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

The marches of Wessex, a chronicle of England online

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one was killed in the tumult, but several perished of cold
and exposure on the inhospitable Bank, as they wearily
sought for loot. The military were called out, and eventually
about £20,000 or £30,000 was recovered and salvage paid
on it.

A grimmer record still is that of the transports which sot
sail in 171l.j under Abercrombio for the West Indies. They
mot a gale, and were blown haphazard ou t<» the Bank.
Two hundicd and thirty-four bodies were recovered at
various points.

Jufit outride the entrance to the Swannery (down j»ast
the glorious barn, which in length surpasses that of Fro-
cohter, said by the invaluable Muirhead to be the largest
in England, by 92 foot) is a board on a post some three times
the height of a man. It tells how in 1^2 I the sea reached its
Hummit at that spot. The pole is nearly half a mile inland


from high-water mark. If you go down to the Chesil Beach
and look at the stones, now far larger than at any point
on your past walk, you will simply wonder : the only com-
ment is " credo, quia incredibile." It did happen, because
a ship at the same time was deposited on top of the Bank.
This storm destroyed the old church at Fleet. That extra-
ordinary effort of the sea was repeated in (I think) 1914,
when a biggish iron coaster, the Dorothea, was lifted up on
to the crest of the Beach by a huge sea. She lay there for
the best part of one winter, and various salvage companies
in turns sought to dislodge her, and lost their money. The
third or fourth thought of the device of putting rollers just
under her keel at the bows and digging the beach away :
whereupon she slid back into her element.

It is best not to pursue the coast here, but to walk on
from Abbotsbury to Portisham — Portesham or Possum :
a little square village sleeping beneath the chalk hills.
There is a pretty path across the fields to it. The best
summary of the compact and pretty place is the motto of
one of its sons — Sir Andrew Riccard, a great East India
merchant enriched in London by his own exertions, who
died in 1672. He punned : " Possum " — " I can." I do
not suggest that the village, with its rivulets and stone
houses, looks peculiarly efficient. But I am quite sure
that anyone who came out of these beautiful cottages or
worshipped in the beautiful church must be trustworthy —
in spite of all I have said about the smugglers.

Hardy and the smugglers and others commemorated in the

church showed that they lived up to the Latin pun — they

could and did. Here is bm-ied a stout Royalist, not to be

withheld from politics even after death : —

" William Weare lies here in dust
As thou and I and all men must.
Once plundered by Sabaean force —
Some called it war, but others worse —
With confidence he pleads his cause
And King's to be above those laws.
September's eighth day died he
When near the date of G3,
Anne Domini 1670."


Hi.s slab is now outside the chiirch. Inside is a memorial
to iinother of his famil}' who died five j-ears later, the wife
of Robert Weare (the race intermarried with various local
families of repute) : —

" Underneath lies her whose actions pen'd
The perfect copie of a friend :
Whose good sweet heeirt did ahvays shun
Such tilings as ought not to be done.
Rest there, for ever rest alone.
Thy ashes can be touch'd by none."

Can they not ? There are Norman remains, including a
font, in this venerable building, whoso stone has weathered
with a peculiar graciousness. But where are the dead
Normans ? Where are the ashes or the bones of all the
innumerable dead — innumerable even in a tiny village like
this, whose ^\Titten historj' goes back to Cnut ? I read that
in excavating under St. Mary-lo-Bow, in London, among
structures several hundred years old, enquirers could dig
no deeper than a few feet, because they came upon the under-
lying dead, whom they would not willingly disturb. But
wo know that many coffias and skeletons for which search
has been made have vanished, along with the pious decrees
of their tenants. Where, for instance, at Wimborne, is King
Ethelred, who has two brasses and no coffin ? Where is the
martjT at Shaftesbury ? Whore is " the perfect copy of a
friend " here at Portisham ? Where are all the dead 1

The rest of the country between Portisham and Wey-
mouth, if you follow (approximat^^^ly) the coast, is dull.
Fleet, Langton Herring (" Alward held it in King Edward's
time. Hugh son of Grip. . . ."), West Chickerel arc
negligible and uninteresting villages, and the country is
undLstinguished by anything except ordinary cultivation.
Mohuns are buried at Fleet : their memorials record em-
phatically their own worthiness, the chastity of their wives,
and the serenity of James I.

