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Title: Evesham
Author: New, Edmund H.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Evesham" ***

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EVESHAM

WRITTEN AND
ILLUSTRATED BY
EDMUND H. NEW


LONDON: J.M. DENT & CO.
29 BEDFORD STREET

NEW YORK: E.P. DUTTON CO.

MDCCCCIV

[Illustration: Bridge St. Evesham]

DEDICATED
TO THE MEMORY OF

_H.N._
1820-1893

_D.N._
1834-1901


NOTE

For the historical matter contained in the following pages the writer
is indebted mainly to George May's admirable history of the town
issued in 1845, a book which, since its publication, has been the
acknowledged authority on local history.

To Mr. Oswald Knapp his thanks are especially due not only for
permission to make use of the series of articles, founded on the
monastic chronicles, which appeared some years ago in the _Evesham
Journal_, most of them under the title of "Evesham Episodes," but also
for much generous help and criticism.


CONTENTS

   I. INTRODUCTION
  II. EVESHAM AND THE VALE
 III. THE ABBEY
        1. THE FOUNDING OF THE ABBEY
        2. THE ABBEY AFTER THE CONQUEST.
        3. THE DISSOLUTION.
  IV. THE REMAINS OF THE ABBEY
   V. THE PARISH CHURCHES
  VI. THE TOWN--INCLUDING BENGEWORTH AND GREEN HILL
 VII. THE BATTLE OF EVESHAM
VIII. CAVALIERS AND ROUNDHEADS
  IX. THE RIVER
   X. THE NEIGHBOURHOOD


LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


_Bridge Street_
_Evesham and Bredon Hill, from the Parks_
_The Bell Tower_
_The Gatehouse and Almonry_
_Abbot Reginald's Gateway_
_In the Market Place_
_High Street_
_The Bell Tower, from Bengeworth_
_St. Egwin's, Honeybourne_



Evesham



CHAPTER I

INTRODUCTION


_Yonder lies our ... village--Art and Grace are less and less:_
_Science grows and Beauty dwindles--roofs of slated hideousness!_

      --LOCKSLEY HALL, SIXTY YEARS AFTER


Those who love with a deep reverence the work of their forefathers,
whether because of the character and beauty of their handiwork, or
from the historical associations which are indissolubly connected with
it, cannot but regard with pain and abhorrence any cause which tends
towards the demolition or destruction of the monuments of the past. To
these it is a significant and distressing fact that hardly any modern
English buildings or streets possess the qualities which give the
value and charm to the old cities, towns, and villages of which we are
the grateful inheritors. If any reader is inclined to doubt the truth
of this statement, or to consider the sentiment expressed extravagant
or groundless, let him consider the difference between the old towns
and the new.

Evesham provides a typical and sufficiently striking instance of the
contrasted methods and results. Here there is hardly an old house
which has not a local and individual character. Many of them may be
plain, severely plain, some possibly ugly; but in each can be read by
all who will, a distinct and separate thought, or series of thoughts,
connecting the dwelling with its builders and owners, and with the
soil out of which it has sprung.

As the varying undulations of the face of the country tell a plain
tale to the geologist, so the shape and materials of human habitations
tell their story to the student of architecture and the history of
man.

The poet Wordsworth pointed out that one of the great charms of the
Lake country lay in the way in which the dwellings sprang out of the
hill side, as if a natural growth born of the requirements of the
peasant or farmer and the materials provided by nature. Throughout
England this was once the case; no two houses were precisely alike
because no two people had precisely the same ideas, wishes and
requirements; and the material was dictated by the stone or timber
provided by the district. Every building was in old times the
combined expression of the individual man and the _genius loci_.

The timber cottages which are still to be found in the town tell of
the time when tracts of the original forest still lingered, and oak
was the cheapest material fit for building. Often the foundation of
the walls is of stone, and the earliest stone to be used was that
which could be had for the digging, the blue lias found in thin layers
embedded in the clay of which the vale is composed. In the back
streets which retain, as would be expected, more of their primitive
character than the more respectable thoroughfares, this blue stone has
been much used, and in the churches it can be seen in the earlier
parts making a very pretty wall with its thin horizontal lines. The
tower of the church of All Saints shows it to great advantage.

Another stone is also employed, and one far better suited for
building, because it can be obtained in blocks of almost any size, and
carved with the utmost delicacy. This is oolite, the stone of which
the Bell Tower is built. From Norman times it was used in the more
important parts of the Abbey, as is shown in the foundations of the
great tower now exposed to view, and in Abbot Reginald's gateway. But
the oolite stone could not be got much nearer than Broadway, and what
was used by the monks in all probability came from the hill above
that village. In numerous old houses this stone is made use of, but in
almost all it must have come indirectly, having once formed part of
the structure of the monastic buildings, or perhaps of the castle
which for a short time flanked the bridge on the Bengeworth side of
the river.

In the seventeenth century bricks came into fashion, and good clay for
their manufacture was amply provided by the neighbourhood. To the end
of the century belongs Dresden House in High Street, a fine example of
the style of William the Third's time, built by a wealthy lawyer, who
came to settle here, from the northern part of the county. Tower House
in Bridge Street, probably of later date, is beautiful in its
proportions and mouldings, the prominent lead spouts adding much to
the general design. Unfortunately to this fashion for formality and
brick-work, at a later period superseded by a covering of plaster, we
must attribute the demolition of the older fronts, generally of
timber, and often gabled and projecting, which gave such a pleasant
irregularity to our old streets. Though formal and lacking in artistic
qualities these Georgian screens have a certain historical value in
showing that our little town was prosperous through the century, and
able to support a decided air of respectability. But not without
reason do we deplore the change.

The eighteenth century saw the beginning of the great development of
machinery, and in these Georgian house fronts, the productions of a
mechanical age, we see the deterioration of popular architecture.
Every line is rigid and without human feeling: the style, where any
exists, is exotic, not national or local; classical, not vernacular.
It is a learned importation, not a popular growth. The mason has
dwindled into an unreasoning tool in the hands of the architect; hence
the lack of personality, the absence of charm; and only in rare
instances has the architect proved himself capable of supplying those
qualities of design and proportion which to some slight degree
compensate for the loss of interest on the part of the craftsman.

In almost all buildings the roof is a prominent feature. In Evesham
the old roofs are all made of oolite "slats," and as these are split
irregularly, we have tiles of various sizes and slightly varying in
shape. In roofing the plan was to place all the large tiles below, and
to decrease the size gradually towards the ridge, the result being
most pleasing to the eye. Besides the interest given by irregularity,
the delicate silver grey of the oolite roofs, varied with tints of
moss and lichen added by time, produces an effect unsurpassed by any
other form of roof covering. Even the clay tiles, introduced at a
later time, take their place when mellowed by sun and rain; and these
throw into unpleasant relief the modern glazed Staffordshire ware
which resists all softening influences. The Welsh slates, too, before
perfect mechanical regularity was obtained, made a pretty roofing,
though they, of course, have no local interest here.

No one would wish to dwell long on the opposite side of the contrast.
We have already traced the beginning of the decline of domestic
architecture, and the present condition follows as a natural
development. In recent years the town has spread in every direction
that is possible. In the centre is the Evesham of the past, the
Evesham our forefathers built and our fathers knew. But it is
encircled by streets and houses which are not the product of the vale,
nor are they marked by any individual character. Rows upon rows of
dwellings, symmetrical, mechanical, and monotonous, can give no
pleasure to the eye, nor can the mind read in them any story save the
commercial enterprise of a commercial age.

No one can note these differences without sometimes asking the cause
of this lamentable degradation in the character of the buildings which
compose our modern towns. They are many and complex, and too deeply
rooted in present-day commercialism for us even to hope for their
removal. Yet we may still turn to examples of individual effort
throughout the country and find satisfaction. Here and there are
houses possessing some of the finest qualities which have gone towards
making our ancient streets and cities; and here we have evidence that
beautiful building is still possible if we will but have it. It may be
claimed that even the streets we build are historical as our old towns
are historical; that they are the outcome of the age we live in. And
truly this is so; and for this very reason we must needs be patient if
we cannot be hopeful.

But it is something to recognise the fact that we have in our old
buildings and streets records of unquestionable veracity, full of
character and meaning, and such as we are entirely unable, with all
our boasted advantages, to rival or even imitate. And more than this,
we have in most of the work that has been left to us examples of
craftsmanship, in every kind, which are invaluable as models of what
we once could do, and may do, under favourable conditions, again.

Let us then guard this goodly heritage for ourselves and our children
with jealous care, trusting that in fulness of time their handiwork
may be not unworthy to stand beside the best that has been
accomplished in the past. These storied towns may then be with us
still to teach what no history book can tell, and to inspire us with
the spirit of emulation for those qualities which sleep with the
Genius of the Past.



CHAPTER II

EVESHAM AND THE VALE

_Great Evesham's fertile glebe what tongue hath not extolled._
_As though to her alone belonged the crown of gold_.

      --MICHAEL DRAYTON.


Evesham stands on a kind of peninsula formed by a deep loop of the
river Avon on its way from Stratford-on-Avon to Tewkesbury. The broad
vale in which it lies is enclosed by a semicircle of hills, which
provide a background to every varied landscape, and give a sense of
homeliness and seclusion which those who are familiar with unbroken
stretches of level country will at once recognise and appreciate. From
the east to the south-west range the Cotswolds, not striking in
outline but depending for their beauty in great part upon the play of
light and shade and the variety given by atmospheric effects. To
dwellers in the vale the appearance of the hills not only reflects the
feeling of the day but foretells the coming weather. When a delicate,
blue haze shrouds their forms, entirely obliterating the more distant
heights, the pleasure-seeker rests content in the promise of a fair
morn; but no pleasant expectations can be formed when, robed in
deepest purple, they seem to draw in and crowd together, and with
vastly increased bulk to frown upon the darkening vale.

[Illustration: EVESHAM AND BREDON HILL FROM THE PARKS]

At each end of the Cotswold range, as seen from Evesham, stands,
sentinel like, an isolated elevation, and in early times, as present
remains testify, both these were occupied as fortified posts. To the
east is Meon Hill, and to the south-west stands Bredon, the nearest
and most prominent of the group. In the south-east the position of
Broadway is decisively marked by its pseudo-Norman tower, and due
south the level outline ended by an abrupt escarpment to the eastward
is Cleeve Cloud, carrying the range on towards Cheltenham and Bristol.

But the chief glory of the vale, so far as its background is
concerned, is the truly mountainous outline of the Malvern Hills, the
whole length of which is seen bounding the western horizon. The
breadth of the valley here is more than twenty miles from hill to
hill, and includes both the Severn and its tributary stream. To how
many does the thought of sunrise not recall this undulating range
illuminated and glorified by the clear beams of the early sun striking
across the vale and thrown back in glittering fragments by the long
line of houses at its base! And few more beautiful associations will
gather round the sunset than those in which Malvern plays its part,
the rocky skyline standing up sharp and clear against the
ever-changing brilliance. As we recall the scene the dazzling
effulgence fades into a glow, the glow diminishes almost imperceptibly
into twilight, and, as we watch, a line of twinkling lights becomes
visible beneath the hill, and one by one the stars appear in the
deepening sky.

Northward there are no striking elevations, the ground sloping
gradually upward by the Lench Hills and the Ridge Way towards the
great central tableland; but opposite Malvern, continuing the horizon
to the north of Meon, can be seen, when the air is clear, beyond the
flat Stour valley, the outline of Edgehill, recalling as we gaze the
years of civil strife, full of terror and bloodshed, yet round which
Time has thrown his mantle of romance.

