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

The marches of Wessex, a chronicle of England online

. (page 3 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

by sheer force. Kimmeridge shale is too subtle for force.
This black little piece of coast, grimy, slippery, unfriendly,
is a record of curious futilities undertaken in many
generations. The earliest identifiable men, those of the
Stonc! Age, have left their tokens here They worked the
shale and made ornaments of it ; and made also other
things the meaning of wliich is even now not certainly


known. Kimmeridge " coal-money " consists of round
discs with symmetrical piercings. Legend says they are
coins. They have been found in circumstances that prove
them to be at least pre-Roman. Some cold-blooded
persons of to-day assert that they are merely the end-cores
thrown aside from the lathe, which was beyond doubt used
by Celt and Roman for making their beautiful vases and
other wares of shale. But against this is the strange fact
that in many places the " money " has been found care-
fully stored in cinerary urns. Here is a riddle set by a
vanished sphinx. The tokens are almost like what Mr.
Edmund Gosse's father imagined fossils to be — devices
contrived by the Creator, with immemorial prescience, to
tempt later scientists into impious speculation.

That industry, whatever its meaning, was succeeded, two
thousand years or so later, by a less reputable trade. The
Abbey of Cerne possessed this coast, and with it the right
to benefit from wreckage ; a right which is said to have been
extended, at any rate once, under Henry VII, to the pro-
vision of material for its exercise. And then, in a less
fierce age, came the Clavells of Smedmore, of the lineage of
Walter de Clavile, an authentic comrade of the Conqueror.
Greatest of the family, perhaps, was that Tudor Sir William
who is buried in Kimmeridge Church :

" Within this marble casket hes
He who was learned, stout, and wise.
Who would for no expense conceal
His projects for the common weal,
And when disloyal Irish did
Rebel against the Queen their head,
Approved valour then did get
Him the reward of Banneret."

The deeds and customs of the Elizabethan squires of
Dorset are matters for a later chapter. Here my interest
is only in man's general conquest of the earth's fabric.
Sir William believed that it would be " for the common
weal," to say nothing of his own profit, to work the alum


in the sliale. This industry, " by much cost and travail, he
brought to a reasonable perfection." But a monopoly of
alum hatl been granted to other men, who seized his works.
Thereupon, being one " whom one disaster dismayeth not "
— and he met many disasters of a financial kind — he set
up a glass-house and a salt-house, and made " at his own
charge, with great rocks and stones piled together, a little
quay." A fragment of the little quay long after jutted
forlornly towards the sea, with never a boat or a mariner
to wake the echoes of its stones. Once it was populous with
wild and terrible figures : for Clavell's workmen, by reason
of " the offensive savour and extraordinary blackness " of
the shale they burnt in their fiu-naces, appeared " more like
furies than men."

The toil and hopes of Clavcll died with him, and nearly
two hundred vears later even his quay came almost to
nothing ; for the sea beat upon the stones and wrecked the
pier, so that it could no longer be used even for chance
traffic. All the industry that was left to Kimmeridge in
the eighteenth century was the working of the shale as a
kind of coal, which was sold at six shillings a ton. It burnt
hotly ; and it also, in the words of science, " liberated
sulphuretted hydrogen," so that here too Nature had her
revenge. . . .

Yet her enemy was indefatigable. In the nineteenth
century certain Gauls devised a new assault. They built a
little railway, and a fresh quay, and set to work to distil
oil, gas, and ammonia from the shale. They failed : they
could not purify the stubborn substance sufficiently.
Twice or thrice was this effort made, and it is said that now
once more men are to attempt it. But all that the way-
farer on the coast to-day can see is the dismal skeleton of
enterprises long ago disappointed and abandoned, a little
broken fortress of man's hopes, and the sly, slow triumph
of the eternal earth and Kca.

From Kimmeridge one comes to Tyneham and Wor-
barrow, and jcjins tlu- alternative westward route, which


from St. Aldhelm's Head runs to Kingston. At Kingston
the two churches are landmarks : the older one of poor
Georgian Gothic, the newer one a masterpiece of the
Municipal Style. From this village the way lies due west,
through Lord Eldon's park. Take the middle path. West
of the park, go across country northwards to Church
Knowle. Turn west again, and a little way past a very
humble inn you will see a path (unmapped) on the right
hand ; which brings you to a silver road winding uphill.
When you have reached the top of the ridge, Creech Barrow
stands up like a mountain.

