Charles G. (Charles George) Harper.

The Brighton road : the classic highway to the south online

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wayfarers' attention nearer Crawley, where another hamlet has sprung up. A
mean little house called "Casa querca" - by which I suppose the author
means Oak House - is "refinement," as imagined in the suburbs, and excites
the passing sneer, "Is not the English language good enough?" If the
Italians will only oblige, and call their own "Bella Vistas" "Pretty
View," and so forth, while we continue the reverse process here, we shall
effect a fair exchange, and find at last an Old England over-sea.


At the beginning of Crawley stands the "Sun" inn, and away at the other
end is the "Half Moon"; trivial facts not lost upon the guards and
coachmen of the coaching age, who generally propounded the stock conundrum
when passing through, "Why is Crawley the longest place in existence?"
Every one unfamiliar with the road "gave it up"; when came the answer,
"Because the sun is at one end and the moon at the other." It is evident
that very small things in the way of jokes satisfied the coach-passengers.

We have it, on the authority of writers who fared this way in early
coaching days, that Crawley was a "poor place," by which we may suppose
that they meant it was a village. But what did they expect - a city?

Crawley in these times still keeps some old-world features, but it has
grown, and is still growing. Its most striking peculiarity is the
extraordinary width of the road in midst of what I do not like to call a
town, and yet can scarce term a village; and the next most remarkable
thing is the bygone impudence of some forgotten land-snatchers who seized
plots in midst of this street, broad enough for a market-place, and built
houses on them. By what slow, insensible degrees these sites, doubtless
originally those of market-stalls, were stolen, records do not tell us;
but we may imagine the movable stalls replaced by fixed wooden ones, and
those in course of time giving place to more substantial structures, and
so forth, in the time-honoured way, until the present houses, placed like
islands in the middle of the street, sealed and sanctified the long-drawn
tale of grab.

Even Crawley's generous width of roadway cannot have been an inch too wide
for the traffic that crowded the village when it was a stage at which
every coach stopped, when the air resounded with the guards' winding of
their horns, or the playing of the occasional key-bugle to the airs of
"Sally in our Alley" or "Love's Young Dream." Then the "George" was the
scene of a continual bustling, with the shouting of the ostlers, the
chink and clashing of harness, and all the tumults of travelling, when
travelling was no light affair of an hour and a fraction, railway time,
but a real journey, of five hours.

[Illustration: CRAWLEY, 1789.]

Now there is little to stir the pulses or make the heart leap.
Occasionally some great cycle "scorch" is in progress, when whirling
enthusiasts speed through the village on winged wheels beneath the sign of
the "George" spanning the street and swinging in the breeze; a sign on
which the saintly knight wages eternal warfare with a blurred and very
invertebrate dragon. Sometimes a driving match brings down sportsmen _and_
bookmakers, and every now and again some one has a record to cut, be it in
cycling, coaching, walking, or in wheelbarrow trundling; and then the
roads are peopled again.

There yet remain a few ancient cottages in Crawley, and the grey,
embattled church tower lends an assured antiquity to the view; but there
is, in especial, one sixteenth-century cottage worthy notice. Its timbered
frame stands as securely, though not so erect, as ever, and is eloquent of
that spacious age when the Virgin Queen (Heaven help those who named her
so!) rules the land. It is Sussex, realised at a glance.

They are conservative folks at Crawley. When that ancient elm of theirs
that stood directly below this old cottage had become decayed with lapse
of years and failure of sap, they did not, even though its vast trunk
obtrudes upon the roadway, cut it down and scatter its remains abroad.
Instead, they fenced it around with as decorative a rustic railing as
might well be contrived out of cut boughs, all innocent of the carpenter
and still retaining their bark, and they planted the enclosure with
flowers and tender saplings, so that this venerable ruin became a very
attractive ruin indeed.

Rowlandson has preserved for us a view of Crawley as it appeared in 1789,
when he toured the road and sketched, while his companion, Henry Wigstead,
took notes for his book, "An Excursion to Brighthelmstone." It is a work
of the dreadfullest ditch-water dulness, saved only by the artist's
illustrations. That _they_ should have lived, you who see the reproduction
will not wonder. The old sign spans the way, as of yore, but Crawley is
otherwise greatly changed.


