Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Thames Valley Villages, Volume 1 (of 2)
Author: Harper, Charles G. (Charles George)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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 "Thames Valley Villages, Volume 1 (of 2)" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive)



Transcriber’s Note: Illustrations have been moved so as not to fall in
the middle of paragraphs (leaving them as close to the original position
in the book as possible). A few minor printing errors were corrected.


THAMES VALLEY VILLAGES



WORKS BY CHARLES G. HARPER


    =The Portsmouth Road=, and its Tributaries: To-day and in Days
    of Old.

    =The Dover Road=: Annals of an Ancient Turnpike.

    =The Bath Road=: History, Fashion, and Frivolity on an Old
    Highway.

    =The Exeter Road=: The Story of the West of England Highway.

    =The Great North Road=: The Old Mail Road to Scotland. Two Vols.

    =The Norwich Road=: An East Anglian Highway.

    =The Holyhead Road=: The Mail-Coach Road to Dublin. Two Vols.

    =The Cambridge, Ely, and King’s Lynn Road=: The Great Fenland
    Highway.

    =The Newmarket, Bury, Thetford, and Cromer Road=: Sport and
    History on an East Anglian Turnpike.

    =The Oxford, Gloucester, and Milford Haven Road=: The Ready Way
    to South Wales. Two Vols.

    =The Brighton Road=: Speed, Sport, and History on the Classic
    Highway.

    =The Hastings Road= and the “Happy Springs of Tunbridge.”

    =Cycle Rides Round London.=

    =A Practical Handbook of Drawing for Modern Methods of
    Reproduction.=

    =Stage Coach and Mail in Days of Yore.= Two Vols.

    =The Ingoldsby Country=: Literary Landmarks of “The Ingoldsby
    Legends.”

    =The Hardy Country=: Literary Landmarks of the Wessex Novels.

    =The Dorset Coast.=

    =The South Devon Coast.=

    =The Old Inns of Old England.= Two Vols.

    =Love in the Harbour=: a Longshore Comedy.

    =Rural Nooks Round London= (Middlesex and Surrey).

    =Haunted Houses=: Tales of the Supernatural.

    =The Manchester and Glasgow Road.= This way to Gretna Green.
    Two Vols.

    =The North Devon Coast.=

    =Half Hours with the Highwaymen.= Two Vols.

    =The Autocar Road Book.= Four Vols.

    =The Tower of London=: Fortress, Palace, and Prison.

    =The Somerset Coast.=

    =The Smugglers=: Picturesque Chapters in the Story of an
    Ancient Craft.

    =The Cornish Coast.= North.

    =The Cornish Coast.= South.

    =The Kentish Coast.= [_In the Press._

    =The Sussex Coast.= [_In the Press._



[Illustration: AT ASHTON KEYNES.]



                              THAMES VALLEY
                                VILLAGES

                                   BY
                            CHARLES G. HARPER

                                 VOL. I

             _ILLUSTRATED FROM PHOTOGRAPHS BY W. S. CAMPBELL
                    AND FROM DRAWINGS BY THE AUTHOR_

                          [Illustration: ISIS]

                      LONDON: CHAPMAN & HALL, LTD.
                                  1910

                          PRINTED AND BOUND BY
                     HAZELL, WATSON AND VINEY, LD.,
                          LONDON AND AYLESBURY.



CONTENTS


                                                                  PAGE

    INTRODUCTION                                                     1

                              CHAPTER I

    CIRENCESTER—SOURCE OF THE THAMES—KEMBLE—ASHTON
      KEYNES—CRICKLADE—ST. AUGUSTINE’S WELL                          8

                             CHAPTER II

    CASTLE EATON—KEMPSFORD—BY THE THAMES AND SEVERN CANAL TO
      INGLESHAM ROUND HOUSE—LECHLADE—FAIRFORD—EATON HASTINGS
      WEIR—KELMSCOTT—RADCOT BRIDGE                                  50

                             CHAPTER III

    GREAT FARINGDON—BUCKLAND—BAMPTON-IN-THE-BUSH—COTE—SHIFFORD     110

                             CHAPTER IV

    HARVESTS OF THE THAMES: WILLOWS, OSIERS, RUSHES                128

                              CHAPTER V

    NEW BRIDGE, THE OLDEST ON THE THAMES—STANDLAKE—GAUNT’S
      HOUSE—NORTHMOOR—STANTON HARCOURT—BESSELSLEIGH                138

                             CHAPTER VI

    CUMNOR, AND THE TRAGEDY OF AMY ROBSART                         161

                             CHAPTER VII

    WYTHAM—THE OLD ROAD—BINSEY AND THE ORATORY OF ST.
      FRIDESWIDE—THE VANISHED VILLAGE OF SEACOURT—GODSTOW
      AND “FAIR ROSAMOND”—MEDLEY—FOLLY BRIDGE                      186

                            CHAPTER VIII

    IFFLEY, AND THE WAY THITHER—NUNEHAM, IN STORM AND IN
      SUNSHINE                                                     200

                             CHAPTER IX

    ABINGDON                                                       216

                              CHAPTER X

    SUTTON COURTNEY—LONG WITTENHAM—LITTLE WITTENHAM—CLIFTON
      HAMPDEN—DAY’S LOCK AND SINODUN                               234

                             CHAPTER XI

    DORCHESTER—BENSON                                              260

                             CHAPTER XII

    WALLINGFORD—GORING                                             272

                            CHAPTER XIII

    STREATLEY—BASILDON—PANGBOURNE—MAPLEDURHAM—PURLEY               293



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


SEPARATE PLATES

    AT ASHTON KEYNES                                      _Frontispiece_

                                                                  PAGE

    CIRENCESTER CHURCH: SHOWING THE GREAT BUTTRESS                  11

    THE OLD MILL HOUSE, ASHTON KEYNES                               23

    THE INFANT THAMES, ASHTON KEYNES                                31

    APPROACH TO CRICKLADE                                           35

    ST. SAMPSON, CRICKLADE                                          39

    STRAINER-BUTTRESS, ST. SAMPSON’S, CRICKLADE                     43

    “LERTOLL WELL”                                                  43

    THE IRON GIRDER BRIDGE, CASTLE EATON                            51

    THE OLD BRIDGE, CASTLE EATON                                    51

    CASTLE EATON CHURCH: SHOWING SANCTUS-BELL TURRET                55

    THE THAMES AND SEVERN CANAL, NEAR KEMPSFORD                     55

    KEMPSFORD CHURCH                                                61

    INGLESHAM ROUND HOUSE                                           67

    A STREET IN FAIRFORD                                            71

    LECHLADE                                                        75

    FAIRFORD, FROM THE RIVER COLN                                   79

    THE GREAT WEST WINDOW, FAIRFORD, DISPLAYING THE “DOOM”          83

    MONUMENT IN THE PARK, FAIRFORD, WHERE THE FAMOUS WINDOWS
      WERE BURIED                                                   87

    KELMSCOTT MANOR                                                 95

    KELMSCOTT CHURCH                                                99

    RADCOT BRIDGE                                                  103

    A THAMES-SIDE FARM                                             125

    GATEWAY, COTE HOUSE                                            125

    A THAMES-SIDE FARM                                             129

    NEW BRIDGE: THE OLDEST BRIDGE ACROSS THE THAMES                139

    NORTHMOOR: CHURCH AND DOVECOTE                                 143

    STANTON HARCOURT: MANOR HOUSE AND CHURCH                       147

    EARLY ENGLISH SCREEN (UNRESTORED), STANTON HARCOURT            153

    CUMNOR CHURCH                                                  163

    STATUE OF QUEEN ELIZABETH, CUMNOR CHURCH                       167

    TOMB OF ANTHONY FORSTER, CUMNOR                                173

    EYNSHAM                                                        187

    IFFLEY CHURCH: NORTH SIDE                                      201

    WEST DOOR, IFFLEY CHURCH                                       205

    THE BRIDGE, NUNEHAM COURTNEY                                   209

    CARFAX CONDUIT, NUNEHAM COURTNEY                               213

    ABINGDON                                                       217

    THE TOWN HALL, ABINGDON                                        223

    ST. HELEN’S, ABINGDON                                          227

    OLD HOUSES, STEVENTON CAUSEWAY                                 231

    SUTTON COURTNEY CHURCH                                         235

    SUTTON COURTNEY                                                239

    INTERIOR, SUTTON COURTNEY CHURCH                               239

    ANCIENT TIMBER PORCH, LONG WITTENHAM (UNRESTORED)              245

    DAY’S LOCK, AND SINODUN HILL                                   249

    CLIFTON HAMPDEN                                                257

    SEDILIA, DORCHESTER ABBEY                                      261

    THE EAST WINDOW, DORCHESTER ABBEY                              265

    THE JESSE WINDOW (ON THE LEFT), DORCHESTER ABBEY               269

    DORCHESTER                                                     273

    DORCHESTER ABBEY                                               273

    WALLINGFORD                                                    277

    WALLINGFORD: TOWN HALL, AND CHURCH OF ST. MARY-THE-MORE        281

    GORING CHURCH                                                  285

    HOUR-GLASS STAND, SOUTH STOKE                                  285

    PANGBOURNE CHURCH                                              291

    BASILDON CHURCH                                                291

    WHITCHURCH                                                     297

    MAPLEDURHAM MILL                                               301

    MAPLEDURHAM HOUSE                                              305


ILLUSTRATIONS IN THE TEXT

    Near Kemble                                                     19

    At Ewen                                                         21

    At Ashton Keynes                                                22

    Ashton Keynes Mill                                              27

    Old Woodwork, Castle Eaton                                      58

    Norman Porch, Kempsford                                         60

    Inglesham Church                                                65

    Ancient Carving, Lechlade Church                                73

    Fiends                                                      82, 85

    Faringdon Clump                                                101

    St. Stephen                                                    107

    Clanfield Church                                               108

    Faringdon Market House                                         117

    Wooden Bridge across the Upper Thames                          118

    Bampton Church                                                 123

    The Kitchen, Stanton Harcourt                                  150

    Besselsleigh: Church and Fragment of Manor House               157

    Binsey Church                                                  192

    Christ’s Hospital, Abingdon                                    221

    St. Nicholas, Abingdon                                         225

    The “King’s Head and Bell,” Abingdon                           233

    Norman Belfry-window, Sutton Courtney                          238

    Little Wittenham                                               245

    Wittenham Clumps                                               253



_SWEET THAMES, RUN SOFTLY TILL I END MY SONG_


    With rushes fenced, with swaying osiers crowned,
      Old Thames from out the western country hies;
    By daisy-dappled meads his course is found,
      Bearing upon his breast brave argosies
    Of stately lilies. Poets loved to praise
      The stream whose tide doth calmly flow along,
    And this the echo of their tuneful lays:
    “_Sweet Themmes, runne softly till I ende my song._”

    Past town and village, cot and lonely farm,
      His silver stream with murm’ring music goes;
    Singing glad anthems, full of drowsy charm;
      Sweet songs of praise, unheeded not by those
    Who know his banks full well, who often love
      To roam his course, his marge to pace along,
    While Spenser’s line re-echoes as we rove:
    “_Sweet Themmes, runne softly till I ende my song._”



THAMES VALLEY VILLAGES



INTRODUCTORY


The Thames we all know intimately, for the river was discovered by the
holiday-maker in the ’seventies of the nineteenth century; but we do not
all know the villages of the Thames Valley, and it was partly to satisfy
a long-cherished curiosity on this point, and partly to make holiday
in some of the little-known nooks yet remaining, that this tour was
undertaken.

To one who lives, or exists, or resides—the reader is invited to choose
his own epithet—beside the lower Thames, there must needs at times
come a longing to know that upper stream whence these mighty waters
originate, to find that fount where “Father Thames” starts forth in
hesitating, infantile fashion; to seek that spot where the stream,
instead of flowing, merely trickles. To such an one there comes, with
every recurrent spring, the longing to penetrate to the Beyond, away
past where the towns and villages, the water-works and breweries cluster
thickly beside the river-banks; above the town of Reading, the Biscuit
Town, and town of sauce and seeds; beyond the fashionable summer scene of
Henley Regatta, and past the city of Oxford, to the Upper River and its
unconventionalised life.

When spring comes and wakes the meadows with delight, and the osiers
and the rushes again feel life stirring in their dank roots, the old
schoolboy feeling of curiosity, of mystery, of a desire for exploration,
springs anew. You walk down, it may be, to some slipway or draw-dock
by Richmond or Teddington, or wander along those shores contemplating
the high-water-marks left by the late winter floods, which not even the
elaborate locking of the river seems able to prevent; and observing the
curious line of refuse of every description brought down by the waters,
and now left, high and dry, a matted mass of broken rushes, water weeds,
twigs, string and the like, marvel at the wealth of corks that displays
itself there. Children have been known to make expedition towards the
distant hills, seeking that place where the rainbow touches the ground;
for the sly old legend tells us that on the spot where the glorious bow
meets the earth there lies buried a crock of gold. An equally speculative
quest would be to fare forth and seek the Place whence the Corks Come.
There (not for children, but for “grown-ups”) should be, you think, the
Land of Heart’s Desire.

There are, I take it, three chief things that the world of men most
ardently wishes for. An unregenerate man’s first desires are to wealth,
to a woman, and to a drink; or, in the words attributed to Martin Luther:

    Who loves not woman, wine, and song,
    He is a fool his whole life long;

and the valley of the Thames, from Oxford to Richmond, would seem, by the
evidence of these millions of corks of all kinds, to be a place flowing
with champagne, light wines, all kinds of mineral waters, and bottled
beers.

Corks, rubber rings from broken mineral-water bottles, and big bungs
that hint of two-or three-gallon jars, abound; these last telling in no
uncertain manner of the magnificent thirsts inspired among anglers who
sit in punts all day long, and do nothing but keep an eye on the float,
and maintain the glass circulating.

A thirsty person wandering by these bestrewn towing-paths must sigh to
think of the exquisite drinks that have gone before, leaving in this
multitude of corks the only evidence of their evanescent existence.
Shall we not seek it, this land of the foaming champagne, that comes
creaming to the brim of the generous glass; shall we not hope to
locate those shores, far or near, where the bottled Bass, poured into
the ready tumbler, tantalises the parched would-be drinker of it in
the all-too-slowly-subsiding mass of froth that lies between him and
his expectant palate? Shall we not, at least if we be of “temperance”
leanings, quaff the cool and refreshing “stone-bottle” ginger-beer; or,
failing that, the skimpy and deleterious “mineral-water” “lemonade” that
is chiefly compounded of sugar and carbonic-acid gas, and blows painfully
and at high-pressure through the titivated nostrils? Shall we not—— but
hold there! Waiter, bring me—what shall it be?—an iced stone-bottle
ginger!

That was the brave time, the golden age of the river, when, rather more
than a generation ago, the discovery of the Thames as a holiday haunt was
first made. The fine rapture of those early tourists, who, deserting the
traditional seaside lounge for a cruise down along the placid bosom of
the Thames, from Lechlade to Oxford, and from Oxford to Richmond, were
(something after the Ancient Mariner sort) the first to burst into these
hitherto unknown reaches, can never be recaptured. The bloom has been
brushed from off the peach by the rude hands of crowds of later visitors.
The waterside inns, once so simple under their heavy beetling eaves of
thatch, are now modish, instead of modest; and Swiss and German waiters,
clothed in deplorable reach-me-down dress-suits and lamentable English
of the Whitechapel-atte-Bowe variety, have replaced the neat-handed—if
heavy-footed—Phyllises, who were almost in the likeness of those who
waited upon old Izaak Walton, two centuries and a quarter ago.

To-day, along the margin of the Thames below Oxford, some expectant
mercenary awaits at every slipway and landing-place the arrival of the
frequent row-boat and the plenteous and easily-earned tip; and the lawns
of riparian villas on either hand exhibit a monotonous repetition of “No
Landing-Place,” “Private,” and “Trespassers Prosecuted” notices; while
side-channels are not infrequently marked “Private Backwater.”

All the villages immediately giving upon the stream have suffered
an equally marked change, and have become uncharacteristic of their
old selves, and converted into the likeness of no other villages
in this our England, in these our times. There is, for example, a
kind of theatrical prettiness and pettiness about Whitchurch, over
against Pangbourne; and instead of looking upon it as a real, living
three-hundred-and-sixty-five-days-in-the-year kind of place, you are apt
to think of what a pretty “set” it makes; and, doing so, to speak of its
bearings in other than the usual geographical terms of east and west,
north and south; and to refer to them, indeed, after the fashion of the
stage, as “P.” or “O.P.” sides.

But if we find at Whitchurch a meticulous neatness, a compact and
small-scale prettiness eminently theatrical, what shall we say of its
neighbour, Pangbourne, on the Berkshire bank of the river? That is of
the other modern riverain type: an old village spoiled by the expansion
that comes of being situated on a beautiful reach of the Thames, and with
a railway station in its very midst. Detestable so-styled “villas,” and
that kind of shops you find nowhere else than in these Thames-side spots,
have wrought Pangbourne into something new and strange; and motor-cars
have put the final touch of sacrilege upon it.

Perhaps you would like to know of what type the typical Thames-side
village shop may be, nowadays? Nothing easier than to draw its portrait
in few words. It is, to begin with, inevitably a “Stores,” and is
obviously stocked with the first object of supplying boating-parties
and campers with the necessaries of life, as understood by campers and
boating-parties. As tinned provisions take a prominent place in those
holiday commissariats, it follows that the shop-windows are almost
completely furnished with supplies of tinned everything, festering in
the sun. For the rest, you have cheap camp-kettles, spirit-stoves,
tin enamelled cups and saucers, and the like utensils, hammocks and
lounge-chairs.

Thus the modern riverside village is unpleasing to those who like to
see places retain their old natural appearance, and dislike the modern
fate that has given it a spurious activity in a boating-season of three
months, with a deadly-dull off-season of nine other months every year.
We may make shift to not actively dislike these sophisticated places in
summer, but let us not, if we value our peace of mind, seek to know them
in winter; when the sloppy street is empty, even of dogs and cats; when
rain patters like small-shot on the roof of the inevitable tin-tabernacle
that supplements the over-restored, and spoiled, parish church; and when
the roar of the swollen weir fills the air with a thudding reverberance.
Pah!

The villas, the “maisonettes,” are empty: the gardens draggle-tailed; the
“Nest” is “To Let”; the “Moorings” “To be Sold”; and a general air of
“has been” pervades the place, with a desolating feeling that “will again
be” is impossible.

But let us put these things behind us, and come to the river itself; to
the foaming weir under the lowering sky, where such a head of water comes
hurrying down that no summer frequenter of the river can ever see. There
is no dead, hopeless season in nature; for although the trees may be
bare, and the groves dismantled, the wintry woods have their own beauty,
and even in mid-winter give promise of better times.

But along the uppermost Thames, from Thames Head to Lechlade and Oxford,
the waterside villages are still very much what they have always been.
All through the year they live their own life. Not there do the villas
rise redundant, nor the old inns masquerade as hotels, nor chorus-girls
inhabit at weekends, in imitative simplicity. A voyage along the
thirty-two miles of narrow, winding river from Lechlade to Oxford has no
incidents more exciting than the shooting of a weir, or the watching of a
moor-hen and her brood.

Below Oxford, we have but to adventure some little way to right or left
of the stream, and there, in the byways (for main roads do not often
approach the higher reaches of the river), the unaltered villages abound.



CHAPTER I

    CIRENCESTER—SOURCE OF THE THAMES—KEMBLE—ASHTON
    KEYNES—CRICKLADE—ST. AUGUSTINE’S WELL


The head-spring of the Thames is, in summer, not so easy a place to
find. It rises on the borders of Wilts and Gloucestershire, and has been
marked down and written about sufficiently often; but the exact spot is
quested for with difficulty, and when the traveller has found it, he is,
after all, not sure of his find, for the place is supplied, in these
latter days, with no recognisable landmark, and even the road-men and the
infrequent wayfarers along that ancient way, the Akeman Street, which
runs close by, appear uncertain. That it is “over there, somewhere,”
is the most exact information the enquirer is likely, at a venture, to
obtain.

There are excellent reasons for this distressing incertitude. The winter
reason is that Trewsbury Mead, the great flat meadow in which Thames
Head is situated, is so water-logged that it is often a morass, and
not infrequently a lake. In summer, on the other hand, the spot is so
parched, partly on account of the season, but much more by reason of the
pumping-works in the immediate neighbourhood, that not only the Thames
Head spring is quite dry, but the bed of the infant Thames itself is
generally dry for the first two miles of its course.

Thames Head is situated three miles south-west of Cirencester, that
beautiful old stone-built town whose name we are traditionally told
to pronounce “Ciceter,” just as Shakespeare wrote it. That was the
old popular way, before the folks of the surrounding country could
read or write, and knew no better; but to-day, when “education” is the
birthright of all, though culture be the acquisition of few, they are the
rustic-folk—the “lower orders”—who say “Cirencester,” as my lords and
gentlemen and ladies were wont to do; while nowadays the upper circles
refer to “Ciceter.” It is a curious reversal. If you say, in these
times, “Cirencester,” you, in so doing, proclaim yourself, socially, an
outsider, fit only to feed out of the same trough as those creatures who
pronounce “Marjoribanks,” “Cholmondeley,” or “Wemyss” as spelled. We all
know—or ought—that “Marshbanks,” “Chumley,” and “Weems” are your only
ways, if you would be socially saved. These are the last resorts of those
who have no other distinction to mark them out from the common herd: just
a verbal inflection, combined, possibly, with a method of hand-shaking.
To what straits we are reduced, in these democratic times, to express our
superiority!

There is another way to the pronunciation of “Cirencester,” lately come
into favour with provincials of this neighbourhood. It is a method of the
simplest: merely the adoption of the clipped way common to the local
milestones, which tell the tale of so many miles to “Ciren.”

The noblest thing in Cirencester is the beautiful old church, which rises
in its midst, beside the remarkably broad High Street, with much of that
scale and stateliness we commonly associate with a cathedral. It is one
of the noblest works of the Perpendicular period, when architects grew
aspiring, but did not always succeed in building artistically as well
as big. Here the two aims have been achieved. But a third desideratum,
that of building securely, was not originally included, it would appear,
for one of the most astonishing things about this structure is the
great masonry strut which would be called a “shore” if it were only in
timber, and is so clearly for utility, and absolutely unbeautiful and
unarchitectural, that to style it a buttress would be to disparage the
exquisite adornments that buttresses at their best are capable of being.
This great crutch for a noble tower in danger of falling so soon as it
was built, nearly five hundred years ago, is, however, justified of its
existence, for the lofty belfry yet stands securely. The ingenious way
in which the supporting masonry is built diagonally through the west
wall of the south aisle, down to the ground, compels admiration for the
engineering skill displayed.

[Illustration: CIRENCESTER CHURCH: SHOWING THE GREAT BUTTRESS.]

The great three-storeyed porch, by far the largest porch, and certainly
the most singular, in England, built in advance of the south aisle, and
looking proudly upon the street, would seem to have been built for the
convenience of the many priests who served the large number of chantries
established from time to time in the church. It is a very late and very
beautiful Perpendicular work. Not long after its completion the greasy
rascals were sent packing, in the life-giving Reformation that saved the
nation. It for long afterwards served as the Town Hall, but was commonly
known as “the Vice”—a strange survival and corruption of “parvise.”

The interior of the church discloses a nave-arcade of very lofty and
graceful proportions; a work probably as completely satisfactory
as anything in this country. And there is very much else to study
here. There are monuments, worn and battered, to knights and dames,
wine-merchants, wool-merchants, grocers, and other old tradesmen of the
town. Among them may be noticed the brass to Reginald Spycer, 1442, with
his four wives—Reginald in the middle, and the four ladies beside him,
two and two. A late example is that of Philip Marner, 1587, representing
him full-length, robed, with staff in one hand and a flower in the other.
A dog sits beside him. In the upper left-hand is a pair of shears,
indicating that he was a clothier. The rhymed inscription says:—

    In Lent by will a sermon he devised,
    And yerely Precher with a noble prised.
    Seven Nobles he did geue ye poore for to defend,
    and 80 li to xvi men did lend,
    In Cicester, Burford, Abington, and Tetburie,
    ever to be to them a stocke Yerly.

In a glazed frame is preserved an ancient blue velvet pulpit-cloth, given
in 1478 by Ralph Parsons, a priest, whose cope it had been.

The road that runs, white and broad, in a straight undeviating line,
from Cirencester to Thames Head, and so on at last, after many miles, to
Bath—the “Akemanceaster” that has given the Akeman Street its name—comes
in three miles to a stone bridge spanning a canal. This is “Thames Head
Bridge,” and the canal is the Thames and Severn Canal, which, beginning
at Inglesham, just above Lechlade, ends at Stroud. The length of this
water-way is thirty miles. The works were begun in 1783 and completed in
1789.

The object of the Thames and Severn Canal, which joins the Stroudwater
Canal, and reaches the Severn at Framilode, was to provide a commercial
water-way between the highest point of the navigable Thames, near
Lechlade, and the Bristol Channel. Its course lies along some very high
ground just beyond Thames Head, going westward, and in all there are
forty-four locks, rising 241 ft. 3 in. There is also a remarkable piece
of engineering in the Sapperton Tunnel, through which the canal takes its
course. The tunnel is fifteen feet wide, and is driven through Sapperton
Hill at a point 250 feet beneath its summit.

It follows that of necessity a canal, so elevated above the surrounding
country, must be provided with water by artificial means, and a supply
is provided by a pumping-station close at hand to Thames Head Bridge.
This raises water to the extent of three million gallons a day: hence
the dried-up character of the Thames Head spring, except in winter, and
the usual summer phenomenon of the infant Thames being quite innocent
of water for a distance of two miles from its source. Of late years the
Great Western Railway, which has a station at Kemble, a mile and a half
away, has erected a still larger and more powerful pumping-station, for
the purpose of supplying water for its own needs at Swindon, fourteen
miles distant.

The Akeman Street here divides Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. If we
descend from the Thames Head Canal bridge and follow the towing-path in
a westerly direction, into Gloucestershire, for half a mile, we come,
by scrambling down the canal-bank to the meadow below, to the source
of the river, and at the same time to the destruction of a cherished
illusion. Picturesque old histories of the Thames have made us familiar
with Thames Head, and have shown us dainty vignettes of that spring. One
such I have before me as I write these words. It shows a rustic well,
overhung by graceful trees, with a little country-girl in homely pinafore
dipping a foot in the water as it gushes forth. We need expect no such
scene nowadays. The well is buried under fallen masses of the dull,
ochre-coloured earth of Trewsbury Mead, and all we see is a rough, dry
hollow, overhung by trees which refuse to live up to the grace suggested
by the old illustrations. We need not wonder any more why so few people
know Thames Head, or why the spot is unmarked. It is merely a memory, and
Peacock’s charming verse has long ceased to be applicable:—

    Let fancy lead from Trewsbury Mead,
    With hazel fringed, and copsewood deep;
    Where scarcely seen, through brilliant green,
    Thy infant waters softly creep.

But although the pumping-stations so greedily suck up all the available
moisture in summer, the spring is said often to burst out in winter,
three feet high; and at such times it is only necessary to drive a
walking-stick anywhere into the turf of this meadow for a little fount to
spring up from the hole thus drilled.

The river thus originated is known alternatively as the “Isis,” and
in the writings of old pedantic antiquaries retains that alternative
name until Oxford is passed and Dorchester reached; where, according
to such authorities, in the confluence of the Isis and the Thame,
the “Thame-Isis,” becomes the “Tamesis,” or Thames. To the Oxford
boating-man, however, the streams below and above Oxford are respectively
the Lower and the Upper River, and “Isis” is reserved for the title of a
University magazine, or the name of a boating-club.

“Isis” is, of course, a Latinised form of “Ouse,” which in its turn is a
modified form of the Celtic “uisc,” for water, and gives us such other
river-names as Usk, Axe, Exe, and Wye; while we find it hidden again
in the names of Kirkby Wiske, in Yorkshire, and in that of “whisky,”
deriving from “usquebaugh.”

The time when the Upper Thames was first called “Isis” is uncertain.
The name is certainly a Latinised form of “Ouse”; but the Romans do not
appear to have so styled it. Julius Cæsar, in his _Commentaries_, speaks
only of “Tamesis”; and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, A.D. 905, mentions
only the “Thames.” We do not, in fact, read of anything like “Isis”
until 1359, when a monk of Chester, Ranulphus Higden, wrote in his
_Polychronicon_ a passage which, rendered into English from his Latin
original, runs thus: “Tamisa seems to be composed from the names of two
rivers, the Ysa, or Usa, and the Thama. The Thama, running by Dorchester,
falls into the Ysa; thence the whole river, from its source to the
eastern sea, is called Thamisa.” A much later writer, Leland, I think,
says, in that rarefied, detached way we expect in old writers, “The
common people call it the ‘Thames,’ but scholars call it the ‘Isis.’”

The name of “Thames” is equally Celtic with that of the Latinised “Isis,”
nor is it the only Thames in the country, for the river Tamar, dividing
Devon and Cornwall; the Teme, in Shropshire and Herefordshire; and the
Tame, in Staffordshire, are each closely allied in name.

The generally-accepted source of the Thames at Thames Head has by no
means gone undisputed, and a rival exists at Seven Springs, three
miles south-east of Cheltenham. This spot is the source of the river
Churn, which, falling into the Thames at Cricklade, after a course of
sixteen or seventeen miles, takes the stream some ten miles farther
up-country than that which issues from Thames Head. Thus we have the
singular paradox, that the Churn, this first tributary of the Thames, is
considerably longer than the parent stream. This is a problem that would
have desolated the logical mind of Euclid, and it has worried geographers
and writers of books for uncounted years. No matter how diligently we
may seek to track this heresy to its lair—to its original propagation—we
shall inevitably be foiled; nor indeed (as in the case of rival
religious dogmas) shall we ever be able to definitely settle which of the
two is the heresy, and which the true faith. If we rely upon the canon
that the source of any river is that point which is situated farthest
from its mouth, and then refer to the maps, there can be no doubt
whatever that the Churn is the true Thames, and that the Seven Springs
source is its head-spring. It is an unavoidable conclusion, like it or
like it not; and if we take the trouble to visit Seven Springs, we shall
discover that some one has been concerned to mark the spot prominently
with the same belief, in the inscription set up there on a wall going
down into the pool:—

    Hic tuus,
    O Tamesine Pater,
    Septemgeminus fons.

or, in English,

    Here flows, O Father Thames,
    Thy sevenfold source.

We can only assume, in the difficulty with which we are thus faced, that
the original error, of placing Thames Head at Trewsbury Mead, and naming
the stream which issues from Seven Springs the “Churn,” arose in those
very remote times, before even the Romans came to Britain, when surveying
and map-making were unknown and relative distances were uncertain.
That the river Churn bore its present name even at the period when the
Romans descended upon Britain is an assured thing, for the Romans named
_Corinium_—the present “Cirencester”—from its situation on the Churn.
The existing form of the place-name is of Saxon origin, and is really
“Churnchester”—the “castle on the Churn.”

[Illustration: Near Kemble.]

Kemble Junction, the railway station that dominates this neighbourhood,
marks where the little four-mile branch of the Great Western Railway
goes off to Cirencester from the line to Stroud and Gloucester. There is
no likely expectation that Cirencester will begin to grow and to lose
its old-world character while it remains, as now, at the loose end of
this little single-track branch railway; and the hunting-men of this
Vale of White Horse district remain quite unconcerned and unafraid of
developments. This country, between Cirencester, Cricklade and Lechlade,
is a hunting country and an agricultural country, and long centuries
ago it lost to Leeds and Bradford, and other like centres, the clothing
industry for which this Cotswold district was in mediæval times and
after famed. Thus Kemble Junction is by no means a junction of the
Swindon or the Clapham Junction type, and is rather a peaceful than a
bustling place. The village itself stands on rising ground above this
district of springs. Even though it be more remarkable for its stone
walls than for anything else, it is a not unpleasing village, for in a
neighbourhood such as this, where laminated stone is easily dug out from
a few feet below the level of the soil, we expect dry stone walling and
stone-built houses; and certainly the hard stony effect is softened by
the plentiful trees of the place. The Early English church, with tall
spire, 120 feet high, has been so thoroughly “restored,” and swept and
garnished, and so plentifully endued with plaster, that architects with
a love of antiquity, and all antiquaries, looking upon it, can scarce
refrain from tears. Inside the church is a curious monument—

    Dedicated to the memory of Beatrice and Edward, the deare wife
    and son of Mr. Richard Pitt, both interred within these walls,
    shee the 26th day of Aprill 1650, hee the 29th day of March 1656

        { Conflicted  }              { militant
    who { were buried } in ye Church { materiall
        { Do reigne   }              { triumphant.

