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Good Queen Bess, when she was Princess,
frequently stopped here, and there is very substantial
evidence to prove this is not one of those mythical
places of her Majesty's sojourn, for there is still
preserved an extraordinary collection of relics,
including not only her bed, but her shoes and
stockings and a complete toilet set, with two
enormous hair-brushes which, if 'put upon poles,
might well serve as brooms. How the Queen
came to leave behind all her goods and chattels is
accounted for by the fact that during her sojourn it
was suspected she was implicated in Wyat's rebellion,
so with more speed than ceremony she was taken
from a sick bed and carried up to London.
There is another relic which gives a pathetic side-
light to a chapter in Froude. To quote the great
historian, in April, 1555, Queen Mary "withdrew to
Hampton Court for entire quiet. The rockers and
the nurses were in readiness, and a cradle stood open
to receive the Royal infant ; priests and bishops sang
litanies through the London streets ; a procession of
ecclesiastics in cloths of gold and tissue marched
round Hampton Court Palace headed by Philip in

170 Picturesque Old Houses

person; Gardner walked at his side, while Mary
gazed from a window. Not only was the child
assuredly coming, but its sex was decided on, and
circulars were drawn and signed both by the King
and Queen, with blanks also for the month and
the day, announcing to ministers of State, to
ambassadors, and to foreign sovereigns the birth of
a prince. . . . The bells were set ringing in all the
churches ; Te Deum was sung in St. Paul's ; priests
wrote sermons ; bonfires were piled ready for light-
ing, and tables were laid out in the streets. The
news crossed the channel to Antwerp, and had grown
in the transit. The great bell of the cathedral
was rung for the actual birth."

The relic to which I refer is the baby-linen
which was made by Princess Elizabeth for her rival
sister upon this much-looked-forward-to occasion,
which was fated to end in disappointment. More
mementoes of Elizabeth may be seen in the old
manor house of Little Gaddesden, close at hand.
Here is a curious mural painting representing her
and her suite. The principal figure (of the Queen),
having been painted upon a cupboard door, afforded
every excuse for its removal into the mansion ;
doubtless it will be better preserved there, but one



Picturesque Old Houses 171

cannot help regretting that it was taken from its
original position.

Going northwards by Eddlesborough, in whose
church there is a wonderfully fine fifteenth-century
screen and canopy to the pulpit, a journey of about
nine miles will bring us to Hockliffe, on the great
main road to Coventry, and three miles to the
north-east is Toddington. At the old manor house
of the latter place or, rather, the remains of it, for
at one time it was one of the largest mansions in
Bedfordshire linger sad memories of the young
heiress of the noble house of Wentworth. The
fine old church is full of interest. There are
recumbent effigies of knights in armour, and the
roof is one of the finest in the county, with grace-
fully carved bosses, figures of angels, etc. A hand-
some but dilapidated monument to Lady Wentworth
naturally enough is silent about the pathetic history
of her liaison with the handsome Duke of Mon-
mouth, who, at the time there was a warrant out for
his arrest on the charge of high treason, remained
for some months secreted at Toddington. But
here, as elsewhere, he courted disaster, as well as
his hostess. Lord Bruce, who lived in the neigh-
bourhood, and fortunately was friendly disposed

172 Picturesque Old Houses

towards the fugitive, recognised him at a local hunt
in the garb of a gipsy, but kept a silent tongue in
his head.

Two years after this, when the brief reign of
Monmouth as King of Taunton was over and the
headsman's axe had terminated his luckless career,
the fatal news, being carried to Lady Wentworth,
proved also her death-blow. One of the bishops
who attended the Duke in his last moments had the
heart-wrenching task of taking to her a memento
in the shape of a ring which had been handed to
him on the scaffold. At the sight of it the poor
girl swooned, and upon regaining consciousness sobbed,
" Good God, had that poor man nothing to think
of but me ? " 1 A month or so after this, and the
bell of Toddington Church was tolling. The villagers
had congregated to pay their last tribute of love and
respect. But the past was not to be buried with
the last earthly remains. Some evil-disposed person
ascended the tower and cut the bell-ropes in the
hopes, perhaps, that by so doing the soul of the
departed would not reach heaven ! I fancy there is
such a superstition.

The figure of a cupid on the monument stands
1 Vide King Monmouth.

