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Title: Wessex
Author: Harper, Charles G. (Charles George)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: SHERBORNE ABBEY CHURCH]



  _Beautiful Britain_

  _Wessex_

  _By_
  _Charles G Harper_


  _London Adam & Charles
  Black
  Soho Square W
  1911_

  [Illustration]



PREFACE


This is a modest, gossipy and allusive sketch of a delightful part of
England, designed rather to arouse the interest and the curiosity of
those not already acquainted with what I will call the “Middle West”
than to fully satisfy it. If in this connection you choose to regard
the author of these pages as a commercial traveller in the interest of
Wessex, displaying samples of the picturesque wares the West of England
can offer the tourist, it will entirely fit the humour in which they
were penned. To aid the medium of words is added a feast of colour in
the accompanying selected views, which show the lovely golden russet
interior of Sherborne Abbey, the misty rich blue haze of Blackmore
Vale, the architectural majesty of Wells, and much else that awaits the
traveller in Dorset and Somerset.

                    C. G. H.



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE
    I.  WAREHAM--BERE REGIS--THE HEATHS                                5

   II.  CORFE CASTLE--SWANAGE                                         12

  III.  WOOLBRIDGE HOUSE-CULWORTH COVE--OWERMOIGNE--WEYMOUTH          16

   IV.  “UNDER THE GREENWOOD TREE”--DORCHESTER--MAIDEN CASTLE--
          BRIDPORT--WEST BAY                                          24

    V.  CERNE ABBAS--THE VALE OF BLACKMORE--SHERBORNE--SHAFTESBURY    34

   VI.  YATTON--CHEDDAR CHEESE AND CHEDDAR CLIFFS--WELLS--
          GLASTONBURY--THE ISLE OF ATHELNEY--DUNSTER                  43

  VII.  NORTON ST. PHILIP--BATH--CORSHAM--CASTLE COMBE                54

       INDEX                                                          63



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


   1. SHERBORNE ABBEY CHURCH                              _Frontispiece_

                                                             FACING PAGE
   2. CORFE CASTLE                                                     9

   3. BERE REGIS                                                      16

   4. WAREHAM CHURCH                                                  25

   5. NEAR MAIDEN CASTLE, DORCHESTER                                  27

   6. FORDINGTON, DORCHESTER                                          30

   7. BLACKMORE VALE FROM SHAFTESBURY                                 32

   8. THE BRIDPORT ARMS                                               43

   9. THE ALMSHOUSES, CORSHAM, WILTSHIRE                              46

  10. THE MARKET-PLACE, WELLS                                         49

  11. DUNSTER CASTLE AND YARN MARKET                                  56

  12. CASTLE COMBE, NORTH WILTSHIRE                                   59



WESSEX



CHAPTER I

WAREHAM--BERE REGIS--THE HEATHS


The Wessex of which I shall treat in these gossiping pages is
that Wessex of romance and of the great dairy-farms, which has
been little touched by the influence of railways. Hampshire and
Wiltshire--Winchester and Salisbury--have become too closely in touch
with London to stand so fully upon the ancient ways as does Dorset,
with the greater part of its north-western neighbour, Somerset. But
in these rural territories the countryman still talks the old broad
Do’set and Zummerzet speech, in which the letter “o” in every possible
circumstance becomes “a,” as you will perceive in that old rhyme
beginning:

    A harnet zet in a holler tree,
    A proper spiteful twoad was he.
    And thus he zung as he did zet,
    “My sting is as zharp as a bagginet.”

And they think, too, the olden thoughts.

Nothing can give one a greater sense of the difference between the
exploited modernized coast-line and the real old Wessex than the
journey from up-to-date Bournemouth to Poole, that olden nest of
smugglers, and thence across to the untamed heaths and to Wareham. In
this way, then, we will begin our exploration of Wessex.

Wareham is a little town which has been left to drowse peacefully in
its old days. Nothing has happened in Wareham since its almost complete
destruction by fire (1762), an event which here as distinctly marks
an era as does the Great Fire of London in the City. It not only
rubricates the local table of events with a glowing finger, but the
rebuilding necessary after it has set a specious stamp of modernity
upon the place, to which its long and troubled history and its two
ancient churches give an emphatic denial. Mr. Hardy styles Wareham
“Anglebury,” and it is a name which well befits a town whose story is
so greatly concerned with the settlement of the Anglo-Saxons in Dorset
and the fortunes of the older kingdom of Wessex. The original founders
of Wareham, who were probably antecedent to the Anglo-Saxons, were very
properly afraid of overseas rovers, who might sail into Poole Harbour
and attack them, and they raised around the place those huge ditches
and embankments which remain to this day to astonish the stranger, and
are known as the “walls of Wareham.” Covered with grass, the summit of
them forms an interesting ramble. But these defences never did confer
upon Wareham the desired security. Its early story is one of continual
capture, and it had been burnt so often that the inhabitants had at
last feared to rebuild it and live there again; and it was a deserted
place William the Conqueror found. He caused a castle to be built,
but that fortress in its long career again and again invited siege
and plunder, until it was at last destroyed in the troubles between
Charles I. and his Parliament. The last pitiful scene was in 1685, when
three rebels in the Monmouth rising were hanged on the famous walls,
at a corner still known as “Bloody Bank.” The chief architectural
interest is centred upon the ancient church of St. Martin, a
curiously-proportioned building, standing piquantly beside the road
outside the town, to the north, on a little bank or terrace. The
antiquary perceives by a mere glance at its stilted narrow and lofty
proportions that it is Saxon, and the interior discloses a lofty nave
of stern unornamental appearance, with characteristic Saxon chancel
arch, the whole closely resembling the interior of the Saxon church of
Bradford-on-Avon. The Church of St. Mary, at the other extremity of the
town, possesses a hexagonal leaden font, one of the twenty-seven leaden
fonts in England.

[Illustration: CORFE CASTLE.

The massive ruins of the great castle of Corfe owe their present
appearance to the blowing-up of the fortress by gunpowder, in 1646,
after its capture by the Parliament.]

Six miles north-west of Wareham we come to Bere Regis, a place very
notable in the Hardy literature, for it is the “Kingsbere” of _Tess of
the D’Urbervilles_, and the “Kingsbere-sub-Greenhill” of _Far from the
Madding Crowd_. Before ever it acquired the kingly prefix or suffix, it
was merely “Bere,” a word which explained its situation amid underwoods
and copses. I have all the will in the world to describe Bere Regis
as “picturesque”; but it is not that. It is an old rather grim and
grey village that has had troubles--not romantic troubles, please to
understand, but economic ones. It has a “past”--neither scandalous nor
noble, but just the past of a place that has seen better days and has
suffered--suffered, truly, in the peculiarly Dorset way, from fire.
How many times the dry thatch of the cottages has gone up in flame and
smoke I know not; only I know--and all may see--that experience has not
made the villagers wise, for it is a long street of thatched cottages
yet; and here and there is the ruin of one more recently burnt in like
manner. The scattered heaps remain untouched, for it is not worth the
while to rebuild in Bere Regis. That is why the heavily-thatched roofs,
with little bedroom windows peering out like weary-lidded eyes, look
to me grim and sad. The church is fine, and owes much of its beauty to
the ancient Turberville family, something to the Abbey of Tarent, and
most of all to Cardinal Morton, a native of this parish. He is said to
have given the noble--indeed, the extraordinarily noble--elaborately
carved, painted and gilded roof of the nave, which by itself would
make the artistic reputation of a church. It is really not a West of
England roof at all, but distinctly of the East Anglian type, and
there are legends that explain the bringing of it here. However that
may be, it is a bold and striking object; the hammer-beams carved into
the huge shapes of Bishops, Cardinals, and pilgrims, with immense
round faces carved on the bosses, which look down upon you with fat,
complacent smiles. Add to this the fact that the figures are painted
with flesh-tints and the costumes vividly coloured, and it will be
guessed that this is a remarkable work. Here are interesting carved
fifteenth-century bench-ends, and on two of the Transitional Norman
pillars extraordinary sculptures of heads--one tugging open its
mouth, the other with hand to forehead. They are popularly said to be
“Toothache” and “Headache,” but were probably intended to symbolize the
divine gifts of speech and sight. Battered old Purbeck marble tombs of
the bygone Turbervilles are seen here.

