Copyright
Robert Naylor.

From John O'Groats to Land's End online

. (page 37 of 66)
Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 37 of 66)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


in this Frail bark, And the wreck was Total.

The melancholy reference to their having ventured their all bore upon
the separation between the father and mother, which immediately followed
the child's death.

The description of the monument reads as follows:

The figure of the child reclines on a pillowed mattress, her hands
resting one upon the other near her head. She is simply attired in a
frock, below which her naked feet are carelessly placed one over the
other, the whole position suggesting that in the restlessness of pain
she had just turned to find a cooler and easier place of rest.

[Illustration: PENELOPE.]

Her portrait was painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds, her name appearing in
his "Book of Sitters" in July 1788, when she was just over three years
of age, and is one of the most famous child-pictures by that great
master. The picture shows Little Penelope in a white dress and a dark
belt, sitting on a stone sill, with trees in the background. Her
mittened hands are folded in her lap, and her eyes are demurely cast
down. She is wearing a high mob-cap, said to have belonged to Sir
Joshua's grandmother.

This picture was sold in 1859 to the Earl of Dudley for 1,100 guineas,
and afterwards exhibited at Burlington House, when it was bought by Mr.
David Thwaites for £20,060.

The model for the famous picture "Cherry Ripe," painted by Sir John
Everett-Millais, was Miss Talmage, who had appeared as Little Penelope
at a fancy-dress ball, and it was said in later years that if there had
been no Penelope Boothby by Sir Joshua Reynolds, there would have been
no "Cherry Ripe" by Sir John Everett-Millais.

Sir Francis Chantrey, the great sculptor, also visited Ashbourne Church.
His patron, Mrs. Robinson, when she gave him the order to execute that
exquisite work, the Sleeping Children, in Lichfield Cathedral, expressly
stipulated that he must see the figure of Penelope Boothby in Ashbourne
Church before he began her work. Accordingly Chantrey came down to the
church and completed his sketch afterwards at the "Green Man Inn,"
working at it until one o'clock the next morning, when he departed by
the London coach.

Ashbourne is one of the few places which kept up the football match on
Shrove Tuesday, a relic probably of the past, when the ball was a
creature or a human being, and life or death the object of the game. But
now the game was to play a stuffed case or the biggest part of it up and
down the stream, the Ecclesbourne, until the mill at either limit of the
town was reached.

The River Dove, of which it has been written the "Dove's flood is worth
a king's good," formed the boundary between Derbyshire and
Staffordshire, which we crossed by a bridge about two miles after
leaving Ashbourne. This bridge, we were told, was known as the Hanging
Bridge, because at one time people were hanged on the tree which stood
on the border between the two counties, and we might have fared badly if
our journey had been made in the good old times, when "tramps" were
severely treated. Across the river lay the village of Mayneld, where the
landlord of the inn was killed in a quarrel with Prince Charlie's men in
their retreat from Derby for resisting their demands, and higher up the
country a farmer had been killed because he declined to give up his
horse. They were not nearly so orderly as they retreated towards the
north, for they cleared both provisions and valuables from the country
on both sides of the roads. A cottage at Mayneld was pointed out to us
as having once upon a time been inhabited by Thomas, or Tom Moore,
Ireland's great poet, whose popularity was as great in England as in his
native country, and who died in 1852 at the age of seventy-three years.
The cottage was at that time surrounded by woods and fields, and no
doubt the sound of Ashbourne Church bells, as it floated in the air,
suggested to him one of his sweetest and saddest songs:

Those evening bells! those evening bells,
How many a tale their music tells
Of youth and home and that sweet time
When last I heard their soothing chime.

Those joyous hours are passed away,
And many a heart that then was gay
Within the tomb now darkly dwells,
And hears no more those evening bells.

And so 'twill be when I am gone:
The tuneful peal will still ring on:
While other bards shall walk these dells
And sing your praise, sweet evening bells.

We passed Calwick Abbey, once a religious house, but centuries ago
converted into a private mansion, which in the time of Handel
(1685-1759) was inhabited by the Granville family. Handel, although a
German, spent most of his time in England, and was often the guest of
the nobility. It was said that it was at Calwick Abbey that his greatest
oratorios were conceived, and that the organ on which he played was
still preserved. We ourselves had seen an organ in an Old Hall in
Cheshire on which he had played when a visitor there, and where was also
shown a score copy in his own handwriting. All that was mortal of Handel
was buried in Westminster Abbey, but his magnificent oratorios will
endure to the end of time.