To reach the summit you must go round a long smooth
valley. It is well to refrain from looking at the view until
the highest point is attained, for it is then the most perfect
of surprises to look suddenly north and east and south and
west ; but even if you have forfeited that surprise by looking
about you as you climbed, you can still look long and
behold always new beauty. Once there was a hunting
lodge of the Angevin kings here ; a few stones are left.
Upon Ralph Treswell's map it is shown as it were a spacious
temple ; and indeed a man might search his soul in solitude
upon Creech Barrow, and fall a- worshipping the power that
spread the world out beneath his feet ; for it is no less than
a mirror of the world that stretches every way to the limit
of sight — the world that has waited for mankind.

It is to the north and east that old Time is made visible.
Here lies a shrunken atomy of the last great earth-
cataclysm in the history of England. Far below the green
and golden slopes of the hill is a brown wilderness through
which, with innumerable tributa.ry streams and isolated
pools, run two broad rivers, gleaming strangely in their cold,
bright windings. The flats are sombre and still, but the
waters, issuing at last together into the Channel, have a
quiet power and vitality as of never-ending life.

When those rivers ran in their fullest pride, Dorset was
not Dorset, nor England England. Look to the north-west.
A long ridge of hill, tree-tojDped, is the horizon, fifteen


miles off. Half-way up the slope, concealed in the blue
pale distance, is Dewlish. When man faced the elephant
there, the Frome and the Piddle were not silver threads,
but a broad flood running into that yet more tremendous
stream which is now the English Channel. The Stour,
Hampshire Avon, and the Solent were tributaries of that
same enormous river : and the rivulets that run north-
wards from the ritlge, hurried more turbidly past Avalon
to a huger Severn. All this land was a causeway of waters
roaring to an unimaginable torrent. The shining cliffs of
the Isle of Wight stand up like their gateway.

River and heath and sea are still marshalled by the great
gesture ^\hich swept Dorset into its present shape. The
older hills, the chalk and the shale and the limestones, were
an amphitheatre for the battle between land and water ; the
lowlands seem to be but the shrivelled ramparts and trenches
of the conflict itself. When it ended, England was kindly
once more. Poole Harbour dwindled hito a quiet estuary ;
the floods towards Somerset were slowly diminished into
marsh-land, and so, at last, within the memory of mankind,
into meadows ; the green things that we know familiarly
grew upon the earth ; and our veritable father, man
from whom we trace unbroken descent, was found in
Dorset .

Behold also from Creech Barrow a picture of his kingdom
thenceforward to now. Twenty miles away, upon a high
hill which yet, in a clear atmosphere, is not the horizon by
another twenty miles, is a straight pillar ; it commemorates
Nelson's Hardy. Jieyond is fold upon fold, the strong
kingdom of the fort-building Durotriges, men of power two
thousand years ago. Beyond again, on a clear day, Devon
can bo seen. A little south lies Portland, resting upon the
sea like the happy realm of the Phaeacians, a shield prono ;
or more truly, a stone cold and brutish, justly set apart
in the inhospitable ocean.

Follow with your eye the path tiie sun would tread if ho
obeyed tlie W'imborne clock. Lewsdon and i*ilsdon, the


one hairy, the other smooth, like Esau and Jacob, stand up
in the north-west, thirty miles distant, and more. East
of them a clump of trees crowns a ridge ; it is High Stoy,
of which Hardy has written that if it had met with an
insistent chronicler, it " might have been numbered among
the scenic celebrities of the century." Where the middle-
north ridge ends, more hills jut out, one behind the other.
The round ball far off is Melbury Down, that looks upon and
is seen magically from the hill-town of Shaftesbury. Walk-
ing four miles an hour, you could reach it in seven hours.
To the right is yet another clump of trees on a hill : a holy
place, a grove as high in the story of England as in the county
of Dorset : Badbury Rings, where, maybe, Arthur fell.

And so to newer things again : Charborough Tower,
where Lady Constantine, of Two on a Toiuer, was en-
chanted by her young astronomer : and that other tower
of Christchurch on the western horizon, whispering faintly
the enchantments that populous trim Bournemouth, near
at hand, can neither recover nor forge. And white and
silver at your very feet gleam the potter's clay-fields, with
their toy railways and their pools of indescribable blue and
green. No authentic sound comes up to the height from
them, and the trains that glide evenly to Corfe and Wareham
move but with a faint ghostly postponed murmur, like an
echo of some more immense labour long ended.

