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LIPPINCOTT'S MAGAZINE

OF

POPULAR LITERATURE AND SCIENCE.

OCTOBER, 1878.

VOLUME XXII.

Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1878, by J.B. LIPPINCOTT
& CO., in the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.


WARWICK AND COVENTRY.

[Illustration: OBLIQUE GABLES IN WARWICK.]

The history of England is written in living characters in the provincial
towns of the kingdom; and it is this which gives such interest to places
which have been surpassed commercially by great manufacturing centres and
overshadowed socially by the attractions of London. The local nobility
once held state little less than royal in houses whose beautiful
architecture now masks a hotel, a livery-stable, a girls' school, a
lawyer's office or a workingmen's club, and there are places where almost
every cottage, every wooden balcony or overhanging oriel, suggests
something romantic and antique. Even if no positive association is
connected with one of these humbler specimens of English domestic
architecture, you can fall back on the traditional home of love and
poetry, the recollections of idyls and pastorals daily acted out by
unconscious illustrators of the poets from one generation to another.
Modern life engrafted on these old towns and villages seems prosaic and
unattractive, though practically it is that which first strikes the eye.
New fronts mask old buildings, as new manners do old virtues; and if we
come to the frame and adjuncts of daily life, we must confess that
nineteenth-century trivialities are intrinsically no worse than mediæval
trivialities.

There are in Warwick more modern houses and smart shops than ancient
gabled and half-timbered houses, but the relics of the past are still
striking: witness the ancient porch of the good old "Malt-Shovel," with
its bow-window, in which the Dudley retainers often caroused, and the
oblique gables in one of the side streets, which Rimmer, a minute observer
of English domestic architecture, thus describes: "An acute-angled street
may be made to contain rectangular rooms on an upper story.... Draw an
acute angle - say something a little less than a right angle - and cut it
into compartments; or, if preferred, an obtuse angle, and cut this into
compartments also. Now, the roadway may be so prescribed as to prevent
right angles from being made on the basement, but the complementary angles
are ingeniously made out by allowing the joists to be of extra length, and
cutting the ends off when they come to the square. The effect is extremely
picturesque, and I cannot remember seeing this peculiar piece of
construction elsewhere."

At the western end of High street stands Leicester's Hospital, which was
originally a hall belonging to two guilds, but, coming into possession of
the Dudleys, was converted into a hospital by Elizabeth's favorite in
1571. The "master" was to belong to the Established Church, and the
"brethren" were to be retainers of the earl of Leicester and his heirs,
preference being given to those who had served and been disabled in the
wars. The act of incorporation gives a list of neighboring towns and
villages, and specifies that queen's soldiers from these, in rotation, are
to have the next presentations. There is a common kitchen, with a cook and
porter, and each brother receives some eighty pounds per annum, besides
the privileges of the house. Early in this century the number of inmates
was increased to twenty-two, unlike many such institutions, whose funded
property accumulated without the original number of patients or the amount
of their pensions being correspondingly increased. The hospital-men still
wear the old uniform - a gown of blue cloth, with the silver badge of the
Dudleys, the bear and ragged staff. The chapel has been restored in nearly
the old form, and stretches over the pathway, with a promenade at the top
of the flight of steps round it, and the black-and-white (or
half-timbered) building that forms the hospital encloses a spacious open
quadrangle in the style common to hostelries. The carvings are very fine
and varied, and add greatly to the beauty of the galleries and covered
stair. The monastic charities founded by men of the old religion are now
in the hands of the corporation for distribution among the poor of the
town, and besides the old grammar-school founded by Henry VIII., with a
yearly exhibition to each of the universities, and open to all boys, rich
and poor, of the town, there are five other public schools and forty
almshouses. The old generous, helpful spirit survives, in spite of new
economic theories, in these English country towns, and landlords and
merchants have not yet given up the old-fashioned belief that where they
make their money they are bound to spend it to the best advantage of their
poorer and less fortunate neighbors. Many local magnates, however, have
departed from this rule. Country gentlemen no longer have houses in the
county-town, but flock to London for the purposes of social and
fashionable life. They have decidedly lost in dignity by this rush to the
capital, and it is doubtful how far they have gained in pleasure, though
the few whose means still compel them to stay at home, or only go to town
once or twice in a lifetime for a court presentation, would gladly take
the risk for the sake of the experiment. The feeling which made the Rohans
adopt as a motto, "Roy ne puis - Prince ne veux - Rohan je suis," is one
which is theoretically strong among the country squires of England, the
possessors of the bluest blood and longest deeds of hereditary lands; but
the snobbishness of the nineteenth century is practically apt to taint the
younger branches when they read of garden-parties given by the royal
princes or balls where duchesses and cabinet ministers are as plentiful as
blackberries. Their great-grandmothers, it is true, were sometimes
troubled with the same longings, for among the many proclamations against
the residence in London of country gentlemen in unofficial positions is
one of James I., noticing "those swarms of gentry, who, through the
instigation of their wives, do neglect their country hospitality and
cumber the city, a general nuisance to the kingdom;" and the royal
Solomon elsewhere observes that "gentlemen resident on their estates are
like ships in port - their value and magnitude are felt and acknowledged;
but when at a distance, as their size seemeth insignificant, so their
worth and importance are not duly estimated." There is a weak point in
this simile, however; so, to cover it with a better and more unpretentious
argument, I will quote a few lines from an old poem of Sir Richard
Fanshawe on the subject of one of these proclamations:

