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The secluded village of Hurley, like that of Med-
menham, has some quaint old timber-framed cottages.
The " Bell " also is a picturesque gabled hostelry of
Elizabeth's time, which somehow or other recalls the
opening chapter of that delightful romance Kenilworth,
though the actual scene, of course, was supposed to
have taken place at Cumnor, some miles to the
north. There are, however, other historical associa-
tions at Hurley lingering around the scanty remains
of the once magnificent mansion, Lady Place. The
third lord of the now extinct Lovelace family of
Hurley was one of the handsome Monmouth's patrons

126 Picturesque Old Houses

and companions moreover, a scheming politician, like
Shaftesbury, ever ready to embroil others and save
himself. The young Duke, upon his quasi-Royal
progresses, was a frequent guest at the house of this
spendthrift Whig, and probably here was introduced
to Lovelace's handsome cousin, the romantic young
Baroness Wentworth of Toddington, who became so
enamoured that when Monmouth was disgraced and
had to quit the country, she must needs throw in
her lot with his and follow him to Holland, and
eventually to the grave, for she survived her lover
but a few months. 1 Towards the termination of
James II. 's brief reign we find Lovelace in the spacious
vaults beneath his house receiving secret messages
from the spies of William of Orange, and when that
monarch had intimidated his father-in-law to such an
extent that James sought refuge in flight, he failed
not to acknowledge his indebtedness to the under-
ground chambers of Lady Place by paying them a
special visit.

The superb contents of the old house were dis-
persed soon after the death of the third Lord
Lovelace, and I believe some of the family portraits
now in Dulwich Gallery originally came from there.
1 Vide King Monmouth.




Picturesque Old Houses 127

The property changed hands once or twice, and the
house, after much neglect, was at length pulled down
in the early part of last century, and all that now
is to be seen is an old dovecote and the piers of an
entrance gate, and the underground chambers before
alluded to.

There is one more picturesque spot on the river
I cannot pass without a word of admiration viz.,
Mapledurham. The quaint old mill here has some-
thing about it far more fascinating than any other old
water-mill I have seen, and yet it has no architectural
" points" to recommend it, neither can the situation
be compared with one I remember down by the river
Avon and close against the walls of the romantic
Castle of Warwick. As a youngster, I recollect it
was somewhat of a penance to be taken daily to the
Warwick mill, while the elder members of the party
made sketches and read novels. At that tender age,
when it is practically impossible to keep quiet or sit
still for a moment, I suppose the impression was an
unpleasant one, but it was lasting, for I can recall
vividly to my memory the dreamy blending of sounds
the churning of the wheel, the rushing of the
water, and the rustling of the tall trees overhead.
Though I now look back with pleasure to the daily

128 Picturesque Old Houses

visits to Warwick mill, undoubtedly it was a hard-
ship at the time ; in the same way, I suppose, one
looks back with a certain amount of affection to
the unpleasant occurrences at school, excepting the
caning, however, which is never a pleasing reminis-

In the mass of trees beyond the mill of Maple-
durham stands the old hall where the Blounts have
lived for three centuries or more. There is a
grim-looking side entrance with wrought-iron gates
leading from the churchyard, which has a very un-
canny appearance, but why, I cannot undertake to say.
I had heard many rumours of the impenetrableness
of this mansion, and had reason to congratulate
myself in being shown round by a member of the
Blount family. The interior, however, can nowhere
compare with the exterior in point of interest, for
it is gloomy, to say the least of it ; this impression,
however, may have been left by the long stone
corridors and passages in the basement, and from
the general bareness of the apartments, which at one
time must have contained fine panelling, ceilings, and
fireplaces. It is one of those houses like Charlecote,
in Warwickshire, that have been spoiled by injudicious
restoration as regards its interior. The main front

Picturesque Old Houses 129

facing the great avenue has also lost a good deal of
its original character owing to the insertion of plate-
glass windows, which of course is disastrous to a
Tudor house, otherwise picturesque with step gables
and twisted chimneys.


