Dryfix News

A key to unlock history

12th January 2012

A key to unlock history

One of our first contracts of January 2012 was to survey 12 No; 16th Century grade 2 listed cottages (Lady Lumley's Almshouses) in Thornton Le Dale, North Yorkshire for a national construction and development contractor in the North East.

Dryfix were contracted to undertake; damp and timber reports, structural surveys and a combination of asbestos management and type 3 asbestos surveys, to each property.

The Almshouses are situated to the left of the main road on Chestnut Avenue, between the village green and the bridge. The land they are sited on passed into the hands of Richard, first Viscount Lumley, through his marriage to Elizabeth Sandys. Elizabeth was the maternal granddaughter of the fourth Lord Latimer of Snape, who left land in Thornton, Sinnington, Marton and Pickering to Elizabeth.

Lady Lumley, as Elizabeth became known, died in 1657 aged 80, bequeathing her estates to charity for the creation of a school and these almshouses.

The charity built a row of 12 Almshouses (seen above) and a Grammar School in the centre of the village which are today still occupied by local residents and are supported by the Lady Lumley’s Charitable Trust.

Above plaque present on the front of the almshouses dated 1656.

The cottages were listed Grade Two on 10 November 1953, and restored, modernised and extended at the rear in the 1970's. Despite the modernisation many of the cottages original features such as windows and doors both internal and external still remain, even including the front door keys.

See my delight when I was handed this bunch of keys by the site manager.

So the history part.............

Whilst surveying number 12, I stumbled across this lovely piece of artwork scribed onto render on the party gable wall within the roof, reading "Old Swiss and Lovel" dated 1852.

After making some enquiries with local residents and a little online research myself, I believe the man responsible for the artwork and previous occupier of the cottage was a man named Mathew Grimes . 

Matthew Grimes was born in the town of Northampton in the county of Northamptonshire in 1789 and was a soldier of the 84th Regiment spending most of his service in India, before being landed at St Helena as part of a recruiting party returning to Britain from India. Matthew became one of those guarding the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.

In 1815 Napoleon was decisively defeated at Waterloo by the combined forces of Britain, Holland, Belgium and Germany. Fleeing the battlefield he returned to Paris, where he was forced to abdicate for the second time. He agreed to leave France and travelled to the west coast port of Rochefort where he finally surrendered to a Royal Navy squadron commanded by the Yorkshire man, Admiral Sir Henry Hotham.

Britain had been at war with France almost continuously since 1793 and most of it with Napoleon as France's leader. Napoleon had previously been allowed to retire to the island of Elba after his first surrender to the European Allies in 1814 and suddenly, here he was setting Europe on fire once more. The Allies agreed that Britain, should imprison him and so he was sent to St Helena, arriving on the 16th October 1815; a tiny, craggy island in the South Atlantic, barely 13 miles long by eight miles wide.

Soldiers like Matthew were scattered across the island the manning defensive works which blocked the many steep sided valleys which open out on to the ocean. There would have been little for them to do, but the government back in London was concerned that Napoleon might attempt to escape from the island. Consequently, the island governor had them rebuilding the roads during the day and keeping watch at night just in case a modern style commando raid was mounted to free the Emperor.

Matthew was on the island when Napoleon died on 5 May 1821 and probably attended his funeral which was held four days later. Matthew then returned to India with the 20th Regiment until his discharge from the army in 1830.

On his army documents he had given his trade as that of a paper maker. Matthew married a local girl of Thornton Mary Marshall in 1836 at St Hilda's church in Ellerburn, where he and Mary were typical working people of their time. The church records show Matthew signing his own name whereas Mary only made 'her mark' which was in turn countersigned by the curate who officiated at their wedding. There were four witnesses to their marriage and again only two of them were able to sign their names.

For many years Matthew looked after Howldale Wood, living with his wife in a simple two roomed cottage. Matthew lived to the great age of 86 and is today buried in the local cemetery where this tombstone was erected by admiring friends in memory of that soldier..

Such was Matthews local fame that he received two obituaries. By then the dreams and hopes of local people had built up an image of Matthew Grimes as a man who had 'fought in the Peninsular', 'fought at Waterloo', and had been a bearer at Napoleon's funeral.
Whatever it stated on his memorial though he had stood guard over the greatest man of the age and perhaps that was fame enough for Matthew.


Russell Rafton C.S.R.T / A.Inst.SSE

Dryfix Preservation Ltd - Surveyor

Historical References:

Gazette & Herald
Thornton-le-Dale: a picture postcard English country village


Rydale on the Net


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