F. J. Harvey (Frederick Joseph Harvey) Darton.

The marches of Wessex, a chronicle of England online

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descended the Xapiers of Dorset and Scotland." It seems
a surprising origin : but the paneg3Ti8t is careful to
exclude the fish by mentioning that James was the brother
of Sir Alexander Napier, Knight, and that James I (his
kinsman) commanded Sir Robert Napier, " on creating him
Baronet, a.d. 1012, to send for his pedigree out of

Hutchins' editors mention another remarkable inhabitant
of Swyre churchyard who died in 1013 — a Bridport doctor,
Walter Gray. He " was a little desperate doctor commonly
wearing a pistol about his neck." He had a bodyguard of
the younger gentry, wh<jm he called his " sons," and was
apparently always in debt. He would prophesy with
accuracy the date of the death or recovery of his patients :
but it is not clear how he so far evaded the Sheriff's constant
attention as to have any patients.

I like better than James Napier that Sir Robert who is

• Tho tnulo in tlio hugo mafkorel ciitclicH uf thin fwirt of tlw< coast passed
under Cioorgo V to anotiiur gruat morehaut whoBo titlo in aUo new.


buried at Puncknowle, a mile away to the north-east,
across the fields. His epitaph — he died in 1 700 — is simple : —

" — Ktas ovap avOpoiTTos
(Man is the dream of a shadow)
Non magna loquimvir, sed vivimus.

Reader, when as thou hast done all thou canst, thou art
but an unprofitable servant ; therefore this marble affords
no room for fulsome flattery or vain praise. S'' R.N."

The helmet and gauntlets of one of his ancestors rest
above the slab. The carver of the inscription may have
been nearer in spirit to James Napier of Swyre and Scotland.
At any rate, he appears on the epitaph as prominently
as Sir Robert : " Johannes Hamiltonus, Scoto-Britannus,

The whole of this church is interesting. The key — to be
obtained at the vicarage — is a massive and complex piece
of Tudor work. The font seems to be Norman. The
Bexington aisle or chapel forms a curious little domestic
enclave to the south, and there is another large Napier tomb
of the seventeenth century. The lychgate has a fine roof
of Dorset stone tiles.

In the village (" William holds Puncknowle of the wife
of Hugh, son of Grip : Alward held it in King Edward's
time . . .") may be found a cosy inn where the landlady

* The Napiers or Nappers, like the Strangways, Digbys, and Shaftes-
burys, were great figures in Dorset for many generations, and sometimes
in EngUsh life also. This modest Sir Robert sat in Parliament for Wey-
mouth and Dorchester successively. He was son of an untitled Robert,
who was Receiver-General, and brother to Sir Gerard, a comparatively
temperate Royalist who sat for Melcombe Regis and won the favoiir of
Charles II. A Sir Nathaniel begat Sir Gerard, and another Sir Robert
begat Nathaniel, being in his lifetime M.P. successively for Dorchester,
Bridport, and Wareham, and Chief Baron of the Exchequer in Ireland.
The aforesaid Sir Gerard begat a Sir Nathaniel (" dilettante " — proh
pudor !), and he yet another Nathaniel : from whom, collaterally, are
descended the Sturtor Alington families of to-day. A miraculoiis draught
of fishes. The first Lord Alington bequeathed a set of waistcoat buttons
to King Edward VII : he was the owner of St. Blaize, Common, and much
property in Hoxton and Dorset. I still like the self -concealing Sir Robert
best. (The above statements are taken from the Dictionary of National
Biography and G.E.C.'s Complete Peerage.)


sits weaving nets — a local industry — with a shuttle that
tlic'g so quickly in her skilful hands that you can hardly
SCO it ; the remains of the stocks ; a i)leasant drinking
trough carefully shaded ; and behind the church stands the
most compact and charming of all the Dorset manors, a
tiny gabled Jacobean house of grey weathered stono,
exquisitely proportioned.

From here there is a footpath directly across the water-
meadows to Litton Cheney : but it is very difficult to trace
at times, and if you miss it you Mill bo lost in a maze of
little brooks. There is a slightly longer path, through
Look Farm ('' William holds Lahoc of the Earl of Moreton.
Aluric held it in King Edward's time ") ; and this is worth
following, for the early eighteenth-century house has a
demiu-e comfortable beauty not soon forgotten. (The track
lies through the farm barton and then to the left, not past
the front of the house.)