All these things, in one way or another, will comg again
into the story now to be written of man's life on the soil of
Dorset : here is but a pageant or prophecy of them. They
are visible enough, emblematically, in Purbeck to-day ;
they stand there for the human victories of aeons.

It is hard to leave this noble hill. And yet, leaving it,
be comforted ; for you will see nine-tenths of the same
glorious vision for three miles to come, as you march west-
ward upon the windy edge of space. There is something
in the turf of these chalk downs that quickens life, and
makes the long cool shadow of the valley villages and trees
seem a paltry thing, an artifice of comfort and littleness.


The dry sweet grass tinkles as with a thousand tiny cymbals ;
the 6nail-t>hclls, violet, orange, pink, flaming white, are
jewels from Aladdin's cave, the scabious and the daisy
coloured stars in a green heaven. Every step, like Antaeus
his overthrown, gives back some of the earth's own vitality,
and one seems to be marching upon a road glistening still
with the dews of dawn, made firm with the pride of midday,
and ending in the golden sunset gates of a kingdom where
youth is for ever lord.

Yet this very exhilaration has beliind it something sober
and earthy and human, something that dignifies and
ennobles rest after toil. There is no ale, no cider, no cheese
so good as that in a warm dusky village into which a way-
farer stumbles from the heights. There is no tolerance so
largo and kindly as that which comes from a little ease in
such a nest of apparent indolence. Look down upon the
hamlets in the valley of Corfo river. There is Barncston
Manor ; its stones stood in the same place, the stones of
Barneston Manor still, when Edward HI was king. There
is the old cruciform church of Church Knowlo. There is
Steeple, where a Tudor squire rests in a complacent tomb,
having done his duty quietly and long ; and hard by lies
buried an artist-poet of once slightly alarming bodlihead.
There is Tyneham, where the old family that built Bond
Street still abides. North are other manors, thick copses,
white-flagged railway trains ; and a delicious " gate "
leading from nowhere to nowhere, built strongly of lime
and stone in a German Gothic manner. All these things
soem natural and eternal, so beneficent is the highway of the
chalk. They are part of a world in which, to a Radical,
Conservatism may well appear the creed of Utopia, rather
than the abhorred dogma of the Primrose League. The
faith is too good to be changed : so it has always been, so
it shall always be. Forget the quarries, the waste and horror
of the antediluvian earth ; forget the obscene shale, the
wrecker monks, the oil-traders. " Allons ! to that which
in endless as it was beginningless. . . ."


But in a little while you will find the end comes. Just
beyond Tyneham there is a low gap in the sea-wall, and a
grey knob of cliff protrudes into the sea. Its westernmost
end rises up into a great hill, upon which the coast path from
Kimmeridge and the track from Creech Barrow meet. It
is Ring's Hill, of which the highest part is adorably named
Flowersbarrow (" Flowersbarrow "... Are we a prosaic
nation ? Once it may have been called Florus' Byrig).

It is a strange and tremendous hill. On the very top of
it is the last thing you would expect to find in a place so
remote and so inaccessible ; a huge earthwork, five hundred
and sixty-seven feet above a sea which needs no bulwark. It
guards the very end of the Isle of Purbeck. A chalk ram-
part shuts off all the stone and marble formations of the
Isle from the younger clays of the Frome Valley ; the Isle
really is an island, a geological fastness, whatever the
geograj)hers, with their talk of water surrounding land,
may say to the contrary. And Flowersbarrow gives a
most extraordinary vision of that curious seK-containment
of Purbeck. Just as from Creech Barrow could be seen the
primal path of the inner waters, so here can be seen, abrupt
and clean, the terrible achievement of the main Channel
stream. Purbeck is cut short, broken off sharp, at Arish
Mell Gap : the old world ends visibly. The sea will not here
give up the dead land.

