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

The marches of Wessex, a chronicle of England online

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plain it climbs skyward with a sudden gleaming aspiration,
from its own ancient terraces it is still a place apart,
hung delicately above the gross earth by the art of ^Merlin :
a haven of the fabled Isle of Gramarye itself.

For a thousand years Palladour w^as a place of reverence.
Its antiquity is wild mytli. Lud built here his city Palladour,
says one chronicler : and Lud was eighth in the
line from the no less fabulous Brute himself. A certain
Cicuber, says another, founded at Palladom- three temples,
" and placed m them tlamens " : but this scribe, rashly
precise, gives Cicuber a date many generations older than
the order of flamena. Yet a third speaks of Hudibras, and a
fourth of Cassibelan. The exact truth of such tales matters
not. They are oiu" English counterpart of the Heracleid
pedigree — the assimilation and adaptation and handing on
in their chronicles, by the conquering Saxon immigrants,
of the still dominant traditions of the conquered. It is
probable that Romans or Roman-Britons dwelt at Palladour.
It is not established that there was any town there before

It is in 888 that the greatness of Shaston really begins,
when Alfred rebuilt the city and established the Abbey,
endowing it with many acres of rich land, " with the men
and other appurtenances, as they now are, and my daughter
Ethelgiva." Ho dedicated it to the Virgin. A century
later, when the b(jdy of Edward the Martyr was brought
hither, St. Edward was joined to St. Mary in the patroiuigo
of the growing house. Thereafter, \sitli (he holy shrino
of the Mart^T to glorify it, it increased rapidly in wealth


and power, so as to overshadow all the abbeys of South
Wessex, and give ground for the saying that if its abbess
(it was a Benedictine nunnery) could marry the abbot of
Glastonbury, " their heir would hold more land than the
King of England." But for all the nunnery's wealth, even
the King of England himself still held land upon precarious
tenure, as a gift to the Abbey shows. In 1001, when the
Danes were burning and reburning the ports of Dorset, and
holding territory far inland in other regions, Ethelred the
King bestowed on the nuns a " monastery and vill " a
dozen miles away to the north-west, to be a safe refuge
from foes he could not repel. By an irony of history,
King Canute himself died in the Abbey thirty-four years

By Domesday Shaston, even then a borough, stood high
among the towns of the south. It had three mints, sixty-
six houses in the King's demesne, and one hundred and
eleven in the abbess's. That powerful lady could command
one hundred and fifty-one bordars, and owned, besides
the various Abbey buildings, " a garden, value sixty-five
shillings." With the King she halved the manor of Palladour ,
and continued in that possession till the Dissolution. Her
house ranked among the first four nunneries of England ;
within the boundaries of the borough were twelve churches,
certain chantries, two hospitals, and a small priory. The
number of the nuns ranged at various periods from fifty-
five to one hundred and twenty. At the Dissolution, the
income of the Abbey was £1300 a year : none too much for
the upkeep of such state as included, among other buildings,
" the great bakehouse, the pastry house, the breadhouse,
the Long Stable, the three great base courts, the laundry
house, the star-chamber, the wardrobe chamber, the green
chamber, the second great stable, the millhouse, the malt-
house, the brewhouse, the hay-house, the larder-house,
the wool-house, the gardens, the park, the dovehouse."
Truly, as a stout Protestant historian admits, " the town
made a very great figure in times of popery."


Yet it may well be that such magnificence defeated its
own end;^. There is hardly a word of notable events between
the Norman Conquest and the Dissolution. One Sir Osbert
Gitford was stripped and ^\■hipped in Shaston " for three
Sundays together in the market-place and parish church,"
in 1285, for stealing two nuns from Wilton. Elizabeth, wife
of the Bruce, was lodged here civilly, as a royal prisoner,
in 1313 and 1314. And that, except the rites and levies of
the Church, the arrival and departure of countless pilgrims,
and the lawsuits and commerce of the citizens, seems to
be all that took place in Shaston in five hundred years.
It was a shi'ine of the Ijlessed dead, and the home of plain-
living Englishmen ; no more. Its glorj', when Wessex
was no longer a separate unit in the English polity, was too
great for it. Long before the Reformation its twelve churches
were too heavy a biu"den, and many began to fall into decay.
Not the most discreet and tolerant behaviour of the last
abbess could persuade Henry VIII that Alfred's house still
served a need. In 15.33 it was dissolved, care being taken
that the nuns suffered no worldl}' discomfort ; and in a veiy
short time the fabric vanished. Its stones are the dust of
Wessex roads, or the walls of later houses ; sometimes
put to Btrango uses, as when a tomb canopy became a
burgher's chimney-piece. The bones of St. Edward are
lost, the gold and jewels of his resting-place dissipated over
the world. A few gravestones, the base of a column or two,
a thin layer of wall here and there, a little fragment of what
may even be the authentic record of Alfred's own foundation,
a leaden bull cast aside in a cellar, where the writ of the
Vicar of God no longer runs — that is now the Abbey Church
of St. Mary the Virgin and St. Edward the Martyr in Palla-
dour. A huge wall still stands, a wonder of architecture
and strength to this day ; it is but a poor piece of the
boundary of the Ablxiy Park.