So far we have been able to dwell on the broad features of the country
which it takes many ages to change or modify. From the earliest times
we can record the settlers on this chosen spot must have looked out on
the same hills and the same broad valley with its overarching sky. But
then, instead of the "crown of gold" of which Drayton sings, or the
silver sheen which in springtime now glorifies the gardens, the face
of the country was, we are told, one vast thicket of brushwood and
forest trees. In Blakenhurst, meaning black forest, the name of the
hundred in which the town is situated, we have an indication of the
former character of this region. Only here and there was a clearing
with a few huts giving shelter to a scanty population of herdsmen and
hunters. In those shadowy times the river was broad and shallow,
unconfined to one course, here swift and clear, there sluggish and
thick, feeding creeks and marshes by the way, and overgrown with
rushes and water weeds; of no use probably as a water-way but prolific
in fish and fowl.

During historic times the vale has been hallowed by many events, and
is sacred to many memories: there is hardly an acre which does not
bear evidence of the doings of our forefathers through the long ages
of which we have knowledge. The site of the town was apparently
unoccupied by the Romans though their thoroughfares run not far
distant, and their camps are numerous on the neighbouring hills. Not
until Saxon times do we hear of this fertile peninsula being
inhabited, and then we are told by the chroniclers of a village called
Homme near this spot, the home of only a few peasants. Like many other
towns and cities, in England, Evesham is said to have had a monastic
origin, and for a long succession of years it is to the monastery
alone that she owes her existence and celebrity. The monastic
foundation dates from about A.D. 702, and from this time until the
Conquest we know little of the fortunes of the place. Access would
have been difficult in those days to so retired a spot protected on
three sides by a broad river, and though doubtless there was a ford
passable on horseback when the water was not in flood, yet until the
building of the bridge it must have been isolated indeed. More than
once we are told of ravages of the Danes. We know they penetrated far
into the country, and Evesham did not escape their vigilance.

Side by side with the growth of the abbey the little village sprang
up, and gradually increased in importance. No doubt in times of stress
it was accustomed to look to that wealthy institution for succour. On
the Church the inhabitants would be dependent for all sacred rites and
the fulfilment of their spiritual needs; but occasionally we find them
waxing independent, and even defying the abbot himself. At best,
however, the fight must have been an unequal one, with wealth,
learning, and power on the one side, and poverty and ignorance on the
other. After an honourable career of eight hundred years the monastery
was overthrown. Even this great abbey, with its wealth and power and
integrity, was impotent to withstand the popular prejudice aroused by
the exposure of the degradation and vice prevailing in so many kindred
institutions, the greed of Henry VIII., and the ruthless energy of
Thomas Cromwell. In a few years it was swept away, leaving only a few
beautiful fragments to tell of its former grandeur.

Evesham's next great claim to notice is as the field of the decisive
battle of 1265, ending in the defeat and death of Simon de Montfort,
and the allies still remaining faithful to their leader. This event,
we know, added much to the fame of the monastery, and reacted on the
town by bringing many pilgrims to the grave of that popular hero. The
tomb of the great Earl vied with, or exceeded in popularity, the many
sacred relics already enshrined in the abbey church.

In early days, as has been pointed out, Evesham lay out of the common
beat; the Avon formed a _cul-de-sac_, and the main road from Worcester
to London and Oxford merely skirted the town, ascending Green Hill
from Chadbury, continuing its course by what is now known as Blayney's
Lane, and crossing the river by a ford or bridge at Offenham Ferry. In
consequence of the growing importance of the town, the road was
probably diverted to its present line.

Although in pre-Reformation days the abbey dominated the town and the
abbot's will was practically law to the inhabitants, yet the townsmen
on the whole lived quite apart, doing their own work, managing their
own affairs, and enjoying themselves in their own way. The monastery,
too, was complete in itself, having its own staff of servants and
needing little, if any, outside help. The precincts of the abbey were
as entirely shut in with their high wall and strong gates, all
fortified in the Edwardian times, as any castle; and little of what
went on in this self-contained society would be known to the people
living without. It must be remembered also that the townsmen had their
own church, that of All Saints, and only on special occasions would
they be allowed entrance to the great church belonging to the monks.
It would seem that the second church, dedicated to St. Lawrence, was
principally used by pilgrims, and this was connected with the monastic
buildings by a covered walk of stone.

To Edward the Confessor we learn the town owed certain rights
connected with its market, and during the Middle Ages it was an
important centre for the trade of the district. On account of this
market, and from the fact that the greater part of the abbey lands lay
on the left bank of the river, it would seem probable that a bridge of
some kind was built quite early in the Middle Ages, if not before. In
monastic times there existed a Guildhall, which betokens of itself a
community of active citizens, and social and commercial organisation.
The education of the children was probably looked after by the monks,
and before the dissolution a grammar school was founded by the abbot.
In Merstow Green we have the public pasture and recreation ground.
When the parent abbey was removed, the town was quite able to take
care of itself: in the same century a new and more spacious Town Hall
and Market was built, suggesting that the old Booth Hall was
insufficient for the requirements of the time; and in the early years
of the reign of James I. a Royal Charter was granted to the
inhabitants in the name of Prince Henry, and the little town became a
corporate borough.

In the seventeenth century a revolution was effected by the river
being rendered navigable from the Severn up to Stratford-on-Avon.
Wharves were built, and numerous barges plied their trade up and down
the stream. Through Stratford, Birmingham and the Midlands became
accessible for heavy traffic by canal. In this century the peaceful
vale is once more disturbed by the clang of arms. During the Civil War
Evesham was an important military post, on account of its position
between the Royalist cities of Worcester and Oxford, and the
engagement which took place here will be recounted in due order.

No very notable events took place for many years; the gardening
industry flourished, the town retained its importance as an
agricultural trading centre, but progress was slow, and life free from
incident. But the change from those days of leisure to these in which
we live is great. Now the river has ceased to be utilised for
commerce: two railways connect the town with every other place of note
in the country, and the whole aspect of things is altered. The Evesham
of to-day is with us; over the past a glamour is spread.

It may be that, even if we had the chance, we would not return to the
past, but over many of us few other studies exercise so great a
fascination as the contemplation of the "good old days" which are
gone.



CHAPTER III

THE ABBEY

_Eoves here dwelt and was a swain,_
_Wherefore men call this Eovesholme_.

      --LEGEND ON MONASTIC SEAL.
           (_Modernised_.)


THE FOUNDING OF THE ABBEY


In the dim ages of antiquity, when the face of the country, now busy
and fertile, was one dense forest, with here and there a settlement of
dwellers in huts, tillers of the land, herdsmen, or hunters, there
lived near the spot now occupied by the thriving town of Evesham a
swineherd named Eoves. One day, we are told, a favourite sow was
missing, and her master hunted brake and briar, far and near, in
search of her. While on this errand he penetrated far into the depths
of the forest, when suddenly he was startled by a radiant light, in
which appeared three figures of women dazzling by their beauty. The
vision faded, and on the spot the joyful herdsman discovered his sow
with a litter of young.

The news was soon noised abroad, and at length reached the ears of
Egwin, the Bishop of the diocese, at Worcester. Egwin inquired into
the matter, visited the place, and was himself rewarded by the
appearance of the three figures, whom he pronounced to be no other
than the Virgin Mary with two attendant angels. Moreover, he was
commanded by the Holy Virgin to build a church in that very place. The
Bishop, we know, built a church here, founded a monastery, and himself
became first abbot. These events occurred early in the eighth century.

Egwin was a man of high connections and influence, and before long the
new institution was handsomely and sufficiently endowed. Ethelred,
King of Mercia, his nephew Kenred, who succeeded him, and Offa, King
of the East Saxons, being the chief donors.

There is another picturesque legend concerning Egwin, which is
preserved in the coat-of-arms used by the monastery. It appears that
the prelate was falsely charged with certain offences, and to prove
his innocence he made a journey to Rome; but before setting off, he
fastened a chain and horselock to his ankle and threw the key into the
river Avon. On his arrival in the Holy City, a fish was caught by his
companions in whose belly the very key was found which had been cast
into the river before his departure! Another account relates that
the fish who had swallowed the key leapt on board before the
travellers reached their destination! The legend of the foundation of
the Abbey is engraved on the conventual seal in a series of scenes;
and we know it was also depicted in the glass of one of the large
windows in the church.

[Illustration: The Bell Tower Evesham]

How far the events of this early time are historical, how far
traditionary, or even mythical, it is impossible to say, but for many
years afterwards the record gives us merely the scanty information we
should expect. We hear of the depredations of the Danes, and the
destruction by them of the monastery, and later of discords and
dissensions between monks and canons; indeed, it is not until the
reign of Canute that the Benedictines gained complete and final
possession of the Abbey and its estates. The first church and
monastery were probably of wood. Later, in the Saxon period, stone
would have taken its place, but the form was no doubt primitive in the
extreme. The founder's tomb would be the principal treasure, but, as
time went on, other relics were acquired, and many shrines needed to
contain the precious remains.

It was to King Canute that the monks owed the relics of Saint Wistan,
which held the place of honour in the church in mediæval days. They
were enclosed in a magnificent tomb erected behind the high altar, in
the position occupied by the shrine of Edward the Confessor in the
Abbey Church of Westminster. Soon afterwards we hear of the
acquisition by purchase of the body of Saint Odulf from some
travelling merchants, dealers in relics of sanctity, who, as will be
seen, had no right to have the remains of the saint in their
possession.

Saint Wistan was a scion of the royal house of Mercia, heir to the
throne, and for a short period nominal monarch, but his nature was
more fitted for a religious than a political life, and he took little
part in the affairs of the state. In the year 849 he fell a victim to
the treachery of his cousin Britfard, a rival claimant to the kingdom.

Saint Odulf was not an Englishman, his whole life having been spent at
the monasteries of Utrecht and Stavoren in the Netherlands. Several
miracles are recorded as having been worked by him both before and
after death. To the monastery of Stavoren, which he had founded, his
body belonged by right, but from here it was stolen and conveyed to
England. By unknown means it came into the hands of certain vendors of
holy wares, as related above, and from them it was purchased by Abbot
Aelfward, for something like a hundred pounds, about the year 1034.

A curious story relating to the remains of this saint is told in the
monastic chronicles. Edith, the queen of Edward the Confessor, being
anxious to acquire some precious relic for purposes of her own, called
upon a number of the religious houses of England to send their
treasures to Gloucester, there to be inspected by her, and, among
others, the convent of Evesham sent the remains of Saint Odulf and
Saint Egwin. As the queen was examining the shrine of the former, she
was suddenly struck with a peculiar form of blindness, and not until
she had invoked the saint's intercession, and declared her intention
of restoring the sacred relics to the monks, did she regain her sight!

Another interesting personality gained in a very different manner the
reverence, if not the worship, of the religious devotees of the time.
This was Saint Wulsy, a hermit of repute, who, we are told, lived for
seventy-five years a life of contemplation and seclusion. From
Crowland Abbey, his earlier home, Wulsy was led blindfolded, that he
might not be contaminated by the world, to Evesham, and near the
church he built with his own hands a chapel in honour of Saint Kenelm,
saint and martyr, with a cell adjoining, in which he spent the rest of
his life.

