Napoleonic, Regency and Victorian soldiers of Ryedale.

Compiled byPaul Brunyee Adv Dip Ed, MA.

Napoleon's Jailer.

Private Matthew Grimes, 84th Foot and 20th Foot.

Directions: 4 miles east of the market town of Pickering is the village of Thornton Dale. His grave is twenty yards east of the church itself


Died October 30th, 1875,  Age 96.
Served 20th and 24th Infantry in India
and Peninsular Wars. Guard at St. Helena over Napoleon
and a bearer of the Monarch to his grave.
This tombstone was erected by admiring friends in memory of that soldier.

His grave and surrounding kerbstone
Photo : with thanks to Rev D Clarke

Longwood, home of Napoleon. His private rooms were on the right and the public reception rooms on the left.

Matthew Grimes did not fight in the Peninsular Wars, he was 86 when he died and he probably did not carry Napoleon to his grave on the island of St Helena. However, he was a guard on the island, for two years. His ship was returning to England when it called at St. Helena for fresh water. The 20th Foot asked for volunteers to transfer from the 84th Foot. From 1819 until Napoleon's death in 1821 Grimes was guarding the 'Corsican Ogre'. Matthew then returned to India in. According to the Public Record Office Muster Roll at Kew he arrived at Gravesend, from India, on the 28th April, 1830. He then appears in the muster books at the depot in Chatham until his discharge on 13th October, 1830.  Matthew was born in Northampton in 1789. In 1836 he married, Mary Marshall, in the church at Ellerburn. One mile to the north on a minor road is the delightful church. In the register Matthew has written his own name, whilst Mary Grimes (nee Marshall) has put her mark. In 1829 he had only put his mark, not his signature on his army discharge certificate. Presumably within the intervening seven years he had learnt to write his own name. Of the four witnesses to their marriage, only two of them could write their own names. According to his obituary they lived in a simple cottage in Howl Dale Woods two miles to the east of Thornton Dale, for many years.
The cottages to the north of Grime's grave,
one of which he probably lived in at some time
the cottages are now one house

Photo : courtesy of the current owners

The Anglo-Saxon church of St Hilda at Ellerburn where Matthew married Mary Marshal in 1836
Photos : with thanks Ryedale Folk Museum
A typical scene inside a rural cottage reminiscent of Grimes' cottage in the woods above Thornton Dale
The style of uniform worn by Matthew Grimes whilst guarding Napoleon. On his shako he wears a foul weather cover. On his back he carries a  pack with his spare equipment. Below is his cartridge box. He rests on his 'Brown Bess' musket. In the front rank stands his officer..
Photo : 33rd Regiment of Foot Re-enactment Society

Notes about Matthew Grimes:
A woollen soldier's jacket is held by the Castle Museum in York. It is believed to be one worn by Matthew around the village. This was a common occurrence as medals were not awarded to all ranks of the army until 1847 and this was one way of showing that you had served in the army. However, it has the regimental insignia of the 87th Foot - not of either of Grimes' regiments the 20th Foot or the 84th Foot. The lining has worn away and it appears to have been altered at some stage, probably as a result of a new styling in tunics. It is made of coarse woollen cloth. It is very close fitting and has sleeves which we would consider to be very long but which were very fashionable at the time.
It is possible that he obtained the jacket when he finally arrived back in England. Equally, he may have bought it from another retired soldier at a later date.
His pension :Technically he was a Chelsea Pensioner - but as he did not reside in the Chelsea Hospital he was 'an out pensioner .' This meant that he had to present himself before a local agent several times a year to be paid his pension.
It is interesting to see that a zealous official has deducted his two years of underage service during the final calculation of his pension. Hundreds of soldiers during this period were retired with the diagnosis of, 'Chronic Rheumatism & worn out.' Neither was it just confined to the rank and file. Officers were expected to work until they to became too infirm to function. Wellington refused to recommend the retirement of his chief inspector of military hospitals on several occasions, after the French Wars had ended, despite the former appealing to the Duke that he was, 'too worn out for the service.'
What about the Census ?
From 1841 on the ten year census brings a lot of the past to life. Unfortunately, if Matthew and Mary spent much of their married life in Hagg Wood it is very likely that a hard pressed official (the enumerator) would probably ignore them. After all, he had to go from door to door listing people; their ages, occupations, places of birth etc which was very time consuming business. He probably felt that an extra ten mile walk or horse ride was not an efficient use of his time. Neither Matthew, Mary nor any children appear in the census returns from 1841 up to and including 1871.
What happened to his wife?
His wife does not appear in the church records as being buried either before or after Matthew.
Why did he retire to Thornton-le-Dale?
I don't know why he came here. However, on his discharge document he gives his previous trade as, 'papermaker.' It's possible that he came here to get work at the paper mill.
Gallipoli Gazette :

The Lancashire Fusiliers, descendants of the 20th Foot restored the grave in 1939. Their magazine for April, 1939 contains an article about Matthew.
Matthew Grimes the woodman :
I know that Matthew lived for some time in Hagg Wood. Today the walls are about eighteen inches high and are divided into two rooms. The remains of the hawthorn hedge which probably protected his vegetable garden can also be traced. The site was used as a rendevous for shooting parties at the end of the last century. Some local people still refer to the site as, 'Pete's Cottage' though one or two people that I've spoken to do remember it as, 'Grimes' Cottage.'
Village dweller :
Jeffrey's book (Thornton le Dale by R. W. Jeffrey MA, 1931, West Yorkshire Publishing, Wakefield), has one other reference to Grimes;
'. . Alfred and John Priestman, sons of Joshua Priestman owning certain cottages 3 in Kirk Lane and fields called Duddy Hill'. Two of these (in one of which Matthew Grimes, the Waterloo veteran, resided) were converted by Alfred Priestman into the present 'Kirkbrow,' now owned by Mrs Richard Hill. Today this is the house directly to the north of Matthew's grave. I cannot establish which part of the current house he occupied. Neither have I been able to locate any dates for his residence there. Matthew's regiment was not at Waterloo he and they were serving in India at that time.
Almshouse dweller : Mr. J. Hollingsworth, former warden to the Lady Lumley almshouses, which are close by the church in Thornton Dale has kindly shown me an intriguing photograph. Plaster was flung onto the wall of a house, in the roof space. An outline figure of a soldier, with a dog was scratched into it. Written on were the words, 'Old Swiss.' Whether it has anything to do with Matthew or when it was done remains a mystery.

