OPINIONS OF THE PRESS
"THE TOWN OF COWPER."
"Mr. Wright's pleasant melange of antiquities and liistory." â€” Saturday
"A delightful vi)lume." â€” Daily News.
"A pleasantly written volume." â€” Illustrated London ATews.
" A model volume. . . . The pupils of Mr. Wright's school are especially
to be congratulated on having what few, if any, of our public schools can
boast â€” a competent and sympathetic teacher of English history." â€” Pall
" All lovers of the gentle unobtrusive Cowper will hail this volume with
delight. . . . This ably written book." â€” Court Journal.
" Mr. Wright's book is not one to be read through steadily as a duly, but
to be lingered over as a pleasure."â€” yl/a;;r//nVtv- Examiner.
" His labours have been accomplished in an admirable spirit, and the
recollection of his book will long abide in the memory." â€” The Academy.
THE TOWN OF COWPER
TOWN OF COWPER
Tlbe Xitei'ar\? all^ IFDistorical Bssociations
of Â®lnei? an^ its 1Rclobbourboo&
I'KIN'CIl'AI. OK CDWl'EK SI IIIKIL, OI.NK^â–
'the life of WII.I.IAM COWl'EN." "rHK MVSTENV OK ST. UUNSTAN's," ETC.
WITH PHU'/Oiih'.WnS .L\J> WOOD /iXGkA i'lXCS
SAMPSON LOW, MARSTON, AND COMPANY
%it. Dunstan's! $)oui8e
Fetter Lank, Fj.ekt Street, E.G.
[. /// /-/if///.\- irxmrd]
JAMES WILLIAM CARLILE, Esq.,
Gayhurst House, in the County of Bucks.
When I asked leave to dedicate to you " THE
Town of Co\vper," you with great kindness acceded to my
request, but at the satne time were pleased to express your feeling
that 'â– 'â– such an honour should not have been offei-ed to a stranger.''^
It is true that your connection with this ncigJibourliood has not
extended over many years. And it is equally true that only a
few motiths have passed since you first accorded vie the pleastire of
an interview ; but during those few months I have been so greatly
indebted to your kindness iji connection with the collecting of
material concertiing not merely the history of your noble mansion,
but also many of the other subjects to which I have given atten-
tion, that I feel it my bounden duty to make the only return in
my power, and inscribe this small work with your name.
Kindly, then, accept it as a mark of gratitude and respect,
together with sincerest thanks for yotir numerous favours.
1 liave the honour to be.
Your hnud>le serruint.
PREFACE TO CENTENARY EDITION.
This edition is simply the Second with pages 3 and 4 revised
and not a new issue. Since publication the old bridge referred
to on page 1 7 has given place to a strudlure of iron. The gravel
walk referred to on page 7 was sixty yards long, not thirty.
The present pastor of the Baptist Chapel is the Rev. J. Samuel,
of the Congregational Church the Rev. Thomas Scott.
Cowper Centenary Day,
25 April, 1900.
cowper's house, olney.
PREFACE TO SECOND EDITION.
Since the first issue of the "Town of C^owper" (May 1886)
a good deal of new material has come to hand concerning
the poet and his surroundings ; my chief care, therefore, in
revising the work preparatory to a second edition has been to
bring it up to date. A few chapters deahng with occurrences
not immediately connected with Olney have been omitted,
but on the other hand several illustrations have been added,
and the work has been enriched with notes kindly furnished
by my friend Mr. Henry Gough of Redhill. The work is also
indebted for various notes and suggestions to Mr. Vates
Thompson, late of the Fall Mall Gazette, and the Rev.
("i. F. W. Munby, Rector oi Turvey.
It is interesting to be able to state that a copy of "The
Town of Cowper" was in all probability the last book read by
the late Lord Tennyson. It was sent to iiim on September
23rd, 1892, as a slight acknowledgment of his kindness in
responding generously to an appeal for pecuniary help made in
behalf of Mr. James William Defoe, descendant of the great
novelist: and the letter of thanks for it arrived on the 25th.
The Laureate was taken ill a few days later, and died on
October 6th. The notes received from the poet bear interest
from the fact that they are autograph; but there is a far greater
interest in knowing that one of the last acts of England's great
X PREFACE TO SECOND EDITION.
singer was a step towards the discovery of the " Holy Grail "'
by an act of charity, and a pleasant conceit in the idea that
one of the last works to interest him was a book dealing with
a singer as pure and gentle as himself.
CowpER School, Olney,
October i, 1892.
PREFACE TO FIRST EDITION.