Bere Regis is a fine point whence to explore into what Mr. Thomas
Hardy styles “Egdon Heath.” By that name the wild stretch of moorlands
marked on the maps as “Bere Heath,” “Hyde Heath,” “Decoy Heath,” etc.,
is understood, chiefly between Wareham on the east and Dorchester on
the west, and roughly bounded on the south by the River Frome. It is
not merely a wild, but also a very beautiful, region, on whose borders
the novelist himself, the creator of so many alluring rustics, and the
true begetter of the Hardy Country, was born, at Upper Bockhampton,
1840. Nature reigns, unchallenged, on these swarthy moors of brown
and purple. He tells us, truly, how this country figures in Domesday.
“Its condition is recorded therein as that of heathy, furzy, briary
wilderness--‘Bruaria.’” Leland, writing in the reign of Henry VII.,
describes this tract as “overgrown with heth and mosse”; and as it was
in the eleventh and in the sixteenth centuries, so it remains in the
twentieth. In these untamed scenes the sombre novel of _The Return of
the Native_ is set.



CHAPTER II

CORFE CASTLE--SWANAGE


From Wareham we cross the Frome by an ancient bridge, and enter the
Isle of Purbeck. The road runs a straight four miles to Corfe, across
a heath in which the activities of clay-cutters will be observed. Soon
Corfe Castle appears ahead, the mighty upstanding ruins of ancient keep
and surrounding walls rising from an abrupt hill curiously situated in
a gap of a great range of heights. The stony little town of Corfe comes
only after we have swung round by the curving road under the castle
hill, and it is well it should be so; for thus, with but the frowning
steeps, crested by the military architecture of the medieval times, for
company, we obtain the true romantic touch which the little domestic
details of the townlet itself would destroy.

It is a romance of cruelty and blood, for which the great castle
of Corfe stands. It arose in the great fortress-building era that
followed the establishment of the Conqueror’s rule, upon a site already
bloodstained and ominous with the murder of King Edward “the Martyr,”
A.D. 978, by his stepmother, Queen Elfrida, and it was no sooner
built than besieged. King John imprisoned in its dungeons twenty-four
knights, adherents of Prince Arthur, captured in Brittany, and either
caused them to be starved to death or ended by foul and midnight
assassination. And so through the centuries it stood, with constant
additions, until there came at last a time when even these stout walls
of from ten to fourteen feet thickness were shivered. That was when
the castle surrendered to treachery in 1646, after a long siege by the
Parliament’s forces. It had withstood a fortnight’s siege in 1643, when
the gallant defender, Lady Bankes, beat off horse and men, cannon and
siege-train; but now the ancient place was undermined, and gunpowder
laid in its foundations. Matches were applied, and the fortress was
blown into ruin. As it was left in this process of “slighting,” as
the Cromwellians termed their new way with old castles, so it remains
to-day.

The gaunt ruins rear boldly up above the stony little town--an
impressive sight; and as you go onwards toward Swanage, a backward
glance now and then shows how far they dominate the landscape.

And so into Swanage. Time was when such a thing as a brick was a
strange thing here and a brick house practically unknown, for the
building-stone for which Purbeck is famous was and is the natural
material, cheap and plentiful. But things have indeed changed since the
coming of the railway into Swanage, and the old stony fishing village
is now in great measure a red-brick town, and there are hotels on the
seashore that glow like geraniums. There are strange expatriated things
in and about Swanage--strange in these surroundings, but ordinary
enough in London, whence they came. The great figures in Swanage some
forty years ago were Mr. Mowlem and Mr. Burt, of the London contracting
firm of Mowlem and Burt, and thus many of the miscellaneous discarded
things that found their way into the firm’s yard came at last to a
resting-place here. Thus the Town Hall frontage was formerly that of
Mercers’ Hall in Cheapside, and the Gothic clock-tower that stands on
the shore was formerly on the south side of London Bridge, where it was
erected as a memorial to the Duke of Wellington. The lamp-posts in the
streets once served the same office in the streets of Westminster and
other districts of London, and still bear their old distinctive marks.
But the handiwork of the amazing Burt did not end here. He conceived
the idea of developing Swanage in the direction of Durlston Head, a
stony promontory about one mile to the west, and marked out many roads
along what he was pleased to call the “Durlston Park Estate.” The whole
thing remains at this day a derelict affair, the text for a sermon on
the Vanity of Human Wishes. Nobody ever wanted to live on those steep
gradients of the Durlston Park Estate. The roads end at the headland,
where, among other manifestations of the Burt whimsies, adjoining the
old Tilly Whim caves, on a platform overlooking the sea, is a thing
quite famous, locally, as “The Great Globe.” This is an enormous stone
globe, some ten feet in height, engraved with representations of the
seas and continents of the earth. Behind it, on large tablets, is
inscribed a mass of astronomical information, in which most of the
family secrets of the solar system are laid bare; and, with a care for
the weaknesses of human nature, there are slabs on which those visitors
who feel they must carve their names are invited to do so.



CHAPTER III

WOOLBRIDGE HOUSE--LULWORTH COVE--OWERMOIGNE--WEYMOUTH


The seventeen miles between Wareham and Dorchester, through Wool and
Warmwell Cross, traverse pretty country and encounter interesting
places. Passing the “Pure Drop” Inn, we come to the hamlet of East
Stoke. Half a mile to the left, across the River Frome, which runs
parallel with the road thus far, are the scanty remains of Bindon
Abbey, in a dark situation amid dense trees, and with black and
stagnant moat. The stone sarcophagus of some forgotten Abbot of Bindon,
resting on the grass, figures in _Tess of the D’Urbervilles_ as that
in which the sleep-walking Angel Clare laid Tess. We now come suddenly
upon a delightful scene, as the road to Wool is resumed. There, on
the right, on the other side of the sedgy Frome, rise the steep roofs
and clustered chimneys of such a romantic-looking Elizabethan
manor-house as those that were used years ago to make the fortunes of
Christmas numbers, in tales of ghosts and hauntings. This is Woolbridge
House. The bridge by which one crosses the Frome to it is much more
ancient than the house itself, and is a fine, stone-built Gothic
structure, with pointed arches and cut-waters up and down stream. The
mansion, now a farmhouse belonging to the Erle-Drax family, was once
the property of the Turbervilles, who became possessed of some of the
lands of Bindon Abbey; and it is therefore with every warranty that
Mr. Hardy made the old place figure in his greatest novel, _Tess of
the D’Urbervilles_. Moreover, it does not merely look as though it
should be haunted, but actually has, or had, that reputation. It is
a particularly creepy and full-flavoured ghost-story that belongs
to Woolbridge House--none other, indeed, than that of a passionate
Turberville who murdered one of his guests when out for a drive in the
family chariot. Unfortunately, this inhospitable deed was perpetrated
“once upon a time,” which is the nearest thing the serious historian
can make of it; and it will be conceded that this presents some
difficulties for the inquirer. The guest, it appears, was one of the
family. For many generations the awful apparition of the Turberville
coach was believed in, but we do not hear so much of it in these
times. It was accustomed to drive up at nights to the house, in every
detail of ghastly horror. Ordinary persons--plebeian rustics and the
like--might hear it, but only those in whose veins coursed the old
hot Turberville blood might actually see the apparition; and as there
is not anyone locally known to be of kin to that ancient family, it
follows of necessity that ghostly manifestations have long since
ceased. But in his novel Mr. Hardy has made splendid use of the old
house and of the two life-size portraits of women, supposed to be
Turbervilles, that are painted on upstairs walls.

[Illustration: BERE REGIS.

The “Kingsbere” of Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the D’Urbervilles.” The
church contains a carved, painted, and gilt roof that is worth
travelling all Wessex to see.]

