Charles G. (Charles George) Harper.

The Ingoldsby Country online

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street of Martin is the great farmhouse known as "Martin House," that
"Marston Hall" of the story of Master Marsh's bewitchment, and once
the manor house. Portions of it may be as old as the early seventeenth
century, but it has been remodelled in a particularly hideous manner,
and the side of it towards the farmyard smeared over with "compo," or
similar abomination.


Regaining the high-road at Ringwould, Walmer is passed and Upper Deal,
with the sea and the crowded shipping of the Downs and the white cliffs
of France forming a striking picture on the right. It is worth while
turning off, a quarter of a mile to the left, to see the little village
called, magnificently, Great Mongeham, just beyond Deal, for its quaint
"Three Horseshoes" inn still displays a curious wrought-iron sign
originally made in 1735, a very striking object, overhanging the road.

The high bleak downs gradually sink down as Sandwich is neared, and
give place to flats. Away on the right, mile upon mile of blown sand
and dunes, tussocky with coarse grass, border the sea, and inland
stretch the vast unfenced fields of corn, beans, or oats that are so
characteristic of this corner of Kent, and of the Isle of Thanet.

Sandwich is always described as a "dead port," but we have already seen
that New Romney is more dead - if so Irish an expression may be allowed.
By a flat, straight stretch of road that ancient member of the Cinque
Ports is reached, past a row of tall poplars, the ancient Hospital of
St. Bartholomew and - the railway station, which is absurdly brisk for a
place supposed to have died and been buried about three hundred years
ago. Past this unmistakable evidence of post-mortem activity, are the
town walls, now, in passing, seen to be grassy ramparts, tree-shaded,
with walks, and below them little dykes and runnels - a very beautiful
scene which tells us that Sandwich has so far retired from business
that it does not actually grow; although, as for being dead, why,
there, at the other extremity of the town, where the navigable channel
of the Stour flows and conveys those ships up and down that still
trade here, you may see loading and unloading still going forward, and
port-dues being collected and all manner of bustle.

But Sandwich is a very staid and grave old town. It knows - its ancient
harbour being long centuries ago silted up - that it cannot compete with
modern ports, and so folds its hands and accepts the minor part now
assigned to it, and lives in the ancient ways; which is why we love
"Sannidge" - to speak in the fashion of those who live there.

But it really was once a great port and its past lives in history.
Many were its dramatic moments. Such an one was that when Becket, the
banished Archbishop of Canterbury, returning after years of exile,
landed from a boat in the haven. He had a premonition of his violent
ending, for he embarked upon his return with the significant words,
"_Vado in Angliam mori_," "I go into England to die." The people knew
of his coming, and a cross erected in the bows of the boat that put
him ashore made the identity of its occupants certain a great way
off. He was popular with the masses, who crowded around him at the
landing-stage, eager for a blessing from the "father of the orphans and
protector of the widows." Thence he set forward, without delay, for
Canterbury, by way of Ash.

Let us pluck another incident at hazard from the long roll of years. It
is toward the close of 1415, and days grow chill and nights bitter. The
war with France has ended with every circumstance of glory for England.
Nine thousand Frenchmen lie dead at Agincourt, proving on their bodies
the truth of the English arrow-flight and the prowess of the English
men-at-arms. Harry V. has been received on his home-coming at Dover
with the rapturous applause of an elated nation, and London has sealed
that welcome. By detachments, the rank and file of the expedition
slowly return home - some landing at Southampton, some at Dover, others
here; each man laden with some article of loot; all wearied, hungry,
and out of humour, because when they marched to our stronghold of
Calais they were refused shelter and sustenance, the garrison of that
town being afraid of running short of provisions.

They look, doubtless, for an enthusiastic welcome on their home-coming;
banners waving, hand-shaking, tumultuous cheers. What do they find?
Why, this: that the edge has been taken off the fame of their exploits
by those who returned first, and that the townsfolk of Sandwich are
cold - cold as the November wind, and their reception as forbidding
as the lowering sky. Even so did Jacob obtain the blessing of Isaac,
and Esau was deprived of his birthright. No blessing, no feasting, no
drinking for them, save for money down, and money they have none; so
that they are fain to sell their booty as best they may, to buy bread
and lodging. Callous Sandwich? Nay, but history has repeated itself
quite recently on the same lines; glory is as brilliant a thing as a
soap-bubble, and as evanescent.

