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

The marches of Wessex, a chronicle of England online

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edifice of the beautiful local stone, but not, I am told, the old
rectory. That habitation, in which Crabbe would have lived
if he had not been an absentee,* is said to be represented
by some fragments of wall in the garden of the present house.

The curious thing about Evershot is its recondite import-
ance. It is technically a hamlet in the parish of Frome
St. Quintin (Little Frome). But Hutchins says Evershot
" was formerly a small market town " ; and it was large
enough in the eighteenth century to be a station on the
fine new turnpike-road built in 1754. It was the repository
of a drum of a company of the first Dorset Volunteers,
seventy-five strong in 1803. It kept a wake after the great
Woodbury Hill fair. It maintained archery butts till the
end of the sixteenth century. And it has a railway station
named after it — a mile away — which is more than can be
said of Frome St. Quintin ; though on the other hand Little
Frome is mentioned in Domesday — the King held it — and
Evershot is not.

Following the road east, you pass the gates of Melbury
House : I have spoken more than once of its owners, the
family of Strang ways, whose old and honourable name is so
closely connected with the larger issues in Dorset history.
There is probably no dynasty in the county which can
show a more vigorous continuity, more active life, than the
Strangways', who have hold Melbury Sampford for so many
generations. To-day, the semi-patriarchal position of such
families may be threatened by the Agricultural Workers
Union, and, no doubt, in the long run, rightly threatened :
but it is usually based on something deeper and better
than habitual authority.

On the road past the station, climbing slowly uphill —
with tributary lanes on either side, into the intricate weald
on the north, over the hills and valleys to the chalk on the
south — grow in due season wild raspberries and yellow
mullein, most glorious of English wildflowers. At the top
of the ridge is an amazing profusion of blackberries, exceeded

* But he preached at Evershot at least once.


in t>ize only by the Eggardon monistors. And Mlicn you reach
what is clearly the summit (a number of cross " roads "
with a small copse), you are once more at the most beautiful
place in Dorset — Batcombe Hill.

I have been up many high hills in many parts of England ;
and there is even in Doi-set a more spacious view than
Batcombe Hill affords. But I know nothing more satisfying,
even overwhelming, than the pageant of English country
below you here. Tiie gorse not merely never ceases to bloom,
in its kindly solicitude for lovers ; acres of it flame all the
3'ear round. You will seldom fail to find some heather out :
the bracken is yellow or green or golden in turn : foxgloves,
honeysuckle, wild rosas, harebells — all the flowers that are
most excellently English abound. Yew and holly lie in the
dark, almost menacing, southward valleys ; and all round
on every side stretches England, for as far as any human
eye can see — England, the real England.

A little fiu-thcr on, at the wildest and most desolate part
of the upland, stands the strange monument known as
Crois in Hand, to which Tess came in one of her wander-
ings. It is a shaft of wrought stone, four feet or so high.
To me it certainly bears the shape of a strong arm ending in a
fist clenched upon a bar. No one knows its origin. There
are various legends, stored in Somerset and Dorset Notes and
Queries and elsewhere. An old inhabitant told IVIi". H. J.
Moule that it was set up to mark the spot where a criminal
was hung foi- highway robbery and murder. Another
fitory is that a priest, bearing the Sacrament to a dying
man by night, lost the pyx here. He was directed to it by
a supernatural pillar of fire, and fountl it surrounded by
cattle, all kneeling, save one — the Devil in the guise of a
black horse. Yet another suggestion is that it marks the
first spot from whicli the inhabitants of Minterne, who had
formerly no church and were in tiie parish of Yetminstor,
could catch sight oi Yetminster Church and bury their dead
there within range of it. A more prosaic explanation is that
it Li a moot-stone.


The track all along this glorious ridge is, I think, the old
turnpike-road, as I have said. It cui-ves with the contour,
through the Great Ditch, and past the trees of High Stoy,
down to a brief gap in the height, above Minterne. You
will see little sign of human life along it, but a million rabbits.
You will have alongside you all the way the same spacious

Above Minterne, after going south-east along Little
Minterne Hill, it is best to bear due east again, along Rake
Hill, down into the deep valley by Alton Pancras, up over
Church Hill, down again to the Mappowder road, up to
Nettlecomb Tout and the Dorsetshire Gap.