    She died i’ th’ noone, he in the morne, of Age, yet virtue
    (though not yeres) fil’d their lives’ page.

                      Resurgemus
    Posuit maritus mæstissimus paterque plorans.

We shall probably not be wrong in regarding this as one of the
ultra-Puritan families of that Puritan age.

Just below Kemble, on the way to the hamlet of Ewen, the course of the
Thames is in summer hardly to be distinguished in the meadows through
which it runs. Grass covers it, in common with the meadows themselves;
only the grass is of a ranker and coarser kind, and largely admixed with
docks. The dry-walling of one of these meadows shows the winter direction
of the stream clearly enough, in the row of holes left in building the
wall for the water to pass through.

[Illustration: AT EWEN.]

Ewen, standing by the roadside, is remarkable only for its rustic
cottages, but they are particularly beautiful in their old unstudied way;
heavily thatched, and surrounded with old-fashioned gardens. The Thames
begins to flow, or to trickle, regularly at Upper Somerford Mill, whose
water-wheel, immense in proportion to the little stream, is picturesquely
sheltered under wide-spreading trees. The village of Somerford Keynes
lies close at hand.

[Illustration: AT ASHTON KEYNES.]

The way between this village and Ashton Keynes passes over rough
common-land, and enters Ashton Keynes romantically, past the great
church, and along a fine avenue of elms beside the manor-house, emerging
at what, until a few years ago, was Ashton Keynes Mill. The elm avenue
of Ashton Keynes is other than we should expect, if we come to the place
primed with a knowledge of what the “Keynes” in the place-name signifies.
Those elms should be oaks, for “Keynes” derives from the ancient Norman
word for an oak-tree; in later French, “chênaie.” Hence also the name of
Horsted Keynes, in Sussex.

[Illustration: THE OLD MILL HOUSE, ASHTON KEYNES.

Upper Somerford Mill.]

All the old mills that once made the Thames additionally picturesque are
disappearing. Some go up in flame and smoke, like Iffley Mill, below
Oxford, painted and sketched by a thousand artists, and described by a
hundred writers of books and descriptive articles, to whose lasting
sorrow it was destroyed by fire in 1907. Shiplake Mill met a similar fate
a little earlier, and modern milling conditions forbid their ever being
rebuilt. Ashton Keynes Mill became disestablished, as a mill, because it
could no longer compete with the modern steam-roller flour-mills, that
nowadays grind flour much more expeditiously and cheaply than the old
water-driven mills. But the old mill-house stands, little altered. It is
built substantially, of stone, and has old peaked gables and casemented
windows, and so, when its ancient commercial career came at last to an
end, its own picturesqueness, and its strikingly beautiful setting,
appealed irresistibly to some appreciative person seeking an old English
home; with the result that it has been converted into a very charming
private residence.

Little need be said about Ashton Keynes church, for it is of very
late Gothic, and plentifully uninteresting; but the village itself is
a delight. It is the queen of Upper Thames villages, with a picture
at every turn. Here the Thames flows quietly down one side of the
village street, and at the beginning of that rural, cottage-bordered,
tree-shaded highway is the first bridge across the river; an ancient
Gothic bridge, with a slipway beside it, where the horses are brought
down to wash their legs in summer. Beside the bridge stand the remains
of one of the three fifteenth-century wayside crosses which once gave
Ashton Keynes a peculiarly sanctified look. The ruins of all three are
still here,—smashed originally during the seventeenth-century troubles
in which King, Church, Parliament and Puritans contended violently
together; and further damaged by the mischievous pranks of many
generations of village children.

[Illustration: Ashton Keynes Mill.]

There are many little bridges spanning the Thames at Ashton Keynes,
for the stream washes the old stone garden-walls of a long line of
cottages, and the entrance to each cottage necessitates a bridge of
stone, of brick, or of timber. Stonecrop, candytuft, wallflowers, arabis,
snapdragon, and many other semi-wild plants grow in the crevices of
these old walls, and drape them all the summer with an unimaginable
mantle of beauty; and where the cottages end, and the highway becomes
a straight flat road, making for Cricklade, a modern country residence
has been built, with the walls of it going down in the same way into
the water, and the wild flowers encouraged in the like fashion to
inhabit there. A contemplative person might pass a pleasant time at
Ashton Keynes, where there is a homely inn, but none of those unamusing
“amusements” which serve to render places of holiday resort unendurable.
For those not very numerous persons who are satisfied with their own
company Ashton Keynes affords decided attractions. No one ever goes
there, for it is on the road to Nowhere in Particular, and not even the
motor-car is a very familiar sight. Thus the ruminative stranger will
have his privacy respected; unless indeed he happens to be either an
artist or a photographer, when he is certain to be surrounded by a dense
crowd of children, who seem to become instinctively aware of an open
sketch-book or a camera at hand, and surround the owners of them in most
embarrassing fashion. The artist is the more fortunate of the two, for
it is only an easily-satisfied curiosity to see what he is doing which
attracts these unwelcome attentions; while the unfortunate photographer
is pestered with requests to be “took,” and worried to extremity of
despair by hordes of fleeting children obscuring his camera’s field
of vision, or posing grotesquely and in most damaging fashion in his
choicest foregrounds.

Below Ashton Keynes the Thames is joined by the little Swillbrook, and
crossed at the confluence by the small, three-arched masonry Oaklade
Bridge. A mile or so below this is Water Hay Bridge, a typical “county”
bridge, whose frame of iron girders and railings, painted white, ill
assorts with the luxuriance of swaying reeds and thickly-clustered alders
that here enshrouds the stream.

We read in old accounts of the Thames that it was navigable for barges
as far as this point, and “Water Hay” may possibly be a corruption of
Water Hythe, indicating a wharf. It is in this connection to be noted
that the Cricklade and Ashton Keynes road crosses here, and that however
unlikely it may now seem that the stream could ever have been navigable
to this spot for such heavy craft as barges, it must always be borne in
mind that, in the many general causes that have led to the shrinkage of
rivers throughout the country, and here in especial in the pumping away
of the head-spring of the Thames, the stream cannot now closely compare
with its old self of a hundred and fifty years ago. We may therefore very
well believe those old writers who speak of the Thames being navigable
to this point, and imagine, readily enough, a rude wharf where goods were
landed, and left for Ashton Keynes and surrounding villages, in days
when even the few roads of the present time either did not exist at all,
or were so bad that haulage along them was almost impossible, by reason
either of the mud, or of the water that very often flooded them.

Between this and the little town of Cricklade the stream winds
continually, but the road goes straight over Water Hay Bridge and
makes direct for the townlet, three miles distant. The navigation of
these first few miles of the Thames was long ago considered to be so
irretrievably a thing of the past, that it was permitted the constructors
of the North Wilts Canal, in crossing the stream, one mile above
Cricklade, to build a brick bridge or aqueduct so low-pitched across it
that the crown of the arch scarcely appears above water, and effectually
stops any attempt to get even a canoe through.

[Illustration: THE INFANT THAMES, ASHTON KEYNES.]

The approach to Cricklade from the west by road is a noble introduction
to the town. It is a small town, of entirely agricultural character, yet
it has been a place of importance in its day; and although that day has
long passed, its two churches of St. Sampson and St. Mary prove it to
have been once considerable. Cricklade, indeed, standing on the Ermine
Way, the Roman road that led from _Spinae_ to _Corinium_—or in modern
terms, from Speen by Newbury to Cirencester—could not have been other
than important. The invading Danes, making their way up the Thames Valley
in A.D. 905, and again in 1016, found it worth while plundering, and it
has from very early times been a market-town. It prospered in a quiet
way until the opening of the Thames and Severn Canal, in 1789, for it
was, after the ancient wharf at Water Hay had been abandoned, at the
head of the Thames navigation; but when the canal came past, outside
the northern end of the town, the water-borne traffic halted here no
more, and Cricklade was, in a minor-tragical way, ruined. Nor have
railways served ever to redress the injustice. The Great Western comes
no nearer than the small wayside station of Purton, four miles distant,
and although the Midland and South-Western Junction Railway comes to
Cricklade, and has a station here, the railway management—judging from
the fact of its providing only one train a day each way, at inconvenient
hours—would much rather you did not use it, you know, if you don’t
mind. And the Cricklade people do _not_ use it, and go the four miles
to Purton, instead. We have, therefore, not the slightest prospect of
Cricklade ever growing. It is quite in keeping with the rural look of the
one long broad street of Cricklade, bordered by houses that are, for the
most part, of cottage-like appearance, that it has for centuries been
known as the “Peasant Borough”: the technical territorial “township”
including no fewer than fifty-one surrounding parishes. That it should
have been, until the passing of an early Reform Act, also a Parliamentary
borough, returning members to Parliament, does not of itself seem
remarkable, knowing as we do that places like Gatton and Old Sarum, with
no inhabitants at all, shared the same privilege. Cricklade, however,
lost its representation through long-continued and shameless bribery.

Here, in the long silent streets of Cricklade, the stranger is noted
curiously in summer, the local season being in winter; for this is now a
hunting-centre of the divided Vale of White Horse country, and the hounds
are kennelled here.

Cricklade, we are told, is properly “cerriglád”: an ancient British
expression signifying a “stony ford”; but is it not, even more properly,
“Cerrig-let,” _i.e._ the stony place where the river Churn has its outlet
to the Thames? We have several places in England in which “cerrig” is
hidden under various corruptions: notably Crick, in Northamptonshire,
and numerous places named Creech, in widely-sundered districts; while
in Wales we find Cerrig-y-Druidion in the north, and Crickhowell in the
south. In Scotland the word is commonly rendered “Craig.”

[Illustration: APPROACH TO CRICKLADE.]

But old writers who flourished before the science of place-names had
come into existence generally guessed at the meaning of the names
of those places of which they wrote; and extremely bad guesses they
almost always made. Their way with “Cricklade” is a shocking example
of a “reach-me-down” ready-made meaning, supplying a barbarous misfit.
Cricklade, if you please, is, according to these seekers after truth who
are content to pick up the first obvious lie that rests in their path, or
to seize the first absurdity that suggests itself, is “Greeklade,” the
site of a forgotten Greek university established here even before the
coming of the Romans. Forgotten! yes: that university is easily forgotten
which had never any existence; but this derivation served its day, and
was generally accepted. Thus we find the poet Drayton content to write in
his _Polyolbion_:

    Greeklade, whose great name yet vaunts that learned tongue,
    Where to Great Britain first the sacred muses sung.

But Drayton erred only where others had erred for some seven or eight
hundred years; for indeed the absurd legend derives from the name of
“Greek-islade,” given to the town in the time of Alfred the Great.

St. Sampson’s, the chief church of Cricklade, stands by the road as you
enter from the direction of Ashton Keynes; its tall, curiously-panelled
tower framed beautifully in the view by a noble group of hedgerow elms.
This odd dedication puzzles most people, and in truth St. Sampson,
or “Samson,” without the “p,” is a remote and obscure personage who
flourished in the sixth century, and is thought to have died A.D.
560. He appears to have been a Breton who fled his country, and in
after-years returned to Brittany and became Bishop of Dôl. Two other
churches are dedicated to him: South Hill, by Launceston, and Golant,
near Lostwithiel, in Cornwall; while the island of Samson, in the Scilly
Isles, owes its name to this source. Milton Abbey, in Dorsetshire,
was formerly quadruply dedicated to SS. Mary, Michael, Samson, and
Bradwalladr; while there still exists a St. Sampson’s church in the City
of York. But that owes its name to another fellow—an early Archbishop
of York; so early, indeed, that he is not generally included among the
primates. He, strangely enough, appears to have been contemporary with,
and a friend of, the other Sampson.

[Illustration: ST. SAMPSON, CRICKLADE.]

This church of St. Sampson at Cricklade does the saint especial honour,
for it is a much more than usually fine cruciform building, greatly
superior to the usual parish type. It presents, in general, an exterior
view of Perpendicular character, even though, on closer examination,
the architectural expert may discover very considerable Early English
and Decorated portions. The central tower is its great feature, for
you not only see it from afar, but on a closer view it is found to be
so strikingly individual that even those persons unusually well-versed
in these things are puzzled to find anywhere its fellow. The detailed
illustration of it in this book will render unnecessary any lengthy
description; and will at the same time reveal the noble quality of its
sturdy pinnacles and the exquisitely effective character of the deep
panelling that covers the upper stage and mounts into the angle-turrets.
It is a finely massive, robust design, to which the elegant light pierced
parapet adds a contrasting note of airy grace. In the detailed view of
this tower an empty niche will be seen, which probably once held a statue
of the eponymous saint of this church. On the side of the tower not shown
a keen eye may observe a pair of scissors sculptured at a considerable
height from the ground: an indication, doubtless, that the tower, rebuilt
in its present form, owed its existence to the benefaction of one of
those wealthy clothiers who in the fifteenth century attained in the
Cotswold and surrounding districts to their highest degree of prosperity,
and gave liberally of their wealth to the rebuilding of churches, the
founding of almshouses, and other good deeds, and have left numerous
records of their existence in the fine monumental brasses of Wiltshire
and Gloucestershire, ensigned with their merchants’-marks or the emblems
of their trade—the wool-pack and the shears, in place of the heraldic
achievements of nobler persons.

The interior of this charming church is even more noble than the
impressive exterior bids us expect. It is at once massive, and
well-lighted, and graceful: the climax of its beauty found beneath the
central tower, where the piers and arches and finely-ribbed vaulting
go soaring up to form a handsome lantern, set about with many shields,
sculptured with the arms of Edward the Confessor, of the diocese of
Salisbury, and of the Dudleys, Earls of Warwick. Prominent here among
these cognizances we shall find the intertwined sickles of the extinct,
but once wealthy and powerful, Hungerford family, whose ancient badge
is found plentifully all over Wiltshire, and frequently in Somerset. It
is a Sir Walter Hungerford of the mid-fifteenth century who is here the
subject of allusion in this shield, for he gave the presentation of the
living of St. Sampson’s, together with the manor of Abington Court, to
the Dean and Chapter of Salisbury, for the express purpose of maintaining
the Hungerford Chantry in Salisbury Cathedral, and to assist in keeping
in repair the Cathedral campanile.

Many changes have befallen since then: the Church has been reformed,
and chantries are no longer possible; but the ancient, beautiful, and
interesting detached campanile of Salisbury Cathedral was in existence
until nearly the close of the eighteenth century, when it was wantonly
destroyed by Wyatt in the course of the disastrous “restorations”
in which the Dean and Chapter, charged particularly to maintain the
campanile, placidly betrayed their trust, and calmly saw it levelled with
the ground. To-day the presentation belongs to the Dean and Chapter of
Bristol.

A curious feature of the exterior of St. Sampson’s is the flying
angle-buttress to the south-east, supporting a Perpendicular south-east
chapel built very clumsily on to the already-existing Decorated chancel.
The illustration clearly shows the awkward way in which the addition
abuts upon the older building, partly blocking up a very fine window. The
addition was obviously not built with good foundations, as the necessity
for further adding the flying buttress, and the subsidence still evident
in the distinctly out-of-plumb lines of the chapel, still show. The date
of the buttress is still visible, carved on the stonework: “Anno Domini
1569.”

The tall canopied cross now standing in the churchyard was originally
in the street, but was removed hither to preserve it from the injury it
was there likely to suffer; and in its stead we find an object of a very
different character, and warranted to withstand the ill-usage of many
generations of mischievous children: nothing less than a Russian, or
other, gun. The school-buildings immediately in the rear of the cross are
the successors of those founded and endowed in 1652 by one Robert Jenner,
goldsmith, of London.

[Illustration: STRAINER-BUTTRESS, ST. SAMPSON’S, CRICKLADE.]

[Illustration: “LERTOLL WELL”]

Another similar cross is to be seen in the little churchyard of the
curious old church of St. Mary at the other, the northern, extremity
of the town, and immediately looking on to the street. St. Mary’s is
altogether different in appearance from the noble, upstanding church
of St. Sampson, but none the less interesting on that account. It is
a huddled-together old building, with a squat tower, or remains of a
tower, and altogether on a miniature scale. Queer little dormer windows
start out of its broadly-sloping roofs, and they and the south porch are
things of delight in the picturesque way. The interior is an affair of
very slender Late Perpendicular nave piers and arcade, contrasting with a
stern, sturdy Norman chancel-arch.

Proceeding still northward beyond this point, the Thames is seen, here
reinforced by its confluence with the river Churn; and if we care further
to proceed a few yards, the Thames and Severn Canal will be found.

A strange belief exists among the people of Cricklade, to the effect
that any native of the town possesses, as his or her birthright, the
privilege of selling anything without a licence in the streets, not
only of Cricklade, but of any other town in England and Wales. This
belief, although unsupported by any evidence, has been handed down from
time immemorial. It would be curious if any native-born inhabitant of
Cricklade were to test this by selling any articles in (say) the streets
of London, without first providing himself with a hawker’s licence,
so that this traditionary right could be proved still effective,
or otherwise. The privilege is said to have been conferred by some
unspecified king, in acknowledgment of Cricklade having given shelter to
his Queen “when in distress.”

In this connection we may profitably turn to the old farm-house, once a
manor-house, in Cricklade, by the banks of the Thames, called “Abington
Court,” once the property, as we have already seen, of the Dean and
Chapter of Salisbury. This is said to have been formerly a Royal
hunting-box, and tradition further tells us that Charles the Second was
the last monarch to use it. History does not tell us of any Queen in
distress at Cricklade, nor of any Queen ever here; but kings have ever
been accustomed to maintain many queens (so, without offence, in these
pure pages, to call them) from the time of Solomon and David, throughout
the ages, and until modern times. It is a kingly privilege, not often
allowed to lapse; and it is quite within the bounds of possibility that
there was at some time one of these uncertificated consorts at Abington
Court, and that here she gave birth to a child, and that this particular
(or shall we say, this not very particular?) king thereupon celebrated
the occasion by conferring the curious privilege already discussed.

There is something in this ancient house which seems to support
the theory: a substantial something in the shape of a large and
elaborately-carved old oaken four-poster bedstead, fine enough to have
been used by such distinguished personages. No one knows how it came
here, but here it remains, and goes with the property. Tenants may come
and go, but the bedstead, left by the last royal occupant, stays.

An exceptionally interesting spot exists at a distance of a
mile-and-a-half to the north of Cricklade town, in the neighbourhood of
Latton and Down Ampney. You will not easily discover this interesting
spot, because no map marks it, no guide-book tells of it, and only very
few among the older generation of the rural agricultural labourers
cherish any recollection of it. The younger folk know nothing whatever
of this historic landmark, which is so insignificant and elusive a thing
that one might readily be in the same field with it, and yet not see
it. It is the pure and never-failing spring of St. Augustine’s Well,
once famed in all the country round about; either by that name, or by
the alternative title of the “Lertoll Well,” or stream. This pure and
cooling fount was long credited with medicinal virtues, less because of
any properties in the water itself than because it was blessed by Saint
Augustine. For it was to these parts that Augustine came, somewhere
about thirteen hundred and twenty years ago, for his conference with
the dignitaries of the native British Church. Augustine, accredited
by the Pope, Gregory the Great, to England, on a mission to reconvert
the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity, in addition sought to reconcile the
early British Church, which had continued to survive in Wales, with the
Church of Rome; and to that end he arranged a conference on or near this
spot, beyond the then boundary of Saxon England, in the territory of the
British clan known as the Hwiccas. Had Augustine been a different manner
of man, the proposals he had to offer for a fusion of the Churches would
probably have been entertained; but although long since canonised, he was
really very little of a saint, and by no means the eager missioner he is
generally represented. He came to England, in the first instance, only
because he was sent, very much against his inclination, by his spiritual
head, whom he dared not disobey; and his haughty, intolerant temper
brought these ideas of unity to naught. At the place of meeting was an
oak-tree, for many centuries afterwards known as “St. Augustine’s Oak,”
but long since utterly decayed and vanished away. It is said to have been
felled about 1825, and the site of it is supposed to be a small group of
farm-buildings, rebuilt in modern times, known as the “Oak Barn.” The
British clergy had heard unfavourably of Augustine’s domineering spirit,
and went with suspicion to meet him. They had agreed, however, when they
proceeded to this oak, which must have been a notable landmark, that if
he received them standing, they would listen favourably to his proposals;
but if he sat when they presented themselves, thus receiving them as
inferiors, they would refuse to discuss the question of unity.

Augustine received them sitting, and the conference broke up. He is said
to have performed miracles here, at this meeting, and to have touched
the eyes of the blind with the water of the Lertoll stream, so that
their sight was restored; but none of these prodigies availed with those
slighted native clergy.

It is remarkable, however, that an obscure tradition lingers among the
peasantry of the neighbourhood to this day, to the effect that the water
of this stream is “good for the eyes.” You will not find this tradition
in books; it is just a belief handed down from father to son in the
course of some forty generations.

The spring is situated in a meadow to the north of the Cricklade and
Maisey Hampton road, and bubbles up and runs unheeded away, in these
material, sceptical times; but those days are not far removed when the
peasantry of Gloucestershire and Wiltshire resorted to it, for cure of
their ailments, and filled bottles with the treasured water, for home
use.



CHAPTER II

    CASTLE EATON—KEMPSFORD—BY THE THAMES AND SEVERN CANAL TO
    INGLESHAM ROUND HOUSE—LECHLADE—FAIRFORD—EATON HASTINGS
    WEIR—KELMSCOTT—RADCOT BRIDGE.


A mile or so below Cricklade, the river Ray flows into the Thames, from
the direction of Swindon. Opposite, on the left bank, stands Eisey
Chapel, on its little knoll amid the meadows. It is the place of worship
of the hamlet of Eisey, a little collection of cottages removed out of
sight from the river; and is just a small rustic Perpendicular building,
with a bell-cote. Water Eaton, which is not on the water, and Castle
Eaton, which does not possess a castle, come next, both deriving the
name from ea = “water”; the first named of the two therefore given its
name twice over. The “water” of Water Eaton refers perhaps to the old
manor-house, rather than the church, the manor-house being in sight of
the stream. The prefix to the name must have been added in Saxon times,
when the Romanised British were driven out and the descriptive nature of
the name “Eaton” forgotten. Although not spelled in the same way as Eton
by Windsor, the two mean precisely the same, and have fellows in very
many other “Eatons” throughout England.

[Illustration: THE IRON GIRDER BRIDGE, CASTLE EATON.]

[Illustration: THE OLD BRIDGE, CASTLE EATON.]

Water Eaton manor-house, of heavy Georgian architecture and dull red
brick, with characteristically prim rows of heavily-sashed windows, is
unimaginative but decorous.

Although Castle Eaton has now no castle, and not even the discoverable
site of one, here was formerly situated a stronghold of the Zouches. It
is a very quiet village, of a purely agricultural type, and generally
littered with straw and fragments of hay. Here the Thames was until
quite recent years crossed by a most delightful old bridge, that looked
like the ruins of some very ancient structure whose arches had been
broken down and the remaining piers crossed by a makeshift affair of
white-painted timber. “Makeshift” is perhaps hardly the word to be
properly used here, for it seems to indicate a temporary contrivance; and
this bridge, if not designed in keeping with the huge, sturdy, shapeless
stone and rubble piers, was at any rate sufficiently substantial to have
existed for many generations, and to have lasted for many yet to come.
Alas that we should have to write of all this in the past tense! But it
is so. Twenty years ago, when the present writer paid his first visit to
Castle Eaton, the old bridge was all that has just been described—and
more; for no pen may write, nor tongue tell, of the beauty of that old,
time-worn yet not decrepit, bridge, that carried across the Thames a
road of no great traffic, and would have continued still safely to carry
it for an indefinite period. It was one of the expected delights of
revisiting the Upper Thames, to renew acquaintance with this bridge,
sketched years before; and it was with a bitter but unavailing regret
and a futile anger that, coming to the well-remembered spot, it was seen
to have been wantonly demolished, and its place taken by a hideous,
low-pitched iron girder bridge, worthy only of a railway company; and so
little likely to be permanent that it is observed to be already breaking
into rusty scales and scabs beneath its hideous red paint. The ancient
elms that once formed a gracious background to the old bridge stand as
of old beside the river bank; but the old bridge itself lies, a heap of
stones that the destroyers were too lazy to remove, close by, on the
spot on which they were first flung. No description, it has been said,
can hope to convey the beauty of Castle Eaton Bridge, for the old stone
piers were hung with wild growths, and spangled and stained with mosses
and lichens. A sketch of one end of it may serve; but it once formed the
subject of a painting by Ernest Waterlow, and in that medium at least,
its hoary charm has been preserved. Let a photograph of its existing
successor be here the all-too-shameful evidence of the wicked ways of the
Thames Conservancy with this once delightful spot in particular, and with
such spots in general. We cannot frame to use language too strong for a
crime so heinous against the picturesque.

[Illustration: CASTLE EATON CHURCH: SHOWING SANCTUS-BELL TURRET.]

[Illustration: THE THAMES AND SEVERN CANAL, NEAR KEMPSFORD.]

Let us recapitulate the facts, and draw the indictment more exactly
against that sinning body. We shall thus ventilate a righteous
indignation, and help to create a healthy public feeling against all
such damnable doings, by whomsoever done. We are, of necessity, in
this country of change and of an increasing population, faced with a
continuous defacement of places ancient, beautiful and historic; and
it behoves us to use our utmost efforts to preserve what we have left.
What, then, shall we say of such absolutely unnecessary outrages as
this? Shall we not revile the whole body responsible, from the Board and
the Secretary down to the chief engineer and the staff of underlings
who did the deed? The Thames Conservancy, in fact, has been a most
diligent destroyer of the beauty of the river; slaving early and late
and overtime in that devil’s work, but remaining supremely idle where
the encroachments of private persons, or the uglifications by waterworks
companies, and modern mill-and factory-builders are concerned. It is
the Thames Conservancy that has repaired the banks of the river and has
reinforced the walls of its weirs and lock-cuts, with hideous bags and
barrels of concrete, that retain their bag-and-barrel shape for all time,
and so render miles of riverside sordid in the extreme. We simply cannot
afford these ways with the river.

The church of Castle Eaton is in a modest way a remarkable building.
It is a moderate-sized Early English structure, chiefly notable for
retaining its original stone sanctus-bell turret on the roof. The
interior discloses nave and chancel only, with a shallow elementary
north aisle, built out from the original building, and supported upon
two wooden pillars on stone bases. This extension—a half-hearted
addition—was itself made several centuries ago, apparently for the
purpose of affording additional seating accommodation at some period
when the population had increased. But it has greatly shrunken since
then; and in these times when the towns have superior attractions for all
wage-earners, it still continues to shrink.

[Illustration: OLD WOODWORK, CASTLE EATON.]

A very curious old oak post, some seven feet high, and carved with a
spiral pattern, stands at the end of one of the pews, and seems to mark
what must have been the old manorial pew; bearing as it does on its
ornamental head a shield of arms, dated 1704, probably that of some
bygone local family. The whole affair looks remarkably like a part of
some old four-poster bedstead, but it may be one of the supports of a
former western gallery. A half-length fresco figure of the Virgin—the
church being dedicated to St. Mary—is to be seen on one of the walls,
and a very large, and apparently fine, brass of a knight was once in the
church. But this has been at some time destroyed, and the stone indent
itself is now to be found, flung out of the building and used as a
paving-stone, outside the west door.

Road, river, and canal now all make for the village of Kempsford, which
does not derive its name from some ancient, prehistoric Kemp, but from
“Chenemeresford,” said to signify “the ford on the great boundary”; that
is to say, the river. And Kempsford is situated in Gloucestershire, here
divided from Wiltshire by the Thames, which forms the natural frontier
of many counties along its course, from Thames Head to the sea.

We shall find the best way from Castle Eaton to Kempsford, little more
than a mile distant, to be across the meadows and to the towing-path
of the Canal, here and onward to its beginning at Inglesham, a very
beautiful stretch of water-way; overhung, as it is, by noble trees in
places, and rich in rushes and water-lilies. When the Gloucestershire
and other County Councils, together with the local Rural District
Councils, procured an Act of Parliament for taking over this neglected
waterway, great hopes were entertained of reviving an undertaking which
had never been remarkable for its financial success, and it was fondly
hoped thereby to break the “monopoly” held by the railway. A trust was
formed in 1895 by those public bodies interested, and it was agreed to
guarantee £600 annually for thirty years for repairing and working the
canal. The Great Western Railway was thus rid of an incubus, and the
ratepayers of these various districts find themselves saddled with an
utterly unremunerative expenditure that no commercial firm would have had
the folly to assume. For not only were the repairs of Sapperton Tunnel
exceedingly costly, and the general overhauling of the canal expensive,
but no traffic worth the mention has been induced to come this way.
Those squanderers of public money were heedless of the facts of modern
business, and forgot to consider that in these latter days time is more
than ever the essence of the contract in worldly affairs. Less able
than ever, therefore, are canals to compete with railways. So once more,
after a fugitive period of activity, we see the Thames and Severn Canal
returning to its old neglected condition.

[Illustration: NORMAN PORCH, KEMPSFORD.]

[Illustration: KEMPSFORD CHURCH.]

Kempsford church-tower is prominent across the meadows, and we find
it to be a notable and interesting church, and the village a place
of aristocratic appearance, where humble cottages are few and the
manor-house imposing. This is as it should be in a place with its
history: the manor having once belonged to Edward the Confessor, who
gave it to Harold. William the Conqueror conferred it upon one of his
knights, and in the course of the centuries the property came to Henry,
Duke of Lancaster, whose son-in-law, John o’ Gaunt, Shakespeare’s
“time-honoured Lancaster,” once resided here, greatly favouring this one
of his many manors, of which the number scattered all over England was so
great that it would have been distressingly hard work for him to visit
them each and all in the course of a year.

The only son of Henry, first Duke of Lancaster, was drowned here, and his
sorrowing father is said never again to have resided at Kempsford. On the
north door of the church is nailed a horseshoe, in allusion, it is said,
to one cast by his horse on his departure, and immediately nailed up here
by the inhabitants. It is, indeed, often said to be the original shoe,
but that is an absurdity. A curious other horseshoe legend and observance
is to be noted at the town of Lancaster, John o’ Gaunt’s ancient palatine
seat. There, where the two principal thoroughfares of the town cross, is
“Horseshoe Corner,” so named from the horseshoe let into the roadway, and
renewed in every seven years; in memory, says tradition, of a shoe cast
there by his horse.

Kempsford church consists of a long and lofty aisleless nave, with tall
central tower. The nave is Norman, with Norman doorways and Perpendicular
windows, and very beautiful, gorgeous, and impressive.

The ancient manor-house, frequently styled “the Palace,” came at last
into the possession of the Hanger family, Earls of Coleraine, one of whom
wantonly destroyed it.

The Thames and the Thames and Severn Canal, running almost side by
side at Kempsford, now abruptly part company again, and meet only
three-and-a-half miles farther on, at Inglesham. The canal is the more
easily followed, since the windings of the Thames in those miles add
certainly another mile and a half to the distance, and are to be followed
only with extreme difficulty by canoe, or afoot through many fields.
Hannington Bridge, crossing it nearly a mile and a half below Kempsford,
is the first bridge of any importance, and is a solid, stolid modern
masonry building, eminently practical and unimaginative, serving to carry
the road from Highworth to Fairford across. The remains of an old weir on
the way give pause to the exploring canoeist at most seasons; and a small
tributary, the river Cole, hailing from Berkshire, is seen on approaching
Inglesham.

There are no churches in these surroundings more interesting than the
humble little building at Inglesham, one mile from Lechlade, in an almost
solitary situation. It is quite a rustic church, chiefly in that best
period of gothic architecture, Early English, and it is so far removed
from restoration, or even adequate care, that it is almost falling to
pieces. Damp and neglect have wrought much havoc here, and the zealous
concern of the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings, by
preventing any large scheme of repair, seems not unlikely to result, at
no distant date, in the entire dissolution of the structure.

