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

The marches of Wessex, a chronicle of England online

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from comparison with the Caiuiing case, that there was a


smugglers' clearing house in that district — probably near
"Tipput" (Tidpit, a deserted hamlet on a Neolithic track-
way near the Avon before it leaves the Wiltshire downs) :
just as there was near Tonbridge on the Upper Med way
for Kent and East Sussex. At Fordingbridge, Daniel
Chater — who acted, not wholly creditably, as a common
informer — recognized one of the carriers, and laid an
information. I need not go into the details of the proceed-
ings which followed. The man recognized was arrested.
The smugglers took their revenge. They captured Chater
and a tide-waiter named Galley who had been officially
connected with him, and after dragging them across Hamp-
shire beat them to death : or rather beat Galley to death
and Chater almost : Chater they finished off by dropping
him down a well. The later events took place in Sussex.
Eight of the smugglers were caught (not at all easily) and

A story like it is remembered in Sussex to-day, I was told
in West Sussex, by one who owns the original documents of
the careful accounts kept by his smuggling ancestors during
that time : how a carrier received so much a journey, what
the journey was, to what centre (that is the important
point) ; and from that our casual talk — which was shared
with a number of small farmers — drifted to the general
question of smuggling. My companions all dwelt on the
local case (I had not mentioned Chater's). The scene of
the beating to death was Slindon, and they knew the inn
where it took place ; and they said that the murdered
man, then only half dead, was dragged eight or ten miles or
so to Parham, not far from where we were, and despatched.

This tale I have not troubled to pursue in detail : it is
duly chronicled elsewhere. The Chater case is recorded by
Messrs. Atton and Holland (in The King's Customs), who
have had access to official papers. It proves, I think, the
intensity and widespread influence of the Free Trade :
and the Sussex gossij), which also follows known fact, is
more than suggestive. In West Sussex, in oral tradition,


and in London and East Sussex in ofHcial documents, is
the still sounding echo of deeds tliat took phice a centuiy
and a half ago — a deed, in that special instance, commenced
in Poole and consummated two counties away.

And this mixed evidence almost proves also, to my mind,
what the Canning case suggests — the existence of a vast
concealed machinery of distribution, well controlled, with
well-chosen clearing houses, well-chosen routes, secret
agents ever\^vhere. Smuggling was not a question of a
chance sea-captain knowing a chance longshoreman and
running a cargo with a theatrical apparatus of lamps on a
cliff. It was an industry, a huge organized industry, employ-
ing a large number of " workpeople." It is useless to smuggle
— except in a pettifogging way, or except in connection m itli
very precioas small articles like diamonds, saccharine, and
cocaine — unless you do it on an industrial scale.* I was
told this, it is amu>^ing to record, by a certain excise officer
who at the same time boasted that he knew very well what
came ashore at his little port, and nothing excisable could
get past him. A skipper near by winked at me, and told
me later that the tobacco " Customs " was then smoking,
which he had bought in the inn, was itself snuiggled ; and
the next day I had the pleasure of seeing Customs lend the
landl(»rd a hand with a case of brandy (on which duty had
been paid) up to the inn, without knowing that the case also
contained other goods on which duty had not been paiil.
But this was only trivial and on a small scale : u<> life or
death about it. (The persons concerned are all dead.)

But there were kindlier seafarers iu Dorset than the
smugglers, humbler men than the admirals, men with a
little more vision, perhaps, than the j)rivateers. One of
them lives, I hope, for ever, oven if his work may not :
the creator of the Foundling Hosj)ital.

Thomas (Joram was born hi Lyme Regis in n)(J8. How
he Bpent all tiie eighty-four years of his active life is not

• See the SafeguAniing of Infliwtrios .Vet, 1921. .\h Mr. Pockuiiiff Kuid,
" if auyljody kiiuwa ... an eligible opportunity now offora . . ."