In the reign of Edward the Confessor the church was rebuilt and
greatly enlarged by Abbot Mannie, noted as a skilful craftsman in gold
and silver; but even this must have seemed to the ambitious Norman
insignificant, and unworthy of its high purpose, for very soon after
the Conquest it was pulled down to make way for a much larger and more
dignified building.


THE ABBEY AFTER THE CONQUEST


William the Conqueror did not oust the prudent Abbot whom he found in
office at Evesham. A favourite at the court of Edward the Confessor,
Abbot Agelwy stood high also in Harold's regard, and was not only
unmolested when William took up the reins of power, but was appointed
to other offices of great trust and political importance. On his death
the abbacy was given to a Norman monk, Walter of Cerasia, and in his
time the great church of which some foundations still remain was
begun. The "wily Agelwy" had left "four chests of silver" towards this
reconstruction, but this was not enough to build even the crypt and
chancel, and we find Abbot Walter sending the chief treasures of the
monastery, namely, the shrines containing the relics of Saint Odulf
and Saint Egwin, round the country in charge of certain monks for the
collection of more funds.

According to the monkish historian Saint Odulf refused to allow
himself to be used for this purpose, and after one experiment the
attempt was given up. The story goes that the shrine was carried to
Winchcomb and laid in the church there, with the intention of being
brought out next day into the market-place for exhibition, and
probably with the hope of some cures being effected. But when the
bearers tried to remove it from the church they could not with all
their strength raise it from the floor; so the sermon was preached
outside, a collection made, and the shrine (which now could be lifted
with perfect ease) brought home. The expedition with Saint Egwin was
quite successful, and a considerable sum of money collected towards
the building.

As time went on the Monastery waxed in wealth and importance, and
succeeding abbots completed, furnished, and decorated the new church
planned by Abbot Walter. It had the usual choir, nave, central tower,
and transepts; and cloisters surrounded by monastic buildings. Those
who know the larger Norman churches of England will be able to form a
fairly correct impression of the church at this time; but it is
impossible to imagine truly the effect of the painted walls, arches
and columns, the rich monuments, shrines, and altars decorated with
fine embroideries, goldsmith's work, and jewellery; all illuminated
by windows of richly coloured glass.

From time to time Abbots with a taste or genius for building added to
the structure. In the thirteenth century the central tower fell, and
this was in part rebuilt and the choir repaired by Marleberge, an
Abbot conspicuous by his ability, of whom we shall hear later. It was
Marleberge who helped to complete a bell tower, which also fell to the
ground not many years after, to be replaced by the beautiful campanile
which still remains. Although the great church of the Monastery was
the principal part of that institution, and on it was lavished all the
wealth and skill available, yet it was but a small part of the whole
group of buildings forming the "mitred Abbey" of Saint Mary and Saint
Egwin. Round the cloister were ranged the principal chambers
accommodating the abbot and the monks. Here were the chapter house in
which meetings of various kinds were held, the refectory where meals
were served and partaken of, the long dormitory where the monks slept,
and the scriptorium in which the writing and illuminating was done.
Round the outer courtyard, entered by the great gatehouse, which could
be defended in case of need, were other buildings, barns, stables, and
servants' quarters. Not far away was the hospital, and almost
adjoining the principal gatehouse was the Almonry where the poorer
guests were received and food served out to the needy. This building
exists at the present time, and it will be observed that it is not
enclosed within the boundary wall but is open on one side to the
public green.

[Illustration: THE GATEHOUSE AND ALMONRY]

The Monastery owned much land, mostly in the neighbourhood, and before
the dissolution the income through various channels has been
calculated at about eighty thousand pounds of our present money. Dr.
Jessop has described with wonderful realism the daily routine of the
Benedictine monasteries, and the chronicles of Evesham have provided
him with some of his most valuable information. In addition to the
daily services which occupied much of their time, we find every member
of the community busy with some work specially entrusted to him. In a
well-regulated monastery idleness was impossible; the limited time
permitted for leisure was usually occupied by recreation, gardening
and bowls both being favourite pastimes. Of course writing and
illumination were in constant demand, and Dr. Jessop has pointed out
that in addition to the production of church service books, of music,
and educational work in connection with the school, "a small army of
writers" must have been needed in the "business department of the
scriptorium." The Benedictine rule would appear to have been framed
with the idea of giving full employment to every inmate of the
monastery.

Considering the wealth of the institution, consisting for the most
part in land, and the responsibilities consequently incurred, we are
not surprised to read that before the dissolution the Abbey of Evesham
contained eighty-nine monks and sixty-five servants. The property did
not all lie in the near neighbourhood. In the fifteenth century the
Abbey of Alcester came into the hands of the Monastery. At an earlier
period the Priory of Penwortham in Lancashire was granted to this
wealthy body, and in the time of William Rufus monks were sent to a
religious house at Odensee in the island of Fuenen, in the Baltic sea,
to instruct the members in the Evesham usage of the rule of Saint
Benedict. This Priory became a little later a cell of the great Abbey.

Life in the Monastery of Evesham seems to have been sustained at a
high standard throughout its long career. If all the "religious
houses" had kept true to their vows and aims as that at Evesham did we
should no doubt have a very different story to tell. One abbot alone
appears to have been an exception to this general rule of good
conduct. This was Roger Norreys, a "dissolute monk" of Canterbury, who
was thrust upon the unwilling convent by Prince John when acting as
regent in King Richard's absence. After many years, and with much
difficulty, he was convicted "of seven or eight distinct offences" and
deposed. After the public exposure of his vicious life, and his unjust
and tyrannical rule, it is surprising that instead of being severely
punished he was sent to the cell of Penwortham and allowed to hold
office as Prior until his death. The story of the fight between the
convent, headed by Thomas de Marleberge, a clever and well educated
young monk who afterwards became abbot, and the wicked and shameless
Norreys, is related at full length in the chronicles which have come
down to us, written it would seem by Marleberge's own hand. The
scandalous behaviour of the Abbot and the neglected state of his house
was no secret, and the knowledge of it prompted the good bishop of
Worcester in an attempt to exceed his rights by visiting the Abbey in
order to inquire into the state of things existing there. In this act
he defeated his own ends, for the Abbot and monks immediately united
in common cause against so flagrant a breach of their privileges,
claiming, what was finally acceded to them, exemption from all
authority except that of Rome. The Abbot left the Monastery, and the
monks barricaded every entrance, so that when the bishop arrived he
was forced to encamp with his retinue upon the green outside the
walls. By the indiscretion of the bishop a legal point was raised upon
which the monks would by no means yield, preferring their present
miserable condition rather than allowing the slightest infringement of
what they believed to be their rights. The whole story, giving a
curious insight into the state of the country at that time, is too
long to relate here: an expensive and troublesome lawsuit followed,
which was carried from court to court in England and Rome, and was
finally settled some fifty years later in favour of the Monastery.

The last of the abbots and one of the most striking figures on the
roll was Clement Lichfield. To him we owe much of the architectural
beauty of both the parish churches; and besides erecting the bell
tower he adorned the choir of the "great church," as it was called,
with perpendicular decoration.


THE DISSOLUTION


Philip Hawford cannot be counted on the list of abbots. After having
borne and yielded much, Lichfield resigned, and Hawford was appointed
in his place, merely that he might surrender his charge in due form to
the King, an act to which it was impossible for Abbot Lichfield to
condescend, Hawford afterwards became Dean of Worcester, and there in
the cathedral, in a recess behind the reredos, his effigy may still be
seen, in full abbatial vestments, mitre and staff. Abbot Lichfield was
allowed to retire to the manor house of Offenham, where he died in
1546, and was buried in the lovely chapel he had built in early life
on to the church of All Saints beneath the shelter of his own Abbey.

       *       *       *       *       *

The story of the Monastery has now come to an end. In 1536 the lesser
priories and monasteries were suppressed, and we can well imagine the
tremor which this daring act of Henry must have sent through the
religious world. We can be sure the blow was unexpected by the monks
themselves. Only a few years before this Clement Lichfield had devoted
much labour and money to the decoration of the great church, and his
last work was the building of the tower which stands to this day. We
can never know whether the architectural additions which he made to
the parish churches were suggested by the suspicion that they might
survive that glorious edifice under whose shadow they reposed; but in
his later years of retirement surely we may believe that he
experienced a sorrowful gratification at the thought that some of his
work would remain for the admiration of future ages, and that his
mortal remains would lie in peace within the chapel which, in his
youth, he had planned and adorned.

While Thomas Cromwell and his agents were engaged in their grim work
of destruction we can fancy how Rumour first made herself busy; how
the people talked of royal commissions and inquiries; tales would
reach them of priories and convents which were seized, and of monks
and nuns thrown upon the world. Messengers were seen to come and go,
and the great gatehouse of the Abbey was eagerly watched by the
curious and anxious townspeople. They talked from door to door, and in
clusters in the market-place, and on Merstow Green, from which the
precincts were entered. At last the blow fell! One by one the monks
filed out of their historic home in solemn procession, their heads
bent beneath a weight of misery they were hardly able to bear, though
not yet capable of realising the full meaning of the calamity which
had befallen them. It is true they were not sent into the world
entirely without means of subsistence; some who were in holy orders
had been appointed to livings by the Abbot and convent; to others
pensions were allowed, but what would this avail in their time of
sorrow!

Then the grand pile of Gothic buildings was resigned to the King's
agents, and a great cloud hung over the little town. In a short time
the gorgeous shrines and altars were plundered and desecrated; the
buildings were sold; and before the eyes of the astonished inhabitants
tower and pinnacle, church and chapter-house, gatehouse and cloister,
fell a prey to the hand of the destroyer!



CHAPTER IV

THE REMAINS OF THE ABBEY

"_... work, that stood inviolate_
 _When axe and hammer battered down the state_
   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
 _... the tall Belfry of the Abbey Gate_
 _Yet stands majestic, pinnacled, elate,_
 _And fills the Vale with music far and wide._"

      --HERBERT NEW.


The earliest architectural remains are the work of Norman abbots. The
most perfect relic of this period is Abbot Reginald's Gateway, now
leading from the market-place into the churchyard, which consists of
side walls both decorated with round arches and shafts. The building
above has been much "restored." As there are no signs of stone
groining, the superstructure was, in all probability, always of
timber, but the design of the arcades, and certain moulded arch stones
found embedded in the soil below would seem to point to the existence
in former times of two stone arches, one at each end, which would add
much to the strength of the building. This gateway stood in a line of
wall enclosing the monastic precincts and the outer yard in which
stand the parish churches, and stretching to the river eastwards and
westwards. The lower portions of the walls have recently been cleared
of earth and exposed to view. It will be noticed that the soil has
risen by gradual accumulation to a height of several feet above its
original level in the seven hundred and fifty years which have elapsed
since the construction. In monastic times this gateway figured in the
important ceremony attending the installation of a new abbot. Before
entering the precincts of the monastery the destined prelate,
accompanied by his chaplains and personal following, halted in this
corner of the market-place, and after entering one of the adjoining
houses where his shoes were removed he proceeded barefoot into the
churchyard. The whole convent, duly accoutred, were in waiting, and as
soon as the new abbot appeared in the gate they emerged in ordered
procession from the north porch of the great church to meet him. After
various formalities he was solemnly escorted to the church, where
further important ceremonials were performed.