Picturesque Old Houses 173

headless, as if symbolical of the unhappy love story,
and the bust of the heroine of it has fallen and
lies in pieces upon another tomb.

What remains of the mansion is interesting, but
it is only a fragment. From some old documents,
maps, and sketches preserved there, one may get a
good idea of the original dimensions. On the back
of an old fire-screen also there is a ground plan
showing the part of the house which was set aside
for Monmouth's use. This (retaining the original
furniture) was kept locked up for years, while the
remainder of the house was dismantled and tumbling
to pieces, but it was eventually pulled down. Some
of the oak carvings from Toddington Place were
removed to Hockliffe, where they may still be seen
incorporated in the " White Horse Inn " an old
hostelry where in years gone by there was a notice
stuck up to the effect that its customers had the
privilege of seeing the newspaper there every day in
the week f

At the now ruinous Inigo Jones mansion of
Houghton Conquest, a few miles to the north of
Toddington, lived Lord Bruce, afterwards Earl
of Ailesbury, who once upon a time was a suitor
for the [hand of the heiress of Toddington. It is

174 Picturesque Old Houses

a picturesque pile of red brick of James I.'s time,
with stone facings and classic arches and arcades,
like the ruin of Slaugham Place in Sussex. A fine
house it must have been, with the formal terraces
and gardens, of which nothing is now visible in the
surrounding meadow-land. Here Sir Philip Sidney
is said to have written his Arcadia^ for before the
Earl of Ailesbury came into possession it was the
property of Sir Philip's sister, the Countess of Pem-
broke. The arms and quarterings of the Sidneys
formerly surmounted the main entrance, and their
various monograms may still be seen upon a frieze.
" It's been an old ancient place in its time,"
observed a farm labourer, who, hidden from view,
had been watching my cautious manoeuvres round
some very shaky-looking walls. I agreed with
him, though I thought by appearances it was still
" an old ancient place." " Folks sometimes come
and paint it," continued he, and he might have added,
" Carve it as well," for there were deep-cut mementoes
of the visits of the 'Arrys and 'Arriets of present and
past generations. The gentleman was evidently thirsty
for there was nothing more accommodating than
a disused pump, securely railed in, as if water were
scarce in those parts so 1 handed over twopence.

Picturesque Old Houses 175

The allusion to Houghton ruins forming a good
subject for the brush suggests to my mind the
experiences of an artist friend who, revisiting one
of his old haunts, told a cottager that he had painted
his house some five years previously. " Sure, that
ye didn't," said the yokel with some spirit ; " nothing
ain't been done to it this twenty year or more, and
then it warn't painted, but whitewashed, 'cos the squire
said that was good enough for a house o' the likes
o' mine."

Not far from Houghton ruins stood the old castle
of Ampthill, where Queen Catherine of Arragon lived
in retirement previous to her trial.

Clophill and Silsoe are as poetic in appearance as
their names sound. These pretty villages, which lie
to the east of Ampthill, have a more prosperous
look than the majority hereabouts, for the generality
have a poverty-stricken look. This is perhaps owing
to the proximity of the large estate, Wrest Park, in
the same way that the village of Woburn, some miles
to the west, owes its flourishing condition to the
ducal house of Bedford. By the way, when I went
through that extensive park some years ago, I was
not aware that there is a kind of private Zoological
Gardens kept on the premises. I met now and again

176 Picturesque Old Houses

some most alarming-looking animals, who filled me
with awe, but I presume they were tame, or they
wouldn't be allowed to prowl about in that casual
sort of way.

At Over and Lower Gravenhurst, to the west of
Wrest Park, one may get an object-lesson respecting
church restoration. The first thing that greets one


upon entering the holy edifice of the latter village
is a contribution box for funds, and, unkind as it
may appear, I trust they will not be forthcoming, if
one may judge of the impending havoc from the
over-scraped and varnished church. Here, lying in
a corner, I noticed the wreck of the old oak pulpit,
and one of the original pews the latter, the remnant
of others which have been chopped up to be fitted
here and there in the new seats. They have the
appearance of being neither one thing nor the other.
Whether funds would not admit of the roof being
attacked, I do not know ; but that, fortunately, has
not been touched a splendid roof, with great figures
representing angels with extended wings, and beauti-
fully moulded bosses at the intersections of the beams.
Far less pretentious is the other little unrestored
church, with its original pews almost intact, a simple
Decorated rood-screen, retaining in part its original

Picturesque Old Houses 177

colouring, and the old pulpit. A monument to one
Benjamin Pigott represents him, his three wives,
and fourteen children in various instalments. First
comes a brass of Benjamin, then a wife, a child,
another wife, four children, the third wife, and,
finally, nine more children a goodly array in all.
Here also may be seen an hour-glass stand, which
carries us back to the days when sermons were
measured out to the parishioners according to the
running sand. There are some churches that I
know of where I believe this custom would be
welcome if the glass was one of those modern
ones for boiling eggs.