It was not only the great house that disa])peared. The
churches, already in 1553 falling into disuse, fell uIho into
miBUse. Of the twelve witiiin thr borough, one alone


(St. Trinity) is now left to maintain continuity and celebrate
daily the religion of Western Eui'ope. One other, a venerable
and gracious building of the fifteenth century, is preserved,
an empty but lovely shell, with a noble peal of bells still
rung upon occasion. They do their best to recall the time
when all Blackmore Vale must have resounded with the
glad sounds from the high hill ; when a man could inscribe
in the belfry his conviction that

" Of all the music that is played or sung,
There is none like bells if they are well rung."

In this desolate chm-ch are sad memorials — some fine oak
and a little old glass, gravely beautiful ; recesses, doors,
pillars, now void of meaning ; and in a crypt-cellar below,
traces of a former altar. This cellar — lately re-acquired
for the church — not long ago belonged to a neighbouring
tavern ; and within living memory there ascended into the
church above, during the services, the fumes of ale and

The fall of the Abbey, though it was not, in Shaston any
more than elsewhere, the definite end of Roman Catholicism
there, or the definite birth of Protestantism, meant to the
borough an obvious depreciation of life. Thenceforth it
must live for itself alone. It' became local, not national.
There was no longer any reason for travellers to visit it
except in passing. The great past was lost, whatever
memories it may have left for a few generations. Its
former splendour is to-day not so much forgotten as
obliterated. Palladour, to that extent, is not the city of
Hudibras and Alfred and Canute, but a mere market town.
A stronger thread of unbroken life, however, runs in the
families of its inhabitants, whose names have changed little
in the secular progression. One house in particular still

preserves a pure lineage. There are to-day X 's in and

near Palladour. They have a pedigree traceable beyond
doubt, step by step without intermission, to 1243. The name
is in Domesday, and it was old then. For ten centuries


X — ^'s have thwlt dh the same acre of England : Ihch- dust
is the verj' soil of Shaftesbury.

Loss ancient, but not much less, and apparently not less
jxrmanent, are other local names and usages. The non-
conformmg community (now diverse, but formerly uniform)
is continuous to so far back as the reign of Henry VIH ;
it is one of the oldest in the country ; it is in a sense the
natural offspring of Alfred's Abbey. The street names in
many cases are exactly as they are in court-leet rolls of
Edward IV. The market of the borough is still held (as it
was held under Elizabeth, and before her, under that almost
queen, the Lady Abbess) on the seventh day of the week,
and on the same spot ; and still on Saturdaj's the awkward
kine are frightened this way and that by barbarous devices,
much as they were frightened by Britons and Saxons and
Normans. Tlic market house, rebuilt, like most of the
habit<ations of corporate life in the borough, in the early
nineteenth century, stands on the site of the old stocks, the
bull-ring, the whipping-post : an evolution, if not exactly a
direct succession. It preserves, in certain featm"cs, the last
decencies of the Georgian Era — pleasant domestic pro-
portions, a delicious canopy for the mayor's seat, some
portraits and records. It preserves also older things, like
the standard bushel measure of the place, dated 1G70.
Best of all, it houses the byzant or besant of Shaston :
an emblem of singular suggestiveness.