Nor let the gentry grudge to go
Into those places whence they grew,
But think them blest they may do so.
Who would pursue
The smoky glories of the town
That may go till his native earth,
And by the shining fire sit down
On his own hearth?

* * * * *

Believe me, ladies, you will find
In that sweet life more solid joys,
More true contentment to the mind,
Than all town toys.

[Illustration: PORCH WITH BOW-WINDOW UNDER, OUTSIDE WARWICK GATES.]

The solemn county balls, to which access was as difficult as it is now to
a court festivity, have dwindled to public affairs with paid
subscriptions, yet even in their changed conditions they are somewhat of
an event in the winter life of a neighborhood. Everybody has the entrée
who can command the price of a ticket, though, as a rule, different
classes form coteries and dance among themselves. The country-houses for
ten or twelve miles around contribute their Christmas and New Year guests,
often a large party in two or three carriages. Political popularity is not
lost sight of, and civilities to the wives and daughters of the tradesmen
and voters often secure more support in the next election than strict
principle warrants; but though the men thus mingle with the majority of
the dancers, it is seldom the ladies leave the upper end of the hall,
where the local aristocracy holds a sort of court. In places where there
is a garrison the military are a great reinforcement to the body of
dancers and flirts. The society proper of a county-town is mostly cut up
into a small clique of clerical and professional men, with a few spinsters
of gentle eccentricity and limited means, the sisters and aunts of country
gentlemen, and a larger body of well-to-do tradesmen and their families,
including the ministers of the dissenting chapels and their families. One
of the latter may be possibly a preacher of local renown, and one of the
Anglican clergy will almost invariably be an antiquary of real merit. The
mayor and corporation belong, as a rule, to the larger set, but the
lawyers and doctors hold a neutral position and are welcomed everywhere,
partly for the sake of gossip, partly for their own individual merits.
Warwick has the additional advantage over many kindred places of the near
neighborhood of Leamington, a fashionable watering-place two miles and a
half distant, one of the mushrooms of this century, but in a practical
point of view one of the brightest and most attractive places in England.
At present it far surpasses Warwick in business and bustle, and possesses
all the adjuncts of a health-resort, frequented all the year round, and
inhabited by hundreds of resident invalids for the sake of the excellent
medical staff collected there. One of its famous physicians was often sent
for, instead of a London doctor, to the great houses within a radius of
forty or fifty miles. The assembly-rooms, hotels, baths, gardens, bridges
and shops of Leamington vie with those of the continental spas, and the
display of dress and the etiquette of society are in wonderful contrast to
the state of the quiet village fifty years ago. But it is pleasant to know
that the new town has already an endowed hospital, founded by Dr.
Warneford and called by his name, where the poor have gratuitous baths and
the best medical advice. Not content with being a centre in its own way,
Leamington has improved its prospects by setting up as a rival to Melton
Mowbray in Leicestershire, known as the "hunting metropolis." Three packs
of hounds are hunted regularly during the season within easy distance of
the town, which has also annual steeplechases and a hunting club; and this
sporting element serves to redeem Leamington from the character of masked
melancholy which often strikes a tourist in visiting a regular
health-resort.