'"T^HERE are numerous picturesque spots between
Mapledurham and Abingdon where, if space
permitted, I should like to linger at the smooth
lawns and terraces of old Hardwick House, where
the unfortunate Charles I. used to wander and ruminate
over his ill-fortunes (with the exception of Ham
House this is certainly the most interesting historical
mansion on the river, and I understand the interior
contains some grand old rooms) ; at Ewelme, also
a quaint little place a few miles from the river
to the east, between the old-world towns of Walling-
ford and Watlington, where the fifteenth-century
almshouses are as fine as anything of their kind in
England ; at the pretty village of Long Wittenham,
where stands an old stone cross, intact, and not, as
is so often the case, with its summit knocked off. It
is quite a popular error, by the way, to suppose
that this wholesale destruction was the work of
Cromwell, the Parliamentarian General, for the great

Picturesque Old Houses 131

havoc was principally done a century before his time,
by his namesake in Henry VIII. 's reign. Ecclesiastical
buildings were certainly damaged considerably during
the civil wars, but not to the extent, I think, that is
usually supposed. It was the old fortified baronial halls
which principally suffered under Oliver Cromwell.

Another fine cross may be seen at Dorchester
a decayed town which shows many evidences of its
former importance. Quaint " bits " are to be found
among the old houses and inns ; and the monuments,
the font, and brasses in the church are exceptionally
fine ; and here is that extraordinary Jesse window
whose mullions form the branches of a genealogical

Nearer Abingdon is Sutton Courtney, where there
are also many sixteenth- and seventeenth-century
cottages. Of all riverside towns I think Abingdon
is the most picturesque. Those who have ap-
proached it by water cannot but have been struck
with the group of ancient buildings, with the old
bridge and the graceful steeple of the church reflected
in the river. The almshouses, Christ's Hospital, are
of later date than those at Ewelme, but are also
wonderfully quaint. A long wooden cloister runs
all along the front, and in the centre over the

132 Picturesque Old Houses

entrance gable are some curious paintings which
give it a richness of colour that is very pleasing to
the eye. Another portion of the building is later
in date, but the contrast only improves the general
effect. Abingdon Abbey must have been of great
extent. There are several remains : the refectory is
now used as a granary, and fortunately has not been
spoiled by modern 4< improvements."

Those in search of the picturesque might do
worse than tramp the country between Abingdon
and Burford, in Oxfordshire. I have before me
some reminiscences of such a journey, in the shape
of photos, sketches, and an ordnance map which
was used upon the occasion. I do not know
whether it is peculiar to myself, but I always find
enjoyment in perusing a map which has done service
on a trip like this. The place-names, and even
pencil marks upon it, will often recall little incidents
long since forgotten. As an instance of how the
memory is refreshed (?), at the moment I glance at
the name of Appleton, to the west of Abingdon,
I become conscious of a monotonous air, which was
here drummed into my head whether I would or no
by one of those infernal machines, a musical box.
While I partook of tea at the little inn, in the next



Picturesque Old Houses 133

room was being performed, over and over again, one
of those aggravating operatic airs which are full of
flourishes charming, no doubt, in the opera house or
upon an orchestra, but when each twiddle and twirl
is repeated with the exactness, the hair-breadth
accuracy, of the balance at the Bank of England
which throws aside the light sovereigns, it palls
upon one to a degree. Whether the musical box
could play other tunes I do not know, but it harped
for ever upon this melancholy dirge, until I had to
abandon my repast and cram my fingers in my ears.
I had never heard the air before, nor do I ever want
to hear it again ; indeed, that would be quite un-
necessary, for at this moment I could repeat it with
its original accuracy. I wonder, at those inns where
they have automatic music nowadays, whether the
proprietors ever feel inclined to disable the machinery
for ever. I fear I should, were I the unhappy pos-
sessor. But the idea of taking music to Appleton
savours of taking coals to Newcastle, for nothing
could be more melodious than its peal of bells.
Those who have heard the chimes will, I think, be
of my opinion.

