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modern forts stand islanded in midst of it. From the sunlit glare of
this waste the road enters Hythe, through an exquisitely beautiful
woodland, open and unfenced from the highway, with the landward ridge
of hills and the Military Canal approaching on the left.

"Hythe hath bene," says Leland, "a very greate towne yn length, ande
conteyned IIII paroches, that now be clene destroied." The greatest
surviving evidence of that ancient estate is the one remaining church
of St. Leonard, which tops the hill behind the High Street and is
the crown and distinguishing mark of Hythe from afar off. It is
chiefly of Early English architecture, and an exquisite example of
its period, with a noble chancel like the choir of a cathedral, and a
remarkable crypt or undercroft, stacked with a neatly-disposed heap
of many hundreds of skulls and large quantities of human bones. No
one knows in any definite manner how, why, or when these gruesome
relics were brought here, but legendary lore tells how they are the
remains of those who were slain in some uncertain fight - so uncertain
that whether between Britons and Romans, Romano-British and Saxons,
or Saxons and Danes is not stated. Borrow, in his _Lavengro_, plumps
for Danes, more perhaps because he had a prejudice for that hypothesis
than from any evidence he could have produced, if asked. That many of
the owners of those skulls did actually meet a violent death is quite
evident in the terrific gashes they exhibit. One may see these poor
relics for threepence, and Hythe does a roaring trade with the morbid
in photographs of the shocking collection; but it were better they
were decently buried and given rest from the handling and the flippant
comments of the shallow-minded crowd.

One refuses further to discuss skulls in the holiday sunshine of Hythe,
whose long, narrow street is cheerful and pulsing with life. Hythe
street is one of those humanly interesting old thoroughfares which one
is inclined, in the mass, to call picturesque; but on reflection it
is seen to be really always about to become so, as you advance, and
never to actually arrive at any very remarkably picturesque climax. The
Georgian town hall, standing on pillars, is interesting, and so, too,
is that queer little building called the "Smugglers' Nest," claiming
to be a look-out place of some of the many "free-traders" who carried
on operations from the town. For the rest, Hythe is old-fashioned
and by no means overwhelmed, as many of its neighbours are, by
modernity. Here the four separate and distinct streams of seafaring,
military, agricultural, and shop-keeping life pool their interests and
mingle amicably enough, under the interested observation of a fifth
contingent, the summer visitors who find the unconventional attractions
of the shingle and the unspoiled place more to their taste than the
modish charms of Folkestone.

[Illustration: THE "SMUGGLERS' NEST," HYTHE.]

Just where Hythe ends and Seabrook begins, the Military Canal comes
to a dusty and somewhat stagnant conclusion on the flat foreshore.
Lest the dreaded invader should not play the game properly, and meanly
attempt to land his troops on the open and undefended beach beyond
the tract of country cut off by that "not very practicable ditch," a
Martello tower was set up on the little shoulder of a hill overlooking
this spot, and there it remains to this day. A grey, grim, giant hotel
stands isolated out upon the shingle-banks, and would offer a splendid
mark for any modern invader who should descend upon the coast and do
the neighbourhood the kindness to blow its hideous presence away.

[Illustration: HYTHE, FROM THE ROAD TO SANDGATE.]

That stranger who might pass from Hythe to Sandgate and know nothing
of the separate existence of Seabrook would have every excuse, for it
bears every outward appearance of belonging to one or other. It is
largely a recent development, and in so far a pleasing one, for its
pretty new gabled seaside red-brick cottages, giving immediately upon
the shore, are in the best of taste and have delightful gardens, where
the little bare-legged boys and girls of the visitors sit in the sun
or sprawl, book-reading, upon the steps. Opposite these, evidences of
an enlightened taste, some grey "compo" villas cast a gloom over those
who glance upon them and tell us how stupid were those times of some
thirty years ago, when such sad-faced houses arose everywhere at the
seaside in this grey climate that calls aloud for the cheerfulness of
colour in building.