Gallipoli Gazette, April, 1939

The Journal of the XX, Lancashire Fusiliers.




ON 18th MAY 1821.

The Branch of the British Legion at Thornton-le-Dale, Yorkshire, recently brought to notice that the tombstone of a former soldier of the Regiment was in a derelict condition, and asked if assisitance could be given for it's restoration. The stone bears this inscription :-


Died October 30th, 1875,

Age 96.

Served 20th and 24th Infantry in India

and Peninsular Wars.Guard at St. Helena over Napoleon

and a bearer of the Monarch to his


This tombstone was erected by admir-

ing friends in memory of that soldier."

A reference to the record office, Chancery Lane, bears out the age and some particulars given on the stone.

Grimes joined the XX at James town, St . Helena, on transfer from the 84th Regiment, in Septenber, 1819, and went to India with XX in June 1822. In India he appears to have been transferred to the 24th Regiment. There is no known record of the names of the bearers of Napoleon, beyond that they were the Grenadiers of the XX and 66th Regiments, and were commanded by Lieut. Connor of the XX.

When Matthew Grimes returned to civil life he apparently settled at Thornton-le-Dale, where he was employed in the woods on the Lumley Estate, and with his wife Mary lived in a cottage at Howldale. This became known as "Grimes House" and is still to this day so called, but unoccupied. It is now used by shooting parties as a place for luncheons. This old soldier is reputed to have been held in great respect, a Primitive Methodist of strong tendencies.

There is an old lady living, Mrs. M.E. Taylor, who remembers him. She is in her 93rd year and wrote a clear and distinct account, without a single erasure, of Matthew Grimes and his wife, Mary.

An estimate was submitted of the cost to make a complete restoration of the tombstone and base. The 24th British Legion Association offered 2 towards the total amount of 9. As Grimes was really a XX man, the 1st and 2nd Battalions have defrayed the balance. Meanwhile, the Church Council of Thornton-le-Dale have, through their Secretary, with admirable public spirit, very generously offered to place a kerb round the grave, thus completing the restoration.

By a remarkable coincidence in making inquiries about Matthew Grimes, the name of second soldier of the XX who was one of the bearers has been discovered. It is taken from "An Englishman at Home and Abroad (1792-1828)," published in 1930. It reads: "Private Samuel Fiske, 6 feet 2 inches in height, a native of Meltingham, the adjoining parish to Bungay, enlisted in the XX Regiment of Infantry, 8th February, 1813. He was in France in 1814, went thence to Ireland, and was quartered at Waterford. In 1818 he was sent to St Helena and officiated as one of the eighteen bearers who bore the Emperor Napoleon to the grave, May 18 1821. From St Helena he went to Bombay and returned from the East Indies in 1829, and was pensioned off at a shilling a day."

The forgoing statement of the service of Samuel Fiske is fully confirmed by the official report from the Record Office, Chancery Lane. It is a matter of regret that there is no official record of the name of the bearers.

The thanks of the Regiment are due to Mr William Croft, Hon .Secretary of the British Legion at Thornton-le-Dale, for his interest and help in all these matters.

Copied from the Gazette by Paul F. Brunyee Dip Ed, MA, at the Lancashire Fusiliers Museum, Bury, Lancashire, August 1995.

Malton Library, newspaper records, transcribed 02/06/95:

Malton Gazette, November 6th, 1875..


Death of an aged Veteran - there died at Thornton Dale, on the 30th ult, Matthew Graham or Grimes, age unknown but supposed to be 96 or 97 years old. He was present at the final taking of Seringpatam, under General Baird, in May 1799; served ten years in India in the 20th and 84th Regiment of Infantry; he was at the final taking of the Cape of God Hope by Baird in 1806. He became an out pensioner of Chelsea Hospital on October 13th 1830, at 1s 41/2d per day, being a pensioner for 45 years. His regiment formed for some time part of the Guard of Napoleon at Saint Helena. The old man used to say that he had shaken hands with the Emperor.


The Malton Messenger, Saturday, November 6th, 1875.


DEATH OF A WATERLOO VETERAN.-A remarkable man breathed his last at this place on Thursday night, the 29th October. This was David Graham, the last survivor in the district of the battle of Waterloo, who had attained the great age of 96 years, seventy seven of which he had spent as a soldier and pensioner. He first served as a substitute in the militia, but volunteered for the seat of war, and was drafted in the 30th Regiment. He took part in the battle of Waterloo, and had three horses shot under him during the day, and he was also in the final charge on that memorable day. He had the honour to be one of the escort to accompany Napoleon I to St. Helena, and was present at the funeral of the great prisoner on that island. He left the army at the age of 54, and had enjoyed a pension to the time of his death. He worked in the neighbourhood for a number of years as a woodman and was much respected throughout the district.

Paul F. Brunyee Adv Dip Ed, MA.


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