Northmoor, to the north-west of Appleton,
possesses a curious sixteenth-century rectory house,

134 Picturesque Old Houses

with a remarkably picturesque dovecote by the side
of it. These, with the church tower, make an
attractive group. Farther to the west, near Standlake,
is a moated farmhouse, called Gaunt House, with
the remains of a drawbridge. Farther north is the
sequestered village of Stanton Harcourt, where
descendants of the ancient family of Harcourt have
lived since the reign of Stephen. The remains of
the manor house date principally from the time of
Henry IV. The kitchen is the most remarkable
portion, being in many respects similar to that at
Glastonbury its extinguisher roof rising out of the
trees looks very peculiar in the distance. There are
no shafts or flues by which the smoke from fires
lighted within the building can escape. The kitchen
itself is nothing more than a great square chimney
with a conical top, where the smoke ascends unchecked,
as it does in the baronial hall at Penshurst. The
inside of the extinguisher and the inside walls of
this primitive apartment are black with the soot of
centuries. One cannot help thinking that the cook
of Henry IV.'s time did not have a very good time
of it in this atmosphere of smoke an arduous task,
moreover, for in the event of the wind changing,
unless he cared to be smoke-dried like a haddock,

Picturesque Old Houses


he would have to ascend to the roof by a precipitous
turret staircase to adjust the ventilators, opening those
at the opposite side from whence the wind came.

The domestic of to-day, who invariably finds
fault with our modern kitcheners, should pay a visit

The tocks . JDtantpr\ Harcourt .

to Stanton Harcourt. I think it would engender a
more contented frame of mind for do not philosophers
say there is nothing so soothing as to contemplate
worse conditions than our own ?

In a little room at the top of another portion of
the building Pope found congenial seclusion for trans-

136 Picturesque Old Houses

lating the fifth book of Homer. The Harcourts
had deserted the old place many years before, so the
poet had the ruinous house all to himself. The
parish stocks must not pass unnoticed ; they are
unprotected, rotting by the side of the road. I am
glad to see that in many places care is now taken
of these instruments of an obsolete punishment
indeed, it is very necessary to place them in some
enclosure to prevent wanton destruction.

Only just in time have the local authorities
placed railings around the remains of the stocks on
Hadley Common, near Barnet ; for, becoming dilapi-
dated, they soon make their way to the cottager's
fire-grate. At a village in Essex some years ago I
thought I was very chivalrous in championing the
cause of a bad case. I noticed that the stocks were
on their last legs, so to speak having nobody else's
to fall back upon, I suppose so I repaired to the
local blacksmith with the request that he should
repair the stocks. A small coin changed hands,
but he did not take a the tip " in the manner
that I had wished, for when I next visited the
village, the portion which had been loose had dis-
appeared gone for ever. By now perhaps the lower
plank has followed its mate, and the whipping-



Picturesque Old Houses 137

post will next be uprooted. If the stocks had
been made of iron instead of wood, as is the
case at Ninfield, in Sussex, they could defy the
onslaughts of such vandals. The modern yokel
has a strange idea as to how his ancestors were
inserted in the stocks. I once had it explained to
me how the wrists and the feet were pinned down
parallel, the hands on one side of the post and the
feet on the other, and it is not uncommonly believed
that the legs were placed in the manacles at the top
of the pole. Upon one of these instruments (a
portable one now preserved in a church) I have seen
tiny hoops of iron to encircle the wrists of a child.
If a parish could not run to the expense of a whipping-
post and stocks combined, the difficulty was got over
by making a signpost serve a double purpose.
Such an example may be seen at the remote parish
of Stondon Massey, in Essex.

Of Witney I remember but little beyond the old
" Butter Cross " and a fine, but restored, cruciform
church with a lofty spire ; the former, I believe, was
partially destroyed a few years ago. Following the
course of the willow-girt Wildrush river, we reach
the ruins of Minster Lovel, of historic and romantic
associations. In a secret vault beneath the massive


Picturesque Old Houses

walls one of its ancient lords secreted himself so as
to avert the penalty of treason, only, however, to
meet a far more terrible fate, for the portion of
solid masonry which gave him admittance for some



reason or other could not be opened again, and not
until two centuries had elapsed and the house was
demolished was the unfortunate man's premature
tomb discovered.


