J. Arthur Gibbs.

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Northleach gaol, and exercise the justice of the peace agin un for an
idle varmint."

"Yet a milder mannered man I never saw," said the squire.

PARSON: "Mild-mannered fiddlestick!" Then, raising his voice so that the
stranger should get the full benefit, he added, "He's as mild a mannered
man as ever scuttled ship or cut a throat!"

Shakespeare hurriedly draws out notebook, and smilingly writes down the
parson's words; then, in perfect good humour, he says:

"You must excuse me, gentlemen, but I have somewhat of a passion for
writing down such sayings as suit my humour, lest I forget what good
company I keep."

SQUIRE (_excitedly_): "Let go the hawk, Tom; there's a great lanky
heron risin' at the withybed yonder."

And here it is necessary to say something about the methods and language
of falconry as practised by our forefathers.

Shakespeare tells us to choose "a falcon or tercel for flying at the
brook, and a hawk for the bush." In other words, we are to select the
nobler species, the long-winged peregrine falcon, the male of which was
called a tiercel-gentle, for flying at the heron or the mallard; and a
short-winged hawk, such as the goshawk or sparrow-hawk, for blackbirds
and other hedgerow birds. For as Mr. Madden explains, not only does the
true falcon, be she peregrine, gerfalcon, merlin, or hobby, differ in
size and structure of wing and beak from the short-winged hawks, but she
also differs in her method of hunting and seizing her prey.

The falcons are "hawks of the tower and lure." They tower aloft and
swoop down on partridge, rabbit, or heron, finally returning to the
lure; and be it noted that the lure is a sham bird, with a "train" of
food to entice the falcons back to their master.

The short-winged hawks, on the other hand, are birds of the fist or the
bush. Instead of "towering" and "stooping," they lurch after their prey
in wandering flight, finally returning to their master's fist.

In _Macbeth_ we find allusion to the "falcon towering in her pride of
place"; and indeed there is no prettier sport on a still day than a
flight at the partridge or the heron with the noble peregrine falcon or
her mate the tiercel-gentle.

At the honest squire's word of command, a male peregrine is forthwith
despatched, and, soaring upwards into the air, he is almost lost to
sight in the clouds, though the faint tinkling of the bells attached to
his feet may yet be heard; then, stooping from the skies, the
tiercel-gentle descends from the heavens and strikes his long-beaked
adversary. Down, down they come, fighting and struggling in the air,
until, exhausted by the unequal combat, the heron gradually falls to the
ground, and receives from the falconer his final _coup de grâce_.
Sometimes a pair of hawks are thrown off against a heron.

Now comes a flight at the partridge. First of all the spaniel is
despatched to search the fields for a covey of birds. The desired quarry
being found, he "points" to them, and this time the female peregrine or
true falcon is sent on her way. Away she soars upwards, "waiting on and
towering in her pride of place." Then the birds, lying like stones
beneath her savage ken, are flushed by the dog, and the cruel peregrine,
after selecting her bird, with her characteristic "swoop" brings it to
the ground. If she is unsuccessful in her first attempt, she will tower
again, and renew the attack. The riders have to gallop as fast as their
nags can go, if they would keep in with the sport, for as often as not a
mile or more of ground has to be covered in a long flight, ere the
falcon "souses" [36] her prey. After the flight, a well-trained falcon
will invariably return to the lure with its "train" of food.

[Footnote 36: _King John_. V. ii.]

As Mr. Madden has proved, the whole of Shakespeare's works teem with
allusions to the art of falconry.

"HENRY: But what a point, my lord, your falcon made,
And what a pitch she flew above the rest!
To see how God in all His creatures works!
Yea, man and birds are fain of climbing high.

SUFFOLK: No marvel, an it like your majesty,
My lord protector's hawks do tower so well;
They know their master loves to be aloft
And bears his thoughts above his falcon's pitch.

GLOUCESTER: My lord, 'tis but a base ignoble mind
That mounts no higher than a bird can soar." [37]

[Footnote 37: 2 _Henry VI_., II. i.]

