Legends of the Three Shires

A collection of myths and legends from Cheshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire



The Grimsditch Griffin

Summary

An early member of the Grimsditch family, of Grimsditch, near Whitley, in Cheshire, killed a griffin, an act which is preserved in the family coat of arms. This coat of arms rather curiously depicts the knight lying on his back with the griffin on top of him, but legend assures us that he was ultimately the victor.

Sources

The Grimsditch rises at Grimsditch, passes by Preston, Daresbury, and Kekwich; and falls into the Mersey.


Daniel Lysons, Magna Britannia; Being a Concise Topographical Account of the Several Counties of Great Britain, Volume 2, T. Cadell and W. Davies, London, 1810, p 422

Sure I am, that Thomas Tuschet was lord of Nether Whitley in the reign of Henry the Third, as appears by the original deed of Grimsdich in Nether Whitley, now in possession of Grimsdich of Grimsdich, 1666. Lib. C. fol. 189. f. in these words:


Sciant omnes prsesentes et futuri, quod ego Thomas Tuschet dedi—Adae filio Hugonis de Grimsdich pro homagio et servitio suo totam terram de Grimsdich pertinentem ad villam de Witeleigh, cum metis et divisionibus suis.


[…]

Grimsdich Hall in this township is now by purchase the property of Thomas Grimsdich of Macclesfield, esq. The direct male line of the antient proprietors, the Grimsdiches of Grimsdich, continued in possession of this place, until the beginning of the last centuryb. It has experienced several successive alienations.


b In Sir Peter Leycester’s Tabley MSS. Lib. C. is an abstract of the antient deeds of this family (189 – 197.) extracted in 1649 from the originals then remaining with John Grimsdich of Grimsdich. The arms were singular, Azure, a griffin Or, about to tear, and ramping upon, a warrior completely armed in plate armour, laid in bend dexter, across the lower part of the shield.


George Ormerod, History of the County Palatine and City of Chester Volume 1, London, 1819, p 488

Grimsdiche, [Grimsditch, Ches.] vert a griffin or, armed gu. seizing on a man, in armour complete, lying on his back ppr.


Thomas Robson The British Herald; Or, Cabinet of Armorial Bearings of the Nobility & Gentry of Great Britain & Ireland, from the Earliest to the Present Time, Turner & Marwood, 1830

Grimsdyke or Grimesditch (Vol. iv., p. 192.). — Your Querist Nauticus describes the vallum or ditch called “Grimsdyke, or Grimesditch, or the Devil’s Ditch,” running from Great Berkhampstead, Hants, to Bradenham, Bucks, and then puts two Queries.

Nauticus assumes that this ditch had, at some distant day, been an artificial earthwork; but at the same time he points out that, “from its total want of flank defence, it could hardly hold an enemy in check for long; and that it does not seem to have been a military way.” He asks, “Are there other earthworks of the same name (Grimsdyke) in England?” I find no trace of any other earthworks of that name in England; and it may be very questionable whether this ditch be of ancient earthwork, or of its original natural formation.

But there is, in Cheshire, a brook or rivulet in its pristine state, called Grimsditch. This brook or rivulet is one of the contributory streams of Cheshire to the great rivers, the Mersey and the Weaver; and is described by the author of King’s Vale Royal of England, or the County Palatine of Chester illustrated, published in 1656, as follows:


“The Grimsditch cometh from the Hall of Grimsditch, by Preston, Daresbury, Keckwith, and so falleth into the Marsey.”


Here then we have the name of a place which gives the name of Grimsditch to the brook or rivulet; and it is, moreover, shown by the County History that the place (the hamlet or lands of Grimsditch) has been in the possession of a family of the name of Grimsditch from the time of Henry III.

From the words of the original grant of this hamlet, by which Thomas Tuschet, in 10 Hen. III. 1226, grants to Hugo de Grimsditch “totam terrain de Grimsdich pertinentem ad villam de Witeleigh” (Ormerod’s Chesh. i. 488.), it may be inferred that the place went by the name of Grimsditch prior to the Norman Conquest. There can therefore be but little doubt that the name is of Anglo-Saxon origin.

The present possessor of the property is Thomas Grimsditch, Esq., late M.P. for the borough of Macclesfield.

The second Query of Nauticus applies to the etymology of the word Grimsditch. This is a very difficult question to solve. Take the first syllable: Grim, grime, dirt, sullying blackness.


“She sweats; a man may go over shoes in the grime of it.” — Shakspeare.


Then the word ditch: this is derived from dic (Saxon), dük (Erse); but whatever may be the true etymology of the word, it can scarcely be doubted that it is of Anglo-Saxon origin.

I may however add that there is a tradition in the Grimsditch family of Cheshire, said to have been handed down for many ages, as to the origin of the name, to the following effect:

That in remote ages their first parents were warriors; that one of these warriors was attacked by a griffin; that a fierce contest ensued; and that the man was the conqueror of that fabulous bird or beast, the battle-ground being a dyke or ditch.

Hence, says the tradition, emanated the family coat of arms, which are certainly very singular, viz. Azure, a griffin or, about to tear, and ramping upon, a warrior, completely armed in plate armour, in bend dexter, across the lower part of the shield. Crest, a Talbot.

William Beaumont.

William Beaumont, ‘Grimsdyke or Grimesditch’, Notes and Queries, Series I, Volume IV, George Bell, London, 1852, p 330–31

Grimsditch, of Chester, bore, temp. Henry III., on a green shield a red griffin seizing a man in complete armour, who is lying on his back.


