Allan Fea.

Picturesque old houses; being the impressions of a wanderer off the beaten track online

. (page 4 of 11)
Online LibraryAllan FeaPicturesque old houses; being the impressions of a wanderer off the beaten track → online text (page 4 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


though we partook of nothing stronger than tea
there. The negatives I took upon this occasion, I
am glad to find, are much clearer than my memory.
One little incident, however, I do recollect, which
occurred somewhere hereabouts. During the inspec-
tion of an old cottage, the good lady who resided
in it observed, with self-conscious importance, "You
might not believe it, sir, but this house is over
eighteen hundred years old ! " I said I did not
believe it. " But," said she, " the date is on the
outside." I went to look. Yes, there were some




SMARDEN MANOR HOUSE.




SMARDEN MANOR HOUSE.




OLD HOUSE, SMARDEN.




OLD HOUSE, SMARDEN.



Picturesque Old Houses 63

figures and some letters, which read, as far as I
could make out, either " A.D." or " B.C. 34." But
what spoiled the whole effect was the badge of some
insurance company above it ! That these old timber
houses don't more frequently get burned to the
ground is astonishing, when we consider the risks
they run. I have seen in the very heart of one
of them a chimney formed merely of a wooden
framework filled in with plaster, and the old house is
still alive to boast its recklessness.



CHAPTER VII

I PROPOSE now to cross the border into the ad-
joining county of Sussex in search of some of
the more important houses, or rather mansions, that
have degenerated into farmhouses. To go syste-
matically through the county describing these in
detail would require a volume to themselves, so
I will only here make a few selections.

In a walk, say, from Hawkhurst, close upon the
border of the two counties, to Lewes, one can find
many good examples of Elizabethan domestic archi-
tecture which are rendered doubly attractive from
the beautifully wooded country in which they are
situated. Not a few are to be found in and about
the pretty village of Burwash (locally pronounced
Burrish), beyond Etchingham. Two fine old mansions
(they were farms when I saw them) are Batemans
and Holmshurst. The interiors of both are interest-
ing, particularly the latter, there being some good
stone fireplaces, ceilings, panelled rooms, and a gallery





HOLMSHURST.



Picturesque Old Houses 65

seventy feet in length. I understand that one of
the most popular writers of the day has recently
purchased Batemans.




^Batemans



Around Waldron there are also many good Eliza-
bethan houses having great chimney clusters and
deep-set mullioned windows, such as Tanners and
Possingworth, and, farther south, Shoesmiths, Friths,
and Horeham.

5



66 Picturesque Old Houses

One of the most picturesque of all the Sussex
farmhouses, in my opinion, is Bolebrook, between
Cowden (on the northern boundary of the county)
and Hartfield. The approach to the turreted Tudor
gatehouse and adjoining group of old barns and
sheds, by a narrow winding lane from the main
road, is exceedingly fascinating. It is the colour
of these out-buildings that is so pleasing to the eye.
Nothing but age can impart to the red bricks that
purple-grey tone which harmonises so well with the
moss and lichen ; and apart from the colour, of
course it is the long narrow bricks and the wide
intersections of mortar of old masonry that so adds
to the pleasing effect of the whole. Beyond the
gatehouse is the lofty gabled mansion, which, when
silhouetted against the evening light, looks more like
some enchanted palace from a fairy tale. Wander-
ing about its many disused rooms at nightfall, a
more ghostly place it would be difficult to imagine.
As you grope your way up the wide oak staircase,
you are conscious of silent white spectres floating
about. It is, however, nothing more uncanny than
owls, who find congenial seclusion upon the upper
landings for their day-dreams after a heavy night's
debauch ; and for their food they need not go far,





BOLEBROOK.



Picturesque Old Houses 67

as in the adjacent deserted chambers there are very
audible scamperings of mice and rats, not to mention
a small colony of bats which find their way in
through the cracks and crevices and broken diamond
panes of the old casements. No ; Bolebrook is, I
should say, not a pleasant place to spend a happy
night. I almost think I should prefer Newnham
during the cherry season.

In one of the lower rooms there is a monster
fireplace I shouldn't like to say how many feet or
yards across. One might certainly roast within it
half a dozen whole oxen if necessary.