On arrival at Ellastone we left our luggage at the substantially built
inn there while we went to visit Norbury Church, which was well worth
seeing, and as my foot had now greatly improved we were able to get over
the ground rather more quickly. Norbury was granted to the Fitzherberts
in 1125, and, strange as it may appear, the original deed was still in
the possession of that ancient family, whose chief residence was now at
Swynnerton at the opposite side of Staffordshire, where they succeeded
the Swynnerton family as owners of the estate. The black image of that
grim crusader Swynnerton of Swynnerton still remained in the old chapel
there, and as usual in ancient times, where the churches were built of
sandstone, they sharpened their arrows on the walls or porches of the
church, the holes made in sharpening them being plainly visible. Church
restorations have caused these holes to be filled with cement in many
places, like the bullet holes of the more recent period of the Civil
War, but holes in the exact shape of arrow heads were still to be seen
in the walls at Swynnerton, the different heights showing some of the
archers to have been very tall men. In spite of severe persecution at
the time of the Reformation this branch of the family of the
Fitzherberts adhered to the Roman Catholic Faith, Sir Thomas Fitzherbert
being one of the most prominent victims of the Elizabethan persecutions,
having passed no less than thirty years of his life in various prisons
in England.

Norbury church was not a large one, but the chancel was nearly as large
as the nave. It dated back to the middle of the fourteenth century, when
Henry of Kniveton was rector, who made the church famous by placing a
number of fine stained-glass windows in the chancel. The glass in these
windows was very chaste and beautiful, owing to the finely tinted soft
browns and greens, now probably mellowed by age, and said to rank
amongst the finest of their kind in England. The grand monuments to the
Fitzherberts were magnificently fine examples of the art and clothing of
the past ages, the two most gorgeous tombs being those of the tenth and
eleventh lords, in all the grandeur of plate armour, collars,
decorations, spurs, and swords; one had an angel and the other a monk to
hold his foot as he crossed into the unknown. The figures of their
families as sculptured below them were also very fine. Considering that
one of the lords had seventeen children and the other fifteen it was
scarcely to be wondered at that descendants of the great family still
existed.

Sir Nicholas, who died in 1473, occupied the first tomb, his son the
second, and his children were represented dressed in the different
costumes of their chosen professions, the first being in armour with a
cross, and the next as a lawyer with a scroll, while another was
represented as a monk with a book, but as the next had his head knocked
off it was impossible to decipher him; others seemed to have gone into
businesses of one kind or another.

The oldest monument in the church was a stone cross-legged effigy of a
warrior in armour, dating from about the year 1300; while the plainest
was the image of a female corpse in a shroud, on a gravestone, who was
named ... Elysebeth ...

The which decessed the yeare that is goone,
A thousand four hundred neynty and oone.

The church was dedicated to St. Barloke, probably one of the ancient
British Divines.

On returning to Ellastone we learned that the inn was associated with
"George Eliot," whose works we had heard of but had not read. We were
under the impression that the author was a man, and were therefore
surprised to find that "George Eliot" was only the _nom de plume_ of a
lady whose name was Marian Evans. Her grandfather was the village
wheelwright and blacksmith at Ellastone, and the prototype of "Adam
Bede" in her famous novel of that name.

[Illustration: GEORGE ELLIOT'S "DONNITHORPE ARMS," ELLASTONE.]

It has been said that no one has ever drawn a landscape more graphically
than Marian Evans, and the names of places are so thinly veiled that if
we had read the book we could easily have traced the country covered by
"Adam Bede." Thus Staffordshire is described as Loamshire, Derbyshire as
Stoneyshire, and the Mountains of the Peak as the barren hills, while
Oakbourne stands for Ashbourne, Norbourne for Norbury, and Hayslope,
described so clearly in the second chapter of _Adam Bede_, is Ellastone,
the "Donnithorpe Arms" being the "Bromley Arms Hotel," where we stayed
for refreshments. It was there that a traveller is described in the
novel as riding up to the hotel, and the landlord telling him that there
was to be a "Methodis' Preaching" that evening on the village green, and
the traveller stayed to listen to the address of "Dinah Morris," who was
Elizabeth Evans, the mother of the authoress.

[Illustration: ALTON TOWERS.]