Go through the camp, climb the three deep western
trenches, and begin to descend the slope. Right in front
stands up what appears, from here, to be a sheer green wall.
In reality, Bindon Hill is not sheer, but simply very steep
indeed. Its white edge is a straight line from the top to the
sea five hundred and fifty feet below. Between it and
Flowersbarrow is a smaller hill, perfectly rounded, like an
inverted bowl girt with a fairy ring. There is a little sheltered
gap at the western curve of this ring ; and from that gap
you look straight across to Portland, the brother land of
Purbeck, now for ever separated from it. There is nothing
between save water and a few grim rocks : Purbeck ends


in a grey ))lank wall : Portland stands ujiright eleven
miles away : the quiet, insuperable waves hold them

The tiny valley of Arish IMell (an old Celtic name) is a
place of warm peace, where kine drift down from the meadows
to the seashore itself. Their friendly brown coats are not
the brightest colour here. Tlic face of the coast, from
Worbarrow Point to Mupe's Rocks, is like a many-hued
puzzle, a geological jigsaw. The shingle is yellow and blue-
gre}' : the down turf wears its eternal green : Bindon, its
flank dark with pines, has a face of gleaming silver : but
Ring's Hill contains every shade from scarlet to purple,
while the little headland of Worbarrow is striped witii
contorted formations, of grey and drab and black. Mupe's
dark rocks are of a threatening brown, with the white snow
of waves at their base. I do not know whom this desolate
and lovely place may most fully satisfy ; the geologist,
the artist, the historiaji, the mere walker may all take
delight in it : It satisfies always and fully. There is no
emotion with which it is not in sympathy, no happiness
which it does not glorify by its kindly peace and its austere

And so, over the great hill of Bindon along this cliff-edge
to West Lulworth, where lobsters die in readiness and
numbers for the wayfarer.

There is one other place in Dorset where the Earth's own
past obtrudes itself, in a great view, upon one's thoughts
about man's past and present. That is the summit of the
highest cliff between the Wash and Land's End, Golden
Cap. That glorious hill is known and loved by all Dorset
men. It stands iij) with a peculiar boldness : a j^iled-up
sloping mass, and then a bare stretch of yellow earth,
crowned with a dark brown jjiatcau. It can bo seen from
many a Dorset height ; from Jilackdown, from Pilsdoii,
from Hooke, even from great liulbarrow him.self, thirty
miles away: always it is the same — a straight flat lino


cutting the sky proudly, and a golden edge sloping stecj)ly

The ascent of Golden Cap is a noble walk from Bridport
or from Lyme, or in the journey from one to the other :
though if you go the whole way — nine miles or so — you have
to climb Charmouth Hill (500 feet), Stonebarrow Hill
(500 feet), Golden Cap (619 feet), and Thorncombe Beacon
(500 feet) — and descend to sea-level between each. More-
over, the last hundred feet up the Cap, whichever way you
choose, is the worst stretch. It grows steepest there, and in
summer the face of it is so slippery with desiccated grass, or
so prickly with gorse, that the lost agility of Eolith ic man
would be a boon to-day. Beware also of rabbit snares —
wire nooses strongly pegged into the ground. If you come
from the east shun the lower undercliff, which looks less
arduous as first ; here be quags and (in due season) serpents,
as well as primroses and blackthorn and violets and black-

When at last you come to the top, go across the plateau
towards the south-west. Cast yourself down at the edge
and dream. There are no history-lessons here : only a
stillness, a poising of the soul, as of the body, over depths
that bring the uttermost wonder of tranquillity. If you can
bear it, look down :

" The crows and choughs that wing the midway air
Show scarce so gross as beetles . . .

The murmuring surge,
That on the unnumbered idle pebbles chafes.
Cannot be heard so high."

Or if it can be heard, on this cliff by comparison with which
Shakespeare's would be a paltry ledge, the sound is but the
caress of a kindly mother visiting your sleep ; a wistful
charity in which any man might find peace. What is man
in that superb isolation ?

It is always of long-established peace, to me, that Golden
Cap whispers. So high, so far, so lonely, you cannot be


o ^



in the world. Wh}', the very gulls and daws that arc
floating below you are yet five hundred feet above land.
The sea itself could not rage here : the Imge arc of cliffs
holds out arms to calm it. Portland is not rock now : it
is but a grey shadow. West Bay piers look the toys that in
truth they are. And inland there is only a glowing ember
of the eai'th's old firos : one of those flushing forests of the
fire that hold shepherds and sheep and trees and all pastoral
delights. The smooth roundness of Langdon Hill is red
with heather and warm with golden gorse : the dark firs
arc unburnt coal : and there are (or once there were)
shining flecks of cold ash — white rabbits at large upon the
green and purple : and dead gorse standing for calcined
coal. Far off there brood two great beasts, the slow ruminant
backs of the Cow and her Calf, as sailors used to name
the shapes of Pilsdon and Lewsdon Hills.