Sandgate, into which Seabrook insensibly merges, sits so close upon the
shore that it is credibly reported the lodging-house landladies live
on the upper floors of their houses in those empty winter months when
the winds blow great guns and the seas come pouring into the basements,
bringing with them large deposits of that plentiful shingle, fragments
of sea-wall, and twisted remnants of promenade railings. Year in and
year out, the sea and the Local Board, or Urban District Council, or
whatever may be the name of the authority that rules Sandgate, play a
never-ending game. In the summer the authority builds up a sea-wall,
and, in effect, says to the sea, "You can't smash _that_!" And the sea
sparkles and drowses in the sun and laps lazily upon the shore, and
artfully agrees. But when the visitors have all gone home, and the
equinoctial gales go ravening up and down the Channel, then Londoners
open their morning papers and say to their wives, "You remember that
sea-wall at Sandgate, my dear, where we used to sit in the shade: it
was entirely washed away yesterday by the sea!" But by the time their
next holiday comes round there is a newer wall there, on an improved
pattern. That, too, is either utterly destroyed in the following winter
and flung in fragments into neighbouring gardens, or else, with the
roadway and the kerbs and lamp-posts, the pillar-boxes and the whole
bag of tricks, swept out to sea and lost.

And so the game goes on. It is a costly one, and a heartbreaking for
those folks who have semi-basement breakfast-rooms and ever and again
experience the necessity of excavating their furniture out of the
shingle-filled rooms, like so many Layards digging out the Assyrian
relics of Nimroud and Baalbec. When such things can be, the desire of
adjoining Folkestone for Sandgate and the determination of Sandgate not
to be included within the municipal boundaries of its great neighbour
are not readily to be understood.

Dramatic things happen at Sandgate. Vessels are cast away upon the
road, their bowsprits coming in at the front doors, while shipwrecked
mariners, instead of being flung upon an iron-bound coast, are
projected against the palisades of the front gardens. At such times the
variety of jettisoned cargo that comes ashore is remarkable. One day
it will be a consignment of Barcelona nuts; another, a ship-load of
boots; what not, indeed, from the jostling commerce that goes up and
down that crowded sea-highway, the Channel. When the _Benvenue_ was
wrecked inshore here, at the close of 1891, and lay a menace to passing
ships, that happened which sent Sandgate sliding and cracking in all
directions. The wreck was blown up with dynamite, and soon afterwards
the clayey clifflet that forms the foundation for the north side of
Sandgate's one street slipped suddenly down, wrecking some houses and
cracking many others from roof to foundation. Many, including the
London newspapers, thought it was an earthquake.

Since then, Sandgate has largely altered, and instead of being
rather an abject attempt at a seaside resort, has been brightened
by re-building and cheered by the overflow to it from Folkestone's
overbrimming cup of prosperity. Still stands Sandgate Castle on the
sea-shore, one of Henry VIII.'s obese, tun-bellied blockhouses, very
much in shape like that portly Henry himself, as we may safely declare
now that Tudors no longer rule the land; but the very thought would
have been treason, and its expression fatal, in that burly monarch's
own day.

There is a choice of ways into Folkestone - by steeply-rising Sandgate
Hill, or by the flat lower road, where a modern toll-gate stands to
exact its dues for the convenience. This way the cyclist saves the
climb, and pilgrims in general are spared the villa roads of the hill
approach to the town, coming to it instead through pleasant woods, with
the tangled abandon of the Leas undercliff rising up to the left.

Folkestone chiefly interests the Ingoldsby pilgrim because of that
eloquent and humorous description of the old town to be found in "The
Leech of Folkestone." There was then no new and fashionable town to
be described, and the place was "a collection of houses which its
maligners call a fishing-town, and its well-wishers a watering-place. A
limb of one of the Cinque Ports, it has (or lately had) a corporation
of its own, and has been thought considerable enough to give a second
title to a noble family. Rome stood on seven hills - Folkestone seems to
have been built upon seventy. Its streets, lanes, and alleys - fanciful
distinctions without much real difference - are agreeable enough to
persons who do not mind running up and down stairs; and the only
inconvenience at all felt by such of its inhabitants as are not
asthmatic is when some heedless urchin tumbles down a chimney or an
impertinent pedestrian peeps into a garret window.

"At the eastern extremity of the town, on the sea-beach, and scarcely
above high-water mark, stood, in the good old times, a row of houses,
then denominated 'Frog Hole.' Modern refinement subsequently euphemised
the name into 'East-street'; but 'what's in a name?' - the encroachments
of Ocean have long since levelled all in one common ruin."

[Illustration: FOLKESTONE.]