The meeting of the canal and river at Inglesham Hound House is marked
picturesquely by the grey round tower of the Hound House itself, and
by a row of tall poplars. The Round House is nothing but a glorified
lock-keeper’s house, situated beside this, the first lock, where the
canal sets forth on its way toward Stroud and the Severn. A mile farther
downstream lies the town of Lechlade, across the lovely level meadows,
with the tall spire of its church glinting whitely in the sun. It
is an exquisite view, and so alluring that you are in haste to make
acquaintance with Lechlade itself, that promises so romantically. But let
us not hurry. Rather that distant view than Lechlade at close quarters;
for although it is in very truth an inoffensive town, it is also
sufficiently true to remark that it is dulness incarnate, and that this
mile-long glimpse will be found the better part.

[Illustration: INGLESHAM CHURCH.]

At Inglesham Round House there are plentiful facilities wherewith
to refresh the body and to employ the uncultivated mind; for the
lock-keeper’s domain includes a number of apologetic sheds and shanties
devised for the benefit of picnic-parties; and anything eatable or
drinkable likely to be called for by parties on picnic, or boating, or
merely padding the hoof, is obtainable, together with the mechanical
music of melodeons or other such appliances that will serve you with
pennyworths of minstrelsy, as more or less appropriate sauce. Here also
is a greatly-patronised camping-ground, generally plentifully occupied
with tents in favourable summers. The river Coln here also flows into the
Thames from Fairford.

It is a pretty spot, with its hunchbacked lock-bridge, and the not
unhandsome modern foot-and tow-bridge that spans the Thames, helping to
compose a picture. It is the _Ultima Thule_ of the Oxford man’s “Upper
River”; the farthest point to which it is generally navigable for small
boats.

Passing Inglesham Round House, and proceeding over the foot-bridge to the
right bank of the Thames, toward Lechlade, we enter Berkshire; crossing
over the stone single-span Lechlade bridge into the town and into
Gloucestershire.

The town of Lechlade takes its name from the little river Leach which
rises at Northleach, fourteen miles in a north-westerly direction,
and gives its name to Northleach, East Leach Turville, and East Leach
Martin. Although Lechlade—_i.e._ “Leach-let,” the outlet of the
Leach—thus obtains its name, that little river flows into the Thames at
a considerable distance away, two and a half miles below the town, at
Kelmscott.

[Illustration: INGLESHAM ROUND HOUSE.]

The disastrous persons who derived “Cricklade” from “Greeklade,” and
invented a university of Greek professors there, made “Lechlade” a rival
seat of learning, where Latin was taught, and gave its original name as
“Latinlade.” Fuller tells us how this imaginary university—in which he
seems to have believed—ended by migrating to Oxford. He is quite poetic
about it. “The muses,” he says, “swam down the shores of the river Isis,
to be twenty miles nearer to the rising sun.”

Other, and equally weariful, persons made Lechlade, “Leeches-lake,” the
home of the College of Physicians (“leeches”) relegated to this obscure
town—which, of course, it never was.

It is now hardly conceivable that once upon a time there was a
considerable traffic in cheese upon the upper Thames, between Cricklade,
Lechlade, Oxford, and London; but such was the case. This was formerly a
great cheese-producing district, as it might well be now; and, as roads
were bad everywhere and railways were not yet, the only method was to
load the cheeses on barges, and so float down-stream.

Lechlade is very well on week-days, in the quiet way of all such decayed
townlets, but on Sundays it is not to be recommended. Dulness stalks its
streets almost visibly, and the only sounds are the argumentative tones
of the preacher in the Wesleyan chapel (a building with black doors and
gilded mouldings, after the fashion of a jeweller’s shop) at one end of
the street, whose raucous voice can be distinctly heard at the other: not
unlike that of a man quarrelling outside a public-house.

But the fates preserve us from a Sunday at Lechlade! It is fully
sufficient to skim through the place at such a time, and make for some
other that does not so completely figure the empty life. A village is
not dull, because it has no pretensions to being a town—and country life
is never dull. But at Lechlade the position is so desperate on Sunday
that, for sheer emptiness of other incident, a large proportion of the
population flock the half-mile that stretches between the town and the
railway-station, and hang, deeply interested, upon the bridge, to witness
the Sunday evening train depart. It is a curious spectacle, and one that
carries the mind of a reminiscent reader back to stories of marooned
castaways on desert isles, gazing hopelessly upon the departing ship that
has left them to solitude and despair. That must needs be a place of an
extreme Sabbath emptiness where the grown-up inhabitants are impelled,
by way of enlivening the weary evening, to walk half a mile to witness
what seems an incident so commonplace to the inhabitants of places whose
pulses beat more robustly.

[Illustration: A STREET IN FAIRFORD.]

The “pratie pyramis of stone,” as Leland styles the spire of Lechlade
church, is almost the only architectural feature of the townlet, if
we except a few mildly-pretty stone-built houses of Tudor gables and
mullioned windows; among which may be included the “Swan” inn. None
of these are included in the accompanying view of the church, which,
although graceful without, and promising interest within, has been
miserably treated, and swept clear of anything of note. A few curious
carvings are to be noted on the lower stage of the tower exterior,
including a singular bearded and capped profile head and a hand grasping
a scimitar. Although well done, they look like the idle sport of some
irresponsible person or persons, and do not appear to have any particular
meaning or local application.

[Illustration: ANCIENT CARVING, LECHLADE CHURCH.]

The architecture of the building is of no great interest to
archæologists, being of somewhat late Perpendicular date, but a charming
example of tabernacle-work may be noted on one of the piers of the
nave-arcade, adjacent to the font. On the gable of the nave, at the east
end, is a figure of St. Lawrence, to whom the church is dedicated. He
holds a gridiron, the symbol of his martyrdom, in one hand, and the book
in the other.

Fairford is the centre of attraction in this district. It lies away
north-west, four miles distant, at the end of the little railway from
Lechlade, on the river Coln. The Gloucestershire Coln has its name
spelled without a final “e” (for what reason no man knoweth), and gives a
title of distinction to a group of villages—Coln St. Denis, Coln Rogers,
and Coln St. Aldwin’s—that are famed for their beauty. But Fairford has
superior claims to notice, chiefly for the celebrated stained-glass
windows of its church.

“Fair-ford” may or may not derive its name from its picturesque
situation, but the beauty of the ancient ford of the Coln, now and for
long past crossed by a bridge, might well warrant an assumption that the
name arose from an æsthetic appreciation of the scenery. Exactly what it
is like to-day may be seen by the view shown here, with its noble church
placed finely above the meadows.

Fairford is a village that was once a town, prosperous in the far-off
days when the wool-growers and the cloth-workers of the Cotswolds made
fortunes in their trades and founded families that came in time to a
dignified haven in the peerage; and at last declined and died out, or
have rejuvenated themselves with American marriages and the dollars
incidental thereto. This old process of founding families by way of
successful trading we may still see at work, in our own times, under our
own intimate observation, encouraged by the institutions of primogeniture
and a House of Lords, two most powerful incentives to success.

[Illustration: LECHLADE.]

Fairford nowadays stands aside from all these activities. Its day is
done, and except on those occasions when the motor-omnibus between
Lechlade and Cirencester plods through, and on the weekly market-day,
there is no stir in the place at all. Its fine church and the famous
windows alone bring strangers here. The church is due to the munificence
of the Tame family. John Tame, merchant, of London, purchased the
manor in 1498, and died twenty-seven years later. He must have been a
typical “new man,” with plenty yet to spare of the abounding energy
that had made his wealth in London, for it was he who began, and nearly
completed, the rebuilding of Fairford church. We may well picture
him, in our imagination, hopeful of founding a family, as many other
successful traders of that expansive age had already done, or were
doing. His immediate descendants, however, failed him, and the name is
extinct. It was his son, John, who completed the church, and died in
1534. Monumental brasses to the memory of these Tames, and of the third
and last, Sir Edmund Tame, are seen here, but their greatest monument
is the church itself, a beautiful example of the last developments of
Perpendicular architecture, in which the coarsened mouldings, here and
there noticeable, the curiously-set pinnacles of the tower, and the
character of the grotesques carved on the exterior, alone hint of that
new leaven in matters architectural and spiritual, the Renascence, that
was presently to overthrow ancient architecture and much else.

But the wonderful windows, twenty-eight in all, the finest and largest
set of old stained-glass windows in England, are our chief concern at
Fairford.

The question as to the foreign or English workmanship of these windows
has always been in dispute; unnecessarily, it would appear to the present
writer. They are, for the most of them, obviously of Flemish origin; and
a late discovery would seem to have at last settled the point. In the
west window of the south aisle will be observed an executioner with a
sword, on which is a monogram A. An ape also appears in the window, for
no very obvious reason, except that it affords material for a pun; a form
of humour greatly favoured by the old craftsmen, as all conversant with
ancient churches well know. The monogram and the ape point to the glass
being the work of Aeps, a Flemish worker in this sort at the period of
the Fairford church-building.

The large figures of the prophets and apostles which fill the windows of
the aisles are so unmistakably Flemish that there should never have been
the least doubt about them. If there were any room for incertitude, it
would be in respect of the great west window, the most remarkable of the
series, which appears to disclose no foreign element; but, as it in all
other respects obviously belongs to the general scheme, it may perhaps be
called Flemish, in common with the others.

[Illustration: FAIRFORD, FROM THE RIVER COLN.]

A legend long current, accounting for these windows, says that John
Tame, asked to pilot a vessel containing them from Nuremberg to Rome,
turned his course to England instead, and in fact stole the windows. Now,
however fantastic this story, it probably contains this much of truth,
that it hands down a foreign origin; but that this glass was acquired in
any chance way is altogether unlikely, for it bears every sign of having
been designed for this church, and for the exact position and size of the
windows it occupies. The designs have been ascribed by some to Albrecht
Dürer, and an old manuscript goes so far as to relate a visit paid by
Vandyck to Fairford, when he said the drawing was Dürer’s work. This,
however, would seem to be impossible, as Dürer was but twenty-three
years of age when Fairford church was in course of building.

The great west window affords the chief interest, illustrating as it does
the Last Judgment. The upper half, above the dividing transom, displays
the company of the blest, assembled round the central figure of Christ in
majesty, with St. John Baptist on His right hand, and the Virgin on the
left. Three half-circles, somewhat resembling rainbows, surround these
figures; the first a deep red band, filled with representations of the
seraphim; the second, yellow, with figures of the apostles; the third,
blue, filled with the cherubim. Angels fill the outer spaces, quiring
before the Throne. These be the glorious surroundings of the good, the
constant, and the true.

The Doom, occupying the lower portion of the window, is a striking
example of imagination applied to the subject of retribution for sin.
The Devil and his infernal host and the flames of Hell were evidently
very real to those who pictured these scenes of torment, and to those who
first looked upon them, and they could certainly never have thought it
possible a time would come when people would either laugh at these ideas
of a real personal Devil with attendant fiends, or look upon them as
curiosities; certainly without any fear or awe.

[Illustration]

Here, in all the grotesque drawing and vivid colouring of which that age
was capable, we see the rewards of wickedness. St. Michael the Archangel,
in the centre, is shown, holding the scales of justice, wherein the
souls of the dead are being weighed. On the left of him is St. Peter,
with his key, standing at the gates of Paradise; while on the right
are seen the dead rising from their graves, and the flames of Hell, a
little subdued by the weathering of the centuries, awaiting them. In
the lower right-hand corner is a representation of the Devil himself,
with a head like a cottage loaf, in the very opening of his own especial
region, holding the red-hot bars, and grinning out between them. Curious
auxiliary devils are shown, actively engaged in carrying the dead to
torment; among them the remarkable group illustrated here. The tall scaly
devil on the right, carrying one of the damned on his back, is a blue
fiend; the other, displayed in the act of lashing a woman just rising
from her grave, is a strawberry-coloured devil, covered with pips, and
glaring with eyes of flame.

[Illustration]

Other fiends in green, in red, and in yellow, are pursuing shrieking
souls, or, having caught them, are seen flinging them into pits of fire.
Some of these places of torment are shown neatly enclosed in masonry,
like blast-furnaces. Another fiend, illustrated here, regarding a woman
clasping her knees, seems to be rather of an apologetic, gentlemanly
type. It is his business to be a tormentor, but he looks genuinely sorry
for it.

[Illustration]

[Illustration: THE GREAT WEST WINDOW, FAIRFORD, DISPLAYING THE “DOOM.”]

The other windows are of distinctly inferior interest, displaying as
they do mostly saints, but some of the smaller lights repay close
attention. In them you see the persecutors of the Church, set forth
with every horrific detail of innate malignity; while, hovering over a
representation of the Crucifixion is seen a batlike devil, awaiting the
last breath of the impenitent thief, to secure his escaping soul.

These remarkable windows owe their preservation to the care taken of them
by William Oldisworth of Fairford, during the Puritan upheaval, probably
with the aid of Lady Verney, wife of Sir Thomas Verney, lord of the
manor. She was daughter and heiress of Sir Edmund, the last of the Tames,
and interested, of course, in seeing that the gifts of her ancestors were
in safe keeping. The glass was, accordingly, carefully removed and buried
in Fairford Park. There it remained until the restoration of order, when
it was exhumed and replaced. A tall classic column stands as a monument
to this singular history.

It is not always so easy a matter as you might suppose to hire a boat at
Lechlade for the thirty-two miles’ voyage to Oxford; which, after all,
is not only the best way of seeing the Thames, but the Thames Valley
villages also. Unless considerable notice is given, especially if it
be the week before Bank Holiday, the boat-proprietor is extremely chary
of letting his craft out of sight, and it becomes a matter of favour
and delicate negotiation to secure a boat, even though you tender good
value in coin of the realm for its hire. The proprietor’s point of view
is that it is all very well for pleasuring folk to drop easily down to
Oxford with the stream in two days, but it remains for him, or one of his
men, to get it back against stream; not so easy a matter, even though
the stream be gentle. In fact, the demand for boats for the trip is not
sufficiently large for special arrangements for cartage back by road to
be made; and that familiar summer sight anywhere between Richmond and
Oxford, a slowly-progressing van, laden with boats, rolling along the
intervening miles of highway, is not visible here. But, although the
hiring is, as already said, somewhat difficult, the explorer has at least
the satisfaction of finding the Upper River secluded and unspoiled.

Immediately below Lechlade begins that long and ever-increasing series
of locks by which the Thames Conservancy has converted the river into
an astounding succession of toll-gates; with this result, that you are
not long out of sight of one lock before another comes in view; while
lock-cuts in addition grow longer, as well as more numerous, and tend
to make the river in many places very formal. But, at any rate, the
true river-course, leading to the weirs, or often round by what are now
backwaters, is by contrast, and by disuse, rendered often a very paradise
of wild, untended life.

[Illustration: MONUMENT IN THE PARK, FAIRFORD, WHERE THE FAMOUS WINDOWS
WERE BURIED.]

The first lock of the forty-two locks on the Thames is that of St.
John’s, which, like Lechlade Bridge, often styled “St. John’s Bridge,”
takes its name from the Priory of St. John the Baptist that once stood
hard by. The Priory was a Hospice as well, and was charged with the care
of travellers who came this way. As part of their charge the Black Canons
who formed the establishment built the original bridge across the Thames
here.

St. John’s Bridge, like some carefully-restored old dowager, by no means
looks its age, but all those who care to know are credibly informed that
“This bridge, though often repaired and altered on the upper part, is
the original structure of great antiquity, having existed prior to the
reign of Henry III.” The “Trout” inn, formerly the “St. John Baptist’s
Head,” stands beside a backwater, on the site of the Priory that was
disestablished so long ago as 1473.

At St. John’s Lock the lock-keeper not only hands you the first of
the many threepenny pink tickets that are painfully familiar to those
who cruise upon the Thames, but another in addition, for Buscot Lock,
one-mile-and-a-quarter onward, where the poor, impoverished (or, perhaps
more likely, the mean, parsimonious) Conservancy cannot, or at least
does not, maintain a resident lock-keeper; with the result that you have
the choice of working your own way through, or of leaving the job to
the official hands of the keeper at St. John’s, who in the latter event
cycles the distance. But in any case you pay your threepence for each
lock.

The Thames from this point becomes singularly lonely. Few roads cross
it, and the villages are small and infrequent, and are rarely to be seen
from a boat. The ideal method of exploration is to take a bicycle on the
boat and to lay it across the bows, where it is out of the way and yet
easily within reach when wanted. Then, at some convenient point, where a
road or path comes down to the river, and places likely to be of interest
are but a mile, or two or three miles, distant, it is your easiest
method to have out the machine and explore swiftly and with ease, among
little-visited ways.

Buscot, however, on the Berkshire shore, is so close at hand that its
church may easily be seen from the boat and visited by the mere effort of
pulling to the bank under the hoary willows, and stepping into the meadow
beside whose buttercup-spangled grass it stands.

Buscot—formerly Burwardscott, then corrupted into Burscott, and finally
into the present rendering—is a place of some note, artistically and
agriculturally, for the little parish church has an east window by
Burne-Jones, representing the Good Shepherd, instead of the usual
ecclesiastical-furnishers’ impossible stained-glass saints. We may
perhaps, without offence, congratulate ourselves and all concerned that
those stained-glass freaks are, and must ever have been, impossibilities.
They have the most unprepossessing countenances, of an impossibly holy
type, and generally the vilest taste in coloured robes; while of the
Burne-Jones saints we can at least say that, although commonly eight
feet high in proportion to their heads, and generally of a consumptive
type, they are at least recognisably like human beings. And a saint,
you know, was originally, before he or she was given his or her halo and
other extraordinary attachments, merely a more than usually good person
of just ordinary physical attributes. I don’t think anyone will have the
hardihood to deny that. One other prime curiosity the church of Buscot
possesses: a very highly enriched pulpit of wood, with panels painted in
various religious subjects, by or after artists of the Italian School.
A panel representing the Annunciation is more remarkable than ever was
intended, for among the attendant Wise Men from the East is shown a negro
with black head and arms and white legs! “Can the Ethiopian change his
skin?” Partially, it should seem.

Buscot manor-house is as notable for containing the Burne-Jones “Briar
Rose” sequence of paintings illustrating the ancient legend of the
Sleeping Beauty, as the owner is for his successful shire-horse breeding.
It is not often that the love of art and keen interest in shire horses
are shared equally by one man, as they are by Sir Alexander Henderson, of
Buscot, who is at once the owner of the finest Burne-Jones pictures and
the breeder of “Buscot Harold,” champion of three successive London Shire
Horse Shows.

It is interesting to know that Buscot manor-house, standing in its park
on the ridge above the river, on the way to Faringdon, was built from
the stones of the demolished palace at Kempsford, even though we may see
only an eighteenth-century solidity and comfort, rather than any hint of
beauty or history in the re-edified stones.

Hart’s Weir, or Eaton Weir, as the Conservancy elects rather to style
it, is but a mile-and-a-quarter below Buscot, and is one of the few
old-fashioned weirs, fitted with paddles and rymers, of which a few are
removed for the passage of a boat, that now remain. Beside it stands the
“Anchor” inn, with not another house in sight, and the little church
of Eaton Hastings—it would be an affectation to speak of the village,
unless a few scattered cottages may so be named—two miles away, by the
riverside, but so hidden that its existence is not suspected by passing
oarsmen.

It is amusing to observe the blank puzzlement that overspreads the
faces, and governs the actions, of those occupants of boats from
Lechlade who, coming for the first time to this unfamiliar type of weir
and lock combined, helplessly steer from one side of the river to the
other, in search of the familiar lock-cut and lock-gates, and, failing
to find them (as well they may, for such things do not exist here), at
last landing and enquiring for them at the inn. Eaton Weir is one of
the last now left of the old weirs that served the turn of the river
in days of old, and they are therefore now so uncommon that none need
feel ashamed of coming unexpectedly for the first time to one, and not
comprehending the situation. But those who are taken by surprise here and
cannot understand why they can find no way through, do, it is evident by
leisured observation, feel a kind of shame at being so completely “sold.”
Eaton Weir, and others of its kind, are, in fact, complete barriers
across the river, affording a check to all craft until four or five of
the paddles are pulled up. The construction is simple, consisting of a
sill, generally a heavy beam of wood, laid across the bed of the river,
with a similar beam crossing immediately over it, from bank to bank.
These form the framework of the weir, which is completed by a number of
stout supports going perpendicularly down at intervals from upper beam
to lower, and by a continuous row of “paddles” set between them. The
“paddles” are, roughly speaking, in the shape of shovels, but much longer
in the handle and bigger in the blade. It is obvious that when all the
paddles are down in their places the head of water must be considerably
raised above the weir, although a volume of water pours through all the
while. To admit the passage of a boat, the weir-keeper draws up four
paddles or more, and then, if the craft be going down-stream, it is
guided by the steersman carefully to the weir, and deftly allowed to be
shot through by the force of the waterfall thus created in the opening. A
little mild excitement generally accompanies this “shooting the rapids,”
even though the fall be only about eighteen inches to two feet when the
paddles are first drawn, and reduced to almost nothing if you wait a few
minutes while the head of accumulated water runs itself away. The Thames
Conservancy will have its dues, and whether it be a lock or a weir you
pass, you render threepence for a small boat, and receive a pink ticket
in return.

And so one comes to Kelmscott, which owes its name to some Saxon thane,
just as Buscot derives from some dim ancient Burward. But of that Kenelm
whose “cot” this was, history says no more than it does of Burward. If
we adventure into the _hinterland_ at the back of Bampton—whose full
name is Bampton-in-the-Bush—we shall find two other “cots,” or “cotts,”
Alvescott, and Kencot—and there is Cote (which is merely “cot” spelled in
another way, and unappropriated to any personal name) further down-stream
behind Shifford.

At Kelmscott the river Leach comes really to its “lade,” or outflow; its
“let,” or outlet: a similar word being used at Oaklade (“uisk-lade,” or
water outlet), where the Swillbrook joins the Thames, and at Cricklade,
where the Churn falls in. In the words of the presiding genius of the
place, the late William Morris, Socialist, poet, decorative-artist,
demagogue, literary man, and master-printer, this is “a reach of the
river where on the side of the towing-path is a highish bank with a thick
whispering bed of reeds before it, and on the other side a higher bank,
clothed with willows that dip into the stream, and crowned by ancient
elm-trees.” Very true. It is also a beautiful and sequestered spot;
and although now, since the death of William Morris in 1896, become a
much-talked-of new literary shrine, few are those who trouble its ancient
peace.

The village lies near the banks of the Thames, with a rough, unkempt
piece of common opposite the old Elizabethan, stone, gabled manor-house
that was for some years the home of Morris and of Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
Nothing but the upper windows of the old house can be glimpsed from the
road, for a very high wall effectually guards its seclusion.

[Illustration: KELMSCOTT MANOR.]

Morris loved the place with an intense love, and brought back to the
house much of its old ways, with much else of his own, in artistic
“Morris tapestries” and other hangings, such as were designed by him and
Burne-Jones, made at Merton by Wimbledon, and sold at the establishment
of Morris & Co. in Oxford Street. We do not commonly look upon Socialists
as anything but discontented artisans and weekly wage-earners in general;
but Morris performed his share of street-corner spouting with such, and
yet dreamed golden dreams of the World Beautiful, and did much to make it
so. But, at the same time, his lovely wares in wall-papers, in hangings
and carpets, in furniture and stained-glass, were of the most expensive
kind that none of those “have nots” could by any means possess. The
famous Morris books, too, produced at the Kelmscott Press, Hammersmith,
were of those prices that only plutocrats could afford, and were produced
strictly after the individualistic and anti-Socialistic theory of
“limited edition.”

The only new house in Kelmscott village is one built to preserve the
memory of this man who wrought such beautiful things and preached
doctrines so impossible; and on the front of it is a very ornate tablet,
bearing a portrait-medallion. The work is, however, in such low relief
and so elaborated that it is difficult to be clearly distinguished.

Away through the scattered village, and out at the other end, stands
the little decayed parish church of St. George: decrepit and surrounded
in most melancholy fashion by spindly overhanging lime-trees. The
place oppresses the stranger, even on summer days, with gloom, which is
increased as he walks up the dank little pathway to the south porch,
among the serried graves of a numerous local family, each one within his
concrete bed. The quite plain headstone to William Morris is close by.

There is no feeling of this melancholy in the account written by Morris,
in his _News from Nowhere_, of a village church; but which was evidently
a description of this:

“We went into the church, which was a simple little building with one
aisle divided from the nave by three round arches, a chancel, and a
rather roomy transept for so small a building, the windows mostly of
the graceful Oxfordshire fourteenth-century type. There was no modern
architectural decoration on it; it looked indeed as if none had been
attempted since the Puritans whitewashed the mediaeval saints and
histories on the wall.”

The building is chiefly of Early English date, consisting of nave,
chancel, rudimentary north aisle of a makeshift character, and north
and south transepts and clerestory. There is a rough tub-font. Some
traces of ancient colouring are found on the round-headed arches of the
nave-arcade; while the accompanying illustration will show that the
sculptured capitals of the columns are of great, if simple beauty, and
doubtless studied in the long ago from the water-plants of the Thames.

[Illustration: KELMSCOTT CHURCH.]

Nothing can equal the calm delights of those still, hushed hot days of
early summer on these reaches of the upper Thames, when the tall sweet
grasses of the meadows by which we float are ripening to the scythes of
the reapers, and before the birds have quite finished their wild torrent
of springtime mating song. Here, with the boat drawn up beside some tall
sheaf of growing rushes, we may listen to the twittering distant song of
the skylark, flying, an almost invisible speck, high up in the intensely
blue sky; and may see the water-rat swimming across the stream. Cows gaze
with a mild curiosity from the banks, under the welcome shade of the
willows, or recline, with a certain lumpish dignity, among the buttercups
and daisies. The fragrance of spring is yet in the land, and that man
who, lazing here, lights a cigarette, and so imports an alien fragrance,
offends against his environment.

[Illustration: FARINGDON CLUMP.]

So we shall come, after many intervals and halts by reedy shores where
the waterlilies grow, to Radcot Bridge; the meads spreading wide on
either hand, and the great imposing landmark of Faringdon Clump for
always prominent in the view on the right: now, with the continued
extravagant loopings of the river, far ahead, now abreast of us, and
again in the rear; so that it becomes difficult to believe this elusive
landmark really one and the same hill.

Beneath Faringdon Clump lies the little town of Great Faringdon, great
only in its quietude, somewhat broken, it is true, in these latter days
by motor-cars, that, rushing along the ridgeway road on which it is
situated, indecently disturb its slumbrous dignity.

Faringdon Clump is emphatically _the_ landmark of this district, even
as Wittenham Clumps are the geographical pointers of a wide district
between Oxford and Wallingford. Many people know it as “Faringdon Folly.”
The height of Faringdon Hill itself, on which the clump of Scotch firs
called “the Folly” is situated, is about 500 feet, and Faringdon town,
although beneath it, is not itself by any means in the levels, as those
who, cycling to it from the Thames at Radcot Bridge, shall easily find,
as they come laboriously up the ascending gradients.

But, before we reach Radcot Bridge, the newly-built Grafton Lock has to
be passed through. It is situated in a grassy solitude, and takes its
name from an insignificant hamlet quite remote from the river. At Grafton
Lock, indeed, the lock-keeper’s wife and daughter, who between them take
our threepence and work the lock-gates, are pleased to see the infrequent
stranger, and to exchange the news, and receive well-earned compliments
on the beauty of the lock-garden.

[Illustration: RADCOT BRIDGE.]

Now comes Radcot Bridge, neighboured and overhung by a wealth of trees;
tall, slim, spiring poplars, and others that spread boldly out. Radcot
Bridge is your only possible halting-place hereabouts for the night;
for here is the waterside “Swan” inn, with its lawn sloping down to the
river, its landing-steps and boathouse: and Faringdon and its inns are
three miles distant. Thither, however, you must needs fare, if so be the
“Swan” is full.

The single-span, round-arched bridge through which one comes in these
times is not the real original bridge, nor is the present course of
the Thames at this point the real original river. This is a new cut,
made in 1787, to improve the navigation, then still considered to be of
considerable commercial importance. The old course of the river flows
sluggishly to the right-hand, and is not now practicable for boats. Here
still stands the ancient gothic bridge, with its three pointed arches and
the base and socket of what was once a cross on the eastern parapet. This
bridge and the causeway built to it, across the meadows, once formed a
more important means of communication than now, for the road across the
Thames from Faringdon led northwards to Burford, and so by degrees into
the Midlands. Its strategic value has been at least twice illustrated.
The bridge itself dates from about 1300, and was on December 20th, 1387,
the scene of a sharp action in which Henry, Earl of Derby, met and
defeated Robert de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, favourite of Richard the
Second. Many of de Vere’s men were drowned here on that December day, and
their commander himself narrowly escaped, by swimming across the river,
half clad in his armour. His force seems to have been taken completely
by surprise. The “Henry, Earl of Derby” of this affair was he who twelve
years later, 1399, at last succeeded in deposing Richard, and reigning
in his stead, as Henry the Fourth.

The second occasion of Radcot’s figuring in martial annals was a skirmish
in the long course of the Great Rebellion, when Faringdon House, up
yonder, three miles away in the town, was held for the King, and the
bridge was occupied as an outpost. Cromwell’s men appear to have driven
the outpost in, with some loss.

But, before an end is made with Radcot Bridge, let us note the
little-known fact that it was hence, in those seventeenth-century times,
when roads were little better than muddy tracks across the fields are
now, that much of the stone employed by Wren in the rebuilding of St.
Paul’s Cathedral was brought to London. The old quarries whence this
stone came have been closed now for two hundred years, but the site
of them is still to be found at a spot to this day known as “Kit’s
Quarries,” near Burford, eight miles north of Radcot Bridge. I have
written about Christopher Kempster—the “Kit” of those quarries—in
another place,[1] and have shown that he was firstly clerk of works and
master-mason in the employment of Sir Christopher Wren for many years,
not only in the rebuilding of St. Paul’s Cathedral, but also in the
general rebuilding of the City of London churches. Retiring from those
positions, he bought the quarries, and thenceforward dealt largely in the
stone with which he had once built.

The stone was conveyed from near Burford, along eight miles of bad
roads, and here at Radcot Bridge, on the old course of the river, before
the new channel was cut, was loaded, into barges, and so found its way to
London.

It will be well to explore into the level Oxfordshire _hinterland_
behind Radcot Bridge. There we shall, in the course of two miles, find
the untidy village of Clanfield, which straggles lengthily on either
side of the grassy edges of a stream three parts dry in summer, and
thus revealing to the disgusted wayfarer rich and varied deposits of
unconsidered village refuse—in the way of battered tins and old boots
embedded in the ooze. Thistles, nettles, and scrubby weeds bedevil the
grass that might so easily be made beautiful.

[Illustration: ST. STEPHEN.]

But there are evidences that Clanfield is awakening to better things.
A “Village Institute” has arisen amid these rank undesirables, and
tentative clippings, sweepings, and garnishings may be noticed. The
church and churchyard are, fittingly enough, in the forefront of these
improvements.

[Illustration: CLANFIELD CHURCH.]

It is a charming village church of moderate size, built in the
Perpendicular period, and dedicated to St. Stephen, as those well versed
in saintly symbols may readily perceive on approaching, by a glance at
the curious figure of the saint himself, boldly sculptured on the tower.
He bears in his right hand a little heap of what look like apples,
but are intended to represent stones, in allusion to the manner of his
martyrdom, by being stoned to death. On the west side of the tower is a
tablet to the memory of James Joy and Robert Cross, killed by lightning
when at work side by side in the fields, August 9th, 1845. Over the
south door is an ancient sundial, cut into the masonry, and screened
from casual observation by the porch, which is thus seen to be a later
addition.

[1] _The Oxford, Gloucester, and Milford Haven Road_, vol. i., pp.
263, 266-269.



CHAPTER III

    GREAT FARINGDON—BUCKLAND—BAMPTON-IN-THE-BUSH—COTE—SHIFFORD


Great Faringdon, on the right, or Berkshire, side of the river, is well
worth visiting. Technically a town, its inhabitants would probably feel
injured by any one styling it a village; but there are towns _and_ towns;
and Faringdon, although it perhaps may not be styled “decayed,” is at
any rate unprogressive. There be those among us who are so constituted
that they mislike the word “progress,” and are repelled by any place they
hear to be “progressive.” This is entirely due to the recent connotation
of “progress.” Modern men have seen so much of the futile striving and
competition, the shameless advertising, and the sordid things that stand
for “progress” in these days, that they look with yearning upon those
spots that are said to be “unprogressive,” and ardently wish their
lives might be lived therein, instead of being merely existed where the
struggle for survival is waged with ever-increasing severity.