Meppershall, a mile or so to the east, has also
a good Cruciform church, in close proximity to which
is the manor house, coated with yellow wash over
possibly ornamental pargetting. Conspicuous on the
gable over the porch is a large bas relief of a crown
and thistle. I asked the inmate for information,
which was not forthcoming. It was supposed to be
the manor house, and the badge was supposed to be a
crown and a thistle (which was evident on the face
of it). Shillington was the next place on my pro-
gramme. Here I was enforced to take things leisurely,
for on my way my machine (I was cycling on this


1 7 8

Picturesque Old Houses

journey) was incapacitated by a great plug of wood
running completely through the tyre. A deliberate
case of suicide, such as this, should properly have
been buried at the next cross-roads, but I dragged
the mangled remains onwards in the hope of finding
a doctor. I have always noticed that the worst
punctures usually happen in the most outlandish
places, miles from the nearest railway, miles from
help or sympathy. But I might have fared worse
and been " hung up " entirely, for my outfit was
far from equal to the occasion. At Shillington I
discovered a bootmaker, who not only was accustomed
to set people on their legs, but on their wheels.
When I say " discovered," I mean I heard that such a
person existed, but to find him was another matter,
for his shop was locked up and he was heaven knows
where ! In a rural district I usually find the people
are callous, but here the whole population voluntarily
went to scour the country.

Meanwhile I sauntered round the old church.
From the distance as I approached the village, the
church standing above the old thatched roofs looked
more like some massive mediaeval castle, and, sil-
houetted against the evening sky, it had a strange,
romantic appearance. The key of the church,

Picturesque Old Houses 179

as is usually the case, was kept some considerable
distance away, but when at length I ran the lady
in charge to earth, it was a satisfaction to learn
that she could "always be found" in the same spot,
which, alas ! was not the case with the bootmaker.
The key and the custodian could not be parted
an admirable plan where there are possibilities
of tips so the lady honoured me with her com-
pany. No sooner was the door open than some
mysterious person, whom I had not noticed before,
slipped in. Like myself, he was a stranger in
the land, and, judging from appearances, wanted
to see all that was to be seen possibly gratis, for
which I don't blame him. " A good brass," I ejacu-
lated, half to myself and half to the lady in charge.
The gentleman brought his eyes and nose to bear on
the monument and exclaimed, <C A treat !" I admired
the old oak benches and the most graceful tracery
of the screen. They were also " A treat ! " I expect
the view from the church tower was likewise, for he
mounted the ladder to explore the heights while I
remained below, and, preparing to depart, was reminded
that my friend would not be long. This hastened
my exit.

Upon my return to the shoemaker's shop I found

i So Picturesque Old Houses

that the inhabitants of the village had returned, and
that the object of their search was looming in the
distance covered in dust and perspiration. Another
quarter of an hour and I was speeding towards
Hitchin, where I arrived just three minutes too late
for the up express. It is the fashion to abuse that
wonderful publication Itradshaw, but I think a
cyclist on tour might do worse than carry one with
him ; occasionally it would save both time and
anxiety. Much as 'Bradshaw is maligned, it is not
nearly so exasperating as the official time-table books
published by the various companies. You are in
a hurry to get to a place and refer to the index, and
find this sort of thing: Muddleton, pages i, 3, 6,
7, 10, 14, 18, 23, 27, 35, 49, 51, 62, 63, 77, 81,

8 7> 9> 97> i5> Il6 > I2 3> '3 2 > H3- !* is vears
since I read that excellent parody, A Guide to
'Bradshaw, by Sir F. C. Burnand, and do not re-
member whether this system of indexing is commented
upon, and if so, whether there is any suggestion how
to alight upon the page that you want.