The good farmer who lives, or lived, here let
me go about the house much as I pleased, and it
has always been a great regret to me that a photo
I took, or rather attempted to take, of his little boy,
turned out an utter failure, so I could not even
make a slight return for his hospitality. Nothing is
more exasperating than a disaster of this sort. You
make a great flourish and give a lot of trouble all
for nothing, and I should imagine feel the same
unpleasant sensations that the artist feels who has
held a private view and finds his works rejected by
the Academy.

The country between the three towns of East



68 Picturesque Old Houses

Grinstead, Cuckfield, and Uckfield is also a rich
hunting ground for those in search of the picturesque,
and includes some of the finest examples of Elizabethan
and Jacobean architecture in the county, and that
most lovely stretch of primaeval forest, Ashdown, into
the bargain.

East Grinstead is full of old houses, with
moss-grown stone tiles and oak mullioned windows.
One lofty old timber house has at the back a
most charming little stone Jacobean porch, with
steps leading down into the garden. Opposite on
high ground stands the almshouse, Sackville College,
also of early Jacobean date, whose interior quad-
rangle, with its smooth grass plots and picturesque
gables, looks the most inviting of dwellings. The
door of the chapel has a most elaborate and com-
plicated lock, which, if it got out of order, I fancy
would puzzle the locksmiths of to-day to repair.
The hall is full of oak carvings and old furniture,
and has a fine screen, roof, and fireplace, and in the
old kitchen is quite a collection of ancient fire-dogs,
which I understand came from the neighbouring
mansion of Buckhurst. The curfew is still rung here
regularly at eight in the summer and seven in the
winter, after which the residents of the almshouse




SACKVILLE COLLEGE.




BRAMBLETYE HOUSE.



Picturesque Old Houses 69

are locked in for the night, but I question if the
aged inmates would get into any mischief if the doors
were left open.

Not far from the town, on the extreme outskirts
of Ashdown Forest, are the substantial ivy-clad ruins
of Brambletye House, one of the Royalist mansions
which were destroyed by the powder of the Lord
Protector. Lovers of old-fashioned romance who
have never read Horace Smith's novel bearing the
name of this mansion would find in its healthy pages
a refreshing change after some of the fashionable
literature of to-day.

The impression left by West Hoathly, situated
upon high ground a few miles to the south-west,
is a vivid one to me, for here I had the misfortune
to lose a five-pound note. As a proof that I am
by no means accustomed to travel about with
such useful accompaniments, I may state that my
mind was sadly disturbed when I discovered the
crisp piece of paper was missing, and in no way
could I account for it until a few days afterwards
an inquiry at " The Cat " at West Hoathly resulted
in the missing article being found still lying upon the
floor of a dark passage, in which I afterwards re-
membered I opened a pocket-book to get out a map.



70 Picturesque Old Houses

This accident recalls two others, which I may
venture to relate, as both of them were somewhat
extraordinary. Returning from a walk one evening
along the seashore at Charmouth, near Lyme Regis,
I found that a valued little trinket from my watch-
chain was missing. The case seemed hopeless, as the
tide had risen and obliterated for ever all clue
as to footprints in the sand showing the direction
I had gone. But next day, what was my astonish-
ment, in taking a walk the same way and glancing
casually along the ground, to see the little truant
glittering in the sunshine. The other incident is as
remarkable. While staying at an old mill near Sher-
borne, Dorsetshire, I was one afternoon occupied
with that favourite holiday pastime and intel-
lectual amusement of lazily throwing stones into the
mill-stream, when, all of a sudden (as in the case
of the absent-minded man, consulting his watch
while similarly engaged, throwing away his timepiece
and pocketing the stone), off flew a ring right
into the middle of the stream. Here, again, the case
seemed hopeless. The sequel is not that hackneyed
story of a fish swallowing it and being served up
hot the next morning for breakfast. That is an
angler's story, and we all know that there are three




OLD HOUSE, EAST GRINSTEAD.



Picturesque Old Houses 71

grades of storytellers : a liar, a well, great liar,
and a fisherman. No, nothing of this sort. That
noble art is not in my line. My sequel is true.
The water having run to its lowest level over the
mill-wheel, ground the corn, and in a measure
helped to smooth the sharp chiselled edges of
the grindstone, the traps were opened, and the
stream, so to speak, was run dry. Then the
thick mud at the bottom for the space of
twenty yards or so was subjected to a sieve, with
the result that in half an hour the ring was
discovered.