[Illustration: ABBOT REGINALD'S GATEWAY]

To the previous century may be assigned the bases of the substantial
piers which stood at the crossing of the nave and transept, and
supported the tower of the great church. These remains may be seen in
the excavated hollow a few steps from the southern side of bell tower.
The tower of the church was begun by Abbot Walter soon after the
Conquest, and there can be little doubt that these massive foundations
belong to his time. If we follow the line of wall to the south from
this point we come to an arch, bare on this side but elaborately
carved on the other with two rows of figures under canopies. This
archway was in the east walk of the cloisters, and gave entrance to a
vaulted passage connecting the cloisters with the chapter-house.
Though the figures have been considerably mutilated and weather-worn
it will be seen that the carving is of great beauty; the outer figures
are seated while the inner ones stand, and over both are placed
canopies of tabernacle work. We know this as the work of Abbot
Brokehampton, by whom it was erected early in the fourteenth century.
The bare face of the arch was originally hidden by the stone vault
forming the roof of the passage already referred to. The chapter-house
stood out in the field; but much farther, even to the edge of the bank
which slopes down to the monks' fish ponds, did the choir and Lady
chapel extend.

As we retrace our steps we follow the line of the transepts. When we
reach the exposed foundations, let us pause awhile and allow our
imagination full sway. We are standing in the midst of the choir, in
the "dim religious light" of a great mediæval church. Above is the
"high embowed roof" of the central tower; around are the stalls set in
a screen of woodwork intricately carved. All is mellowed by the
"storied windows," which break the light into many coloured rays.
Looking westward, over the blank wall, we should see in vision the
tall rood screen and gallery, and, stretching far beyond, the long
vista of Norman arches and painted roof: and through the screen
glimpses would reach us of the many-coloured west window. Let us turn
round, and in place of sunlit trees and river conjure up the broad
flight of stone steps, the stately sanctuary above, with its glorious
reredos enriched with tabernacle work and carving, gold, silver, and
colours; and the clerestory lights shedding that sweet lustre we have
seen somewhere never to forget!

The bell tower rising in solitary state beside us cannot wait for its
true chronological order. It is one of the few existing examples of
many separate belfries built to hold the bells either for convenience,
or in cases where the towers of the church were of insufficient
strength. As a rule these buildings were much broader and less
graceful in design. This tower has been critcised as "squat," but
considering its use it will be seen that a broad base is essential to
its character. In reality, it is remarkable how much delicacy and
grace have been given by form and proportion, without lessening the
strength or utility. The tower was built by Clement Lichfield in the
last years of his abbacy, and hardly finished at his resignation in
1539. That the builder and his local contemporaries were proud of this
last ornament to the town, is proved by the inscription on Lichfield's
grave, which concludes with the line "in whose time the new tower of
Evesham was built."

The bell tower is indeed Evesham's chief glory, from some standpoints
her principal cause for pride. Unique in its character, it strikes
every beholder with surprise and pleasure in proportion to his
capacity for the appreciation of stately form and exquisite
workmanship. Built by the accomplished and learned Lichfield in the
pure perpendicular style, at a time when Gothic architecture was fast
sinking in its decline, it would seem to be, not only one of the
triumphs of mediæval art, but one of the very last efforts of a dying
tradition; in it we see embodied the lofty thought of one of our
noblest abbots. Though it has not witnessed the beginnings of the
conventual life, the early struggles, nor the palmy days of
monasticism, it forms a connecting link between the dim past and this
present time. It is, as it were, a monument perpetuating the memory of
a great period and a great institution.

If the atmosphere be clear we should ascend the spiral staircase, and
from the summit, no great height indeed, we shall gain a view of the
town with the encircling river, and the vale with the surrounding
hills. The tower still performs its function, and every day the chimes
play a different tune, all familiar airs that never tire, but with
repetition seem rather to gain in association and charm.

If we take the path from the tower which brings us to the left side of
Saint Lawrence's church, we skirt an old wall which bounded the great
courtyard of the Abbey, and joined the great church to the gate-house.
We soon come to a door of fifteenth century workmanship, and close by
is a curious Gothic chimney of about the same date. On the inner side
was the porter's lodge, and from here to the adjacent church of Saint
Lawrence ran a covered way, probably a vaulted passage like a cloister
walk, through which the officiating priest would enter. If we proceed
we soon find ourselves at the bottom of Vine Street, and looking
across Merstow Green; and over the house-tops, bounding the horizon we
see Clark's Hill, a steep bank on the opposite side of the river,
traditionally said to have been planted by the monks as a vineyard. On
our left is a large plastered building enclosed within substantial
iron railings. This was once the great gatehouse of the Monastery, and
was built in the fourteenth century by Abbot Chiriton, who obtained a
special licence from King Edward the Third to fortify the abbey
precincts. The windows and the wing projecting outwards are
comparatively modern, but a Gothic window may be seen in the wall
facing the churchyard, and the original arches can be traced on the
garden front. Close by, and possibly adjoining, was the Barton Gate
which led to the stables and outhouses. The long low building of
stone and timber, washed over in the old manner with lime, which rises
from the grass on our left was once the Almonry of the Abbey. It is
now occupied as offices and separate dwellings. The front is extremely
picturesque with its buttresses, perpendicular window and quaint
openings. The western portion, built mainly of timber, with here and
there the remains of carving, and a diaper imprinted on the plaster,
contains the great fireplace, clearly indicated on this side by the
mass of solid stonework. Turning the corner into Little Abbey Lane we
come to the yard at the back, and we may be allowed to view the
interior of the Almoner's kitchen, which still retains some of its
primitive character. From this apartment a passage runs through the
entire length of the building, and this was no doubt originally
continued, forming a communication with the main buildings of the
Monastery. In the corner of the courtyard, beneath a brick gable which
is mere modern patchwork, the passage takes an abrupt turn, and in the
angle is placed a curious "lantern" of stone, which, from its
character, may very probably be the work of the Gloucester school of
masons of the fifteenth century. The proper position and use of this
curious relic is only guessed at. The chambers below are said to have
served the purpose of a prison at one time, the prisoners' food being
placed in the lantern, and taken by the unfortunate inmates through
the hatch cut in the wall behind. The passage is continued from this
corner to the outer wall of the building where it abruptly terminates
in a screen of modern construction. If we go farther round this block
into the garden we shall come to another cottage, and in the front
room we may see a well-carved fireplace ornamented with five
quatrefoils. It is composed of the oolite stone used for all the finer
and more important work in the Monastery, but has been lately painted,
with unfortunate result. Beyond a partition is a beautifully carved
fragment which would seem to have formed part of an elaborate shrine
or chantry, but now serves as the lintel of the scullery window.
Overlooking the garden in which we stand as we leave the door is the
gable end of a plain rectangular building, now cottages, but formerly
the Abbot's stables.

One more relic completes the list of the remains of the "late Abbey,"
as Leland pathetically alludes to that important establishment.
Walking across the Green we see before us an old stone porch embattled
above, and behind it a plain building of two storeys. This was the
Grammar School of Abbot Lichfield, and his inscription over the door
may still be deciphered, "ORATE PRO ANIMA CLEMENTIS ABBAT." The
schoolhouse is of timber, and has been little altered, except that the
front is spoiled by the substitution of brick for wood and plaster;
the ornamental battlement on the porch is also of recent date.

For more than a hundred years after the destruction of the noble pile
the site was used as a stone quarry, and fragments may be found in
almost all the older houses in the town, and in many farm buildings in
the neighbourhood. There is hardly an old garden near that has not
some carved stones of curious shape recognisable by the antiquary as
having once formed part of a shaft, a window, or an archway of the
proud Abbey. Of these scattered fragments the most important is the
lectern of alabaster, Romanesque in style, now, after long misuse and
neglect serving its original purpose in the church of Saint Egwin at
Norton, a village lying nearly three miles to the north of the town. A
description of this relic will be found in the last section of this
work.

The local tradition of the splendour of the Monastery is no doubt
handed down to us by Thomas Habington, the antiquary, who visited the
town in 1640. "There was not to be found," he writes, with pardonable
exaggeration, "out of Oxford or Cambridge, so great an assemblage of
religious buildings in the kingdom"!



CHAPTER V

THE PARISH CHURCHES


The two parish churches, placed together in one yard, make with the
bell tower an unusually striking group. What then would be the
feelings aroused in the spectator were the great church, a cathedral
in magnitude and splendour, still visible, rising majestically above
roofs and spires. To us the Abbey which is gone can do no more than
add solemnity to the scene which once it graced. It matters little by
which entrance we approach the churchyard, for from every side the
buildings group harmoniously; each of the steeples acting as it were
as a foil to the other: and both the spires unite in adding dignity to
the bell tower. The churchyard in Norman times would seem to have been
part of the Abbey precincts, as it is enclosed within Abbot Reginald's
wall already described, and a second wall, part of which is still
standing, divided it from the Monastery and the monastic grounds.

The Church of All Saints seems to have served, from very early times,
as the parish church. As we examine it we read, as in an ancient and
partly illegible manuscript, its long story. The restorer, more
ruthless than Age or Time, has, with the best intentions, laid his
heavy hand upon it, and obliterated much of its character and history;
but enough remains to interest us, though pleasure is now mingled with
much vain regret. In the simple Norman arch through which we pass as
we enter the nave, and perhaps the western wall with the small
round-headed windows, we find the earliest records. The slight tower
with its sharply-pointed windows and delicate spire was added,
probably supplanting an earlier and simple porch, in the time of the
Edwards. The arches and northern clerestory of the nave belong to a
rather later period when the church was found too narrow for the
increasing population; while the arches on the southern side with no
clerestory above, are probably later still. The choir and north wall
of the nave are the work of the restorer, and tell us nothing but a
tale of culpable neglect and mistaken zeal! The head of the north door
of the chancel is, however, a relic of the original building, and this
should be carefully examined. It is beautifully cut with double rows
of cusps, and is of fourteenth century workmanship. The latest Gothic
additions are the work of Clement Lichfield. To this Abbot we owe the
outer porch so deeply panelled, with its two entrance doorways, its
pierced battlements, and finely carved timber roof; to him also do we
breathe our thanks as we stand looking up at the lovely vaulting of
the Lichfield Chapel built by him in his younger days when Prior of
the Monastery. Here was Lichfield buried, and beneath the floor his
body lies; formerly a memorial brass engraved with effigy and
inscription marked the spot, but this has long since disappeared. The
inscription, however, can be read on a tablet lately erected by pious
hands to perpetuate his memory. Over the entrance we may still see the
initials of the builder carved upon an ornamental shield. The windows
are now filled with modern glass, not unworthily telling the
oft-repeated story of the "vanished Abbey." In the upper lights are
represented figures of the Virgin Mary, and of Eoves with his swine.
The shields on either side of the former figure bear the lily and the
rose; to the left of Eoves are the arms of the Borough of Evesham, and
on the right those attributed to the ancient Earls of Mercia. The
figures below show Saint Egwin, with the arms of the See of Worcester
to the left, those of the Monastery to the right; and Abbot Lichfield,
with his own arms (Lichfield alias Wych) on the left, and those of the
Rev. F.W. Holland, to whose memory the windows were glazed, oh the
right. In the west window of the chapel is Simon de Montfort, Earl of
Leicester, with the arms of de Montfort on the left, and those of
James the First, who granted the Borough its charter, on the right.
Above him is his opponent and conqueror, Prince Edward; to the left
his own arms as eldest son of the monarch, and to the right the
traditional arms of Edward the Confessor; who according to the Abbey
Chronicles first granted the town a market and the right of levying
tolls. In one of the carved panels below these windows is a variation
of the coat-of-arms of the Monastery.