If a straight line were ruled from Shillington
through Hitchin and continued to about the same
distance on the other side of that bright little town,
it would terminate at Aston Bury.



Picturesque Old Houses 181

I visited this ghostly old manor house on a
dreary winter's day some years ago ; one of those
mild, muggy days when the moisture is dripping
from the skeleton trees, and everything is half-hidden
in a shroud of white penetrating mist a day of which
the most pleasant part is the recollection of the
various discomforts when one is seated by a bright
fire in a cosy inn parlour at the termination of one's
journey. To traverse ploughed fields on such a
day means, of course, carrying the weight of half the
field on your feet or leaving your boots behind in
the mud ; but it is wonderful what one will undergo
for the sake of a short cut. I have a recollection
of arriving at Aston enveloped in clay from head to
foot. There is a village some miles to the north-
west in the adjoining county called Barton-in-the-
Clay, so why not call this place Aston-in-the-Clay
in the winter months, that is to say ? Fortunately the
manor house was empty, otherwise I never could have
been admitted. The building stands bare and bleak
(a portion only of the original Elizabethan house), and
has some very good twisted chimneys. Inside are
panelled rooms, Tudor doorways and fireplaces, and
two remarkable carved staircases with giant tapering
newels. The latter occupy the chief portion of the

182 Picturesque Old Houses

house, excepting a long gallery over a hundred feet
in length on the top story, stretching from one end
of the building to the other. The weather, doubt-
less, had a good deal to do with it, but it looked
far from a cheerful abode one, moreover, calculated
to arouse suspicion of uncanny forms lurking in the
dark corners of the deserted chambers.

Knebworth, with its strange medley of turrets,
pinnacles, chimneys, and griffins, and other Strawberry
Hill Gothic embellishments, is not far off. It is
difficult to imagine that the wing of the original
quadrangular Tudor structure is encased in this
curious but certainly picturesque exterior. The
great hall, with its fine screen and open timber roof,
arms and banners, is intact, as is also the portrait
gallery. Here the Stuart period is well represented.
Over the carved oak mantelpiece is a fine painting
of the hard-featured Prince Rupert, with his natural
son Dudley Bard, who, like his father, was distin-
guished for his valour. He was shot in storming
a breach at the siege of Buda in 1686. Among the
beauties are pretty Nell Gwyn, who here has dark
brown hair, as we see her in the National Portrait
Gallary. I presume she dyed her naturally fair
tresses to suit the fashion, as the gentlemen of the

Picturesque Old Houses 183

Court occasionally changed the colour of their

More fascinating is handsome Lucy Walter, whose
large expressive eyes follow you wherever you go.
This portrait is one of the finest I have seen from
Lely's brush. One day I hope this great artist's
work may be valued at its proper worth. No
portrait painter had so many bad imitators, for he
could not possibly have turned out a tenth part of
the pictures attributed to him. Rubbish which would
make Lely turn in his coffin is constantly being
passed off as his work, and his name suffers in con-
sequence. Though the popular painter had in-
numerable imitators and copyists, the fact is never
recognised at an auction room. Is it likely ? A
beauty of Charles II. 's Court, if not signed by
Mary Beale, must be by Lely, no matter how in-
different the artistic merit of the picture. Why do
not the organisers of one-man exhibitions, such as
we have had of Vandyck, Romney, Reynolds, etc.,
give us a representative collection of this old master ?
The everlasting interest in the Stuart period alone
should make such an exhibition popular.


NOT far from the retired little village of Tewin
Green, to the south-east of Knebworth, stands
Queen Hoo Hall (locally pronounced Queenie-'ooo),
a curious red-brick Tudor house with ornamental
pinnacles surmounting its two principal gables, lofty
mullioned windows, and massive chimney-stacks. At
the back is a little walled-in courtyard, and from this
you enter the house over a doorstep of red bricks
encased in a bordering of oak, like the hearths one
occasionally sees in old houses, and by this primitive
entrance Queen Elizabeth is traditionally said to
have come upon the occasion of her visit, for she
certainly honoured the house with her presence during
one of her progresses. Most of the rooms have been
stripped of the oak wainscoting with which they were
covered not many years ago, but the old stone Tudor
fireplaces remain, and there is also the original well
staircase intact.