Nothing of the sort has happened. East Street is still there, and
"East Street" yet, but no one has ventured to identify any house with
that occupied by that compounder of medicines, "of somewhat doubtful
reputation, but comparative opulence," Master Erasmus Buckthorne, "the
effluvia of whose drugs from within, mingling agreeably with the
'ancient and fishlike smells' from without, wafted a delicious perfume
throughout the neighbourhood."

It was to this picturesquely-described place that the Master Thomas
Marsh of the legend and his man Ralph wended their way to consult that
learned disciple of Esculapius with the fly-blown reputation; coming to
it by "paths then, as now, most pseudonymously dignified with the name
of roads."

Folkestone, the fisher-village, the "Lapis Populi" of the Romans and
the "Fulchestane" of Domesday Book - stood in a pleasant country now
quite lost sight of, built over, and bedevilled by the interminable
brick and mortar of the great and fashionable seaside resort that
Folkestone is at this day. It lay, that fisher-haven, in a hollow at
the seaward end of a long valley bordered by the striking hills of the
chalk downs that are only now to be glimpsed by journeying a mile or
so away from the sea-shore, past the uttermost streets, but were then
visible at every point. Down this valley came, trickling and prattling
in summer, or raging in winter, a little stream that, as it approached
the sea, flowed in between the crazy tenements of the fisher-folk and
smugglers who then formed the sole population - who then were the only
folk - of Folkestone. This was the "Pent Stream," which found its way
into the sea obscurely enough, oozing insignificantly through the
pebbles where the Stade and the Fishmarket now stand, by the harbour.
Alas! for that forgotten rill; it is now made to mingle its waters with
a sewer, and to flow under Tontine Street in a contaminated flood.

It is true that the small natural harbour was improved so early as
1810, or thereabouts, by Telford, but it was not until after 1844, when
the South-Eastern Railway was opened, that Folkestone began to grow,
and the original village began to be enclosed within the girdle of a
"resort" quite alien from it in style, thought, and population.

There is no love felt for modern Folkestone by the inhabitants of the
old town, who resent the prices to which things have been forced up
by the neighbourhood of the over-wealthy, and resent still more the
occasional descent from the fashionable Leas of dainty parties bent on
exploring the queer nooks, and amusing themselves with a sight of the
quaint characters, that still abound by the fishing-harbour. To those
parties, every waterside lounger who sports a peaked cap and a blue
jersey, and, resting his arms upon the railings by the quay and gazing
inscrutably out to the horizon, presents a broad stern to the street,
is a fisherman, and the feelings of a pilot, taken for a mere hauler
upon nets and capturer of soles and mackerel, are often thus outraged.

[Illustration: THE STADE, FOLKESTONE.]

For the spiritual benefit of the fisher-folk and others of the old
town, there is planted, by the Stade, a "St. Peter's Mission,"
established there by well-meaning but stupid folk who look down,
actually and figuratively, from the modern town upon this spot,
and appear to think it a sink of iniquity. But iniquities are
not always, or solely, resident in sinks; they have been found,
shameless and flourishing, in high places. There are those among the
fisher population who take the creature comforts - the coals and the
blankets - of the mission, and pocket the implied affront; but there
are also those others who, with clearer vision or greater independence
of character, do not scruple to think and say that a mission for the
salvation of many in that new town that so proudly crowns the cliffs
would be more appropriate. "What," asked an indignant fisherman - "what
makes them 'ere hotels pay like they does?" and he answered his own
query in language that shall not be printed here. "If them as goes
there all had to show their marriage-lines first," he concluded, "it's
little business they'd do"; and his remarks recalled and illuminated
the story of a week-end frequenter of one of the great caravanserais
whose Saturday to Monday spouses were so frequently changed that even
the seared conscience of a German hotel-manager was revolted.

Folkestone's fishing-harbour is wonderfully picturesque. Beside
it stands the Stade, a collection of the quaintest, craziest old
sail-lofts and warehouses, timbered and tarred and leaning at all sorts
of angles. Down in the harbour itself the smacks cluster thickly. The
rise and fall of the tide here is so much as eighteen feet, and at the
ebb to descend upon the sand and to look up and along toward the Leas
is to obtain the most characteristic and striking view in the whole
place. There, perched up against the sky-line, is the ancient parish
church of St. Eanswythe, in modern times frescoed and bedizened and
given up to high church practices. There, too, the custom has recently
been introduced of going in procession, with cross and vestments, to
bless the fishing-nets. One wonders what scornful things Ingoldsby
would have said of these doings within the Church of England, and
indeed the fishery seems neither better nor worse for them.

