F. J. Harvey (Frederick Joseph Harvey) Darton.

The marches of Wessex, a chronicle of England online

. (page 1 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

^J^



THE MARCHES OF WESSEX



By the Same Author

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MRS. SHERWOOD
THE LONDON MUSEIBI
TALES OF THE CANTERBURY PILGRIMS
SEA-KINGS OP ENGLAND

("Weitees of the Day" Series)
ARNOLD BENNETT
ETC.



/






/■ 1






-.^. :






'-^




'





THE MAYPOLE AT BURTON BRADSTOCK

Design of a picture by Albert Iiuthersto7i, in the possession of
M. H. Salanian Esq.



THE MARCHES OF

WESSEX



BY

F. J. HARVEY DARTON



'This other Eden, demi-paradise. . . .
England, bound in with the triumphant sea.'




X !i b n
NISBET & GO. LTD,

22 BERNERS STREET, W. 1



v.'^-



First published in 1922



Printed in Great Britain at
Tht Mayfiowtr Press, Plymouth. William Brendon & Son, Ltd.



TO

RUTH



PREFACE

THIS book has been -wTitten as a pleasure to myself
over a period of twenty years, in the intervals of
a busy life. It began as an attempt to describe,
mainly for the use of friends who shared that life, most of
them now dead, the admirable fitness of Dorset for walking
tours. But the more I walked in that county — and there
is only one little corner of it that I have not visited at least
once — the more I learnt of England ; and I modified my
original idea. It seemed to me that here, on the frontier
of England (for Dorset was really that until late in the
Middle Ages), I had the true story of England ; not the
extremes of romance and war and politics, but the mean.
So I changed my plan, and have tried to do or combine three
things in each chapter of the book — to sketch very slightly
the main tendency of English history in a series of epochs ;
to apply that history to its local exhibition in Dorset ; and,
finally, to describe a string of places, within the compass
of a reasonable day's walk, in which some remains of the
epoch dealt with are still patent. The Ruttier at the end —
" ruttier " is a good old word borrowed from a great English
classic, and might well be restored as a shibboleth for alleged
patriots — shows how these walks can be combined and
worked out in practice. But I have not attempted (God
forbid) to write a " gossiping guide," or series of " rambles " :
my concern is at least as much with my country as with the
county in it which I love best.

I do not think I have mentioned any place or building

vii



viii PREFACE

which in the course of happy years I have not seen for
myseK ; not as an antiquary, but as (with exceptions) a
healthy person using his proper legs. But my personal
knowledge would be small but for certain invaluable
publications, to which I render the warmest thanks : the
Proceedings of the Dorset Field Club, Somerset and Dorset
Notes and Queries, the Victoria County History, and the
original of them all, Hutchins' Dorset. I owe much in the
earlier chapters to Mr. Hadrian Allcroft's Earthivork of
England. There are a number of less universal works —
those of Coker, Warne, Roberts, and others — to which the
same general gratitude must be given, as also to national
works of reference of all kinds. It would be tedious to
enumerate the books devoted to special periods or places
which have been of assistance (like Mr. Damon's on Geology,
Mr. Robinson's on Purbeck, Mr. Bayley's on the Civil War,
Mr. Moule's on Dorchester), or the smaller local histories
or pamphlets which in many cases have led me to fuller
investigation. Dorset is rich in competent local historians,
and I hope rather than am certain that I am indebted to
them all. When I have quoted them directly, or when they
seem to be the sole authority for the facts involved, I have
mentioned them by name in the text.