In natural beauty Warwickshire is surpassed by other counties, but few can
boast of architectural features equally striking - such magnificent
historical memorials as Kenilworth and Warwick castles, and the humbler
beauties to be found in the houses of Stratford-on-Avon, Polesworth and
Meriden. The last is remarkable - as are, indeed, all the villages of
Warwickshire - for its picturesque beauty, and above all for the position
of its churchyard, whence lovely views are obtained of the country around.
Of Polesworth, Dugdale remarks, that, "for Antiquitie and venerable esteem
it needs not to give Precedence to any in the Countie." "There is a
charming impression of age and quiet dignity in its remains of old walls,
its remains of old trees, its church and its open common," says Dean
Howson. Close to the village, on a hill commanding a view of it, stands
Pooley Hall, whose owner in old days obtained a license from Pope Urban
VI. to build a chapel on his own land, "by Reason of the Floods at some
time, especially in Winter, which hindered his Accesse to the
Mother-Church." In the garden of this hall, a modest country-house, a type
of the ordinary run of English homes, stands a chapel - not the original
one, but built on its site - and from it one has a view of the level
ground, the village and the river, evidently still liable to floods. The
part of the county that joins Gloucestershire is rich in apple-orchards,
which I remember one year in the blossoming-time, while the early grass,
already green and wavy, fringed the foot of the trees, and by the road as
we passed we looked through hedges and over low walls into gardens full of
crocuses, snowdrops, narcissuses, early pansies and daffodils, for spring
gardens have become rather a mania in England within ten or twelve years.
Here and there older fragments of wall lined the road, and over one of
these, from a height of eight feet or so, dropped a curtain of glossy,
pointed leaves, making a background for the star-shaped yellow blossoms,
nearly as large as passion-flowers, of the St. John's-wort, with their
forest of stamens standing out like golden threads from the heart of the
blossom. At the rectory of the village in question was a very clever man,
an unusual specimen of a clergyman, a thorough man of the world and a born
actor. His father and brother had been famous on the stage, and he himself
struck one as having certainly missed his calling, though in his
appearance and manner he was as free as possible from that discontented
uneasiness with which an underbred person alone carries a burden. His
duties were punctually fulfilled and his parish-work always in order, yet
he went out a good deal and stayed at large houses, where he was much in
request for his marvellous powers of telling stories. This he did
systematically, having a notebook to help his memory as to what anecdotes
he had told and to whom, so that he never repeated himself to the same
audience. Besides stories which he told dramatically, and with a
professional air that made it evident that to seem inattentive would be an
offence, he had theories which he would bring out in a startling way,
supporting them by quotations apparently very learned, and practically,
for the sort of audience he had, irrefutable: one was on the subject of
the ark, which he averred to be still buried in the eternal snows of Mount
Ararat, and discoverable by any one with will and money to bring it to
light. As to the question of which of the disputed peaks was the Ararat of
the Bible he said nothing. This brilliant man had a passion for roses and
gardening in general, and his rectory garden was a wonder even among
clerical gardens, which, as a rule, are the most delightful and homelike
of all English gardens.

[Illustration: LORD LEICESTER'S HOSPITAL, WARWICK.]

[Illustration: COVENTRY GATEWAY.]