Tiio rcjads hereabouts, before the days of charabancs,
were good to walk upon for exorcise, and no more. You can


take a more desirable track either side of the railway from
Portisham, to Upwey : one side along the little chalk lidge
of Friar Waddon, the other past nowhere in particular :
both to Upwey, where you begin to realize how loathsome
the suburbs of a modern watering-place can be.

And so to Weymouth, which must have been much
pleasanter in Farmer George's day than now. In the im-
mortal phrase of Sam Lewis about Rome, "You can 'ave

And yet, if you go down to the unfailing interest of the
quay — all quays are interesting — or ferry across to the
Nothe, or stand near the statue — and look at the wonderful
bay and the George III houses, it is impossible not to re-
capture some of the meaning of Weymouth. Here, in this
place that the holidays of an urban population have made so
disagreeable, the Romans built a temple to other gods than
oiu"s — if we have one. Here the Danes first slew a King's
man. The town — itself for centuries torn by the rivalry
between Melcombe and Weymouth, now one — stood up
against the dominant Cinque Ports. It gave the Black
Death to England. It sent ships to the Armada, and received
their captures. It suffered in the usual way during the
Civil War, and in the end grew, under the stimulus of
George Ill's visit and the much later approach of the rail-
ways, into a large thriving aggregation of human beings.

What I complain of at Weymouth is not its prosperity
or its efficiency, but the desperate ugliness, even sordidness
of everything modern in it. Even its bridge is mean. The
newer buildings have not so much as the credit of vulgarity
on the grand scale. The amazing Jubilee clock is symbolical.
It is of iron painted green and yellow, in the Public Lavatory
Style, with a sort of bas-relief of Victoria on each of its

* This appalling erection is probably the inspiration of another in the
public gardens at Dorchester, smaller, quite as ugly, but much funnier,
because the Dorchester donor, an ex-mayor, whose image facially is not at
all calculated to recall the Antinous or the Hermes, has caused his own
likeness to appear on each of the green and gold sides. He was a good
citizen and benefactor, but this clock tower is a mistake.


Will our handiwork of that age ever be thought bo<iutiful,
as we now think that of the Georgian era beautiful ? I
hope so : but I fear not. But I am sui-e, on the other hand,
that modern life, with all its swollen triviality and deformity,
can still produce the spirit of the older centmies : produce
it as surely and as gaily as Trumpet-Major Loveday, of
Sutton Poyntz. near Weymouth : "The candle held by his
father shed its waving light upon John's face and uniform
as with a farewell smile he turned on the doorstono, backed
by the black night ; and in another moment ho had plunged
into the darkness, the ring of his smart step dying away upon
the bridge as he joined his companions in arms, and went
off to blow his trumpet till silenced for ever upon ono of the
bloody battlefields of JSpain."


" Britain, insignificant on the map of Europe, could scarcely sustain her
starving sons with bread and water, were it not for hor trade, hitherto
seciu^d in its pre-eminence by the operation of wise laws and in-
stitutions — by the character of a well-ordered and industrious popula-
tion ; but , what are many of us now doing, let me ask you, my friends ?
I will answer this question, from the speech in the House of Commons,
of a gentleman whose ability to inform us, cannot be doubted, no
friend of the present ministers. He plainly tells us that monied men
will not remain to carry on trade and manufactiu-es amongst a dis-
satisfied i^eople, who are threatening to throw all into confiLsion ; they
are withdrawing themselves and their money into other countries.
... I beseech you, my friends, to return into the good old-fashioned
vrays of common sense ; let us lay aside all these new-fangled notions
that have been put into our heads, and industriously pursue our proper
business. Let our behaviour to our superiors be decent, and respect-
ful, looking on them with goodwill and kindness, taking pleivsure in
their prosperity — this as Christians."

The Friendly Fairy (Anon), 1820.

"The ostensible object of these associations was to keep a check on their
employers. . . . Every person, on being a member, bound himself by
an oath administered in the most solemn manner, not to disclose any-
thing which might take place among them. That these a-ssociations
were most dangerous, no one could doubt ; it could not Ix^ pro|x>r tliat
the working orders of the people should meet together, and bind
themselves not to disclose their proceeduigs : it might be ased for tho
most dangerous purposes as regards the welfare of the state."

Counsel fo." prosecution in Rex »•. Brico and others.

Annual Register, 1834.