Briefly and strictly, the besant — a vernacular form of
" besom " — is a relic of the past. This gracious object
offers to us one of those vestigial fictions so abundant in
English law and custom. It is the symbol of a practice that
died not a century ago. It must be premised that until
recently Shaftesbury was dependent upon its Icnvlands for
water. Cieology, in giving it, by isolation, strategic and
aesthetic advantages, has denied it the office of a watershed.
So its folk must go to the springs on the lower slopes,
especially to Enmore (ireen, half a mih^ away. Within
living memory donkeys ploddi d to and fro with barrels,


for hire. But Enmore Green is in neither the borough
nor the manor of Shaston. The town, therefore, may not
draw water there as of right, but only upon leave given.
And that leave was formerly to be won, not by purchase
nor by service, but by the yearly ritual of a solemn dance,
wherein burgesses must move fantastically round " a staff
or besom adorned with feathers, pieces of gold rings, and
other jewels, called a prize besom." For one whole hour by
the clock " there they shall dance, with their minstrels and
mirth of game " ; and they must give to the bailiff who
witnessed this duty, a penny loaf, a gallon of ale, a
raw calf's head, and a pair of gloves ; which if they
do not, " then the said bailiff and his men shall stop
the water of the wells of Enmore from the borough of

What that ceremony may have meant originally is beyond
guess. In the indenture just quoted, it is mentioned as
a custom set up " time out of remembrance and mind " ;
and that document itself was signed in 18 Henry VIII.
From the day appointed for the rite, it might have been
a combination of May Day observance (itself antique
beyond the memory of man) and the rendering of symbolic
dues. It is said that two persons called the Lord and the
Lady were noteworthy figures in the procession.* At any
rate, it was a binding ceremony. Even as late as the be-
ginning of the nineteenth century, a failure to carry it out
did cause the water of the wells of Enmore to be stopped
from the borough of Palladour. In 1830 the custom ceased,
by permission of the Lord of the Manor ; it had become not
merely unmeaning, but expensive — the decoration of the
besom and the gay trappings of the dance alone cost the
corporation twenty pounds or more. And so another
immemorial simplicity was broken. Only the besom siu"-
vives — a delicious gilt pineapple on a short pole, in a glass

* I am reminded by my mother that the Lord and Lady were habitual
and important persons in the chimney-sweep's May Day ceremony, which
personally I just remember seeing as a small boy. They accompanied the
Jack -in -the -green .


case in the Town Ifall parlour ; a more ancient emblem,
perhaps, tlian either of the town's superb maces.

Such, then, is the profounder past of Paliadour ; a past
which many an EngHsh country town might envy, and yet
wliich many such towns might parallel. A birth in primal
mists ; five hundred years of a fame that spread even over
Eiu-ope ; then a shrinking to the interests of a twenty-mile
circle. From 1553 onwards the town lay outside the middle
current of great things ; seldom indeed, did even the outer
rij)ple8 touch it. Its greatest activity was typical of its
history after the Dissolution : it tried not to have any
history. Palladoiu" was the head-quarters of the un-
fortunate Clubmen, of whom I speak later.

There was one other episode in the town's story, how'cver,
which resounded beyond Blackmore Vale, even into West-
minster Hall itself, in 1778. Shaston decided that two
" nabobs "' (persons suitably enriched at the expense of
India) should represent it in the House of Commons.
Unhappily it came to this decision upon questionable
grounds. The voters of this earlier Eatanswill were not
entirely free and independent (there were, apparently,
less than two-score freeholders). The nabobs were returned
by what was afterwards called, in Parliament, " the shame-
ful venality of this town." The procedure, it was alleged,
was as follows : "A person concealed under a ludicrous
and fantastical disguise, and called by the name of Punch,
was placed in a small apartment, and through a hole in
the door delivered out to the voters parcels containing
twenty guineas each, upon wliich they were conducted to
another apartment in the same house, where they found
another person called Punch's secretary, who required
them to sign notes foi- the value received : these notes were
made payable to another imaginary character, to whom
was given the name of Glenbucket." The afTairs of the
constituency occupied the House of Commons for some time,
and the Law Courts for more : but one conclusion all the
various verdicts amounted to was that the nabobs were


improperly elected. Their exploit affords evidence, with
an interesting fulness of detail, of what the poll in a rotten
borough meant. At jjrescnt, it is to be feared, Palladour
does not elect two members, nor even one ; it is but a centre
of a county division.