An odd fact, unknown to those who merely pass through the place, is that
the greater part of "Crawley" is not in that parish at all, but in the
adjoining parish of Ifield. Only the church and a few houses on the same
side of the street belong to Crawley.

In these later years the church, once kept rigidly locked, is generally
open, and the celebrated inscription carved on one of the tie-beams of the
nave is to be seen. It is in old English characters, gilded, and runs in
this admonitory fashion:

Man yn wele bewar, for warldly good makyth man blynde
He war be for whate comyth be hynde.

When the stranger stands puzzling it out, unconscious of not being alone,
it is sufficiently startling to hear the unexpected voice of the sexton,
"be hynde," remarking that it is "arnshunt."

[Illustration: THE "GEORGE," CRAWLEY.]

The sturdy old tower is crowned with a gilded weather vane representing
Noah's dove returning to the Ark with the olive-leaf, when the waters were
abated from off the earth: a device peculiarly appropriate, intentionally
or not, to Crawley, overlooking the oft-flooded valley of the Mole.

But the most interesting feature of this church is the rude representation
of the Trinity carved on the western face of the tower: three awful
figures of very ancient date, on a diminishing scale, built into
fifteenth-century niches. Above, on the largest scale, is the Supreme
Being, holding what seems to be intended for a wheel, one of the ancient
symbols of eternity. The sculptor, endeavouring to realise the grovelling
superstition of his remote age, has put his "fear of God," in a very
literal sense, into the grim, truculent, merciless, all-judging smile of
the image; and thus, in enduring stone, we have preserved to us the
terrified minds of the dark ages, when God, the loving Father, was
non-existent, and was only the Judge, swift to punish. The other figures
are merely like infantile grotesques.


There is but one literary celebrity whose name goes down to posterity
associated with Crawley. At Vine Cottage, near the railway station,
resided Mark Lemon, editor of _Punch_, who died here on May 20th, 1870.
Since his time the expansion of Crawley has caused the house to be
converted into a grocer's shop.

[Sidenote: PRIZE-FIGHTS]


The only other inhabitant of Crawley whose deeds informed the world at
large of his name and existence was Tom Cribb, the bruiser. But though I
lighted upon the statement of his residence here at one time, yet, after
hunting up details of his life and of the battles he fought, after
pursuing him through the classic pages of "Boxiana" and the voluminous
records of "Pugilistica," after consulting, too, that sprightly work "The
Fancy"; after all this I find no further mention of the fact. It was
fitting, though, that the pugilist should have his home near Crawley
Downs, the scene of so many of the Homeric combats witnessed by thousands
upon thousands of excited spectators, from the Czar of Russia and the
great Prince Regent, downwards to the lowest blackguards of the
metropolis. An inspiring sight those Downs must have presented from time
to time, when great multitudes - princes, patricians, and plebeians of
every description - hung with beating hearts and bated breath upon the
performances of two men in a roped enclosure battering one another for so
much a side.

It is thus no matter for surprise that the Brighton Road, on its several
routes, witnessed brilliant and dashing turn-outs, both in public coaches
and private equipages, during that time when the last of the Georges
flourished so flamboyantly as Prince, Prince Regent, and King. How else
could it have been with the Court at one end of it and the metropolis at
the other, and between them the rendezvous of all such as delighted in the
"noble art"?

Many were the merry "mills" which "came off" at Crawley Downs, Copthorne
Common, and Blindley Heath, attended by the Prince and his merry men,
conspicuous among whom at different times were Fox, Lord Barrymore, Lord
Yarmouth ("Red Herrings"), and Major George Hanger. As for the tappings of
claret, the punchings of conks and bread-baskets, and the tremendous
sloggings that went on in this neighbourhood in those virile times, are
they not set forth with much circumstantial detail in the pages of
"Fistiana" and "Boxiana"? There shall you read how the Prince Regent
witnessed with enthusiasm such merry sets-to as this between Randall and
Martin on Crawley Downs. "Boxiana" gives a full account of it, and is even
moved to verse, in this wise:


Come, won't you list unto my lay
About the fight at Crawley, O!...

with the refrain -

With his filaloo trillaloo,
Whack, fal lal de dal di de do!

For the number of rounds and such technical details the curious may be
referred to the classic pages of "Boxiana" itself.