As we leave the church porch we shall notice the black and white house
adjoining Abbot Reginald's gateway on the right. This is now a private
house, but was until lately the Vicarage. The lower rooms have been
made to project to the level of the first floor, and the
picturesqueness given by an overhanging storey has thus been lost. In
one of these rooms is a large fifteenth-century fireplace of stone.

The Church of Saint Lawrence has little to say to us of its history.
Though an old foundation the irregular western tower is the earliest
part now standing, and this is not older than the fourteenth or
fifteenth century; the rest of the church was built in Lichfield's
time, but after having lain in ruins for many years it underwent a
complete restoration towards the middle of last century, with the
result that much of the Gothic character is lost. The general plan of
the church with its panelled arcade and open clerestory is original,
but the northern side is modern, and compared with the old work hard
and lacking in feeling. The east window and the chapel now used as the
baptistery are both fine examples of perpendicular architecture and
worthy of careful study. The carved detail round the east window with
its playful treatment of flying buttresses, battlements, and pinnacles
is charming in its delicacy and proportion; and some of the detail is
almost as sharp as when it left the mason's hand four hundred years
ago. The chapel is, in its way, perfect, a complete vault of fan
tracery. The decayed condition of the broken canopies, once flanking
an altar, and which were the work of the same hands as the east
window, shows into what a dilapidated condition the church had fallen.
There was a corresponding chapel on the north side of the nave, but
this has been long demolished. The present font is an unsympathetic
copy of the old one, dating from the fifteenth century and still
preserved at Abbey Manor. Outside the tower on the north side, and set
on a level with the eye, should be noticed a carving of the
Crucifixion, much worn by weather and rough usage; but even yet may be
traced a master hand in the attitudes and proportion of the figures.



CHAPTER VI

THE TOWN

_The towne of Evesham is meetly large and well builded of tymbre ...
The market is very celebrate_.--LELAND, _circ._ 1540.


The town of Evesham consists, by reason of its insular position, of
only one thoroughfare. The river winds round enclosing it on three
sides, so that, there being but one bridge, there is no other outlet
except towards the north. There are four principal streets: High
Street, which was in all probability an extension of the "celebrate"
market along the Worcester and North Road; Vine Street and Bridge
Street, both skirting the boundary wall of the abbey precincts, and so
probably the oldest in their origin; and Port Street, the main
thoroughfare of Bengeworth, forming part of the London road beyond the
river bridge. High Street, Bridge Street, and Vine Street lead from
the Market Place, and here we will stand and look around. On the north
side is the "market-sted," "fayre and large" as when Leland viewed
it, but now converted to private uses. It is a fine example of Gothic
timber construction; but to think of it as it appeared to Leland's
admiring gaze, we must imagine the walls and partitions of the lower
storey cleared away, and fancy it supported only by massive pillars of
oak, roughly hewn and of great strength. Below was the market
sheltered from the rain, and such as may still be seen at Ledbury and
other places; and above were chambers devoted to the business of the
town, and presumably of the various guilds, of which little is now
known.

About 1586 the "New Town Hall" was erected, probably of stone from the
ruins of the Abbey, on the west side of the square; but from this
point the older part of the building is entirely obscured by recent
additions, and to understand its first appearance we must walk round
it into Vine Street. The general plan, though the difference in
material necessitates changes in form, is much the same as in the
older Booth Hall, for by this name the older market hall is known.
There is the basement, open until lately and used as a market, and
above is the large hall, and the rooms for public business. The clock
turret and ornamented gable were added in commemoration of Queen
Victoria's Jubilee of 1887. Little else calls for notice, but the
group of timber gables in the corner near the churchyard will
certainly attract the eye by their picturesque grouping. The most
prominent of these gables is carved with a flowing design, and in the
upper angle can be seen a large T, and some smaller letters which have
not been deciphered. Above the chimneys rise the tower and spire of
All Saints Church.

[Illustration: _In the_ Market Place, _Evesham_]

The breadth of High Street may be accounted for by the supposition
that the roadsides in this direction were broad and grass-grown, and
used for the market, which was large and important. Indeed, until
quite lately, the fairs now carried on in a closed market were held in
the open street, the animals being penned up by hurdles. Bordering the
green sward houses would have sprung up to cater for the wants of the
farmers and drovers, and, as the town grew larger, a continuous line
of street would be formed, and the grass edge would naturally be paved
for cleanliness and convenience. The irregularity of the houses in
shape, size, and colour will at once strike the visitor. The primitive
timber has been almost entirely superseded by the more "respectable"
and secure brick front, but the interiors and the backs of the houses
show that the construction is often really of wood with a thin veneer
of old-fashioned respectability. High Street leads on to Green Hill,
now severed from the town by the railway, and becomes the main road
northwards. Near the end of the street, towards the railway stations,
is a building of stone and brick thinly coated with plaster, roofed
with stone tiles, and with a recessed porch and balcony. The railing
of the balcony especially should be noticed, being of unusual design,
and very likely the work of the local blacksmith more than two hundred
years ago. The name, Almswood, reminds us that here was once a wood
belonging to the office of the Almoner to the Abbey. On the same side
of the street, nearer the centre of the town, is another interesting
house. It is a mansion of brick, and in front are some very fine
railings fixed on a low wall of stone. The door, which is in the
middle of the front, is approached by wide steps, and over it is a
heavy canopy supported by wrought-iron brackets of decorated scroll
work. This house belonged to a certain Thomas Cookes, whose family
were large landowners in the neighbourhood of Tardebigg in the
northern part of the county, and was built by him in the time of King
William III. It contains a fine staircase, ornamental fireplaces, and
panelled walls. At the back is a paved yard enclosed by short wings,
and from here a stairway and tunnel lead under a narrow street into
what was once a large and beautiful garden. Though now sadly curtailed
and overlooked, enough is left to show what it must have been like in
former days. Beside the main path is a tall and well-cut sundial of
stone, with a weather-vane at the top pierced with the initials of
Robert Cookes, and the date 1720. At the end of the garden is a break
in the wall, formerly railed across, and flanked on either side by
tapering columns. This was a favourite device for obtaining a long
vista extending beyond the garden, and when it was constructed the
view over the meadows and river to Clark's Hill must have formed a
charming outlook. It is now obstructed and spoiled by a modern street.
In the farther corner of this old-fashioned garden is a tower of wood
known as the Temple, and at the back of this an external staircase
winds, giving access to the upper rooms, both curiously decorated with
carving and painting. There is little doubt that some of the woodwork
came from the Abbey. Facing this is an arbour formed of a huge
Jacobean mantel of carved oak, bearing in the centre the arms of the
Borough of Evesham.

[Illustration: (High Street)]

An eighteenth century romance attaches to this property. A young
doctor, skilful, extravagant, and presumably attractive, won the hand
of a Miss Cookes, who inherited the place from her father. After the
death of his wife this physician, Baylies by name, being deeply in
debt, and having mortgaged his property, disappeared. The house and
garden were taken possession of by one of the principal creditors, who
must have justified his claim, for the house long remained in his
family. The enterprising doctor was next heard of in Prussia, where he
became court physician and adviser to the Emperor Frederick the Great.

Three old streets lead out of High Street. To the west, Magpie Lane
ends in the river meadows; and to the east, Swan Lane and Oat Street
reach the river at the Mill.

Vine Street is little more than a continuation of the Market Place
towards Merstow Green; and its old name, Pig Market, shows that it was
used in the same manner. Here, again, many of the old houses have been
refronted, thus appearing of a much later date than they are in
reality. The Georgian dislike of gabled irregularity is once more
exemplified. But Vine Street is saved from becoming commonplace by the
low line of buildings at the end, still known as the Almonry, and over
which the Gatehouse, in spite of its dismantled and modernised state,
still seems to keep guard.

Bridge Street is probably the most ancient of the streets. The houses
on the south side have gardens reaching to the Abbey walls, a position
which would add greatly to their security in early times, and the
narrowness of the roadway also goes towards proving its antiquity.
This must have been the most frequented thoroughfare, leading as it
did in old times to the ford, and afterwards to the bridge and the
Abbot's mill beside it. Here were the oldest inns; and though all the
house-fronts have been sadly modernised, either by the insertion of
huge plateglass windows or in some less defensible manner, yet the eye
still passes with pleasure from house to house, and the effect of the
irregularity, heightened by the contrast of light and shade, is
picturesque in the extreme.

Starting at the top we have on one side the old Booth Hall already
described. On this side the bay windows projecting from the level of
the first floor add much to the quaint effect. Almost opposite is "The
Alley" continuing one side of High Street into Bridge Street and the
Market Place. As seen from the High Street side this narrow passage
between the shops retains much of its old character, and the windows
with their wooden frames and mullions are worth notice. The house on
the left next to the Bank with its prominent bay windows was at one
time the town house of a family named Langstone, and it was here that
King Charles the First stayed and held his "Court" in 1644. Almost
opposite is a stately front of brick dating from the next century, of
elegant proportions and with well-designed spouts. Further down on the
right side is a much renovated gabled building of timber, possessing
a fine doorway of the fifteenth century with its massive door and
wrought-iron hinges intact. Almost next door is "The Crown," one of
the old coaching inns with the courtyard opening on the street. At one
time an open gallery ran round the first floor, and traces of this may
be seen on the further side. A little above the old house we have just
noticed was the White Hart Inn, the most celebrated house when country
inns were in their prime. It is now in the occupation of a market
gardener and has been much altered, but some of the passages and rooms
are still to be seen in the back premises. An amusing story connected
with the White Hart Inn has been revived by Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps,
who by means of it has endeavoured to explain the line in "Troilus and
Cressida." "The fool slides o'er the ice that you should break." The
anecdote is related by Robert Armin, who claims to have been an
eye-witness of the incident; and this would seem probable, as the
local touches are correct and Armin was for some time a member of the
company alluded to. It is to be found in a work entitled, _Foole Vpon
Foole, or Sixte Sortes of Sottes_, published in 1605, and re-edited
and issued, with the author's name attached, in 1608, as _A Nest of
Ninnies_. The fool referred to in the line quoted above is suspected
to be not merely the imaginary representative of a type but the
popular local Fool of Shakespeare's time, a fellow of brilliant parts,
but eccentric, and, we must suppose, lacking in balance and common
sense. We are told that one winter Lord Chandos's players visited
Evesham, and Jack Miller, our Fool, became greatly attached to the
company and in particular to Grumball the clown; indeed, so greatly
was he enamoured that he "swore he would goe all the world over with
Grumball." The townspeople being loth to lose so popular a character,
Jack was locked in a room at the back of the White Hart Inn from which
he could see the players journeying on their way to Pershore, their
next stage, by the road on the farther side of the river. With
difficulty he contrived to escape by the window, and ran down to the
water's edge. The stream, says our author, "was frozen over thinely,"
but Miller "makes no more adoe, but venters over the haven, which is
by the long bridge, as I gesse some forty yards over; yet he made
nothing of it, but my hart aked when my eares heard the ise crack all
the way. When he was come unto me," continues Armin, "I was amazed,
and tooke up a brick-bat, which lay there by, and threw it, which no
sooner fell upon the ise but it burst. Was not this strange that a
foole of thirty yeeres was borne of that ise which would not endure
the fall of a brick-bat?"! The fact that Robert Armin and William
Shakespeare were fellow-actors at the Globe Theatre lends probability
to Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps' elucidation.

Continuing our way beyond the Crown Hotel we see on our right, below
the level of the street, a quaint row of gables with little shops
below quite unchanged by the present conditions of trade. Passing
onward towards the bridge we shall see to the best advantage the full
effect of this most picturesque of streets.