But it was not the death of the poor partridge that appealed to the
poet's mind so much as the pride and cunning of the mighty peregrine,
and the beauty and stillness of the autumnal morning. He loved to hear
the faint tinkling of the falcon's bells, the homely cry of the plover,
and the sweet carol of the lark; but more than all he felt the mystery
of the downs, wondering by what power and when those old seas were
converted into a sea of grass.

But whilst the hawking party was moving slowly across the wolds to try
fresh ground an event occurred which had the effect of bringing the
morning's sport, as far as hawks were concerned, to an abrupt
conclusion. This was nothing more nor less than the sight of a great
Cotswold fox of the greyhound breed making his way towards a copse on
the squire's demesne. The quick eye of the Peregrine family was the
first to view him, and forthwith both Bill and his brother screamed in
unison: "What's that sneaking across Smoke Acre yonder? 'Tis a fox - a
great, lanky, thieving, villainous fox, darned if it ain't!"

"Where?" said parson and squire excitedly.

"There," said Peregrine, "over agin Smoke Acre."

"By jabbers, so it be!" said the parson. "Now look thee here, Joe
Peregrine, go thee to the sexton and tell 'un to ring the church bells
for the folks to come for a fox; and be sure and tell the

"Ah!" said the poet, almost as excited as the rest of the party,

"'And do not stand on quillets how to slay him:
Be it by gins, by snares, by subtlety,
Sleeping or waking, 'tis no matter how,
So he be dead.'" [38]

[Footnote 38: _2 Henry VI._, III. i.]

Thus abruptly ended this hawking expedition on the Cotswolds; for the
whole party made off to the manor house to fetch guns, spades, pickaxes,
and dogs, as was the custom in those days, when a "lanky, villainous
fox" was viewed.

As for Shakespeare, after bidding adieu to the old squire, and thanking
him for his hospitality, he mounted his game little Irish hobby and
steered his course due northward for Stow-on-the-Wold. His track lay
along the old Fossway, a road infested in those days by murderous
highwaymen; yet, unarmed and unattended, unknown and unappreciated, did
that mighty man of genius set cheerfully out on his long and
solitary way.

[Illustration: The Abbey Gateway, Cirencester 295.png]



The ancient town of Cirencester - the Caerceri of the early Britons, the
Corinium of the Romans, and the Saxon Cyrencerne - has been a place of
importance on the Cotswolds from time immemorial. The abbreviations
Cisetre and Cysseter were in use as long ago as the fifteenth century,
though some of the natives are now in the habit of calling it Ciren. The
correct modern abbreviation is Ciceter.

The place is so rich in Roman antiquities that we must perforce devote a
few lines to their consideration. A whole book would not be sufficient
to do full justice to them.

No less than four important Roman roads meet within a short distance of
Cirencester; and very fine and broad ones they are, generally running as
straight as the proverbial arrow.

1. The Irmin Way, between Cricklade and Gloucester, _viâ_ Cirencester.

2. Acman Street connects Cirencester with Bath.

3. Icknield Street, running to Oxford.

4. The Fossway, extending far into the north of England. This
magnificent road may be said to connect Exeter in the south with Lincoln
in the north. It is raised several feet above the natural level of the
country, and in many places there still remain traces of the ancient
ditch which was dug on either side of its course.

In the year 1849 two very fine tessellated pavements were unearthed in
Dyer Street, and removed to a museum which Lord Bathurst built purposely
for their reception and preservation. Another fine specimen of this kind
of work may be seen in its original position at a house called the
"Barton" in the park. It is a representation of Orpheus and his lute;
and the various animals which he is said to have charmed are wonderfully
worked in the coloured pavements. Even as far back as three hundred
years ago these beautiful relics were being discovered in this town; for
Leland in his "Itinerary," mentions the finding of some tesserae;
unfortunately but few have been preserved.

There are two inscribed stones in this collection which deserve special
mention, as they are marvellously well preserved, considering the fact
that they are probably eighteen hundred years old. They are about six
feet in height and about half that breadth; on each is carved the figure
of a mounted soldier, spear in hand. On the ground lies his prostrate
foe, pierced by his adversary's spear. Underneath one of these carvings
are inscribed the following words: -

H S E.

The meaning of the above words is as follows: -

"Dannicus, a horseman of Indus's Cavalry, of the squadron of Albanus. He
had seen sixteen years' service. A citizen of Rauricum. Fulvius Natalis
and Fulvius Bitucus have caused this monument to be made in accordance
with his will. He is buried here."