A former tenant of Look had an epitaph (at Litton
Cheney) which is in keeping with the gracious house : —

" Beneath this stone in a darke dusty bed,
lamented much a virgin rests her head ;
And such an one wlio (dying) hath bereft
the world of that worth as scarce in it is left.
Of a sweet face, but of a sweeter minde,
and a sweet fame (dying) shee left behinde.
Smitten by death even in her blooming age,
and height of beauty, shee went off ye stage
Of this frail world ; this with grief wee see
that such rare creatures seldomc aged bee.
For why, the Angels want such company
to joyne with them in heavenly melody.
With whom in Heaven she cloth now poasess
f hf fruit of vertuf's lasting happiness."

Litton Cheney (save for an episode to be record(>d later)
is remarkable only for loveliness. Down each s'u\r. of the
street runs a silver stream betwrcn the road and the golden
houses ; and argosies of silver ducks lloat garrulous u[)on
their waters, or stand, dibbling snakily with their long


necks, on the massive stones that serve as footbridges for
each house. Right at the top of the village, on its own
knoll, rises the church, a plain building with a handsome
tower and an oldish painting of David playing the harp in
a theatrical ecstasy.

A byroad leads from Litton, past a comely eighteenth-
century house, to Long Bredy, a pleasant hamlet of no
great interest. Here once more you are in the kingdoms of
the dead. There is a long barrow just above the village
and tumuli all around. The stone circle called the
Grey Mare and her Colts is in the ]3arish, and other
Neolithic remains. The ruins of Kingston Russell House
(where Admiral Hardy lived and J. L. Motley died) are
also in the parish.

The way lies now across country utterly desolate. Take
the footpath past the church over the hill, cross the main
road, and go by other faint tracks straight to Compton
Valence, three miles away. In the valley leading down to
that hamlet, traces of the Roman water supply for Dor-
chester have been found. The little village takes its second
name from the Earls of Pembroke, but they did not succeed in
giving it any history. It must have slept among its trees
undisturbed since Hugo de Forth received the manor from
the Conqueror, in lieu of Bundi the Saxon.

Another winding track, also in places undiscoverable,
leads to Grimstone, in the cool spacious Frome valley.
There is nothing of note here. But it is necessary now to
choose between two routes to the next objective — Batcombe,
on the edge of Blackmore Vale. You can get on to a pretty
byroad by Grimstone station and go along past Sydling
Water to Sydling St. Nicholas, and through Up-Sydling to the
hills. Or you can follow the Roman road. The first four
miles are utterly deserted and very beautiful ; then it
becomes the main Dorchester -Yeovil road, and there is more
traffic. A little before the fourth milestone (fourth from
Maiden Newton, twelfth from Dorchester) turn to the right,
and you will come to the same point as by the Sydling route.



Or by adding an extra mile or so to yoiu' walk you ean
combine the best of both routes ; go three miles or more
along the Roman road and then take the track already
mentioned* dovm to Sydling.

Certainly Up-8ydling (a form of name similar to that seen
in Up-C'erne, Up-Lymo, Up-Wey) should not be over-
looked. It has a charming little farm-manor-house, and the
way to it lies alongside streams at many points. Behind it
rise the great hills, and the path climbs through a glorious
wooded valley to the summit, nearly 800 feet up.

This is the best approach to almost the best view in the
south of England ; for you come to it quite unexpectedly.
But I shall speak of that later. For the present, do not wait,
but go down the steep track to Batcombe Church. As you
stand on the top of the hill, you look right on to the build-
ing, and its seems almost as if you could leap over it with a
little etlort. Indeed, a less desirable person than the reader
of this book is said to have done so. It was anciently a
custom of the tlovil to exercise his horse in this manner.
A former vicar of Batcombe (the living goes with that of
Fromc Vauchurch, five steep miles away) told me that when
he first went to the place, a generation ago, one of the pin-
nacles of the tower had fallen and was lying in the church-
yard. He had great difficulty in replacing it ; for the
villagers insisted that the devil's horse had knocked it off
with his hoof as he leapt in derision over the holy building,
and to restore it would be to their hurt.

The devil was not the only wizard in Batcoml)e There are
strange tales of one Conjuring Minterne, who lived in the
seventeenth century — John ^riiiterne, of a well-known
local family. Sir Frederick Treves recalls these stories.
Formerly, according to liiitchins, half iiis gravestone lay
in Batcombe churchyard. J^ikc another Dorset man of the
same century, he would be buried neither in nor outside the
church, and had his tomb placed in llie wall.