Wootton Hall, which stands immediately behind the village of Ellastone,
was at one time inhabited by Jean Jacques Rousseau, the great French
writer, who, when he was expelled from France, took the Hall for twelve
months in 1776, beginning to write there his _Confessions_, as well as
his _Letters on Botany_, at a spot known as the "Twenty oaks." It was
very bad weather for a part of the time, and snowed incessantly, with a
bitterly cold wind, but he wrote, "In spite of all, I would rather live
in the hole of one of the rabbits of this warren, than in the finest
rooms in London."

We now hurried across the country, along old country lanes and over
fields, to visit Alton Towers; but, as it was unfortunately closed on
that day, it was only by trespassing that we were able to see a part of
the grounds. We could see the fine conservatories, with their richly
gilded domes, and some portion of the ground and gardens, which were in
a deep dell. These were begun by Richard, Earl of Shrewsbury, in the
year 1814, who, after years of labour, and at enormous expense,
converted them from a wilderness into one of the most extraordinary
gardens in Europe, almost baffling description. There was a monument
either to himself or the gardener, on which were the words:

He made the desert smile.

From the Uttoxeter Road we could see a Gothic bridge, with an embankment
leading up to it, and a huge imitation of Stonehenge, in which we were
much interested, that being one of the great objects of interest we
intended visiting when we reached Salisbury Plain. We were able to
obtain a small guide-book, but it only gave us the information that the
gardens consisted of a "labyrinth of terraces, walls, trellis-work,
arbours, vases, stairs, pavements, temples, pagodas, gates, parterres,
gravel and grass walks, ornamental buildings, bridges, porticos, seats,
caves, flower-baskets, waterfalls, rocks, cottages, trees, shrubs and
beds of flowers, ivied walls, moss houses, rock, shell, and root work,
old trunks of trees, etc., etc.," so, as it would occupy half a day to
see the gardens thoroughly, we decided to come again on some future
occasion. A Gothic temple stood on the summit of a natural rock, and
among other curiosities were a corkscrew fountain of very peculiar
character, and vases and statues almost without end.

We now followed the main road to the Staffordshire town of Uttoxeter,
passing the ruins of Croxden Abbey in the distance, where the heart of
King John had been buried, and where plenty of traces of the extreme
skill in agriculture possessed by the monks can be seen. One side of the
chapel still served as a cowshed, but perhaps the most interesting
features were the stone coffins in the orchard as originally placed,
with openings so small, that a boy of ten can hardly lie in one.

But we missed a sight which as good churchmen we were afterwards told we
ought to have remembered. October 31st was All-Hallows Eve, "when ghosts
do walk," and here we were in a place they revelled in - so much so that
they gave their name to it, Duninius' Dale. Here the curious sights
known as "Will-o'-the-Wisp" could be seen magnificently by those who
would venture a midnight visit. But we had forgotten the day.

[Illustration: CROXDEN ABBEY.]

We stopped for tea at Uttoxeter, and formed the opinion that it was a
clean but rather sleepy town. There was little to be seen in the church,
as it was used in the seventeenth century as a prison for Scottish
troops, "who did great damage." It must, however, have been a very
healthy town, if we might judge from the longevity of the notables who
were born there: Sir Thomas Degge, judge of Western Wales and a famous
antiquary, was born here in 1612, and died aged ninety-two; Thomas
Allen, a distinguished mathematician and philosopher, the founder of the
college at Dulwich and the local Grammar School as well, born 1542, died
aged ninety; Samuel Bentley, poet, born 1720, died aged eighty-three;
Admiral Alan Gardner, born at the Manor House in 1742, and who, for
distinguished services against the French, was raised to the Irish
Peerage as Baron Gardner of Uttoxeter, and was M.P. for Plymouth, died
aged sixty-seven; Mary Howitt, the well-known authoress, born 1799, also
lived to the age of eighty-nine. A fair record for a small country town!
John Wesley preached in the marketplace, in the centre of which was a
fountain erected to the memory of Dr. Samuel Johnson, the distinguished
lexicographer. His father, whose home was at Lichfield, was a bookseller
and had a bookstall in Uttoxeter Market, which he attended on market
days. The story is told that on one occasion, not feeling very well, he
asked his son, Samuel, to take his place, who from motives of pride
flatly refused to do so. From this illness the old man never recovered,
and many years afterwards, on the anniversary of that sorrowful day, Dr.
Samuel Johnson, then in the height of his fame, came to the very spot in
the market-place where this unpleasant incident occurred and did
penance, standing bareheaded for a full hour in a pitiless storm of wind
and rain, much to the surprise of the people who saw him.