Alas! that modern enterprise and modern requirements should have
demanded the removal of such a bridge as fifty years ago spanned the
stream in eight irregular arches. Here we have convenience, but will
this condone for the charm of picturesqueness and long association? We
cannot but mourn over the loss. From the bridge we look up the river
to the weir, mill and water-meadows. On the right, by the yard not far
up the stream, stood, in the troublous reign of King Stephen a castle;
and from this fortress William de Beauchamp sallied forth, forcibly
entered the Abbey, and carried away the goods of the Church. But an
abbot in those days was quite equal to meeting a hereditary sheriff on
his own ground. Abbot William de Andeville descended on the castle,
took it, razed it to the ground, and consecrated the site as a
cemetery; no vestige of either castle or cemetery now remains. Old
Bengeworth is hardly more than one long street, and there is little
now to claim our attention. On the right side of the street, set back
behind some iron railings, is a school founded early in the eighteenth
century by John Deacle, a man of humble origin and a native of
Bengeworth, who, moving to London became a wealthy woollen draper with
a shop in Saint Paul's churchyard, and finally an Alderman of the
City. In the new church is his tomb with an elaborate effigy in the
costume of the period. Passing up the street we should turn before
coming to the Talbot Inn and look back: from this point the irregular
houses and roofs with the Bell Tower rising beyond make an attractive
vignette. The old churchyard can be seen behind the Talbot Inn. The
church is gone in favour of the modern and "handsome" structure which
we saw before us as we turned out of the main street. Here are only
the graves and the base of the old tower. Opposite the remains of the
tower is an old stone house, once the manor, where a little chapel can
still be seen in an upper room. Except the monument to John Deacle
there is nothing in the new church to call forth our interest.

[Illustration: THE BELL TOWER FROM BENGEWORTH]

By pursuing our way past the old burial-ground, and taking the turn to
the right we find ourselves in Cooper's Lane, associated with a family
long connected with the borough. To our left is a pretty cottage, and
beyond, seen among the trees but with outhouses abutting on the road,
is the Mansion House, still retaining in every feature that old-world
sense of remoteness and repose so precious in these days; like a
backwater of a rapid river, lying unmoved while the stream of life
rushes vociferously by; a veritable "haunt of ancient peace."

The lane leads us into the Cheltenham Road, and we should turn into
the public Pleasure Grounds, or, better still, walk a few steps
farther along the road, until we have passed them, in order to see the
true situation chosen by the monks for their church and
dwelling-place.

How dignified does the Bell Tower appear, with the twin spires, rising
from the summit of the bank, above the willows which edge the fish
ponds! And below in the smooth waters their image is reflected, broken
and clear at intervals. All the morning does the sun glorify the
scene, and beneath its intense rays the towers gleam white against the
blue heavens. Every third hour the bells in Lichfield's tower play an
old tune fraught with sweet memories. The horses browse in the meadows
or stand beneath the shade of the tall elms. Often a brightly-coloured
caravan is to be seen encamped near the ponds, and beside it a fire
which sends a faint cloud of blue smoke up against the dark green of
the foliage. Out come the children to play on the green slope, to fish
in the ponds or gather flowers in the meadow below. An old barge,
perhaps, lies under the bank, towed up with much labour from the
Severn. Pleasure boats pass now and again, disturbing the water and
breaking the reflections into a thousand fragments. Evening comes on;
the sun declines, and the face of the tower is dark against the
glittering beams; the water receives the glow and reflects the
radiance. Tower, spires, trees and landscape assume one sombre hue;
clear cut against the sky their forms appear; and, as night falls, the
single deep-toned bell rings out the "Curfew" across the silent vale.

Though lying outside the town, and separated from it by the railway,
Green Hill is included within the limits of the borough, and forms
part of the Evesham parishes. The hill is memorable on account of the
well-known battle, described in the next chapter, in which Prince
Edward gained the victory over Simon de Montfort, thus concluding the
Barons' War. The exact site of the encounter is not known, but
tradition points to a spot in the Abbey Manor grounds called
Battlewell, on which it is averred de Montfort was slain; and the
fight probably extended over a great part of the level plateau on both
sides of the present main road.

Unfortunately Battlewell lies in private grounds, but the position may
be seen from Clark's Hill. It lies a hundred yards to the left of the
road nearly opposite a pretty thatched lodge, but cannot be seen from
the highway.

Just beyond is a double cottage dividing the road into two, and on the
right is a shady lane. This is Blayney's Lane, and, as already
mentioned, it was once the London road; by pursuing it we come to the
river meadows and Offenham Ferry. The main road runs straight on, and
leads, through the village of Norton, to Alcester, Stratford,
Birmingham, &c. The way to the left is the old Worcester road, and
skirts the grounds of the Abbey Manor. If we take this lane and
descend the hill we may turn sharply to the left near the bottom and
return to the town by the "New Road"; or walk on a short distance with
Wood Norton--the Duke of Orleans' house--on its wooded slope, in full
view, and follow a lane on the left leading to Chadbury Mill.

The Abbey Manor, with its pretty grounds, is not open to the public.
In addition to the beautiful views obtained from its walks and lawns
it contains many treasures of local interest. Chief among these are
fragments of columns, window tracery, sculpture, and other relics
brought by an ancestor of the present owner, a noted antiquary, from
the site of the Monastery. Here are carefully preserved a splendid
abbatial chair richly carved and of great size, bearing the monastic
arms, and in remarkable preservation; also two quaint effigies of men
in plate armour fashioned in solid oak about three-quarters of the
size of life. These figures stood on the face of the belfry tower,
and, by turning on a pivot, struck the hours; they are in all
probability coeval with that building.

In one of the shrubberies, hidden from public view, is an obelisk
commemorating the fall of Simon de Montfort, and in the plantation
near the lower road is a tower, like the house denoting the period of
the late Georgian Gothic revival, and bearing the name of the Earl of
Leicester.



CHAPTER VII

THE BATTLE OF EVESHAM

  _When the barons in armes did King Henrye oppose,_
  _Sir Simon de Montfort their leader they chose;_
  _A leader of courage undaunted was hee,_
  _And oft-times he made their enemyes flee._

  _At length in the battle on Eveshame plaine_
  _The barons were routed and Montfort was slaine._

      --THE BEGGAR'S DAUGHTER OF BEDNALL GREEN.


One of the treasures of the Abbey of Saint Mary and Saint Egwin at
Evesham was the tomb of the great and popular hero Simon de Montfort.
Such tombs were a source of much profit to the ecclesiastical
institutions of those days. Hither pilgrims flocked in great numbers,
particularly on the day specially devoted to the memory of the saint
or martyr, and offerings were made proportionate to the wealth of the
devotee. Not only was it supposed that spiritual advantages could be
gained by devotion at these holy places, but cures innumerable were
believed to have been worked through the intercession of the departed
spirit. Hence the great monasteries often partook of the nature of our
present-day hospitals, "the maimed, and the halt, and the blind"
thronging thither; and, if at first unsuccessful, trying shrine after
shrine in the hope of eventual restoration to health.

Though de Montfort was not canonised as a saint and martyr, yet he
appears to have been regarded in such a light by the common people,
and among the archives of the Monastery was preserved a long list of
accredited cures and miracles reported to have been worked at his
tomb.

It was on the morning of Tuesday, August 4th, 1265, that the memorable
battle, ending in the death of Simon de Montfort, was fought. Earl
Simon was travelling on the previous day from the neighbourhood of
Worcester to join his eldest son, also named Simon, at Kenilworth.
With the Earl was King Henry the Third as prisoner or hostage, and on
the night of Monday, the 3rd of August, the Earl and his retinue were
received as guests in the Abbey, his army being quartered or encamping
in the town.

Prince Edward, King Henry's eldest son, was in the neighbourhood with
a large army, but his movements for some days past were unknown to de
Montfort. On the Saturday before the arrival of the Barons' army at
Evesham the Prince had surprised the younger Simon at Kenilworth,
killed or taken as prisoners the greater part of his army, and seized
all the baggage and standards. The same day he had returned to
Worcester and joined the Earl of Gloucester and Roger Mortimer, both
leading considerable forces.

Thus we see the Earl, with his adherents, resting at Evesham,
unconscious of the fact that, unaided, he must soon face three
powerful foes. Next day saw his fate decided.

Early on Tuesday morning all was stir and bustle in the Monastery and
in the little town. The troops were preparing to depart at daybreak
towards Kenilworth, where father and son were to meet and arrange
their future tactics. In the early dawn Nicholas, the Earl's barber,
ascended one of the towers of the Abbey, and, gazing northwards, over
Green Hill he descried soldiers bearing standards which were evidently
those of the younger Simon. For a few moments joy prevailed at the
thought of so happy a meeting; but this feeling soon gave place to
anxiety and dread. Closer examination showed that though the standards
were those of the Earl's son the soldiers who carried them were not
Simon's but Prince Edward's followers. In a moment all was clear: the
younger Simon had been defeated, perhaps slain, and de Montfort must
fight single-handed or yield his cause ingloriously. Retreat over the
bridge by which the army had entered the town was useless, for soon
it became known that Roger Mortimer was following the route the barons
had taken the day before, and would soon be on their rear. With the
river on both sides of them, and both ways blocked by enemies, two
alternatives alone presented themselves, to fight or to yield. To add
to the hopelessness of their position the Earl of Gloucester, with his
army, was now joining Prince Edward by the upper Worcester road. De
Montfort knew that against such odds the fight would be a hopeless
one, and urged his supporters to flee while there was yet time, and
not to lose their lives in an unavailing struggle; but none would
desert their leader in the hour of peril. "Then," exclaimed the Earl,
"may the Lord have mercy on our souls for our bodies are in the power
of our enemies."

       *       *       *       *       *

It is recorded that on this fatal Tuesday all the elements seemed to
unite in adding horror to the scene of carnage. Shortly before this a
great comet had made men fear and wonder; and now, on this morning the
sky was overcast with such dense clouds that the land was in darkness;
so black were the heavens that nothing like it had been known within
the memory of man. A violent tempest, with a deluge of rain and
terrific thunder and lightning, swept over the country. The terrified
monks could not see their books as they chanted the Psalms in the
darkened choir, and as they sat in the refectory they could not tell
what food lay upon their trenchers.

Meanwhile the battle raged on the hill above the town; desperately the
barons fought, but, one by one, they fell overpowered by numbers.
Though the earl was sixty-five years of age he fought "stoutly, like a
giant, for the liberties of England" to the end.

We will not dwell on the horror of the battle. Popular tradition still
points to the spot where the great leader was slain, and there, beside
a spring called Battlewell, was placed a sacred rood. Two young de
Montforts fell by their father's side, and many barons, knights, and
common soldiers; but few fled. The stragglers from the defeated army
were, many of them, slaughtered, as they attempted their escape; and
by Offenham Ferry, where in those times probably stood a bridge, there
is a meadow, once an island, which to this day bears the name of
"Deadman's Ait." The chroniclers tell of the shameful mutilation of
the earl's corpse, and how the limbs were distributed through the
country, but the dismembered body was buried reverently by the monks
in the most sacred part of their church, even before the High Altar.
The severed hands were sent by a servant to the wife of Roger
Mortimer, at Wigmore Castle in Shropshire. They arrived, so says the
legend, while the Mass was being celebrated, and, at the raising of
the Host, they were seen, before the bag containing them was opened,
clasped in the attitude of prayer above the head of the messenger. In
fear and trembling, Lady Mortimer returned the bloody trophy.