Great Faringdon—how humorously that epithet sounds to a Londoner!—is
unprogressive in the best of these senses. You do not find, on
approaching it, the ragged slummy selvedges that fringe the towns where
commerce thrives so abundantly, where the rich grow daily richer, and
the poor daily more abjectly and helplessly impoverished. No matter from
what direction you approach Faringdon, along none of the five entrances
to the town do you see mean suburbs spreading grimly into the shamed
fields, nor plentiful notice-boards declaring “This eligible land” to be
“ripe for building.” Faringdon’s expansive days are done, and no man can
see the likelihood of their return, for, although the town is situated on
such a network of highways that travellers by road can scarce get about
the neighbourhood without going through it, the great days of the road
are passed, and the motor-car is not going to bring them back in that
old sense. The last blow was delivered at the chances of Faringdon’s
expansion when the main line of the Great Western Railway was carried
four miles to the south, past Uffington, whence a small branch line
comes, to serve the town, and stops here.

Faringdon is an historic place, but its history ceased to be a living
thing at so remote a period that it seems, to many who do not trouble to
come to close quarters with it, to be a very dryasdust history indeed.
It is largely the history of the Saxon kings, to many of whom Faringdon
was a favourite place of residence. But of all these times, and of later
royal visits, no tangible record is left; and the Faringdon of to-day
is just an ancient market-town that contrives to live quietly on the
needs of the surrounding agricultural population. In a rapidly-changing
England, this town is one of a few that, made to stand aside from the
ways of modern trade, remain very much what they have been during the
last two centuries. The last incidents that ever stirred the pulses
here were election contests, and the last issues in the larger sort that
disturbed town and district were fought out so long ago as the middle
of the seventeenth century, in the attack and defence of Faringdon in
the Great Rebellion. Then the Royalists held the town and Faringdon
House, the seat of the Pye family, behind the church. The Pyes had been
in possession of the property only some twenty-three years when the
troubles broke out, having purchased it in 1622. They were then on the
popular side, Sir Robert Pye, indeed, having married the sister of John
Hampden, the patriot, who lost his life at Chalgrove Field. Greatly to
his mortification, the Royalists had seized and garrisoned his mansion,
and it fell to his lot to besiege it. The elder of the two sons of this
Sir Robert was that Hampden Pye, born in 1647, who is the subject of
the _Ingoldsby Legend_ of “Hamilton Tighe,” “a _sobriquet_ interfering
neither with rhyme nor rhythm,” as the author justly claims. The legend
of Hampden Pye, which Barham thus versified, was one once current in
Faringdon and Uffington, and the surrounding district; and told how he,
the eldest son, heir to the family estates, contracted what his family
regarded as an undesirable marriage, and how he was hounded on to join
the naval expedition to Vigo, under the command of Sir George Rooke, in
1702. His own mother is said to have been chiefly instrumental in this,
and to have been among those who secured his being placed prominently in
the post of danger, so that he might be got rid of. One of the earliest
shots in action carried off the head of Hampden Pye, who was by no means
the reckless youngster we might at first suppose, for a comparison of
dates shows him to have been fifty-five years of age at the time.

It was believed in Faringdon that always afterwards, when his mother
went out in her carriage, the spectre of her son stood at the door with
his head under his arm, handed her in, and took his seat opposite. He
grew even more troublesome after her death, but was at last “laid” for a
hundred years in a small pond near the house by an eminent divine skilled
in dealing with refractory ghosts. “The period,” continues Barham,
writing in 1832, “lapsed a few years ago, and the people are now very shy
of passing the said pond after dark.” And now the best part of another
century has fled; but in the meanwhile the ghost of Hampden Pye appears
to have been quiescent.

But the most famous of the Pyes was that Henry James Pye, born here
in 1745, who was descended from Edmund, the younger brother of the
unfortunate Hampden, and was not only a typical county gentleman, and
sometime a member of Parliament, but became also, in 1790, Poet Laureate.
The appointment was one of Pitt’s political jobs, and given as a reward
for support in Parliament. Pye effected a change in the old-time payment
of poets-laureate in kind by the annual gift of a tierce of Canary wine,
and accepted an annual £27 instead.

He was, in addition, a police magistrate at Westminster; and was as
excellent on the bench as he was execrable in verse. When the office of
Poet Laureate comes under discussion, Pye in the eighteenth century,
and Alfred Austin in the present era, are inevitably bracketed together,
for the purpose of showing to what depths of inanity a Poet Laureate can
descend. But both these laurelled bards have been unjustly handled. To
deliberately select the inferior versifier of the age and to make him
Laureate is of itself a doubtful official service to a man; and then for
critics to maliciously pick out his most feeble efforts by which to judge
him and hold him up to contempt is cruel. It is something as though we
were to appraise Tennyson by the _Skipping Rope_ (which is worse than
any of Pye’s futilities) and to leave _Maud_ altogether out of account.
Pye’s idea of poetry was at any rate a part of the habit of thought
current at the time, and of the same order of flowery compliment as that
of Thomson, who wrote _The Seasons_: although infinitely inferior in
execution. Topographical description, interlarded with generous praise
of his country-gentlemen neighbours, whose seats dotted the country he
described: that was largely Pye’s idea of poetry; and not a vicious, if
on the other hand not an inspired, view.

Pye was not a man favoured by fortune. When his father died, he found
himself heir indeed to the family estates, but they were encumbered with
debts to the amount of £50,000; and soon afterwards the house was burned
down. He sold the estates about 1785, from sheer inability to make head
against his financial embarrassments; and Faringdon knew the Pyes no more.

But Faringdon Clump, already mentioned, was planted by him before the
family connection was thus severed, and still flourishes; while his
poetry lies dead and forgotten by the world at large. His other chief
work was the pulling down of that Faringdon House which had been besieged
by his ancestor, and replacing it by a new residence.

The large parish church, with curiously squat central tower, suffered
greatly during those warlike operations of 1645-6. The spire, with which
the tower was at that time surmounted, was destroyed, as also was the
south transept; since rebuilt. Numerous monuments and brasses are to
be found in this extensive Early English, Decorated, and Perpendicular
building. Prominent among these monuments is the fine alabaster
altar-tomb of Sir Henry Unton, 1596, in the Unton Chapel. It was placed
here by his widow, Dame Dorothy Unton, whose own effigy, in a kneeling
attitude, was at the feet of that of her husband, until tactless
“restorers” effected a very injudicious separation, and not only took her
away from her husband, but out of the Unton Chapel, and placed her in
that of the Pyes.

Sir Henry Unton was both a warrior and a diplomat. He had earned his
knighthood at the siege of Zutphen, where his kinsman, Sir Philip Sidney,
met his death. Afterwards he became Ambassador to France. It was while in
Paris that he sent to the young Duke of Guise, who had spoken slightingly
of Queen Elizabeth, a bitter challenge to a duel:—

“Forasmuch as in the lodging of Lord Dumayne, and in public elsewhere,
impudently and indiscreetly and overboldly, you spoke badly of that
Sovereign whose sacred person I in this country represent: to maintain
both by word and weapon—her honour (which never was called in question
among people of honour and virtue)—I say you have most wickedly lied;
and you shall do nothing else than lie whensoever you shall dare to taxe
her honour. Moreover, that her sacred person (being one of the most
complete and virtuous Princesses that lives in the world) ought not to
be evil spoken of by the tongue of such a perfidious Traytor to her
Law and Country as you are; and hereupon I do defy and challenge your
person to mine with such manner of arms as you shall like or choose, be
it on horseback or on foot. Nor would I have you think that there is
any inequality between us, I being issued of as great a race and noble
house in all respects as yourself. So … I will maintain my words, and the
lie which I have given, and which you should not endure if you have any
courage at all in you. If you consent not to meet me hereupon, I will
hold you, and cause you to be held, for the errantest coward and most
slanderous slave that exists in France. I expect your answer.” The Duc de
Guise did not accept this offensive challenge, although thrice repeated.

Built into the exterior east wall of the chancel is an unconventional
monument. This is a cannon-ball, underneath which we read that it is
“Sacred to the memory of John Buckley, formerly surgeon in His Majesty’s
Navy, who in an engagement with the French squadron off the coast of
Portugal, Aug. 17, 1759, had his leg shot off by the above ball.”

In the middle of Faringdon’s steeply-descending street, here suddenly
growing very narrow, is the old town-hall and market-house, supported on
stone pillars, after a pattern familiar throughout Berkshire and other
counties, and formerly open on the ground floor. A modern Fire Station
now, however, fully occupies one end, and an old-fashioned lock-up, with
barred and bolt-studded door, part of the other. On the stone pillar
beside that prison door there is still to be seen a fragment of the
hand-pillory, or iron wristlet, by which petty offenders were formerly
secured until they had purged their offending.

[Illustration: FARINGDON MARKET HOUSE.]

Returning now to Radcot Bridge, and the boat which is waiting all this
while to convey us on our downward voyage, we pass on to Radcot Lock,
a mile down, and under “Old Man’s Bridge”; or rather the successor of
an old wooden bridge that went by that name, and is now replaced by a
smarter, white-painted bridge of like material, of which type there
are several others between this and Oxford. The landscape is here very
open: the Berkshire hills situated at some considerable distance off,
on the right, while the flat Oxfordshire plain, on the left, is lost
in infinity. Here, on the way to Rushey Lock, are many backwaters, so
screened by the tall growths of midsummer rushes and by the drooping
branches of the willows, now made heavy by fully-grown foliage, and
further masked by dense masses of water-lilies, that their existence is
scarcely suspected. And thus we come to Tadpole Bridge, of which the very
best to be said is that it is an eminently useful, and quite inoffensive
stone structure of one arch, perhaps nearly a century old. We shall find,
proceeding down the Thames, that all too often it is difficult to award
even such negative praise as this to the bridges that cross the river.

[Illustration: WOODEN BRIDGE ACROSS THE UPPER THAMES.]

Here Tadpole Bridge carries an excellent road across to Buckland, two
miles on the right, in Berkshire; and two miles to the left, to Bampton,
in Oxfordshire. We will first see what Buckland may be like.

It is soon obvious that it occupies a site on the ridge of hills running
between Oxford and Faringdon; for its square church-tower presently
becomes prominent on the skyline.

Buckland was for many generations, and until the present time of writing,
in possession of the Throckmorton family, but now the extravagances of
bygone baroneted Throckmortons, and the mortgage-charges they recklessly
heaped up, have overtaken the present generation, and Buckland has at
last been sold into other hands.

The great church of Buckland, largely Norman and Early English, is
neighboured by a modern Roman Catholic church. The old church contains
some monuments of these long-descended Throckmortons, and others to their
predecessors, the Yate family, among them that of a seventeenth-century
baronet and his lady, Sir Edward Yate and Lady Katherine, who would
appear, between them, according to their epitaph, to have held all the
virtues in fee-simple:

    “In this black marble that each sex may finde
     White and faire presidents to guide the minde,
       Men, Women, know, remember
    “Both liv’d lively examples of conjugal,
     Paternal, maternal, and religious vertue.
     The Baronet particularly honoured for
     Morall, economical and prudential merit.
     The ladie reverenced for
     Sanctimonious zeal, humble and constant patience,
     Abundant charitie, and admirable justice.
    “Their daughter Elizabeth (who died a mayde,
     her parents lyving)
     Belovede, admired for
     Devoute, chaste, modest and discrete
     demeanour and fervent Charitie.
       Reader!
                     Depart!
                                     Imitate!
                     1648.”

So the ancient tradition of the “bad Baronet” has its exception here, at
any rate. But what shall we say of the lady whose “sanctimonious zeal”
is the subject of such confident allusion? Only this: that there are two
different meanings to “sanctimonious,” and that we must give her the
benefit of the best of them. Referring to dictionaries we find that to
be sanctimonious is either to be holy, or to be “hypocritically pious or
devout,” like Shakespeare’s “sanctimonious pirate.” Unfortunately for the
posthumous fame of the doubtless altogether estimable lady, there is but
one connotation of that expression nowadays, and it is not the flattering
one.

The stately stone eighteenth-century mansion of the Throckmortons, with
widespreading wings, ending in pavilions looking more than a thought too
airy for this cold climate of ours, was the work of the Woods, to whom
much of the architectural dignity of the city of Bath is due.

There are (or we must now say there were) curious relics in this grand
house of the Roman Catholic Throckmortons. They included a chemise of
that precious “martyr,” Mary, Queen of Scots, whom we know from the
pages of history to have been one of the most wicked women that ever
lived, and who was justly—but belatedly—beheaded; and a gold medal of
Charles the First, another “martyr.”

Here, too, is, or was, the famous coat made for Sir John Throckmorton in
1811. Curious prints of the making of this celebrated article of attire,
brought into being as the subject of a wager, are still sometimes to be
met with. The fashioning of it was a hey-presto! kind of business. From
the shearing of the sheep, all through the many processes of treating the
wool, weaving the cloth, and making the coat, to the wearing of that coat
for dinner at Newbury, the total time occupied was but thirteen hours and
twenty minutes!

The way to Bampton from Tadpole Bridge is uneventful and unfrequented.
This district was long notorious for its entire lack of roads, and we may
read in old histories, “There was no stoned road of any kind leading from
Bampton to the neighbouring towns and villages, and travellers were in
the habit of striking across the common and finding their way to Witney,
Burford, Oxford, or any other place as best they could.”

From these circumstances Bampton was known as “Bampton-in-the-Bush,”
and appears of speculative interest; but Bampton-in-the-Bush has long
since lost the greater part of its name; and now that the roads in these
parts of Oxfordshire are no better and no worse than those to be found
elsewhere in this county, and now the scrub-woods and widespreading
common-lands that once overspread the locality have given place to flat
and uninteresting fields, it is “Bampton” only; and a very dull place at
that.

Its church is the principal feature—and a very beautiful and unusual
feature—of Bampton. The tall stone spire is visible for miles across
the level landscape. It is largely a Transitional-Norman and Early
English church, and cruciform, with central tower and north and south
transepts. The broach-spire is supported at the angles by graceful flying
buttresses, from which rise shafts, each of these four shafts bearing the
stone effigy of an apostle. The effect of these figures, standing out
boldly against the sky, is very striking and unusual.

In the porch the otherwise unremarkable tablet to Thomas Euston, who died
in 1685, proceeds to record the death of “Mary, his only wife,” in 1699.
No polygamist he, at any rate!

The exceptional size and beauty of Bampton church are greatly due to the
peculiar ecclesiastical history of Bampton, which until 1845 rejoiced,
or ought to have rejoiced, in the possession of no fewer than three
vicars for this one church; and, what is more extraordinary still, these
three clergymen had each a vicarage, standing respectively north, south,
and east of the church. To complete this holy fence, so to speak around
it, on the west side was situated the Deanery, now a farmhouse, where
the Deans of Exeter once resided when taking their summer holidays. The
origin of this remarkable arrangement is due to Leofric, first Bishop of
Exeter, a native of Bampton, who, having endowed the church, presented
the living to the Dean and Chapter of Exeter; with the stipulation that
all vicars presented must have already served in the diocese of Exeter.
The three vicars were styled “Portionists,” each taking four months’
duty in the year. This curious arrangement came to an end in 1845, when
the parish was divided into Bampton, Bampton Aston, and Bampton Lew,
each with its vicar, and either of the two newly-constituted parishes,
it may be added, with its fearsome would-be Gothic church of that not
sufficiently instructed period.

[Illustration: BAMPTON CHURCH.]

No one ever reads architectural descriptions, and so let it suffice
to say that the interior of Bampton church is very well worth seeing;
notably for its fine Saxon and Transitional-Norman chancel-arch. The
monuments include one with a mutilated stone effigy of George Tompson,
dated 1603. It could never have been a good example of the sculptor’s
art; and time and unsympathetic hands have conspired to reduce it to
something the appearance of an almost shapeless log, but the rhymed
epitaph, cast in characteristic early seventeenth-century form, has a
certain prettiness of imagination:

    “Heavne hath my sovle in happiest ioye and blisse;
     Earthe hath my earthe, whear bodie tomed is.
     Poore have my store, for ever to their vse;
     Frendes have my name, to keepe withovt abvse.
     Heaven, earth, poore, frendes, of me have had their parte,
     And this in lief was chefest ioye of harte.”

[Illustration: A THAMES-SIDE FARM.]

[Illustration: GATEWAY, COTE HOUSE.]

There stands in the flat country between Bampton and Northmoor, amid the
level meadows, washed, and not infrequently severely flooded, by the
Charney Brook, by the Windrush, and by many mazy rills, the picturesque
old mansion, now a farmhouse of a superior residential type, of Cote.
It was built in the reign of James the First, between the years 1608
and 1612, by one Thomas Horde, and was originally surrounded by a moat.
Alterations, apparently undertaken in 1704, the date of the fine wrought
ironwork of the old gates secluding it from the road, abolished the moat;
but a squat tower at one end of the grey, many-gabled mansion still
discloses the old ideas of defence. It was at one time some twenty feet
higher. At that period, when Thomas Horde built his house at Cote, times
were, in fact, still unsettled, and one never knew into what dangers one
might be drawn. The very year when he began building was the year of the
Gunpowder Plot; and when such things could be, a man did well to stand
upon the defensive.

Beyond Cote, towards the river, lies Shifford, secluded and rarely
visited. The old church of Shifford fell down in 1772, and a new building
took its place. This was removed in 1863.

Shifford is traditionally the scene of a Parliament, or Witanagemot,
held here by Alfred the Great about A.D. 890: “There sate at Shifford
many thanes, many bishops, and many learned men, wise earls, and awful
knights: there was Earl Elfrick, very learned in the law; and Alfred,
England’s herdsman, England’s darling; he was king of England; he taught
them that could hear him how they should live.”

There still remain, in the meadows by Shifford, traces of earthworks and
the stump of an ancient cross, sufficiently proving that this was indeed
anciently a place of considerable importance. But commerce with the world
of affairs no longer stirs the pulses of Shifford, or the neighbourhood
of it, and the Thames steals softly along, between tall palisades, as it
were, of rushes, and past the sentinel willows, with only an occasional
farmstead in sight; farms where one might almost suppose the farmers to
consume their own produce, so remote from all methods of conveying it
away do they seem to be.



CHAPTER IV

    HARVESTS OF THE THAMES: WILLOWS, OSIERS, RUSHES


The willows, pollarded or left to their natural growth, that form, as it
were, a continuous guard of honour along many miles of the upper course
of the Thames, and overhang with a wild luxuriance its mazy backwaters,
are indeed a guard to those banks in more than fanciful phrase. Their
tangled roots clutch them in many-fingered embrace and support them in
times of flood, and their gnarled and fantastic trunks serve the useful
office at such times (when the meadows are under water and resemble
inland lakes) of exactly delimiting the course of the stream, where the
current runs deep and strong, and dangerous. Willows we always associate
with a watery situation, and their habit is indeed better suited to
low-lying meadows and to river-courses than to places high and dry. The
great demands the willow makes upon water place it in the forefront as a
drainer of marshy soil: and thus not only beside the Thames, but along
rivers in general, and in the fens and on Sedgemoor, where the energies
of hundreds of years past have been directed towards expelling the water,
it is a familiar feature of the landscape. We also inevitably associate
the willow, and especially that drooping variety, of the pendant boughs
and leaves, known as the “weeping willow,” with melancholy, and, from
Shakespeare to W. S. Gilbert, it is associated with unrequited love. The
spot where Ophelia met her death is thus described in Shakespeare:

    “There is a willow grows ascaunt the brook,
     That shows his hoar leaves on the glassy stream.”

The expression “hoar leaves” refers to the under side of the willow-leaf,
of a whitish or silvery hue, not unlike hoar-frost; prominently seen when
a strong wind ruffles the branches.

[Illustration: A THAMES-SIDE FARM.]

The love-lorn among the characters in the operas written by Sir W. S.
Gilbert plentifully carry on the old tradition, and from Archibald
Grosvenor (“The All-Right”) and Patience, in the duet “Hey, Willow-waly
O!” to Teresa, in _The Mountebanks_, who sings, “Willow, willow, where’s
my love?” they frequently apostrophise this tearful tree. Nay, even in
the _Bab Ballads_ we read of a troubadour whose refrain was “Willow,
willow, o’er the lea,” and who maintained it with such pertinacity that
it is at last rightly described as “his aggravating willow.”

No one can pretend that a freshly-pollarded willow is a beautiful object,
as it stands up, naked, by the riverside, shorn of all its branches, and
resembling nothing but some rude gigantic club with fist-like, knuckly
head, whence those branches have been ruthlessly cut away. Even after two
or three seasons, when those branches have been allowed to grow again and
to present a more or less mop-like head of foliage, the pollarded willows
look whimsically like so many Shockheaded Peters, after the style of the
familiar _Struwelpeter_ German toy-book. Not beautiful, and not perhaps
ugly, they are the grotesque comedians of the riverside scenery.

The willow is what scientists and arboriculturists might—and possibly
do—style an “economic” tree; that is to say, it has commercially useful
features. Its bark is an excellent medicine for ague, and useful for
tanning, although oak-bark is better. The ancient Britons wove their
light boats, their “coracles,” from willow-wands, and cricket-bats are
now made from its wood. Thus descriptive writers upon cricket-matches,
thinking to be picturesque, are frequently found using the vicious phrase
“wielders of the willow,” when in fact they mean batsmen. Many varieties
of coarse baskets are now manufactured from willow branches. Hence the
assiduous pollarding of the willow about once every seventh year, in the
middle of winter.

Even the familiar osiers of the Thames have some of these economic uses,
and the osiers themselves are a variety of willow.

    “By the rushy fringèd bank,
     Where grows the willow and the osier dank,”

says Milton, illustrating, in his _Comus_, the almost inevitable
companionship of these leafy cousins.

If we wished most strikingly and picturesquely to describe the difference
between an osier and a willow, we should say that an osier was a willow
without a trunk. The osiers grow in beds, as a dense array of upright
rods, and, to the uninitiated, there is but one kind of osier, but
experts are said to be able to distinguish three hundred varieties.
Experts are wondrous folk. Strange to say, although we associate osiers
with watery flats and soggy patches of ground, the “hams,” or “holts,”
as the osier-beds are generally styled, must, if it is desired to grow a
good crop, by no means be saturated with water. To successfully form an
osier-plantation, the land must be well trenched or otherwise drained of
all stagnant or surplus water. Basket-willows refuse to thrive in land
that is awash, and they require the sustenance of good manure. Weeds,
too, hinder their growth, and they are susceptible to attacks from fly.

All these particulars doubtless come as surprising information to those
whose life on the Thames consists merely of rowing, sailing, or camping.
If they notice the numerous osier-beds at all, it is only to wonder idly
at the dense thickets of tall straight rods they form; and it is but
rarely suspected, either that they are carefully planted and tended, or
that the crop of rods is both valuable and precarious.

An osier-bed is formed by planting cuttings of some six inches in length.
Like cuttings from its big brother, the willow, they strike easily, and
soon form vigorous plants. Indeed, in the case of green poles and posts
made of willow, many worthy housewives have frequently been astonished at
finding the posts they use for hanging out the domestic washing budding
lustily and becoming healthy trees.

An osier-rod of one year’s growth is ripe for cutting, and cutting
proceeds every year, from the established stool: the season’s growth
being, according to the variety, and to circumstances, anything from ten
to fifteen feet.

Osier-growing is a considerable industry, and, with due care and ordinary
good fortune, very profitable; for there is not at present a sufficiency
grown in England to satisfy the demand, and we thus import largely from
France, Belgium, and Holland. But, as shown already, the osier requires
to be properly tended, and has its enemies. Prominent among these is
the water-rat, whose destructive habits, in gnawing through the base of
half-grown rods, are very costly to growers.

The rods are cut in autumn or winter, and are then sorted into four
sizes, known as “Luke,” “Threepenny,” “Middleborough,” and “Great.” Of
these, “Luke” is the smallest. They are done up for sale in “bolts,”
_i.e._ bundles, forty inches round.

To prepare osier-rods for basket-weaving, they are stacked upright in
shallow trenches filled with water, their butt-ends immersed from six to
eight inches; and thus they are left until spring, when, with the rising
of the sap, they begin to throw out buds. When April at last is merging
into May, the rods have already burst into leaf and begun forming roots.
Then is the opening of the rod-strippers’ season; for at this juncture
the bark is most easily separated from the rods. Rod-stripping is one
of the few surviving primitive rustic industries, carried on, according
to the mildness, or otherwise, of the spring, in the open air, or in
rustic sheds. This is pre-eminently an occupation for women and children,
and generally forms a picturesque scene, not remotely unlike a gipsy
encampment. The immemorial instrument used in peeling or stripping the
rods is a “break,” formed of two pieces of iron or steel mounted side
by side on a wooden post, about waist-high, somewhat resembling an
exaggerated tuning-fork, or a “Jew’s harp.” The rods are drawn through
the springy embraces of this contrivance, which thus cleanly strips
away the bark, and leaves the rod a pure white wand. For the protection
of more than usually delicate rods from being bruised, the breaks are
occasionally faced with india-rubber.

The whereabouts of a busy group of osier-peelers are readily discovered
from some little distance, for the operation of drawing the rods through
the breaks is accompanied by a sharp metallic “ping”; a chorus of these
sounds in several keys carrying a long way across the still meadows. And
if not by sound, certainly by sense of smell is the group of busy workers
to be located, for the stripped osiers, or rather, the peelings from
them, give forth a strongly aromatic and pungent odour.

The peeled rods are then carefully dried and stored away. They form
the material for white baskets, or for baskets that are to be dyed.
The rods from which yellow or brown baskets are to be made are treated
differently, being peeled in hot water, or in steam; this method—known
as “peeling buff”—bringing out the juices of the rods and staining the
surface, according to the variety of osier, buff, brown, or yellow.

The ancient method of keeping count of the number of bolts stripped by
each worker was identical with that employed in the hop-gardens, and is
still frequently used. This is by “tally.” Computation by tally is one of
the most ancient—perhaps _the_ most ancient—means of reckoning known, and
preceded the use of arithmetic. It consists of taking a short stick of
some soft wood, splitting it into equal halves, and cutting notches along
it. This method of keeping count is simplicity itself, and absolutely
beyond possibility of fraud or error. The method employed was, and is, to
give each worker half of the split tally stick; the other half being kept
by the foreman. In osier-stripping, upon a bolt, or bundle, of rods being
finished, the foreman takes the worker’s half of the tally, and, fitting
it to the half he carries, cuts a notch; and so on with each successive
bolt. The point is that the notches of these two halves must of necessity
agree, or “tally.”

The tally system of accounts lasted until a very late period in those
most conservative of institutions, Government offices, and it was the
accidental flare-up of a great mass of old Exchequer tallies that
destroyed the old Houses of Parliament at Westminster, in 1834.

The rushes, too, that grow so luxuriantly beside the waters of the upper
Thames have some economic value, and form a very bulky harvest. The
usual frequenters of the Thames, who see nothing of the river in spring,
autumn, or winter, think of the rushes only as those tall sword-like
blades of living green that keep guard along so many miles of meadows;
but the Thames in April shows a very different complexion of affairs.
Then the rush has merely begun to show its sword-point above the water;
and does not attain its full height until June. It is in flower during
July and August; and in that last month comes the harvest. It is perhaps
rather risky harvesting, and is accomplished from a punt. The rush-cutter
comes to his work armed with a reaping-hook fixed to the end of a long
pole, so that he is enabled to reach deep down below the surface of the
water, where the rushes spring from their roots.

The cut rushes are spread out in the meadows, to dry, for two or three
weeks; and, being so largely charged with water, diminish remarkably in
the process of drying; a freshly-cut shock of sixty-eight inches’ girth
shrinking to a bolt of forty inches. A bolt of this size is generally
sold for one shilling. Dried rushes are used for making light baskets,
and often for thatching; but in olden times one of the principal uses
for them was the strewing of floors in the home, for those were the
days before the introduction of carpets. The peculiarly sweet scent of
the dried rush made it especially welcome for this purpose, and a fresh
supply of rushes was thought the right of every new guest. But the
rush-strewn floors of those ancient domestic interiors had their own
peculiar dangers and nastinesses, if the sweeping and the renewing were
not frequent; for the dogs of the household generally lived and slept in
the house, and it was the usual practice for guests at table to fling
them bones and unappetising pieces of fat, which therefore often lurked
unsuspected for the unwary heel among the rushes; often enough only
belatedly revealing their presence to the nose.



CHAPTER V

    NEW BRIDGE, THE OLDEST ON THE THAMES—STANDLAKE—GAUNT’S
    HOUSE—NORTHMOOR—STANTON HARCOURT—BESSELSLEIGH


The Oxfordshire side of the river continues as flat as ever, to New
Bridge, which, rising greyly from amid the sedges, commands extensive
views, less by reason of its own height, which is nothing to speak of,
than by the lowness of these level lands. New Bridge, which carries the
Abingdon and Witney road across—it is not a greatly-frequented road—is
the oldest bridge existing on the river. The traveller who has spent much
time in exploring in the highways and byways of England is not surprised
at this paradox, and has indeed met with so many Newtowns and Newports,
Newmarkets, New Inns, New Colleges, and the like that are demonstrably
of a hoary antiquity, and older than most other towns, markets, inns,
and colleges, that he really expects a New Bridge to be at least five
centuries gone in newness. And this bridge was built _c._ 1260, by the
monks of a neighbouring monastery, which itself has wholly disappeared,
while their old pont remains as sturdy as ever.

[Illustration: NEW BRIDGE: THE OLDEST BRIDGE ACROSS THE THAMES.]

It is a queer, seven-arched building, just as Leland wrote of it in the
time of Henry the Eighth, “lying in low meadows, often overflowed with
rage of rain.” At the Berkshire end is the “Maybush” inn, and on the
Oxfordshire side is the “Rose,” in friendly rivalry; but where the trade
comes from, in this lonely situation, to keep them both going, is a
mystery. The customers can be but few, but what magnificent thirsts they
must possess!

At New Bridge the river Windrush falls into the Thames, from its source
in the Cotswolds, thirty miles away, after passing through Witney, and
by some very beautiful scenes. It is the “nitrous Windrush” of Drayton’s
verse: those supposed nitric qualities of its waters having originally
led to the establishment of Witney’s blanket-making industry.

That the flat, low-lying lands here were in former times under water
seems sufficiently evident in the name of Standlake, a village a
mile-and-a-half distant from New Bridge. A British village, discovered
in 1857, near by, may have been one of those lake-villages in which,
for security, our remote ancestors dwelt. The church of Standlake has a
quaint semi-detached octangular tower, crowned with a spire.

There are some curious and interesting places to be found in these flat,
unfrequented lands. Proceeding towards Northmoor, ever and again crossing
tributary rills of the Windrush, the moated manor-house, now a farm, of
“Gaunt’s House” lies secluded amid meadows. It takes its name from one
John Gaunt, who originally built it about 1440, but there is nothing
nearly so old here to-day. The place has its own little niche in history,
for in the seventeenth century, at the outbreak of the Civil War, it was
the property of that Dr. Samuel Fell, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, who
was the subject of the famous undergraduate rhyme—

    “The reason why I cannot tell,
     I do not like thee, Doctor Fell.”

The Doctor was a Royalist, and his moated house here was held for that
side in 1644. After a stubborn defence by its garrison of fifty men,
who kept a besieging force of eight hundred at bay for three days, it
surrendered on May 31, 1645. The house, greatly injured in this warlike
passage, was rebuilt in 1669 by Dr. John Fell, who also was Dean of
Christ Church. It is not a picturesque house, and seems to have been
greatly modernised about the beginning of the nineteenth century. The
woodwork of one of the doors is, however, curiously pierced, as though
for musketry defence.

But, although the house itself is commonplace, the broad moat, brimming
full of water, is beautiful, and in summer-time is so covered with
waterlilies that the water itself is not to be seen. Let those who think
this the language of exaggeration go and see for themselves.

[Illustration: NORTHMOOR: CHURCH AND DOVECOTE.]

An old bridge, replacing a former drawbridge, gives access to the house,
through two tall gateposts surmounted by worn stone heraldic effigies,
blunted by time out of all recognisable likeness; not only to anything
in nature, but even to anything in heraldry. Here, serving to keep the
wooden gateway open, is an iron cannon-ball found in the moat, which,
according to an inscription on the wall, was cleared in 1883.