[Illustration: THE WHITE CATTLE OF CHARTLEY.]

We now bade good-bye to the River Dove, leaving it to carry its share of
the Pennine Range waters to the Trent, and walked up the hill leading
out of the town towards Abbots Bromley. We soon reached a lonely and
densely wooded country with Bagot's Wood to the left, containing trees
of enormous age and size, remnants of the original forest of Needwood,
while to the right was Chartley Park, embracing about a thousand acres
of land enclosed from the same forest by the Earl of Derby, about the
year 1248. In this park was still to be seen the famous herd of wild
cattle, whose ancestors were known to have been driven into the park
when it was enclosed. These animals resisted being handled by men, and
arranged themselves in a semi-circle on the approach of an intruder. The
cattle were perfectly white, excepting their extremities, their ears,
muzzles, and hoofs being black, and their long spreading horns were also
tipped with black. Chartley was granted by William Rufus to Hugh Lupus,
first Earl of Chester, whose descendant, Ranulph, a Crusader, on his
return from the Holy War, built Beeston Castle in Cheshire, with
protecting walls and towers, after the model of those at Constantinople.
He also built the Castle at Chartley about the same period, A.D. 1220,
remarkable as having been the last place of imprisonment for the
unfortunate Mary Queen of Scots, as she was taken from there in 1586 to
be executed at Fotheringhay.

[Illustration: THE "BANK INN," CHARTLEY.]

[Illustration: BEGGARS' OAK, BAGOTS WOOD. "We soon reached a lonely and
densely wooded country with Bagots Wood to the left, containing trees of
enormous size - remnants of the original forest of Needham."]

We were interested in these stories of Chartley Castle, for in our own
county cattle with almost the same characteristics were preserved in the
Parks of Lyme and Somerford, and probably possessed a similar history.
That Ranulph was well known can be assumed from the fact that Langland
in his _Piers Plowman_ in the fourteenth century says:

I cannot perfitly my paternoster as the Priest it singeth.
But I can rhymes of Robin Hood and Randall Erie of Chester.

Queer company, and yet it was an old story that Robin did find an asylum
at Chartley Castle.

[Illustration: THE HORN DANCERS, ABBOTS BROMLEY.]

We overtook an elderly man on the road returning home from his day's
toil on the Bagot estate, and he told us of an old oak tree of
tremendous size called the "Beggar's Oak"; but it was now too dark for
us to see it. The steward of the estate had marked it, together with
others, to be felled and sold; but though his lordship was very poor, he
would not have the big oak cut down. He said that both Dick Turpin and
Robin Hood had haunted these woods, and when he was a lad a good many
horses were stolen and hidden in lonely places amongst the thick bushes
to be sold afterwards in other parts of the country.

The "Beggar's Oak" was mentioned in the _History of Staffordshire_ in
1830, when its branches were measured by Dr. Darwen as spreading 48 feet
in every direction. There was also a larger oak mentioned with a trunk
21 feet 4-1/2 inches in circumference, but in a decayed condition. This
was named the Swilcar Lawn Oak, and stood on the Crown lands at
Marchington Woodlands, and in Bagot's wood were also the Squitch, King,
and Lord Bagot's Walking stick, all fine trees. There were also two
famous oaks at Mavesyn Ridware called "Gog and Magog," but only their
huge decayed trunks remained. Abbots Bromley had some curious
privileges, and some of the great games were kept up. Thus the heads of
the horses and reindeers for the "hobby horse" games were to be seen at
the church.

[Illustration: MARKET PLACE, ABBOT'S BROMLAY]

The owner of this region, Lord Bagot, could trace his ancestry back to
before the Conquest, for the Normans found one Bagod in possession. In
course of time, when the estate had become comparatively poor, we heard
that the noble owner had married the daughter of Mr. Bass, the rich
brewer of Burton, the first of the Peerage marriages with the families
of the new but rich.

We passed the Butter Cross and the old inn, reminiscent of stage-coach
days, as the church bell was tolling, probably the curfew, and long
after darkness had set in, for we were trying to reach Lichfield, we
came to the village of Handsacre, where at the "Crown Inn" we stayed the
night.