Martin, originally a baker, and thus of course familiarly known as the
"Master of the Rolls," one of the heroes whom all these sporting blades
went out to see contend for victory in the ring, died so recently as 1871.
He had long retired from the P.R., and had, upon quitting it, followed the
usual practice of retired pugilists, that is to say, he became a publican.
He was landlord successively of the "Crown" at Croydon, and the "Horns"
tavern, Kennington.

As for details of this fight or that upon the same spot from which
Hickman, "The Gas-Light Man," came off victor, they are not for these
pages. How the combatants "fibbed" and "countered," and did other things
equally abstruse to the average reader, you may, who care to, read in the
pages of the enthusiastic authorities upon the subject, who spare nothing
of all the blows given and received.

This was fine company for the Heir-apparent to keep at Crawley Downs; but
see how picturesque he and the crowds that followed in his wake rendered
those times. What diversions went forward on the roads - such roads as they
were! One chronicler of a fight here says, in all good faith, that on the
morning following the "battle," the remains of several carriages,
phaetons, and other vehicles were found bestrewing the narrow ways where
they had collided in the darkness.

[Sidenote: THE REGENCY]

The House of Hanover, which ended with the death of Queen Victoria, was
not at any time largely endowed with picturesqueness, saving only in the
gruesome picture afforded by the horrid legend which accounts for the
family name of Guelph; but the Regent was the great exception. He, at
least, was picturesque; and if there be any who choose to deny it, I will
ask them how it comes that so many novelists dealing with historical
periods have chosen the period of the Regency as so fruitful an era of
romance? The Prince endowed his time with a glamour that has lasted, and
will continue unimpaired. It was he who gave a devil-me-care connotation
to the words "Regent" and "Regency"; and his wild escapades have sufficed
to redeem the Georgian Era from the reproach of unrelieved dulness and
greasy vulgarity.

The reign of George the Third was the culmination of smug and unctuous
_bourgeois_ respectability at Court, from whose weary routine the Prince's
surroundings were entirely different. Himself and his _entourage_ were
dissolute indeed, roystering, drinking, cursing, dicing, visiting
prize-fights on these Downs of Crawley, and hail-fellow-well-met with the
blackguards there gathered together. But whatever his surroundings, they
were never dull, for which saving grace many sins may be excused him.

Thackeray, in his "Four Georges," has little that is pleasant to say of
any one of them, but is astonishingly severe upon this last, both as
Prince and King. For a thorough-going condemnation, commend me to that
book. To the faults of George the Fourth the author is very wide-awake,
nor will he allow him any virtues whatsoever. He will not even concede him
to be a man, as witness this passage: "To make a portrait of him at sight
seemed a matter of small difficulty. There is his coat, his star, his wig,
his countenance simpering under it: with a slate and a piece of chalk, I
could at this very desk perform a recognisable likeness of him. And yet,
after reading of him in scores of volumes, hunting him through old
magazines and newspapers, having him here at a ball, there at a public
dinner, there at races, and so forth, you find you have nothing, nothing
but a coat and a wig, and a mask smiling below it; nothing but a great

Poor fat Adonis!

But Thackeray was obliged reluctantly to acknowledge the grace and charm
of the Fourth George, and to chronicle some of the kind acts he performed,
although at these last he sneered consumedly, because, forsooth, those
thus benefited were quite humble persons. It was not without reason that
Thackeray wrote so intimately of snobs: in those unworthy sneers speaks
one of the race.

One curious little item of praise the author of the "Four Georges" was
constrained to allow the Regent: "Where my Prince did actually distinguish
himself was in driving. He drove once in four hours and a half from
Brighton to Carlton House - fifty-six miles."[11]

So the altogether British love of sport compelled this little interlude in
the abuse levelled at the "simulacrum."


Modern Crawley is disfigured by the abomination of a busy railway
level-crossing that bars the main road and causes an immeasurable waste of
public time and a deplorable flow of bad language. It affords a very good
idea of the delays and annoyances at the old turnpike-gates, without their
excuse for existence. Beyond it is the Park Lane or Belgravia of
Crawley - the residential and superior modern district of country houses,
each in midst of its own little pleasance.