Northmoor village, near at hand, has an interesting church of the Early
English period, and a charming and unspoiled Jacobean mansion adjoining,
which has the appearance of never having been altered since the first
building of it.

Oddly placed by the road between mansion and church, is a delightful
old timbered pigeon-house, which seems to be contemporary with the old
residence.

At the west end of the church a quaintly balustered bell-loft bears the
following inscription, obviously considered (by those who inscribed it)
to be poetry:

    “Richard Lydall: Gave a new Bell,
       And Built This Bell Loft Free:
     And Then He Said: Before He Dyed,
       Let Ringers Pray For Me. 1701.”

Which was very wrong of him, a Protestant, living under the reformed
religion.

The inner sides of the aisle-window splays here at Northmoor exhibit
that peculiarity already noticed in several churches of the upper Thames
Valley: a more or less decorative treatment of the inner arch. Here
the special treatment is confined to a corbelling-out of the archway;
but this is effected in a quaint manner: the corbel on one side being
provided with a kind of vaulting-shaft. Here, as elsewhere along, or
near, the course of the Thames, the strong influence of the river
upon the imagination and work of the old architectural sculptors is
distinctly to be noted: the capitals of the shafts being carved with
representations of aquatic plants.

But the chief attraction, in all these parts adjacent, is of course the
village of Stanton Harcourt, and that it is so, you who penetrate to it,
along the level roads, cannot fail easily to perceive, if not by evidence
of many sightseers making for it, then, at any rate, in the numerous
notices displayed offering accommodation for tea-parties. Stanton
Harcourt is beautiful, alike in its old-world rustic village of thatched,
unpretending cottages, screened by noble elms from rude blasts, and in
the romantic and unusual group formed by the ancient church-tower and the
towers of the old manor-house. Approaching, it is as though the church
had two towers, for the chief one of the manor-house is very like its
ecclesiastical neighbour.

Stanton Harcourt must have derived the first part of its name from some
stone road, but the road is obscure, and an absurd local legend, almost
too childishly-ridiculous to be repeated, tells us that it arose from the
brave deeds of a former Harcourt, who, in that conveniently vague period,
“ages ago,” was fighting desperately in some unnamed battle, and was
enjoined by his chief to fight on. “Stand to un, Harcourt,” he exclaimed;
and Harcourt feats of arms in “standing to un” accordingly won the day. A
curious thing may be noted: that the stones called the “Devil’s Quoits,”
near the village, are themselves thought to be relics of a battle fought
in A.D. 614, between the Saxons and the British; long before there were
any Harcourts in the land.

[Illustration: STANTON HARCOURT: MANOR HOUSE AND CHURCH.]

The Harcourts first came into possession of Stanton over seven hundred
years ago. It was in 1125 that the second Queen of Henry the First gave
the property to one Millicent de Camville, whose daughter married Richard
de Harcourt, thus the first of a long line of that family, which really
ended with the mother of Edward Vernon, who assumed his mother’s maiden
name, and died in 1847, as Archbishop of York. The later and present
Harcourts are therefore really Vernons.

The ancient and beautiful manor-house of Stanton Harcourt, a group
of buildings forming a quadrangle, was built about the middle of the
fifteenth century, with a rebuilt gatehouse tower of a century later, the
work of a Simon Harcourt of that period. The house was occupied until
1688; and then, with the death of Sir Philip Harcourt, it fell upon evil
times, for his widow deserted the place. Nuneham Courtney, which, in the
course of these pages, we shall visit, below Oxford, had been purchased
in 1710 by a later Simon Harcourt, and to it the family seat was removed,
and the manor-house at Stanton allowed still further to fall into decay.
Seventy years later the buildings, by that time mostly ruinous, were
demolished, with the exception of the gatehouse, one of the towers of
the mansion, and the curious and interesting ancient kitchen, which has
only one fellow to it in England: the well-known and remarkable Abbot’s
Kitchen at Glastonbury.

This Stanton Harcourt kitchen, standing now beside quiet lawns, and
overgrown with creepers and ivy, has long lost any association with
cookery, and looks particularly ecclesiastical, except perhaps for the
rampant griffin, holding a vane, which crowns the tall pyramidal tiled
roof, and wears rather a devilish expression. He is a formidable griffin,
too, measuring eight feet high.

[Illustration: THE KITCHEN, STANTON HARCOURT.]

To properly impress the reader, or the beholder, with this kitchen, it is
necessary to give its dimensions. It has a total height of seventy-two
feet, made up of thirty-nine feet of the wall, twenty-five feet roof, and
the eight feet, as aforesaid, of that banner-bearing monster.

There are no chimneys. The fires were made against the walls, which are
three feet thick; the smoke from them escaping through wooden louvres,
or shutters, above. According to the direction from which the wind
blew, these louvres were shut to on one or other of the four sides. The
mechanical ingenuity of the age was at a low level, and was not able to
contrive means by which these ventilators could be opened or shut from
within; so we find a turret staircase leading up to the roof, around
which runs an open-air passage for access to the louvres.

Alexander Pope, residing in the neighbouring old tower during three
summers, “translating” Horace, and writing fantastic letters in the
meanwhile to his friend, the Duke of Buckingham, exercised his fancy on
this kitchen, and found it to resemble the forge of Vulcan, the cave of
Polyphemus, and the Temple of Moloch: “The horror of it has made such an
impression upon the country people that they believe the witches keep
their Sabbath here, and that once a year the Devil treats them with
infernal venison, viz. a toasted tiger, stuffed with tenpenny nails.”

But all, according to him, was decrepit at Stanton Harcourt:—

“Its very rats are grey. I pray the roof may not fall upon them, as they
are too infirm to seek other lodgings.”

It is the nature of rats to be grey; but we need not seek to deprive
Pope of his point. The place was haunted, too, by the ghost of one “Lady
Frances,” and we hear “some prying maids of the family report that they
have seen a lady in a fardingale through the keyhole; but the matter is
hushed up, and the servants are forbidden to talk of it.”

“Pope’s Tower” is in three floors. On the ground-floor is the domestic
chapel, roofed in fan-vaulting. You enter it by an ante-chapel with
a wooden ceiling in blue, spangled with gilt stars: a gorgeous, but
tarnished firmament. The upper room, known as “Pope’s Study,” was
occupied by him during two hard-working summers, and he celebrated the
completion of his task by inscribing on a pane of red glass in one of the
windows, “In the year 1718 Alexander Pope finished here the fifth volume
of Homer.” The glass has been removed, and is now at Nuneham.

I have already placed the word “translating” in quotation-marks, to
indicate the fact that Pope’s claim to have rendered Homer’s _Iliad_
from the Greek into English verse was a mere pretence. He was no Greek
scholar, and fobbed off upon his publisher and upon confiding subscribers
his metrical version of translations by more scholarly persons. He grew
rich upon the fraud, and still enjoys a reputation among the uncritical
for a classical learning he did not possess.

The church, standing close at hand, has a central tower, of which the
lower stage is clearly seen to be Early English. On this an upper stage
has been reared. The junction of the two is prominently marked by
the upper stage being boldly set back; producing a striking sense of
massiveness.

[Illustration: EARLY ENGLISH SCREEN (UNRESTORED), STANTON HARCOURT.]

The chancel-screen, west of the crossing of north and south transepts, is
of exceptional interest, as perhaps the earliest such screen remaining
in this country unaltered. The hinges and the lock and bolt of the door
are in perfect order, and as good as ever they were, although now nearly
seven hundred years old. The screen is of the Early English period,
simple and pure in its every detail. A little more care for this relic
would have resulted in the organ and the choristers’ seats being placed
at less close quarters. The lock of the door is original, and so are the
several curiously-patterned holes pierced through the lower part of the
screen.

The altar-tomb in the north wall of the chancel, said to be that of
Isabel de Camville, is very short, and its architectural details are of a
hundred years’ later date than her death, leading to the supposition that
this is rather an Easter sepulchre than a tomb. The sculptured emblems
of the Passion support this view. On the south side is the tomb, with
effigy, of Maud, daughter of Lord Grey, of Rotherfield Greys. She died,
wife of Sir Thomas Harcourt, 1394. In the Harcourt Chapel, locked, and
the key kept at Nuneham, many of that family lie; prominent among them
Sir Robert Harcourt, and Margaret his wife, 1471; both effigies wearing
the order of the Garter, the lady represented with it above the elbow of
her left arm. She is one of the three dames known to be so decorated in
monumental effigy: the others being the Duchess of Suffolk, at Ewelme,
and Margaret Camoys, at Trotton, Sussex. There were some sixty ladies
admitted to the Order between 1376 and 1488: the last of them the Lady
Margaret Tudor, mother of Henry the Seventh. Since that time, the only
women Companions have been reigning Sovereigns or Queens-consort.

Here, among the Harcourts, is an altar-tomb to that Archbishop of York
who was not, as already shown, really a Harcourt, but a Vernon; and a
life-sized marble effigy of William, third Earl Harcourt, Field-Marshal,
and G.C.B., who died 1830.

On the south side of the church an unassuming tablet records the tragic
fate which befel “John Hewet and Sarah Drew, an industrious young man and
virtuous maiden of this parish, contracted in marriage, who, being with
many others at harvest, were both in one moment killed by lightning, on
the last day of July, 1718.”

Beneath are some lines written by Pope:

    “Think not by rigorous judgment seized,
         A pair so faithful could expire;
     Victims so pure Heaven saw, well-pleas’d,
         And snatch’d them in celestial fire.

    “Live well, and fear no sudden fate;
         When God calls virtue to the grave,
     Alike, ’tis justice, soon or late,
         Mercy alike to kill or save.

      “Virtue unmov’d can hear the call,
         And face the flash that melts the ball.”

The Berkshire side of the river, from New Bridge downwards, now demands
some notice. There, instead of the unbroken flatness that continues
through Oxfordshire as far as the city of Oxford itself, you have a lofty
ridge more or less closely continuing to follow the course of the stream.
A fine highway runs along the ridge, with pleasant and interesting
villages upon, or near it. There may be found Longworth, and Appleton;
and there, too, Besselsleigh.

[Illustration: BESSELSLEIGH: CHURCH AND FRAGMENT OF MANOR HOUSE.]

We can scarcely call Besselsleigh retired, for it stands directly upon
this fine, broad, and well-frequented road that leads out of Oxford, on
to Faringdon and only students of maps know what many towns further west.
The motors come swishing along it at some very fine turns of speed, for
there is none to say them nay. Such travellers never notice Besselsleigh,
for the modern mansion stands well hidden within its park, and of the old
house that once almost fronted the high road there is absolutely nothing
left but two of the stone entrance gateposts, and those in a more or
less wrecked condition. Those travellers may indeed notice the church,
but even that is doubtful, for it is a very little and a very humble
church, and although its little churchyard gives upon the road, it is so
enshrouded by large trees and small trees that its very existence may not
be suspected by quick-moving traffic.

The trees here are indeed noble, and form a splendid aisle of living
green: elms, oaks, and Scotch pines intermingled. The church, rather
barn-like, has an Early English double bell-cote at its west end. Of the
Besils who gave this place its name in 1350 history has but a moderate
amount to say. They married the estate, so to speak, with an heiress,
last of the family that had hitherto held it; and in the course of time
it passed from them in like manner: the heiress-general of the Besils
marrying a Fettiplace. And nowadays for even a Fettiplace one may seek
in vain, for that family, once so numerously spread over Oxfordshire,
Berkshire and Gloucestershire, is itself extinct. But Besselsleigh did
not pass from them in that accustomed manner, for they sold it to the
Lenthalls in 1634, and it is still held by the same race.

“At this Legh,” says Leland, “be very fayre pastures and woodes; the
Blessels hathe been lords of it syns the time of Edward the First. The
Blessels cam out of Provence in Fraunce, and were men of activitye in
feates of armes, as it appearith in the monuments at Legh; how he faught
in lystes with a strange knyghte that challengd hym, at the whiche deade
the kynge and quene at that tyme of England were present. The Blessels
were countyed to have pocessyons of four hundred marks by the yere.”

Sir Peter Besils seems to have been the worthiest member of this family,
for he not only gave freely of stone to the building of Burford Bridge at
Abingdon, and of Culham Bridge, close by, but left £600 by his will of
1424 for the purpose of making amends for any wrong he or his ancestors
may have done any man. If his executors did not spend that sum in this
manner, presumably because they could find no aggrieved persons, then
they were to construct roads with it.

Mr. Speaker Lenthall, to whom Besselsleigh was sold in 1630, repaired the
little church, and here later members of that family are buried. But none
of them have attained to the fame of Mr. Speaker, who died in 1662, and
lies buried in Burford church. He was a long-headed and tactful man, and,
as such, one well calculated to hold his own in troubled and uncertain
times, by care not to give offence to either of the contending parties.
He was member of Parliament for Woodstock, and was elected Speaker in the
Long Parliament.

King Charles, at that critical moment in parliamentary history when his
Majesty went down to the House in person, for the purpose of arresting
the five members who had courageously withstood his will, asked Lenthall
if he saw any of these five present, and he replied, with marvellous
resourcefulness at so strained a juncture: “May it please your Majesty,
I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as this
House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here; and humbly beg
your Majesty’s pardon that I cannot give any other answer than this to
what your Majesty is pleased to demand of me.” Lenthall was one of the
few prominent men of that time who were able to enrich themselves. While
most were ruined in those long-drawn troubles, he snatched profits out
of them, became extensively rich, and died owner of many manors. These
are the goodly rewards of a moderator; but history gives no favourable
verdict upon such.



CHAPTER VI

    CUMNOR, AND THE TRAGEDY OF AMY ROBSART


One comes more readily to Cumnor by road, but more picturesquely by
river, from Bablockhythe, whence a byway leads steeply up to that famous
place. Cumnor is indeed of such fame that, although one must needs allow
it to be a hill-top—certainly not a valley—village, yet to omit it from
these pages would surely be unpardonable. At Bablockhythe remains the
last of the old river ferries, capable of taking a wheeled conveyance
across; and capable, too, of giving an unwary oarsman or punter a very
nasty check with its rope, permanently stretched athwart the stream.

There is some very noble, still, quiet scenery at, and just above
and below, Bablockhythe, where the water runs with a deep and silent
stealthiness, and the bushy poplars and pendant weeping willows are
reflected with such startling faithfulness that the reflection in the
water beneath looks more solid—much more real—than the foliage above. It
is an illusion of the weirdest kind.

In one or other of the quiet backwaters between this and Oxford there
may be found, by those who care to seek, the curious aquatic plant known
as the “water-soldier.” Botanists of course know it by another, and a
horrific, name: to them it is “_stratiotes aloides_.” But to those few
rustic folk who know at all of its existence—and it is not a common
affair—it is the “water-soldier.” It does not, however, convey any
military impression to the ordinary beholder, being just a plumed bunch
of leaves which in summer-time is found floating on the surface; coming
up from its autumn, winter, and spring home below, in the river-mud, and
growing long suckers, resembling strawberry runners, each of them with
a youthful “soldier”—or recruit, shall we say—at its end. These form
leaves, and each one produces a white flower. When these flowers fade the
“water-soldier” and its outposts of young sink again to the river-bed,
and there rest until summer comes again, when the process is repeated.

But what of Cumnor? It looks boldly down upon the Thames Valley from a
conspicuous wooded ridge. It is a village picturesque alike in itself
and in its romantic history, traditions, and legends. Figure to yourself
a place of scattered rustic cottages, not yet touched to commonplace
by that shrinkage of distances caused by the rapidity and frequency of
modern methods of travel which have brought expansions, rebuilding,
and general modernisings in their train; with an ancient and stately
church rustically overhung with trees quite in the old Birket Foster and
first-half-of-the-nineteenth-century convention. That is Cumnor to-day.

[Illustration: CUMNOR CHURCH.]

In Domesday Book the place appears as “Comenore,” but we hear of
it in Anglo-Saxon times as “Colmonora”; and it is supposed to have
obtained the first part of its name from one St. Colman, or Cuman, a
seventh-century Gaelic saint. The termination, “ora,” doubtless refers to
the shores of the Thames; not, however, nearer than a mile and a half,
and at a considerably lower level.

Cumnor had, apparently, an early church, replaced by the existing fine
Transitional Norman and Early English cruciform building, not yet ravaged
by the “restorer.” Cumnor Place, built about 1350, as a sanatorium for
Abingdon monastery, after the fearful experiences of the “Black Death”
pestilence, stood very closely adjoining the picturesque churchyard, on
its south side, and, after several changes of owners, and at last sunk to
the condition of a roofless ruin, was finally demolished in 1811, and its
stones used in the rebuilding of the church at Wytham.

There is much of interest belonging to Cumnor church, from the battered
old altar-tomb in the churchyard, with barely legible inscription, to
Lieutenant William Godfrey, “who faithfully served King Charles ye I.
from Edgehill Fight to ye end of ye unhappy wars,” down to the curious
epitaph on the exterior east wall, upon “Christian, the wife of Henry
Hutt”:

    “Could exemplary Worth, or Virtue Save
     One happier Woman had escap’d the Grave.
     From every Vice, and female Error free,
     She was in fact, what Woman ought to be.
     Envy’d no Queens, but pitied all their Cares,
     Expecting Crowns less troublesome than theirs.”

This paragon of virtue, worth, and contentment with her station in life
died in 1740, aged 31.

A real startler awaits the stranger who enters unsuspectingly into
Cumnor church. This is none other than a singularly vivid likeness
of Queen Elizabeth, done in stone and standing on a pedestal in the
north aisle. The pale effigy, standing there in the subdued light of
the church, is calculated to stir the nerves of the most stolid. The
statue, a singularly fine one, represents the Queen in the costume of the
period, made familiar in many statues and paintings. She is standing,
and holds the orb and sceptre, symbols of sovereignty. This work of art
has a history of some curious interest. It was originally set up in the
grounds of Cumnor Place by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, in honour
of his great patroness. Perhaps it is due to this origin that the statue
represents the Queen so pleasingly. Zucchero, in his painting of her,
and the many other sculptors who plied their chisels on this inspiring
theme, never produced anything to vie with this in combined charm and
dignity. Elsewhere you perceive “great Eliza”—in spite of courtly
efforts to idealise her—rendered not a little uncouthly. Majesty, with
more than a dash of vinegar, and plain evidences of the termagant, are
characteristics of the most of Queen Elizabeth’s portraits in marble,
stone, and paint; but here she is rendered in terms of grace.

[Illustration: STATUE OF QUEEN ELIZABETH, CUMNOR CHURCH.]

Upon the decay of Cumnor Place the statue was removed to Dean Court, and
thence to a height above the village of Ferry Hinksey, in 1779. From
that solitude it was taken to Wytham Abbey, and eventually forgotten;
being found, broken to pieces, in an out-house. It was finally removed,
restored, and placed here, in Cumnor Church, in 1888, on a pedestal
detailing these circumstances.

An unusual, and welcome, feature of this church is the series of
engravings, reproductions of seventeenth-century correspondence, and
notes upon the history of the village, for the information of the
cultured visitor. Here you may read something of the grim associations
of the vanished Cumnor Place, and learn, in a chronological table drawn
up by the vicar, to what tune the centuries have jogged along in this
rural parish. That chronology ends with this remarkable thought, this
astonishing intellectual effort: “1893. The Future is not yet!”

It never is.

Brasses, now placed upon the walls, commemorate the virtues and the
benefactions of various persons, including “Katherin, sometyme the
wyffe of Henry Staverton, who dyed a good Christian the xxvth day of
December in ye yere of our lorde God, 1557.” It is perhaps even more
important to have lived a good Christian; but, apart from such counsel of
perfection, the inscription is a significant change from those piteous
pre-Reformation invocations for mercy, and appeals for prayers, that were
the commonplaces of all monumental inscriptions only a few years earlier.

James Welsh, who died in 1612, and Margery, who departed three years
later, each leaving £5 in charity, are celebrated in verse, beginning:

    “The body of James Welsh lyeth buryed here,
     Who left this mortall life at fourscore yeare.”

In the south transept, dedicated to St. Thomas of Canterbury, lie two
Abbots of Abingdon, one of them probably William de Comenore, who died
in 1333. Latest of all the monuments here is that of Sir William Wilson
Hunter, an Indian official, who died in 1900, aged 59.

But the chief interest centres in the fine canopied tomb of grey marble,
on the north side of the chancel, to Anthony Forster and his wife:
Forster, that “Tony Fire-the-Faggot” of Sir Walter Scott’s unhistorical
“historical” romance of _Kenilworth_, in which he is held up to
execration as a villain of the most varied villanies; a time-server and
hypocrite: “Here you, Tony Fire-the-Faggot, papist, puritan, hypocrite,
miser, profligate, devil, compounded of all men’s sins, bow down and
reverence him who has brought into thy house the very mammon thou
worshippest.”

This horrid portraiture of the man is an overdrawn picture. No need to
paint the devil blacker than he really is; and although the evidence
available tends to attach the stigma of “murderer” to him, it does not
by any means follow that he practised all the meannesses and petty vices
with which he is charged.

On the other hand, those whitewashers of smirched reputations who have
long been so actively and unprofitably employed in cleansing historical
characters under a cloud, have overstepped the mark in loudly declaring
their belief in his innocence of all charges brought against him.

The name of Anthony Forster, in fiction and in fact, is closely connected
with the famous tragedy of Cumnor Place and Amy Robsart, which still,
after three hundred and fifty years, exercises the minds of historians,
and arouses controversies; and seems likely ever to do so.

We have already referred to the house as a grange belonging to the Abbots
of Abingdon. It came into the private possession of Thomas Pentecost,
_alias_ Rowland, the last of them, by deed of gift from Henry the
Eighth in 1538. The Abbot, in consideration of his having peaceably and
willingly surrendered the Abbey and all its belongings to the King, was
given Cumnor Place for his life; but as he died the following year, he
derived little benefit from the compact. Seven years later, October
8th, 1546, the King conferred Cumnor Place, with the manor of Cumnor,
and greater tithes, upon his physician, George Owen, in consideration
of some lands at Oxford, including the site of Rewley Abbey; and a cash
payment of £310 12_s._ 9_d._ William Owen, son of this George, married in
1558 one of the Fettiplace family, his father then settling upon him the
Cumnor property. William Owen, however, elected to live elsewhere, and
let Cumnor Place to Anthony Forster.

Who, then, was this Anthony Forster? He was the friend and factor of a
very great man in those times: a man by no means great from force of
character, but from sheer opportunism, good luck, and the favour of a
comely person: none other, indeed, than Lord Robert Dudley, later to
become, by the ennobling hands of Queen Elizabeth, Earl of Leicester.
Around the reputation of Dudley there lurk too many sinister stories for
us to lightly dismiss any charge brought against him or his agents. He
was suspected of having put many persons away by the means of poison: a
method very fashionable in that age of the Renaissance and widespread
neo-pagan culture; and that he was an ambitious man to whose ambition no
bounds of prudence or conscience were set is generally acknowledged by
historians. He was by no means alone in this, but was typical of his age,
an age great in refinements, culture, and wealth; great in arms, and no
less notable in its tortuous policies, national and domestic; and in its
lies and manifold duplicities.

[Illustration: TOMB OF ANTHONY FORSTER, CUMNOR.]

The early prospects of Lord Robert Dudley, as third son of the Duke of
Northumberland, were perhaps not particularly brilliant, and as a young
man of eighteen or nineteen years he had in 1550 married Amy, daughter
and heiress of Sir John Robsart, of Stanfield Hall, Norfolk. That was in
the reign of Edward the Sixth, the young King himself being present at
the wedding. There is no reason against the assumption that this was a
love-match; but there is every reason to assume that in after-years, when
his ambitions were kindled, it was bitterly regretted by Dudley, who,
in the changes that had befallen with the successive deaths of Edward
the Sixth and of Queen Mary, and with the accession of Queen Elizabeth,
had become not only a courtier, but a royal favourite, looked upon with
amorous glances by that great Queen herself, whose subtle character has
defied the analysis of historians. Queen Elizabeth’s lovers, looked upon
with favour, were not few, but Dudley was pre-eminent among them, and
presumed, and was allowed to presume, more than any others. The Queen
continually enriched him with grants of land and with the monopoly of the
export of wool and other commodities, until he became extraordinarily
wealthy, and able to maintain a magnificence remarkable even for that
period. The loves of Dudley and his Queen afforded gossip for not only
the Court, but for the nation at large, and a forthcoming marriage was
looked upon as so sure a thing that the Spanish Ambassador found it
possible to write home to his sovereign, referring to Dudley as “the King
that is to be.” And all this while, we are to bear in mind, Dudley’s
wife, Lady Robert Dudley (the “Amy Robsart” of the looming tragedy) was
alive! What was that meek woman doing while such well-founded gossip was
heard in every corner of the land? She was travelling and visiting in
many different parts of the country, and doing so in considerable state.

Among the relics of her to be seen, framed on the walls of Cumnor Church,
is the facsimile of a letter from her to her husband, dated 1557,
displaying nothing but perfect confidence and trust, which she might
do, well enough, and yet find her trust misplaced. Or, possibly, those
letters were cast in a conventional form, and hid a breaking heart.

But, although Dudley and his wife had for some years lived apart, and
although he was notoriously a false and faithless man, whose varied
gallantries were the talk of the time, there was not yet, in 1557, any
question of getting rid of her, and no great and dazzling ambition made
him or his agents contemplate a crime. Queen Mary yet ruled and it
was not until the following year that she died, and was succeeded by
her sister, Elizabeth. No sooner, however, did Elizabeth become Queen
than Dudley appeared as the most favoured courtier. That he was to
become King-Consort none doubted, and it is singular to consider that,
in all the records of that time, the fact of his being already married
appeared to offer no bar to that contemplated union. Continuously, from
the Queen’s accession, these circumstantial rumours spread, and it
is beyond the bounds of credibility that Lady Dudley should not have
been made perfectly well acquainted with them in the course of the two
years in which they were current. Lady Dudley—why historians and others
continue to write of her after her marriage by her maiden name of Amy
Robsart is not clear—had been accustomed to visit a Mr. Hyde, a kinsman
of Dudley’s, at Denchworth, near Abingdon; and it does not, therefore,
appear extraordinary that when Anthony Forster, her husband’s steward,
took Cumnor Place on lease, in 1559, she should elect to visit there: the
more especially so if there were any truth in the rumour that she was ill
at that time, for Cumnor, as we have already seen, was supposed to be a
particularly healthy spot.

But it is by no means so sure that she was at all unwell. It is one of
the most damning evidences of foul play in this famous case that rumours
were current for some time before the murder, or the accident, whichever
it was, to the effect that she was suffering from cancer and was sure to
die shortly, and that this gossip was contradicted at the time. Among
those who gave the lie to it was the Spanish Ambassador, writing to the
Duchess of Parma. “They,” he said, “are thinking of destroying Lord
Robert’s wife.” Who “they” were we can only conjecture. “They have given
out that she is ill; but she is not ill at all; she is very well, and is
taking care not to be poisoned.”

Is it at all reconcilable with the theory of accident that a person whose
continued existence stood in the way of so ambitious a man as Dudley, and
of whom it was so freely said that she was dying, when she was known to
be well, and whose life was said to be in danger from violence or poison,
should in fact meet her end so immediately and mysteriously? No modern
coroner’s jury would return a verdict of accidental death under such
suspicious circumstances.

What are the known facts? Lady Dudley was residing at Cumnor Place in
September 1560, and the extraordinary cloud of suggestions, innuendoes,
and suspicions current everywhere must have reached her ears. She must
have been superhuman not to have been miserably affected by these doings
of her husband, who, at the time when the tragedy happened, was with the
Queen at Windsor; and she was, as we have seen suggested, probably in
fear of being secretly poisoned. On Sunday, September 8th, the day of
Abingdon Fair, her servants all went to Abingdon, by her express desire,
according to one account. But, at any rate, they did all go, leaving
in the house alone, it would seem, Lady Dudley, Mrs. Hyde, and Mrs.
Odingsell, Mr. Hyde’s sister. The three ladies were that evening playing
a game popular at that time, known as “tables,” when suddenly Lady Dudley
arose and left the room, being almost immediately afterwards found dead
at the foot of a staircase by the servants returning from the Fair;
having apparently fallen and broken her neck.

Where was Forster at this time? The records are silent, and do not
tell of any man about the place. The views of Dudley himself and his
dependents were that the affair was purely an accident. Alternatively, it
was suggested by some that it was suicide.

But Dudley’s conduct on receipt of vague news of tragedy at Cumnor was
suspicious. It would be supposed that the first act of an innocent man
would be to hurry off from Windsor to the scene of this happening, to
learn at first hand what had befallen his wife; but Dudley was content to
send Sir Thomas Blount, a confidential gentleman in his train, to ride
over and make inquiries. On the way Blount met a messenger from Cumnor,
proceeding to Windsor with the detailed news. Next day, at Cumnor,
Blount, examining the lady’s maid, extracted from her the admission
that Lady Dudley had been frequently heard to pray for delivery from
desperation. He eagerly seized upon this as indicating suicide, but the
maid immediately checked him with, “No, good Mr. Blount, do not so judge
of my words. If you should so gather, I should be sorry I said so much.”

What “desperation” might mean is uncertain: it is a strange choice of a
word; but it has been thought that the unhappy woman, knowing she was in
danger of being murdered, thus prayed to be protected from the desperate
resolves against her life.

Blount, writing to Dudley, acquainted him with the feelings of the
neighbourhood about the affair, by which it is sufficiently evident that
this happening was already regarded as a serious thing for Dudley. To
this Dudley replied, directing that the strictest inquiry should be made;
that an inquest should be held immediately, and “the discreetest and most
substantial men should be chosen for the jury.” But surely, the question
of an inquest and the choice of a jury were the affairs of others than
himself, and an inquest would have been held in any case, whether he
liked it or not; and so his directions to that end are mere unmeaning
words. He further begged of Blount “as he loved him and desired his
quietness, to use all devices and means for learning of the truth without
respect to living persons”; and especially desired him not to dissemble,
but to tell him, faithfully, “whether it happened by evil chance, or
villainy.”

He was evidently seriously alarmed for himself; but we look in vain
for any expression of sorrow at his wife’s lamentable end. All he was
concerned with was “the talk which the wicked world will use”: talk for
which his own conduct for long past had given the fullest occasion.

Blount had halted at Abingdon on his journey, and only reached Cumnor
on September 11th. Already, as might have been supposed, the coroner
had summoned his jury. They were, in Blount’s opinion, “as wise and able
men, being but countrymen, as ever I saw.” They deliberated long and
searchingly, and Blount wrote again, on the 13th, that they were very
active; “whether equity is the cause, or malice [_i.e._ suspicion, let
us note] against Forster, I know not.” He further said that they were
very secret, but he could not hear that they had found any presumption
of evil. He thought, however, they would be sorry (these wise and able
men—for countrymen) if they failed. Obviously Blount had been trying to
pump the jury as to their finding. Dudley himself, writing to Blount,
said the foreman of the jury had communicated with him to the effect that
although the inquiry was not yet concluded, for anything they could learn
to the contrary, it was a very misfortune. So Dudley himself had been
trafficking with the jury, a thing that would in modern times afford very
strong presumption of guilt.

If we put faith in Dudley’s own protestations, we must, however, find him
innocent. Yet is it possible to have this faith?

After hearing to that effect from the foreman he wrote to Blount, saying
that after the jury had rendered their verdict, he could only wish there
would be a second inquiry. He wished Arthur Robsart, the dead woman’s
brother, and Appleyard, her half-brother, to be present. Never at any
time, in all these scenes, was Dudley himself present. It is uncertain
whether a second jury was summoned, or whether the sittings of the first
were extended; but it is certain that an inquiry was still in progress
on September 27th, and that this resulted at last in a verdict of
accidental death.

But the affair cast an indelible stain upon Dudley’s reputation, and
although the question of his marrying the Queen was not dropped, and was
ardently debated from time to time, his wife, being dead, proved a more
insuperable obstacle than she had been while living. The dark suspicions,
if not of his actual complicity, at least of Forster’s having contrived
the tragedy in his master’s supposed interest, would not be allayed.
Everywhere mutterings were heard, and the Queen did not dare marry one
under such a cloud.

Lady Dudley was buried in great state in the church of St. Mary, Oxford,
and even there the grisly accusation of assassination came up, in Dr.
Babington, the preacher, chaplain to Dudley himself, thrice making a
slip of the tongue; desiring the prayers of the congregation for the
lady “so pitifully murdered,” instead of “slain.” This incident serves
sufficiently to show what was in men’s minds.

