Robert Naylor.

From John O'Groats to Land's End online

. (page 36 of 66)
Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 36 of 66)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

not burst its embankments, as he had feared, he soon reappeared and was
afterwards employed to construct even more difficult canals. He died in
1772, and was buried in Harriseahead Churchyard on the Cheshire border
of Staffordshire. It is computed that he engineered as many miles of
canals as there are days in the year.


It must have been a regular custom for the parsons in Derbyshire to keep
diaries in the eighteenth century, for the Vicar of Wormhill kept one,
like the Vicar of Castleton, both chancing to be members of the Bagshawe
family, a common name in that neighbourhood. He was a hard-working and
conscientious man, and made the following entry in it on February 3rd,

_Sunday_. - Preached at Wormhill on the vanity of human pursuits and
human pleasures, to a polite audience, an affecting sermon. Rode in
the evening to Castleton, where I read three discourses by Secker. In
the forest I was sorry to observe a party of boys playing at
Football. I spoke to them but was laughed at, and on my departure one
of the boys gave the football a wonderful kick - a proof this of the
degeneracy of human nature!

On reaching Miller's Dale, a romantic deep hollow in the limestone, at
the bottom of which winds the fast-flowing Wye, my brother declared
that he felt more at home, as it happened to be the only place he had
seen since leaving John o' Groat's that he had previously visited, and
it reminded him of a rather amusing incident.


Our uncle, a civil engineer in London, had been over on a visit, and was
wearing a white top-hat, then becoming fashionable, and as my brother
thought that a similar hat would just suit the dark blue velveteen coat
he wore on Sundays, he soon appeared in the prevailing fashion. He was
walking from Ambergate to Buxton, and had reached Miller's Dale about
noon, just as the millers were leaving the flour mills for dinner. One
would have thought that the sight of a white hat would have delighted
the millers, but as these hats were rather dear, and beyond the
financial reach of the man in the street, they had become an object of
derision to those who could not afford to wear them, the music-hall
answer to the question "Who stole the donkey?" being at that time "The
man with the white hat!"

He had met one group of the millers coming up the hill and another lot
was following, when a man in the first group suddenly turned round and
shouted to a man in the second group, "I say, Jack, who stole the
donkey?" But Jack had not yet passed my brother, and, as he had still to
face him, he dared not give the customary answer, so, instead of
replying "The man with the white hat," he called out in the Derbyshire
dialect, with a broad grin on his face, "Th' feyther." A roar of
laughter both behind and in front, in which my brother heartily joined,
followed this repartee.

Probably some of the opprobrium attached to the white hat was because of
its having been an emblem of the Radicals. We had seen that worn by Sir
Walter Scott in his declining days, but we could not think of including
him in that extreme political party, though its origin dated back to
the time when he was still alive. Probably the emblem was only local,
for it originated at Preston in Lancashire, a place we knew well,
commonly called Proud Preston, no doubt by reason of its connection with
the noble family of Stanley, who had a mansion in the town. Preston was
often represented in Parliament by a Stanley, and was looked upon as a
Pocket Borough. In the turbulent times preceding the Abolition of the
Corn Laws a powerful opponent, in the person of Mr. Henry Hunt, a
demagogue politician, who had suffered imprisonment for advocating
Chartism, appeared at the Preston election of 1830 to oppose the
Honourable E.G. Stanley, afterwards Earl of Derby. He always appeared
wearing a white hat, and was an eloquent speaker, and for these reasons
earned the sobriquet of "Orator" Hunt and "Man with the White Hat." The
election contest was one of the most exciting events that ever occurred
in Preston, and as usual the children took their share in the
proceedings, those on Mr. Stanley's side parading the streets singing in
a popular air:

Hey! Ho! Stanley for Ever! Stanley for Ever!
Hey! Ho! Stanley for Ever Ho!
Stanley, Stanley, Stanley, Ho!
Stanley is my honey Ho!
When he weds he will be rich,
He will have a coach and six.

Then followed the chorus to the accompaniment of drums and triangles:

Hey! Ho! Stanley for Ever, Ho!