(_Distance walked twenty-five miles_.)


_Wednesday, November 1st._

Although the "Crown" at Handsacre was only a small inn, we were very
comfortable, and the company assembled on the premises the previous
evening took a great interest in our travels. We had no difficulty in
getting an early breakfast, and a good one too, before leaving the inn
this morning, but we found we had missed seeing one or two interesting
places which we passed the previous night in the dark, and we had also
crossed the River Trent as it flowed towards the great brewery town of
Burton, only a few miles distant.

[Illustration: WHERE OFFA'S DYKE CROSSES THE MAIS ROAD.]

[Illustration: LICHFIELD CATHEDRAL]

Daylight found us at the foot of the famous Cannock Chase. The Chase
covered about 30,000 acres of land, which had been purposely kept out of
cultivation in olden times in order to form a happy hunting-ground for
the Mercian Kings, who for 300 years ruled over that part of the
country. The best known of these kings was Offa, who in the year 757 had
either made or repaired the dyke that separated England from Wales,
beginning at Chepstow in Monmouthshire, and continuing across the
country into Flintshire. It was not a dyke filled with water, as for the
most part it passed over a very hilly country where water was not
available, but a deep trench sunk on the Welsh side, the soil being
thrown up on the English side, forming a bank about four yards high, of
which considerable portions were still visible, and known as "Offa's
Dyke." Cannock Chase, which covered the elevations to our right, was
still an ideal hunting-country, as its surface was hilly and
diversified, and a combination of moorland and forest, while the
mansions of the noblemen who patronised the "Hunt" surrounded it on all
sides, that named "Beau-Desert," the hall or hunting-box of the Marquis
of Anglesey, being quite near to our road.

We soon arrived at Lichfield, and on entering the town the three lofty
and ornamental spires of the cathedral, which from their smart
appearance were known as "The Three Ladies," immediately attracted our
attention. But for these, travellers entering Lichfield by this road
might easily have passed the cathedral without noticing it, as it stands
on low and rather swampy ground, where its fine proportions do not show
to advantage.

The Close of the cathedral, which partially surrounded it, was heavily
fortified in the time of the Civil War, causing the cathedral to be very
badly damaged, for it suffered no less than three different sieges by
the armies of the Parliament.

[Illustration: ST. CHAD'S WELL, LICHFIELD.]

The cathedral was dedicated to St. Chad, but whether he was the same St.
Chad whose cave was in the rocky bank of the River Don, and about whom
we had heard farther north, or not, we could not ascertain. He must have
been a water-loving saint, as a well in the town formed by a spring of
pure water was known as St. Chad's Well, in which the saint stood naked
while he prayed, upon a stone which had been preserved by building it
into the wall of the well. There was also in the cathedral at one time
the "Chapel of St. Chad's Head," but this had been almost destroyed
during the first siege of 1643. The ancient writings of the patron saint
in the early Welsh language had fortunately been preserved. Written on
parchment and ornamented with rude drawings of the Apostles and others,
they were known as St. Chad's Gospels, forming one of the most treasured
relics belonging to the cathedral, but, sad to relate, had been removed
by stealth, it was said, from the Cathedral of Llandaff.

The first siege began on March 2nd, 1643, which happened to be St.
Chad's Day, and it was recorded that during that siege "Lord Brooke who
was standing in the street was killed, being shot through the eye by
Dumb Dyott from the cathedral steeple." The cathedral was afterwards
used by Cromwell's men as a stable, and every ornament inside and
outside that they could reach was greatly damaged; but they appeared to
have tried to finish the cathedral off altogether, when in 1651 they
stripped the lead from the roof and then set the woodwork on fire. It
was afterwards repaired and rebuilt, but nearly all the ornaments on the
west front, which had been profusely decorated with the figures of
martyrs, apostles, priests, and kings, had been damaged or destroyed. At
the Restoration an effort was made to replace these in cement, but this
proved a failure, and the only perfect figure that remained then on the
west front was a rather clumsy one of Charles II, who had given a
hundred timber trees out of Needwood Forest to repair the buildings.
Many of the damaged figures were taken down in 1744, and some others
were removed later by the Dean, who was afraid they might fall on his
head as he went in and out of the cathedral.

[Illustration: "THE THREE LADIES"]

In those days chimney sweepers employed a boy to climb up the inside of



Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 37 of 66)