The church itself has a simjde slab recording his ileath.

• PiiRos iir., iKi.


It has also that rare thing, a stone screen, of plain good
design. It is a little unpretentious place of worship, suitable,
somehow, to this village lost between the great hills and the
great valley.

Lost ? No : not entirely. Batcombe was the town of
the Little Commonwealth ; a penal settlement for children,
on advanced and successful lines. Hither came little
delinquents from the London Police Courts, and learnt by
experience the duties of freedom. They were their own
governors, held their own law com'ts, under wisely veiled
supervision. There were incorrigibles among them, run-
aways, idlers, of course, but on the whole the place made for
a real reform of the spirit, a genuine application of the theory
of social punishment which does not try to penalize but to
change the soul. It was closed during the war, for reasons
unconnected with its ideals. And then it had another ideal ;
it became a farm settlement for ex-service men. But that
too has perished.

So down into the Vale of Blackmore, a great weald
formerly closely wooded, and once called, according to
Coker of Mappowder in the Vale, the Forest of V/hite Hart;
for a gentleman of that district killed, at King's Stag Bridge
over the Stour (the name still stands), a white hart which
Henry III, hunting there, had spared ; " but he soon
found how dangerous it was to be twitching a lion by the
ears," for the King imprisoned him and exacted a yearly
jfine called White Hart Silver.

Except in May, this weald country is not of great beauty
or interest as compared with the hills or the heath. The
road runs quietly to Leigh. Here there is a miz-maze or
curiously wi'ought earthwork, the meaning of which is not
certainly known : formerly in spring the young folk used
to scom: it every few years, with mirth and cheerful ritual.
There is another at " Troy," not far from Dorchester, to the
east, and there used to be one at Pimpernc.

Hence, still by road, either to Lillington or Long Burton,
and so at last to Slierborne, the old seat of the bishopric,



the capital of ^Vesterll Wesscx, " the most frequented town
in the county " hi Ehzabeth's day.

I have spoken of Sherborne Abbey and its glorious fan
tracery, and of Aklhehn its gi-cat first bishop. I will not
now dwell on the school, with its splendid buildings, new
and old. its library, its high traditions ; nor upon the con-
duit in mid-town, nor the " hospital " whose residents arc
so anxiously eager to show its treasures ; nor upon the many
old houses, nor upon the unseemly architecture and solid
comfort of the chief inn : nor even at any length upon the
Castle, except to mention that its central portion was built
by 8ir Walter Raleigh, who here, it is said, first performed
the miracle of smoking, and caused his servant to try to
cxtinquish him with a bucket of water.*

It is in the fate of Sherborne Castle as Raleigh's possession
that the Tudor spirit seems to me to stand out most vividly.
" Great Raleigh," he was called : a man of imagination
and high courage, a \\Titer of noble English, a sanguine
discoverer : I wonder if he was great.

He desired the manor of Sherborne exceedingly. It
belonged to the bishopric of Sarum. His biogiapher says
that " his eagerness to improve his own position came into
happy conjunction with a strong opinion, which ho shared
with a large body of contemporaries, that Bishops and
Church dignitaries ought not to bo too heavily weighted
with secular wealth." The bishopric opportunely fell
vacant. It was a more than hinted condition of the appoint-
ment of a successor to it that he would convey the Castle
estate to the Queen — f(jr Raleigh. " I gave the Queen a
jewel, worth £2.")(), to make the Bishop." She made the
Bishoj). iiulelgh got Sherborne.

His life there was simple He liked the j)Iuce. He was
concerned chielly with domestic alTaiis. One Meeres,
bailiff of Sherborne, was always plaguing him \\ith writs —

• In tcHtimony whoroof it may bo obwervod that forty yoara aftor
I^ilcigirH (lentil Shcrboriio ponHfswxl a prcHUinubly wclltodo tobacco-
cutter, Hoburt Wyir.


and Meeres had married a kinswoman of Lady Essex,
" a poor man's wife of this comitry, but too good for such a
knave." He hawked. He looked after Cecil's son. He had
the inconvenience of learning that his wife and son had (in
his absence) to flee in different directions because " the
plague is in the town very hot." He could easily get to the
coast to look after his shipping monopoly. He met with
annoyance once at Weymouth in that connection ; one
Gilbert had landed a cargo of sassafras wood : "I have a
patent that all ships and goods are confiscate that shall
trade there without my leave, but whereas sassafras was
worth 10s., 12s., and 20s. a pound before Gilbert returned,
his cloying of the market will overthrow all mine, and his
own also."