In spite of this, however, and similar ditties, "Orator Hunt," by a
total vote of 3,730, became M.P. for Preston, and it was said that it
was through this incident that the Radicals adopted the White Hat as
their emblem.

Lord Derby was so annoyed at the result of the election that he closed
his house, which stood across the end of a quiet street, and placed a
line of posts across it, between which strong chains were hung, and on
which my brother could remember swinging when a boy.

One of our uncles was known as the "Preston Poet" at that time, and he
wrote a poem entitled "The Poor, God Bless 'Em!" the first verse

Let sycophants bend their base knees in the court
And servilely cringe round the gate,
And barter their honour to earn the support
Of the wealthy, the titled, the great;
Their guilt piled possessions I loathe, while I scorn
The knaves, the vile knaves who possess 'em;
I love not to pamper oppression, but mourn
For the poor, the robb'd poor - God bless 'em!

A striking contrast to the volubility of Mr. Hunt was Mr. Samuel
Horrocks, also M.P. for Preston, whose connection with the "Big Factory"
in Preston probably gained him the seat. He was said to have been the
"quiet Member," never known to make a speech in the House of Commons,
unless it was to ask some official to close a window. The main
thoroughfare in Preston was Fishergate, a wide street, where on one
Saturday night two men appeared walking up the middle of the street,
carrying large papers suspended over their arms and shouting at the top
of their voices.

"The Speech of Samuel Horrocks, Esquire, M.P., in the British House of
Commons! one penny," which they continued to repeat.

"Eh! owd Sammy's bin makkin' a speech," and a rush was made for the
papers. The streets were poorly lighted in those days, and the men did a
roaring business in the dark. One man, however, was so anxious to read
the speech that he could not wait until he got home, but went to a shop
window, where there was a light, but the paper was blank. Thinking they
had given him the wrong paper, he ran after the men and shouted,
pointing to the paper, "Hey, there's nowt on it." "Well," growled one of
the men, "_he said nowt_."

[Illustration: CHATSWORTH HOUSE.]

We now climbed up the opposite side of the dale, and continued on the
moorland road for a few miles, calling at the "Flagg Moor Inn" for tea.
By the time we had finished it was quite dark, and the landlady of the
inn did her best to persuade us to stay there for the night, telling us
that the road from there to Ashbourne was so lonely that it was possible
on a dark night to walk the whole distance of fourteen miles without
seeing a single person, and as it had been the Great Fair at Newhaven
that day, there might be some dangerous characters on the roads. When
she saw we were determined to proceed farther, she warned us that the
road did not pass through any village, and that there was only a
solitary house here and there, some of them being a little way from the
road. The road was quite straight, and had a stone wall on each side all
the way, so all we had got to do was to keep straight on, and to mind we
did not turn to the right or the left along any of the by-roads lest we
should get lost on the moors. It was not without some feeling of regret
that we bade the landlady "Good night" and started out from the
comfortable inn on a pitch-dark night. Fortunately the road was dry,
and, as there were no trees, the limestone of which it was composed
showed a white track easily discernible in the inky darkness which
surrounded it. As we got farther on our way we could see right in front
a great illumination in the mist or clouds above marking the glare from
the country fair at Newhaven, which was only four miles from the inn we
had just left. We met quite a number of people returning from the fair,
both on foot and in vehicles, and as they all appeared to be in good
spirits we received a friendly greeting from all who spoke to us.
Presently arriving at Newhaven itself, which consisted solely of one
large inn, we found the surrounding open space packed with a noisy and
jovial crowd of people, the number of whom absolutely astonished us, as
the country around appeared so desolate, and we wondered where they all
could have come from. Newhaven, which had been a very important place in
the coaching-days, was a big three-storeyed house with twenty-five
bedrooms and stabling for a hundred horses. It stood at a junction of
roads about 1,100 feet above sea-level in a most lonely place, and in
the zenith of its popularity there was seldom a bedroom empty, the house
being quite as gay as if it had been in London itself. It had been
specially built for the coach traffic by the then Duke of Devonshire,
whose mansion, Chatsworth House, was only a few miles distant. King
George IV stayed at Newhaven on one occasion, and was so pleased with
his entertainment that he granted to the inn a free and perpetual
licence of his own sovereign pleasure, so that no application for
renewal of licence at Brewster Sessions was ever afterwards required; a
fact which accounted in some measure for the noisy company congregated
therein, in defiance of the superintendent of police, who, with five or
six of his officers, was standing in front of the fair. Booths had been
erected by other publicans, but the police had ordered these to be
removed earlier in the day to prevent further disturbances.