The other stone has a somewhat similar inscription.

The Romans, who did not use wallpapers, were in the habit of colouring
their plaster with various pigments. Some very interesting specimens of
wall-painting are preserved at Cirencester, and may be seen in the
museum. The most remarkable example of the kind is a piece of coloured
plaster, with the following square scratched on its surface: -


It will be noticed that these five words, the meaning of which is,
"Arepo, the sower, guides the wheels at work," form a kind of puzzle;
they may be read in eight different directions.

A large variety of sepulchral urns have been found at Cirencester. When
dug up they usually contain little besides the ashes of the dead, though
a few coins are sometimes included. There is a very perfect specimen of
a glass urn - a large green bottle, square, wide-mouthed, and absolutely
intact - in this collection. It was found, wrapped in lead and enclosed
in a hollow stone, somewhere near the town about the year 1758.

A fine specimen of a stone coffin is likewise to be seen. When
discovered at Latton it was found to contain an iron axe, a dish of
black ware of the kind frequently discovered at Upchurch in Kent, a
juglike-handled vase of a light red colour, and some human bones.

The various kinds of pottery in the Corinium Museum are interesting on
account of the potters' marks found on them. There must be considerably
over a hundred different marks in this collection, chiefly of the
following kind: -

_Putri M_. (Manû Putri), by the hand of Putrus.

_Mara. F_. (Formâ Marci), from the mould of Marcus.

_Olini Off_. (Officinâ Olini), from the workshop of Olinus.

The museum contains many good specimens of iron and bronze implements,
as well as coins and stonework, and is well worthy of the attention
bestowed on it, not only by antiquaries, but by the public at large.

At a place called the Querns, a short distance from the town, is a very
interesting old amphitheatre called the Bull-ring. This is an ellipse of
about sixty yards long by forty-five wide; it is surrounded by mounds
twenty feet high. Originally the scene of the combats of Roman
gladiators, in mediaeval times it was probably used for the pastime of
bull-baiting, a barbarous amusement which has happily long since
died out.

Amphitheatres of the same type are to be seen at Dorchester, Old Sarum,
Silchester, and other Roman stations.

Mr. Wilfred Cripps, C.B., the head of a family that has been seated at
Cirencester for many hundreds of years, has an interesting private
collection of Roman antiquities which have been found in the
neighbourhood from time to time. He has quite recently discovered the
remnants of the Basilica or Roman law-courts.

Turning to the place as it now stands, one is struck on entering the
town by the breadth and clean appearance of the main street, known as
the market-place. The shops are almost as good as those to be found in
the principal thoroughfares of London.

I have spoken before of the magnificent old church. There is, perhaps,
no sacred building, except St. Mary Redcliffe at Bristol and Beverley
Minster, that we know of in England which for perfect proportion and
symmetry can vie with the imposing grandeur of this pile, as seen from
the Cricklade-street end of Cirencester market-place.

The south porch is a very beautiful and ornamental piece of
architecture. The work is of fifteenth-century design, the interior of
the porch consisting of delicately wrought fan-tracery groining. The
carving outside is most picturesque, there being many handsome niches
and six fine oriel windows. The whole of the _façade_ is crowned with
very large pierced battlements and crocketed pinnacles. Over this porch
is one of those grand old sixteenth-century halls such as were built in
former times in front of the churches. It is called the "Parvise," a
word derived from the same source as Paradise, which in the language of
architecture means a cloistered court adjoining a church. Many of these
beautiful old apartments existed at one time in England, but were pulled
down by religious enthusiasts because they were considered to be out of
place when attached to the church and used for secular purposes. This is
now known as the town hall, and contrasts very favourably with the
hideous erections built in modern times in some of our English towns for
this purpose.

The church of Cirencester contains a large amount of beautiful
Perpendicular work.

In the grand old tower are twelve bells of excellent tone. The Early
English stonework in the chancel and chapels is very curious, a fine
arch opening from the nave to the tower. There is, in fact, a great deal
to be seen on all sides which would delight the lover of architecture.