From these little things he went to the Tower and lay
under sentence of the grim and clumsy block for alleged
treachery, never proved. He wrote distractedly to his wife
at Sherborne, when he could no longer endure the suspense,
and believed his doom certain : he had resolved on suicide.
But even then he cared for the Dorset and Devon men who
had trusted him : he asked his wife to sell his possessions,
" and let the poor men's wages be paid with the goods, for
the Lord's sake. Oh, what will my poor servants think,
at their retm^n, when they hear I am accused to be Sf)anish
who sent them — at my great charge — to plant and discover
upon his [the King of Spain's] territory."

A little later he was in a greater mood, and would fain
leave the world as a gentleman, and lie last of all in the place
he loved : " You shall receive, dear wife, my last words in
these my last lines. My love I send you, that you may
keep it when I am dead ; and my counsel, that you may
remember it when I am no more. I would not, with my last
will, present you with sorrows, dear Bess. Let them go to
the grave with me, and be buried in the dust. And, seeing
it is not the will of God that ever I shall see you in this life,
bear my destruction gently, and with a heart like yourself.
. . . Beg my dead body, which living was denied you ;



and either lay it at Sherborne, if the hind continue, or in
Exeter church, bv mv father and mother. I can WTite no
more. Time and death call me away. . . . ]\Iy true wife,
farewell. Bless my poor boy ; pray for me. My true God
hold you both in His arms.

" \\'ritten with the dying hand of sometime thy husband,
but now (alas) overthrown.

" Yours that was ; but now not my own,

"W. Raleigh."

But there remained the last reprieve for the luihappy
expedition to Guiana : James I was ready to pardon one
who might make him rich. Raleigh's letters to Sherborne
on that voyage are uneven ; as a rule he is uncertain and
despondent, but occasionally he says a word which must
have sounded exotic to quiet Dorset. " To tell you I might
be here King of the Indians were a vanity ; but my name
doth still live among them. Here they feed me with fresh
meat, and all that the country yields ; all ofifor to obey me."

His son died while he was on the voyage : "I shall sorrow
the less, because I have not long to sorrow, because not long
to live. . . . My brains are broken, and it is a torment for
me to \\Tite, and especiall}' of misery."

He failed ; Eldorado was not to be discovered by him,
and he came back to pay the penalty of failure. He knew
how to die : " He was the most fearless of death that ever
was known ; and the most resolute and confident, yet with
reverence and conscience. . . . He gave God thanks that
he never feared death, and much less then, for it was but
an opinion and imagination." ..." He was very cheerful
that morning he died, ate hi.s breakfast heartily, and took
tobacco, and made no more of his death than if he had been
to take a journey."

*' At Sherborne, if th(^ land eoiitimic . . ." As soon as
Raleigh was dead, King .lames clMtrJK'd at the es(at<? for
his favourite Robert (,'arr : I niun hi' it for I{ol)bie."
Carew Raleigli, the son, remonstratcl in \ain: "tlioy
called the conveyance of Sherborne in tjuestion, m the


Exchequer," he wTote to the House of Commons, " and for
want of one word (which word was found notwithstanding
in the paper-book, and was the oversight of a clerk) they
pronounced the conveyance invahd, and Sherborne for-
feited to the Crown : a judgment easily to be foreseen
without witchcraft ; since his chief est judge was his greatest
enemy, and the case between a poor friendless prisoner and a
King of England."


*' . . . for the deliverance of King Jftmea I, the Queen, the Prince, and

all the Royal Brandies, with the Nobility, Clergy, and Commons of

England, by Popish troacliery appointed as sheep to the slaughter,

in a most barbarous and savage niamier, beyond the examples of

former ages."

The Book oj Common Prayer.

" During the time men live without a common Power to keep them all
in ave, they are in that condition which is called War ; and such a
war as is of every man against every man. . . . Tlie nature of War
consisteth not in actual fighting ; but in the known disposition
thereto durmg all the time there is no «kssurance to the contrary. All
other time is Peace.

" ^^^lat8oever therefore is consequent to a time of War, where every man
is enemy to every man, the same is consequent to the time wherein
men live without otlier security than what their own strength and
their own invention shall fiu-nish them withal. In such conditions,
there is no plac-e for Industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain ;
and consequently no Culture of the Earth ; no Navigation, nor use
of the commodities that may be imported by sea ; no commodious
Building ; no Instruments of moving and removing sudi things as
require much force ; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth ; no
account of Time ; no Arts ; no Letters ; no Society ; and whicli is
worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death ; and the
life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."