We noticed they had quite a number of persons in custody, and when I saw
a policeman looking very critically at the miscellaneous assortment of
luggage my brother was carrying, I thought he was about to be added to
the number; but he was soon satisfied as to the honesty of his
intentions. The "New Haven" must have meant a new haven for passengers,
horses, and coaches when the old haven had been removed, as the word
seemed only to apply to the hotel, which, as it was ten miles both from
Buxton and Ashbourne, and also on the Roman road known as Via Gellia,
must have been built exactly to accommodate the ten-mile run of the
coaches either way. It quite enlivened us to see the old-fashioned
shows, the shooting-boxes, the exhibitions of monstrosities, with stalls
displaying all sorts of nuts, sweets, gingerbreads, and all the
paraphernalia that in those days comprised a country fair, and we should
have liked to stay at the inn and visit some of the shows which were
ranged in front of it and along the green patches of grass which lined
the Ashbourne road; but in the first place the inn was not available,
and in the second our twenty-five-mile average daily walk was too much
in arrears to admit of any further delay.


All the shows and stalls were doing a roaring trade, and the naphtha
lamps with which they were lighted flared weirdly into the inky darkness
above. Had we been so minded, we might have turned aside and found
quarters at an inn bearing the odd sign of "The Silent Woman" (a woman
with her head cut off and tucked under her arm, similar to one nearer
home called the "Headless Woman" - in the latter case, however, the tall
figure of the woman was shown standing upright, without any visible
support, while her head was calmly resting on the ground - the idea
seeming to be that a woman could not be silent so long as her head was
on her body), but we felt that Ashbourne must be reached that night,
which now seemed blacker than ever after leaving the glaring lights in
the Fair. Nor did we feel inclined to turn along any by-road on a dark
night like that, seeing that we had been partly lost on our way from
London the previous year, nearly at the same place, and on quite as dark
a night. On that memorable occasion we had entered Dovedale near Thorpe,
and visited the Lovers' Leap, Reynard's Cave, Tissington Spires, and
Dove Holes, but darkness came on, compelling us to leave the dale to
resume our walk the following morning. Eventually we saw a light in the
distance, where we found a cottage, the inmates of which kindly
conducted us with a lantern across a lonely place to the village of
Parwich, which in the Derbyshire dialect they pronounced "Porritch,"
reminding us of our supper.

[Illustration: TISSINGTON SPIRES.]


It was nearly closing-time when we were ushered into the taproom of the
village inn among some strange companions, and when the hour of closing
arrived we saw the head of the village policeman appear at the shutter
through which outside customers were served with beer. The landlord
asked him, "Will you have a pint?" Looking significantly at ourselves,
he replied, "No, thank you," but we noticed the "pint" was placed in the
aperture, and soon afterwards disappeared!

At Newhaven we ascertained that we were now quite near Hartington and
Dovedale. Hartington was a famous resort of fishermen and well known to
Isaak Walton, the "Father of Fishermen," and author of that famous book
_The Compleat Angler or the Contemplative Man's Recreation_, so full of
such cheerful piety and contentment, such sweet freshness and
simplicity, as to give the book a perennial charm. He was a great friend
of Charles Cotton of Beresford Hall, who built a fine fishing-house near
the famous Pike Pool on the River Dove, over the arched doorway of which
he placed a cipher stone formed with the combined initials of Walton and
himself, and inscribed with the words "Piscatoribus Sacrum." It was said
that when they came to fish in the fish pool early in the morning,
Cotton smoked tobacco for his breakfast!

What spot more honoured than this beautiful place?
Twice honoured truly. Here Charles Cotton sang,
Hilarious, his whole-hearted songs, that rang
With a true note, through town and country ways,
While the Dove trout - in chorus - splashed their praise.
Here Walton sate with Cotton in the shade
And watched him dubb his flies, and doubtless made
The time seem short, with gossip of old days.
Their cyphers are enlaced above the door,
And in each angler's heart, firm-set and sure.