FARMER GEORGE had taken a genuine interest in
agriculture, and, whether tlirough his direct in-
fluence or not, his reign saw an immense improve-
ment in methods of farming and stock-breeding. It was
in the middle of the eighteenth century that the Dorset
Horn sheep began to attract attention as a separate breed,
and the Dorset Down sheep in 1743 was said by Gawler
(a bad pcxjt) to " keej) iialf the nation warm." But the laiger
changfw implietl in the term " high farming " did not reach
the county in any marked degree till after George Ill's death.
The peasants as a whole lived the life of haphazard squalor
described by Fielding : keejiing a pig or a cow, if they
could, on the common land which still existed. " W'c
present," said the Manorial Court of Grimstone in 1728,
" that Margaret Slowe hath a right to drive sheej) and cattlo
to ;ind from (Irinistonc Common to a ch^se of Meadow



called Smithams, over the currant (sic) called Muckleford
Lake , . . and that John Sabbin and Robert Wood and
others the inhabitants of Muckleford have deprived the said
Margaret Slowe of the way by enlarging the said currant
about two foot wider than it antiently was, which was done
by cutting Grimstone Common."

Not an enclosure, perhaps ; but at least an attempt to
jump a communal claim of right. Here are communal
duties :

" 1753. We present that the tenants of this Manor shall
go out on the 6th day of March next, and shall dig and drain
the meadows, for carrying off the water, under a penalty
of 6s. 8d. for everyone neglecting. . . .

" 1781. We present that no pigs run about the streets
or other Commonable places of this said Liberty and Manor
under penalty of 5s."

It would be foolish to assert that the enclosure of common
land brought no benefits. It certainly made for better
crops : it might in a few good cases make for greater
amenities in village life. But ib did not, as eulogists of
modern county society sometimes seem to hint, create
Arcadias watched over and mustered by a benevolent
squire : it simply deprived the pre-existing village of its
thousand-year-old rights and conveniences.

For with the enclosure independence became a greater
sham than before. The villager was still tied to one place
by the parish machinery, and he now lost the magic of his
little property in the seized common. It is possible, as was
claimed in a famous Somerset report, that that very property
had made him idle. But the right to any leisure he could
earn was hardly recognized : eighteenth-century landlords
were as keen as Carlyle on work — for the lower orders.
What happened was that without his pig or cow or fowls on
the common pastm-e the peasant had got to work solely
for a wage — a wage not likely to be made unduly high.
Prices rose steadily, and the growth of the larger industrial


centres, with their now machinery, killed tlio little local
trades like weaving, baize-making, button-making, in \\ hich
Dorset at least had been rich.

The wage-earning farm labourer ... I know one alive
now, a man of sixty or so, capable of begetting a strong
progeny, who, on the estate of a good Doi-set landlord,
has never been able to afford to marry : he had to maintain
his parents : and he is not a bad character ; on the contrary,
his landlord respects him and aids him by gifts of comfort —
of comfort to a single man — and of a friendly intercourse
which is wholly admirable. A century and a quarter ago,
in words which later he revised slightly so as to leave out
the local application, Wordsworth (of all men — he who
uttered nothmg base !) told a little of the truth about the
Dorset poor :

" Auld fJoody Blake was old and poor,
111 fed she was, and thinly tlad ;
And any man who ijas.s'd her door
Might see how poor a hut she had.

" All daj- .she .spun in her poor dwelling,
And then her three hours' work at night !
Alas ! 'twas hardly worth the telling,
It would not pay for candlelight.

" — This woman dwelt in Dorsetshire,
Her hut was on a cold hill-side.
And in that eoiuitry coals are dear.
For they come far ljy wind and tide.*"

Wordsworth — in 17Si), in the full glow of the Republican
ardour which he lost with so much scorn in his later sonnets
— wa8 at least symptomatic, from a political point of view,
of a possible change in public opinion and taste. The lower
orders were attracting notice, almost becoming fashionable.
On the other hand, a lesser poet hard by, William Crowe

• I HUH[K>ct tliat tho pool, not a rich nmn. niiiy hnvo Bufforod from that
lark of cotti ut Hurodown, on tlio o(1k'< of MurHliwood Viili>, tlio lieuiitiful
littli) houMi of tho I'innoyM in which h« lived for u tiiiif : cim it Ut that hia
rt'moval to N'fthcr .Slo\v<<y hndiglit him iiion* coiil an<l caiisiMl liim to
Hulwtituto ill tlu) |>(K'ni the vorwioii now current, oiiiilling all mention of
fuel, und the nuino of tho county.