William Cecil Wade, The Symbolisms of Heraldry or a Treatise on the Meanings and Derivations of Armorial Bearings, George Redway, London, 1898, p 144

The Grimesditch family had a dragon-slaying ancestor, who fought and killed one of these fabulous creatures in a ditch near Grimesditch brook.


Christina Hole, Traditions and Customs of Cheshire, Williams and Norgate, London, 1937, p 199

Notes

A more likely explanation for the name The Grimsditch is suggested by Professor John McNeal Dodgson (The Place-Names of Cheshire Part I, Cambridge University Press, 1970):


The Grimsditch (lost), 1656 Orm I 132, a watercourse said to run from Grimsditch Hall to the River Mersey through Preston, Daresbury and Keckwick, though this course is incredible. The stream-name is a back-formation from Grimsditch Hall, erroneously applied to Keckwick Brook.


Professor Dodgson describes the course as incredible because Grimsditch Hall lies about two kilometres to the east of the source of Keckwick Brook, on the other side of the valley of Whitley Brook. Keckwick Brook is clearly the stream described, as it passes through Preston (between the adjacent hamlets of Preston Brook and Preston on the Hill, to be exact), past Daresbury, through Keckwick and into the Mersey. Grimsditch Hall and Grimsditch Mill lie close to Whitley Brook (Grimsditch is in Whitley township – the ‘Witeleigh’ mentioned in the grant of land to Adam son of Hugo de Grimsditch), which flows into the River Weaver.

Of Grimsditch Hall and Mill he has this to say, in The Place-Names of Cheshire Part II:


Grimsditch Hall & Mill (101–606803) ‘Woden’s Ditch’, v. Grīm, dīc, presumably alluding to some lost earthwork.


In other words, the Grimsditch is not a watercourse at all, but an earthwork. Time to consult a dictionary; in this case Chambers English Dictionary:


dike, dyke dīk, n. a trench, or the earth dug out and thrown up: a ditch … [O.E. dīc, whence also ditch, this and related words in the Germanic languages denoting both a trench dug out and the mound of earth so formed.].


Presumably there was once an earthwork called the Grimsditch near to the hamlet that took its name. Grim was one of the names applied to Odin or Woden, and the Anglo-Saxons often used the name Grimsditch, Grimsdyke, Wansdyke or similar variants for earthworks they found when they arrived in Britain. There are, or were, three other places named Grimsditch in Cheshire alone: a field called Grimsditch, on Ditchfield Lane, High Legh; Grimsditch Farm, Mobberley; and a historical reference to Grymmysdiche iuxta Routhesthorn, in the township and parish of Rostherne, the location of which is uncertain.

Then, in 1226, a grant was made to ‘Adae filio Hugonis de Grimsdich pro homagio et servitio suo totam terram de Grimsdich pertinentem ad villam de Witeleigh’ [Adam son of Hugo de Grimsditch, for his homage and service of his own, all the land of Grimsditch belonging to the town of Whitley]. But while the pre-Conquest locals, being Anglo-Saxons, presumably knew what the name ‘Grimsditch’ meant, the Grimsditch family, being Norman English, made the assumption that it was a ditch rather than an earthwork, and this misapprehension was incorporated into the legend of the slaying of the griffin in a ditch or dyke. Matters were not helped when the writer of The Vale Royal of England incorrectly decided that ‘the Grimsditch’ must be the stream that is actually the Keckwick Brook – a confusion that seems to have persisted well into the 20th century, as shown by Christina Hole’s wording ‘in a ditch near Grimesditch brook.’ In this respect it suffers from a similar problem to that of the legend of the Dragon of Moston, where the coat of arms shows the dragon rising out of a fish weir – though there cannot have been a fish weir in Moston, as it has no stream or river flowing through it.

Since Hugo and his son Adam already described themselves as being ‘de Grimsditch’ prior to the grant of land, the family must have been living there for some generations (quite possibly having adopted the name at the time of the Conquest). However we must remain uncertain as to when the coat of arms was adopted. Likewise there is no way of knowing whether the coat of arms reflected some existing local legend of a griffin, or whether it was an entirely new invention. This is unfortunate, for it cannot be argued that the Grimsditch family had a ‘very singular’ coat of arms. The way the armoured knight is shown as lying on his back with a griffin ‘about to tear, and ramping upon’ him doesn’t suggest a favourable outcome to the encounter, especially given the ‘armed gules’ (red beak and claws). Indeed it seems to be depicting the killing of the knight by the griffin. One cannot help but wonder if the coat of arms was originally intended to depict some other event, but that it was later interpreted in a more romantic – or at least optimistic – way. Sadly we shall never knew the truth.


Incidentally, there are slight differences between descriptions of the coat of arms. Ormerod, quoting Sir Peter Leycester, writes ‘Azure, a griffin Or, about to tear, and ramping upon, a warrior completely armed in plate armour, laid in bend dexter, across the lower part of the shield’, but Thomas Robson puts ‘vert a griffin or, armed gu. seizing on a man, in armour complete, lying on his back ppr.’ Is the field azure (blue) or vert (green)? I’m not familiar enough with heraldry to be able to account for the difference; it may be that these applied to different branches of the Grimsditch family.


You can find Grimsditch Hall, Mill and Lane on Google Maps – you may even wish to try to find the Grimsditch itself.


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