I do not pretend to the status of an historian, any more
than to that of an antiquary. I am quite sure that a
specialist in either kind can condemn me in detail, because
if there is one thing I learnt of my kindly mother, Oxford,
it is that the omniscient scholar cannot and does not exist.
Life would not be worth living if he did exist. What I have
tried to do is to see the chief activities of each successive
age in one English county sympathetically, and to illustrate
them by local facts. I want to dwell upon what he whom
we used to know as Mr. Balfour long ago called subordinate
patriotism. If in my later chapters I have touched with an



PREFACE ix

apparent lack of proportion on the difficulties of the farmer
and his man, it is because I believe that only in their solution
will England find her true soul. If the agricultural labourer,
under conditions which raise him above the beasts (" beast "
is the Dorset plural) he tends, can really come to have a
pride in the country he has made habitable through centuries
of dumb toil, and a pride likewise in the past hopes and
heroisms I have tried to chronicle, then God prosper
England. But if not, if he is always to be " the
poor," God help us, and forgive those who keep him
in that state.

I am very grateful to friends for help : to Mrs. Ruth
Williams for reading the manuscript and proofs and making
suggestions; to Mr. F. Harcourt Kitchin (seduced from
Devon for a few weeks) for a valuable, if painful, decimation
of the manuscript, and to Mr. Cyril Hurcomb for reading
part of the proofs ; to my publishers, friends of old standing,
for other suggestions as well as for their kindly practical
interest ; to Mr. Albert Rutherston for letting me use a
delightful picture in which, as his original guide to West
Dorset, I may claim almost a god-paternal interest ; to Mr.
Charles Aitken, keeper and fosterer of the Tate Gallery,
for leave to reproduce Stevens' portrait of his benefactor,
and for valuable suggestions ; to Mr. Wilson Steer and
Mr. Gwynne-Jones for the use of pictures of the county in
which they, too, have been happy ; and to IMr. C. J. Sawyer
for finding and lending some engravings.

The Index is not meant to cover historical periods as
such — the chapters do that — nor special subjects. When-
ever a person or place occurs more than once and Ls given
particular attention, the chief reference is placed first,
irro^pectivoly of order of pagination. The Appendix



X PREFACE •

(except for one or two necessary entries) is not included in
it, because it is so arranged that the itinerary of each
chapter coincides with the pictured Ruttier or chapter-
heading. These Ruttiers are by Miss Ruth Cobb, to
whom I am indebted for her care and adaptability. The
prefatory quotations also are not included.



CONTENTS

CHAPTER I

PEACE Page

To-day's inheritance of the ages. Its value for probate ... 1

A Ruttier of the Coast of Dorset ....... 3

CHAPTER II

BEFORE THE FLOOD

Man's conquest of Nature, and its difficulty in Dorset. Nature's
dictation of conditions to Man. The beasts that perish and
have perished, from the beginning until the Iberian and the Celt
appeared. The dragons of Lyme Regis . . . . .11

A[Ruttier of the way from Poole Harbour to West Lulworth . . 13

CHAPTER III

THE HULLS OF THE DEAD

The Iberian and the Celt in Dorset. Their great works, and the spirit

of lost kingdoms. The past that lives ..... 37
A Ruttier of a way from Dorchester to Abbotsbury ... 39

CHAPTER IV

THE QHKE:f ROADS

The Roman dominion from a.d. 49 to a.d. 416. The Roman Peace

in a Dorset farm. The legionary on a Dorset road . . .51

A Ruttier of the Roman Way from Badbury Rings to Dorchester and

beyond .......... 53

CHAPTER V

THE HSATUEN CONQUERORS

The Dark Agee of Saxon and Daniiih conqui:>Bt, from a.d. 416 to a.d.
10«6. The envelopment of Dorset. Tho Kings Ine and Alirod
and Cnut, Bishop Aldlaelm and Abbot -Elfric . . . .71

A Ruttier of iul ward the Martyr's way from Corfo Caetlo to Shaftes-
bury 73

xi



xii CONTENTS

CHAPTER VI

THE CHRISTIAN CONQUERORS Page

The Normans who took and possessed Dorset in the year 1066 and

thereafter .......... 91

A Ruttier of the Norman habitations between Maiden Newton and

Powerstock ......... 93

CHAPTER VII

THE GREAT ABBEYS AND THE AGE OP FAITH

The wars, pestUences, and famines that lay between the Normans of
1066 and the Tudor settlement of 1500. The spirit of Holy
Church. The spirit of Kings ...... 105