Opposite the church of West Hoathly stands a
fine old stone mansion, which once upon a time
was the seat of a family named Feldwicke. In a
lumber room here I saw a beautifully carved over-
mantel, which, alas ! was going to be removed to
some other mansion in better circumstances. Now,
if it was to find a home in another old mansion in
the neighbourhood, one could not grumble much,
but to despoil a house like this (a house that is
not going to be demolished), that its interior decora-
tions may be removed into some jerry-built villa in
suburban London, in my humble opinion is a posi-
tive sin. But one hears of so many cases of this



72 Picturesque Old Houses

kind that to be sentimental over such vandalism
would soon become chronic.

The Elizabethan mansion, Wakehurst, is about
three miles from West Hoathly a perfect house of
its period, and what is more uncommon, an interior
to correspond, including a magnificent oak staircase
of excellent design. Another good house of about
the same date is Gravetye, romantically situated on
high ground, surrounded by woods, and literally
enveloped in roses. On the upper terrace the
garden is one mass of this queen of flowers, of
all conceivable tints and shades, with a sundial in
the midst, and narrow paved walks between the beds.
One fault I have to find with Gravetye: plate-
glass windows have been inserted throughout, and
these, of course, are quite out of character with
everything else. Down in a hollow, about half a
mile distant from the mansion, is The Moat, a pretty
little timber house, with stone mullioned windows
and a compact little hall with wide, open fireplace
and ingle nook ; but its situation is too desolate
for any other than a hermit. The village of West
Hoathly is not very far away, but I pity the
traveller who takes the short cut by the meadows
and gets benighted, for the guiding spire of the




WAKEHURST.




OLD HOUSE, WEST HOATHLY.



Picturesque Old Houses 73

church, which may be seen for miles around in
the opposite direction, is entirely obliterated by the
woods. In such a predicament, one can see the
utility of the evening bell, which was, perhaps which
is still, rung at Cowden Church, not many miles
off, for the guidance of lost pedestrians.

Cuckfield Place the Rookwood Hall of Ains-
worth's gruesome romance like Wakehurst, has a
most interesting interior. It is full of oak-panelled
rooms, with elaborately carved mantelpieces and
ornamental moulded ceilings, and a ghostly looking
wide oak staircase. In the rook-haunted avenue
stands the famous tree, which drops one of its
branches across the gravel walk beneath whenever
a member of the family is going to die.

In the grounds of an old hall in Cheshire I
remember seeing a sombre-looking Jake, which has
the weird faculty of presaging death by sending to
its surface a certain ghastly substance from its weedy
bed, resembling the body of a drowned man.

I think if I possessed such a cheerful accom-
paniment to an ancestral hall I should not feel much
compunction in pocketing the family pride in such
things, and having this spectral lake filled up. By
so doing I know I should put myself upon an equal



74 Picturesque Old Houses

footing with the Yankee goth, who went down on
his hands and kness, so Scott tells, to eliminate the
stain of Rizzio's blood at Holyrood Palace. But
who could live happily near such a lake as that ?
Nowadays all such things have their market value
when an estate is put up for sale. A really well-
authenticated ghost fetches a big price. Only ten
years since, was not the unhappy wraith of Amy
Robsart a great feature at the sale of the site
of Cumnor Hall ? The purchaser, never having
been to the spot, was under the impression that he
was buying Anthony Foster's dreary mansion just as
it is described in Kenilworth moreover, with the
ghost of " Madam Dudley " (as she is locally termed)
thrown in for the money. A lawsuit was the result,
when the plaintiff discovered that the restless shade
of Queen Elizabeth's beautiful rival had been un-
successfully " laid " in a pond, and this pond and
some adjoining land had been knocked down to him
for some two thousand pounds.

In the vicinity of Lindfield, to the east of Cuck-
field, are the houses of Broadhurst and East Mascalls.
The former is a timber-crossed structure with good
chimneys, and has a queer contrivance on the first
landing of the staircase a kind of portcullis or




EAST MASCALLS.




BROADHURST.



Picturesque Old Houses 75

drawbridge, which secures the upper stories of the
house from burglarious intrusion. I have only met
with a similar arrangement once before, at an old
house at Green Street Green, near Dartford ; but I
expect the idea was not an uncommon one in the
good old days, when a country gentleman was liable
to have his throat cut upon the slightest provocation
of his neighbours.