Nothing can be more appropriate than to speak of Oiney as
the Town of Cowper, for in this neighbourhood the poet
lived for twenty-nine years, and wrote, with scarcely an excep-
tion, everything that he produced of any merit at all whether
in poetry or prose. Of these twenty-nine years, nineteen were
spent in Olney, and ten in Weston Underwood, a village
with which from earliest times Olney has been closely con-
nected. The following pages, however, will deal not only with
the town itself, but also with the villages within walking
distance, or, in other words, those that were, or could have
been, frequently visited by the poet; for, as he himself
remarks, it was to his feet, and to his feet alone, that he was
indebted for transportation from place to place.
But we do not restrict ourselves to Cowper : we shall speak
also of the other distinguished literary and historical person-
ages connected with the neighbourhood, â€” the Digbys, the
Throckmortons, the second Earl of Dartmouth, Newton, Scott,
Sutcliff, Carey, and others; nor in noticing sites and objects
hereabout shall we confine ourselves to those mentioned in
Cowper's works, but shall take the opportunity to enlarge upon
whatever has struck us as of peculiar interest, whether a stately
mansion, a picturesque church, a sculptured stone, or a vener-
xii PREP'ACE TO FIRST EDITION.
Surely no other town in the kingdom has hitherto been
treated so unfairly as Olney. Almost every person who has
written on Cowper has given it a bad name I Here is a speci-
men of the way we are spoken of, and I take it from the
" Introductory Memoir " of an excellent and well-known work,
the Globe Edition of Cowper (first published, I believe, in
1870, but my own copy bears the date 1879), though I could
easily point to a dozen other books containing similar and
equally erroneous statements about Olney : â€”
"It is not an attractive town, and the staple occupations of
its inhabitants, and the whole neighbourhood, lace-making and
straw-plaiting, were, and still are, very prejudicial to health,
wealth, and godliness."
Whether Olney is attractive or not, the reader that is unac-
quainted with the town will be able to judge for himself when
he gets to the end of this work ; but it is very certain that its
staple occupations are not, and have not been for many years,
either lace-making or straw-plaiting. Moreover, to represent
Olney at the present day, as it has so often been represented,
as unhealthy, poverty-stricken, and wicked, is giving a wrong
impression of the town.
In the first place, it is one of the healthiest towns in the
kingdom, one proof being that just before Christmas 1884 no
fewer than thirty of its inhabitants were over So years of age ;
in the second, it is quite as wealthy as a town of some 2300
inhabitants can reasonably be expected to be ; and in the
third, although as regards religion there is ample room for
improvement, we are decidedly in this respect in advance of
very many other towns, â€” but it would be astounding indeed
PREFACE TO FIRST EDFriON. xiii
if the labours of Newton, Scott, Sutcliff, Gauntlett, and other
laborious and self-sacrificing divines all counted for nothing,
and Olney were a byword for its depravity. As a matter of
fact, wliatever Olney may have been in Cowper's time, it is
now a quiet, industrious, respectable, and progressive place.
Many of the inhabitants are engaged in the shoe-trade.
What though it sometimes appears desolate ! A short time
ago a visitor, after facetiously observing that "You might fire a
cannon down the street all day, without injuring even a cat,"
inquired of a shoemaker, the only person to be seen, where
the people were. " Where they ought to be," was the prompt
answer, "all at work, sir!" Never again let it be imputed to
us as a fault that our street is often empty !
In conclusion, and this is to me the most agreeable part of
the preface, I beg to offer warmest thanks to those ladies and
gentlemen who have so generously assisted in this under-
taking ; whether by permitting me to go over their mansions,
houses, and grounds ; by lending books and engravings ; or
by furnishing information in other ways. To the kindness of
J. W. Carlile, Esq., of Gayhurst, I have already referred. My
particular thanks are also due to Rev. J. P. Langley, M.A.,
Olney Vicarage; Dr. Macaulay of the Leisure Hojir ; Rev. J.
Allen, B.A., Olney; Rev. J. Tarver, M.A., Filgrave Rectory;
J. Garrard, Esq.; Rev. W. Sutthery, M.A., Clifton Rectory;
and Rev. G. W. Wilkinson, Wainsgate.
Cowi'KR School, Oi.nkv,
May I, 1 886.