But if you go westwards a little you come back to geology,
and in its most romantic form. On Golden Cap you have
for a moment been on chalk. Then a little way down j'ou
are on the Middle Lias, and then on the Lower Lias. You
are in tlie land of dragons. And the cliffs and the shore
are full of dead bodies : fossils of all kinds.

These cliffs between Lyme and Golden Cap are unique
in the whole world, for here took place a meeting that can
never be repeated, a recognition the most uncanny in the
hi.story of the earth. In 1811 a child of twelve, daughter of
a carpenter and curiosity-monger of Lyme Regis, caught
BJght of some strange bones in the blue cliff. Having some
knowledge of fossils already, Mary Anning caused these
bones to be dug out carefully. She was the first known
human being, since the very beginning of time, to look upon
a fish lizard, or ichthyosaurus. No man has ever seen one
alive : she first saw one dead. A few years later she also
first beheld a plesiosaiu", an<l in 1H2H, a flying dragon, or
ptorodac;tyl. FossiIh of little creeping things, sponges,
waving plants, worm-like curly insects, or hiinibU' organismH
whose dust is now stone — these man had discovered alrcatl, '



and was beginning to name. But the monstrous beasts of
these cliffs were something more, something new — the
creatures of a past not merely remote, but wholly alien
and terrible. Some perhaps were fierce, as menacing to
man, perhaps — had they survived to meet him — as the
sabre-toothed tiger or the mammoth. Most of them were
probably of a mild nature and unwarlike equipment, ill-
fitted for conflict with that puny destroyer. But none
survived. The ground quaked : mountains and seas of
which no chart can ever be made were confounded : and
the earth destroyed her hugest children.

That is the grim vision hidden beneath the primroses on
the banks of the little streams below Golden Cap : a vision
of a horror more tremendous than the most terrific earth-
quake or eruption of our calm day — of a fantastic breed of
beasts upon a strange earth, and then, in the twinkling of
an eye, obliteration : for in this, as in most other geologic
changes, death seems to have been abrupt, as of a Roman
soldier at Pompeii.

One generation telleth another : but there is no story
like that told by the dragons to Mary Anning, for it is the
story of all the generations. Look down, when you go over
the last hill past Charmoutli, uj)on little Lyme dreaming
upon the sea, with its sturdy quiet Cobb and its dignity
and decency. It is two and a half centuries since Lyme was
in the full stream of history, save for a few hours when the
survivors of the Formidable struggled ashore there. For
twelve centuries and more before Monmouth's landing,
strife went to and fro with hardly a break in Lyme, as else-
where in Dorset. For three hundred years before that,
again, there was the Roman peace, that first began for
England in the generation of Christ's death. Before Christ
there were ages of bronze and stone, while the Iberian
and the Celt hammered out their civilization as slowly as
one of them might hammer a flint axe. Yet when they strove
man was old in England : in his Old Stone Age he had
dwelt with and outlived the woolly rhinoceros, the grizzly,


the mammotli. And yet again behintl his dim shadow is
a still dimmer figure — the lonely, tremendous figure of
EoHthie man standing against what seemed a hopeless

The cliffs of Charmouth have seen all that strange
pageant. They saw the dragons, too, and their catastrophe.
In such a secular chronicle, man's history is but a short
page : but in the shops of Lyme the dragons are merchandise.


"And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the iavo of the
earth . . . that the Lord said, ' My spirit shall not always strive
with man, for that he also is flesh.' "

The Book of Oeneaia.

" But the iniquity of oblivion blindly scattereth her poppy, and deals
with the memory of nien without distinction to merit of perpetuity.
Who can but pity the founder of the pyramids ? Herostratiis lives
that burnt the temple of Diana, he Ls almost lost that built it ; Timo
hath spared the epitaph of Adrian's horse, confounded that of himself.
In vain we compute our felicities by the advantage of our good
names, since bad have equal durations ; and Thersitos is likely to
live as long as Agamemnon. Who knows whether the lx>st of men be
known, or whether there be not more remarkable persons forgot,
than any that stand remembered in the known account of Timo ? "


H ydriotaphia.




TifE story of the rocks docs not end with the death
of the dragons ; but when those monsters have
vanished, and EoHtliic man also has fallen back into
the darkness out of which he rose so mysteriously, the story-