While rivers run, shall those two names endure,
Walton and Cotton linked for evermore - -
And Piscatoribus Sacrum where more fit
A motto for their wisdom worth and wit?

Say, where shall the toiler find rest from his labours,
And seek sweet repose from the overstrung will?
Away from the worry and jar of his neighbours
Where moor-tinted streamlets flow down from the hill.

Then hurrah! jolly anglers, for burn and for river.
The songs of the birds and the lowing of kine:
The voice of the river shall soothe us for ever,
Then here's to the toast, boys - "The rod and the line!"


We walked in the darkness for about six miles thinking all the time of
Dovedale, which we knew was running parallel with our road at about two
miles' distance. When we reached Tissington, about three miles from
Ashbourne, the night had become lighter, and there ought to have been a
considerable section of the moon visible if the sky had been clear. Here
we came to quite a considerable number of trees, but the village must
have been somewhere in the rear of them. Well-dressing was a custom
common in Derbyshire, and also on a much smaller scale in some of the
neighbouring counties; but this village of Tissington was specially
noted in this respect, for it contained five wells, all of which had to
be dressed. As the dressers of the different wells vied with each other
which should have the best show, the children and young people had a
busy time in collecting the flowers, plants, buds, and ferns necessary
to form the display. The festival was held on Holy Thursday, and was
preceded with a service in the church followed by one at each of the
wells, and if the weather was fine, hundreds of visitors assembled to
criticise the work at the different wells. The origin of well-dressing
is unknown, but it is certainly of remote antiquity, probably dating
back to pagan times. That at Tissington was supposed to have developed
at the time of the Black Plague in the fourteenth century, when,
although it decimated many villages in the neighbourhood, it missed
Tissington altogether - because, it was supposed, of the purity of the
waters. But the origin of well-dressing must have been of much greater
antiquity: the custom no doubt had its beginnings as an expression of
praise to God from whom all blessings flow. The old proverb, "We never
know the value of water till the well runs dry," is singularly
appropriate in the hilly districts of Derbyshire, where not only the
wells, but the rivers also have been known to dry up, and when the
spring comes and brings the flowers, what could be more natural than to
thank the Almighty who sends the rain and the water, without which they
could not grow.

[Illustration: TISSINGTON CHURCH.]

We were sorry to have missed our walk down Dove Dale, but it was all for
the best, as we should again have been caught in the dark there, and
perhaps I should have injured my foot again, as the path along the Dale
was difficult to negotiate even in the daylight. In any case we were
pleased when we reached Ashbourne, where we had no difficulty in finding
our hotel, for the signboard of the "Green Man" reached over our heads
from one side of the main street to the other.

(_Distance walked twenty-six and a half miles_.)

_Tuesday, October 31st._

The inn we stayed at was a famous one in the days of the stagecoaches,
and bore the double name "The Green Man and the Black's Head Royal
Hotel" on a sign which was probably unique, for it reached across the
full width of the street. A former landlord having bought another
coaching-house in the town known as the "Black's Head," transferred the
business to the "Green Man," when he incorporated the two signs. We were
now on the verge of Dr. Johnson's country, the learned compiler of the
great dictionary, who visited the "Green Man" in company with his
companion, James Boswell, whose _Life of Dr. Johnson_ is said to be the
finest biography ever written in the English language. They had a friend
at Ashbourne, a Dr. Taylor, whom they often visited, and on one occasion
when they were all sitting in his garden their conversation turned on
the subject of the future state of man. Johnson gave expression to his
views in the following words, "Sir, I do not imagine that all things
will be made clear to us immediately after death, but that the ways of
Providence will be explained to us very gradually."


Boswell stayed at the "Green Man" just before journeying with Dr.
Johnson to Scotland, and was greatly pleased by the manners of the
landlady, for he described her as a "mighty civil gentlewoman" who
curtseyed very low as she gave him an engraving of the sign of the
house, under which she had written a polite note asking for a
recommendation of the inn to his "extensive acquaintance, and her most
grateful thanks for his patronage and her sincerest prayers for his
happiness in time and in blessed eternity." The present landlady of the
hotel appeared to be a worthy successor to the lady who presided there
in the time of Boswell, for we found her equally civil and obliging,
and, needless to say, we did justice to a very good breakfast served up
in her best style.