[Illustration: FOLKESTONE HARBOUR.]

That sainted princess, Eanswythe, daughter of the Kentish King Eadbald,
is said to be buried within the church. She was one of the most
remarkable of the many wondrous saints of her period, and performed
the impossible and brought about the incredible with the best of them.
She brought water from Cheriton to Folkestone, making it run up hill,
and incompetent carpenters who had sawn beams too short had but to
invoke her for them (the beams, not the carpenters) to be instantly
lengthened to any extent desired. Monks, too, it was said, whose
cassocks had been washed, and shrunk in the process, could always get
them unshrunk in the same marvellous way; but this must be an error
of the most flagrant kind, for we know that those holy men washed
themselves little, and their clothes never. But whatever marvellous
things she could do, she was not capable of the comparatively simple
feat of preventing her original conventual church being washed away by
the sea.

Folkestone people were of old very largely the butt of the neighbouring
towns. They were said to be stupid beyond the ordinary. Twitted on some
occasion that has escaped the present historian with not being able to
celebrate a given event in poetry, the town produced a poet eager to
disprove the accusation. To show what he could do in that way, he took
as his theme a notable capture that Folkestone had just then made, and
wrote:

A whale came down the Channel;
The Dover men could not catch it,
But the Folkestoners did.

He was, it will be conceded, not even so near an approach to a poet as
that mayor who read an address to Queen Elizabeth, beginning with,

"Most Gracious Queen,
Welcome to Folkesteen."

to which Her Majesty is said to have replied,

"You great fool,
Get off that stool!"

But doubtless these be all malicious inventions. Certainly, though,
"great Eliza" did visit Folkestone, and we can have no doubt that the
usual address was read - can even see and hear in imagination that
mayor reading abysmal ineptitudes "um-um-er-er," like some blundering
bumble-bee, the atmosphere growing thick and drowsy with falsities,
platitudes, and infinite bombast, until that virginal but vinegary
monarch cuts him rudely short. We can see - O! most clear-sighted
that we are! - that tall and angular spinster, sharp-visaged, with
high, beak-like nose, greatly resembling a gaunt hen - but a very game
hen - actually cutting short that turbid flow of mayoral eloquence! we
wonder she does not _peck_ him.

Still hazardously up and down go those old streets and lanes of the
old town - Beach Street, North Street, Fenchurch Street, Radnor Street,
and East Street, whence you look out upon Copt Point and the serried
tiers upon tiers of chalk cliffs stretching in the direction of Dover.
Still the Martello tower stands upon that point, as it stands in the
illustration of Folkestone by Turner, but the swarming population of
to-day has blotted out much of that obvious romance that once burst
full upon the visitor. The romance is still there, but you have to
seek it and dig deep beneath the strata of modern changes before it
is found. Trivial things dot the i's, cross the t's, and generally
emphasise this triumph of convention. "Lanes" become "streets," and
that quaintly illiterate old rendering, "Rendavowe" Street, was
long since thought by no means worthy of more educated times, and
accordingly changed to the correct spelling of "Rendezvous" it now
bears.

Modern Folkestone is already, by effluxion of time, becoming sharply
divided into modern and more modern. The ancient Folkestone we have
seen to be the fishing village, the first development from whose
humble but natural existence, in days when seaside holidays began
to be an institution and the "resorts" set out upon their career of
artificiality, was the "Pavilionstone" of Dickens and Cubitt. The trail
of Cubitt, who built that South Kensington typified by the Cromwell
Road, and was followed by his imitators throughout the western suburbs
of London in the 'fifties and 'sixties, is all over the land, and is
very clearly defined on the Folkestone Leas, whose houses are in the
most approved grey stucco style. The Leas therefore are not Folkestone,
but, as Dickens dubbed them, "Pavilionstone," or, more justly,
Notting-Hill-on-Sea. They and their adjacent contemporary streets
are the seaside resort of yesterday; the red-brick and terra-cotta
houses and hotels, in adaptation of Elizabethan Gothic and Jacobean
Renaissance, that of to-day, a newer and grander place than Cubitt
conceived or Dickens knew.