*' The sons of Belial had a glorious time."


Absalom and Achitophel.




I HAVE said more about economic tind social changes
than political, hitherto, because, on the whole, political
ideas were hardly so diffused as to be the property
of more than a limited class of Englishmen. The people in
gi^neral felt the incidence of the policy informed by such
ideas ; but except for the brief outburst of the Peasants'
Revolt, their concern with the state of society was material
rather than reflective. In the seventeenth century, however,
they tampered actively witii the iState machine. All classes
wore, at least j)otentially, property owners ; all j);ud
national taxes, received national justice or injustice, did
national service through their local agency, the parisiu
Newspapers were started. A king was beheaded, his elilir
son chased, his younger son, also a king, exiled, his bastard
grandbon beheaded.



There is a famous passage in the first Lord Shaftesbury's
autobiography which gives a Uvoly pictiu'e of one side of
Dorset hfc in that century. The gentry used to meet once
a week (usually at Handley, on the edge of Cranborne
Chase) to play bowls. There were notable men among them :
Lord Bristol (Charles I's Secretary of State), for instance,
and the Denzil Holies, who in 1G29 held the Speaker in the
Chair to prevent the House from adjourning at the King's
command.* They were not to be all on the same side in the
Civil War ; and the most brilliant of them all, Shaftesbury
himself, was the least stable in principle and in fact : —

" A fiery soul, which, working out its way,
Fretted the pigmy body to decay, . . .
Bankrupt of life, yet prodigal of ease.
In friendship false, implacable in hate.
Resolved to ruin or to rule the state."

It is impossible, nevertheless, for all his " close designs
and crooked counsels," not to be fascinated by Shaftesbury's
restless, versatile, indomitable spirit and fine mind. Frail
of body, in constant pain, he showed high courage all his
life, from the day when, as a freshman at Oxford, he put
down the barbarous custom of " tucking," to the time when,
dying a refugee in Holland, he was brought back for burial
in the county of which he had been so great a part.

But not all the people of Dorset were occupied in the
manner of the Handley company. At the very time of
Shaftesbury's account, the Rev. John White (an Oxford-
shire man) " held a strong sway " in Dorchester. " A grave

* " God's wounds ! " cried Holies, " you shall sit till we please to rise ! "
It is interesting to find so lively a figure commemorated at Dorchester in
a panegyric exceptional in an epoch of complacent epitaphs : I may quote
a sentence or two : it is very long :

" All that Donzil's wit or courage, probity or industry, presaged in his
youth, he made good and exceeded when grown a man, for, as excellent
endowments and abihties made him early known to his prince and country,
so he coiild, by his eloquence and valour, intrepidly defend the liberty
of the last without ref vising the obedience that was due to the former."
Two of the chubbiest possible cherubs shed frozen marble tears before the
effigy of Denzil posed very uncomfortably in the costume of a Roman


man, without moroseness, as -who wduUI willingly contribute
his shot of facet iousness on any just occasion. A constant
preacher. ... A good governor, by whose wisdom the town
of Dorchester (notwithstanding a casual merciless fire)
was mucli emiehed ; knowledge causing piety, piety breed-
ing industry, and industry prociU"ing plenty unto it. A
beggar was not tlien to be seen in the town, all able poor
being set on work, and impotent maintained by the profit
of a public breA\house, and other collections. He absolutely
commanded his own passions, and the purses of his
parishioners, whom he could wind up to what height ho
pleased on important occasions. He was free from covetous-
ness, if not trespassing on the contrary ; and liad a
patriarchal influence both in Old and New England."
Thomas Euller, from whose Worthies the quotation comes,
pos.sibly knew White personally, for from 1034 to 1041
(and perhaps again at the end of his life) he held the Dorset
living of Broadwindsor, where his pulpit is still in use.

White, however, was more than the parson of the county
town. He was a leader of the West country Puritans, and
it was largrly clue to him that the non-conforming party
formed tlie Massachusetts Company (often called the Dor-
chester Company), and in 1 028 founded (or rather, organized)
a settlement in that colony. A monument to John Endicott
or Endecott. the first governor, was unveiled at Weymouth
in l!>lt l)y Endicott's descendant, the wife of Joseph

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Online LibraryF. J. Harvey (Frederick Joseph Harvey) DartonThe marches of Wessex, a chronicle of England → online text (page 12 of 28)