Prince Edward himself attended the funeral of Henry de Montfort, his
cousin and friend, in the Abbey church.

"Such," sings Robert of Gloucester, "was the murder of Evesham, for
battle none it was."

As in the case of other national heroes of old times, popular fancy
was allowed to play unfettered round the memory of this noble family.
In the well-known ballad preserved by Bishop Percy, of "The Beggar's
Daughter of Bednall Green," it is imagined that Henry de Montfort was
rescued at night from the field of battle while still living, by "a
baron's faire daughter," in search of her father's body; that she
nursed him, and that, on his recovery they married, their daughter
being "prettye Bessee."

The miracles we read of, and to which reference has been made, are
many and varied. For some time the fear of royal censure and
punishment prevented cures being openly attributed to "Saint Simon,"
but it was not long before the fame of his healing power spread, and
persons were brought from all parts of the country to "be measured by"
Earl Simon and restored to health. The process of "measuring" was as
simple as it appears to have been effective. It merely consisted in a
cord which had previously been placed round the relics being made to
meet round the body of the invalid whether man or animal.

The first "miracle" we hear of concerns a dumb boy who fell asleep at
the shrine of Saint Robert at Lincoln, whither he had been taken to be
cured, and in this state he remained from the Saturday preceding the
battle until the Monday, when, suddenly awaking, gifted with the power
not only of speech but prophecy, he informed those who stood around
that Saint Robert had gone to Evesham to aid Earl Simon who would be
slain in the battle there on the morrow! The monkish manuscript goes
on to relate cures of various diseases performed on man and beast,
personal apparitions, "judgements" falling on scoffers, accounts of
the dead restored to life and many other marvels credible or
incredible according to the inclination of the reader. One of the
"judgements" may be given as an example, showing, by the way, the
manners of some of the clergy of that date.

A certain chaplain named Philip had been openly abusing the Earl, and
by way of an oath exclaimed, "If he is a saint, as reported, I wish
the devil may break my neck, or some miracle may befall me before I
reach home." As he returned homewards, being on horseback, and a
servant with him, he saw a hare on the road, and spurring onward in
chase fell headlong from his horse. His manservant who had likewise
abused Earl Simon "was seized by the devil" and remained insane "from
the Feast of St. John the Baptist to the translation of St. Benedict."

In 1279 it is reported how, at Whitsuntide a man wheeled his wife,
whose life was despaired of, from the parish of Saint Bride's in Fleet
Street, London, all the way to Evesham in a wheelbarrow, to visit
"Saint Simon's" relics.

For this brief account of the de Montfort miracles I am indebted to a
paper by Mr. Oswald G. Knapp, and from the same source I transcribe
the following translation of a hymn written in honour of the reputed
"saint and martyr" which concludes the ancient chronicle:--

    "Hail, de Montfort, martyr glorious!
       Noblest flower of chivalry!
     O'er the pains of death victorious,
       England's saviour, praise to thee.
     More than all the saints in story,
       Ere they gained their rest in glory,
     Thou of cruel wrongs hast borne;
       Foully foes thy corpse insulted,
     O'er thy head and limbs exulted
       From thy mangled body torn.
     Once of wrongs the great redresser
       Be thou now our intercessor,
     Pray for us with God on high."

"Pray for us, blessed Simon, that we may be made worthy to obtain the
promises of Christ."



CHAPTER VIII

CAVALIERS AND ROUNDHEADS

"_Who was he that went out from the command at Gloucester in such a
blaze, to adde glory unto conquest, and crown hit actions with a
never-dying honour, when he took the strong garrisoned Evesham in a
storme of fire and leaden haile; the loss whereof did make a king shed
tears? Was it not Massey_?"

      --CONTEMPORARY PAMPHLET.


Once more the peaceful vale was destined to become a field of battle.
At an early stage in the conflict between King and people Evesham was
fortified and garrisoned by the Royal party, and Samuel Sandys was
appointed military governor. The exact nature of the fortifications we
cannot exactly know, but it is certain they were complete, and
sufficient to withstand a siege if properly manned. A ditch, and
rampart of earth surmounted by timber palisades was the probable form
of defence, but no signs of such earthworks now remain, and the
position of them is unknown.

King Charles paid his first visit early in July, 1644, and he is said
to have stayed in what was at that time a large house, probably
gabled, with projecting bay windows, on the north side of Bridge
Street. This mansion, for it was no less though now divided into
shops, was the town house of the Langstones, an influential family in
the neighbourhood. Here the King remained two nights, and from "our
Court at Evesham" he despatched a conciliatory message "To the Lords
and Commons of Parliament assembled at Westminster."

Sir William Waller, the Parliamentary general, was hanging in the rear
of the royal army, and so without more delay the King moved towards
Worcester, taking with him the garrison, guns, and ammunition. Before
leaving, the army partly destroyed the outworks and rendered the
bridge over the river impassable. The townspeople were evidently more
in sympathy with the Roundheads than the Cavaliers, for on the
departure of the royal forces they immediately repaired the bridge,
and Waller entered and remained some days before following the chase.

A week later the King returned, on his way back to the loyal city of
Oxford, much to the dismay of the inhabitants. For their rebellious
behaviour a fine of two hundred pounds was imposed on the borough, and
in addition to this they were forced to provide the royal army with a
thousand pairs of shoes.

A year later we find the King once more passing through Evesham. This
time he left a garrison in charge of the town under Colonel Legge. But
Evesham was too important a place in this conflict, being a connecting
link between the "loyal cities" of Worcester and Oxford, to be left in
the hands of the King's party unchallenged. Almost immediately, in the
same month of May, 1645, Colonel Massey, Governor of Gloucester, with
a troop of horse and foot collected from the neighbouring counties,
attacked the town, and after vainly calling upon Colonel Legge to
yield, they assailed the fortifications at the bridge and in five
other places at the same time. After a short but hard fought encounter
the Royalists surrendered, and until the end of the struggle Evesham
remained in the hands of the Parliament.

On the 29th of May the House of Commons ordered the Speaker to convey
their thanks to the colonel and his officers in acknowledgment of
their great service.



CHAPTER IX

THE RIVER

  _There is a willow grows aslant a brook,_
  _That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;_
  _There with fantastic garlands did she come,_
  _Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples._

      --SHAKESPEARE: Hamlet.


In tracing the history of our little town from its origin it has often
been observed how important a part has been played in its fortunes by
the river that flows through and partly encircles it. It is to the
river that the town owes its position, and its very existence probably
depended upon the advantages which the stream provided. To the early
settlers a good supply of water and natural means of protection were
necessary to life, and both these were offered by this narrow tongue
of land.

For a long period the river was of little use for traffic, and not
until the seventeenth century was it made properly navigable. Now,
through the neglect of the owners of the navigation rights, it is once
more reverting in places to its primitive character. From Evesham to
Tewkesbury the stream is still in good order, but for a short
distance only towards Stratford-on-Avon.

Apart from the fascination exercised on the mind by the ever changing
surface of water, varied and rippled by motion and by wind, the beauty
of this river is mainly due to the delicate and varied foliage of the
willows and other trees which grow freely beside it, the luxuriant
growth of flowers along its banks--"of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies,
and long purples"--and the variety of blossoming water plants. Few
trees are more graceful than the willow when a slight breeze fans its
branches, mingling the "hoar leaves" with the grey green of the upper
side of the foliage; and many, before and since Shakespeare, have
preserved in the "inward eye" such a vision, reflected in "the glassy
stream" or more usually in the slightly ruffled surface below. The
level meadows, or sloping banks, which skirt the stream have a quiet
charm, and beautiful indeed are they in June, when thickly carpetted
with buttercups and ox-eye daisies. At almost every turn rise the blue
hills, completing the landscape and throwing the sunny meadows into
relief.

We can hardly realise to ourselves the protective value of the river
in old times without rowing both up and down the stream for a mile or
more. Above the town, before reaching the railway bridge we should
look back and notice how steeply the land rises from the river on this
side. On the margin is the mill, and above are the houses, roof over
roof, descending again in steps to the river bridge. At the top is the
Bell Tower, and the church spires are seen near it. From the railway
embankment, or the higher ground beyond, the best picture which the
town affords is to be seen. Below us winds the river, and over the
meadows on an eminence is the cluster of houses forming the town; as a
background we have Bredon Hill, delicately outlined, or dark blue as
if overhanging the vale.

Beyond the bridge we soon come to a picturesquely-situated farmhouse,
standing on a steep bank, and looking down upon the meadows. This is
the Parks Farm, and all the fields on this side bordering the river
were once the deer park of the great Abbey. Presently we reach
Offenham Ferry, while a little beyond, set back behind willow trees
and plough-land, is the village; and we soon catch sight of the old
church tower peering over the bank. At the further extremity of the
village, quite near the bank, is the "Court" farm, once protected by a
moat fed by the river, and used by the Evesham Abbots as a country
retreat. Hither Clement Lichfield, the last Abbot, retired on his
resignation, and here he probably died.

The village of Offenham is peculiar in lying away from any main road,
and this gives it an air of repose and antiquity, which is pleasant in
these days. Whether the place owes its name to Offa, King of Mercia,
is an open question, but according to tradition this monarch owned
land and had a palace here, the site of which is pointed out by the
villagers.

Beside the ferry we have passed there was in old times a bridge, and
still, when the water is very low, the solid foundations of the piers
may be seen with pointed buttresses facing up and down the stream.
When this bridge was destroyed no one can tell; but once upon a time
the road from Worcester to London came over Green Hill, and leaving
Evesham more than a mile to the south, descended the steep hill where
now a grass-grown track marks its course, crossing the river by this
bridge. The farm on the right bank is known by the name of Twyford,
and so we guess that the creek which leaves the main stream a little
way above the ferry once continued its course, forming an island with
a ford on either side. Deadman's Ait is the traditional name of this
island field, and it is supposed some of the stragglers from the
battle of 1265 were slain here while attempting to escape by the ford
or bridge.

The irregularity of the river banks, now nearly level with the water,
sloping gently upwards, or steep and at times almost precipitous, is
much marked as we proceed on our way up the stream. After passing some
gardens, and a steep bank overgrown with gorse, the sluggish stream
quickens its pace, and we soon reach an abrupt turn where the current
is met by an unyielding wall of lias. Under the bare limestone the
water is deep and rushes swiftly, but above, the bank is covered with
tangled growth of blackberry and wild clematis, and in spring the
ground beneath the trees is blue with hyacinths. This sudden turn is
Norton Corner, and though no signs of that village can be seen it
stands hardly a mile away over the ridge of fields. The whole course
we have come may be followed on foot by the old tow-path from the
mill. From this point, after crossing the railway, a farm road will
take us to the end of the village; or we may take the footpath through
the arch beneath the line that we passed a few hundred yards further
down.

After leaving Norton Corner by boat, the river, for a space slow and
easy, soon becomes swift, and as we approach the ruins of an old lock
the passage is attended with difficulties by reason of the shallow
water and the stony bed. If we successfully pass these rapids and gain
the next mill further progress is easy, but the mill can only be
passed by lifting the boat over the steep weir. On the way we pass
the old Fish and Anchor Inn, and a new ford calculated rather for the
convenience of vehicles than of boating parties. From the "Fish and
Anchor" we may ascend the long ridge of Cleeve Bank, and command a
fine view of the valley and the winding of the stream below.
Harvington Mill is at our feet, and the spire of the village church is
visible beyond; further up the stream, some distance beyond the
hanging wood, is Cleeve Mill, one of the prettiest spots on the river.
The village of Cleeve Prior lies behind the bank, and there may be
seen, besides the picturesque cottages and church, the old Manor, now
a farmhouse, with a quaint avenue of box, elaborately clipped, leading
to the front door. Over the fields on the further bank are the
Salfords, and among the trees the curved gables of a fine old Jacobean
mansion may be distinguished. The next place of interest on the stream
is Bidford with its many arched bridge of mediæval date.