Picturesque Old Houses 139

Still following the course of the pretty Wildrush,
we pass through Asthall, with its Elizabethan manor
house near the church, and presently enter the
old town of Burford. This is one of the oldest
places imaginable ; anything up-to-date or even com-
paratively modern is quite out of place here, and since
the old coaching days it has not advanced, but gone
entirely to sleep, for the railway has given it " a
wide berth," and left the town to get on as best it
can. But I forgot : there is one sign of civilisation
in evidence the Salvation Army, who, when I was
there, seemed to have taken the place by storm.
On the Sunday evening that I made my entry the
noble army had the whole place to themselves, and
were making night melodious with their song. But
horror ! they had taken possession of the " Old Bear
Inn " a fine old hostelry, with quaint oriel windows
and a round tower in the yard for barracks \ I
expect by now they have pulled it down and rebuilt
it. With the exception of the Salvationists, every-
thing is in keeping. There is nothing to mar the
general harmony. The Burfordites have not even
built a Jubilee clock tower, I rejoice to say ; they are
content with one by " The Tollsey," surmounting
a kind of combination town hall and lock-up. Even

140 Picturesque Old Houses

the maid of the inn where I stopped was in keeping
with the rest, for she cannot have been far short of
an octogenarian. " It don't seem so long ago," said
she, "since I saw a drunken man lying in the stocks
at the Tollsey." " Are the stocks still there ? " I
questioned. " Yes," she said, " unless they have
moved them." She went out to see if they were
there ; but they had been taken away twenty years
before ! I merely give this as an instance of how
slowly 'things move here. Twenty years, or fifty, or
a hundred makes no perceptible difference at Burford.
The shops or, rather, shop, I should say, for I
don't remember more than one was lighted by a
solitary " dip," and the old man who kept the shop
weighed out tobacco in enormous scales which might
have come out the ark.

Looking up or down the great wide street one
could see nothing but picturesque pointed gables and
deep-set mullioned windows. The beautiful old church
is more like a small cathedral, and is full of interest
externally and internally. The old Priory, not far off",
is a sad spectacle of neglect and decay, but it still
is not too late if somebody would take it in hand
(perhaps they have ere this), although a great fissure
runs from roof to basement, and masses of stone


Picturesque Old Houses 141

look on the verge of falling. The carved oak
of the chapel is open to the ravages of the weather,
and fast crumbling into dust. Close by is an old
stone balustrade, which figures in S. E. Waller's
poetic picture, " The Empty Saddle."

In the seventeenth century the Priory was the
seat of Lenthall, the Speaker, upon whom, since he
took the cause of the Commons against the King,
a curse is said to have fallen. The old house as
it looks to-day certainly gives one the impression of
the embodiment of that curse. I remember seeing
Lenthall's portrait the original which formerly hung
in the drawing-room at Burford at a sale at Christie's.
The face was firm, and looked as if its owner had
the strength of his own convictions, and this Lenthall
evidently had.


THOUGH I am much tempted to cross the
border into Gloucestershire, the present range
of my rambles must be limited. I will therefore
work my way in the direction of Banbury, and thence
go eastwards, that I may recall impressions in certain
parts of Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedford-
shire, Hertfordshire, Middlesex, and Essex, in which
last county I must for the present close my wanderings
in search of the picturesque.

At Shipton-under-Wychwood, to the north of
Burford, there is a fine old roadside inn with stone
Early Tudor entrance gate and windows, which I
found, however, to be less attractive in regard
to its accommodation than in its architectural
features ; but I speak of some years ago, and the
management may have changed for the better. This
house doubtless was standing long before Shipton
Court was built in Elizabeth's reign. Less pre-
tentious than the Court is the adjacent manor



Picturesque Old Houses 143

house of Ascott-under-Wychwood, a long, low ramb-
ling building of stone, with a weather-worn aspect
about it which must have induced many artists who
have noticed it from the windows of the train to
alight at the next station upon some future occasion.

In the pretty little church of Spilsbury, some
four miles to the north-east, lie the remains of that
well-known character of Charles II. 's Court the
brilliant but notoriously profligate Earl of Rochester.
No tablet, however, records his interment. He was
born in the mansion, Ditchley Park, close by, but
lived principally at Adderbury, a village to the east
of Banbury, where in the grand old church may
be seen the memorial pew of the Wilmots, though
the family have been extinct for over a couple of
centuries at least it was pointed out to me as
" Rochester's pew," but I should think it very doubtful
whether he ever had been seen within it. Local
tradition, though silent upon this point, has many
stories to recount of his lordship's wild and eccentric
proceedings when he came into Oxfordshire for change
of air and scene, or when disgrace at Court enforced
a temporary retirement.