A Ruttier of a way from Maiden Newton through Ceme Abbas to Bere

Regis 107

CHAPTER VIII

THE NEW RICH

The change of lordship in Dorset. The merchants and seamen and

common folk of the Tudor reigns. Raleigh at Sherborne . . 129

A Ruttier of a way from Burton Bradstock to Sherborne . . 131

CHAPTER IX

PRINCES IN FLIGHT

The quarrelsome days and petty life of the Stuarts' reigns. Prince
Charles in flight through Dorsent, King Monmouth in triumph and
in ignominy. The Bloody Assize . . . . . .157

A Ruttier of the Princes' road from Lyme Regis to Bridport and

thereabouts . . . . . . . . .159



CHAPTER X

THE AGE OF ELEGANCE

Some persons of quaUty in Dorset in the eighteenth century. A
Nabob, a poUtician, a poet, a murderer, some great families, and
a parcel of gipsies. The Canning case reconsidered . . .187

A Ruttier of the gipsies' wanderings from South Perrott to Abbots-
bury and Dorchester . . . . . . . .189

CHAPTER XI

THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS

Farmer George at Weymouth. John Wesley in Dorset . . . 223

A perambulation of Lyme Regis ....... 225



CONTENTS xiii

CHAPTER XII

MARINERS OF ENGLAiTD Page

The seAmen and Admirals of Dorset, especially during the wars with
Bonaparte. The Hoods, "Nelson's Hardy," the Ryvos", the
privateers. Captain Coram . , . . , . .241

A Ruttier of the coast-way from Bridport Harbour to Abbotabury

and Weymouth ......... 243

CHAPTER XIII

THK SEQUESTERED VALE

The enclosure of commons. The misery of the labourer. The Dor-
chester Martyrs ......... 269

A Rattier of a way from Beaminster round and through Marshwood

Vale to Bridport . . . . . . . .271

CHAPTER XIV

HOLY AND HUMBLE MEN OF HEABT

The nineteenth century in Dorset, and its great men — Alfred Stevens,

William Barnes, Shaftesbury, Thomas Hardy . . . . 295

A Ruttier of a way from the hills to the valley and back — from

Shaftesbury to Sturminster Newton and Blandford . . . 297

CHAPTER XV

AN EXCEEDENO HIGH PLACE

Peace T Where are we ? . . . . . . . .315

A Ruttier across mid-Dorset, from Evershot to Blandford . .317



APPENDIX
How to link all the Ruttiors into one ...... 333

INDEX 345



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS



ThK Ma'VTOLE at BcbTON BbaDSTOCK ..... FrontUpieci

Design of a picture by Albert Rutherslon, in the possession of

M. H. Salavxan, Esq.

Facing paoe

Lttlwobth Co\'e .......... 32

From a painting by Allan Guynne-Jones

St. Cathebine's Chapel, Abbotsbury ...... 48

lYom a drawing by C. Daycs, 1S02

CoBFE Castle 78

From a painting by P. Wilson Steer

CzRKt Abbey Gateway . . .112

Engraved from a drawing by J. W. Upham

The Wi-i-MocTH or Geoboe III 228

From an engraving of 1789

Bbidpobt Habboub ......... 256

From an engraving of a ilrawing by J. M. W, Turner, R A.