But one must be done with these mosaics from history. The town reached
a great prosperity when Edward III. in 1377 removed the staple here,
from Queenborough; but that was its high-water mark. The ebb did not at
once begin, for still, in 1470, the annual customs revenue of the port
amounted to £17,000 and ninety-five ships were registered as belonging
to the place. There were then 1,500 sailors in the town.

But in the time of Henry VIII. the sand, long threatening, had closed
the harbour to ships of any considerable burthen, and decay set in.
The port declined, but, owing to the large settlement of Hollander and
Huguenot weavers in Sandwich, the place did not shrink to nothing, and
perhaps it is due to them that it exists at all.

[Illustration: ST. PETER'S, SANDWICH.]

From the tall, Dutch-like tower of St. Peter's the curfew-bell is
nightly tolled, as for seven hundred years the custom has been. The
sexton's annual stipend for performing this nightly service is £8; not
a great sum for a corporate town to yearly disburse, but something of
a consideration for a place like Sandwich, whose commercial greatness
is now only a thing of history and ancient repute. Thus it was that
in 1833 the unbroken continuity of the curfew from Norman times was
seriously threatened, in a proposal of the Corporation to discontinue
the practice, and the payment for it. Sentimental considerations,
however, prevailed, and thus it is that the nightly bell continues
to ring over the melancholy sand-flats, as of yore. But economical
considerations again, in quite recent years, threatened the old custom
on the same grounds, when, about 1895, it was proposed to discontinue
the ringing and to save the money for more practical purposes. Again,
however, sentiment prevailed, and what the old inhabitants call "the
old charter" continues.

This church of St. Peter, one of the three possessed by the town, is
its most notable landmark, and from all points of view stamps the town
with a distinct alien appearance. It is by no means the principal
church - that honour belongs to St. Clement's, whose massive and highly
decorated Norman tower is second only to that of New Romney. But St.
Clement's tower is only of medium height; that of St. Peter is tall
and stark, and is, moreover, capped with an extraordinary turret
of distinctly Dutch feeling. Sometimes you laugh at it and think
it something bulbous and onion-like; at other times, and from some
points of view, it is impressive, rather than absurd. If it were away,
Sandwich would lose much of its individuality. It is not an old tower,
as ages in churches go, and was built only in the years immediately
following 1661, when the older tower fell, and not only involved itself
in complete ruin, but demolished the whole length of the south aisle,
and, with the bells, buried the whole interior of the church three
feet deep in what a contemporary account calls "rubidge." When the
inhabitants set to work to repair the damage, they did not restore the
destroyed aisle, but just walled up the arches and inserted the quaint
Dutch-like windows still remaining. The tower they rebuilt with bricks
economically manufactured out of the harbour mud, which, judging from
the number of houses built of the same material, seems to have been as
plentiful a deposit then as now. The Hollander character of the tower
and of the town in general owed its being to the existence at that time
of a very large Flemish and Walloon colony, originally formed in Queen
Elizabeth's reign, when the persecuted weavers and others from the Low
Countries came here as refugees and were welcomed as settlers, not only
in Kent, but in many other districts of England. The Sandwich colony
numbered some four hundred at the beginning, but they gradually became
absorbed in intermarriages, until, as a separate race, they ceased to
exist. But in that period, while they retained their national manners
and architectural style, these "gentile and profitable strangers" did,
as we see, succeed in impressing the place with their personality to a
remarkable degree.

Thus, then, St. Peter's tower dominates the view far and near. St.
Mary's tower fell six years later, but was not rebuilt, save in a
stumpy and inconspicuous way. St. Clement's tower suffered restoration
in 1886; the churchwardens obtained the necessary funds by the
expedient of selling the bells!