Alderbury House, where he lived upon these
occasions, retains but few vestiges of the building of

144 Picturesque Old Houses

that day, though the Wilmot arms may still be seen
upon a water-pipe. The furniture and pictures also
long since have been dispersed, but Rochester's mirror
remained until recently, though that also has now
disappeared. A far more interesting relic may still
be seen in one of the lodges at Woodstock Park,
otherwise Blenheim, of which he was ranger viz.,
the tattered and faded bed upon which the Earl died.
I need scarcely refer to Burnet's well-known account
of the penitent's last hours. There is pathetic
interest in this old relic. Looking at it, one can
almost picture reclining upon it the emaciated form
of the prematurely aged debauchee, listening intently
to the grave solicitations of the Bishop. It is a subject
which, if handled with skill, should make a dramatic
and popular picture.

U I do verily believe," says Dr. Burnet in his
history of his " Own Time," " he was then so entirely
changed that if he had recovered he would have made
good all his resolutions."

Ditchley is mainly interesting for its splendid
collection of portraits, and I had the good fortune
to have these fully described to me by the owner,
Viscount Dillon, who has a marvellous knowledge of
all things ancient, from flint arrow-heads to Crom-


Picturesque Old Houses 145

wcllian helmets. I only wish I could have stored up
for future reference all the information I learned in
an hour, or upon a subsequent occasion in the Tower
armoury, where his lordship seems to be as much
at home as at Ditchley.

Some of Lely's best works may be seen in this
house, the portraits of Charles II. and the beautiful
Duchess of Cleveland (of whom I have previously
spoken) being particularly noticeable. Their daughter
Charlotte, the young Countess of Lichfield, was a
great favourite of the King when upon his visits to
Ditchley ; after a good dinner, she is said to have
soothed him to sleep by tickling his Royal nose with
a feather. Here may also be seen the portrait of Sir
Henry Lee and his faithful dog, from whom Scott
got his idea of the typical old cavalier in his
romance, Woodstock.

Though classical, the exterior of Ditchley has
not the ponderous formality and depressing severity
of Blenheim. The wonders of that palace I will
leave to others more competent than myself to
describe. I must own these lofty, comfortless,
sarcophagus-like saloons leave a frigid impression
upon me. They strike one with a chill even in
the dog-days ! Altogether these magnificent palaces


146 Picturesque Old Houses

appeal to me far less than the unpretentious little
manor house which has degenerated into a farm ;
a place such, for instance, as Hampton Gay, to the
east of Woodstock. I shall always regret that I
did not carry away with me any mementoes of my
visit there, either in the shape of sketches or snap-
shots, for, alas ! the old place was burned down
shortly afterwards. I remember one very fine
panelled room, with a great bay window and a
splendid carved mantelpiece. Not far from Hampton
Gay is the very pretty little village of Wood Eaton,
where stands the shaft of an old cross upon the
village green, and beyond, in an isolated position,
with seemingly no direct roads leading to it, the
very compact little Jacobean manor house of Water

Even the gloomy manor house of Fritwell, some
eight miles to the north of Hampton Gay, is more
cheerful than Blenheim. The house had been un-
occupied for some considerable time save by a
caretaker, and the timid little woman who at length
appeared in answer to continual hammerings at the
door looked as if her nervous system had been
shattered by the loneliness of the house and the
continual fear of burglars. Certainly there was


Picturesque Old Houses 147

nothing worth stealing, including the lady herself
but that is a detail. Some females, I think, believe
they are never secure against being carried off by
brute force, as in the case of the Sabine women.
I once attempted to assist a very shaky and
wrinkled old lady certainly over ninety to alight
from a railway carriage, but my offer was resented
in no small degree, and my reward was a withering
look from head to foot. Undoubtedly this damsel
was in fear of abduction ! The incident recalls a
laudatory epitaph I saw in a churchyard in East
Devon. I forget the exact wording, but the sum and

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Online LibraryAllan FeaPicturesque old houses; being the impressions of a wanderer off the beaten track → online text (page 7 of 11)