Some ancient brasses of great interest and beautiful design in various
parts of this church claim attention; the earliest of them is as old as
1360; a pulpit cloth of blue velvet, made from the cape of one Ralph
Parsons in 1478 and presented by him, is still preserved.

Cirencester House stands but a stone's throw from the railway station,
but is hidden from sight by a high wall and a gigantic yew hedge. Behind
it and on all sides, save one, the park - one of the largest in
England - stretches away for miles. So beautiful and rural are the
surroundings that the visitor to the house can hardly realise that the
place is not far removed from the busy haunts of men.

The Cirencester estate was purchased by Sir Benjamin Bathurst rather
more than two hundred years ago. This family has done good service to
their king and country for many centuries. We read the other day that no
less than _six_ of Sir Benjamin's brothers died fighting for the king in
the Civil Wars. Nor have they been less conspicuous in serving their
country in times of peace.

The park, which was designed to a great extent by the first earl, with
the assistance of Pope, has been entirely thrown open to the people of
Cirencester; and "the future and as yet visionary beauties of the noble
scenes, openings, and avenues" which that great poet used to delight in
dwelling upon have become accomplished facts. The "ten rides" - lengthy
avenues of fine trees radiating in all directions from a central point
in the middle of the park - are a picturesque feature of the landscape.

The lover of horses and riding finds here a paradise of grassy glades,
where he can gallop for miles on end, and tire the most obstinate of

Picnic parties, horse shows, cricket matches, and the chase of the fox
all find a place in this romantic demesne in their proper seasons. The
enthusiast for woodland hunting, or the man who hates the sight of a
fence of any description, may hunt the fox here day after day and never
leave the recesses of the park.

The antiquary will find much to delight him. Here is the ancient high
cross, erected in the fourteenth century, which once stood in front of
the old Ram Inn. The pedestal is hewn from a single block of stone, and
beautifully wrought with Gothic arcades and panelled quatrefoils; this
and the shaft are the sole relics of the old cross. We may go into
raptures over the ivy-covered ruin known as Alfred's Hall, fitted up as
it is with black oak and rusty armour and all the pompous simplicity of
the old baronial halls of England. Antiquaries of a certain order are
easily deceived; and this delightful old ruin, though but two hundred
years old, has been so skilfully put together as to represent an ancient
British castle. That celebrated, though indelicate divine, Dean Swift,
was, like Alexander Pope, deeply interested in the designing of
this park.

As long ago as 1733 Alfred's Hall was a snare and delusion to
antiquaries. In that year Swift received a letter stating that "My Lord
Bathurst has greatly improved the Wood-House, which you may remember was
a cottage, not a bit better than an Irish cabin. It is now a venerable
castle, and has been taken by an antiquary for one of King Arthur's."

The kennels of the V.W.H. hounds are in the park. Here the lover of
hounds can spend hours discussing the merits of "Songster" and
"Rosebud," or the latest and most promising additions to the families of
"Brocklesby Acrobat" or "Cotteswold Flier."

In this house are some very interesting portraits. Full-length pictures
of the members of the Cabal Ministry adorn the dining-room - all fine
examples of Lely's brush; then there is a very large representation of
the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo mounted on his favourite charger
"Copenhagen" by Lawrence; two "Romneys," one "Sir Joshua," and several

Turning to the Abbey, the seat for the last three hundred and thirty
years of the Master family, we find another instance of a large country
house standing practically in a town. The house is situated immediately
behind the church and within a stone's throw of the market-place. But on
the side away from the town the view from this house extends over a
large extent of rural scenery. The site of the mitred Abbey of Saint
Mary is somewhere hereabouts, but in the time of the suppression of the
monasteries every stone of the old abbey was pulled down and carried
away; so that the twelfth-century gateway and some remnants of pillars
are the sole traces that remain. This gateway, which is a very fine one,
is still used as a lodge entrance. Queen Elizabeth granted this estate
to Richard Master in 1564. When King Charles was at Cirencester in the
time of the Rebellion he twice stayed at this house. In 1642 the
townspeople of Cirencester rose in a body, and tried to prevent the lord
lieutenant of the county, Lord Chandos, from carrying out the King's
Commission of Array. For a time they gained their ends, but in the
following year there was a sharp encounter between Prince Rupert's force
and the people of Cirencester, resulting in the total defeat of the
latter. Three hundred of them were killed, and over a thousand taken
prisoners. They were confined in the church, and eventually taken to
Oxford, where, upon their submitting humbly to the king, he pardoned
them, and they were released. This is one account. It is only fair to
state that another account is less complimentary to Charles.