The immediate neighbour of Woolbridge House, on this side of the Frome,
is Wool railway-station, and on the left again is the village of Wool.
The coast is reached in four and a half miles, at Lulworth, where those
who do not feel equal to thoroughly tracing the wild and solitary and
extremely beautiful coast-line of Dorset can at least sample it at
one of its most delightful spots. There are two closely-neighboured
Lulworths--East Lulworth, inland, where the curious castle, built
about 1599–1650 by Lord Bindon and his successors, the Weld family,
is seen; and West Lulworth, through which one descends to the Cove.
This is an almost perfect circle, eaten out of the limestone rock
by the sea, and surrounded on the landward side by bold treeless
downs. Summer at Lulworth is a sheer delight for those who like quiet
holidays. The Cove, with its light blue waters, looks a veritable bath
of the Naiads, and should be, if such things were, the watery boudoir
of mermaids. Here the cliffs rise up to sheer dizzy heights on the
western horn of the tiny bay, with wildly contorted strata and truly
awful chasms at Stair Hole. The like upside-down condition of the local
geology may be observed at the romantic spot, some two miles farther
west, called Durdle Door, where the cliffs plunge into the sea with
their stratification perpendicular and streaked with the loveliest
tints. The “door” of Durdle Door is a natural archway in the cliffs.
If time and energy permit, there is a splendid field for exploration
eastwards, past East Lulworth and on to Arishmill Gap, Worbarrow Bay,
and Kimmeridge.

But to resume the inland road to Dorchester. From Wool we come in
some four miles to Owermoigne, a rustic village of thatched cottages
which figures as “Nether Mynton” in that diverting short story _The
Distracted Preacher_, a tale of smugglers and their quaint ways with
lace and brandy-tubs and the old church, founded on the actual doings
of the “free-traders” who were accustomed to hide their contraband in
the church tower, in the pulpit itself, or in the tombs of the rude
forefathers of the village. At the cross-roads beyond Owermoigne, known
as “Warmwell Cross,” a ready way lies into Weymouth, through Poxwell,
Osmington, and Preston, a route with its own especial features--such,
for instance, as the charming old manor-house of Poxwell, the “Oxwell”
of _The Trumpet Major_, with the tall walls enclosing its grounds and
the pretty architectural detail of a porter’s lodge. The mansion is
now a farmhouse. From Osmington steep ways lead down to a favourite
excursion from Weymouth, the romantic Osmington Mills, near the sea.
Here one may observe on the steep grassy sides of the hills the
martial equestrian effigy of George III., whose making is described so
humorously in _The Trumpet Major_: “The King’s head is to be as big as
our millpond, and his body as big as this garden; he and the horse will
cover more than an acre.”

Descending steeply through Preston, Weymouth is reached along some two
miles of level, skirting the curving shores of Weymouth Bay.

Weymouth, created for all practical purposes by George III., just
as Brighton arose under the patronage of his son, George IV., is a
likeable place, and not at all out of touch with the real Wessex.
For it is of the Weymouth of _The Trumpet Major_, that delightful
end-of-the-eighteenth-century love-story, that one thinks as the
town is entered. It is as “Budmouth” that it finds mention in those
pages, and the “Budmouth” of the Georgian period it in all essentials
remains, with the staid red-brick houses of that time still lining
the curving shore, which enthusiasts liken to the curving shores of
the Bay of Naples. And, indeed, the sea in Weymouth Bay is often of a
wondrous opalescent blue, rare enough off our coasts. The inhabitants
of Weymouth did well to raise a statue to “Farmer George,” as an
acknowledgment of benefits received. It was unveiled in 1810, and has
since that time aroused the mingled amusement and contempt of all sorts
and conditions of men. For my part, I keep all my contempt for the
public statues erected in London yester-year, and cherish a liking for
that statue and its surroundings. It is at least a composition, and
one ought to feel grateful to the sculptor, who represented the King
in the ordinary dress of the age, instead of in an impossible Roman
costume.

Behind this statue is St. Mary’s Street, narrow, with a congeries
of narrower alleys leading out of it. This is the most picturesque
corner of the town, and gives upon the harbour, past a house in whose
gable wall still rests the cannon-shot fired in the siege of 1644. The
harbour is really the sea-estuary of the River Wey. The old original
Weymouth is on the other side, with the beautiful backwater on the
right, reaching to Radipole.

The chief scenic asset of Weymouth is, of course, the great rock of
Portland, the Gibraltar of Wessex, the “Isle of Portland,” tethered
to the mainland only by the long shingly spit of the Chesil Beach.
Thence comes the famous Portland stone, and there is the equally famous
Portland Prison. There, too, are forts with heavy guns, the great
breakwater, and various other appointments and developments that render
this a strong naval rendezvous. A great assemblage of battleships in
Weymouth Bay is not the least among the many attractions that Weymouth
has to offer.

On the crest of the steep hill at Wyke, as you leave the town for
Portland, is the great church of Wyke Regis, the mother-church of
Weymouth, with memorials of many sailors wrecked in Deadman’s Bay,
which extends westward from Portland to Bridport. Here, too, the
diligent may seek and find the epitaph of one “William Lewis, who was
killed by a shot from the _Pigmy_ schooner, 21st April, 1822. Aged
33 years.” Lewis was a smuggler, killed in the course of one of his
illegal expeditions; but the verses upon his tombstone take no count of
that, and call down curses upon whoever fired the shot.

From Wyke the road descends steeply, and, crossing the Fleet Bridge,
leads along two miles of flat road across the Chesil Beach. The
stranger would hardly expect to see so much shingle in the whole world
as he finds here. It is a vast accumulation of pebbles running westward
hence as far as West Bay, Bridport. Its total length is eighteen miles,
and it varies from a hundred yards to more than a quarter of a mile
in breadth, its pebbles ranging gradually in size from Brobdingnagian
specimens, about the size of a breakfast-plate, at Portland to the
tiniest particles at West Bay.



CHAPTER IV

“UNDER THE GREENWOOD TREE”--DORCHESTER--MAIDEN CASTLE--BRIDPORT--WEST
BAY


From Warmwell Cross the route into Dorchester may advantageously be
varied by bearing to the right, through the very pretty village of
West Stafford, where there is an interesting church, and an inn with a
deprecatory set of verses, beginning:

    I trust no Wise Man will condemn
    A Cup of Genuine now and then.

Pleasant by-roads lead across tributaries of the Frome and into
Stinsford, which is in the heart of the Hardy Country, about two miles
from Dorchester. It is a secluded place amid massed woods and at the
edge of the fine park surrounding Kingston House. Stinsford is the
“Mellstock” of that sweet idyll _Under the Greenwood Tree_.

[Illustration: WAREHAM CHURCH.

The church of St. Martin, perched boldly on its terrace above the road
on the north side of the town, has a striking Saxon interior.]

Beyond it we gain the highroad that leads down on the left into
Dorchester. The right-hand route conducts up Yellowham Hill to
Piddletown; or the stranger may on some summer day be well content to
lose himself in the sylvan wilds in the valley of the Frome, through
the hamlet of Upper Bockhampton, where the rustic cottage that was the
birthplace of Thomas Hardy may be seen on the very verge of the open,
under Ilsington Woods. There, where the blue wood-smoke from rustic
chimneys ascends amid dense foliage, and where the swart heaths begin,
he learned his “wood-notes wild.” Piddletown Church, with its monuments
of the Martins of Athelhampton, and the fine Jacobean minstrel gallery,
is well worth seeing, for its own sake and for its associations in
the Wessex novels, in which it figures prominently as “Weatherbury.”
At Lower Walterstone, about one mile north, is the beautiful Jacobean
farmhouse described in _Far from the Madding Crowd_ as the home of
Bathsheba Everdene.