The cutting in the rise at Hog's Hill passed, the road goes in a long
incline up to Hand Cross, by Pease Pottage, where there is now a
post-office which spells the name wrongly, "Peas." No one _knows_ how the
place-name originated; but legends explain where facts are wanting, and
tell variously how soldiers in the old days were halted here on their
route-marching and fed with "pease-pottage," the old name for
pease-pudding; or describe how prisoners on the cross-roads, on their way
to trial at the assizes, once held at Horsham and East Grinstead
alternately, were similarly refreshed. Formerly called Pease Pottage Gate,
from a turnpike-gate that spanned the Horsham road, the "Gate" has
latterly been dropped. It is a pretty spot, with a triangular green and
the old "Black Swan" inn still standing at the back. The green is not
improved by the recent addition of a huge and ugly signboard, advertising
the inn as an "hotel." The inquiring mind speculates curiously as to
whether the District Council (or whatever the local governing body may be)
is doing its duty in allowing such a flagrant vulgarity, apart from any
question of legal rights, on common land. Indeed, the larger question
arises, in the gross abuse of advertising notice-boards on this road in
particular, and along others in lesser degree, as to whether the shameful
defacement of natural scenery by such boards erected on land public or
private ought not to be suppressed by law. Nearer Brighton, the beautiful
distant views of the South Downs are utterly damned by gigantic black
hoardings painted in white letters, trumpeting the advantages of the motor
garage of an hotel which here, at least, shall not be named. Much has been
written about the abuse of advertising in America, but Englishmen, sad to
say, have in these latter days outdone, and are outdoing, those crimes,
while America itself is retrieving its reputation.

This is the Forest Ridge of Sussex, where the Forest of St. Leonards still
stretches far and wide. Away for miles on the left hand stretch the lovely
beechwoods and the hazel undergrowths of Tilgate, Balcombe, and Worth, and
on the right the little inferior woodlands extending to Horsham. The ridge
is, in addition, a great watershed. From it the Mole and the Medway flow
north, and the Arun, the Adur, and the Sussex Ouse south, towards the
English Channel. Hand Cross is the summit of the ridge, and the way to it
is coming either north or south, a toilsome drag.

At Tilgate Forest Row the scenery becomes park-like, laurel hedges lining
the way, giving occasional glimpses of fine estates to right and left.
Here the coachmen used to point out, with becoming awe, the country house
where Fauntleroy, the banker, lived, and would tell how he indulged in all
manner of unholy orgies in that gloomy-looking mansion in the forest.

Henry Fauntleroy was only thirty-nine years of age when he met the doom
then meted out to forgers. As partner in the banking firm of Marsh,
Sibbald & Co., of Berners Street, he had entire control of the firm's
Stock Exchange business, and, unknown to his partners, had for nine years
pursued a consistent course of illegally selling the securities belonging
to customers - forging their signatures to transfers. Paying the interest
and dividends as usual, the frauds, amounting in all to £70,000, might
have remained undiscovered for many years longer; but the credit of the
bank, long in a tottering condition, was exhausted in September, 1824,
when all was disclosed. Fauntleroy was arrested on the 11th, and on the
14th the bank suspended payment.

[Illustration: PEASE POTTAGE.]

The failure of the bank was largely due to the extravagance of the
partners, Fauntleroy himself living in fine style as a country gentleman;
but the scandalous stories current at the time as to his mode of life were
quite disproved, while the partners were clearly shown to have been
entirely ignorant of the state of their affairs, which acquits them of
complicity, though it does not redound to their credit as business men.
Fauntleroy readily admitted his guilt, and added that he acted thus to
prop up the long-standing instability of the firm. He was tried at the Old
Bailey October 30th, 1824, sentenced to death, and executed November 30th,
in the presence of a crowd of 200,000 persons. He was famed among
connoisseurs for the excellence of his claret, and would never disclose
its place of origin. Friends who visited him in the condemned cell begged
him to confide in them, but he would never do so, and when he died the
secret died with him.

No one has ever claimed acquaintance with the ghost of Fauntleroy, with or
without his rope; but the road to Hand Cross has long enjoyed - or been
afflicted with - the reputation of being haunted. The Hand Cross ghost is,
by all accounts, an extremely eccentric, but harmless spook, with peculiar
notions in the matter of clothes, and given, when the turnpike-gate stood
here, to monkey-tricks with bolts and bars, whereby pikemen were not only
scared, but were losers of sundry tolls. Evidently that sprite was the
wayfarers' friend.