Carefully restored, this old place would make

Picturesque Old Houses 185

a most charming residence, for it stands high and
commands extensive views. It is now occupied as
a farm, and house and garden appear to be in a
most neglected condition. Over a fireplace in one
of the upper rooms is a strange mural painting,
the subject of which was a mystery. The costumes
represented show it to be coeval with the house,
but presumably the fresco was never finished, and
a great portion of it is only in outline, or perhaps
it was nearly obliterated in removing the coats
of whitewash they were so lavish with about a
hundred years ago. The principal figures in robes
and rufrs are kneeling, but most conspicuous of all
is the standing figure of a negro with a sort of
club in his hand, bearing a strong resemblance to a
Mother Gamp umbrella. The rooms were unusually
dark and gloomy, as there was an impending thunder-
storm when I was there. In a better light I might
have arrived at a more satisfactory conclusion as to
what the picture was all about. The angry appearance
of the sky hastened my departure. For three hours
before there had been brilliant sunshine, though when
I had particularly wanted it earlier in the day for
a snapshot, I had waited and waited in vain for a
convenient gap in the clouds.

1 86 Picturesque Old Houses

On arriving at Queen Hoo the black mantle had
again obscured the sun, but this time it meant business.
I put on speed for the nearest station, but down
came the deluge before I was half-way there. With
u buckets " coming down, trees afford not the least
protection. Oh ! for the Mother Gamp on the fresco.
I can feel the rain coming through my hat, passing
down my neck and filling my shoes even now. The
prevailing impression of " Queenie-'ooo " is, as Mr.
Mantalini would say, " a demmed damp moist un-
pleasant one."

Years before this expedition I had come out
somewhere in these Hertfordshire wilds with my
camera. Nowadays one may wander into the inner-
most corners of the earth with a detective camera
and not be detected, or, in other words, not excite the
least curiosity ; but at the time I speak of the
instrument was regarded with suspicion. As I was
carrying the formidable apparatus of those days on
my shoulder, I passed a farm labourer and his son.
" Be 'e burd-catching, faather ? " I overheard the boy
address his sire. The father evidently knew better,
for he approached and asked me to " take a draft "
of his "dawg." Unwillingly I had to refuse, as I
had exposed all my plates. This I tried to explain,

Picturesque Old Houses 187

but he only thought it was an evasion, for said he,
" I don't mind giving yer sixpence, mister, if ye'll
potograph ' im." I shook my head. " A shillin',
then," he persisted, putting his hand in his pocket.
I remained firm. " Well, ye ain't 'ard up for money,
anyhow," he grumbled, as he trudged off, and even
then father, son, and dog looked back occasionally in
the hopes that I should change my mind.

Some of the most rustic country folk have a clever
way of turning things to account. The inmate of an
old cottage I once photographed near Dorking was
a thorough business man. Yes, I might take " a
likeness " of his house if I paid a shilling. I did
so, and the worthy gentleman threw himself in for
the money posed in the porch and remarked if I
had half a dozen or so of the result to spare, I
might give them to him !

In Tewin Church there are tombs to the Botelers,
who once upon a time possessed both Aston Bury
and Queen Hoo Hall. In the churchyard may be
seen one of those tombs which have been lifted
bodily from its position by the growth of a tree,
or rather in this instance by several. Great
branches of ash and sycamore have embraced the
iron railings in such a way that they are wrenched

1 88 Picturesque Old Houses

out of their positions. The usual story is told that
it is the grave of an unbeliever, which, I think,
doesn't go for much, as these discoveries are never
made until a century or so after the person's

In a ramble of some fifteen miles from Tewin
one may include the historic mansions of Hatfield,
Tittenhanger, the Grove, Cassiobury, and Gorhambury
(at the last of which resided the occupant of the
Tewin tomb viz., Lady Anne Grimston). Hatfield,
of course, is one of the most perfect Elizabethan
mansions extant, and its art treasures are world-
famed. Vastly interesting as are these, as at
Chatsworth one comes away with the predominant
impression of the beauty of the delightful old
gardens, groves, and avenues. Even over two and
a half centuries ago Evelyn came away with the
same impression, as did Pepys (in 1661), who ad-
mired, above all, the gardens, " such," says he, " as I
never saw in all my life." But in his rounds there
was also a pretty little dog which he admired, and,
with extraordinary candour, he says, " I would fain

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Online LibraryAllan FeaPicturesque old houses; being the impressions of a wanderer off the beaten track → online text (page 9 of 11)