Coming into Dorchester, the road traverses the water-meadows of
the Frome, over the spot called Ten Hatches, and across the little
bridges that were the scene of Henchard’s despair, in _The Mayor
of Casterbridge_. “Casterbridge,” as everyone familiar with Wessex
knows, is Dorchester--and an excellent name, too, for this grave town
of early British and Roman antecedents. It would be vain to pretend
that Dorchester is picturesque. If you expect in it nodding gables,
and half-timbered fifteenth-century buildings to be the note of
it, you will experience a disappointment in seeing the real thing.
For the general aspect of the town is one of Georgian four-square
respectability, and sky-lines are apt to be horizontal instead of at
acute angles. There are, however, older things by far at Dorchester.
At Fordington, for instance, which is an integral part of the town,
there have been discovered Roman remains, as, indeed, they have been
plentifully unearthed all in and about the borough. The tympanum
over the south door of the parish church is exceptionally well worth
inspection. It is a very remarkable example of Norman sculpture, and
represents the miraculous appearance of St. George on horseback at the
Battle of Dorylæum. The figures are full of life and vigour, except
those represented as being dead, and they look very dead indeed. St.
George is shown in the act of thrusting his lance into the mouth
of one of the enemy, who vainly endeavours to pluck it out. At the
back are two others of the foe, stricken with fear at this horrible
sight, and praying on their knees for mercy. The peculiar interest of
this sculpture lies in the fact that all the actors in this scene are
represented in Norman chain-mail.

[Illustration: NEAR MAIDEN CASTLE.

The prehistoric earthworks frown darkly against the skyline to the west
of Dorchester.]

There is an unmistakably “county-town” atmosphere in Dorchester, which
is a distinctly urban place, and not now of that thinly-modified
rusticity described long ago by Thomas Hardy: “The farmer’s boy could
sit under his barleymow and pitch a stone into the window of the town
clerk; reapers at work among the sheaves nodded to acquaintances
standing on the pavement-corner; the red-robed judge, when he condemned
a sheep-stealer, pronounced sentence to the tune of ‘Baa’ that floated
in at the window from the remainder of the flock browsing hard by.”

No, modern Dorchester is not like that, and its chief features--the
noble elm avenues, that struck the traveller by road into and out of
the town with admiration--have had their exquisite nobility qualified
by time and change. Those grand avenues extended north, south, east,
and west; but to-day they have in some cases disappeared, and in
others have been obscured by suburban buildings, that have shut out the
views of the fields from the pavements. Dorchester, however, is rich in
notable things. As you enter it from Piddletown and Ten Hatches, and
rise up along High East Street to Cornhill, which is the very centre
of the town, you approach the grey old church of St. Peter, and note
in the flagged space beneath the tower the bronze statue of William
Barnes, the “Dorset poet,” 1801–1886, with a verse aptly chosen from
his own writings:

    Zoo now I hope his kindly fëace
    Is gone to vind a better plëace,
    But still wi’ vo’k a’ left behind
    He’ll always be a’ kept in mind.

Thus appropriately, in the olden Wessex folk-speech he did so much to
preserve, is the memory of the amiable “Pa’son Barnes” kept alive.

Much else is changed, but still on market-days the country-folk come
pouring into what they to this day call “Darchester.” They come into
it chiefly by carrier’s cart, or by dogcarts and other road vehicles,
just as of yore; and although the market-day assemblage of carriers’
tilt-carts is an astonishing survival in numerous old English towns,
there are nowhere to be seen so astonishingly many as here; and
the occupants of them are not infrequently such genuine old crusted
characters as you read of, and wag the same old Wessex tongue. For
the rest, Dorchester has the Roman encampment of Poundbury and the
amphitheatre of Maumbury to show; in High West Street is the house,
duly marked, where the infamous Judge Jeffreys lodged when on his
Assize of Blood in 1685, and in the Town Hall his chair is shown. While
some things have changed, other trivial details have remained the
same for considerably over a century. Thus, Rowlandson in 1797 made
a drawing of King George III. being driven in a post-chaise to the
“King’s Arms.” The “King’s Arms” Hotel still stands where it did, and
looks in every respect the selfsame place, which is itself a remarkable
proof of the abiding nature of our institutions; but what is yet more
remarkable is the fact that the selfsame, indubitable individual old
flower-pots are on the roof of the portico yet. In the face of the
destiny of all flower-pots to be resolved at some time into potsherds,
and in view of the many times when the roof of that portico must have
been used, on election and other occasions, as a convenient place
whence to harangue excited crowds, their survival is strange indeed.

For the rest, a gruesome little cottage will be found by taking the
road out of High West Street known as Glydepath Lane, and following
it to a fine damp situation near the river. It is only gruesome
when you know its old story; otherwise it is a quite idyllic little
thatched cottage, and stands in a nice garden. But it is handy to
Dorchester Gaol, and it was the hangman’s cottage. In this same
street is a mingled grim and stately great early eighteenth-century
mansion, known as Colyton House. The hideously battered keystone
mask in the blocked-up archway of one of its outbuildings has been
appropriated, and made literary capital of, by Mr. Hardy in _The Mayor
of Casterbridge_. “High Place Hall,” the home of Lucetta, Henchard’s
lady-love in that story, is really a house at the corner of South
Street and Durngate Street, but he transfers the unlovely thing from
Colyton House to it. He has an extraordinary aptitude for seeing
something malignant and inimical in lifeless objects, and you are
almost persuaded that there was some malevolence in this that wrought
Henchard’s ruin.

[Illustration: FORDINGTON.

The village stands upon a steep bank above the Frome at the eastern
extremity of Porchester, and looks picturesquely out upon the
water-meadows.]

Comparatively few are those who explore from Dorchester along the old
Exeter road to Bridport, for the scenery is wild and the road lonely
and steep. Well, then, what of that? Those places are few indeed where
level roads accompany rugged scenery. Explore those fourteen miles.
Truly they will reward the amateur of scenery: the lofty ridge whose
summit is reached three parts of the way revealing widespreading views
out to sea on the left, and over wonderful hills and vales inland on
the right. You have a taste of what this route is like immediately
after leaving Dorchester and its western avenue behind, for cresting
the sky-line of the downs on the left are the giant prehistoric
earthworks of Maiden Castle, glooming darkly upon the road. Who delved
the deep and lofty ditches and embankments, the amazing concentric and
overlapping circles enclosing the vast camp on yonder height? Nay, who
among the ancient peoples that warred in Britain from the earliest
prehistoric times until the dawn of history did _not_ have a hand in
that immense fortification and camp of refuge? It was old when the
Romans came and added their quota of spade-work to it. But this at
least we may deduce from those cyclopean earthworks: that those who
made them and added to them must have been horribly afraid, thus to
seek the defensive so diligently, instead of going out to battle in the
open. Unquestionably, ancient warfares must have raged along this way,
for prehistoric tumuli are plentiful along the downs as we progress.

Passing Bridehead Park, a road leads steeply down on the left to
Longbredy, where will be found the deserted old manor-house of Kingston
Russell, whence the Russells, Dukes of Bedford, sprang from obscurity
in 1502, in the person of the courtly and ingratiating John Russell.
Admiral Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy was also born here, and under the
same roof died John Lothrop Motley, historian of the Dutch Republic,
some thirty years ago. Approaching Bridport, a stone at the corner of
the hedgerow in Lee Lane on the right commemorates what Fuller styles
the “Miraculous Divergence,” the escape of Charles II., September 23,
1651, when he baffled his pursuers by turning out of the main road at
this point.

[Illustration: BLACKMORE VALE.

“This fertile and sheltered tract of country, in which the fields are
never brown and the springs never dry.”--THOMAS HARDY.]

Bridport town stands upon its sponsorial little river, Brit, about
one and a half miles from the sea, at West Bay. There, on the exposed
seashore of what is often styled “Deadman’s Bay,” the river slides
into the Channel. West Bay is the queerest of places. It has a small
harbour, formed by locking up the river behind lock-gates, and two
parallel wooden jetties start hazardously out from the beach. In and
out of this harbour small sailing-vessels make their way; and certain
scattered cottages, the Bridport Arms Inn, and some few recent houses,
all standing in the sands and minute gravel of the Chesil Beach, which
ends here, make believe that West Bay is a seaside resort. On either
side of it the cliffs rise to great heights, and are partly of a
friable, earthy nature, yellow in hue.