POBTBAIT OF A ClEBGYMAN ; BELIE^'ED TO BE OF THE ReV. THE

Hon. Samuel Best. By Alfbed Ste\'ens .... 300
From a drawing in the Tate Qallery, by permission of the TrusUen



Lonls and Commons of England, consider what nation it is wlioroof j'o
are antl whereof j'o aro the governoi-s ; a nation not slow and dull, but
of a quick, ingenious, and piercing spirit, acute to invent, subtle and
sinewy to discourse, not beneath the reach of any point, the highest
that human capacity can soar to. . . . What could a man require
more from a nation so pliant and so prone to seek after knowledge ?
^^^lat wants there to such a towardly and pregnant soil but wise and
faitliful labourers, to make a knowing jx^ople, a nation of prophets,
of sages, and of worthies ? Wo reckon more than five months yet to
harvest ; there need not bo five weeks ; had we but eyes to lift up,
the fielils are white already."

JOHN MILTON,

Arcopagilica.

" ThLs season's Daffodil,

She never hears.
What change, what chance, what chill,

Cut down last year's :
But with bold countenance.

And knowledge small.
Esteems her seven days' continviance

To be perpetual."

RUDYARD KIPLING,

Scnga from Books.



I

PEACE



-^ BEAMIN5rER




THE England of my (keams is of a magical nature.
It appears to me as a green chalk hill, high and
strong, running towards the sunset. Far behind
you, as you walk westward, lie the smoke and wealth of
herded men — who are English, too, but do not live in my
dream-country. In the bottoms that run north and south
into the long ridge are secret and friendly villages, the homes
of those who have mad«^ the earth rich by their secular
labour. The hill ends in a little forsaken port, where change
comes not, nor does any man grow old.

That England is built up partly from my intimate love
of one place, Bridpcjrt Harbour in Dorset, where llir world
for mo seems to end, and partly from many walks 1 have
tak(!n on the Dorset hills (jn my way to that haven of rest.
Onco in particular I seemed to be really in that England
of my fantasy. I stood with a companion in great content-



4 THE MARCHES OF WESSEX

ment on a great hill, looking out over the blue and golden
mists where Bridport lay against the dazzling sea. The
earth stretched away into infinite sunshine, and I felt as if
I were contemplating the ultimate peace on earth for which
the ages have striven, and were a part of it, able to continue
in it for ever. Yet as I turned away I knew I must soon go
back to less happy places, must face menacing hopes and
fears, perform tasks, live and die : not dream.

At the slight suggestion of death there came into my
memory an incongruous recollection ; no dream, but a
comment upon civilization. I was sitting many years ago
in the bar-parlour of an inn at Bridport Harbour, where
the mariners and coastguards assembled cheerfully of an
evening. Some of us were playing whist, some talking or
eating bread and cheese, all drinking from straight mugs.
Suddenly a head came round the door, and a voice said
" Dick, you're wanted." One of my companions got up and
went out, and a moment later summoned a second to join him.
They were absent about half an hour, and then came back
and resumed beer and whist without delay or explanation.

I asked Dick later why he had been called away. " Old

P 's dead," he replied. " Died in a fit, all hunched up.

We had to go and lay him out. He'd got stiff, and I had to
sit on his knees to straighten him."

When that scene flickered so irrelevantly across my
mind on Eggardon Camp, I wondered idly, as we looked out
from the hill towards the sea, whether, five thousand years
ago, when perhaps the Camp was first dug, the reason why
the Stone Age men were often buried (as they were) " all
hunched up " in their barrows was that they had not
thought of Dick's simple remedy for rigor mortis. His
matter-of-fact grimness made our civilization appear a very
primitive thing. It made the fancy of a happy England,
in which society shall really have become stable and painless,
seem a childish invention. And it gave me also the feeling
that the development of mankind may have been like a bad
cinematograph drama — repetitive, discontinuous, and futile ;



PEACE 5

and that our progress may not j'ot have gone far, if one looks
at it honestly.

Yet that night as I stood on tlie little black wooden pier
at West Bay (Bridport Harbour's alias), and watched the
still beauty of the moonlit sea, the conviction came back
to me that there is, after all, something of true peace in an
English county — some solid precipitate left after the shaking
of the centiu-ies. I thought of other places and experiences
in that divine county which had given me the same con-
viction.