The ruinous Elizabethan mansion of East Mascalls
(once the seat of the Norton family), in the same
neighbourhood, is only a skeleton of what it was
some ten years ago. Unfortunately, it is now
much too far gone for restoration, but had it been
taken in hand at the time I speak of, it could have
been saved and turned into a good residence, as has
been done with the old manor house of Ockwells
(of which I shall speak presently) and many other
dilapidated halls. That most beautiful ruinous house,
Kirby, in Northamptonshire, I believe even now
could be made habitable, but that also has suffered
considerably during the past ten years or so, and,
like East Mascalls, will soon be beyond patching up.
I know there are many representatives of ancient
families who do not take the slightest interest or
pride either in their ancestral homes or in the



76 Picturesque Old Houses

history of their long lineage ; but, on the other
hand, how sad it must be to those who love the
study of the past and cherish the smallest memento
of their ancestors to see the old seat, where genera-
tion after generation lived and died, go to rack
and ruin withont the means to hold out a helping
hand.

For a good example of admirable restoration one
has not to go far, for at Lindfield, " Old Place "
has been treated with such taste and skill that it is
impossible to detect where the old part ends and the
new part commences, for it has been greatly enlarged,
and, as in the instance of the old building at Langley
of which I have spoken, the road has been enclosed
and diverted in such a way that any one who visited
the place a few years ago would become bewildered.
On the other hand, Oat Hall at Wivelsfield, farther
to the south, a most picturesque timber house, has
been entirely destroyed by injudicious restoration, and
to all intents and purposes is no better than a modern
antique.




EAST MASCALLS.



CHAPTER VIII

ONCE bound for Hurstpierpoint, of college fame,
and being directed to get out of the train at
Hassocks station and take the bus, I carried out
these instructions to the letter; but presently, after
a long drive, found myself, instead of at Hurst, at
Ditchling, some miles away to the east of it. It
appears there were two buses, two entrances to the
station, and two trains due at the same time. I had,
however, no reason to complain, for had not this
accident happened, the probability is I should never
have seen Ditchling and its curious old houses.
There is one in particular, near the church, a
charming medley of Tudor stone, brick, and timber
construction, quite unique, I should say. On Ditch-
ling Common, now surmounted by a vane, stands a
remnant of the gibbet, upon which the bones of
many a highwayman have rattled in the breeze.
Hurstpierpoint, of course, being a fashionable resort,
has been shorn of most of its original buildings to



78 Picturesque Old Houses

make place for handsome modern residences, but
the lover of things ancient has still Danny to fall
back upon as a type of a stately old English
mansion.

Beyond Hurst we come to pretty little Albourn,




where are two of those timber-crossed cottages with
herring-bone brickwork and the great stone slab lichen-
grown roofing that one meets with in this part of
Sussex. At Albourn Place, a much-restored house,
one of the Royalist Juxon family was sought for
in vain by the Cromwellian soldiers. Whether they
discovered the unoccupied " priest's hole " that was



Picturesque Old Houses



79



found here some few years ago, I cannot say, but
tradition asserts they did not recognise the object
of their search, who, disguised as a labourer, was at
work in the adjacent church.

Bearing to the south-east from Albourn, we pass




through Edburton to Beeding and Bramber, which
villages are separated by a narrow strip of river and
joined by an equally narrow bridge, close by which
some tumble-down red roofs form a pleasing back-
ground. The principal inn at Beeding looks as cosy
and inviting as its neighbour at Bramber looks the



8o Picturesque Old Houses

reverse ; but I simply go by external appearances,
for I entered neither. I can only say, if I had my
choice, the modest antiquity of the one would have
far greater attractions than the obtrusive modern
additions of the other. Such incongruous erections,
planted in the heart of a little hamlet of rustic
cottages, always seem to throw everything into dis-
cord, in the same way that, when one of the prim
and sombre dwellings of an old-fashioned London
square is pulled down, the gap is occasionally filled
up with a glaring monstrosity in red brick and terra-
cotta, which would look all very well isolated, but
there is entirely out of place.

At the little seaside resort, Charmouth, in the
midst of the predominating white-washed cottages in
the lower part of the street, of late there has sprung
up a mushroom growth of colossal height in staring
red the sort of erection that would look all very
well at Brighton, or in the Finchley Road, or any-
where but here. Whether Charmouth will try to
live up to it, and in time pull down its white-washed
cottages and erect some red giants, remains to be
seen. In that case, of course, the little inn where
the fugitive Charles II. slept 1 or, rather, I should
1 Vide The Flight of the King.



