 1580 at the request of the people of Matterdale, due to the difficulty in bad winter weather in reaching the parish church in Greystoke to bury their dead and baptize their children. Yet there are in fact quite a few records of the Grisdales of Matterdale in the sixteenth century. There are the very incomplete records of births, marriages and deaths of Greystoke (which continued to be used frequently by Matterdale residents even after they had a local church). There are various surviving wills and there are a few mentions of the Grisdale family as free tenants of the barony of Greystoke going back to 1524. Also, when the local militia was called out in 1581, nine Grisdale ‘bowmen’ of military age from Matterdale turned up in Penrith: John, William, Christopher, Robert, Edward, Richard and three named Thomas.
In the vast majority of cases the sixteenth-century Grisdales are listed as living in Dowthwaite Head. Clearly this was where the family had originally settled. Around the time that John and Edward Grysdall were lugging peat on their packhorses from Penrith to the smelters at Keswick, we find Robert, Christopher, Edward, Thomas, Richard and two John Grisdales, all with one exception living at Dowthwaite Head. The one exception is of great interest.
We find Jane the wife of John ‘Grysdell’ of Dowthwaite Head being buried at Greystoke church in 1575, and his daughter Janet buried at the same place in 1576. This John himself was also buried in Greystoke on 4 June 1579. This might be our ‘peat carrier’ of 1569. But there is another possibility. On 8 May 1568, the unnamed wife of John Grysdell of ‘the Hollesse of Matterdale’ was buried at Greystoke and his son ‘Rolland son of John Grysdell of Matterdale’ was buried there in 1573. So there were obviously two John Grisdales alive at the time. This John of ‘the Hollesse’ left a will in 1581. It’s interesting to note that this is the first mention of ‘the Hollesse’ in reference to the Grisdale clan. This farm was later called ‘Hollas’ or ‘the Hollas’ and is today called the ‘Hollows’. The Hollas Grisdales were certainly related to the main branch in Douthwaite Head, though the precise relationship is lost beyond reconstruction. The Hollas family included one of the first ‘clerks’, or curates, of Matterdale Church, another John, and, later, a certain Wilfred Grisdale who made his fortune as a brewer in London and became a ‘lord of the manor’ near Cockermouth.
What about the Edward Grysdall, the Threlkeld peat carrier of 1571? He was most likely an Edward Grisdale who had recently moved from Dowthwaite Head to nearby Threlkeld. His wife was buried in Greystoke Church in 1561 and two of his children were also buried there in 1563 and 1569, all said to be of Dowthwaite Head.
For some time the Keswick smelters continued to thrive under their excellent German management. More Germans arrived and more English were employed. Despite the initial antagonism, the English and Germans married and merged. Yet in 1670 Sir Daniel Fleming wrote: ‘The smelting-houses were so many that they looked like a little town, yet now there is but one house.’ In 1675 Edmund Sandford wrote: ‘Heer was the bravest water mille of the dutch invented. Daniel and Manuell came from bejond seas in Queen Elizabeths Time for the smelting and fining of Copper Ore, gott in the mountains heer about ; but now the woods are gone and the work decayed.’
What had become of the Keswick smelting works? I’ll let Collingwood explain in his own inimitable words:
In 1604, James I granted a charter confirmatory to the Company, including the names of Emanuel and Daniel, sons of the late Daniel Hechstetter. The Keswick mines survived them both, though Joseph, son of Emanuel, lived to see the wreck of the Smelthouses, which he managed in his turn, at the Civil Wars. It is usually said that this was perpetrated in 1651 by Cromwell’s army on the march from Edinburgh to Worcester. But General Lambert’s troops took Penrith in June, 1648, and Colonel Ashton’s forces came in September of that year to raise the siege of Cockermouth Castle. There were several opportunities, without casting the usual blame on Cromwell, for Parliament men to attack the headquarters of a royal monopoly. How far it deserved attack is quite another matter.
But just before the destruction of the Keswick smelters another tragedy hit the town. The Plague struck. It broke out in May 1646 and over the next few months it claimed hundreds of lives in this small town. Those who died included, in the space of 12 days, six members of the Grisdale family. But that’s another story.
The introduction in Elizabethan times of modern German mining and metal smelting technology into Cumberland (and indeed in to England as a whole) certainly added to the almost total deforestation of the present-day Lake District. This started when the Norse-Irish Vikings arrived in the tenth century and accelerated considerably when large-scale upland sheep farming granges were established by the Norman priories in the century or so following the Conquest of 1066 and the Norman takeover of Cumberland in 1092. The area around Derwentwater was particularly affected. In 1777, Joseph Nicholson and Richard Burn rhapsodized in their History and Antiquities of the Counties of Westmorland and Cumberland about:
Sacred woods and groves, which had for ages shaded the shores and promontories of that lovely lake. Where the rude axe with heaved stroke was never heard the nymphs to daunt. Or fright them from their hallowed haunt.
We have moved from the great fight for the religion and governance of England between Elizabeth 1 and Mary Queen of Scots, through the rebellion of the Catholic English earls and the beginning of German-inspired industry, to some simple Cumbrian peat carriers. One final link is worth noting. Leonard Dacre, who had conspired with the northern earls to overthrow Queen Elizabeth, was a member of the family that had become the barons of Greystoke in the very early 1300s when the original Norse lineage founded by Forne Sigulfson had died out. Matterdale has always been a part of the barony of Greystoke. Leonard was very unhappy when his nephew George Dacre had accidentally died as a child on 17 May 1569 by the fall off a wooden vaulting-horse.
George was then in ward to Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, and his three sisters, co-heiresses to his estates, were married to the three sons of their guardian, the Duke of Norfolk. Leonard Dacre felt angry and slighted that a large patrimony should legally descend to his nieces.
On the outbreak of the rebellion of 1569, Dacre went to court, and Queen Elizabeth, although she had heard that he had been secretly associated with the rebel earls, saw him at Windsor. He professed himself to be a faithful subject, and returned to the north avowedly as an adherent of Elizabeth, but really with the intention of joining the rebels. Their disorderly flight from Hexham convinced him that their cause was desperate. He therefore tried to consolidate a position, seized Greystoke Castle and other houses belonging to the Dacre family, and fortified Naworth Castle as his own inheritance. Under pretence of protecting his own and resisting the rebels, he gathered together three thousand troops, borderers and Dacre loyalists.
And a few of these 3,000 troops were no doubt members of the Grisdale family of Matterdale. It’s a long story, but eventually Dacre’s troops fought Elizabeth’s loyalist forces at Naworth in 1570. Elizabeth forces were ‘outnumbered by a factor of two, but charged Dacre’s foot with… cavalry, killed between three and four hundred of the rebels, and took between two and three hundred prisoners. Dacre escaped’. He died in poverty in Brussels in 1573. The barony of Greystoke passed to the Howard family, the Dukes of Norfolk.