The Gap is a network of small paths. It is perhaps the
central point in the watershed of these high hills. On one
side the River Lydden starts, flowing nearly due north
until, as a stream of some size, it joins the Stour above
Sturminster, to turn abruptly south with the larger river
and pierce, at Shillingstone, the ridge from which it first
sprang. On the south slope springs the goodly River
Piddle, who makes no attempt on the hills, but runs cheer-
fully between the ridges of the Great Heath to Join the
Frome at Wareham.

From the Gap there is a pleasant path down to Melcombe
Horsey, where gracious Perpendicular stone mullions and
mouldings, perhaps remains of the old manor of the De
Horseys, or of a church, still exist in the later walls of the

Here, at the road, there are several choices. The object
of this walk is to reach the top of Bulbarrow. The direct
way is to go straight up the road north-east. But a longer
way, involving a sight of one of the most beautiful of all
stone manor-houses, is to continue east through Bingham's
Melcombe, and then across to Hilton (by a footpath not
marked on the map), to look at the painted panels of the
Apostles in the church. They come from Milton Abbey ;
and it is worth while to go further and take the road across
the Park so as to see the Abbey beyond the lawn, shining in


grey beauty agaiast a background of dark trees. From
either Hilton or from the westernmost lodge of the park
there is a road up to the top of the ridge.

And here, before I ypeak of Bulbarrow, I will say how
to get away from it, for it is eight miles from any resources
of civili2uition. One method is to walk along the ridge and
drop into the pretty village of Ibberton, past BelchalwcU,
and by the footpath over Okeford Common (very heavy
going in a wet season) to Sturminster, Another is to take
the direct road down to Sturminster through Woolland.
Another is go by the equally dii-ect road through Okeford
Fitzpaine to Shillingstone. Yet another is to go to Bland-
ford through two of the Winterbornes (at Stickland take
the secret-looking track running east, rather than the north-
by -east road — the drive across Bryanston Park has forbidding
notices). This is a good way, because from the road you get
enchanting glimpses of the Isle of Wight througli gaps in the
hedge. A more devious but fine way of escape is along
the ridge north-north-east towards Ibberton, turning a
point east above that village, along Bell Hill, bending back
south-east at Turnworth Hill and so by infinitely wavering
paths to Durweston and eventually Blandford.

When you reach Bulbarrow it is worth while to turn off
westwards for a few hundred yards to look at Rawlsbiu-y
Camp. It juts out over Blackmorc Vale, one more pro-
montory fort, like a threat.

But the height of Bulbarrow itself is the place to rest.
This, I think, is the steepest hill in Dorset ; and the view
is the most spacioas in the south of Eiighuul. i^^om the
high ground near Winchester to the hills of Devon, from the
liile of Wight to the Mendi])s, from Pmbeck to Salisbury
Plain and Mere, you can look with no limit but the strength
of your eyes.

And hero, too, you are within sight of evorytliing that
has haj)p('ned in Dorset. Rawlsbury gives you the Stone
Age. On the rcnid to Sturminster, at Fifchead Neville,
almost at your feet, is a Roman villa. You can see Alfred's



town of Shaftesbury only a few miles away. Many of the
village names are half-Norman — Fitzpaine (Okeford is in
Domesday), Neville, de Horsey, Bryan. Milton Abbey is
only just behind you. The Clubmen met at Shaftesbury
and surrendered on Hambledon Hill. The road you are on
is a mid-eighteenth-century turnpike. William Barnes
walked the lanes and paths below you. Until almost the
end of the great war Shillingstone held the record of having
sent more of its sons to fight, in proportion to its population,
than any other village in England.

That at least is one permanent thing in Dorset folk.
" Who's afeard ? " is one of the county mottoes ; not the
men of Dorset, at any rate. They stood up against
the Roman and the Saxon : they fell at Hastings : they
resisted Spain and Boney equally : they tried to stop
the Civil War : they were sent overseas in chains
for their courage. It was a Dorset man who died to
blow up the Cashmere Gate at Delhi in the Indian
Mutiny — Salkeld of Fontmell Magna. It was a Dorset
man who first won a V.C. in the air — Rhodes -Moorhouse
of Parnham.