One of Warwickshire's oldest towns and best-preserved specimens of
mediæval architecture is Coventry, famous for its legend of Lady Godiva,
still commemorated by an annual procession during the great Show Fair,
held the first Friday after Trinity Sunday and continued for eight days.
From Warwick to Coventry is a drive of ten miles, past many villages whose
windows and chimneys form as many temptations to stop and linger, but
Coventry itself is so rich in these peculiarities that a walk through its
streets is a reward for one's hurry on the road. One would suppose,
according to the saying of a ready-witted lady, that the town must be by
this time full of a large and interesting society, since so many people
have been at various times "sent to Coventry." The origin of the saying,
as an equivalent for being tabooed (itself a term of savage origin and
later date), is reported to be the deserved unpopularity of the military
there about a century ago, when no respectable woman dared to be seen in
the streets with a soldier. This led to the place being considered by
regiments as an undesirable post, since they were shunned by the decent
part of the town's-people, and to be "sent to Coventry" became, in
consequence, a synonym for being "cut." There are, however, other
interpretations of the saying, and, though this sounds plausible, it may
be incorrect. The heart of the town, once the strong-hold of the "Red
Rose," is still very ancient, picturesque and sombre-looking, though the
suburbs have been widened, "improved" and modernized to suit present
requirements. The Coventry of our day depends for its prosperity on its
silk and ribbon trade, necessitating all the appliances of looms, furnaces
and dye-houses, which give employment to a population reaching nearly
forty thousand. The continuance of prosperous trade in most of the ancient
English boroughs is a very interesting feature in their history; and
though no doubt the picturesqueness of towns is increased or preserved by
their falling into the Pompeii stage and dwindling into loneliness or
decay, one cannot wish such to be their fate. Few English towns that have
been of any importance centuries ago have gone back, though some have
stood still; and if they have lost their social prestige, the spirit of
the times has gradually made the loss of less consequence in proportion as
the importance of trade and manufactures has increased. The ribbon trade
is indeed a new one, hardly two centuries old, but Coventry was the centre
of the old national woollen industry long before. Twenty years ago, the
silk trade having languished, the queen revived the fashion of broad
ribbons, and Coventry wares became for a while the rage, just as Honiton
lace and Norwich silk shawls did at other times, chiefly through the same
example of court patronage of native industries. St. Michael's, Trinity
and Christ churches furnish the three noted spires, the first one of the
highest and most beautiful in England, and the third the remains of a Gray
Friars' convent, to which a new church has been attached. Of the ancient
cathedral (Lichfield and Coventry conjointly formed one see) only a few
ruins remain, and the same is the case with the old walls with their
thirty-two towers and twelve gates. The old hospitals and schools have
fared better - witness Bond's Hospital at Bablake (once an adjacent hamlet,
but now within the city limits), commonly called Bablake Hospital, founded
by the mayor of Coventry in the latter part of Henry VII.'s reign for the
use of forty-five old men, with a revenue of ten hundred and fifty pounds;
Ford's Hospital for thirty-five old women, a building so beautiful in its
details that John Carter the archæologist declared that it "ought to be
kept in a case;" Hales' free school, where Dugdale, the famous antiquary
and the possessor of Merivale Hall, near Warwick, received the early part
of his education; and St. Mary's Hall, built by Henry VI. for the Trinity
guild on the site of an old hall now used as a public hall and for
town-council meetings. The buildings surround a courtyard, and are entered
by an arched gateway from the street; and, says Rimmer, it is hardly
possible in all the city architecture of England to find a more
interesting and fine apartment than the great hall. The private buildings
in the old part of the town are as noticeable in their way as the public
buildings; and as many owe their origin to the tradesmen of Coventry,
formerly a body well known for its wealth and importance, they form good
indications of the taste of the ancient "city fathers." In 1448 this body
equipped six hundred men, fully armed, for the royal service, and in 1459
they were proud to receive the _Parliamentum Diabolicum_ which Henry VI.
called together within shelter of their walls, and turned to the use of a
public prosecution against the beaten party of the White Rose: hence its
name. One of the private houses, at the corner of Hertford street, bears
on its upper part an effigy of the tailor, Peeping Tom, who, tradition
says, was struck dead for impertinently gazing at Countess Godiva on her
memorable ride through the town.

[Illustration: SPIRE OF ST. MICHAEL'S, COVENTRY.]