The Old Hall of Ashbourne, situated at the higher end of the town, was a
fine old mansion, with a long history, dating from the Cockayne family,
who were in possession of lands here as early as the year 1372, and who
were followed by the Boothby family.

The young Pretender, "Bonnie Prince Charlie," who had many friends in
England, stayed a night at the Hall in 1745, and the oak door of the
room in which he slept was still preserved. He and his Highlanders never
got farther than Derby, when he had to beat a hurried retreat, pursued
by the Duke of Cumberland. Prince Charlie, to avoid the opposing army at
Stafford and Lichfield, turned aside along the Churnet valley, through
Leek, and so to Ashbourne. At Derby he called a Council of War, and
learned how the Royal forces were closing in upon him, so that
reluctantly a retreat was ordered. Then began a period of plundering and
rapine. The Highlanders spread over the country, but on their return
never crossed into Staffordshire, for, as the story goes, the old women
of the Woodlands of Needwood Forest undertook to find how things were
going, and crept down to the bridges of Sudbury and Scropton. As it
began to rain, they used their red flannel petticoats as cloaks, which
the Highlanders, spying, took to be the red uniforms of soldiers, and a
panic seized them - so much so, that some who had seized some
pig-puddings and were fastening them hot on a pole, according to a local
ditty, ran out through a back door, and, jumping from a heap of manure,
fell up to the neck in a cesspool. The pillage near Ashbourne was very
great, but they could not stay, for the Duke was already at Uttoxoter
with a small force.

[Illustration: ASHBOURNE CHURCH.]

George Canning, the great orator who was born in 1770 and died when he
was Prime Minister of England in 1827, often visited Ashbourne Old Hall.
In his time the town of Ashbourne was a flourishing one; it was said to
be the only town in England that benefited by the French prisoners of
war, as there were 200 officers, including three generals, quartered
there in 1804, and it was estimated that they spent nearly £30,000 in
Ashbourne. An omnibus was then running between Ashbourne and Derby,
which out of courtesy to the French was named a "diligence," the French
equivalent for stage-coach; but the Derby diligence was soon abbreviated
to the Derby "Dilly." The roads at that time were very rough,
macadamised surfaces being unknown, and a very steep hill leading into
the Ashbourne and Derby Road was called _bête noire_ by the French,
about which Canning, who was an occasional passenger, wrote the
following lines:

So down the hill, romantic Ashbourne, glides
The Derby Dilly, carrying three insides;
One in each corner sits and lolls at ease,
With folded arms, propt back and outstretched knees;
While the pressed bodkin, pinched and squeezed to death,
Sweats in the midmost place and scolds and pants for breath.

We were now at the end of the last spur of the Pennine Range of hills
and in the last town in Derbyshire. As if to own allegiance to its own
county, the spire of the parish church, which was 212 feet high, claimed
to be the "Pride of the Peak." In the thirteenth-century church beneath
it, dedicated to St. Oswald, there were many fine tombs of the former
owners of the Old Hall at Ashbourne, those belonging to the Cockayne
family being splendid examples of the sculptor's art. We noted that one
member of the family was killed at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1404,
while another had been knighted by King Henry VII at the siege of
Tournay. The finest object in the church was the marble figure of a
little child as she appeared -

Before Decay's effacing fingers
Have swept the lines where beauty lingers,

which for simplicity, elegance, and childlike innocence of face was said
to be the most interesting and pathetic monument in England. It is
reputed to be the masterpiece of the English sculptor Thomas Banks,
whose work was almost entirely executed abroad, where he was better
known than in England. The inscriptions on it were in four different
languages, English, Italian, French, and Latin, that in English being:

I was not in safety, neither had I rest, and the trouble came.

The dedication was inscribed:



Born April 11th 1785, died March 13th 1791. She was in form and
intellect most exquisite The unfortunate parents ventured their all

Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 36 of 66)