When Charles II. escaped from Worcester he put up at an old hostelry in
Cirencester called the Sun. King James and, still later, Queen Anne paid
visits to this town.

Altogether the town of Cirencester is a very fascinating old place. The
lot of its inhabitants is indeed cast in pleasant places. The grand
bracing air of the Cotswold Hills is a tonic which drives dull care away
from these Gloucestershire people; and when it is remembered that they
enjoy the freedom of Lord Bathurst's beautiful park, that the
neighbourhood is, in spite of agricultural depression, well off in this
world's goods, it is not surprising that the pallid cheeks and drooping
figures to be met with in most of our towns are conspicuous by their
absence here. The Cotswold farmers may be making no profit in these days
of low prices and competition, but against this must be set the fact
that their fathers and grandfathers made considerable fortunes in
farming three decades ago, and for this we must be thankful.

The merry capital of the Cotswolds abounds in good cheer and good
fellowship all the year round; and one has only to pay a visit to the
market-place on a Monday to meet the best of fellows and the most genial
sportsmen anywhere to be found amongst the farming community of England.

One of the old institutions which still remain in the Cotswolds is the
annual "mop," or hiring fair. At Cirencester these take place twice in
October. Every labouring man in the district hurries into the town,
where all sorts of entertainments are held in the market-place,
including "whirly-go-rounds," discordant music, and the usual "shows"
which go to make up a country fair. "Hiring" used to be the great
feature of these fairs. In the days before local newspapers were
invented every sort of servant, from a farm bailiff to a
maid-of-all-work, was hired for the year at the annual mop. The word
"mop" is derived from an old custom which ordained that the
maid-servants who came to find situations should bring their badge of
office with them to the fair. They came with their brooms and mops, just
as a carter would tie a piece of whipcord to his coat, and a shepherd's
hat would be decorated with a tuft of wool. Time was when the labouring
man was never happy unless he changed his abode from year to year. He
would get tired of one master and one village, and be off to Cirencester
mop, where he was pretty sure to get a fresh job. But nowadays the
Cotswold men are beginning to realise that "Two removes are as bad as a
fire." The best of them stay for years in the same village. This is very
much more satisfactory for all concerned. Deeply rooted though the love
of change appears to be in the hearts of nine-tenths of the human race,
the restless spirit seldom enjoys real peace and quiet; and the
discontent and poverty of the labouring class in times gone by may
safely be attributed to their never-ceasing changes and removal of their
belongings to other parts of the country.

Now that these old fairs no longer answer the purpose for which they
existed for hundreds of years, they will doubtless gradually die out.
And they have their drawbacks. An occasion of this kind is always
associated with a good deal of drunkenness; the old market-place of
Cirencester for a few days in each autumn becomes a regular pandemonium.
It is marvellous how quickly all traces of the great show are swept away
and the place once more settles down to the normal condition of an
old-fashioned though well-to-do country town.

There are many old houses in Cirencester of more than average interest,
but there is nothing as far as we know that needs special description.
The Fleece Hotel is one of the largest and most beautiful of the
mediaeval buildings. It should be noted that some of the new buildings
in this town, such as that which contains the post office, have been
erected in the best possible taste. With the exception of some of the
work which Mr. Bodley has done at Oxford in recent years, notably the
new buildings at Magdalen College, we have never seen modern
architecture of greater excellence than these Cirencester houses. They
are as picturesque as houses containing shops possibly can be.


But it is as a hunting centre that Ciceter is best known to the world at
large, and in this respect it is almost unique. The "Melton of the
west," it contains a large number of hunting residents who are not mere
"birds of passage," but men who live the best part of the year in or
near the town. The country round about, from a hunting point of view, is
good enough for most people. Five days a week can be enjoyed, over a
variety of hill and vale, all of which is "rideable"; nor can there be

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Online LibraryJ. Arthur GibbsA Cotswold Village → online text (page 18 of 27)