I remembered especially one occasion when I had gone
down to the " mother and lover of men, the sea," between
that pier and its absurd brother. It was on a coastwise
vessel, a squat broad craft of two hundred or three hundred
tons, such as the vanished Bridport shipyard used to build
a generation ago. Ships have to be warped out to the pier-
heads here. You bump, sailless, down between the tiny
piers, creaking, rattling : familiar voices cry commands
from the ship and from the harbour in turn ; and all the
sounds seem separate and ineffably distant, because you are
upon a dead hulk, a shell moved by alien hands : a ship
being warped out has no soul. But in a little while the last
friendly voice dies : the last rope flies curling and flaps
upon the drab deck. Blocks squeak, a winch clacks, a few
deep orders sound ; the grey lifeless sail climbs slowly and
jerkily with its yard, and then, with a quick writhe and a
report like a shot, is big and round with the unseen wind.
The sea begins to clap its hands upon the curves of the hull.
The boat hisses, and leaps, and sways to the tiny song of
it8 tackle. It is born again, a thing of mastery and move-
ment. Tlic pilot goes below and drinks good health to the
skipper, and climbs laboriously down tlie side into his
little cockboat ; and soon he too recedes. You are alone
upon the curving globe.

Tlie port looks infinitely small now. You see it as with
the eyo of God — a poor gathering-place of transitory men,
busied with jjetty occasions ; no more ; little, remote,



6 THE MARCHES OF WESSEX

pathetic, like man's life itself. You have come into the real
world, the universe where the stars march in their celestial
motions. You and your brave ship are your own world,
a commonwealth of high adventure.

And yet in the distant, inconsiderable village, that now
has become but a few twinkling candles in the strange
depth of late twilight, there lingers the necessary and
indefinable friendliness of humanity, which the landward
look from the sea perceives so clearly. There is no greeting
like that of the land to the mariner, no longing like that for
port after stormy seas. The familiar fields, those corners
and stones and the very puddles that you have so long ago
learnt to avoid : the smell of a -house : the steadiness of the
little quay, the grating shingle, the people watching your
coming : so Englishmen have always seen their land, and
known peace of soul :

Oh ! to be there for an hour when the shade draws in beside
the hedgerows.
And falhng apples wake the drowsy noon :
Oh ! for the hour when the elms grow sombre and human
in the twilight,
And gardens dream beneath the rising moon.

Only to look once more on the land of the memories of child-
hood,
Forgetting weary winds and barren foam :
Only to bid farewell to the combe and the orchard and the

moorland.
And sleep at last among the fields of home !

The seas and the hills and far-away enchantments may
call a man to the ends of the earth. But at the last, before
the conclusion of the whole matter, before the final dim
adventure, he will cling to those poor, friendly beginnings,
and come back, if he may, and be comforted.

That seems to be an eternal thing. Yet is it reality, or
only an emotion ? We come back, I say, to our squalor,
our splendour, to our hopes and futilities in what we call
our home. We take some sort of dwelling-place for granted,
and search eagerly for the trivial amenities we have learnt



PEACE 7

to love. And yet how have we secured even that much ?
What are the aim and vahie of all tlie efforts by generation
aft^r generation to master tlie riddle of the painful
earth ?

The story of those efforts may point to an answer to the
question, What is peace ? I iiave tried to imagine some
of its cliapt<>rs, as they may still be read in broken letters
in a few places in one English county. How long has it
taken a Dorset village to reach its present state, and why
and how have its folk won and kept a hold on life ? What
have been their hopes, fears, successes, faOures, century
after century ? That is what I want to guess at in this book
of local happenings.



I will string together, by way of prophecy, so to speak,
some incongruities of the place where I began the book.
They may suggest sometiiing of the jumbled romance of
mankind. Bridport itself, a beautiful eighteenth-century
town clustered among hills, and its harbour where every
house seems to be an afterthought, may serve thus as an
epitome of the long story. It contains vestiges of almost the
whole of man's life in Dorset.