The history of the County regiment, creditable enough,
is a record of hard fighting in many lands. It was summed
up in a Times leading article during the war. The regiment
was in the great retreat : it died. It lost four hundred
men in a battalion. The Times took one of its nameless
actions as typical, and spoke of it as the kind of unadvertised
regiment which makes the backbone of the British Army,
I should have said, rather, the ever-flowing life-blood.
The 39th Regiment of Foot, now the Dorsets, bears the proud
and unique motto of " Primus in Indis," for it was the fu^st
King's regiment to be employed in the India won by John
Company : in token of which the county Territorials were
placed at the head of their fellow-regiments when English
troops first landed in India in the Great War — once more
" Primus in Indis." On their colour are (among others)
the names of Plassey, Gibraltar (for the four years' siege —


its colonel " was the soul of the defence," cand is bui'ied
there). Vittoria, Peninsula, Albuera.

They were likewise, apart from the honourable iiLscriptiorts
on the colours, in almost all places where the arms of England
ventured : at Dettingen, at Culloden, Martinique, Badajoz,
Sevastopol, the Tirah Campaign, the Relief of Ladysmith
(the last three are also on the colours). Once, on the way to
India — where it served so lately as dm-ing the Moplah rising
— the regiment came near to disaster : its detachment
was on the Sarah Satids, the famous ship that caught fire
in the Indian Ocean, in 1857, when she was laden with troops
to deal with the Mutiny. The vessel was only held together
by chains. The last sm'vivor of that event, a Dorset man,
died in 1912.

The Territorials stretch back to the old Volunteers, formed
in 1794-98. The Yeomanry have a fine record, especially
during the late war, when they had the unique distinction
of bringing off three successful cavalry charges — in the desert
against the Senoussi, in Palestine, and in Mesopotamia.
They had a further singular distinction, which is best
described in the words of Mr. Winston Churciiill. " The
Arab army," said Mr. Chm-chill to the House of Commons in
June, 1921, " is already partly formed under the administra-
tion of Ja'afar Pasha, the present Mesopotamian Secretary
of State for War. I do not know whether the Committee
have in their minds the romantic career of this man. He
began the war fighting against us at the Dardanelles, and
he received a German Iron Cross. He then came round to
the Western Desert, where he commanded the army of the
Senoussi against us. Ho fought, 1 believe, three battles, in
two of which he was victorious, but the third went amiss
from his point of view, and he was wounded and pursued
by the Dorsetshire Yeomanry and finally caught in tlie open
field, taken t(j Cairo as prisoner of war and confined in the
citadel. He endeavoured to escape, but, being {sic) a some-
what ample personage, the rope l)y which lui was descending
from the wall of the citadel broke and precipitated liini


into a ditch, where his leg was broken. While he was in
hospital recovering from these injuries he read in the papers
that King Hussein, the Sheriff of Mecca, had declared war
upon the Turks, and he immediately saw that he was on the
other side to what he had hitherto thought. He therefore
made representations to the Arab leaders at Mecca, and
after some hesitation he was given a command in their army.
He very speedily rose to a position of high confidence and
distinguished himself greatly in the fighting which took place
in the next two years. He was finally given the com-
mandership of St. Michael and St. George by Lord AUenby
in a hollow square of British troops composed almost
entirely of the same Dorsetshire Yeomanry which had ridden
him down."

In courage, at least, we are no worse than our fathers.
Are we as good or better in other ways ? More people
perhaps are comfortable and law-abiding ; but then there
are more people. Natm^al needs are more easily supplied,
with better wares drawn from an infinitely wider world.
But are there proportionately more good and happy people
than there were at any one period in the long pageant of
history ? Was a Celt in a wolf-skin, huddled in a wattle
hut or awaiting battle on Rawlsbury ramparts, less free,
more miserable, than a Dorset peasant in a Flanders dug-
out ?

But for the war, I should have said that in one respect,
at any rate, we are better. We are or should be less ready to
take life, and we are kinder to animals, which is another
aspect of the same feeling. And we certainly are cleaner
and know more about sanitation. Probably also, on the
whole, more people have a chance of prosperity than before.
Perhaps — and this is where I doubt whether any change
which has taken place is relative or absolute — ^perhaps we
have a slightly stronger sense of brotherhood. I do not feel
sure ; we have got rid of legal slavery and serfdom and
enforced obedience to an overlord. But I am not at all
certain whether we have advanced far enough towards


getting rill of virtual serfdom. It is the agricultural labourer
in a county like Dorset who stirs that doubt.