CHAPTER V

CERNE ABBAS--THE VALE OF BLACKMORE--SHERBORNE--SHAFTESBURY


Northwards out of Dorchester we come by favour of the long straight
old Bristol road into the heart of the great Wessex dairying district
of Blackmore Vale; but before reaching that region of green fatness
we pass through the country associated in the minds of all readers of
the Wessex novels with _The Woodlanders_. The road goes through the
village of Charminster and in the valley of the little river Cerne,
under the chalk downs that gradually rise as the decayed town of Cerne
Abbas is approached. Just where the shoulders of those lofty chalk
hills are at their highest and steepest, the stranger will see with
that gasp of astonishment which is the proper meed of such a thing the
gigantic figure of a man outlined upon the grass. This is the “Giant
of Cerne,” who well deserves that name, for he is 180 feet high. He
is represented wielding an immense club, which he flourishes over his
head. The history of this singular figure is, like that of the several
“White Horses” cut on hillsides in various parts of England, and like
the famous “Long Man of Wilmington,” on the downs near Eastbourne,
unknown. Whether the monks of the Benedictine Abbey of Cerne traced
his outlines, or whether, as legends declare, this was a work of the
early pagan Saxons, and intended by them to represent their god, Heil,
to whom human sacrifices were offered here, must ever be matters for
conjecture.

If you would make acquaintance with a dead town, allow me to introduce
you to Cerne Abbas. It is a weary, age-worn place, a little off the
main road, and rapidly falling into decay. It suffered when the
great abbey, of which the noble Perpendicular gatehouse remains, was
dissolved; but it experienced a considerable revival in the great days
for agriculture, when the Napoleonic wars sent up the price of corn
and made the farmers happy. You may see the signs of this in the late
eighteenth and early nineteenth century houses in the place, with
large shop-fronts. Those shop-fronts tell a tale, for they are for the
greater part no longer shops, and serve as the immeasurably too large
windows for sitting-rooms. The great final causes of the decline and
fall of Cerne Abbas were the coming of railways, which rendered so many
small towns and rural markets no longer necessary, and the failure
of agriculture. So Cerne is dead. You will find no deader townlet in
England. Therefore let us pace reverently her empty streets.

We now come between the hills to the pretty village of Minterne
Magna, which is the “Great Hintock” of _The Woodlanders_. “Here,”
says a rustic wag in that story, “you do see the world and life.”
Not much, though, for although the old Bristol road is still an
excellent highway, it is not precisely crowded. Beyond the extremely
small village the road reaches the steep escarpment whence the great
bastioned mid-Dorset heights go, in many places with dramatic steepness
down into the far-spreading Blackmore Vale. The road itself naturally
descends at the least steep place to the levels of Middlemarsh; but
it is very well worth while to explore for some distance along the
by-road to the left, which follows the very edge of this ridge. Here
is the lofty height of High Stoy, with its great neighbours, Dogbury,
Bulbarrow, and Nettlecombe Tout. Three miles along this byway brings
you past the most striking scenery to the lofty down above Batcombe,
passing on the way the lonely, mysterious stone pillar called
“Cross-in-Hand,” associated with a dramatic episode in _Tess of the
D’Urbervilles_. It is described rather curiously in those pages as “the
scene of a miracle or murder, or both.”

Beyond where Batcombe Church is seen, down in the profound vale, the
road goes into a secluded region, where the three Melbury villages and
that of Evershot cluster about the noble Melbury Park, seat of the
Earl of Ilchester. The great mansion is the “King’s Hintock Court,” of
that delightful story, “The First Countess of Wessex,” in _A Group of
Noble Dames_. The tiny village of Melbury Osmund, the Hardyean “Little
Hintock,” is described, aptly enough, by one of his characters as “such
a small place that you’d need a candle and lantern to find it, if you
don’t know where ’tis.”

Returning now from these Arcadian recesses, we descend by the old
Bristol road into the vale at Middlemarsh, a part of that Vale of
Blackmore which has been described with such complete justness as “This
fertile and sheltered tract of country, in which the fields are never
brown and the springs never dry.... The atmosphere is languorous, and
is so tinged with azure that what artists call the middle distance
partakes also of that hue, while the horizon beyond is of the deepest
ultramarine.” Dense scrub-woods are at first met as we gain the
Marshwood level, and then die away as Holnest is reached--Holnest, with
its little church quite dwarfed by the huge mausoleum erected by the
late J. S. W. S. Erle-Drax for himself. Near at hand is Holnest Lodge,
one of that eccentric squire’s residences, still with the tall column
in front, crested by a bronze statue of himself, erected by himself to
his own honour and glory, since no one else was in the least likely to
do so much for him.

In less than five miles we come into Sherborne, that pleasant old town
which still bears some considerable traces of that cathedral-city
dignity of which it was deprived so long ago as 1078. It is situated
in a little vale of its own, the Vale of that _Scir burne_, or clear,
sparkling brook, which made the spot seem so desirable to the monks
who were settled here by King Ina as early as A.D. 705. That stream
originated the place-name, while losing its own, for it is identical
with the River Yeo, or Ivel, which in turn gives a name to Yeovil
town, anciently called “Ivell.”

The great glory of Sherborne is, of course, its noble abbey church,
standing in its own precincts, reached through a low-browed archway
out of the main street, past the beautiful old “Monks’ Conduit.” This
minster-like church--really a minster in the technical sense of the
word, it having been the church of a Benedictine monastery--is grouped
with the buildings of the Grammar School, itself founded by Edward VI.
from the spoils of that dissolved religious house, and having its home
in the old domestic buildings of those Black Monks. It is a stately
grouping. The great church itself is of the loveliest form and colour.
Externally presenting the appearance of a Late Perpendicular building,
with architectural details exhibiting the approach of the Renaissance,
the interior discloses, particularly in the transepts, the fact that
the core of the building is actually in great degree Norman, and that
the late fourteenth and early fifteenth-century work is practically a
refacing in a later fashion. But the choir is a rebuilding, effected
after the fire of 1437--a fire which still shows its traces in the
reddened patches on the golden-yellow Ham Hill sandstone, whose lovely
tints contribute so greatly to the beauty of the soaring architecture
of clerestory and delicate fan vaulting. Sherborne, history will not
forget, gave a lead in modern times to the passion for historical
pageants, inaugurated here in the great Sherborne Pageant held in the
grounds of Sherborne Castle Park, 1905. There, amid the ruins of the
ancient Bishop’s Castle, the story of the town for over a thousand
years was retold.

Some five miles west is Yeovil, that great dairying centre; that neat
and prosperous town, looking so bright and cheerful with its houses
of the yellow Ham Hill stone, a sandstone that reveals itself in the
wayside cuttings as you descend towards it down Babylon Hill. But
Yeovil has little of antiquity to show the visitor, except those two
old inns, the George and the Castle, which face one another in High
Street, for it has rebuilt itself pretty thoroughly.

Sixteen miles eastward of Sherborne stands the hill-top town of
Shaftesbury, to which railways do not come, and from whose eyrie all
modern developments turn aside. The milestones tell a strange tale of
so many miles to “Shaston,” and it is not always that the traveller
understands Shaftesbury to be indicated under that disguise, but as
such it still remains in rustic speech. The novelist tells us, in one
voice with the ascertained history of the place, how Shaftesbury was
originally the British “Caer Palladour.” It possessed three mints,
twelve satellite churches, attendant upon a magnificent abbey, and many
other architectural glories, for which the stucco-fronted eighteenth
and early nineteenth century houses which now constitute the main
part of the town are a sorry exchange. All those magnificences have
disappeared, like the baseless fabric of a vision; and antiquaries
to-day, grubbing in trenches and turning over potato-patches, can do
little more than retrieve a few shattered stones and broken tiles that
hint of the vanished abbey’s former existence. Three parish churches
remain, and form a very generous provision for the small place that
Shaftesbury long since became. But if, architecturally speaking, the
town is so negligible, the distant views, both of it and from it, are
grand. Blackmore Vale is disclosed perhaps to its greatest advantage
from these heights, in that southward view between St. Peter’s Church
and the massive time-stained buttresses on the right hand, which mark
the precincts of the long-abolished abbey. The road descends from this
point, incredibly steep, and quite impossible for anything on wheels,
seeing that it goes down in a series of gigantic sett-paved stairs.
Framed in thus romantically, the view across the most beautiful part
of the Vale of Blackmore extends far away until it melts in a blue
vagueness.