The town lies on the most permanent thing in nature — a
river, a very small river, cutting its slow way oceanward
between hills, and dragging down soil to choke its own
mouth ; struggling also against the sea's barrier of cast-up
shingle. As long ago as King John's day, the harbour was
in danger of obliteration. As late as King George V's day,
there was talk of dredging it and deepening it to take a
squadron of motor-boats. There has even been a proposal
to flood the whole valley up to the town, and build a great
breakwater from Thorncombc Beacon, and make a lordly
harbour, rivalling Weymouth and Portland. Man seeks
eternally to subjugate even that little stream. There is
one chapter-heading for the story.

Yet the river will surely survive in its own persistent way.



8 THE MARCHES OF WESSEX

Consider one of its victories. Thirty years ago, when the
little green between the Bridport Arms and Pier Terrace
was made, they dug up a dead man in the river gravel.
He had two great jars round the neck of his skeleton, and
he lay in the old river-bed. There is not a word of his story
known : whether he was a smuggler, or reveller overcome,
or mere carrier fatally belated, or some whimsical trader
buried fantastically — no man can tell, nor when he died.
He is but bones that carried a jar.

Or go into the Bridport Arms and hear other stories
from the brook. Stand on the left-hand side of the bar :
you are in Symondsbury parish. Stand on the right : you
are in Burton Bradstock parish. Nowhere are you in Brid-
port parish, and yet this is part of Bridport if geography
and politics and custom can make it so. The property of
the church and a monastery was once divided along that
line. In that little detail the dead hand of monasticism
and pre-Reformation Church organization is faintly visible,
as if striving still to grasp a shadow of power. That is
another chapter.

And the parish division, running thus through a house,
is an echo of yet another side of history, of geographical
facts. Why should it take that line ? Why should the
old boundary cut through a venerable inn ? Because
Dorset was made without man's leave asked or given :
because once, when the parish boundary was determined,
the river Brit, which was the boundary, ran along that line.
Later it was silted up, after the manner of streams in those
parts, and cut itself a new channel. But the old boundary
remained on dry land. And that brings us back to the
geological chapter.

Look, again, at the buildings of the harbour. All to the
east lie great stone barns, some empty, a paradise of hens,
some full of tirnber for the petty commerce of the place.
They seem to-day beyond all use in size and stability ;
one can peer out under their huge rafters through a bright
square of unglazed window as from a prison, the blue sea



PEACE 9

of freedom sliining outside cruelly. They have stood there
a hundred years or more. A generation ago, before the
railway came and took away the sea trade, they were all
full of hemp and jut€ and rope, and tiie linchets on the hills
up the valley were blue with flax. All the rope for Nelson's
ships* was made in Bridport, which for eight hundred
years had maintained the same industry, so that " a Brid-
port dagger " became a proverbial saying. (To be stabbed
with that weapon — a halter — was the same thing as falling
off a platform while engaged in conversation with a clergy-
man, and resulted in your dying in your stockings and
being put to bed with a shovel.)

There is still great traffic in rope and twine in the clean
town itself, two miles away. Its wide streets, because they
were made spacious for the drying of yarn on their pave-
ments, are the comeliest in Dorset. But the glory is departed
from the barns at the harbour. One shij), before the war,
still came specially from Russia every year with hemp :
almost all the other boats that blunder between the piers
arc coasters bringing coal or timber, and going out with the
exceeding fine shingle that the inexhaustible sea frets off
tho Chesil pebbles, and casts up year by year, without
diminution, for the streets of cities and the manufacturer
of concrete.

And lastly, to continue these haphazard clutches at tho
past, observe certain chapter-headings in Bridport town
itself. Look at the Fives Court wall by tho Fives Court
Inn (now being obscured by a garage), for instance :