fully known. He followed the sea in his early years, appar-
ently, and then settled, appropriately enough for a Dorset
man, in Massachusetts, where he gave to the town of Taunton
land for a chiu-ch or school, as occasion might arise : and
Mr. Speaker Onslow, a " warm friend " of his, gave, for the
use of the church subsequently built, a Book of Common
Prayer. Coram seems to have been a shipwright, and
eventually a shipowner, interested — again in the Dorset
manner — in the American fisheries. Indeed, that interest
gave him a title to fame not less authentic than his erection
of the Foundling Hospital. In 1735 he laid a memorial
before the King's Most Excellent Majesty in Council, re-
presenting that the cod-fisheries of Nova Scotia should be
developed, the country settled by " a competent number of
industrious Protestant families," and a suitable salt-station
for its benefit created in the Bahamas. After long considera-
tions and delay his project was carried out. There was no
noisy glory about this solid little achievement. It was a
quiet piece of what we have since been conjured to call

As shipwright and shipmaster Coram prospered reasonably
and returned to England and settled in London about
1719. " While he lived in that part of this metropolis
which is the common residence of seafaring people " —
there are no further details : was it Ratcliffe or Wapping ?
I hope he lived near Captain Cook, his younger contem-
porary, in Stepney — " he used to come early into the city
and return late, according as his business required his
presence ; and both these circumstances afforded him fre-
quent occasions of seeing young children exposed, sometimes
alive, sometimes dead, and sometimes dying, which affected
him extremely."

It took him seventeen years to affect other people ex-
tremely in this matter. Towards the end of these years of
effort, says his biographer, " this good man, whose head
was fertile in expedients, bethought himself at last of
applying to the ladies. He knew their nature, he knew their


iuflucnco, and soon found that he was in the right road.
They did not h-^ten nnich to his argunlent^s, for the sweetness
of their o\\n tempers supplied a tenderness that rendered
arguments unnecessary." On October 17. 1729, he obtained
the chaiter of incorpc^ration for an institution " for the
maintenance and education of deserted young children."

The charity is said to have been abused — not perhaps to
the extent of making illegitimate child-bearing a wide-
spread habit, but at least enough to cause drastic revision
of the Foundling's rules, because the parish officers " emptied
their workhouses of the infant poor," dumping them in the
biisket of leception hung outside the hospital. I have
attended the famous ^Sunday service there in these days,
and been shown the charming buildings by an obsequious
attendant ; and I do not like charitable institutions any
more than I like almshouses ; charity creates a multitude
of sins. Nevertheless, the name of Thomas Coram desorvOvS
to live. He spent his hot-headed enthusiastic Hfe in trying
to do good. He spent also his money — money indubitably
earned by his (^wn exertions, for he was the son of a sea-
going ship's captain and did not start with wealth. He
died, an his epitaph says, " poor in worldly estate, rich in
good works." Towards the end of his life ho hiuLself was
kept by charity : a public subscription was opened for him,
and when ho was asked if it would offend him, he answered
stm-dily, " I have not wasted the little wealth I formerly
possessed in cclf-indulgence and vain expenses, and am not
ashamed to confess that, in this my old age, I am poor."
" He lived above the fear of anything but an unworthy
action." That is one eulogy of him : I think the simpler
and better is in the words I have quoted — " this good

It i« a curious and touching thing, the simplicity of the
seafaring life. The little " ports of stranded pride " seem
to preserve it, and its grandeiu-, too, in a nu)re intimate
manner than the great harbours. In the homeliest terms
in daily u^e alongslu^re, there is <jflen something large and


unexpected. Ask a creeping coaster whither he is bound.
He will not say to the Thames or London : he will say to
London River. It is a more majestic and spacious con-
ception : it is geography in plain speech. Or look at the
humble voyages taken at a peradventure. I remember once
seeing a brand new Scandinavian ship come into Bridport
Harbour. It was her maiden voyage — just from Sweden
to this forgotten harbour, with timber. She was a lovely
boat, her decks shining, her paint all new, her tackle glisten-
ing, all her little bolts and blocks glorious. She was going
out in ballast to Cadiz, to pick up a cargo there : and thence
across the ocean to Rio, where the skipper hoped (but with
no certainty) to find some other load, and fare onwards
wherever the need might take him. All over the world on