For the rest, it is to-day a comely town, full of that
pleasant, busy English peace which Jews might respect and
Americans adore. Men brew good ale there. They live
decently and prosperously, tilling the valley lands, pasturing
their sheep on the hills, and trafficking in cattle. Agriculture
has not changed much, even if, after God knows how many
thousand years of slowly growing experience, science may
be altering the husbandman's implements. But the soul
of a people changes. Perhaps some day Palladom' will
lose the world and regain its soul. Perhaps it will remember
the sundial motto translated on one of its own house-walls^
Pereant et imputantur ; " So speed we, but the reckoning
bideth." In the twentieth century the old faith has gone,
with all its monstrous abuses ; but there is no new faith in
its place — no common hope that can make Everyman's
spirit fill the whole world and rejoice that the stars are his
jewels. In Palladour there is no vision, save perhaps one
that was given me by the eyes of a man of the Naval
Division, trained hard by, who told me, with a face of horror
that had got past grief or fear, of what he had seen at
Galiipoli. Yet hither to Shaftesbmy, if ghosts could dream,
their thoughts would siu-ely wander, till the gleaming hill
became populous with the innumerable dead. Here they
would stand looking out, south, and east, and west, as of old
they stood, watching for the dim hope or danger or the
departing joy far below in the weald. There is no scene
which the imagination may not readily picture, whether it
be Alfred coming from Wareham in triumph to found his
Abbey ; or the hasty messenger from Corfe with tidings
that a king was murdered ; or the sad and splendid cavalcade
of the martyr's reinterment ; or that other mom-ning
procession that bore away the great Danish king to his tomb


at Camelot ; or tithe-waggons creeping up to the rich
Abbey, sunnnoners jingHng forth to expedite tlie rehictant ;
pilgrims as gay as Chaucer's climbing the last slope of their
journey, the black mud of the valley on their feet now
chequered with the white of the hill ; mirth and solace at
the many inns. So might our forefathers renew old laughter
and old tears ; saddened, perhaps, and yet rejoicing that
Palladour still stands, that still in their hill-town luiman
hearts, their sons' hearts, beat with the same frailty, the
same strength, the same eternal striving.


If any person wislies to know what kintl of man ho was, or wlint liononr

he had, or of liow many hinds lip WiVii lord, then will wo write about

him as well as we luulerstood him ; we who often looked upon him,

and lived somewhile in his court. This King William then that wo

speak alxjut was a very wise man, and very rich ; more splendid and

powerfid than any of his predecessors were. Ho was mild to the good

men that loved God, and beyond all measiu-e severe to the men that

gainsaid hw will. . . . .Vmongst otiier tilings is not to be forgotten

that good jx^ace that he made in this land ; so that a man of any

account miglit go over his kingdom unhurt with his bosom full of

gold. . . . Assuredly in his time had men m\ich distress, and very

manj' sorrows. Ctvstles he let men build, and miserably swink the

poor. The king himself was so very rigid, and extorted from hia

subjects many marks of gold, and many hundred pounds of silver ;

which he took of his people, for little need, by right and by unright.

He was ftiUen into covetousness, and greediness he loved withal.

He made many deer-parks, and he established laws therewith ; so that

whosoever slew a hart or a hind should lx> deprived of his eyesight.

-\s he forbade men to kill the harts, so also the boars ; and ho loved

tlie tall deer as if ho were their father. Likewise he decreed by the

hares, that they should go free. His rich men bemoaned it, and the

poor shuddered at it. But ho was so stern that he recked not the

hatred of them all ; for they mast follow withal tho King's will, if

they would live, or have land or possessions, or even his peace."


' ' Mr. Clare Ls one of the most rel)ellest roziuns you ever knowed — not a
bit like tho rest of tho family ; and if there's one tiling that ho do
hate more than another 'tis the notion of whn,t's called a' old family.
He says that it stands to reason that old families have done their
part of work in past days, and can't have anything left in 'em now.
There's the Billetts, and the Drenkhards, and the Grej's and the St.
Quint iiLs and tho Hardys and tho Goulds, who used to own tho lands
for miles ch^wti this valley ; you could buy 'em all up now for an old
song a'most. Why, our little lictty Priddlo here, you know, is ono
of the I'aridelles — the old family that used to own lots o' lh(< lands
out by King's-Hintock now owned by tho Earl o' Wess<>x, aforo even
ho or Ills was hean:<d of. Well, .Mr. (laro found this ojt, and spoke
quite scornful to the poor girl for days. " Ah ! " he says to her,
" you'll never make a good dairynuiid ! All your skill was »Ls(>d up
ages ago in Palestine, and you must lie fallow for a tiiousand
years to git strength for more deeds !" ' "


T(SH of the W I rbcrvillcs.