All those magnificent streets, those barrack-like hotels, all those
bands and gay parterres, and all the fashion that makes Folkestone the
most expensive seaside resort on the south coast, are excrescences.
That only is Folkestone where you really do smell the salt water and
can seek refuge from the cigar-smoke and the Eau-de-Cologne, the
wealthy, the idle, and the vicious, to come to the folk who earn their
livelihood by the sea and its fish, and are individual and racy of the
water and the always interesting waterside life.

[Illustration: _After J. M. W. Turner, R.A._ FOLKESTONE IN 1830.]

The inquirer fails to discover why that hotel, the "Pavilion," of
which Dickens was so enamoured, and from whose style and title he named
the newly-arising town "Pavilionstone," was given that sign. Napoleon
declared, in the course of his great naval works at Cherbourg, that
he was resolved to rival the marvels of Egypt; was Cubitt, in his
building and contracting way, eager to emulate the plasterous glories
of George IV.'s marine palace, the "Pavilion" at Brighton, or, at any
rate, to snatch a glamour from its name? The "Pavilion" has been once,
certainly - perhaps twice - rebuilt since Dickens wrote, and is now,
they say, palatial, and with every circumstance of comfort; but when
Pavilionstone was in the making, it seems to have been a sorry sort
of a hostelry, in which voyagers for Boulogne had sharp foretastes of
the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune which awaited those who
resigned themselves to the cross-Channel passage at that period. This,
says Dickens, is how you came here for that discomfortable enterprise:
"Dropped upon the platform of the main line Pavilionstone Station at
eleven o'clock on a dark winter's night, in a roaring wind; and in
the howling wilderness outside the station was a short omnibus which
brought you up by the forehead the instant you got in at the door; and
nobody cared about you, and you were alone in the world. You bumped
over infinite chalk until you were turned out at a strange building
which had just left off being a barn without having quite begun to be
a house, where nobody expected your coming, or knew what to do with
you when you were come, and where you were usually blown about until
you happened to be blown against the cold beef, and finally into
bed. At five in the morning you were blown out of bed, and after a
dreary breakfast, with crumpled company, in the midst of confusion,
were hustled on board a steamboat, and lay wretched on deck until you
saw France lunging and surging at you with great vehemence over the
bowsprit."

The miseries of crossing between Folkestone and Boulogne are very
greatly assuaged in these times, but still the summer visitants who
have exhausted a round of pleasures find a perennial and cruel joy in
repairing to the pier, where they can gloat over the miserables who,
yellow and green-visaged, step uncertainly ashore after a bad passage.




CHAPTER X

FROM HYTHE TO ASHFORD


From Hythe, where many roads meet, there goes a very picturesque way
along the high ground overlooking Romney Marsh - a route intimately
associated with "The Leech of Folkestone." It is uphill out of Hythe,
of course: indeed, among all the roads out of the town, only the coast
routes are flat.

Lympne is the first place on the way - that "Lymme Hill, or Lyme" which
Leland says "was sumtyme a famose haven, and good for shyppes that
myght cum to the foote of the hille. The place ys yet cawled Shypway
and Old Haven."

That it is not now "good for ships" is quite evident to anyone who
takes his stand on the cliff-top and views that fifth quarter of the
globe, Romney Marsh, from this most eloquent of all view-points. Full
three miles away, as the crow flies, the summer wavelets whisper on the
beach, and between the margin of the sea and this crumbling cliff-edge,
whose foot once dabbled in the waters of the haven, are pastures that
have been the anchorage of ships.

Grey buildings of high antiquity rise from the cliff-top and command
the mapped-out marshland. The stern tower of Lympne church, forming a
beacon for mariners, is next door neighbour to Lympne Castle, once a
residence of the Archdeacons of Canterbury. That "castelet embatayled,"
in the words of Leland is now a farmhouse. Like the church, it was
largely built from the stone of the Roman castle down below the cliff;
that ancient Portus Lemanis whose feet rested in the waters of the
haven and to whose walls the crowding vessels ranged in the grand
colonial days of Imperial Rome. Stutsfall Castle the countryfolk call
those shattered walls that tell of Roman dominion, rendered "Studfall"
on the map.

It is from these crumbling, earthy cliffs of Lympne that one obtains
the best and most comprehensive view of Romney Marsh, spread out
like an isometric drawing, below. From here the eye ranges over the


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Online LibraryCharles G. (Charles George) HarperThe Ingoldsby Country → online text (page 8 of 16)