PREFACE TO SECOND EDITION
PREFACE TO FIRST EDITION
I. COWPER's house AND THE MARKET-PLACE
II. OLNEY BRIDGE AT THE TIME OF COWPER .
III. THE ANCIENT CHURCH OF OLNEY AND THE LEGEN
THE LORDSHIP CLOSE
IV. OLNEY CHURCH
V. THE VICARAGE
VI. THE POET COWPER
VII. THE REV. JOHN NEWTON
VIII. THE REV. THOMAS SCOTT AND HIS COMMENTARY
IX. THE SECOND EARL OF DARTMOUTH .
X. THE THREEFOLD CORD, OR LADY AUSTEN AT OLNEY
XL " KILWICK's ECHOING WOOD"" ....
XII. TWO OLD MEETING-HOUSES
XIII. THE REV. JOHN SUTCLIFF, A.M
XIV. DR. CAREY AND THE BAPTIST MISSION
XV. WESTON UNDERWOOD
XVI. THE MANSION OF GOTEHURST ....
XVII. SIR EVERARD DIGBY AND THE GUNPOWDER PLOT
XVIII. CLIFTON REYNES
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
MAP OF OLNEY AMJ WESTON U.N 1 JEKWdOI) .
COWPER's HOUSE IX THE ITME OK COWPER .
COWPER's house, OLNEY
THE SHIEI.-HALI. (TEEDON's SCHOOJ,) AND ROUND HOUSE
olney bridge at the rnu': ov cowper
the churchyard ei.m
the old parsonage, great berk h ami'stead .
east dereham church, noriolk, burial-place of cow
the alcove .....
weston lodge ....
the dovehouse. clifton keynes.
MAT OK OLNEV AND WESTON UNDERWOOD.
THE TOWN OF COWPER
cow PER' S HOUSE AND THE MARKET-PLACE.
I. Cowper's House.
The general appearance of Olney is probably familiar to all
lovers of Cowper ; even those who have never pilgrimaged
hither have pictured to themselves its long broad street widen-
ing southwards into a spacious triangular market-place, the
tall steeple with its bulging sides, and the silent river coiling
half round the little town and winding tortuously through its
meadows ; and the fact, too, must be widely known that the
large red -brick house, with stone dressings, sometimes called
Orchard Side, that stands in the south side of the Market-
place, was for nineteen years the residence of the poet Cowper.
In his poetical epistle to Lady Austen, Cowper describes his
" Deep in the abyss of Silver End,"
an obscure part of the town, at the mouth of which stood two
public-houses. Nothing, however, but poetical license justifies
him in so describing it. We do not wish to give the idea that
it was the most agreeably situated house in the town, for to
live even on the verge of what was formerly the Alsatia of
Olney must have been accompanied with certain disadvantages ;
but it faces the market-hill, its situation is far from unpleasant,
and on the whole Cowper made himself very comfortable in
it. It was by no means every day that the boys of Silver
2 THE TOWN OF COWPER.
End splashed his windows with mud, nor is it hkely that the
wailings of the infants of that locaUty were absolutely without
intermission. The accompanying engraving, which shows the
house as it actually appeared in the time of Cowper, has never
before been given to the public. It is taken from a small
etching (probably by Mr. James Storer) in my possession,
which has written under it in neat lettering, "View in Olney,
cowper's house in the time of cowper.
(The ivindows of the ivorld-famotis /'arloin- arc those hetuwen the two doots.)
Bucks, Sept - 1819," and, as the reader will see, represents the
house with cornice and imitation battlements which hide the
roof, and two doors instead of three. The alteration to its
present appearance is referred to in the following verse, taken
from some clever lines by Mr, James Storer, that describe
the various objects figuring in his large engraving entitled,
Phofc by y . T. .yeii'mnii, Bfikhaiiisted.
MISS KVANS A" DRESSING THE CHILDREN.
/iv prrmissio/i of tin' l-.iiitui- of "Tlw King.
centi:narv day at olney.
COWPER'S HOUSE. 3
"A sketch from nature at Olney, Bucks, September 23,
f "That Mansion laie with mimic face
Of architrave and frieze.
And kenn'd from many a distant place
The Spire and Orchard trees,
Departed times, impressive quote.
When Newton preached and Cowper wrote."
To its castellated appearance Cowper himself refers in a
letter of July 3, 1786. The first sight of the odd-looking
place quite shocked Unvvin. It seemed so like a prison, and
he did not at all like the idea of his mother living in it.
The part of the house occupied by Cowper and Mrs. Unwin
â€” for they never occupied the whole â€” was the western half,
which is the farther of the two from Silver End. It should
be borne in mind in reading this description that Cowper's
house faces north. "You have not forgotten, perhaps," he
writes to the Rev. W. Unwin (August 25, 1781), "that the
building we inhabit consists of two mansions. And because
you have only seen the inside of that part of it which is in our
occupation, I therefore inform you that the other end of it
is by far the most superb as well as the most commodious.