of Oxford and Stoke Abbott, felt compelled to apologize
for doing what Lyrical Ballads did later without apology.
Crowe was wont (a wise habit) to sit on Lewesdon Hill
and admire the prospect ; and he wrote a poem, Lewesdon
Hill, " the fruit," as his epitaph at Stoke says, " of his
musings upon that eminence." It is not at all a bad poem,
by contemporary formal standards. The notes contain this
prophetic counterblast to Wordsworth and Coleridge :
" the author having ventured to introduce some provincial
and other terms, takes this occasion to say that it is a
liberty in which he has not indulged himself but when
he conceived it to be allowable for the sake of ornament
or expression."

That is the unhappy converse of the kindly Georgian
pomp — the emphatic ignoring of the misery of the poor in
so far as aristocratic benevolence did not touch it, and the
hardly less obvious conviction of the necessity of such misery,
which clearly, in so perfect a world, must be the natural
result and reward of insubordination or immorality. There
were, however, those who at least lifted up their voices
against the vices of establishment. William Moreton Pitt,
of the great family, M.P, for the county, and active in many
useful projects, addressed " the landed interest " in 1791,
on the subject of housing and fuel shortage. I do not feel
sure that his words are irrelevant to-day. " A large pro-
portion of the poor," he said, " are absolutely precluded
from leaving the parishes in which they happen to reside ;
if those, who have been removed by the order of two justices,
again leave their place of legal settlement, they render
themselves liable to punishment, as rogues and vagabonds ;
and many, who have not been removed, but who have large
familia^, and who of course suffer the most, are least able
to change their places of residence, yet often cannot obtain
Tottages to live in, though able and willing to pay rent.

. . They have no resource but to be taken into a wretched
poor-house, there to associate with the old, the infirm, and
clecrcpid {sic), idiots and insane persons, the idle and


dissolute, loathsome from tilth, and infested with vermui."
This Pitt (never mind the exact tm-n of his reasoning)
pleaded, virtually, for smallholdings to be created from
" rougli, encumbered and uncultivated tracts of land " ;
for the brew ing of small beer in every cottage ; the keeping
of pigs, the advanchig of money in the form of purchased
material. '" It seems to me that the feeUngs, and even the
prejudices of the poor, are entitled to the most full and
dispassionate consideration. These workhouses are un-
questionably places of confinement, and there can exist no
rigiit to consign people, because they are poor, to a prison,
and to act towards them as if they were delinquents,
because they cannot maintain themselves without assist-
ance." He appended to his " address " full and careful
plans of the cottages he wished to see built.

Quite a different type of landlord was a town-planner
of the same era — Lord Dorchester of Milton Abbas, whoso
pompous and preposterous monument is in the exquisite
Abbey. Horace Walpole describes him with some bitterness :
"Lord Milton" — his first title: he became Earl of Dorchester
in 1792 — ' heir of Swift's old miser and usurer Damer, was
the most arrogant and proud of men, with no foundation
but great wealth and a match with the Duke of Dorset's
daughter. His birth and parts were equally mean and

Thin gentleman of England, acquiring the estate of Milton
Abbey, found the old village, which nestled beneath the
shadows of the great tower, an eyesore : it was close to the
windows of the ponderous neo-Gothic mansion Chambers
built him. So, like the African magician in the case of
Aladdin, he had it removed. Ho cared nothing for the
villagers' protests : his workmen might make jests of their
ancestors' bones in the old burial ground — ho would build
them a fine new village : anyhow, he was not going to catch
KJght of them every time he looked out of tiie window.

They were turned out neck and crop : the memory of the
arbitary act lived long. On the other hand, Lord Dorchester


built the present adorable village to receive them. But for
one or two new and ugly houses, and an unimpressive
church, it stands to-day as it was designed in 1786, a Noah's
Ark street of square yellow houses at regular intervals,
with chestnut trees in between and a backing of dark trees
up each side of the ravine in which they are so admirably

It was not only definite tyranny of that type which the
labourers had to suffer. The agricultural reports of the
time are a record of little but hard work and starvation :
Eden's State of the Poor (1797) gives a labourer's
budget. A man at Blandford had two daughters and two
sons : his wife was dead. The elder daughter managed the
house : the rest earned nothing. House -rent was paid by
the parish. " The usual breakfast of the family is tea, or
bread and cheese ; their dinner, and supper, bread and
cheese, or potatoes sometimes mashed with fat taken from
broth, and sometimes with salt alone. Bullock's cheek is
generally bought every week to make broth. Treacle is used
to sweeten tea, instead of sugar. Very little milk or beer is
used. For clothing, both for himself and family, the man
is principally indebted to the charity of his neighbours."
His earnings that year were £17 9s. 6d.