In 1566, seven years after the tragedy, Appleyard was brought before the
Privy Council for having declared that he had not been satisfied with
the jury’s verdict, but for Dudley’s sake had covered the murder of his
sister. He was intimidated, and fully apologised, for Dudley had become
all-powerful; and he was made to explain his words as “malice,” and to
beg pardon for them; but an apology extracted by such means does not
carry great weight. Years afterwards Cecil could find it possible to say
that Dudley was “infamed by his wife’s death,” and so infamed he still
remains, whether we find it by direct participation or by the deeds of
his too-subservient agents.

We must here come to the conclusion that Dudley was not himself guilty;
but that Forster certainly was. That conclusion can, indeed, hardly
be avoided. The country side thought so, and it is not sufficient for
apologists to point to his gentility and his culture, and to exclaim that
such an one would be incapable of such a crime. Whenever did honourable
descent or cultivated tastes prevent a man from bearing a villain’s part?
The view that because Forster was a gentleman, and interested in the
arts, he was incapable of crime is the conventional view of people who
are not satisfied that a villain is a villain unless he wears a scowl and
other distinguishing signs.

It has been remarked that Forster would not in after-years have been
chosen Member of Parliament for Abingdon and would not have been given
University and other honours if he had been what suspicion made him. But
would he not? Dudley could have procured all these things, and more, for
his faithful man, even as he was in a position to secure most things for
himself.

The year following the tragedy of Cumnor Place, Forster purchased the
freehold of it; Owen probably being unwilling any longer to hold a house
with such dark associations. And here he lived the remainder of his life,
dying in 1572. In those twelve years he almost wholly rebuilt Cumnor
Place, which he left by will to Dudley, who had, in the meanwhile,
become Earl of Leicester. If the Earl accepted this gift, he was to pay
£1,200 to Forster’s heirs.

The Earl did accept, but sold the property soon after. It is not to
be supposed that he would care to be any longer associated with the
ill-omened place. By this sale Cumnor passed to the Norris family,
ancestors of the Earls of Abingdon, who still own it.

The entry of Forster’s funeral at Cumnor is to the effect that “A. F.,
gentleman,” was buried on November 10th; and it has been thought curious
that the word “gentleman” takes the place of some other word first
written and then erased: whether the first was uncomplimentary, or merely
the Latin word _miles_, as sometimes suggested, is now of course beyond
the wit of man to discover.

Those who visit Cumnor with this pitiful story in their recollection, and
are disappointed at finding Cumnor Place no longer in existence, will
find in the Purbeck marble monument to Forster an interesting relic,
bringing them into touch with these long-vanished personages; but they
will find no support of the charges brought against him. Nor could such
support be in any way expected; but in the long Latin eulogistic verses
engraved in brass under the brass effigies of himself, his wife, and
their three children, we find him credited with an astonishing variety
of virtues and accomplishments. He was, it seems, distinguished for
his skill in music, languages, and horticulture, and was charitable,
benevolent, and full of religious faith. The brass portraiture, too
(which, after all, is not necessarily a portrait), represents him as a
man of singularly open countenance.

Apart from the personal association, the tomb is interesting as combining
late Gothic and Renaissance decoration.

It has already been said that Cumnor Place is a mansion of the past, and
that it was finally demolished by a former Earl of Abingdon in 1811. An
amusing story is told, to the effect that when the popularity of Scott’s
_Kenilworth_ aroused a keen interest in Cumnor, the Earl undertook to
drive some guests over to see the house, forgetting that he had, several
years earlier, given orders for it to be demolished. The disappointment
of himself and his friends on arriving at Cumnor was very keen.

Cumnor Place was never more than a modest country residence, and bore
no resemblance to Scott’s description; nor had it the imposing towers
described in Mickle’s ballad, which concludes with—

    “Full many a traveller oft hath sigh’d,
     And pensive wept the Countess’ fall,
     As wand’ring onward they’ve espied
     The haunted towers of Cumnor Hall.”

It stood to the south of the church, and was in its last years a ruinous
malthouse, finally converted into labourers’ cottages. The stones of it
were removed chiefly for the building of Wytham church; and there, at the
entrance to the churchyard, an archway remains to this day, bearing the
inscription by the pietistic Forster: “Verbum Domini Janva vitae.”

It only remains to once more remark that Scott’s novel, _Kenilworth_,
enshrining many of these things, is full of the grossest perversions of
known facts, and not for one moment to be relied upon, historically.
Raleigh figures in it, and in its pages is knighted by Queen Elizabeth,
in 1560; but he was only eight years of age at the time. Lady Dudley is
represented as the Countess of Leicester; but she met her tragic end
three years before Dudley was created Earl. She is also made to figure in
the grand festivities at Kenilworth, although she had been dead fifteen
years when these great doings took place. There was no “Black Bear” inn
at Cumnor at that time; nor could there reasonably have been such a sign,
for Dudley, whose device it was, did not then own property at Cumnor,
and was not directly associated with the village. The Richard Varney,
co-villain with Forster in the story, was derived by Scott from Ashmole’s
gossipy _Antiquities of Berkshire_, and is not to be readily identified.



CHAPTER VII

    WYTHAM—THE OLD ROAD—BINSEY AND THE ORATORY OF ST.
    FRIDESWIDE—THE VANISHED VILLAGE OF SEACOURT—GODSTOW AND “FAIR
    ROSAMOND”—MEDLEY—FOLLY BRIDGE.


The river makes a great semicircular bend, as between New Bridge and
Oxford, so that although but six miles between the two, measured in a
straight line on the map, it is fifteen miles by water. Cumnor stands
roughly in the middle of the projecting part of Berkshire enclosed within
this bend, and Wytham almost at the farthest northward fling of it, just
below where Eynsham Bridge (otherwise styled Swinford Bridge) carries
the great highway from Oxford across the Thames towards Witney and
Gloucester. Eynsham, a quaint old village, is one mile distant.

[Illustration: EYNSHAM.]

Wytham, amid the deep woodlands, on its bold hill-top in the bight
of the river, is a sequestered place, the site of the mansion called
Wytham Abbey, seat of the Earls of Abingdon. “Abbey” is a fanciful
term, as applied here, for no religious house ever stood upon the
site, and the existing buildings arose in the sixteenth century, at
the bidding of one of the Harcourts, who then owned the property. How
it eventually came through several hands and at last by marriage into
the Bertie family, Earls of Abingdon, is not, I imagine, a matter of
general interest. Wytham village, lying beneath that lordly seat, is
one of the most charming villages in Berkshire, which is saying a good
deal in the commendatory sort. It is, and has long been, famed for its
strawberry-growing, and was once even recommended by the faculty to
invalids for a “strawberry cure.” I cannot imagine the ailment for which
the eating of strawberries is a likely remedy, but a pleasanter “cure”
could hardly be invented.

Wytham woods crest Beacon Hill, and in them the pheasants are plentiful.
This is the equivalent of saying that there is no right of way. But
anciently the road from Oxford to Eynsham, and on to Witney and
Gloucester, ran across this hill: a plaguey bad road, a very beast of a
road. The track of it may still be followed (by permission sought and
obtained from Lord Abingdon, let me hasten to add) steeply and roughly
up through these sylvan surroundings, and as roughly and as steeply down
again, to Eynsham Bridge, which was built in 1799 by a former Earl, to
replace the ford by which all wayfarers up to that time were obliged to
cross the river. It is still a toll-bridge for vehicles, levying the
modest sum of one halfpenny for cycles, and sixpence for motor-cars. The
arduous road from Oxford across the hill was abandoned about the same
time, when the existing so-called “Seven Bridges Road,” leading along the
levels to Eynsham Bridge, was reconstructed.

There is a great deal of interest wrapped up in that old road. It
left Oxford on much the same line as now, but was neither drained nor
embanked, and proceeded for some distance from the city along swampy
ground, so that travellers upon it from Oxford to Eynsham were made to
feed full of varied discomforts. Proceeding through Botley, often at the
peril of their lives from floods, they then bore away to the right, for
Wytham, passing through the village of Seacourt on the way. From Wytham,
mounting and descending the hazardous track over Beacon Hill, at the
imminent danger of their necks, they then came to the peril of the ford;
and having haply passed over this in safety, felt that risks from natural
causes were over. There remained only the bandits of an early period, and
the highwaymen of a later to give them pause. As for Binsey, it is merely
an insignificant hamlet situated at a very dead-end of traffic. You shall
find it readily enough by proceeding from the “Perch” inn, beside the
river, just above Medley Weir; but it is quite other guesswork seeking it
from Wytham, for no way exists where formerly an ancient path ran, and a
channel cut from the Thames winds a prohibitive course through the flat
meadows.

Binsey, indeed, stands on an island in olden times called Thorney, where
St. Frideswide, that celebrated Oxford saint, first built her oratory,
the name of the isle being then, we are told, changed to “Binsey”:
absurdly said to signify the “isle of prayer.” Here she also founded
the well of St. Margaret, miraculously springing forth in answer to her
prayer, as springs were wont to do in the eighth century. They have
long since refused to do the like. It is perhaps not remarkable that
Binsey and this famous well in after-years became, and long remained,
the objects of pilgrimage. The halt and the lame, the epileptic and the
otherwise afflicted, flocked to Binsey and were cured, hanging up their
crutches in the oratory and festooning it with their discarded bandages:
and incidentally leaving solid gifts of money behind, greatly to the gain
of the monastery of St. Frideswide, in Oxford, to which Binsey belonged
from 1132 until the end of such things, four hundred years later.

The crowds of pilgrims who came out of Oxford, making for the oratory and
well of St. Frideswide, turned off at the vanished village of Seacourt.

Few places have perished so utterly as this long-lost habitation of men,
styled at various times “Sekecourt,” “Seuecurde,” and “Sechworth”; for
all we shall now discover of it is a farm so named. But Seacourt was for
many centuries a considerable place. Not only did it lie directly upon
the then highway to the west, but it was the pilgrims’ lodging-place, and
for the accommodation of such it is recorded to have possessed no fewer
than twenty-four inns. With the successive blows of the dissolution of
the monasteries, when pilgrimages ceased out of the land, and then when
the road itself was diverted, Seacourt’s doom befel. It subsided into
ruin, and became the abode of foxes and wild-fowl; and presently the very
stones of it were carted away.

The self-satisfied attitude of Binsey folk in summer, and the woe-begone,
dreary, flooded-out experiences of the same people in winter are
amusingly contrasted in traditional sayings, current in these parts.
Thus, in summer, a villager, asked where he lives, is supposed to say,
“Binsey; where d’ye think?” but in winter he will reply, disconsolately,
“Binsey, Lord help us!” And it needs only a week or so of rain in one of
our tearful summers for the low-lying meadows to be flooded, completely
islanding the place in the midst of something resembling an inland sea.

[Illustration: BINSEY CHURCH.]

In modern times the holy well has been found at the west end of Binsey
church and restored, as the inscription records: “St. Margaret’s spring,
granted, as it is told us, to the prayers of St. Frideswide, long
polluted and choked up, was restored to use by T. J. Prout, student of
Christ Church, the vicar, in the year of redemption, 1874.” The well may
be holy, but the water again in these days looks provocative of typhoid.

Between Wytham and Binsey, and directly upon the river, is a very
much better known place than either; to wit, Godstow. “Fair Rosamond”
and Godstow have employed the morbidly-sentimental pens of uncounted
scribblers. It is easy to be either sentimental or morbid, and of the
easiest to be morbidly-sentimental over unworthy subjects: hence the
exploitation in this wise of “Fair Rosamond.”

Godstow Nunnery, it seems, was founded by Edith, an ex-_chère amie_ of
Henry the First, and wife of the second Robert D’Oilgi, or D’Oyley, lord
of Oxford. The buildings were consecrated with great state by the Bishop
of Lincoln in 1138. There is little need here to dwell upon the history
of the nunnery, which in general is sufficiently dull; and Godstow is, in
fact, interesting only on account of that highly improper person known in
romantic history as “Fair Rosamond,” who was educated here. The name of
Rosamond, if we may believe Dryden, who, as a poet, is perhaps not to be
altogether relied upon as an authority, was really Jane. It might have
been worse. However:

    “Jane Clifford was her name, as books aver,
     Fair Rosamond was but her _nom de guerre_.”

That she was daughter of Walter, Baron Clifford, of Hay, in Wales, is
historically certain; but much else relating to her is merely picturesque
legend. She appears to have been born about 1150, and was educated
in this then newly-built nunnery. Here, in some unexplained way, she
attracted the attention of the King, Henry the Second, and became his
mistress, greatly to the jealous rage of his Queen, Eleanor of Poitou,
the divorced consort of the King of France, who by many was held to be no
better. This association of the King and of Rosamond seems to have lasted
about four years.

Legends tell variously how Queen Eleanor burst in upon a secret bower
in which the King had hidden her at Woodstock, and gave her the choice
of death by dagger or poison, and how she chose the bowl rather than
the steel, drank of it and so died; but these are unhistorical. All
that seems fairly certain is that a break in her relations with Henry
occurred, and that she retired to Godstow and died there, some four years
later, about 1176.

A great mass of legend has accumulated around these bare outlines of her
story, and poets have freely employed their imagination upon her. With
remarkable unanimity, they assume Rosamond to have been a blonde:

    “Her locks of curlèd hair
     Outshone the golden ore;
     Her skin with whiteness may compare
     With the fine lily-flower;
     Her breasts are lovely to behold,
     Like to the driven snow.”

That she had two children seems to be established, but that they were,
as often stated, William Longsword, Earl of Salisbury, and Geoffrey,
Archbishop of York, has been disputed.

Rosamond, we are told, was for sake of her wit and beauty received back
by the nuns of Godstow with alacrity. Doubtless she told them many
strange tales of the wicked world, for who better qualified to know? Her
body was buried before the high altar. King John, according to Lambarde,
raised a gorgeous monument to her, inscribed,

    _Hic jacet in tumba, Rosa Mundi, non Rosa Munda,_
    _Non redolet, sed olet, quae redolere solet._

Speed paraphrased this as follows:

    “This tomb doth here enclose the world’s most beauteous Rose,
     Rose, passing sweet erewhile, now nought but odour vile.”

A few years later, Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln, paying a round of pastoral
visits in his diocese, in which Oxford was then included, coming to
Godstow, saw this gorgeous monument and asked what great and good person
it was, then, who lay here. It was, said the nuns, the tomb of Rosamond,
sometime mistress of Henry the Second, who for love of her had done
much good to that church. Thereupon the saintly and scandalised Bishop
declared that the “hearse of a harlot was not a fit spectacle for a quire
of virgins to contemplate, nor was the front of God’s altar a proper
station for it”; and he directed that she should be removed and buried
outside, “lest Christian religion should grow in contempt.”

Leland, diligent antiquary, tells us that in after-years Rosamond’s tomb
was here, inscribed “Tumba Rosamundæ,” and that her bones had been found,
enclosed in lead, “and within that closed in leather; when it was opened
there was a very swete smell came out of it.” Time thus gave the lie to
that fearful old epitaph of King John’s day.

The nunnery of Godstow when dissolved in the reign of Henry the Eighth
contained eighteen nuns, and its annual income was £274; a considerable
sum as prices then ruled. The property was granted to that Dr. Owen who
at the same time secured Cumnor, and the domestic buildings became a
secular residence. This was held during the Civil War by Colonel Walter,
and was taken by Fairfax in May 1646, and burned.

All we see nowadays of Godstow nunnery is a small building, ruined
and roofless, apparently of no very great antiquity, for besides the
Perpendicular window there are no other evidences of Gothic architecture,
the two other windows being merely flat-headed Elizabethan insertions.

Efforts have been made from time to time to discover the remains of
Rosamond. Two stone coffins were dug up about 1800, and in one of them
were the bones of a young woman. On the supposition that this was the
sarcophagus of Rosamond, a once well-known antiquary and citizen of
Oxford, Alderman Fletcher, appropriated it, and conceived the eccentric
idea of being buried therein; and when his time came, in 1826, he was
accordingly laid in it, in the church of Yarnton, a few miles distant.

An uncommon plant, said to have been introduced from foreign parts by the
nuns, still grows freely in these meadows by the grey ruins. It is known
to botanists as _Aristolochia clematitis_, but to ordinary country folk
as “birthwort” and was used in confinement cases. You may identify it by
its heart-shaped leaf and bold yellow flower.

The charm of the river fades away after passing Medley Lock and nearing
Oxford, and suffers a change into the commercial ragged edges and untidy
squalid purlieus of a great city.

We may read in old dry-as-dust authors how “Medley” derives from
“Middleway”—this being midway between Godstow and Oxford—but we need
not (indeed, we had better not) put any faith in that derivation. Also,
according to those same authorities, it was a scene of great resort for
“divers pleasures.” Of what those diversified pleasures chiefly consisted
we must judge rather from the verses of George Withers than from the
grudging phrase of Dryasdust, who, forgetful of his own youth, gives us
no details. But let George Withers himself inform us:

    “In summer-time to Medley
       My love and I would goe,
     The boatmen there stood ready
       My love and I to rowe;
     For creame there would we call,
       For cakes, for pruines too;
     But now, alas! sh’as left me,
       Falero, lero, loo.”

Let nothing be said of the river between Medley and Folly Bridge. What
should one say of gas-works in these pages, or of other evidences that
we are not living in ancient times, and that the city of Oxford is
a populous place, and up-to-date in all respects except that of its
University?

Folly Bridge serves to mark the limits of the Upper and the Lower river,
as well as its prime purpose of carrying the road to Abingdon across the
stream; and it stands in the minds of many for the enterprising and
industrious Salter, whose steamboats and whose row-boats are centred
thereby.

The real original name of Folly Bridge, dating back to Norman times, is
“Grand Pont,” that is to say, Great Bridge; great according to the ideas
of those times. Even so lately as 1844, when the first Great Western
railway-station was opened near this point, the bridge was still well
known by its old name, in addition to the other, for the station was
called after it, “Grandpont”; but, in the years that have passed since
then, the name of “Folly Bridge” alone has survived, and you might expend
the whole of a day asking for it by its original style, and not find any
one who knows it.

In the middle of the old bridge stood an ancient tower known
traditionally as “Friar Bacon’s Study,” where that learned man had
been accustomed to take astronomical observations. It straddled across
the roadway and formed, in fact, one of the gateways of the city. A
strange saying was current of this tower, to the effect that when a man
of greater learning than Bacon passed under it, the tower would fall.
It never did fall, but was pulled down by the city corporation, as an
obstruction to the road, in 1779. Years before that date, it had been let
to a person named Welcome, who not only repaired it, but built another
storey. The citizens of Oxford then called it “Welcome’s Folly.”

The bridge was rebuilt between the years 1825 and 1827; but, although
Welcome is forgotten, his supposed folly still, as we perceive, gives the
place a name. There can be no doubt that, to many uninquiring people,
the name of the bridge seems to be a satire on the pleasure-seeking life
of those so-called scholars, the University men, to whom boating and the
“bumping” races are more than all the wisdom of the schools.

Below Folly Bridge begins that long line of glorified house-boats,
headquarters of the various college boating-clubs, known as the
“University Barges,” stationary along the left bank of the river, by
Christ Church meadows. The ethics of bumping or being bumped, and
the sporting politics of the Torpids or the Eights are subjects by
themselves, and not to be discussed here.

What, strangers ask, are Torpids? The name suggests a boa-constrictor
dined to repletion, and reduced to a state of torpidity; it is, however,
merely the survival of an old Oxford nickname for the less active among
boating men, who, roused by it, and adopting it, took to racing among
themselves, as a separate class. The extinct “sloggers” on the river Cam
at Cambridge, derived similarly, from the taunt of “slow-goer.”

The racecourse of these clubs is between Folly Bridge and Iffley:
scenically a dull stretch of river, however exciting it may be from the
aquatic sportsmen’s point of view. And if the river between Oxford and
Iffley be dull, what shall we say of the road thither?



CHAPTER VIII

    IFFLEY, AND THE WAY THITHER—NUNEHAM, IN STORM AND IN SUNSHINE


The way from Oxford by road to Iffley is a terrible two miles of
“residential” suburbia. So soon as the pilgrim has come out of Oxford,
over Magdalen Bridge, and, taking the right-hand fork of roads, has
passed St. Clements, he has entered upon the villa-lined Iffley road, in
which the houses are numbered to over nine hundred. I hope I am neither
a Prig nor a Superior Person, but I fully confess I should not like to
live—or to “reside,” if you will have it so—in a house numbered well on
into the hundreds. I do not, broadly speaking, envy our grandfathers
of sixty or seventy years ago, for they are dead and we are among the
living, but they had at least this advantage, among, of course, many
serious disadvantages that we fortunately do not experience—that their
towns (always excepting London) had no suburbs. Our ancestors of not so
very long ago stepped out of their ancient streets and found themselves
at once in the country. _We_ have, commonly, at the threshold of every
town, miles of undistinguished modern streets, commonplace, unhistorical,
depressing. But, at any rate, there are no tramways, electric or other,
along the Iffley road, and that is something to be thankful for, viewed
from the æsthetic standpoint, although it may leave something to be
desired on the score of convenience.

[Illustration: IFFLEY CHURCH: NORTH SIDE.]

The best way to reach Iffley is undoubtedly by water. The Thames, from
Folly Bridge to Iffley Lock, is not, it is true, at its best, but it, at
any rate, retains something of the genius of locality, which a suburban
road does not, and anything should be preferable to that road.

But, alas! Iffley Mill, once the glory of the river at this point, is at
the moment of writing, a blackened heap of ruins, and it is not expected
that it will be rebuilt. Even if it be, that will not be the Iffley
Mill beloved of artists these many generations past. Thus ends the old
manorial mill that has existed, in one form or another, on this spot,
since the Norman conquest, and probably earlier still, for the place
is mentioned in Anglo-Saxon charters dated 945 A.D., in which it is
styled “Giftelei.” It is said that “Iffley” has been spelled in eighty
different ways, and Iffley Mill has probably been sketched, painted, and
photographed as many thousand times; and, that being so, we will leave
the mill, for once, unillustrated.

Enthusiastic local writers have often claimed for Iffley church that
it is the finest Norman country parish church in England. It is not
really quite that, but it is certainly among the finest. It is a large
building, of late Norman architecture, built about 1170, when the
gaunt, grim early Norman style had developed into something which,
although not less massive, was more ornate and decorative. It is a
church without aisles. The West front is imposing, and particularly
rich, exhibiting a deeply-recessed door, with circular window above, and
three windows above that. The circular window is a restoration, of some
fifty years ago, of the original, destroyed in the eighteenth century
and replaced by a larger, with the object, sufficiently laudable in
itself, but archæologically lamentable, of admitting more light. The
highly-enriched doorway, with characteristic beak, cable, and chevron
devices, is protected by a bold hood-mould, finely sculptured with the
signs of the zodiac. The low, square central tower is unaltered, but
most of the windows in the body of the church have been remodelled
at different periods in the long history of Gothic architecture. The
chancel, originally apsidal, was lengthened about 1270, in the Early
English style. The chancel-arch is curiously carved, and the roof is
massively groined in stone. The ancient black marble font is as old as
the building itself, and may be compared with a somewhat similar, but
more elaborate, series in Winchester Cathedral, East Meon church, and
St. Michael’s, Southampton. On the north side of Iffley church is an
enormous, widespreading yew, probably as old as the church itself, and
still healthy. Beside it stands a restored churchyard cross.

[Illustration: WEST DOOR, IFFLEY CHURCH.]

Among the deprived ministers at the time of the Commonwealth was Charles
Forbench, vicar of Iffley, who was imprisoned for persisting in reading
the Book of Common Prayer when its use was forbidden by the Parliament.
“If,” said he, “I must not read it, I am resolved I will say it by heart,
in spite of all the rogues in England.” This was a very fine spirit
of resistance against tyranny, and we must all resist tyranny, from
whatsoever quarter it proceeds; but it may otherwise be doubted if the
Book of Common Prayer is, or ever was, worth fighting for, or whether
prayers said by rote—which is really what Forbench meant when he said “by
heart”—are the kind of supplications that win to the Throne of Grace.
For my own part, had I been one of those Parliamentary Commissioners, I
suspect I would have made Forbench take a meal off the Book of Common
Prayer, as he was so fond of it; but it would not be a very nourishing
meal, physically, or spiritually I take leave to say.

Nuneham—every one knows Nuneham; for, by favour of the Harcourts, who
own the place, it has for many years past been a popular spot for rustic
teas. I raise my hat, or cap, as the case may be, to the Harcourts,
past and present—to the memory of Sir William, that doughty political
protagonist, and voluminous letter-writer to _The Times_ over the
signature of “Historicus,” who, although quite capable of leading a
party, chose to be merely the trusty lieutenant of the windiest political
wind-bag of any and every age; and to the present Mr. Lewis Harcourt,
for the access they have permitted, and still extend, to their lovely
domain. Every one, I say, knows Nuneham, for does not Salter, who runs
his comfortable steamboats between Oxford and Richmond, drop passengers
here, on the banks, and does he not call and pick them up again at the
close of the day, conveying them from Oxford and back at the cost of one
shilling? Yea; thousands have made that trip; and, given a fine day,
there is, _experto crede_, not any trip more delightful. But if the day
turn tearful, then Nuneham is the very last place to which any one who
is not a fish or a duck would wish to go. Do I not know the misery of it
at such times: the landing on the wet, clayey bank, under the trees of
the glorious woods, which shed great spattering drops of rain on one;
the half-mile walk, or rather, butter-slide, by the woodland track, to
that picturesque thatched cottage in the lovely backwater, where the
cottagers in fine weather supply open-air teas to these pilgrims, and in
wet weather do the like; refusing, much to the said pilgrims’ disgust,
to give them the much-needed shelter in their own dry and comfortable
quarters; with the result that those unhappy persons grow cold and
shivery and develop colds in their heads, and entertain savage thoughts
of Nuneham? Truly, no more miserable experience is possible than that of
sitting in one of the picturesquely-thatched arbours by the waterside,
and dallying over a lukewarm tea, awaiting the hour for the up-river
steamer’s arrival, while the moisture-laden wind comes searchingly in
at the open front. And it does not make matters better to know that
those disobliging cottagers are, all the while, crouching over their own
roaring wood-log fires.

[Illustration: THE BRIDGE, NUNEHAM COURTNEY.]

But let us dwell no longer upon these harrowing experiences. It does not
always rain at Nuneham—but only when we want to go there. Then it rains
all day. But when the sun shines, Nuneham is the ideal place for an idle
day, and those draughty arbours the most exquisite of nooks. From them
you look out upon a river scene that closely resembles some stage “set.”
The trees, right and left, or, to speak in stage conventional language—on
Prompt and Off-prompt sides—hang in that almost impossibly picturesque
way we expect in the first act of a melodrama of the old Adelphi or Drury
Lane type. You know the kind of thing; or, if you do not, go to Nuneham
and see it. Anyway, take my word for it that this is sheerly competitive
with the stage. Beneath these trees, whose other side, you are quite
convinced, is merely canvas and framework, are the usual conventional
rocks, on one of which the villain will presently sit and gloat over
the impending fall of the hero. And swans come lazily paddling up to
the rush-fringed margin of the river; and, really, all you miss is the
limelight.

But if this scene seems to have been bodily taken from the stage, the
queer timber bridge that here crosses the backwater gives quite another
aspect to the place. Looking upon it for the first time, it appears in
the likeness of some old friend whom, for the moment, you cannot exactly
place; and then at last you have it. It closely resembles that bridge on
the time-honoured Willow-pattern Plate, with which Oriental china has
long familiarised us. If only we had the pagoda to one side, and the
queer little figures, carrying their yet more queer little bundles,
crossing it, the scene would be conventionally complete. To emphasise
and properly accentuate these remarks, I include a view, taken by that
amiable photographic friend and companion to whom the most of the
pictures in this book are due. I have not dared to publish a view of the
bridge looking upstream, for that and Iffley Mill are absolutely the two
most hackneyed views of the river in existence. Instead, therefore, we
are here looking downstream.

Nuneham is a curious combination of the ugly and the beautiful. The great
mansion, ugliness incarnate, is surrounded by lovely and stately gardens,
created about 1765 by the masterful Earl Harcourt, typical among the
great landowners of that age. There is something not a little awesome
about the megalomaniacal methods of those great ones of that period, who
had such autocratic wills, so much money, and such unquestioned power.
Earl Harcourt, in common with many others of his class and of his period,
could not endure that the village and the church of Nuneham should be
within sight of his windows, and so he abolished both, causing a new
village to arise fringing the London road, and a new church, which stands
as an indictment of the then prevailing want of taste, being in the
likeness of a Greek temple, to be built in the woods at the back of the
mansion. It is dated 1764. Here lies Sir William Harcourt, who died in
1904.

[Illustration: CARFAX CONDUIT, NUNEHAM COURTNEY.]

I will not be so gross as to attempt a description of the loveliness of
the natural beauties of Nuneham, or of the views from it: only let it be
said that the view from the grassy knoll on which stands the old Carfax
conduit, brought from Oxford, is exquisite, commanding, as it does,
distant peeps of Oxford in one direction, and of Abingdon in another,
with lovely stretches of meadowlands, woods, and water, in between.
There is, it may well be supposed, no more beautiful fountain in England
than this old conduit from the four cross-roads in the centre of Oxford;
but the expansion of population and the increase of traffic have ever
banished the beautiful, and thus this fine Renascence building, given
to the city of Oxford by Otho Nicholson in 1610, was, so early as 1787,
removed as an inscription upon it states, “to enlarge the High Street.”
The University, the inscription goes on to state, then presented it to
George Simon, Earl Harcourt. If it were worth accepting, it certainly
was also worth keeping, and that the University could thus give it away
reflects no credit upon that body. The repetitive “O. N.” observed upon
the conduit stands for the initials of Otho Nicholson.



CHAPTER IX

    ABINGDON


Abingdon, some three miles distant, now claims attention; and a good deal
of leisured attention is its due. That pleasant and quietly-prosperous
old town is one of those fortunate places that have achieved the happy
middle course between growth and decay, and thus are not ringed about
with squalid, unhistorical, modern additions. Its population remains at
about 6,500, and therefore it is not, although possessing from of old a
Mayor and Corporation, a town at all in the modern sense. Thus shall I
shift to excuse myself for including it in these pages. In these days of
great populations we can scarce begin to think of a place of fewer than
ten thousand inhabitants, as a “town” at all.

The origin of Abingdon, whose very name is said to mean “the Abbey town,”
was purely ecclesiastical, for it came into existence as a dependency of
the great Abbey founded here in the seventh century. Legends, indeed,
tell us of an earlier Abingdon, called “Leavechesham,” in early British
times, and make it even then an important religious centre and a
favourite residence of the kings of Wessex, but they—the legends and the
kings alike—are of the vaguest.

[Illustration: ABINGDON.]

Leland, in the time of Henry the Eighth, wrote of the town: “It standeth
by clothing,” and it did so in more than one sense, for it not only
made cloth, but a great deal of traffic between London and Gloucester,
Stroud, Cirencester, and other great West of England clothing centres,
came this way, and had done so ever since the building of Abingdon (or
Burford, _i.e._ Boroughford) bridge and the bridge at Culham Hithe in
1416, had opened a convenient route this way. The town owed little to the
Abbey, for the proud mitred abbots, who here ruled one of the wealthiest
religious houses in England, and sat in Parliament in respect of it, were
not concerned with such common people as tradesfolk, and did not by any
means encourage settlers. They trafficked only with the great, and aimed
at keeping Abingdon select. From quite early times they had adopted this
attitude: perhaps ever since William the Conqueror had entrusted to the
monastery the education of his son Henry, afterwards Henry the First—an
education so superior that, by reason of it, Henry the First lives in
history as “Beauclerc.”

It was a highly-prosperous Abbey, and smelt to heaven with pride, and had
a very bad reputation for tyrannical dealings with those who had managed
to settle here. The Abbot refused to allow the people to establish a
market, and in 1327 the enmity thus caused broke out into riot. From
Oxford there came the Mayor and a number of scholars, to help the people
of Abingdon in their quarrel, and part of the Abbey was burnt, its
archives destroyed, and the monks driven out. But this was a sorry, and
merely a temporary, victory; for the Abbot procured powerful assistance
and regained his place, and twelve of the rioters were hanged.