Sandwich ends at the Barbican, the foreign-looking watergate that
spans the road on the hither side of the Stour. Down to the left,
away from the road to Pegwell Bay and Ramsgate, can be seen from this
point the dark ruin of Richborough, and directly on that road, to
the right, a belt of sparse woodland, a clump of thin, wiry trees,
insufficiently nourished on the sandy and pebbly soil. In midst of
this, solitary and surrounded with an atmosphere of melancholy, is an
absolutely uninteresting modern house. These trees and this house form
all that remains of the once important and flourishing port of Stonar,
or Lundenwic, an early rival of Sandwich itself. The spot and an
adjoining one are now marked on the maps as "Great and Little Stonar."
The history of that vanished town is vague and fragmentary, but
enthralling, like some half-told tale of faëry. Its very incertitude
renders it into the likeness of a city of dream, the product of a
magician's wand, blighted by uncanny spell. What, then, do we know
of Stonar? Just this: that in the long ago, in A.D. 456, the Britons
under Vortimer, after being deserted by the Roman legions, secured one
of their few victories over the invading pagan Saxons on this spot,
a spot fixed by the Latin annalist in the phrase, "_In campo juxta
Lapidem Tituli_." It was near here, therefore, in these flats, that the
battle was fought, and the place seems to derive its name of Stonar
from that same Latin "_Lapidem_." Now it is remarkable that the Kentish
coast is rich in place-names including the word "stone." Littlestone
near Old Romney, is an example - Folkestone another, and the most
prominent - the ancient "_Lapis Populi_" of Latin records. But from what
stones those original names proceeded who shall say?


The British victory was but an interlude in an almost unbroken series
of defeats inflicted upon that unhappy people by the ruthless Saxons,
who presently bore down all opposition on the Kentish shores, and
established themselves here. It was they who founded the original town
of Stonar, on a sandspit even then forming at the mouth of the River
Stour and the entrance to the channel of the Wantsume, dividing the
Isle of Thanet from the mainland of Kent; and the Roman fortress of
Rutupium, the vast shell of ruined Richborough that we see to-day,
overlooking the surrounding marshes from its rising vantage-ground, was
converted by them into a fortress-palace for their kings.


When, in the course of time, the Saxons had possessed themselves of
the country and had at last become luxurious and less warlike, they
were in turn attacked by the fiercer Danes. Prominent among the many
bloody fights waged for the mastery was the second battle of Stonar,
fought here between the forces of Torkill the Dane and the Saxon king,
Edmund Ironside, in 1009. It was one of those exceptional victories
for the Saxons that now and again cheered them in their long series of

Stonar's alternative name of Lundenwic seems to have derived from
the extensive trade with London, but of the vanished town and its
records we know next to nothing. Only this, indeed, that its rivalry
with Sandwich was fierce, and that Sandwich was gaining the advantage
and Stonar decaying when the ill-fated town was entirely destroyed
and swept away by the sea in the great storm of 1365, when Sandwich
not only took all its trade, but assumed its alias of "Lundenwic" as
well. "It is an ill wind that blows no one any good," says the old
saw, and this was worth much to Sandwich. If tempests - or "tompuses,"
as the Kentish folk, in their quaint speech, call them - were of such
destructive powers to-day, insurance would cease to be the lucrative
business it now is.

Richborough, that frowns so grim down upon the Stour meadows and the
flat Sandwich and Ramsgate road, is a favourite haunt of archæologists.
It rises, rugged walls and bulging bastions, from low, earthy cliffs,
ivy-clad in places, and shrouded by dense thickets of brushwood, where
the earth falls away to the levels. The secretive ivy, incredibly
aged, clasps the hoary masonry with a tenacity that will not allow of
severance. They will live and die together, those walls and that "rare
old plant, the ivy green."

The view from Richborough is comprehensive and varied. Away to the
right is Sandwich, a mass of clustered roofs and spars and rigging,
dominated, of course, by that Dutch-like cupola of St. Peter's,
resembling some gigantic onion of fairy-lore; and away again to the
left goes the curving shore, to Pegwell Bay and Ramsgate, with the
white cliffs standing out to sea, as bolt upright as though they had
been sliced out. The houses and some of the more prominent public
buildings of Ramsgate peer over the edge of the down.

The railway that, taking advantage of the levels, runs between
Sandwich and Ramsgate under these walls of the aged Roman castle is
not an unromantic feature. Its living commercialism serves to contrast
eloquently the methods of to-day and those of an Empire dead these
fifteen hundred years. He must be a soulless signalman who does not,
in his cabin placed under the shadow of that wall, sometimes let his
imagination loose and, conjuring up the past, people those ramparts
again with the helmeted sentries of old Rome.