The streets of Shaftesbury have names a good deal more picturesque than
the houses that front upon them. That of “Bimport” is an example. In
that quiet thoroughfare is the house styled in _Jude the Obscure_ “Old
Grove’s Place.” It is easily recognizable by reason of its projecting
porch.

[Illustration: THE BRIDPORT ARMS.

The old inn forms part of some scattered groups of houses at West Hay,
near Bridport. The place is chiefly a waste of sand.]



CHAPTER VI

YATTON--CHEDDAR CHEESE AND CHEDDAR CLIFFS--WELLS--GLASTONBURY--THE ISLE
OF ATHELNEY--DUNSTER


The little town of Yatton, below Bristol, situated on excellent roads
and with a convenient station on the Great Western main line, is a
very useful point whence to start upon a rambling exploration of
Mid and North Somerset, called by Mr. Hardy “Outer Wessex.” Yatton
is a junction station, its name-board familiar to travellers, with
the alluring legend beneath: “For Cheddar and Wells.” Whether the
place-name be really “Ea-ton” or “Yeo-ton,” from the little river Yeo,
on which the town is situated, or “Gate-town,” from the road or “gate”
under the hills on which it stands, will ever remain a problem to give
antiquaries something to think about. The church, one of the finest in
this shire of fine churches, has a remarkable outline because of its
incomplete spire, whose upper part appears never to have been added.
It thus wears a truncated appearance, and is crested with a kind of
coronet. The effect is distinctly pleasing and gives Yatton a decided
individuality. The general appearance of the church is that of a Late
Decorated building. The tomb, with red-robed effigy of Chief Justice
Newton, of the Common Pleas, 1449, is well worth seeing.

Through Congresbury and Churchill, whence the Churchill family emerged
from obscurity to a dukedom and political fame in later generations,
we come, through the little town of Axbridge, to Cheddar. There is no
need, it may be presumed, to instruct the reader in the two things
for which Cheddar is deservedly famous--its cheese and cliffs. Time
was, and that until quite recent years, when the tourist who by some
strange chance knew nothing of Cheddar cheese might proceed through the
picturesque village without a glimpse of its staple product. So modest
was Cheddar that no one would deduce or suspect a cheese in the entire
district. But nowadays--these being days of strenuous publicity--shops
that do nothing else but sell cheeses are a feature of the place.
The results are extremely satisfactory, especially in view of the
fact that inferior cheese from the United States, known as “American
Cheddar,” was bulking largely in provision markets, and bidding fair
to wholly overshadow the home produce. In these scientific times it
is said to be quite possible to produce Cheddar by the cultivation
of a bacillus, and that it is therefore the method alone that makes
the cheese, which can be produced anywhere. But it would be a bad day
for the Somerset dairy-farmer if that doctrine were accepted in its
entirety, and it is comforting to believe that it is not likely to win
to such acceptance.

Cheddar Cliffs are strikingly formed by huge precipitous rifts in the
limestone escarpments of the Mendip Hills, and lead at right angles
out of the main road. The most picturesque portion of the village is
situated at the beginning of them, beside the fine winding road that
ascends between their grey spires and impending fissures, looming in
monstrous shapes, like the fabled turrets and bastions of some giant’s
castle. The old geological theory as to how these huge rifted chasms
were produced was of an earthquake that had thus torn the everlasting
hills asunder. But a recent school of thought has the view that
they were originally immense caverns, and that the gorge effect is
caused by the roof having at some time fallen in. The famous caverns,
discovered in 1837 and 1893, are cited as examples. These are the
chief attractions at Cheddar for the sightseer, and are not in the
least difficult to find, because, in fact, they open upon the road and
are rented by rival proprietors who eagerly solicit the stranger’s
patronage. Whether the cave that belongs to Cox or that which is
exploited by Gough is the better, I will not pretend to say; only the
mental impression left by perusing the handbills and advertisements of
the competitors is that each is better than the other, “which,” as our
old enemy Euclid would say, “is absurd.”

[Illustration: THE ALMSHOUSES, CORSHAM.

Built by Lady Hungerford, 1672. One of the finest examples of the
post-Reformation Almshouse.]

In another seven miles we come to the slumberous cathedral city of
Wells, in its rich vale beneath the Mendips. The population of Wells
is about five thousand, and decreasing, or at the most stationary, and
thus there are no unhistorical modern suburbs, and the outskirts are
quite innocent of notices offering land “ripe for building.” It is
true that there are two railway-stations at Wells, but they are the
product of rival railway politics, rather than called into existence
by necessity. I suppose the stranger would deduce a river from the
place-name, but Wells knows nothing of the kind. It takes that title
from the clear springs that gush forth in the neighbourhood of the
cathedral, and form delightful pools at its south-eastern end, serving
also to surround the fortified Bishop’s Palace with a pellucid moat.
The Diocese of Wells was founded A.D. 704 by Ina, King of Wessex.
Never have the rude buffetings of warfare disturbed the quiet of the
place, whose history is solely ecclesiastical, and is concerned only
with the long succession of Bishops and the various rebuildings of the
cathedral. As we see it now, within its grassy close, the cathedral
is a singularly perfect work, chiefly of the thirteenth century,
rich above all other English cathedrals in delicate sculpture, and
with sixty carved miserere seats that display the sweetest artistic
fancy, the closest study of natural forms, and the most exquisite
craftsmanship in wood-carving to be found in England. Here, too, is
a curious fourteenth-century clock, still in good going order. The
Bishop’s Palace, largely an Early English work, is a building beautiful
enough, and looking like enough to be the scene of the legend of the
Briar Rose and the Sleeping Beauty. Wells is the most cloistral of
English cathedral cities. It is the one ideal cathedral city for
scholar and poet that England possesses, for the rest are for the most
part pushful commercial places, with electric tramways and the like
manifestations of modernity. Of these things Wells knows nothing.
The most startling thing I ever saw at Wells was the Bishop riding
a bicycle, and he ran into me, which perhaps serves to show that,
although the mitred know the straight celestial way, their terrestrial
route on wheels is sometimes not so forthright as that of the mere
layman. Lovely Wells, sweet with the last faint afterglow of the Middle
Ages, with ancient houses, and some few comparatively modern, facing
the quiet market-place, closed in at its eastern end by the great
gate-houses of the cathedral precincts, the towers of that stately
church peering up beyond.

[Illustration: THE MARKET PLACE, WELLS.

Wells is the nearest approach in England to the ideal Cathedral city
of poets and students, and the Market-place is so little disturbed by
markets that the plashing of the perennial springs which gives Wells
its name is easily heard from the fountain.]

From Wells we come in little more than five miles into Glastonbury,
standing in the fabled Arthurian “Vale of Avalon” of the poets. I
must confess that, many years ago, coming for the first time into
Glastonbury, I was disappointed. I had read so deeply of Avalon--the
Tennysonian Avalon of apple orchards and mystic Round Table
story--that I expected too much. Glastonbury is indeed a commercial
little town. Its population is less than that of Wells, but it gives
the impression of being larger--perhaps because its people are out and
about doing things, while the folk at Wells are engaged indoors in
such meditations as befit their ecclesiastical surroundings. Really,
you know, the roads into Glastonbury are quite good; and there is gas
in the streets and shops, and everything that savours of the twentieth
century--things that somehow sink so far into the background of it when
reading Arthurian romance, that you are unreasonably inclined to resent
them when coming into the town. Yet Glastonbury is rich in relics of
medievalism. You may even come to your truly ancient inn here, just as
did the pilgrims of old before the abbey was dissolved and the last
Abbot and two of his monks were hanged, a good deal higher than Haman,
on the lofty crest of Glastonbury Tor in 1539. Abbot Selwood built what
is now the George Hotel in 1485 as a pilgrims’ hostel, and the ancient
frontage is still in existence. The abbey ruins, which include the
fine Transitional Norman remains of St. Joseph’s Chapel, are situated
in lovely woodland grounds, and close by is the even more interesting
Abbot’s Kitchen, massive and ecclesiastical-looking, dating from about
1420.