I remember, too, one splendid land-fall in the autumn of
1914. It must have given to seafaring men some sense,
however dim, of the security which has been won in and by
England. On August 2nd a little schooner set out from
Archangel for Bridport. She was tm-ned back from the
North Sea by reason of enemy mines, and she must voyage
all round the Shetlands and so into St. George's Channel
and round the Lizard. She touched at Lerwick and re-
provisioned for this longer journey. Down the western
coast she met with contrary winds, but she put in nowhere.
It was ten weeks before she turned well up Channel, and then
the tides and winds together were unfriendly ; for among
other hostile acts. Nature forbids entrance to Bridport
Harbour at low tide and when the wind is off shore. She
must beat on and off a few miles out for two days or more ;
and meanwhile every crumb of food on board was con-
sumed. She could have made some Devon port without
trouble ; but West Bay was her journey's end, and to West
Bay alone in all the world would she go. And so at last,
after every known peril of the sea, starving but unconquered,
her crew of six brought her to the mark-buoy. The pilot
went aboard, and as the sun set she swayed slowly in ;


o c



her Daniish captain, a gay and gallant figure in bright blue
troasers and a golden shirt, waving his hat in cheerful
inarticulate triumph ; fur though he had come safe to the
one place in England he desired to reach, he could speak
hardly a word of English.

If I want to feel really English, to draw into myself the
life of the English sea, I will go to Bridport Harbour, and
look at those little coasting vessels that have begun again to
creep into the basin since the war. I will pat the large
bollards — the wooden ones, like the wooden piles, are being
changed for concrete — look once more at the painting of a
three-decker on the rocket-house wall ; go into the Old
Custom House — one of two " old " custom houses — and
tread the stone flags and see again the faded lettering,
" Long Room " and " Collector's Room," on the blackening
doors : walk tlirough Good's yard, up the brick and stone
staircase climbing the enormoas side of the barn, smell the
timber and grain and rafters in the long upper floor with the
square unglazed wmdow looking over the Channel. And
then I shall go up over the East Cliff, all among the horned
sheep and the golfers, on a pilgrimage along the coast, past
the villages that have bred so many seamen.

I shall not follow the shorter path inland, but the cliff
edge, down into Port Coombe where the rabbits are, over
the top and down to Bm-ton Freshwater. O most desirable
of places ! From nowhere are you not lovely. From the
the road you are a green perspective for the golden beach
and blue sea ; from the sea, beyond the carpet of pink
thrift and yellow poppies, ])etweon your flaming cliffs,
another green perspective for the stream (lined with comfroy
and loosestrife) and the adorable village, with its grave
simple church, its trees full of rooks, its meadows noisy
with plover. This sirlc the fields of asphodel, I want no

I come in du(! tiino by the i'u-Ui j)ath ulongsidt; Iht; magical
river to Burton JJradstock itself : through Love J^ane.
Lovo Lane, a row of thatched cottages : life and love alike,


I daresay, are imperfect : no doubt these cottages also are
imperfect : but not to me.

If you are a single-minded worshipper of external beauty
you can stand a whole day in Burton in lookuig and looking
and looking at the exterior of its cottages. There is not a
bad building, from an aesthetic point of view, in the place,
except the chief inn, and that is no worse than amusing.
Your eye will wander over a wall and see here the amazing
rich depth of gold in its stone : there the delicacy of the grey-
green lichen : there the vivid blue of a periwinkle blossom,
or the crimson of a fuchsia : here the admirable masonry of
a di'ipstone, there the warm intimacy of a thatched eave.
Or you can sit outside the inn, on the pavement, and see the
narrow roads dropping away at your feet, or on the seats
round the gossips' tree, and rest your eye always on peace
and beauty.

From Love Lane go over the fields close to the two
outrageous red villas half a mile away, just above the beach :
hateful landmarks for many miles. Pass them and go up
over the little hill to the decent yellow coastguard station,
with its border, in the coastguard station manner of white-
washed stones. After that you can choose either of two
ways — along the shore, or a little higher, by the road.

Along the shore you pass Bm^ton or Cogden Mere, a place
for many kinds of waterfowl. It varies curiously in its
wetness. Do not try to take short-cuts in this region.
There is a straight track along the inside of the curve of the
Chesil Bank. In some seasons it is good going on thin
grass : in others you have to plough over slippery shingle ;
the condition depends on the force and number of recent

If you have a dog he will find and chase innumerable
hares here ; yea, even on the beach itself. All these parts
are full of them : I have seen as many as seventeen in a
field at once, and I have also witnessed their fantastic
March dances : once a party of friends caught a leveret with
their bare hands.