The food of the poor, wrote Stevenson in 1812 — in an
official report — " is wheaten bread, skim-milk cheese,
paddings, potatoes, and other vegetables, with a small
quantity of pickled pork and bacon." The potatoes they
probably grew on their employers' fallows, as they were
allowed to do. The concession was an ingenious device,
for it " affords a means of keeping the labourers more under
subjection, and prevents their leaving their master at least
during the summer, as in that case the crop would be

Stevenson says the land was badly farmed, as a rule.
The tendency was to amalgamate small farms, which should
have made for better methods. But John Claridge, reporting
to the Board of Agricultme and Internal Improvement in


1703, .states the ckawback to that process. He is an expert
and moderate writer. " In many partes of Dorsetshire,"
he say.-?, " one man occupies a whole hamlet, parish, or
lordship ; perhaps from loOO to 2000 acres, which I foar
has been too frequently made, by laying five or six farms
together, and thereby striking a fatal blow at the little
farmer, who is one of the most useful members of society.*
The increase of largo farms, evidently tends to place the
great farmer at too wide a distance from the labourer,
whom he considers a mere vassal, and though he employs
him, and pays what he calls a customary price ; still it is
out of the power of the labourer, either by strength or
ingenuity, or the most indefatigable industry, scarcely to
supply his family witii the common necef;saries of life ;
and the moment his activity ceases, he becomes a pauper ;
the most ho finds himself in possession of, is a cottage,
seldom in good repair, a very small garden, and he can
hire no land, oven if he has a friend inclined to assist him
with money or credit." That is from an official document.
We have lately abolished the Agricultiu-al Wagcw Board, to
the unconcealed joy of the farmer, and once more he " pays
what he calls a customary price."

If William IV had not been ready to create peers in 1831,
to pass the Reform Bill, England might havo had a revolution
as bloody as the French one. Plans were ready for an armed
rising. The agricultural labourer would not have been
backward in such a movement. He had already ])egun to
riot all over England.

" On the 22nd of November," wrote Mary Frampton of
the year 1830, " the first risings took place in this county.
Mr. Portman [of Bryanston : afterwards Viscount Portman]
immediately promised to raise the wages of his labourers,
and })y doing this without conceit with otluM- gentlemen,
greatly increased their difliculties." At Wiufiilli, "the
mob, urged on from behind hedges, etc., by a number of
women and iliiMi en. .idvanced rather res])eclful!y, and

• rorlmici ; in 17y3 ; to-duy only if ho iu very coinixttiii .


with their hats in their hands, to demand increase of
wages, but would not listen to the request that they would

There were many rick-burnings ; the authors were as a
rule untraced. The diarist records her satisfaction with the
result in cases where conviction was possible. " One of
the motions made by Mr. Hunt on the first day of his appear-
ance in the House of Commons, was for a petition to the
King, to pardon all the unhappy men who had been con-
victed at the Special Assizes. Fortunately, however, as
they were already on board the transports, and the wind
fair, the petition would be too late. Care was taken . . .
to send them to those parts of New Zealand and New
Holland where their agricultural knowledge and labour
might be useful — thus very probably at a future time
rendering our disturbances here a blessing to our Anti-

But in spite of such measures, the discontent and the
disorder remained. In 1831 the Dorset Yeomanry were
re-enrolled to cope with the situation. A contested election
of a member for the county that year showed the height of
feeling. Mr. Ponsonby and Lord Ashley were the can-
didates. Lord Ashley standing for the gentry and farmers,
Mr. Ponsonby for Reform. There was virtually a pitched
battle at the poll at Poundbury. A house was destroyed at

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Online LibraryF. J. Harvey (Frederick Joseph Harvey) DartonThe marches of Wessex, a chronicle of England → online text (page 21 of 28)