We may with advantage strike across country from Glastonbury to
Taunton, across the interesting marshes of Sedgemoor--twenty-two
miles. Glastonbury, indeed, took its original title from the Latin
_Insula Vitrea_, a name formed by the Romans from the British “Ynys
Vitrin,” and Englished by the Saxons into “Glaestingabyrig.” This was
a descriptive name, applied to the still, glassy waters of the shallow
inland sea which then covered the whole of Sedgemoor with the exception
of a few islands. The town was one of many lake-dwellings in these
waters, overlooked by the tall and steep Tor, rising strangely to a
height of 500 feet. Now crowned with the fifteenth-century tower of a
chapel of St. Michael, this mountainous hill is a weird object in the
landscape for many miles.

We pass the boot-making village of Street, and then the village
of Greinton. Westonzoyland, with its very large and very fine
Perpendicular church, two and a half miles on the right, is really an
Avalon, or apple island, and delightful in spring. To the north of
the village was fought the Battle of Sedgemoor, July 6, 1685, and the
church was afterwards used as a prison for some hundreds of captured
rebels.

The flat scenery of the moor, with dykes beside the road filled with
reeds and water, is varied by strangely sudden hills here and there.
One of these is at Boroughbridge, a hamlet where we cross the River
Parret and enter the historic Isle of Athelney. The hill, locally
called “The Mump,” is crested by the ruins of a chapel of St. Michael.
Here we enter a district associated with the endearing story of Alfred
the Great. “He was England’s darling,” says the old Saxon Chronicle,
and so he remains. It was in this selfsame Isle of Athelney that he lay
hid amid the marshes, A.D., 879, after the Saxon disasters in battle
with the Danes. An obelisk on a hillock records the facts.

I should like to linger in the pleasant old town of Taunton--“Taunton
on the Tone,” as school primers told us to style it--but I am bound
for Dunster, on the Severn Sea, and that is another twenty-two miles
distant. The road to it, past Combe Florey, Crowcombe, Williton, and
Washford, is Somerset at its best, in every circumstance of rustic
beauty. At Washford is the ruined Cleeve Abbey, the most interesting
remains of a Cistercian monastery in the West of England. The church
has wholly disappeared. The interest lies in the domestic buildings and
the cloisters, together with the chapter-house and refectory, all in
the Early English style and very beautiful.

I choose Dunster to close this route because it is one of those rare
old towns which keep their ancient manorial aspect, and neither
increase nor greatly decline. It owes this distinction to the facts
of being situated just off the road to anywhere at all, and to being
a mile or two away from the sea, which in remote times came up to the
outworks of its castle, and made the place a seaport. Dunster is a
picture--nay, it is a gallery of pictures, for one meets you at every
turn. There is the sleepy town of one broad street, with the castle
on its wooded height in the background, and in the foreground the old
Yarn Market, a remarkable timber-framed building which seems to be
again awaiting the marketing of yarn. It was built, they say, in 1609,
and the weather-vane, dated 1647, marks the repairs effected after
the siege of the castle in 1646. That the reigning family of Dunster
is named Luttrell is evident from the name of the inn, the Luttrell
Arms, close by. This was in olden times a house of the Abbots of
Cleeve, and still retains some semi-ecclesiastical features, including
a fifteenth-century window of great size, with many elaborate oaken
mullions, looking upon the courtyard. The fine priory church of
Dunster, with its sweet carillons, that play a different air for every
day of the week, the so-called “Nun’s House,” the old water-mill--these
are all delights of Dunster. The castle, which is described as “Stancy
Castle” in Thomas Hardy’s novel _A Laodicean_, is still the residence
of the Luttrells.



CHAPTER VII

NORTON ST. PHILIP--BATH--CORSHAM--CASTLE COMBE


There are ways from Wells to Bath somewhat shorter than the twenty-four
miles by which we shall now proceed, but they take you up weariful
heights, over the long, swooping contours of the Mendips. There is not,
in fact, any really easy way between Wells and Bath.

We leave the city through the cathedral close, along its north side,
and through the beautiful Chain Gate, a work of the Perpendicular
period, connecting the cathedral with the Vicars’ College. Presently
begins the long rise of Horrington Hill; and so up and again up goes
the road, and past the lonely Old Down Inn, coming at length by
Kilmersdon to Ammerdown and Norton St. Philip, along a true exemplar of
what geography primers style “an elevated plateau, or tableland.” The
delightful village of Norton St. Philip introduces a welcome change
from these keen airs and strenuous heights, for it basks in the mellow
atmosphere of a valley. The sweet-toned bells of Norton still charm
the ear of the traveller, and are the identical “very fine ring of
six bells” that Pepys heard on June 12, 1668, and pronounced “mighty
tuneable,” ringing from the grey church tower that stands so stately in
advance of the village. The George and the Fleur-de-Lis, are both old
inns, the first of them historic as well, for it was the headquarters
of the Duke of Monmouth when the furious skirmish was fought here,
June 26, 1685, between his rustics and the soldiers of King James. His
ploughmen won the day, but Monmouth himself had a narrow escape the
next morning, when he was shot at while dressing at a window of the
George.

This house belonged of old to the Priory of Hinton Charterhouse, whose
ruins in the park of Hinton “Abbey,” a modern residence, may be seen
adjoining the village of Hinton Charterhouse, through which we proceed
on the again hilly way to Bath, which is six miles distant from it,
through Midford and Odd Down.

Many volumes might be written--and, indeed, have been, are being,
and yet will be written--about Bath, which is without doubt a very
beautiful and ancient and likeable city, with a long history behind it,
a vigorous present, and doubtless a lengthy and prosperous future, so
long as its healing thermal springs shall last. The antiquity of Bath
is undoubtedly pre-Roman, but to those mighty colonizers the first
great development of what they styled _Aquæ Solis_, the “Waters of the
Sun,” is due. A rival version of that title is _Aquæ Sulis_, supposed
to incorporate the name of Sul, an unknown “early British deity”; but
the discovery of a sculptured face of the sun-god, now in the museum,
seems to support the first name. Of course, the great traditional
founder of Bath, the true discoverer of the medicinal springs, is,
according to local patriotism, Prince Bladud. A statue of him in the
Grand Pump Room, erected 1669, commits Bath to a belief in the legend
of that leprous Prince wandering, 863 B.C., an exile from his father’s
Court, and becoming healed in these waters. But Bladud is an absolutely
unhistorical personage. The Romans, however, have left very substantial
relics of their presence. Does the general reader, it may be asked,
ever turn aside from his generalities, and particularly consider the
great space of time in which the Romans held Britain as a prosperous
colony? For nearly four centuries they established themselves in this
land, a settled community, with the arts and civilization brought
from their native shores. Nay, they did more than this, for they
Romanized the Britons and intermarried with them. England, the greatest
colonizing power of the modern world, has not done so much. Less than
two hundred years covers the establishment of our Indian Empire, and we
have not mingled with the races of Hindostan.

[Illustration: DUNSTER CASTLE AND YARN MARKET.

The Yarn Market, in the middle of the broad street, no longer witnesses
the marketing of yarn or other goods. It is, like Punster town itself,
a picturesque survival.]