As I sat on Bulbarrow one day, a rabbit passed me, within
a foot or so. She was sweating, going heavily like a thing
very nigh foundered. A few minutes later — it was at least
three or four minutes, even in that remote stillness where
time miglit well have stopped — came the stoat. He did not
see me at first, in his intentness : but a couple of yards away
he became aware of a foreign body, sat up on his haunches,
his forepaws just resting on the ground, and looked at me
— angrily, defiantly, it seemed : at least with no fear.
Then he dropped his lithe, beautiful body, made a detour
round me, picked up the scent again, and went off at a
steady, certain lope.

I have seen rabbits in that worse stage, the horrible coma
which seems to envelop them when the piu"suit is nearly
iMided : their great eyes are larger than ever, they sweat,
they are rigid. I remember that I called my dog off one
(and he came, good beast) which he was about to worry :
it never stirred. And the admirable Bedlington cast about,
and found why. He snuffed the air openly for a minute, and
then — then a stoat had the run of its life. He got away.
InHhe meantime, as Jeremy (the Bedlington) went conveni-
ently in another direction, I could look at the wretched
coney. I had to strike it to make it move : then it went
rather clumsily into some brambles and vanished. I once
founfl a ral)bit in a noose near Smedmore, which was similarly
hypnotized (if that is the right word), it was unhurt. I set
it free, but had to slap it to make it aware of freedom.
And I also found a blackbird numbed in the same way in
a trap.

Shall I " moralize " the tale, or make emblems as Bunyan
or Quarks ? Perhaps : but with a difference. " Not
'zackly so as to please wo " — should that brave acquiescence
in an age-long faith still be treated a,s natural and sacred ?
Is there no escape, in country life, from the hypnotism of
immemorial custom ? There is all the long history of both


individual and corporate effort behind the agricultui-al
labourer — still, for all the machine-shops, the most numerous
and healthy wage-earner in England : all the history of
slavery to Celts and Romans and Saxons, of serfdom under
the Normans, of land-bondage from then until to-day.
Where can they go, these poor men, what money can they
earn, if the freedom of their village (quite often, may be,
no more insanitary than a town slum) is not enough for
their hopes, if they do not want to accept traditions and
beliefs out of which their lords have — very reluctantly —
educated them ? There is only one place to which they
can go, and that is to hell : the hell of urban labour, or the
slower hell of urban money-making if they have a gift for it.

But, like the rabbit, they do not know it is hell. And
in spite of the fury which consumes me when I see a bent
rheumatic old labourer, in frowsy tatters that would turn a
scarecrow into an aristocrat, rather drunk, rather illiterate,
vaguely pious, skilled at his eternal job — when I see him
going into even a decent modern cottage I cling to the faint
belief that things are a little better than in 1831, and even
during the Civil War, and the Black Death, and when the
Anarchy killed men like flies, and when the Saxons and
Romans and Celts came : a little better, but not much.
At least the labourers have had the courage to form unions,
whose activities irritate parliamentary candidates of un-
favourable views. But nineteen centuries after Christ we
ought to have got further than that in making our civic and
moral conduct keep pace without material improvements.
It ought not to be beyond the wit of man to farm so com-
petently as to make the rural housing problem (the con-
clusion of the whole matter) no problem.

I know that is an easily given opinion, and that the
question is not easy, nor all the arguments necessarily on
one side. The points seem to be these. The landlord, not
always directly interested in the land, and often only
thi'ough a paid agent, knows the farmer more intimately
than the labourer, but all the same — society being what it