The scandalous arrogance and state of the Abbots of Abingdon aroused the
wrath of Langland, a monk himself, but one of liberal views, who some few
years later wrote that prophetic work, _The Vision of Piers Plowman_,
in which the downfall of this great Abbey is directly and specifically
foretold:

    “Eke ther shal come a kyng,
     And confesse yow religiouses,
     And bete you as the Bible telleth
     For brekynge of your rule.
     …
     And thanne shal the abbot of Abyngdone,
     And al his issue for evere,
     Have a knok of a kyng,
     And incurable the wounde.”

When the Abbey was suppressed in 1538, its annual income was £1,876
10_s._ 9_d._, equal to about £34,000, present value.

With the disappearance of the Abbey, the town of Abingdon grew, and
continued to prosper by clothing and by agriculture until the opening of
the railway era. When the Great Western Railway was originally planned,
in 1833, it was intended to take it through Abingdon, instead of six
miles south, as at present, and to make this, instead of Didcot, the
junction for Oxford. But Abingdon was strongly opposed to the project,
and procured the diversion of the line, and so it remains to this day
an exceedingly awkward place to reach or to leave, by a small branch
railway. It has thus lost, commercially, to an incalculable degree, but
in other ways—in the preservation of beauty and antiquity—has gained,
equally beyond compute.

[Illustration: CHRIST’S HOSPITAL, ABINGDON.]

An architect might find some stimulating ideas communicated to him by the
quaint and refined detail observable in many of the old houses. There is,
among other curious houses near the Market House, the “King’s Head and
Bell,” in an odd classic convention.

Of the great Abbey church nothing is left. The townsfolk had such
long-standing and bitter grievances against the Abbey that they must
have rejoiced exceedingly when the fat and lazy monks were at last cast
out upon the world; and they seem to have revelled in destruction.
The Abbey precincts are now largely built over; but, such as they are
to-day, they may be found by proceeding out of the Market Place, past St.
Nicholas’ church, and through the Abbey gateway, now used as part of the
Town Hall, and restored, but once serving as a debtors’ prison.

Here a mutilated and greatly time-worn Early English building will be
found, with a vaulted crypt, and two rooms above. To this has been given
the (probably erroneous) name of the “Prior’s House.” Its curiously
stout Early English chimney, with lancet-headed openings, under queer
little gables, is a landmark not easily missed. The successor of the
original Abbey Mill is itself very picturesque. Adjoining is the long,
two-storeyed building often styled the “Infirmary,” and sometimes
the “Guest House”; perhaps having partaken of both uses. It can only
have been used for humble guests, or patients, for it is merely a
rough-and-ready wooden building, rather barn-like, divided into
dormitories.

[Illustration: THE TOWN HALL, ABINGDON.]

The charming little Norman and Perpendicular church of St. Nicholas has
been very severely dealt with by “restoring” hands, but its quaintness
and charm appear indestructible. An especially peculiar feature of the
altogether unconventional West front is seen in the curious little
flat-headed window under a gable roof to the north side of the tower,
giving a curiously semi-domestic appearance to the church. The windows
light a staircase turret, which is perhaps the remaining part of some
priest’s residence formerly attached to the church.

[Illustration: ST. NICHOLAS, ABINGDON.]

But, far or near, the chief feature of Abingdon is St. Helen’s church,
whose tall and graceful spire has the peculiar feature of being built
in two quite distinctly different angles: the lower stage much less
acute than the upper. It is what architects call an “entasis.” A band
of ornament marks the junction of the two stages. This spire is of the
Perpendicular period, built upon an Early English tower. The rest of this
exceptionally large and beautiful church, which has the peculiarity of
being provided with a nave and four aisles, is Perpendicular. It should
be noted that what are now the two extra aisles were originally built by
the town guilds, as chapels. The five aisles form a noble vista, looking
across the church. They are named, from north to south, Jesus Aisle, Our
Lady’s, St. Helen’s, St. Catharine’s, and Holy Cross. The great breadth
of the church originated a local saying, by which either of alternative
courses of any action, supposed to have little to choose between them,
may often be heard referred to as “That’s as broad as it’s long, like St.
Helen’s church.”

Brasses and monuments of Abingdon’s old merchants and benefactors are
numerous: among them this curious inscription to Richard Curtaine, 1643:

    “Our curtaine in this lower press
     Rests folded up in Natur’s dress;
     His dust perfumes this urn, and he
     This towne with liberalitie.”

Here, too, is the tomb of John Roysse, citizen of London, and mercer, who
founded here “Roysse’s Free School,” and died in 1571. The slab covering
his tomb came from his London garden.

[Illustration: ST. HELEN’S, ABINGDON.]

The town is singularly rich in old and interesting almshouses, the
churchyard being enclosed on three sides by various charitable
foundations of this kind. Of these the oldest and most remarkable is the
almshouse founded about 1442 by the Guild of Holy Cross, and refounded
after the Reformation, in 1553, as Christ’s Hospital, by Sir John Mason,
an Abingdon worthy who rose from the humblest beginnings to be Ambassador
to the French Court, and Chancellor of the University of Oxford. The
chief feature of Christ’s Hospital, as regards its front, is the long
half-timber cloister, with no fewer than one hundred and sixty little
openings in the woodwork, looking out to the churchyard. A picturesque
porch projects midway, and from the steep roof rises a quaint lantern,
crowned with cupola and vane. Old black-letter and other texts and
paintings cover the walls of the cloister. Under the lantern is the hall,
or council-chamber, an old-world room with a noble stone-mullioned bay
window looking out upon the almshouse gardens in the rear. In this window
are set forth the arms of benefactors towards the institution, and their
portraits further adorn the walls, together with a curious contemporary
account of the buildings of Abingdon and Culham Hithe bridges. As the
value of endowments increased, so the buildings of Christ’s Hospital
have been from time to time added to; and in addition there are Twitty’s
and Tomkins’s almshouses. A gable-end of Christ’s Hospital abuts upon
St. Helen’s Quay, on the river-side, with inscriptions curiously painted
under protecting canopies: “God openeth His hand and filleth all things
living with plenteousness; be we therefore followers of God as dear
children. 1674”; and “If one of thy Brethren among you be poore within
any of thy Gates in thy land which the Lord God giveth thee, thou shalt
not harden thy heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor Brother. 1674.”

Abingdon is full of noble old buildings, both of a public and a private
character, and prominent among them must be reckoned the imposing Market
House. There is nothing else quite like it, in style or in dignity, in
England, and it is not too much to say that it would, by itself, ennoble
any town. It was built 1678-84, and followed in plan the old conventional
lines of such buildings: _i.e._ an open, arcaded ground floor, supporting
an upper storey; but in design it is one of the purest examples of
revived classic architecture in the land. The upper storey in this case
was intended for use as a sessions-house.

[Illustration: OLD HOUSES, STEVENTON CAUSEWAY.]

The design has been variously attributed to Inigo Jones, to Webb, his
successor in business, or to Sir Christopher Wren, without any other
evidence than that it partakes of the known style of all these. But Inigo
Jones died in 1652, and Webb in 1674, and so they are both out of the
question. There are at the present time in private possession at Abingdon
a few old documents, preserved by merest chance, which abundantly prove
who built the Market House, if not precisely who designed it. They
detail payments made to Christopher Kempster, whom we have met earlier
in these pages.[2] He was, or at this time had been, clerk-of-works
and master-mason to Wren, in his rebuilding of St. Paul’s Cathedral
and the City churches, and afterwards retired to Burford, where he
owned quarries. He would have been forty-eight years of age at the time
when this Market House was begun. Unless we are prepared to assume him
a transcendental clerk-of-works and a very Phœbus of a master-mason,
it seems scarce likely that he designed, as well as built, this
exceptionally fine structure; and the inference therefore to be drawn is
that he induced Wren to sketch out the design and built to it, either
with or without the supervision of that great architect.

[Illustration: THE “KING’S HEAD AND BELL,” ABINGDON.]

[2] Page 106.



CHAPTER X

    SUTTON COURTNEY—LONG WITTENHAM—LITTLE WITTENHAM—CLIFTON
    HAMPDEN—DAY’S LOCK AND SINODUN


A group of rustic villages nestles undisturbed by any press of traffic
on the right, or Berkshire, bank of the river: Drayton, Sutton Courtney,
and Appleford; with Steventon and Milton away back in the hinterland, all
very charming, and wholly unaltered. At Steventon are to be found the
most delightful old cottages. There are no better in Berkshire. This is
a sweeping statement, but true. The proof of it lies partly in visiting
that coy spot: coy, because the said cottages lie off the high road along
the by-lane known as Steventon Causeway.

One might say much about Sutton Courtney, the “south town” of the
Courtneys, who owned it in the long ago, with Nuneham Courtney, to the
north of it. Here is an “Abbey,” but it is in private occupation as a
residence, and is not a show-house; and very much the same may be added
of the old manor-house and its “Court House,” adjoining the church. The
“Abbey” was really a place to which the brethren of the Abbey of Abingdon
might occasionally retire for rest and for health’s sake.

[Illustration: SUTTON COURTNEY CHURCH.]

The manor of Sutton Courtney finally passed from the family in the
sixteenth century, when Henry Courtenay, Marquis of Exeter, was attainted
and his property seized. The old manor-house, built around a courtyard,
still retains its ancient hall, with minstrels’ gallery. The so-called
“Court House,” in the grounds, is a late Norman building, with lancet
windows, and is thought by competent authorities to be the hall of
justice of the original manor-house.

There is much quiet charm in Sutton Courtney, and much interest:
the charm and interest of long existence, with changes only brought
about by slow effluxion of time. I suppose there is little new about
Sutton Courtney except the young chestnut-trees that line the grassy
way to the church; always excepting the last few puling infants that
have been carried that way to be christened. The church itself is an
example of gradual change, yet of the continuity that marks this dear
ancestral God’s own country of Old England, in which we are unworthy
co-partners. It is of all periods, from Norman to Perpendicular; its
last development seen in the south porch, rendered in red brick, in
strong contrast with the stone of the rest of the building. The porch
is by courtesy Perpendicular, but is rather in the domestic Gothic
style than of ecclesiastical type, and looks remarkably as though some
one had found a small house and brought it to the church and left it
to be called for. There is a particularly charming little late Norman
belfry window, with interlacing arches, well worth notice, and a row of
grotesquely-sculptured corbels of the same period, with an odd variety
of sick and sorry expressions. On the same face of the tower is a
prettily-decorated sun-dial.

The pulpit, with quaint sounding-board above and the fine Transitional
Norman arch next it, form a charming picture. It is easily obvious that
this enriched arch, now forming that of the easternmost bay of the south
aisle, was formerly the chancel arch, before the church was rebuilt on a
larger scale than the original structure; for although the arch itself
has found a new situation, the columns on either side of it have been
used again to support the newer and broader chancel-opening.

[Illustration: NORMAN BELFRY-WINDOW, SUTTON COURTNEY]

[Illustration: SUTTON COURTNEY.]

[Illustration: INTERIOR, SUTTON COURTNEY CHURCH.]

Two curious black-and-white frescoes, at the west end of the north
and south aisles respectively, are worth notice. They represent the
administration of the Andrews Charity, by which six poor widows, and
as many men, were given clothes, a penny loaf each on Sundays, and on
three certain days yearly, money to buy meat. They were, unhappily,
obliged to listen to a sermon preached on Corpus Christi day, on the
goodness of Andrews and the humility and thankfulness proper to bedesmen
and receivers of doles. The frescoes represent the old men and the old
women receiving the clothes, which they appear to be doing in a somewhat
tentative and timorous, not to say condescending, manner, at the hands of
one who looks like a ferocious beadle, or suchlike functionary.

There is a bridge at Sutton Courtney where toll is still demanded. It is
variously “Sutton” bridge or “Culham” bridge: this last name productive
of some confusion with the bridge at Culham ford (or Culham Hithe)
between Dorchester and Abingdon.

From Culham and Sutton Courtney one comes by river in a mile under the
ugly Great Western Railway bridge at Appleford, and then in another mile
to the lovely winding backwater on which Long Wittenham is situated.
Although now a backwater, it is the real original course of the river,
and the straight waterway on the left, through which all the traffic
passes on to Clifton Lock, is a formal cut, made for convenience, and for
shortening the distance. Long Wittenham, by reason of this circumstance,
is nowadays not only on a river backwater, but also, owing to the main
roads passing it at a considerable distance away, on a backwater of life
as well; and those who seek to reach it by road will find that the way is
not only long, but circuitous and puzzling; while to those who may essay
to leave it by a specious short-cut for Appleford, the only advice to be
offered, if they ride bicycles, is “don’t!” especially as no reasonable
person, having once seen Appleford, which consists of a railway crossing
and a few cottages, and a rebuilt church, ever wants to go there again.

The picturesque and interesting church of Long Wittenham, partaking of
all periods of Gothic architecture, has two especial claims to notice.
The first is in the Early English leaden font, one of the twenty-nine
leaden fonts known to exist in England. The lower part of it is arcaded,
the arches filled with effigies of bishops; the upper part decorated
at irregular intervals with curious whorl devices. The Jacobean wooden
carved font-cover also is not without interest.

The second of these special features is a curious piscina in the shallow
south transept of early fourteenth-century date, combining with the
purpose of a holy-water stoup that of a monument to the founder of the
church. This takes the form of a miniature recumbent effigy, two feet
in length, of an armed knight, cross-legged, and with drawn sword in
hand and shield on arm. Two angels, sculptured in low relief, crown the
arch. A third claim that Long Wittenham church may well make upon the
lovers of things venerable and beautiful is the very fine old timber
porch, romantically weathered. The accompanying illustration displays
this to excellent advantage, and also emphatically discloses the massive
character of the timbering, seen especially in the verge-or barge-boards,
consisting of but two separate pieces, of great thickness. It is a truly
worshipful piece of craftsmanship.

[Illustration: LITTLE WITTENHAM.]

[Illustration: ANCIENT TIMBER PORCH, LONG WITTENHAM (UNRESTORED).]

Long Wittenham may well be called long. From the ancient cross at one
end of it, past the church, it goes on and on in a single street, and
finally loses itself indeterminately between making on the one hand
for Clifton Hampden, and on the other for the vast hedgeless fields
across which lies the way to Little Wittenham, one mile distant. Those
widespreading fields of this district are a distinct and remarkable
feature of this countryside. Whether they be pasture, or corn, or
turnip fields, they give a sense of largeness and strangeness to the
traveller in these parts, accustomed only to the little five- or six-acre
enclosures of other neighbourhoods. Here vast fifty-acre expanses of
wheat or swedes go in swooping undulations over the hillsides, and you
rarely see the boundaries of them. These peculiarities of Berkshire
agricultural conditions certainly make for economical farming, with
less space wasted upon unproductive hedges; and they certainly also
make for picturesqueness here, where the great double hill of Sinodun
rises boldly in roughly pyramidal shape from the lower levels. There are
huge prehistoric earthworks on the summit of Sinodun: vast concentric
circumvallations and fosses reared by long-forgotten folk, the vastness
of whose defensible works gives, almost like an arithmetical exercise,
the measure of their fears. Who were those who slaved so strenuously at
this fortification, and who those others against whose expected onslaught
they made such preparations? Archæologists have their theories, indeed,
but no one knows. Really, from all available evidence, it would appear
that Sinodun was fortified from the very earliest times, and that each
conquering race which settled in Britain, and in turn decayed in manhood
and the arts of war, and so gave opportunity for a newer conquest at
the hands of uncultured but virile barbarians, in turn occupied this
hill-top and were attacked and slain in it, in those pitiless battles of
extermination that were the usual features of the world’s youth.

Sinodun and its fellow-hill are in these times crested with plantations
of trees, known far and near as “Wittenham Clumps”; and there is a third
clump, a _minimus_ infant brother, or poor relation, kind of clump, on
a lesser eminence, not unremotely reminiscent of Landseer’s picture,
“Dignity and Impudence.”

The traveller across Didcot downs, the boating-man on the Thames—all,
in fact, who come within view of them—are obsessed by Wittenham Clumps,
which dominate all views, and from the river, at any rate, are always
appearing in the most unexpected quarters. Even the traveller by railway
remarks them. Such an one, journeying along the Great Western main-line
and gazing from the carriage-windows, sees those black blotches of trees
on the hill-tops come whirling into view, and thinks of them in relation
to his journey, with the mental note, “Now we are near Didcot.”

[Illustration: DAY’S LOCK, AND SINODUN HILL.]

Sinodun and the clumps look nowhere more impressive than along the
road between Culham and Wallingford, where they form not so much the
boldly-isolated hills and tufts they appear to be from the river, as
the culmination of the gradually-rising downlands. In the lap of the
downs, just before they rise to these crests, are situated some ranges
of farm-buildings in the open, hedgeless fields, and there you see the
cattle-byres and the ricks looking small against the huge scale of their
surroundings in this shivery setting. It is Anglo-Saxon Berkshire you see
here, in all essentials, not the twentieth-century Berkshire typified
by Reading; and more of a piece with White Horse Hill than with that
bustling and thriving and increasing town.

The stranger who comes to Long Wittenham thinks, on first seeing its
retired aspect, that if ever he wished to seclude himself from the world,
it is to Long Wittenham he would go; but he has only to proceed to Little
Wittenham for him at once to look upon Long Wittenham as, by force of
contrast, a metropolitan centre. As the larger place is with a peculiar
fitness styled “long,” so yet in a more appropriate manner is the smaller
called “little.” It appears to consist solely of a church, a vicarage,
and a farm.

Little, or Abbot’s, Wittenham, the manor having once belonged to Abingdon
Abbey, is not merely little. It is also remote. Not a remoteness of
great mileage, but the quite equal detachment of being situated on a
road that leads to anywhere at all only by rustic and winding ways. It
sits peacefully and slumberously at the very foot of Sinodun, enfolded
amid delightful hedgerow elms, “the world forgetting, and by the world
forgot.” Not always was Little Wittenham so retired from all rumours of
the outer world, for here was situated, from the sixteenth century until
1800, when it was demolished, the manor-house of the Dunch family, who
moved not obscurely in the society of their time. The Dunches finally
died out in 1719, and now all that is left of them are some musty
pedigrees in county histories, the mounds and trenches to the north of
the church, where their mansion stood, and some tombs and brasses in
the church itself, which was rebuilt, except the tower, in 1863. It is
a tall, slim tower, picturesquely weatherworn, but not exceptionally
remarkable, unless we take note of its small turret-window in the shape
of an ace of spades (_not_ an ace of clubs, as my late friend, Mr. J. E.
Vincent, says in his _Highways and Byways in Berkshire_). Local legend
tells us that this represents the ace with which the builder of the tower
won a fortune; but it is really nothing more than a cross-slit window,
mutilated in its upper half into that shape.

[Illustration: WITTENHAM CLUMPS.]

Clifton Hampden, lying between the Wittenhams, is on the Oxfordshire
side of the river. If there were ever a competition as to which is the
prettiest village on the Thames below Oxford, surely Clifton Hampden
would be bracketed with Sonning for first place. There is this chief
difference between the two; that Sonning is a considerable village
and Clifton a small one. They are alike in that they both possess a
bridge, but different again in the fact that while Sonning bridge is
of the eighteenth century, and with only its quaintness to recommend
it, the bridge at Clifton is a beautiful building of the nineteenth,
in the mediæval style, one of the most successful on the river, and
only lacking the element of age. There is, sooth to say, _no_ village
at Clifton Hampden; just a bridge, a church, the lovely old thatched
Barley Mow Inn, and a few scattered cottages, generally, in the summer
months, with an artist in front of each, rendering it in the medium of
water or of oil, upon paper or canvas. And the grassy banks come down
to the river delightfully, and over on the Oxfordshire side rises the
charming little Transitional Norman and Decorated church upon the abrupt
sandstone bluff or cliff that gives Clifton its name. One may linger
away contented afternoons here, perhaps with a book, perhaps watching
from the bridge the minnows or the dace, or with amusement noting the
evolutions of the flotillas of ducks and ducklings that come and go in
company, like miniature navies. To see a duck dip down and stand on its
head in the water is to watch a humorous feat: possibly, according to the
observations of some naturalists, to witness a tragedy, for it would seem
that the ferocious pike have not infrequently been known to seize by the
head a duck so gymnastically exercising, and thus to make an end of it.

The quality of Clifton Hampden church is shown, as to its exterior, by
the accompanying illustration; which also discloses the steep steps
leading up to it, and the elaborate churchyard cross—all works of 1907.
The Hampdens, who once owned the manor, have no memorials here, and
the greatly-restored condition of the church is due to the Hucks-Gibbs
family. The Transitional Norman south nave-arcade, with round-headed
arches, simply sculptured capitals, and enormous bases to the columns, is
entirely delightful: the plain painted north arcade, without capitals,
poor and mean by comparison. In the church was once an ancient leaden
font, of the Dorchester and Long Wittenham type, but this was sold for
old metal by a vicar who thought it ugly!

[Illustration: CLIFTON HAMPDEN.]

Sinodun Hill, whose aspects and history have already been remarked upon,
groups grandly as one drops down river to Day’s Lock, as perhaps the
illustration may serve to indicate. The original Day who, ages ago,
conferred his name upon the lock is forgotten, but at any rate the
proprietary style of the lock’s name and of those of one or two others
reminds people who know anything about the history of the river of those
times before the coming of the Thames Conservancy, when the stream and
the towing-paths along it were regarded very much as the private property
of the landowners whose fields ran down to their water-course. We read
much of the mediæval robber-barons of the Rhine, and their fellows in
this country were those riparian property-owners, who made up for the
lack of ferocity which characterised their continental counterparts by a
cunning assumption of legality, very much more difficult to dispose of
than sheer brute force. Much of the history of the Thames is concerned
with actions in courts of law to assert or to contest these rights, real
or assumed. So early as 1624 an Act of Parliament providing for the
better navigation of the Thames referred incidentally to the “Exactions
of the Occupiers of Locks and Weirs upon the River of Thames Westward,”
and set out to do away with them; but that was a long business, and for
many a year afterwards Day, of Day’s Lock, and Boulter, of Boulter’s
Lock, and their brethren, owned, or rented from landowners, the locks
still named after them, and charged just what they pleased for traffic
passing through.

Beyond Day’s Lock comes Dorchester, i.e. _Dwr chester_, the fortress
on the water. Plenty of water here, at any rate, to give point to the
place-name, for at this spot the Thame, meandering along through oozy
meadows, joins the Thames. It cannot be said, by any exactness of
imagery, to “fall” into it; to use that well-worn expression beloved by
the writers of geography primers.



CHAPTER XI

    DORCHESTER—BENSON


Dorchester, Oxon, has not the slightest resemblance to Dorchester,
Dorset: the two have little in common save their name, which might well
have been much more than duplicated, seeing how many must have been the
camps and fortresses upon various waters. Fortunately, with the result of
saving us from the confusion of dozens of Dorchesters, our very remote
ancestors were possessed of sufficient resourcefulness to enable them to
fit distinctive names to those places.

The great days of Dorchester are done, and the place is so quiet
and slumberous, although on a high road, that the first part of the
place-name might almost be held to derive from the French verb _dormer_,
to sleep. The one street, long and somewhat picturesque, the fine stone
open-balustraded bridge across the Thame, and the church: in that
inventory you have an outline of Dorchester. The great parish church that
was once an Abbey church, the successor of an early Cathedral, although
an architectural and archæological feature of great interest, does not
form so striking a picture as it should; for the building is long and
low, with level, unbroken roof-line, and an ineffective tower at the west
end; and it displays its inordinate length prominently to the road.

[Illustration: SEDILIA, DORCHESTER ABBEY.]

The cathedral that once stood here was that of the great bishopric of
Dorchester, founded in A.D. 635 by Birinus, who had been sent by the
Pope, Honorius, the year before, to preach Christianity to the Saxons.
The see of Dorchester lasted, with some intermissions, until 1086,
and comprised the greater part of England, including what are now the
bishoprics of Winchester, Salisbury, Exeter, Bath and Wells, Lichfield,
Hereford, Worcester, and Oxford.

A few traces remain of that abandoned Saxon cathedral, but they are such
that only expert archæologists can point them out; and of the Early
English Abbey church begun by the Augustine monks to whom it had then
been granted, in 1140, the nave alone is left. The nave in an ordinary
building would be an important item, but the Abbey church of Dorchester
is an extraordinary structure, and of such a plan that the architectural
features of its nave cannot well be very striking. The building was
originally without aisles. It adjoined the Abbey cloisters, which were
situated on the north side, and consequently the north wall of the nave
has few openings. The choir was rebuilt grandly, in the Decorated style,
about 1330; and at a slightly earlier date a north aisle had been added
to it, _circa_ 1280. In 1300 a south-choir aisle was built, and twenty
years later, a south-nave aisle. To this was added the Perpendicular
porch. The tower was constructed about 1680, in a debased manner.

Thus the northern wall, from end to end, is largely blank, and the
architectural graces of the building are reserved chiefly for the south
aspect. The remarkable east end is built upon ground abruptly sloping to
the east, and is, moreover, closely set about with trees.

The choir is the most notable portion, containing finely-carved stone
sedilia, with small spherical triangular windows at the back, filled with
twelfth- and fourteenth-century stained glass, setting forth the story of
St. Birinus. The arrangement of these sedilia and the shape and design of
these windows, profusely decorated with the “ball-flower” ornament, form
probably an unique architectural composition. The great east window, for
beauty easily in the front rank among elaborately-designed windows, is as
remarkable as it is beautiful, being intricately traceried in its entire
length, instead of, in the usual way, plainly mullioned for two-thirds
of its height, with the enrichment confined to the head. The surpassing
beauty of this design is perhaps even thrown into more prominent relief
by the stark ugliness of the bare stone pillar dividing it in half. It
seems probable that in olden times this was filled with a Crucifixion.
The presence of this undesirable feature is a structural necessity. It
is, in fact, a buttress, necessitated by the sharp fall in the ground
outside. There is no excuse, however, for the stupidity which has caused
some hangings to be erected at the back of the altar, by which a portion
of the window is obscured.

[Illustration: THE EAST WINDOW, DORCHESTER ABBEY.]

But certainly the most extraordinary and interesting of windows is that
on the north side of the choir, immediately adjoining the east window. It
is the famous “Jesse Window,” of which the centre mullion represents the
genealogical tree of Jesse, whose figure, in a reclining posture, is seen
below. From the centre mullion spring branches at regular intervals on
either side, worked decoratively in stone. Twenty-seven little figures,
also carved in stone, represent the various personages of the House of
David, and sixteen others are in stained glass. The exterior of this
remarkable window is extraordinarily mean and thin, and gives no hint of
the beauty of the interior.

Some altar-tombs and brasses remain, sadly mutilated, and the west end
of the church is more or less of a stone-heap, where many fragments of
the building are preserved. The chapel at the east end of the south
choir-aisle was rebuilt by Sir Gilbert Scott. The work was largely a
conjectural reconstruction, a type of undertaking Scott above all things
delighted to engage upon, generally with results far from satisfactory;
but in this case it is an unquestioned artistic success. It may, however,
be observed that the constructional part of it is poor, for it is bodily
subsiding into the deep gully that runs past the east end; and must soon
be underpinned, or heavily buttressed, if it is not to fall into ruin.

The Norman font is of lead; a very fine example, exhibiting, within
arcading, seated figures of the twelve apostles, in high relief. Another
leaden font, greatly resembling that at Wittenham, is at Warborough, two
miles distant.

[Illustration: THE JESSE WINDOW (ON THE LEFT), DORCHESTER ABBEY.]

Between Dorchester and Wallingford, whether we proceed by the Oxfordshire
side of the river or the Berkshire, we are in a level district of many
springs, to which the place-names of the villages numerously bear
witness. Thus in Berkshire there are the two conjoined delightful
villages of Brightwell and Sotwell, where a little rill goes rippling
by, until early summer dries it up. The name “Brightwell” thus speaks
for itself. Sotwell, I presume, means “sweet well.” And in Oxfordshire,
beyond the scope of these pages, is another Brightwell, with the family
name of “Salome” added to it; while the name of Ewelme, a beautiful and
historic village near by, means simply “wells.” Just beyond Wallingford,
too, is Mongewell. The river runs between, with the beautiful stone
bridge of Shillingford, and the water-side village of Benson on the
way: Benson, by common consent lopped of much of its name, being really
“Bensington.” So unanimously has the locality agreed upon the shorter
form, and for such a length of time, that even map-makers have adopted
it. Of the clan of Bensings, whose chief settlement this was, we can know
nothing; and the later conflicts between the Saxon kingdoms of Wessex and
Mercia, in which Bensington changed hands with great frequency, until
Mercia at length assimilated it, are such far-off, remote doings that it
is perhaps a little difficult to take even a languid interest in them.
Even the old coaching days seem remote, although large and imposing
specimens of English coaching hostelries stand in the crooked street of
Benson, a little dazed by motor-cars and the noise and the stink of them,
wondering whither have gone the mails and the stages of yore.



CHAPTER XII

    WALLINGFORD—GORING


And so we come, past the pretty Oxfordshire hamlet of Preston Crowmarsh,
into the good old Berkshire town of Wallingford.

Wallingford town has been thrust aside by modern circumstances and
altogether deposed from its ancient importance. If we look at large maps,
and thereby see how several great roads here converge and cross the
Thames, the reason of this former importance will be at once manifest,
and likewise the existence of the great castle of Wallingford will be
explained. Wallingford derives its name from “Wealinga-ford,” a Saxon
term by which the ford of the Wealings—that is to say the British, or the
Welsh, whom the Saxons were gradually displacing—was meant.

[Illustration: DORCHESTER.]

[Illustration: DORCHESTER ABBEY.]

How they held the fort here in those dim times before the Norman came
and built his great stone castle—and before even the Saxon came—we may
perhaps see in the remarkable earthworks that still form three sides of
a square enclosure: the river itself forming the natural defence of the
fourth side. No stranger whose eye lights upon those ancient dykes in
the Kine Croft can fail to notice them, nor help speculating for what
purpose they were made. No facts are, or will ever be, available; but
it does not require much penetration to reconstruct the needs of that
primeval community protected within these earthworks, not in themselves
a sufficient protection, but easily defensible in that age when they
formed—as they doubtless did—the foundation for a wooden stockade.

At that time, when William the Conqueror had descended upon England and
fought the battle of Hastings, there lived and ruled in Wallingford
a Saxon thane, by name Wygod, who, noting the caution which forbade
the Conqueror to advance directly upon London and caused him to make
a circuitous march, invited him to cross the Thames here, which he
accordingly did, at this place receiving the homage of the chief Saxon
notables. Was Wygod, then, a traitor, or was he merely a level-headed
opportunist who saw that all was lost, and sought to moderate strife by
wise action? We are not in full possession of the facts, and therefore
cannot tell whether to praise or blame him. But the results show that he
did well: did, perhaps, better than he knew at the time of doing; for he
thus—and also in giving his daughter Edith in marriage to Robert D’Oyley,
one of the Conqueror’s knights—helped in the great work of bringing
about the settlement of the realm and the eventual merging of the Norman
and the Anglo-Saxon races. And by so much those who fell at Hastings,
fighting for their country, had died in vain.

It was not very long before the great castle of Wallingford was put to
proof as a fortress, for it played an important part in the wars between
the Empress Maud and King Stephen. The Empress, sorely beset in the
castle of Oxford, escaped thence through the snow of one December night,
covered with a sheet; and by favour of that covering entirely escaped
observation, and came safely to Wallingford, whither she was followed
after an interval by Stephen, who built a castle at Crowmarsh, on the
Oxfordshire side of the river, to keep her in check. She then escaped
to Gloucester, while her trusty partisan, Brian Fitzcount, held out for
years: until, indeed, Stephen was wearied, with the result that the long
civil war was at last concluded by the treaty of Wallingford, effecting
the compromise by which Stephen was to reign for his life, and Henry,
son of the Empress Maud, was to succeed him: which, in the fulness of
time, he accordingly did; and reigned, and misgoverned sometimes, and at
others governed well, as Henry the Second, in a truly Norman way, for
thirty-five years.

[Illustration: WALLINGFORD.]

