Grizedale Hall

The remains of Grizedale Hall, near Satterthwaite featured in a recent edition of the BBC's Countryfile program and I was intrigued by its brief history. This 40 room mansion was built in 1903, sold to the Forestry Commission in 1936, requisitioned by the government in 1939 for use as a prisoner-of war-camp, returned to the Forestry Commission after the war, and demolished in 1957. A short life for a grand building.

I wanted to find out who built the Hall and their associated family history. I started with the 1911 census to see who was living there at the time. The head of the household was Harold Brocklebank, a 57 year old merchant and shipowner who was also a JP (Jutice of the Peace). He had been born about 20 miles away in the village of Irton. Also living in Grizedale Hall were Harold's wife Mary Ellen, their two daughters, and a dozen servants including housemaids, kitchen staff, footmen, and lady's maids. Looking at the birth places of the servants I was surprised to see that only one of them had been born locally. The others came from such diverse places as Wick in the far north of Scotland, Wales, London, Bristol, and the North East of England.

I found Harold's birth recorded as 24 November 1853. He was the third son of Sir Thomas Brocklebank 1st Baronet, and Anne Robinson. Coincidentally, Harold's father Thomas' birthday was also 24 November, he was born in 1814. Thomas' Baronetcy was created in 1885 and his official title was '1st Baronet Brocklebank, of Greenlands and Irton Hall, Cumberland'. However at birth, Thomas' surname was Fisher. He was the son of Wilson Fisher and Anne Brocklebank. He remained Thomas Fisher until 1845.

Further research led me to the National Archives website where I found the origins of what is claimed to be one of the oldest merchant shipping firms in the world. The founder was Captain Daniel Brocklebank who grew up in the village of Morland. After emigrating to America and then returning, he started a shipbuilding business at Whitehaven in 1785. Ten years later his fleet had grown to eleven vessels. Daniel died in 1801 and his sons Thomas and John took over the business which became T & J Brocklebank. Thomas moved to Liverpool in 1819 and subsequently opened an office there while John remained in Whitehaven to run the shipyard.

John tragically died in 1831. He fell from his horse while trying to avoid a small child who had run into his path. In the same year a 17 year old Thomas Fisher moved to Liverpool to assist his uncle in the family business. He was made a partner in the firm in 1843. By this time the fleet had grown to fifty vessels.

In 1845 Thomas Brocklebank died and one of the conditions of his will was that Thomas Fisher must legally change his surname to Brocklebank, which he did. In a momentous three years Thomas had been made a partner in the family business, married (1844), changed his name and become head of the firm. Over a period of time the firm of Brocklebanks was taken over by Cunard. Later generations of Brocklebanks continued to be directors of Cunard, one of them being chairman in the early 1960s.

All of which has little to do with Grizedale Hall, except that it reveals hidden facts that lie behind what remains of the Hall. A fascinating history of a Cumbrian family who once helped Great Britain to rule the waves.

quill cumbria life magazine