Lady Austen has seen it, has set her heart upon it, is going
to fit it up and furnish it, and if she can get rid of the remain-
ing two years of the lease of her London house, will probably
enter upon it in a twelvemonth."
On April 2sth, 1900, the Centenary of the death of Cowper.
Mr. W. H. Collingridge, of Enfield, generously presented the
House to the Town and Nation, and in accordance with his
wish Cowper's hall and the famous parlour adjoining have been
fitted up as a Cowper and Newton Museum and Library. It
contains a very rich colle(5tion of Cowper manuscripts, relics
and other objedls of interest connedled with Cowper and
Newton (including the original MS. of the Lines on Yardley
Oak â€” eleven quarto pages in Cowper's handwriting),
4 THE TOWN OF COWPER.
several original letters of Newton, a large number of books
with manuscript notes by Newton, the famous Teedon's Diary,
firsteditionsofCowper's works, and some valuable the oil paint-
ings (all the gift of Mr. Collingridge) ; several original
letters of Cowper including one to Lady Hesketh and one to
Samuel Rose, portraits of Cowper, his father and mother and
his friends, the warrant authorising the payment to Cowper
<^f ;^3oo 3- year, signed by King George in., and William
Pitt, and hundreds of other interesting objedls.
Other features of Centenary Day were an address on the
Market Place to the children of Olney and Weston, delivered
by Miss E. Evans ; the singing by the children of Cowper's
hymn, " God moves in a Mysterious Way" ; a public Meeting
in the Cowper Memorial Congregational Church, with
addresses by Clement Shorter, Esq., Thomas Wright, Esq.,
and W. Ryland Adkins, Esq. ; and an evening service in the
church with sermon by Dean Farrar. The town was gaily
decorated with buff and green. Cowper's favourite colours, and
there was an enormous number of visitors.
At the back of the hall of Cowper's house may be seen the
" port hole " through which Cowper's hares came leaping out
to their evening gambols.
These hares were obtained in 1784, about seven years after
Cowper came to Olney, and their names, it will be remembered,
were Puss, Tiney, and Bess. Each had his peculiarities of
chara(5ler and temper. Puss at once grew familiar, allowed
Cowper to carry him about in his arms, more than once fell
asleep on his knee, and after recovering from a sickness of
three days, signified his graditude for the kindness shown him
by licking Cowper's hand, "first the back of it, then the palm,
then every finger separately, then between all the fingers, as if
anxions to leave no part unsaluted."
Tiney was very differerent. " He too was sick, and in his
sickness had an equal share of my attention ; but if, after his
recovery, I took the liberty to stroke him, he would grunt,
strike with his fore-leg, spring forward, and bite. He was.
COWPER'S HOUSE. 5
however, very entertaining in his way ; even his surliness was
matter of mirth ; and in his play he preserved such an air of
gravity, and performed his feats with such a solemnity of
manner, that in him too I had an agreeable companion."
" Old Tiney, surliest of his kind,
Who, nursed with tender care,
And to domestic bounds confined.
Was still a wild jack-hare.
I kept him for his humour's sake,
For he woukl oft beguile
My heart of thoughts that made it ache.
And force me to a smile." ^
Bess, who was the largest and strongest of the three, died
soon after he was full-grown. " Puss was tamed by gentle
usage, Tiney was not to be tamed at all, and Bess had a courage
and confidence that made him tame from the besrinnins;."
"These creatures," continues Cowper â€” for all along we have
been quoting from his charming paper in the Gentleman's
Magazine (June 1784) â€” "have a singular sagacity in dis-
covering the minutest alteration that is made in the place to
which they are accustomed, and instantly apply their nose to
the exaniination of a new object. A small hole being burnt
in the carpet, it was mended with a patch, and that patch in
a moment underwent the strictest scrutiny. They seem, too,
to be very much directed by the smell in the choice of their
favourites ! To some persons, though they saw them daily,
they could never be reconciled, and would even scream when
they attempted to touch them ; but a miller coming in engaged
their affections at once ; his powdered coat had charms that
were irresistible." Bess, as we noticed, died young; Tiney
lived to be nine years old ; Puss to be eleven years eleven
months, dying of sheer old age. As the hall door opened
into the street, visitors, when the hares were out, were
"refused admittance at the grand entry, and referred to the
back door as the only possible way of approach."