The great variety in the designs of windows and chimneys, and the
disregard of regularity or conventionality in their placing, are
characteristics which distinguish old English domestic architecture, as
also the lavish use of wood-carving on the outside as well as the inside
of dwellings. No Swiss chalet can match the vagaries in wood common to the
gable balconies of old houses, whether private or public: one beautiful
instance occurs, for example, in a butcher's stall and dwelling, the only
one left of a similar row in Hereford. Here, besides the ordinary
devices, all the emblems of a slaughter-house - axes, rings, ropes, etc.,
and bulls' heads and horns - are elaborately reproduced over the doors and
balconies of the building, and the windows, each a projecting one, are
curiously wreathed and entwined. This ingeniousness in carving is a thing
unknown now, when even picture-frames are cast in moulds and present a
uniform and meaningless appearance, while as to house decoration the eye
wearies of the few paltry, often-repeated knobs or triangles which have
taken the place of the old individual carvings. The corn-market of
Coventry, the former Cross Cheaping, is another of the city's living
antiquities, as busy now as hundreds of years ago, when the magnificent
gilded cross still standing in James II.'s time, and whose regilding is
said to have used up fifteen thousand four hundred and three books of
gold, threw its shadow across the square. Even villages of a few hundred
inhabitants often possessed market-places architecturally worthy of
attention, and sometimes the covered market, open on all sides and formed
of pillars and pointed arches, supported a town-hall or rooms for public
purposes above. The crosses were by no means simply religious emblems:
though their presence aimed at reminding worldlings of religion and
investing common acts of life with a religious significance, their
purposes were mainly practical. Proclamations were read from the steps and
tolls collected from the market-people: again, they served for open-air
pulpits, and often as distributing-places for some "dole" or charity
bequeathed to the poor of the town. A fountain was sometimes attached to
them, and the covered market-crosses, of which a few remain (Beverly,
Malmesbury and Salisbury), were merely covered spaces, surmounted with a
cross, for country people to rest in in the heat or the rain, and were
generally the property of some religious house in the neighborhood. They
were usually octagonal and richly groined, and if small when considered as
a shelter, were yet generally sufficient for their purpose, as most of the
market-squares were full of covered stalls, with tents, awnings or
umbrellas, as they are to this day. The crosses were sometimes only an
eight-sided shaft ornamented with niches and surmounted by a crucifix, and
very often, of whatever shape they were, they were built _in memoriam_ to
a dead relative by some rich merchant or landlord. As objects of beauty
they were unrivalled, and improved the look of a village-green as much as
that of a busy market.

[Illustration: STREET IN COVENTRY.]

But Coventry, as I have said before, is a growing as well as an ancient
city; and when places grow they must rival their neighbors in pleasure as
well as in business, which accounts for the yearly races, now established
nearly forty years, and each year growing more popular and successful. No
doubt the share of gentlemen's houses which falls to the lot of every
county-town in England has something to do with the brilliancy of these
local gatherings: every one in the neighborhood makes it a point to
patronize the local gayeties, to belong to the local military, to enter
horses, to give prizes, to attend balls; and if politics are never quite
forgotten, especially since the suffrage has been extended and the number
of voters to be conciliated so suddenly increased, this only adds to the
outer bustle and success of these social "field-days." Coventry has a
pretty flourishing watchmaking trade, besides its staple one of
ribbon-weaving; and indeed the whole county, villages included, is given
up to manufacture: the places round Warwick and Coventry to a great extent
share in the silk trade, while Alcester has a needle manufacture of its
own, Atherstone a hat manufacture, and Amworth, which is partly in
Staffordshire, was famous until lately for calico-printing and making
superfine narrow woollen cloths: it also has flax-mills. The kings of
Mercia used to keep state here, and the Roman road, Watling Street, passed
through it, with which contrast now the iron roads that pass every place
of the least importance, and in this neighborhood lead to the busy centre
of the hardware trade, smoky, wide-awake, turbulent, educated, hard-headed
Birmingham. This, too, is within the "King-maker's" county, and how oddly
it has inherited or picked up his power will be noted by those familiar


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Online LibraryVariousLippincott's Magazine of Popular Literature and Science, Volume 22. October, 1878. → online text (page 1 of 20)