You walk foiu- miles or so to the roar of the sea. In the
calmest weather there is always a roar as the waves sUde
back down the deep slope of the shingle. It is unwise to
bathe here alone, especially just below Swyre, where ui
addition to the strong undertow, there is at times a dangerous
current.* Between that point and Burton, probably, is one
end of the tide that sweeps up from Start Pomt : but the
whole bay, with the Race at Portland and the currents at
Doadman's Bay and west of Lyme Cobb, is at times
menacing, for all its calm appearance.

In due course you come to another seemly coastguard
station, and pass below the farms of Bexington (which has
an aisle all to itself in Puncknowle Church) and Labour-in-
Vain, and then you must leave the shore before you reach
the Fleet, and go by a footpath over the hill to the road that
runs past Lord Ilchester's tropical gardens (full of exotic
plants flourishing in the open all the year round), and so to
the point where the main Bm'ton road reaches level ground
at last.

If you go by the road you see the same great bay from
liighor ground. You climb slowly uphill for a mile, and then
down mto the tail end of Swyre, where the base of the village
cross still stands as a loafing pitch. Y^ou turn sharjjly to
the right and sharply to the left (many cyclists have been
injured or oven killed here in past days : there is a concealed
gate round a right angle), and are then faced by about four
miles uphill along the most beautiful coast road I know. It
runs over open rough land, once much more fully cultivated
than now, unhedged, sloping gently to the sea half a mile
or so away ; and all along is the immonso smooth curve
between Portland and Start Point, until at last you roach
Abbotsbury Camp and look down on that still more glorious
view which I liavo already described.

Looking back towards evening you get i)eriiai)s the finest

• In llif> luHt year of the wiir (he current Htivtul u iiiiiu'h lifr. JIo wtw
liii<hi«l to ft pii'to of wood uiid wuhIu-cI iwlioro (lu»n>, ftiul |tull«<il out jiwt in
t iriic, aft«T nearly u day in tlio water. Hm Hhip luwl Ixwn sunk by «in onoiny


sight of all this pageantry of cliffs. You see the full majesty
of the great hills which appear so noble from Lyme. From
this Abbotsbury road, late in the day, you have them with
the sun behind them, and they fall into a succession of sharp
silhouettes, with purple dusk (deepening as it creeps west-
ward) between each fold, and the sea like a lake at their feet.
Abbotsbury, like Swyre, Burton, and Bridport Harbour,
is a stronghold of the mackerel industry. Many thousands
may come ashore in one catch ; I have seen seven thousand
at a time. Often they are preceded by still more multitudin-
ous catches of sprats, so numerous that the packed seine
looks like a silver furze bush from their protruding heads
and tails. The sprats hunt the " bait " — little things an
inch or two long who make the water close inshore black.
The mackerel hunt the sprats. The porpoise, leaping
joyously, hunt the mackerel, as may be seen on any fine
August day.

At Abbotsbury, when the season is near, a watch is still
kept up from immemorial times. A looker-out sits with a
great horn upon St. Catherine's Hill, or on the Chesil Bank,
and when the water grows dark with fish, winds his horn ;
whereupon the nets and boats — mostly row-boats — are
hastily got out. I do not know how they dispose of the catch
at Abbotsbury ; but at Bridport, directly the news of the
fishes' coming is hinted, the chief local fish dealer rushes down
in his cart from the town with dozens of boxes of all kinds,
and supernumerary vehicles if the season is good — nowadays
sometimes with a motor lorry. If the catch is a big one,
it is brought to the harbour steps in boats, and laboriously
counted out into hundreds : for every hundred the boat
owner puts aside a tally-fish — his account and his per-
quisite together. The price paid him varies : I have known
it ten a penny. Odd fish — large, fresh, and good — can usually
be bought by private persons for a penny or two — a few
more or less do not matter to a big catch. The boxes are
hastily loaded up and trundled up the hill to Bridport.
A small proportion is kept for local sale : at a price usually


differing longo iritermllo from that paid at tho harbour
st^fw. The rest go off by rail or road to Bristol or Salisbury
or Bournemouth or London. And there is mirth in the
Harbour inns that night.

The mackerel, well cooked — in half a dozen different
ways — and only half an hour dead, is as fair food as any
man might seek . And if the trade were thoroughly organized,
so that the fish reached small centres in the West directly
and quickly, it might be made not only more profitable to
the dealers than it is, but more profitable to tho fishermen
themselves. I will say nothing of the operations of a great
trader who even in that remote region has tried to create
better organization. Whether he succeeds or fails, I believe
that this seasonal and uncertain trade could be put on a
sounder footing. It requires three things it has not got :
a sound and cheap and widespread telephone service, an
efficient motor-lorry service (capable of other uses out of
seafion), and a curing shed — for tho kippered mackerel,
properly treated, is as good as any kippered herring ; and
at present fresh fish not quickly distributed have to be used
as manure.