"/;///r/w/i-," writes Cowper to Lady Hesketh (Feb. 9, 1786),
^ Cowper : Epitaph on a Hare.
6 THE TOWN OF COWPER.
"as soon as you have entered the vestibule, if you cast a look
on either side of you, you shall see on the right hand a box of
my making. It is the box in which have been lodged all my
hares, and in which lodges Puss at present. But he, poor
fellow, is worn out with age, and promises to die before you
can see him. On the right hand stands a cupboard, the
work of the same author ; it was once a dove-cage, but I
transformed it. Opposite to you stands a table which I also
made. But a merciless servant having scrubbed it until it
became paralytic, it serves no purpose now but of ornament.
On the left hand, at the farther end of this superb vestibule,
you will find the door of the parlour, into which I will con-
duct you, and where I will introduce you to Mrs. Unwin,
unless we should meet her before, and where we will be
happy as the day is long."
The parlour of world-wide fame, a room about thirteen feet
square, has in front two windows (still retaining their shutters),
and had formerly, besides the door opening into the hall, two
other doors exactly opposite the windows, one opening on to
a staircase, the other (now removed) belonging to a cupboard.
The chimney is wainscoted, as are the walls for about a yard
from the ground. As regards size, the parlour is now the
same as it was in Cowper's time (when Hugh Miller visited
Olney the parlour and Cowper's hall were one room, used as
an infant school) ; but the door between the parlour and the
hall was a couple of yards farther from the street than the
The poet's favourite seat in the daytime was at the second
window from the front door ; but perhaps we like best to think
of him in that room on a winter's evening, and to picture him
giving expression to his well-known lines in the Fourth Book
of " The Task : "â€”
" Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And while the bubbhng and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in."'
THE SUMMER-HOUSE. 7
The identical poker with which he used to stir the fire in tliis
cosy parlour was presented in 1869 by a lady of Olney to the
IJucks Archaeological Society.
Working at his poems, writing letters to his friends, reading
books of travels or his own productions to the ladies, or hold-
ing thread for them : in these pursuits the early part of the
evening was spent. Then came supper, the most agreeable
meal of the day ; and if Miss Catlett, Newton's niece, happened
to be visiting at Orchard Side, Cowper of course could not
resist having his little joke over about her name. "Now Miss
Catlett," he would ask pleasantly, " shall I give you a piece of
cutlet ? "
After supper the hares were admitted, when the Turkey
carpet "affording their feet a tirm hold, they would frisk and
bound, and play a thousand gambols."
The poet's bedroom was the large one over the hall.
II. The Summer-House.
From Cowper's house a gravel walk of thirty yards extended
to the summer-house, in which were written several of his
minor poems and part of his translation of Homer. This tiny
building, "not much bigger than a sedan-chair," which Cowper
sometimes calls his boudoir, stands about half-way between his
house and the Vicarage, but the garden containing it is now
a separate property. It had formerly served an apothecary
(Mr. Aspray) as a smoking-room, and in the floor is still a trap-
door, " which," says Cowper, " covered a hole in the ground
where he (the apothecary) kept his bottles ; " the same hole in
which Mr. Bull, who visited Olney once a fortnight, used to
keep his pipes and tobacco.
About half-way down the gravel walk which extended from
the house to the summer-house stood until recently some
cottages, the bottoms of whose lower windows were on a level
with the garden ground, and it is said that the poet as he
paced his walk could sometimes hear one of the cottagers,
THE TOWN OF COWPER.
" an old breeches-maker," singing, as he worked, to the
plaintive tune of Ludlow, the hymn beginning :
" O for a closer walk with God."
The tree of Ribstone pippins planted by Cowper, which
stood near the cottages, has now disappeared. Of his garder^
he says, "The very stones in the wall are my intimate acquaint-
ance â€” I should miss almost the minutest object."
Sir James Mackintosh, Hugh Miller, Elihu Burritt, and
numbers of other distinguished personages have at different
times visited the summer-house, and some of their autographs
THE jMARKET-PLACE. 9
may be seen among the countless names that cover the walls
Cowper's greenhouse, in which he wrote " John Gilpin," and
in all probability the greater portion of " The Task," has disap-
peared. ^ That it was quite distinct from the summer-house
is stated by Cowper himself in a letter to Unwin dated June
12, 1785. To Newton (Aug. 16, 1781) he writes, '-I might
date my letter from the greenhouse, which we have converted
into a summer parlour. The walls hung with garden mats, and
the floor covered with a carpet, the sun too, in a great measure,
excluded by an awning of mats, which forbids him to shine