"Squire Powlett" is another famous phantom of this forest-side, and is
more terrifying, being headless, and given to the hateful practice of
springing up behind the horseman who ventures this way when night has
fallen upon the glades, riding with him to the forest boundary. Motorists
and cyclists, however, do not seem to have been troubled. Possibly they
have a turn of speed quite beyond the powers of such an old-fashioned

_Why_ "Squire Powlett" should haunt these nocturnal glades is not so
easily to be guessed. He was not, so far as can be learned, an evildoer,
and he certainly was not beheaded. He was that William Powlett, a captain
in the Horse Grenadiers and a resident in the Forest of St. Leonards, who
seems to have led an exemplary life, and died in 1746, and is buried under
an elaborate monument in West Grinstead Church.


[Sidenote: HAND CROSS]

Hand Cross is a settlement of forty or fifty houses, situated where
several roads meet, in this delightful land of forests. Its name derives,
of course, from some ancient signpost, or combination of signpost and
wayside cross, existing here in pre-Reformation times, on the lonely
cross-roads. No houses stood here then, and Slaugham village, the nearest
habitation of man, was a mile distant, at the foot of the hill, where,
very little changed or not at all, it may still be sought. Slaugham parish
is very extensive, stretching as far as Crawley; and the hamlet of Hand
Cross, within it, although now larger than the parent village itself, is
only a mere mushroom excrescence called into existence by the road travel
of the last two centuries.

It is the being on the main road, and on the junction of several routes,
that has made Hand Cross what it is to-day and has deposed Slaugham
itself; just as in towns a by-street being made a main thoroughfare will
make the fortunes of the shops in it and perhaps ruin those of some other

Not that Hand Cross is great, or altogether pleasing to the eye; for,
after all, it is a _parvenu_ of a place, and lacks the Domesday descent
of, for instance, Cuckfield. Now, the _parvenu_, the man of his hands, may
be a very estimable fellow, but his raw prosperity grates upon the nerves.
So it is with Hand Cross, for its prosperity, which has not waned with
the coaching era, has incited to the building of cottages of that cheap
and yellow brick we know so well and loathe so much. Also, though there is
no church, there are two chapels; one of retiring position, the other
conventicle of aggressive and red, red brick. One could find it in one's
heart to forgive the yellow brick; but this red, never. In this ruddy
building is a harmonium. On Sundays the wail of that instrument and the
hooting and ting, tinging of cyclorns and cycling gongs, as cyclists
foregather by the "Red Lion," are the most striking features of the place.

The "Red Lion" is of greater interest than all other buildings at Hand
Cross. It stood here in receipt of coaching custom through all the
roystering days of the Regency as it stands now, prosperous at the hands
of another age of wheels. Shergold tells us that its landlords in olden
times knew more of smuggling than hearsay, and dispensed from many an
anker of brandy that had not rendered duty.

At Hand Cross the ways divide, the Bolney and Hickstead route, opened in
1813, branching off to the right and not merely providing a better
surface, but, with a straighter course, saving from one and a half to two
miles, and avoiding some troublesome rises, becoming in these times the
"record route" for cyclists, pedestrians, and all who seek to speed
between London and Brighton in the quickest possible time. It rejoins the
classic route at Pyecombe.

For the present we will follow the older way, by Cuckfield, down to
Staplefield Common. A lovely vale opens out as one descends the southern
face of the watershed, with an enchanting middle distance of copses,
cottages, and winding roads, the sun slanting on distant ponds, or
transmuting commonplace glazier's work into sparkling diamonds.

At the foot of the hill is Staplefield Common, bisected by the highway,
with recent cottages and modern church, and in the foreground the "Jolly
Farmers" inn. But where are the famous cherry-trees of Staplefield,
under whose boughs the coach passengers of a century ago feasted off the
"black-hearts"; where are the "Dun Cow" and its equally famous
rabbit-puddings and its pretty Miss Finch? Gone, as utterly as though they
had never been.

[Illustration: THE "RED LION," HAND CROSS.]

Three miles of oozy hollows and rises covered with tangled undergrowths of
hazels lead past Slough Green and Whiteman's Green to Cuckfield. From the

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Online LibraryCharles G. (Charles George) HarperThe Brighton road : the classic highway to the south → online text (page 13 of 18)