At Abbotsbury, according to Mr. H. J. Moule (in Somerset
ami Dorset Notes and Queries), there was, eighty or more
years ago, a belief that boats could be bewitched : if so, they
caught nothing. It is certainly strange how sometimes,
when the sea is vi'^ibly swarming with fish, they will not be
caught. The Abbotsbury men used to tie " holy stones " —
pebbles with a natiual hole in them — " to nails or staples in
the bows, close beneath the gunwale," and they had a
peculiar wa}- of coiling their stern-ropes for tho same

I have spoken of tho Abbey at Abb(^tsl)ury, but not of
the Swannery. This is, I believe, tho largest in tho world,
lieforo tho war it held 1200 monstrous fine birds, the con-
templation of which made you ill content, afterwards,
with the skinny fowl (jf other waters. Tho loverly creatures
have been kept there continuously since Henry VlII's


time, and possibly for many centuries earlier. They are
very highly civilized. In the contrived walks you pass their
nests and themselves at the closest quarters, not without
awe ; because from elegant ornaments they may become
fierce wild fowl. The veteran keeper once (outside the
exhibition season — in spring) pulled an old cob off his nest
for me (the male and female take turns on the eggs), to show
his weapons of offence. The keeper wore thick leather
gaiters. The angry bird hissed, and put all hi^ hackles up :
his neck became like a nutmeg-grater meant for cocoa-
nuts. He pecked : and the sound on the gaiters was as
that of a hammer. Then he spread his huge wings, and
slapped with the outer pinions. It was as if a cane was being
beaten on wood. And then he drew himself more erect.
But at that the keeper for a moment deftly caught a wing
pinion and pulled the wing out for me to see, the bird, still
half tame, half wild, merely swearing. The keeper showed
me the last weapon : a terrific knob, with a queer little
hook in it, at the elbow joint (wrist joint, anatomically,
for the pinions are our fingers ; but elbow is more natural).
That had broken three ribs of an under -keeper not long ago.
He drove the indignant father back to his nest, by gesticula-
tion ; and he settled down sulkily. His lady was out

I observed, in the course of several visits, not only how
tame they were, but how effete. In the nesting season,
great parcels of twigs are brought to the walks and thrown
down. A few birds will do their own furnishing. The rest
require help. The keeper, seeing a couple anxious to set up
house together, takes a bundle of twigs and thrown it down
in some likely haunt, and stirs it roughly into the form of a
nest. Presently along comes Lord Cygnus, and notices the
desirable mansion. He pulls a twig or two this way and that,
and lo, a nest ! Exegit monumentum. And mighty proud
he and his wife are of it.

It is a wonderful sight, that great lagoon covered by vast
snowflakes : wonderful to behold the heavy uprising of a


flight of them, from the water, seuttering along like an aero-
plane before it lifts, for their bodies are heavy : wonderful
also to see the tremendous impetus with which they touch
the water again and ru-^h tlirougii it till the resistance stops
them : most wondciful of all to hear the glorious metallic
clang of their wings as eight or ten in a V-shapod formation
fly over your head, their beautiful long necks straight,
their noble pinions flapping strongly in the tremendous
carriage of their body. English ])ircLs have many flights
more graceful, but none more impressive, nor, I think,
more splendid than the swan's, unless it be the heron's.

If you wander along from Abbotsbury on the inner
side of the Fleet, you will be near the scene of various
wTecks. The villages are chiefly a little inland, well sheltered
from the inhospitable beach. I may add two disasters to
those already mentioned. Below Fleet, in 1747, a Dutch
boat, the Hope of Amsterdam, went ashore : most of her
crow were saved. She carried about £50,000 in specie and
jewels. The whole neighbom'hood swarmed to the sj^ot
and carried off all they could lay hands upon. There were
furious combats over the possession of the property. No

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Online LibraryF. J. Harvey (Frederick Joseph Harvey) DartonThe marches of Wessex, a chronicle of England → online text (page 20 of 28)