If we follow the downward course of the Avon we find ourselves making
a circuit of the town; for a considerable distance the Bell Tower does
not leave us but seems to follow our boat, and ever and anon it
reappears over the meadows and among the trees on our right hand.
Hampton Church stands on rising ground, among the trees, on our left,
and soon we are at Hampton Ferry. If we prefer the walk we can take a
footpath by the bridge or the Bell Tower, and follow the winding
stream to this point. According to the old chronicles a church was
built at Hampton, in the reign of Canute, by Leofric and Godiva, so
well known in the regions of romance, and they gave land here to the
Abbey. The church we see was built and rebuilt by the Monastery, but
whether on the ancient site we know not. It is a small but beautiful
example of perpendicular architecture, and with the dark spreading yew
tree, the remains of the old cross, and the delicately weathered
tombstones, it makes a picture upon which the eye dwells with calm
satisfaction.

The hill above the ferry is Clark's Hill, and the bank we are told was
terraced by the monks of old as a vineyard. Whether tradition is true
to facts we cannot surely say; a field beyond the ridge still bears
the name of the vineyard, and this may have been the actual site. The
ascent of the steep bank is rewarded on a clear day by the splendid
panorama which lies around. From the terrace walk we look down upon
the town, noticing with regret the predominating hues of brick and
slate which mark the modern suburbs; but the old tower, the churches,
and the gatehouse, despoiled but yet dignified, unconsciously hold
the eye. The old wall of the Abbey precincts ended here at the river,
and beside it runs Boat Lane, which would bring us out on the Green.

Looking down the stream, over the railway bridges, we see Green Hill,
with the Abbey Manor and its grounds the most prominent feature. At
some little distance to the right of the house is a grassy comb, and
at the upper end is the spring to which legend points as the spot
where Simon de Montfort was slain, and which still bears the name
Battlewell.

Stretched around us are the Cotswolds, and if we take a path, or lane,
leading over the hill westward we may, from the brow, behold Malvern's
rugged length and the isolated mass of Bredon. Further northward, if
the atmosphere be clear, we should distinguish the most striking
height of the Abberly range, a peak which on one side would almost
seem to overhang, and, away beyond, the Clee heights looking down on
the beautiful and historic town of Ludlow.

Returning to our boat, we glide beneath the Abbey Manor, with its
wooded slopes, and presently we reach Chadbury Lock and Mill. On a
fair and warm day we may rest here in perfect content, listening to
the rush of the weir, watching the swallows flit and skim over the
calm water and break the glassy surface into circling ripples; or
gazing with silent pleasure down the stream as it continues its
peaceful course by wood and meadow.

Not far below Chadbury, past Wood Norton--a country seat of the Duke
of Orleans, and by him lately rebuilt--its deer park and plantations,
past flowery banks, and thick beds of rushes haunted by waterfowl, is
the village of Fladbury. Pleasant-looking houses with trim gardens
border the river on our right, and beyond are two mills, with the
rushing weir between. That on our left is Cropthorne Mill, now a
dwelling-house.

In Fladbury Church are some coats-of-arms in stained glass, said to
have come from the Abbey of Evesham. One shield bears the device of
Earl Simon. There is also a fine altar tomb, inlaid with brasses,
bearing the effigies of some members of the Throckmorton family. The
building is architecturally interesting, but the internal effect is
marred by the removal of the plaster, thus exposing the rough masonry
of "rubble," and the irregularity is much emphasised by "pointing."

On the opposite side of the river is Cropthorne, surmounting a steep
bank. Here are many picturesque cottages of timber and thatch, and in
this village of orchards, the effect of the street is much heightened
if it be seen in the time of the apple-blossom. In this and the
neighbouring parishes we may still find much of that rustic beauty
which we have learned to associate with the names of Birket Foster and
Mrs. Allingham.

The church contains many points of interest. As we enter we cannot but
be impressed by the simple arches of the Norman nave, the carved pews
of mediæval date, and the Jacobean monuments--their once gaudy
colouring mellowed by age. Few churches have been treated with such
gentle consideration, and rarely do we find the true Gothic feeling so
carefully preserved. A beautiful Saxon cross, intricately carved, and
the ancient altar stone, lately discovered buried beneath the floor,
are two valued treasures.



CHAPTER X

THE NEIGHBOURHOOD


The town of Evesham is most conveniently situated as a centre from
which to visit the broad vale and the surrounding hills. Within a
comparatively short distance a great variety may be noticed in the
general aspect of the country, and this is due not only to the contour
of the surface and the nature of the soil, but also to the manner of
cultivation; and, as has already been indicated, to the material
employed in the buildings. The vale itself is sheltered, and the soil
productive and capable of high cultivation, consequently the greater
part has been utilised for agriculture. Lately the market-gardening
industry, originating possibly in monastic times, has increased
enormously, and the appearance of the country for many miles round
Evesham has been transformed. In springtime the effect of the
plum-blossom is surprisingly beautiful; and in the autumn a luxuriant
effect is given by the heavily-laden trees bending beneath their
weight of yellow or purple fruit. But against these transient effects
we must place the tiresome regularity of the fruit-trees, their
uniform size and height, and the absence or monotony of colour during
a great part of the year, when the ground, the bushes, and the trees
are bare.

The prosperity brought to the inhabitants of the vale by this staple
industry is "writ large" in the towns and villages wherever it is
practised, and, from the picturesque point of view, the gain is more
than doubtful.

But though fruit-growing has spread in every direction, we can with
ease escape beyond its limits, and even within them we may still find
cornfields, rich pasture and woodlands, thriving farms, and villages
still unspoiled by the modern "jerry-builder."

The hill country does not come within the limits of this volume, but
it may be easily reached--the nearest points being Broadway, and the
villages of Ashton-under-hill and Elmley Castle, both lying under
Bredon. The value of the hills as a shelter and background to the vale
has been touched on in former pages; and the debt which the valley
owes to the stone which they provide, and the architectural style
which grew up amongst them, cannot be overestimated.

[Illustration: St. Egwin's Church Honeybourne]

Close to the town many of the field-paths have been bereft of their
charm, and almost lost in the intricate maze of currant bushes and
plum trees; but the river meadows are still untouched, and without
going far afield we may find villages yet retaining much of their
old-world character, and offering much that is picturesque and
interesting.

Hampton, which has been described in the last section may be
approached as easily by road as by river; from the top of the village
Clark's Hill may be gained, and from here the ferry may be crossed and
the town re-entered by Boat Lane.

Badsey, and Wickhamford, with the hamlet of Aldington, are all in
their different ways worth a visit. Badsey in addition to its church
has many interesting old houses; and at Wickhamford the church and
manor form an attractive group. In the church are some fine canopied
monuments, of Jacobean style, of the Sandys family, who owned the
adjacent manor house--a building of stone and timber, much of it
dating from the sixteenth century. The circular dovecote belonging to
monastic times is carefully preserved.

Bretforton, with its church built by the monks of Evesham, lies on the
road between Badsey and Honeybourne.

The villages of Middle and South Littleton have been little affected
by modern enterprise. They may be reached by way of Offenham or
Bengeworth, or from the village station. In South Littleton the long,
narrow church though much spoiled by restoration tells of the care of
the parent Abbey at least as far back as the thirteenth century.
Opposite the church is a striking brick house, dignified even in its
present degraded condition. With windows blocked, neglected garden,
and used only as a storehouse for the farm at the back, it suggests
the haunted mansion of the imagination. The building dates from about
the year 1700; and the beauty of the design, especially of the roof
with its chimneys and its dormers, is worthy of a better fate. A field
path at the end of the street soon brings us to Middle Littleton.
Among the ricks and outhouses we catch sight of the grey stone gables
of the manor house, with the perpendicular church tower so familiar in
the district, close beside it. The old cross is thrown into relief by
the dark and spreading yew, and a natural picture is completed by the
sombre walls and tower of the church.

To the lover of architecture, or mediæval history, the greatest
interest will attach to the large tythe barn which we come to on
emerging into the field from the further side of the churchyard. The
beautiful masonry and mouldings, the fine doorways and delicately
designed finials at once mark the work as belonging to the fourteenth
century, and in the chronicles of Evesham Abbey we read that it was
built in the time of John de Ombresley who held the abbacy from 1367
to 1379.

In addition to the churches already mentioned St. Egwin's Church at
Honeybourne was also in the "Deanery of the Vale," and under the
special charge and jurisdiction of the Abbey. It may be reached either
by road or rail. The fine tower and spire stamp it, at a glance, as
different in style from the other churches of the neighbourhood; and
these belong probably to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The
porch, like that of Hampton, has a solid stone roof and dates from a
century later. The chancel we learn was built by Abbot Brokehampton
about 1300. The beautiful timber roof, of the Tudor period, has lately
been most carefully repaired, and the interior replastered in the true
mediæval manner.

Almost within sight of this churchyard, and not many minutes' walk
from it is the church of Cow Honeybourne which, with the exception of
the tower, has been entirely rebuilt. For many years the nave and
chancel were occupied as cottages.

On the Evesham side of the river there is only one church which seems
to have been entirely the property of the Abbey. This is the church of
Saint Egwin, at Norton, between two and three miles along the main
north road. Here we may see a lectern of Norman date, carved out of a
block of alabaster with curious forms of beasts and foliage; and in
the centre, rudely cut is the figure of a bishop, holding in his left
hand a crozier, his right in the act of benediction. This lectern once
graced a chapel in the great church of Evesham; and the figure
pourtrayed is Bishop Egwin, the first Abbot, to whom we owe the
beginnings of the great and powerful Abbey.

The north chapel, with its monuments of a fashion long passed away,
and its heraldic adornments, suggestive of the age of chivalry, forms
a picture at once imposing and pathetic. The monuments are of
considerable interest, and are good examples of Renaissance ornament
and sculpture of three successive periods. The Bigge family, to the
memory of whom they were erected, inherited through Sir Philip Hoby
much of the Abbey land in this district. Early in the seventeenth
century their mansion and estates were purchased by Lord Craven, and
it is to the family of this nobleman that the funereal flags, tabards,
and arms suspended above the monuments, belong.

From Norton church we may return by a field path which leads into and
crosses a lane known as King's Lane, and possibly connected with some
cavalier episode. The hamlet which we see before us is Lenchwick, and
if we take the village street, after passing the lane to Chadbury we
presently come to a steep but short descent with a group of old barns
on our left. Near this spot stood, until about a hundred years ago, a
stately mansion built by Sir Thomas Bigge, whose tomb we have but now
visited.

A letter is still extant from Sir Philip Hoby requesting permission
from the King's agent to purchase stone from the Abbey ruins for
building, and there can be little doubt that this house was
constructed of the same material. By the "irony of fate" this mansion,
born of the spoliation of that institution, in its turn fell a prey to
the destroyer, and fragments of carved stones telling of Elizabethan
days may be found in these and other farm buildings within the area of
the parish.


THE END





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