Wallingford was in after-centuries frequently a royal residence; chiefly,
it is true, for royal widows and other such extinct volcanoes, Have
Beens, and back-numbers; but by the sixteenth century the castle appears
to have become dilapidated. Leland, for example, declared it in his
time “sore yn ruine”; but Camden, coming after him, said its size and
magnificence were amazing to him, as a young man. “My fer-ends, what is
ter-ewth?” as Chadband despairingly asked. Perhaps Leland’s capacity for
amazement was less than that owned by Camden. After Leland’s time, it
must surely have been repaired; or how else could the sixty-five days’
siege have been withstood by the gallant Royalist governor, Blagge, in
1646? I pause for a reply, without, however, in the least expecting one.
Six years later, the cautious Parliament caused this stronghold to be
blown up, and now all we can see are some rude fragments of walls in the
large and beautiful grounds of a private residence, courteously opened on
summer afternoons.

Its curious privileges also mark the antiquity of Wallingford. Among them
is the nine o’clock curfew, instead of at eight o’clock: said to have
been granted as a special favour by William the Conqueror, in recognition
of his friendly reception here. The curfew-bell still sounds from the
tower of St. Mary-le-More every evening at nine o’clock.

The native-born burghers of Wallingford had the immemorial right (perhaps
they have it now, for what it may be worth) of claiming, when tried for
a first offence against the criminal law, that, instead of being put to
death, they should have their eyes put out and be otherwise mutilated.
Those lenient, soft-hearted, sentimental ways of dealing with crime have
ever been the curse of the country! At Wallingford, Thomas Tusser, author
of _Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry_, who was born about 1524 and
died 1580, began his career as a chorister in the castle chapel, and
appears to have had a sorry time of it here, according to his reminiscent
verses,

    “What robes, how bare, what college fare!
     What bread, how stale, what penny ale!
     Then, Wallingford, how wert thou abhor’d
             Of seely boys!”

Reason sufficient, it would seem, by those eloquent lines!

There were of old fourteen churches in Wallingford; but the town suffered
so greatly in the plague of 1343, and then from the Black Death, that the
population dwindled away to almost nothing, and most of the churches fell
into ruin, so that three only remain: St. Mary-the-More, St. Leonard, and
St. Peter’s; and even those were greatly battered during the siege. The
last named is that whose fantastic white masonry steeple is prominently
seen from the river. It was built, together with the body of the church,
in 1769. In its churchyard lies Sir William Blackstone (died 1780), Lord
Chief Justice, and author of the most famous _Commentaries_ since Julius
Caesar. But Blackstone’s work is of quite another kind than that of the
“noblest Roman of them all.” It is, of course, a work of legal erudition.

[Illustration: WALLINGFORD: TOWN HALL, AND CHURCH OF ST. MARY-THE-MORE.]

St. Mary-the-More, whose name carries with it allusion to another St.
Mary’s—St. Mary-the-Less, united with St. Peter, so long ago as 1374, is
in the market-place, grouping finely with the curious seventeenth-century
Town Hall that stands supported on an open arcade, affording space for
the market. It is so fine and so entirely satisfactory a Town Hall, and
so imbued with architectural grace and distinction, that no one will
be in the least surprised to see it some day improved off the face of
the earth, in the usual manner of provincial authorities with such. The
prominent gallery above was, and is, used for proclaiming public events,
from the accession of a Sovereign down to the result of a municipal
election.

For the rest, Wallingford is a quiet town, with a workhouse and the
gasworks as the chief architectural features of one end; and a very fine
stone bridge of fourteen arches, rebuilt in 1809, at the other. Some
solid, comfortable-looking seventeenth- and eighteenth-century residences
somewhat ennoble the quiet streets, and the George Inn is picturesque.

Crowmarsh Gifford is a little village on the Oxfordshire side of the
river.

Newnham Murren stands beside a steep and exquisitely-wooded road that
leads on past Mongewell, where it loses that lovely woodland character
and goes undulating over chalky switchbacks to come eventually to North
Stoke, South Stoke, and Goring.

Mongewell church stands in a beautifully-wooded park, on a lawn-like
expanse close to the river bank. It has, unfortunately, been entirely
rebuilt. Shute Barrington, Bishop-Palatine of Durham, who possessed a
country residence here, and died in London in 1826, aged ninety-three, is
buried in the building.

North Stoke is just the matter of a few farms and a rustic church, but
South Stoke is a considerable village, lying between the river and the
Great Western Railway on its way from Goring to Cholsey. It is, perhaps,
a thought too much obsessed by the railway, for the embankment of it,
not at all masked by trees, looks starkly down upon village street
and church. Here, too, the church has been restored and rendered
uninteresting, except for its old wrought-iron hour-glass stand.

And so we come into Goring, and to its strangely-named inn, the “Miller
of Mansfield”; its sign, painted by Marcus Stone, R.A., with a scene from
the old legend, and a quotation from it; “Here,” quoth the Miller, “goode
fellowe, I drink to thee.” The sign is strangely out of its geographical
setting, for the neighbourhood of Mansfield, in Nottinghamshire, is a
far cry from Goring. The legend tells how Henry the Second, lost while
hunting in Sherwood Forest, sought shelter of the miller, who gave him
half a bed with his son Richard, and fed him well on venison; “only,”
said he, “you must not let the King know I poach it.” The King (always
according to the legend) gave the miller a pension of a thousand marks
yearly, for life. His name, it appears, was Job Cockle, and the King
created him “Sir John,” and made him ranger of the forest; and perhaps,
on the well-proved principle of “set a thief to catch a thief,” he served
well to preserve the royal game.

[Illustration: GORING CHURCH.]

[Illustration: HOUR-GLASS STAND, SOUTH STOKE.]

Goring (“Garinges” in Domesday), whose name means “the meadow on the
edge,” or margin—i.e. on the shores of the Thames—is a Thames-side
village improved utterly out of its olden country style. It is still
a village, just as one may truly say that a commoner created a peer
is still a man; but it is a village almost wholly composed of stylish
up-river residences; and those few shops, a hotel or two, and a scanty
sprinkling of cottages that exist here, do so only by way of ministering
to the villa-residents. It is extremely difficult to come to the river
banks here, except at the picturesque bridge that joins Goring with
Streatley, on the opposite shore, for every piece of land and every
access are jealously guarded, and there are not a few rights-of-way
that may be observed by the observant to be artfully masked with hedges
and screened by gates, or even decorated with lying “Private Road,” and
“Trespassers will be Prosecuted” notices. The stranger who desires to
wander at will is well-advised to disregard all such. The same new tale
is told from the river, for boating-parties nowadays proceed up-stream or
down between endless notices displayed on inviting riverside lawns and at
seductive side-channels, to the effect that this, that, and the other are
“Private”; “No Landing,” or “Private Backwater,” and the like.

Amid all these modern developments, the ancient Norman parish church of
St. Thomas à Becket stands, not so greatly altered. Even tyros in the
understanding of architecture can tell at a glance that its tower is of
that period, and some heavy cylindrical columns within proclaim the same
age; but the “Norman” semicircular apse is a modern rebuilding of the
original, destroyed long ago.

The evident ancient importance, ecclesiastically, of Goring is due to
the existence of an Augustinian convent here, from the time of Henry the
Second; but its secular importance was of far remoter date, for this was
the place where that immemorial British track, the Icknield Way, crossed
the Thames, on its course from Icklingham, the capital of the _Iceni_,
out of Suffolk and through Essex, Buckinghamshire, and Oxfordshire, to
climb the Berkshire downs, and so continuing into the West of England.
The Romans found Goring as useful a strategic point as did those early
British peoples; and must, if the evidences of coins, and foundations
of buildings, and mosaic pavements discovered here are worth anything,
have made it almost as favourite a residence in the more settled years of
their occupation of Britain as it is in our own era. Streatley, on the
Berkshire bank, in its name, the “street meadow,” alludes to the passing
through it of this ancient street, or road.

There are a few unimportant brasses and other memorials to the Whistler
and other families in Goring church. Among these is a Latin inscription
to “Helinor and Margaret Whistler,” which is rendered into English thus:

“This Helinor Whistler, a pious, beautiful, and modest virgin, lies with
her sister Margaret in the tomb. These, whom love and one spirit united,
are enshrined together in bronze by their only brother. She was wont
to weep ever, seldom to smile; for a season, vows, prayers, and tears
were her meat and drink. She seemed to outlive her two sisters in actual
existence, yet to them it was as if she were dead, though living; and
after they were ashes she, fed by the fear of God, did not touch bread
and drink for seven years. The vows and prayers of the poor of Goring and
the neighbourhood and the muse of Oxford forbid her to die; and, being
dead, she still lives.”

Fortunately for the gaiety of nations, we may say with conviction that
this remarkable person is exceptional.

Goring was the scene of a sad happening in 1674, by which “about” sixty
persons were drowned. This is related in a scarce pamphlet of the time,
called

                       SAD AND DEPLORABLE NEWS
                                FROM
                      OXFORD-SHEIR & BARK-SHEIR
                     BEING A LAMENTABLE AND TRUE
                              RELATION

    of the drowning of about sixty persons, Men, Women, and
    Children, in the lock near Goring in Oxfordsheir as they were
    passing by water from Goring-Feast to Stately in Barksheir.

        Readers, this story is both strange and true,
        And for your good presented unto you.
        Be careful of your life all sin to fly,
        Lest you by death be taken suddenly.
        When he is sent on you arrest to make
        No fees, nor Bail, can purchase your escape.

                               London:
          Printed for R. Vaughan in the Little Old Bailey.
                                1674.

    “a punctual account of a most true and unparalleled Disaster
    which happened at Goring Lock, going to Stately on Monday the
    6th of this instant July 1674 about 7 aclock at night, where
    about 50 or 60 persons, of Men, Women, and Children, with one
    Mare crossing the water together in a boat from Oxfordsheir to
    Barksheir by the watermen’s imprudently rowing too neer the
    shore of the Lock they were by the force of the water drawn
    down the Lock, where their boat being presently overwhelmed
    they were all turned into the Pool except fourteen or fifteen
    (who had been all there at the Feast at Goring) were all
    unfortunately drowned, and to show how vain all human aid is
    when Destiny interposes, this happened in the view of hundreds
    of people, then met at the same feast, near this fatal Lock,
    who found the exercise of their pastime disturbed, and their
    Jollity dashed by this mournful Disaster, of which they were
    helpless—but I hope not fruitless—spectators.”

This calamity so impressed the pamphleteer that he drew from it the
conclusion the end of the world was at hand; but he appears to have been
quite as eager to sell his pamphlet as though the world were good enough
to last all his time. That is over two hundred and thirty years ago, and
the old globe still spins in space.

The white-painted wooden toll-bridge that carries the road across the
river to Streatley gives the wayfarer the best views. From it you see to
greatest advantage the foaming weir, the green backwaters, and the mill.
Let us cross this bridge to Streatley, avoiding the fearful hill that
leads past the hamlet of Gathampton, circuitously up to Goring Heath, and
then alarmingly down to Whitchurch. Streatley we shall find much smaller
and simpler than Goring. There, to one side of the bridge, is the mill,
with the neatest of lawns, decorated with brilliant flowers, giving
upon the water; while on the other is the waterside Swan inn, greatly
resembling some ancient private residence, also with its lawns and with a
full supply of the easiest chairs, wherein to do that most difficult of
things—nothing.

[Illustration: PANGBOURNE CHURCH.]

[Illustration: BASILDON CHURCH.]



CHAPTER XIII

    STREATLEY—BASILDON—PANGBOURNE—MAPLEDURHAM—PURLEY


Beside the long rustic street of Streatley is the restored—nay, the
rebuilt—church, with a new font and almost everything else new. The old
font has been walled into the masonry at the junction of nave and chancel.

The street goes mounting towards the broad high road that runs closely
neighbouring the river on this Berkshire side, between Wallingford and
Reading. Between this and Wallingford we have only the two villages of
Moulsford and Cholsey, and they lack interest. Cholsey is the “Celsea”
of Domesday. Boating-men know Moulsford only as that place where the old
waterside inn, the Beetle and Wedge, is situated. The queer sign has
puzzled many town dwellers, but it presents no difficulties to country
folk, for a “beetle” is well known to them as a heavy wooden mallet,
used in splitting timber, and the “wedge” is the iron wedge inserted
in the timber and struck by the “beetle.” The inn has, like most other
Thames-side inns, been largely added to and altered; but old frequenters
of the river have ardent memories of it and their morning “rum-and-milk.”

Does any one in these latter days take that old traditional Thames-side
morning drink, “rum-and-milk,” that once most favoured of all up-river
restoratives? Have we not, in “those dear dead days beyond recall,” as we
lay in our more or less lavender-scented beds in some old-world waterside
hostelry, been awakened by the clink of a trayful of glasses and heard a
knock at the door, with the call, “Your rum-and-milk, sir”?

We had not ordered rum-and-milk at that untimeous hour, but as this was
obviously the proper thing to be done, the custom of the country, so to
say, we drank that strange drink—rather a heady and heavy drink, without
question—and were promptly sent off to sleep again by it.

The charms of Streatley and of Streatley Hill have been sung by Mr.
Ashby-Sterry, who is a kind of picnic and banjo poet-laureate of the
Thames as it was in those famous riverside years, the ’eighties, when the
charms of the river had not long since been discovered, and commercialism
had not yet begun its reign: the years when Molloy and Cotsford Dick,
and Marzials had just entered upon their song-writing and composing. Mr.
Ashby-Sterry is not a Tennyson, but one cherishes an endearing picture
of him, clothed in boating-flannels and a “blazer,” laurelled—if one
may express it so—with bulrushes, and discovered seated in company with
some cooling tipple, gently but firmly declining to perform any physical
exertion: least of all that involved in climbing Streatley Hill, which
is indeed a “breather.” Perhaps he is not even a little bit like that,
really; but his writings are responsible for such a mental picture:

    “ … I’m told that you
     Should mount the Hill and see the view;
     And gaze and wonder, if you’d do
       Its merits most completely:
     The air is clear, the day is fine,
     The prospect is, I know, divine—
     But most distinctly I decline
       To climb the Hill at Streatley!”

But to have done with all this, and to make our way to Basildon, which,
although it is divided into Upper and Lower, is in the total of those
parts but a small place. I do not know (nor apparently does any one else)
from what Basil or Basileus—what leader of men—Basildon takes its name.
That, like so much else, is lost among unrecorded things, but the world
knows a something else more immediately to the point; and that is the
fact that Charles Morrison of Basildon Park died in the early part of
1909, worth about six millions and three-quarters sterling. The estate
was later sworn for probate at the remarkable figure of £6,666,666; an
extraordinary array of numerals, almost exactly the Number of the Beast,
“six hundred threescore and six,” mentioned in the thirteenth chapter of
Revelation, multiplied by ten thousand.

The ornate gates of the noble demesne of Basildon Park look upon the
road, and are very florid, with stone gate-piers surmounted by urns
filled to overflowing with stony representations of most of the kindly
fruits of the earth, and upheld by cupids. Basildon church, with a
farm or two and the parsonage, lies down near the river in a tongue of
meadow-land so cut off by the river on its north side and the railway
on the south that it is, in effect, much more remote than many places
hundreds of miles away. The high-road, like the railway, cuts across the
base of this piece of land; and as only a narrow lane runs through it
and simply ends at the church, there is no inducement for the ordinary
wayfarer to venture this way. Strangers are rare down by that nook where
Basildon church stands, almost hidden by trees, and I should not be
surprised to learn that the few people who live there mark those days as
special, and keep them in memory, when they chance to see a strange face.
There are many remote corners along the shores of the winding Thames, but
none more secluded than this of Basildon.

It is a small church that serves for the place, and the body of it
appears to have been wholly rebuilt of late years. The tower, an
eighteenth-century red-brick affair, is an almost exact counterpart, on
a smaller scale, of the tower of Pangbourne church. Beside the massive
polished granite tomb of the Morrisons stands a sculptured group of two
boys represented as bathers standing on a rushy river-bank. This is
the pathetic memorial of Ernest and Edward Deverell, aged sixteen and
fifteen, who were drowned while bathing in the Thames, June 26, 1886.

[Illustration: WHITCHURCH.]

The road on to Pangbourne gradually nears the river again, and touches it
at what was until some twenty years since one of the loveliest reaches
of the Thames, for here the stream is bordered by a long ridge of chalk
hill, broken here and there into cliffs that used to shine whitely into
the water. Keeley Halswelle painted an exquisite picture of this scene,
and it was hung in the Royal Academy; and that is now the only thing left
of it, for Shooter’s Hill—the name of this ridge—has been purchased by a
highly-successful trader in what is satirically known as the “rag trade”
(why is it that the drapery trade is so greatly affected by Welshmen?)
who has not only set up for something in the way of a country gentleman
here, with his ornate house and picture-gallery, and his gardens and
hot-houses, but has, in addition, quite in the way of the businessman,
made the purchase an investment by scooping out nine or ten sites from
those wild riverside chalk-cliffs, and building on them a series of
villas, described in the guide-books as “bijou residences.” So the quiet,
ancient beauty of Pangbourne Reach is now a thing of the past, and
instead of the white cliffs, the stream reflects red-brick.

Something has already been said, in the opening pages of this
book, respecting the recent spoiling of Pangbourne village by the
overbuilding in it: all brought about by the convenience of a main-line
railway-station in the very midst of the place; and therefore nothing
more may be written. The same remarks apply in degree to Whitchurch, at
the other end of the long bridge that here joins the two banks.

There is a dull high road out of Pangbourne, and there is a delightful
towing-path, crossing the mouth of the little Pang bourne, and going
with a fine view across river to Hardwicke House, amid its beautiful
lawns on the Oxfordshire side, and presently to Mapledurham Lock.
Hardwicke House has associations with the troubles of Charles the First,
and was greatly injured during the fighting about Reading.

Although there is no public ferry at Mapledurham Lock, boats there afford
an opportunity of crossing the river; greatly, no doubt, to the chagrin
of the Blounts, who own Mapledurham, and have not only distinguished
themselves in modern times by seeking the aid of the law-courts to forbid
fishing in the river at this point, but have so arranged that there is no
inn at Mapledurham, and have placed every conceivable obstacle in the way
of any one save themselves enjoying the scene. Notice-boards informing
the stranger that this, that, and the other are “Private” start out at
unexpected corners; and there is only wanting one touch to make this
attitude thorough. The suggestion is hereby offered that, for thoroughly
scaring away those insistent persons who do not entirely believe in such
notices, there should be added to them, _more Americano!_ “This means
YOU.”

But there is reason in most things, and the reason for this
uncompromising attitude is found, according to rumour, in the nearness
of Mapledurham to Reading, which sends out numerous boating-parties at
holiday times; and such parties, we all know, are not always discreet,
either in word or deed.

[Illustration: MAPLEDURHAM MILL.]

The old mill of Mapledurham is, now that Iffley Mill has become a thing
of the past, the most picturesque on the Thames. Near by it stands the
humble little church, amid tall elms, with monuments of the Blounts and
others, secluded from lesser folk in a side chapel. A curious small mural
monument, with the representation of a dropped curtain, is to be seen
here, to the memory of Captain Adrian Rose, born 1878, died 1908. He
served in the Boer War.

The beautiful late Tudor mansion of the exclusive Blounts, built by Sir
Michael Blount, Lieutenant of the Tower in 1581, stands a little way
back from the river, and turns its front away from it. Like so many
Elizabethan manor-houses, its plan is that of an elongated capital
letter E, the upper and lower projecting limbs formed by the wings; the
middle being the entrance. The view of it at some little distance down
the mile-long avenue of stately elms is delightful, whether you see it
under the mid-day sun, or by the mellow romantic afterglow of a summer
evening. At either time the richness in colour of its old red-brick
front, patterned in lozenge shapes by vitrified bricks of a darker hue,
is evident. It is a house of some romance. Legends tell that on the death
of a Blount, or prophetically before such an event—it is not quite clear
which—an elm of the long avenue falls; by which it would seem that the
owner of this avenue of many trees, a large proportion of them past their
prime and prone (as elms especially are) to fall suddenly and without
apparent cause, must sometimes receive a shock to his nerves, especially
if he be superstitious; and as the Blounts have ever been Roman
Catholics, it seems safe enough to deduce superstition in many of them.

The family have been seated here some four hundred years, and are kin of
that Sir Walter Blount who was slain at Shrewsbury fight, in 1403; cut
down by Douglas, who mistook him for King Henry. “A gallant knight he
was,” says Hotspur, pointing out to Douglas his mistake, “his name was
Blunt, semblably furnished like the King himself.”

As popish recusants, and as Royalists in the civil war, the Blounts have
suffered sequestration, and have seen hostile soldiers quartered in their
old house, and the Sir Charles Blount of that time was slain in the
service of the King at Oxford in 1644.

A literary association illuminates their annals at a later period,
the spinster Martha Blount, having been Pope’s “Stella” or “Patty,” a
constant friend and correspondent, and the recipient at the poet’s death
of his books, his plate, and £1,000. That Pope was not in sympathy with
the rural surroundings of Mapledurham seems evident from his lines upon
Miss Martha on one occasion returning hither

    “To plain work, to purling brooks,
     Old-fashioned halls, dull aunts, and croaking rooks.”

But then, that was the approved eighteenth-century way!

[Illustration: MAPLEDURHAM HOUSE.]

A long three miles leads direct from Mapledurham to Reading—a lovely road
through woodlands, by way of Caversham; but Caversham spoils it all, at
the end: Caversham, the cross-river suburb of Reading, where the new
streets impinge upon the fair face of the country, and where the gasworks
and the destructors, and suchlike evidences of civilisation abound, and
crying children and angry mothers cry and spank. If I were a Blount and
owned Mapledurham, I would not journey from it by way of Caversham, that
is quite certain! The best way is undoubtedly by river, past delightful
Purley; or by the road along the Berkshire bank, through Upper Purley,
and past Tilehurst railway station.

Purley might well be thought to lie outside the strife of the wicked
world. The “lea” down in which the village lies is so secluded that
none others than those who live here, or have business in the place,
ever come into it—unless they be stalwart or inquisitive explorers of
the calibre—shall it be said?—of the present writer. The “village,” of
a few rustic cottages, lies down below the high road, between the tall
embankment of the Great Western Railway and the river. You may hear the
trains numerously rushing by, swishing with a curious sound past the
dense trees that fill this little nook and flourish upon the embankment
itself, but you cannot well see them: only the arm of a tall signal-post
wagging continually between the signal to proceed or to stop. The trains
tell the villagers, plainly enough, that there is a busy world; and they
can see it, plainly enough, when they go for their weekly marketing to
Reading; but the business of it all passes by, out of sight, in the
manner typified by those swiftly-moving trains.

There should be no ill in this place; but since they are human beings
that live here, and not angels, there has been of late a good deal of
trouble, well-known to local people in what was styled by the Berkshire
newspapers of 1907-8 “The Purley Scandal.”

There need have been no scandal, so far as the outer world was concerned,
had it not been for the action of the rector of the parish.

But let a summary of the case, extracted from one of the newspapers, here
be given:

    “A Mrs. Moule had been head mistress of the Purley Church of
    England school for twelve years, and had conducted it during
    that time efficiently, with nothing to be urged either against
    her abilities or her character. But Mrs. Moule had a daughter
    who loved not wisely but too well. The result was that the
    girl had to get married hastily. She left the village until
    the child was born; then she went to stay with her mother
    for a few days. The rector of the parish—one of those nice,
    charitable Christian gentlemen with whom our readers are by
    this time well acquainted—demanded that Mrs. Moule should turn
    her daughter out of doors for at least six months. The mother
    refused, her ‘conduct’ was brought to the notice of the school
    managers by the holy man aforesaid, and she was dismissed her
    employment. The Education Committee of the Berks County Council
    supported the parson and the managers in their monstrous act of
    injustice, and tried to burke discussion. The whole question
    was then raised at a special meeting of the Council, when the
    decision arrived at was ‘that this Council expresses a wish
    that the Education Committee will, should opportunity offer,
    sanction Mrs. Moule’s appointment to a similar post to that
    which she recently held.’”

Here we see in working that truly British love of compromise, which has
been aptly defined as a middle course by which neither party is satisfied.

The church of Purley lies quite remote, at the end of the scattered
cottages, and through a woodland path. The body of it has been rebuilt,
but the red-brick seventeenth-century tower remains, with a sculptured
heraldic shield of the Bolingbrokes on its south face.



INDEX

Transcriber’s Note: This index originally appeared in Volume II and has
been copied here for the convenience of the reader.


    Abingdon, i. 159, 216-33

    Ashton Keynes, i. 22-30

    Augustine, St., i. 47


    Bablockhythe, i. 161

    Bampton, i. 121-4

    Barnes, ii. 253-8

    Basildon, i. 295

    Benson, i. 268

    Besselsleigh, i. 157-60

    Beverley Brook, ii. 258

    Binsey, i. 190-92

    Bisham, ii. 45-50, 201

    Bourne End, ii. 56

    Boveney, ii. 109

    Bray, ii. 69-81

    Brentford, ii. 220-36

    Brightwell, i. 268

    ⸺ Salome, i. 268

    Buckland, i. 118-21

    Burford, i. 105-7

    “Burlington,” ii. 251

    Burnham Abbey, ii. 105

    Buscot, i. 89-92


    Cæsar, Julius, ii. 157, 221-9

    Cambridge, H.R.H. Duke of, ii. 64

    Carfax Conduit, i. 215

    Castle Eaton, i. 50-58

    Caversham, i. 304-7

    Chamey Brook, i. 124

    Chertsey, ii. 150, 161, 201

    Chiswick, ii. 245-53

    Cholsey, i. 293

    Churn, River, i. 17-19, 45, 94

    Cirencester, i. 9-13, 18

    Clanfield, i. 107-9

    Clewer, ii. 110

    Clifton Hampden, i. 247, 252-6

    Cliveden, ii. 60-64

    Coln, River, i. 66, 73, 74

    Colne, River, ii. 141

    Cookham, ii. 59

    Cote, i. 124-7

    Coway Stakes, ii. 157-65, 221

    Cricklade, i. 30-46, 69

    Crowmarsh Gifford, i. 283

    Cumnor, i. 161-85


    Damer, Anne Seymour, ii. 25

    Datchet, ii. 131

    Day’s Lock, i. 256, 259

    Dorchester, i. 259-68

    Dorney, ii. 86-105

    Down Ampney, i. 47

    Dudley, Robert, Earl of Leicester, i. 171-85


    Eaton Weir, i. 92

    Eisey Chapel, i. 50

    Eton, ii. 115-19

    Ewen, i. 21

    Eynsham, i. 186-9


    Fairford, i. 66, 73-85

    “Fair Rosamond,” i. 193-6

    Faringdon, i. 102, 110-17

    Folly Bridge, i. 197-9

    Fulham, ii. 259, 273-92

    ⸺ Palace, ii. 276-92


    Gathampton, i. 290

    Gaunt’s House, i. 141-5

    Godstow, i. 193-6

    Goring, i. 284-90

    Great Faringdon, i. 102, 110-17

    ⸺ Marlow, ii. 51-6

    Grove Park, ii. 245


    Halliford, ii. 158

    Ham, ii. 185

    Hamble, River, ii. 30

    Hambleden, ii. 30-4

    Harcourt family, The, i. 146-9, 155, 186; ii. 136

    Harcourt, Sir William, i. 207, 212

    Hart’s Weir, i. 92

    Hell-Fire Club, The, ii. 34-8

    Henley, ii. 22-30

    Hennerton Backwater, ii. 22

    Hoby, Lady, ii. 49

    Horton, ii. 137-41

    Hurley, ii. 41-5

    Hurst, ii. 8-10


    Iffley, i. 200-7

    ⸺ Mill, i. 22, 203

    Inglesham, i. 64-6

    ⸺ Round House, i. 64-6

    Isis, River, i. 16, 69; ii. 5

    Isleworth, ii. 210-20


    Jesus Hospital, ii. 81


    Kederminster family, The, ii. 120-8

    Kelmscott, i. 66, 93

    Kemble, i. 19-21

    Kempsford, i. 58-64, 91-8

    Kew, ii. 237

    Kew Gardens, ii. 220, 230, 237

    Kit’s Quarries, i. 106


    Laleham, ii. 145-9, 162

    Langley Marish, ii. 119-28

    Latton, i. 47

    Leach, River, i. 66, 94

    Lechlade, i. 66-73, 85

    “Lertoll Well,” i. 47-9

    Leslie, G. D., R.A., ii. 64

    Little Wittenham, i. 247, 251

    Littleton, ii. 149

    Loddon, River, ii. 7, 17

    Long Wittenham, i. 241, 251


    Maidenhead, ii. 64-8

    Mapledurham, i. 300-4

    Marlow, ii. 51-6

    Marsh Lock, ii. 25

    Medley, i. 190, 196

    Medmenham, ii. 34-8

    Milton, John, ii. 137-41

    Mongewell, i. 268, 283

    Morris, William, i. 94-8

    Mortlake, ii. 253

    Moulsford, i. 293


    New Bridge, i. 138-41

    Newnham Murren, i. 283

    Norreys family, The, ii. 82-5

    North Stoke, i. 283

    Northmoor, i. 124, 145

    Nuneham Courtney, i. 207-15


    Oaklade Bridge, i. 29, 94

    Oatlands, ii. 161, 167

    Ockwells, ii. 82-6

    “Old England,” ii. 225

    “Old Man’s Bridge,” i. 117

    Old Windsor, ii. 131

    Osiers, i. 132-6


    Palmer family, The, ii. 89-105

    Pangbourne, i. 5; ii. 296-9

    Patrick Stream, The, ii. 17

    Penton Hook, ii. 150

    Petersham, ii. 185-211

    Pope, Alexander, i. 151, 304

    Purley, i. 307-11

    Putney, ii. 259-63

    ⸺ Bridge, ii. 263-73

    Pye, Henry James, Poet Laureate, i. 113-15


    Radcot Bridge, i. 101-7, 117

    Ray, River, i. 50

    Reading, i. 304, 307; ii. 1

    Richmond, ii. 193, 209, 210, 237

    Robsart, Amy, i. 172-85

    Runnymede, ii. 132

    Ruscombe, ii. 11

    Rushes, i. 137

    Rushey Lock, i. 118


    St. Augustine, i. 47

    St. Frideswide, i. 190, 192

    St. John’s Lock, i. 89

    St. Lawrence Waltham, ii. 11

    Seacourt, i. 190

    Seven Springs, i. 17

    Shelley, Percy Bysshe, ii. 55

    Shepperton, ii. 154, 158, 162

    Shifford, i. 127

    Shillingford, i. 268

    Shiplake, ii. 17

    ⸺ Mill, i. 25

    Shottesbrooke, ii. 11-17

    Sinodun, i. 247-251, 256

    Smith, Rt. Hon. W. H., ii. 30

    Somerford Keynes, i. 21

    Sonning, ii. 1-7, 10

    Sotwell, i. 268

    South Stoke, i. 283

    Staines, ii. 141, 145

    Standlake, i. 141

    Stanton Harcourt, i. 146-56

    Stanwell, ii. 142-5

    Steventon, i. 234

    Strand-on-the-Green, ii. 238-45

    Streatley, i. 290-5

    Sutton Courtney, i. 234-41

    Swillbrook, The, i. 29, 94

    Swinford Bridge, i. 186


    Tadpole Bridge, i. 118, 121

    Thame, River, i. 16

    Thames and Severn Canal, i. 14, 45, 59, 64

    Thames Head, i. 8, 14-18

    Thames, River, i. 16-18; ii. 25

    “Torpids,” i. 199

    Trewsbury Mead, i. 15

    Turnham Green, ii. 246-8

    Twickenham, ii. 178

    Twyford, ii. 8


    Upper Somerford Mill, i. 21


    Vicar of Bray, ii. 69-77

    Villiers, Barbara, Duchess of Cleveland, ii. 101-5


    Walker, Frederick, ii. 45, 59

    Wallingford, i. 272

    Walton, ii. 158, 161, 165

    Warborough, i. 268-83

    Wargrave, ii. 18-22

    Water Eaton, i. 50-3

    Water Hay, i. 29

    Wey, River, ii. 154

    Weybridge, ii. 150-4, 161

    Whitchurch, i. 5; ii. 290

    Willows, i. 128-32

    Windrush, River, i. 141

    Windsor, ii. 110-15

    Wittenham, Little, i. 247, 251

    ⸺ Long, i. 241, 251

    Wraysbury, ii. 135-7

    Wye, River, ii. 59

    Wytham, i. 166, 186-90

_Printed by Hazell, Watson & Viney, Ld., London and Aylesbury._





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Thames Valley Villages, Volume 1 (of 2)" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home