Picturesque Old Houses 81

say, was very wakeful, waiting for the boat that had
been engaged to carry him over to France would
be wiped off the face of the earth. So let us hope
the good Charmouthites will think twice before they
clear space for " desirable villas."

Talking of Charles at Charmouth, reminds me
that it was near Bramber Bridge that he had to ride
through a body of Parliamentary soldiers who had
been stationed in the town the day before. This
little episode certainly gives a historical interest to
the place, and I should be glad to see a tablet put
up commemorating the event.

The quaint old village it can hardly be called a
town of Steyning, to the west of Bramber, contains
many old buildings, the rectory and Brotherhood
Hall being the most interesting. Still farther west,
and we come to the tiny secluded village of Wiston.
I once found very snug quarters for a week's holiday
at the Abbot's Farm, a queer, rambling old place,
where one can take things lazily after the worries of
London life. It is astonishing the amount of work
some of these farmers' wives get through in the
day a long day, indeed, from 4 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Besides the laborious routine of the ordinary farm
and dairy labour, the good lady here occasionally had

6



82 Picturesque Old Houses

to cater for a family of twelve, who came down for
the summer holidays, besides doing occasional outside
needlework.

Wiston makes a very good centre for exploring,
or " kernoozing," as some antiquarians call it. The
great feature of the place itself is, of course, Wiston
House, an Elizabethan mansion much spoiled by the
insertion of plate-glass windows and other " improve-
ments," mainly in the interior of the building. Its
great hall is a noble apartment, which has lost much
of its original character by injudicious restoration.
One of the most elaborately carved stone fireplaces I
have ever seen is now placed on the outside of the
house, against a gable facing the garden.

In some respects, the exterior of Parham Hall
(a few miles to the west) is similar to Wiston, but
the entrance porch to the latter is far more
picturesque. The interior of Parham, however,
surpasses Wiston in regard to its oak carvings,
furniture, portraits, and armour the last-named
collection, indeed, is world-famed. The great hall,
with a very fine screen, immortalises a visit from
Good Queen Bess by her Royal arms and quarter-
ings in stucco upon the roof, and a mural escutcheon
bearing her favourite motto, " Semper eadem." Not



Picturesque Old Houses 83

the least remarkable feature of this mansion is its
long gallery, close upon 160 feet in length. Here
beneath the flooring of one of the bays of a window
is a dismal hiding-hole, constructed in the days of
religious persecution. In many respects the long
gallery resembles that at Bramshill, a more magnifi-
cent pile built about the same time by an ancestor
of the present Lord Zouche of Parham ; but I shall
speak of this house when I go into the adjoining
county of Hampshire.

The genial steward, a splendidly built fellow, evidently
took great pride in the old hall and park, especially
the latter, where the great primaeval oaks are unrivalled.
There is another Parham Hall in Suffolk, a moated
house, which often is confused with the Sussex mansion.

The still more magnificent treasure-house of
Petworth, standing in its great park of at least
fourteen miles round, is some distance away to the
north-west. In contrast to the superb pictures and
oak carvings here, is the Georgian classic exterior, of
which perhaps the less said the better. Petworth
is one of those show-houses where you try to
keep pace with the housekeeper and absorb all the
miscellaneous genealogical information she unwinds,
like the famous handle pedigree at Hatfield.



84 Picturesque Old Houses

There are two species of housekeeper viz.,
those who really understand the complications of
the family tree, having made a hobby of it since
they became part and parcel of their surroundings ;
and, secondly, those who know nothing beyond a few
set phrases learned off parrot style. Should you get
courage and the time to interrogate, you will be
singled out from the flock of sightseers either as a
personal friend or as a deadly enemy ; but in either
case, you will be worsted : for if you seek for extra
information from the former class of housekeeper,
she will involve you in such a complication of the
marriages of past generations of the intricate
relationships between the fifth earl and the dowager
countess, and of the rightful and wrongful claims
to the estate of the step-children of the third wife
of the sixth earl, and so forth, that you will be glad
to escape into the fresh air to collect the tangled
thread of your thoughts. Whereas, on the other
hand, if you. venture to cross-question the second
class of housekeeper, she will respond in such a way


1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11

Online LibraryAllan FeaPicturesque old houses; being the impressions of a wanderer off the beaten track → online text (page 4 of 11)