More than 140,000 coins, Roman and Saxon, are said to have been, at one
time and another, picked up within and around Richborough. That is why
the visitor to Sandwich hastens at the earliest opportunity along those
two miles that separate the ruins from the town, and is explanatory
of his exploring zeal in turning over the clods with his foot and
probing the light earth with his walking-stick. Alack! the statement
that so great a number of coins have been found means perhaps that the
last are gone, rather than that a hundred thousand or so remain. If
the ploughman still finds anything, he keeps the fact to himself; but
certainly, if any personal efforts of the present historian may count
for testimony, there is a plentiful lack of anything but heavy clay
in these fields. No precious fibula, no golden coin, nay, not even a
humble copper _denarius_ rewarded his anxious efforts, and the ware of
Samos was equally to seek.


Here we are well within the Isle of Thanet, whose name, as generally
is the case, is of uncertain origin. "Thanatos," the "Isle of Death,"
suggested some commentator in the bygone years, but he did not bolster
up his derivation by telling us in what way it was so deadly. Perhaps
in the wrecks of its coast. In other respects, Thanet is the Isle
of Good Health, of rude, hungry, boisterous health; and in summer
the Isle of Cockneys. Does it not contain Ramsgate - "rollicking
Ramsgate", - and Margate the merry, whose name - I am sorry - always
reminds me of margarine? It was at Margate, upon Jarvis's Jetty, that
"Mr. Simpkinson" met the "little vulgar boy" who did him so very brown,
but I am not going to Margate to see the Jetty; which has been greatly
altered since Jarvis caused it to rise out of the vasty deep. Margate
is mentioned only that once in the _Ingoldsby Legends_ and Ramsgate
not at all, and so I shall cut them out of my journey, and make across
inland, over the high ridge at Acol, to Reculver.

The road is flat, the surface good, and from Sandwich to Ebbsfleet is
an enjoyable run. At Ebbsfleet there has been lately erected a tall
granite cross to mark where St. Augustine landed and reintroduced
Christianity in A.D. 597. Perhaps not everyone knows that he was sent
against his will on this mission by the Pope, and that it was only
grumbling he came. Not altogether so saintly as we might, not inquiring
closely, suppose - a morose and masterful man.

Through Minster lies our way - Minster-in-Thanet - reached by lanes of
the charmingest, with overarching trees; very beautiful, and filled
in summer with other things not so lovely: with such eye-sorrows and
ear-torments as dusty brake-parties clamant with the latest comic songs
and energetically performing upon cornets and concertinas; little
vulgar boys, descendants, possibly, of Mr. Simpkinson's young friend,
turning cart-wheels in the dust for casual pence. The brake-proprietors
of Margate and Ramsgate, conscious that such tree-shaded spots are
rare in Thanet, have taken these under their protection, and advertise
"Twelve miles drives through the pretty lanes, 1/-." Minster is
therefore a paradise of beanfeasters and the inferno of pilgrims,
literary or other.

[Illustration: THE SMUGGLER'S LEAP.]

To find the "Smuggler's Leap" one must make as for Acol. "Near this
hamlet of Acol," says Ingoldsby, in a fictitious quotation prefixed
to the fine legend of Smuggler Bill and Exciseman Gill and their
doings, "is a long-disused chalk-pit of formidable depth, known by the
name of the 'Smuggler's Leap.' The tradition of the parish runs that
a riding-officer from Sandwich, called Anthony Gill, lost his life
here in the early part of the eighteenth century, while in pursuit
of a smuggler. The smuggler's horse _only_, it is said, was found
crushed beneath its rider. The spot has, of course, been haunted ever
since." For the original of this quotation, the reader is referred to a
"Supplement to Lewis's History of Thanet, by the Reverend Samuel Pegg,
A.M., Vicar of Gomersham," supposed to have been published by a "W.
Bristow, Canterbury, 1796"; but Ingoldsby, who composed the legend,
invented his quotation as well, and those who seek the Reverend Samuel
Pegg's "Supplement" will not find it.

But if so much be imaginative, the smuggling exploits common in the
district a hundred and thirty years ago, as recorded in the Kentish
newspapers, were in many respects like that celebrated in the Ingoldsby
legend. The _Kentish Gazette_ of Saturday, November 22nd, 1777, gives
a case in point: "On Monday last Mr. Harris, Officer of Excise, and
Mr. Wesbeach, Surveyor of the Customs at Ramsgate, attended by six
dragoons, met with a body of smugglers at Birchington, consisting of
at least a hundred and fifty, armed with loaded whips and bludgeons.
After a sharp skirmish, in which the smugglers had many of their horses
shot, they made a very regular retreat, losing 8 gallons of brandy, 96
gallons of Geneva, 162 lb. of Hyson tea, and five horses."