The Roman baths at Bath are the best evidence of the solidity of the
civilization then founded; and we have also to consider that Bath
was then, as it still remains, the premier health-resort in these
islands, and the discoveries of Roman villas at Box and elsewhere along
the Avon Valley show that the district was what we should now style
“residential.” The destruction of all these graces after the Roman
forces left Britain, in A.D. 410, left _Aquæ Solis_ a deserted ruin.
It arose again as the Saxon “Akemanceaster,” and was a considerable
town at the time of the Conquest. The springs find little mention in
the Middle Ages, and only seem to have gradually won back to a right
appreciation from the time of Queen Elizabeth onwards. It was the
Consort of Charles I., Queen Henrietta Maria, who in 1644 began the
fashionable vogue of what was then styled “the Bath”--a vogue continued
and amplified in the visits of Charles II. and his Court, 1663; of the
Queen of James II., 1687; and with the great favour shown the place by
Queen Anne. This fashionable and therapeutic reputation was enormously
enhanced in her time, the Corporation building the Pump Room in 1704,
and appointing Beau Nash “Master of the Ceremonies.” Still, however,
Bath was a city of merely rustic streets and medieval, or at the latest
Tudor, houses; and Bath as we see it to-day only arose when Ralph
Allen and John Wood began to build its stately neo-classic streets and
crescents of fine houses in the middle of the eighteenth century. For
the fine architectural effect thus produced Bath owes a very great deal
to the fine local oolite building-stone.

Prominent, however, above all else is the great abbey church, which
rises in its midst, and challenges with its display of the last phase
of Gothic the Palladian severity of the secular buildings. It is a
complete and direct contradiction of that eighteenth-century Bath; but
how nobly and effectively it stands forth from that sea of houses which
is the picture presented by Bath, lying in its cuplike hollow beneath
the great surrounding hills!

[Illustration: CASTLE COMBE, NORTH WILTSHIRE]

“Go to Bath!” says the old contemptuous and derisive saying.
“Certainly!” one might well reply. “By all means. Delighted.” And
coming to it along the stately curve which the Great Western Railway
makes between those lofty heights, what an inspiring picture the city
presents! Bath is additionally famed for its Pickwickian associations,
and stands sponsor for Bath chaps, Bath buns, and Bath Olivers. It
takes no responsibility in the matter of “Bath bricks,” which intimate
articles of domestic economy are in fact made at Bridgwater, and
obtained their name no one knows when or how.

Of its other thousand and one architectural, literary, artistic and
social glories and associations, I dare hint only guardedly in this
small compass. Of the abbey church, let it suffice to say that its
tower is not square in plan, and that the building in general has a
somewhat singular history. Large though it be, it is but half the size
of a Norman predecessor, begun but allowed to fall into decay. It
was begun anew in 1495 by Bishop Oliver King, who dreamed a strange
dream of angels ascending ladders and a voice exclaiming, “Let an
olive establish the crown, and let a King restore the church.” He had
proceeded as far as the west front when the Reformation ended his
project, and the great building remained derelict for forty years.
The work was resumed in 1572, and brought to a conclusion about 1609.
Thus we have the unusual spectacle of a great abbey church chiefly of
post-Reformation date. The odd reproduction in stone on the west front
of Bishop Oliver King’s dream, representing angels climbing Jacob’s
ladders, is more singular than beautiful.

Box and Corsham, respectively six and nine miles from Bath, to the
east, along the old coach-road to London, are worth an excursion, for
here you may see the quarries whence comes the fine-grained Bath stone.
Box Tunnel, on the Great Western Railway, was considered a stupendous
work in the early days of railways. It is nearly one and three-quarter
miles long, and cost more than half a million sterling. Corsham Regis,
to give that pretty village its full title, lies a little way off
the main road, and is, of course, a place of stone-built houses and
cottages, nearly all with some architectural merit. The old weavers’
cottages are still pointed out, the homes of a Flemish community of
clothworkers in Elizabethan times. One may also obtain glimpses of
Corsham Court, a noble mansion amid gardens rich in enormous yew
hedges. It is the seat of Lord Methuen, and was originally built in
1582 by one Smythe, who grew rich in farming the Customs dues. The
Elizabethan south front remains. But what will more immediately compel
the tourist’s admiration is the Hungerford Almshouse, a quaintly
beautiful composition, the gift of Lady Hungerford in 1672. It is one
of the finest among the post-Reformation almshouses, with curious
mingling of debased Gothic and elaborate Renaissance details over the
projecting porch, among whose florid sculptures will be noticed the
crossed sickles and wheatsheaf badge of the Hungerfords, who have long
since died out of the land.

Corsham is pretty, but one of the prettiest villages in England will
be found some four miles north at Castle Combe, in a profound valley
through which flows the Box Brook. The castle of Castle Combe has
disappeared. It stood somewhere on the lofty wooded heights that
tower above the secluded village. No modern house varies the peaceful
old cottage architecture of the street, which follows the windings of
the brook; and the old church and roofed-in market-cross complete the
picture of a village unaltered since the spacious times of Good Queen
Bess.



INDEX


  Arishmill Gap, 19

  Athelney, Isle of, 51

  Axbridge, 44


  Batcombe, 37

  Bath, 56–60

  Bere Regis, 8–10

  Bindon Abbey, 16

  Blackmore Vale, 34, 36, 37

  Boroughbridge, 51

  Bournemouth, 6

  Box, 60

  Bridport, 32

  Brit River, 32


  Castle Combe, 61

  Cerne Abbas, 34–36

  Charminster, 34

  Cheddar, 44–46

  Chesil Beach, 22, 23, 33

  Churchill, 44

  Cleeve Abbey, 51

  Congresbury, 44

  Corfe Castle, 12–14

  Corsham, 60

  “Cross-in-Hand,” 37


  “Deadman’s Bay,” 23, 33

  Dogbury, 36

  Dorchester, 19, 25–31

  Dunster, 51, 52

  Durdle Door, 19

  Durlston Head, 15


  East Stoke, 16

  Evershot, 37


  Fordington, 26

  Frome, River, 10, 12, 16, 17, 18, 25


  Greinton, 50

  Glastonbury, 48–50


  High Stoy, 36

  Hinton Charterhouse, 55

  Holnest, 38


  Ilsington Woods, 25


  Kimmeridge, 19

  Kingston Russell, 32


  Lee Lane, 32

  Longbredy, 32

  Lower Walterstone, 25

  Lulworth Castle, 19

  Lulworth Cove, 19


  Melbury Osmund, 37

  Melbury Park, 37

  Middlemarsh, 36, 37

  Minterne Magna, 36


  Nettlecombe Tout, 37

  Norton St. Philip, 54


  Osmington, 20

  Owermoigne, 20


  Parret, River, 51

  Piddletown, 25, 28

  Poole, 6

  Portland, Isle of, 22

  Poxwell, 20

  Preston, 20

  Purbeck, Isle of, 12


  Radipole, 22


  Sedgemoor, 50

  Shaftesbury, 40–42

  Sherborne, 38–40

  Stinsford, 24

  Street, 50

  Swanage, 14


  Taunton, 51

  Ten Hatches, 25, 28

  Tilly Whim, 15


  Upper Bockhampton, 10, 25


  Wareham, 6–8, 16

  Warmwell Cross, 16, 20, 24

  Washford, 51

  Wells, 46–48

  West Bay, 23, 32

  Westonzoyland, 50

  Wey, River, 22

  Weymouth, 20, 21–23

  Wool, 16, 18

  Woolbridge House, 17

  Worbarrow Bay, 19

  Wyke Regis, 23


  Yatton, 43

  Yellowham Hill, 25

  Yeo River, 39, 43

  Yeovil, 39, 40


BILLING AND SONS, LTD., PRINTERS, GUILDFORD



Transcriber’s Notes


Punctuation and spelling were made consistent when a predominant
preference was found in this book; otherwise they were not changed.

Simple typographical errors were corrected.

Ambiguous hyphens at the ends of lines were retained; occurrences of
inconsistent hyphenation have not been changed.

Transcriber added the captions to the Frontispiece and the illustration
facing page 59.

Index not checked for proper alphabetization or correct page references.





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