THE great and famous Mr. John Duibeyfiekl, of
Marlott, in the county of Dorset, was led to believe
that his family reached " all back long before
Oliver Grumble's time," even to the very days of " King
Norman." I have heard the walls of Wareham ascribed to
this same p(jtentate, acting in collusion, apparently, with
(^ueen Elizabeth and King Napoleon. Such is the deep,
blurred impress of a great personality.

It is beyond doubt that John Durbeyfield's singular
boast of high lineage and low fall therefrom could bi' upheld
no less justly by many Dorset peasant families. In tho
lowlier classes, and among tho yeonumry above them, even
more than in the higher ranks of to-day, names are found
which go back, discontinuously, yet persistently, from
generation to generation, from century to century, to tho
Conqueror's time. A few stretch yet further into the waste



of Saxon years. But that year of climacteric, 1066, is a
real tiirning-point in English life. Duke William was the
last great racial whirlwind to set in turmoil this troubled

Yet conquest is always a relative thing. Except by sheer
annihilation or expulsion, a conquered race is not blotted
out. The language we speak to-day — the language which
can still be heard in strong and simple purity in the Dorset
villages — is English,* not French nor Scandinavian :
the victims have passively conquered the victors. And even
at the moment of conquest the invaders did not set up a
completely new fabric of life. The towns of England, for
the most part, were towns before the Normans came. The
humbler folk lived on in their squalor and hardship, less
free, politically, but in material circumstances not very
differently placed. It was a chief concern of the Norman
kings to assert that the laws and customs of England
should be as they were in the time of King Edward the
Confessor, in whose amiable and cultured haK-Norman
reign the Saxons were thus led to perceive the hitherto
unrealized perfection of their own social order.

The stir of this new governance of England, however,
must have been tumultuous in detail. Even in the negative
picture of Dorset's share in it the shadows of the great
change can be discerned.

So far as Dorset is directly concerned, after Hastings
there is a brief darkness. Fifteen months later. Western
England rose, and William, who " let his men always
plunder all the country that they went over" marched to
Devonshire and beset the city of Exeter. No doubt the
non-combatant folk of Dorset then saw for the first time,
in many a hamlet, what conquest meant. But there seems to
be no definite groundf for Freeman's belief that the towns of
Dorset (especially the four royal boroughs) banded themselves

* Barnes pointed out that only the choice of London as capital instead
of Winchester prevented it from being Dorset's English.

•j- See Exton on the Dorset Domesday and Round's Domesday Studies.


together at the call of Exeter, and were ruthlessly despoiled.
They were to suffer in time of peace. " Between the Con-
quest and Domesday (1080) more than half the houses in
Wareham and in Dorchester were utterly destroyed." And
the majority are statinl to have been destroyed " since the
time of Fitz Grip " — Hugh, son of CJrip, a sinister figure
who, with his wife, stands rather for the predatory than the
civilizing aspect of the Norman Conquest.*

The division of the spoils was not without significance.
Thirty-six and a half parts of the county were taken by the
King (who seized Harold's estates " by escheat ") ; one
hundred and two belonged to Sarum and the monasteries ;
ninety-eight to Earls, Barons, and the greater lords ; and
only twenty-eight and a half to lesser men. Out of one
hundred and twenty pre-Conquest landholders only twenty
continued in po.s.session. The English, however, were for
the most part bound to the soil, not to the soil's lord ;
they became in fact what the poorer of them had already
tended to become — immovable forced labourers paid in
kind. The whole population of the county is estimated at
about nine thousand.

The Turbervilles of Wool and Bcre Regis, the de Claviles
(Clavells) of Smedmore, the Trenchards, the Martins, the
Gollops of Strode, the Mohuns of Blackmore Vale, de
Aquila of Wynford Eagle, and many another family rich
and powerful in the generations to come, were among the
newcomers, in William's reign or a little later. They were to
hold their lands till the days of the nouveaux riches — till the
Wars of the Roses had worn them out and the Tudor

• The wife of Hugh may pcrliajw have been the rnoro voracious, but thoy
both npjjear (with inyHtorioiw fn-iiiU'iicy) in l)(>in<>H(hiy iis a<-(|ui.silivo.

Online LibraryF. J. Harvey (Frederick Joseph Harvey) DartonThe marches of Wessex, a chronicle of England → online text (page 7 of 28)