[Illustration: MONKTON.]

The chalk-pit, too, is sufficiently real. Crossing the open fields,
spread starkly to the sky, between Monkton and Cleve Court, it is found
on the Ramsgate road, opposite the "Prospect" inn, where it still gapes
as deep and wide as ever. Do not, however, if you wish to be impressed
with the truth of Ingoldsby's romantic description, view it by the
brilliant sunlight of a summer's day, because at such times the great
cleft in the dull white of the chalk does not properly proclaim its
immensity. It is only when the evening shadows fall obliquely into the
old chalk-pit that you applaud the spirit of those lines:

It's enough to make one's flesh to creep
To stand on that fearful verge, and peep
Down the rugged sides so dreadfully steep,
Where the chalk-pit yawns full sixty feet deep.

When Ingoldsby wrote there were, according to his testimony, "fifty
intelligent fly-drivers" plying upon Margate pier, who would convey the
curious to the spot for a guerdon which they term "three bob." Cycles
and electric tramways have nowadays so sorely cut up the trade of the
intelligent that few of those depressed individuals remain.

[Illustration: MONKTON.]

Coming into Monkton, a scattered village on the way to Sarre, the
church, directly facing the road, makes, with the old stocks on a
grassy bank, a pretty picture. The indications of arches, seen in the
sketch, show that there was once a north aisle to this church. The
parish owes its name to the fact that the manor was anciently the
property of Christ Church Monastery, Canterbury.

The whole of this district is covered by the legend of the "Smuggler's
Leap." The "smuggling crew" dispersed in all directions before the
customs-house officers.

Some gallop this way, and some gallop that,
Through Fordwich Level, o'er Sandwich Flat ...
Those in a hurry Make for Sturry,
With Customs House officers close in their rear,
Down Rushbourne Lane, and so by Westbere.
None of them stopping But shooting and popping,
And many a Customs House bullet goes slap
Through many a three-gallon tub like a tap,
And the gin spurts out, And squirts all about;
And many a heart grew sad that day,
That so much good liquor was so thrown away.

* * * * *

Down Chislett Lane, so free and so fleet,
Rides Smuggler Bill, and away to Up Street;
Sarre Bridge is won - Bill thinks it fun,
Ho! ho! the old tub-gauging son of a gun.

We, too, will ride into Sarre.

Sarre was, and is still technically, a ville of the port of Sandwich,
governed by a Deputy whose functions are now merely decorative. He
still, however, as of old, swears fealty to King and port. These
historical facts explain those notices, "Town of Sarre" and "Ville de
Sarre" prominently displayed on the houses at the Canterbury and Thanet
ends of the village respectively.

The bridge gained by Smuggler Bill is that which joins Kent and the
Isle of Thanet, the successor of that original pont built in 1485, on
the site of "the common ferry when Thanet was full iled." It is not a
romantic bridge nowadays, and has its many thousands of counterparts.
Beneath its commonplace arch the sluggish waters of a branch of the
Stour go wandering away, right and left, along the old narrowed channel
of the once broad and navigable Wantsume, where the sea once flowed,
and the Roman galleys and triremes, the Saxon and Danish prows, and
the Norman and early English ships, came and went; and only a shallow
stream, no wider than a horse could jump, choked with reeds and snags,
divides the former "Isle" and the mainland.

Sarre is picturesque in parts, and in other parts quite distressingly
ugly. It is, indeed, a peculiarity of Kent, overrun from the earliest
times by Cockneys, that many of its buildings touch the deepest depth
of ugliness, vulgarity, and unsuitability. The Cockney has come forth
of his Cockaigne, and builded, after his sort, great grey-brick houses
in the model of the houses in towns, where of necessity, being in
streets and shouldered by neighbours, they run to height and unrelieved
squareness. Sarre contains exactly such an example, in one of the two
inns - one never can recollect the name of a commonplace inn - that
minister not only to the wants of Sarre, but were halting-places for
the Margate and Ramsgate coaches in the old days, just as they are
"pull-ups" for the brake-parties of the present time.

[Illustration: THE "VILLE OF SARRE."]

The artist can dodge the hideous inn out of his sketch and can make
a pretty view of Sarre, but unless he adopts the tactics of a Turner,

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Online LibraryCharles G. (Charles George) HarperThe Ingoldsby Country → online text (page 12 of 16)