is, or at any rate was until recently — has a position to keep
up and wants his rents. Tiie farmer is not necessarily a man
with fluid capital, nor is he always ready to acquire new
knowledge, even if he has the capacity or time (a good
farmer works very hard, remember). The weak point in
his case, since agriculture has really become an industry,
is his preference for paying income-tax upon double his
rent (which he knows) rather than upon his real income,
which he can't and won't compute. But that again is aLo
a point for him : his money is locked up in solid things
which one unforeseeable season may destroy, whose value
he can never really tell at any moment, whose market value
is affected b}'' a hundi'ed different systems of weights and
measures, by deals in kind, by his own use of his own pro-
duce. On the other hand, in a county like Dorset, he has
oft^en the opportunity of direct dealing with the retailor —
the publican, the butcher, the greengrocer, the milkman
(who all may bo farmers themselves) — without a middle-
man's or market's intervention on many occasions. He
ought to be a business man. Yet he seems seldom to bo
capitalist enough (nor is the landlord) to l)c able to sink
enough money in the land or in stock or machinery to make
it, so to speak, an up-to-date factory. He cannot — at any
rate does not — go to the public and ask them to take up
shares in Cows Limited or Amalgamated Wheat Producers
Limited : and I am not sure that the shares would be
underwritten if he did. We have not evolved a satisfactory
system of agricultural banks yet.

At the same time, I do not believe England is adequately
farmed even under existing methods : only a little more
knowledge would make a great deal of dilTerence — did,
when during the war there was a little more money to bo
made out of it without really developing new activities and
now mod(^s of thoughts and now vitality.

The labourer sees fresh amenities being provided for him :
clubs, institutes, an occasional day off, village cinemas.
l>ut he does not see his lot changed in essence. He is still


another man's man. He sees also that many Acts of Parlia-
ment " have a catch in them " : particularly that one of
compulsory powers which are never used. He cannot often
put up the little capital for a smallholding, and he has no
backer to lend him the money, even if, with a grooved
knowledge of the work of cultivation, he is really likely to
understand its principles and be successful. And he is still
expected to know his place,* and to work like a negro in
the plantations — if his employers can only get rid of the
eight-hour day, as they openly wish to do.

As I write this, the Trade Unionists of the country have
begged the agricultural unionists not to go back to the pre-
war rates, at whatever cost they resist : and the organs
of big money have said they must go back, or agriculture
will be impossible. It seems to me the solution will only
come when the genuine expert and enthusiast — and the
Ministry of Agriculture is not now a body of amateurs and
pedants — is given power and backed by a Government with
real driving force and money to sink in ultimately repro-
ductive work. At one time, with a fairly active Develop-
ment Commission, with the close inspection of methods
and distribution of material dm'ing a brief period of the
war, with the additional labour of willing if not always
skilled women and German prisoners (fas est et ab hoste
doceri), with some attempt at a housing policy, and a dozen
suggestive reconstruction schemes, it seemed as if there was
hope. Now there is not much more than fear of conflict.

The material improvements in methods have certainly
been great and continuous for two centuries past, though
the late war standard of production may now have been
lowered. The best featm-es of the new age are its genuine
interest in the science of rural life, its careful investigation
of ways and means, its willingness to consider agricultm^e
as an intricate and highly skilled industry. Its worst

* It is not strictly relevant, but I cannot help quoting it : " It is a fine
thing for me that I have lived all this time and have not once heard any
Englishman or any Englishwoman of my acquaintance say anything aggres-
sively disloyal" (Mr. Stephen Paget ; / have Reason to Believe, 1921).


featiu'c is the still-surviving deep-rooted antagonism of
standpoint between mast<?r and man (I use those terms for
convenience only ; they beg my question, really). The
misunderstanding is mainly on the master's side. You
cannot read (say) the election address or speeches of a
Dorset conservative candidate for Parliament without
becoming aware of it. At the back of his mind is a profound
inability to understand change of mind. Few of the em-
ploying classes in a purely agricultural county realize fully
that men — human beings, men — will never again, even in
the remot<'st country districts, bo really willing to accept
betterment of phj'sical conditions as a substitute for absolute
independence. Laboiu-ers will not believe they must always
be poor. They will not sell their labour, or lease their
property in it, in exchange only for good drains, neat roads,
post offices, even for higher wages : they will not accept
the market as the sole condition of existence. There are
those in the country for whom a poor man, like a rich man
or a middle-class man, can feel an immense personal respect
amounting almost to an acknowledgment of a right to com-
mand. But that is quite a different pre-eminence from what
the average landlord even now still expects as a right.

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Online LibraryF. J. Harvey (Frederick Joseph Harvey) DartonThe marches of Wessex, a chronicle of England → online text (page 25 of 28)