Copyright
Robert Naylor.

From John O'Groats to Land's End online

. (page 39 of 66)
Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 39 of 66)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


appearance; the verger informed us, when pointing out several defects
in the figures, that a local glazier had been employed to erect it who
did not understand such work, and though he had no doubt done his best,
he had made some awkward mistakes. Why David's sword appeared behind his
back the verger could not explain, so my brother suggested that either
the head or the body had been turned the wrong way about.

[Illustration: THE MANOR HOUSE, MANCETTER.]

There were five bells in the church tower, the largest of which was, of
course, the tenor bell, weighing thirty-three hundredweight, and the
words that had been cast on it set us a-thinking:

My soaring sound does warning give
That a man on earth not only lives.

There were usually some strange records in these country churchyards,
and we generally found them in the older portions of the burial-grounds;
but we had very little time to look for them as the night was coming on,
so we secured the services of the verger, who pointed out in the new
part of the churchyard a stone recording the history of Charles Richard
Potter in the following words:

Born - May 11, 1788.
Married - May 11, 1812.
Died - May 11, 1858.

So the eleventh day of May was a lucky or an unlucky day for Mr.
Potter - probably both; but one strange feature which we only thought of
afterwards was that he had lived exactly the allotted span of three
score years and ten. In the old part of the yard were the following
epitaphs:

The Earth's a City
Full of crooked streets
Death is ye market-place
Where all must meet
If life was merchandise
That man could buy
The rich would always live
Ye poor must die.

In bygone times it was no unusual thing to find dead bodies on the road,
or oftener a short distance from it, where the owners had laid
themselves down to die; we ourselves remembered, in a lonely place, only
a field's breadth from the coach road to London, a pit at the side of
which years ago the corpse of a soldier had been found in the bushes.
Here, apparently, there had been a similar case, with the exception that
the man had been found by the side of the Watling Street instead of the
fields adjoining. No one in the district knew who the stranger was, but
as sufficient money had been found on him to pay the cost of the burial,
his corpse was placed in Mancetter Churchyard, and as his name was
unknown, some mysterious initials, of which no one now living knew the
meaning, appeared on the headstone.

Here lieth interr'd the Body of
I.

H. I. M.

What Ere we was or am
it matters not
to whom related,
or by whom begot,
We was, but am not.
Ask no more of me
'Tis all we are
And all that you must be.

We now hurried on, but as every finger-post had been painted white to
receive the new letters, the old words beneath the paint were quite
illegible, and, the road being lonely, of course we got lost, so,
instead of arriving at Nuneaton, we found ourselves again at the Watling
Street, at a higher point than that where we had left it when leaving
Atherstone. Nearly opposite the lane end from which we now emerged there
was a public-house, set back from the road, where a sign, suspended from
a pole, swung alongside the Watling Street to attract the attention of
travellers to the inn, and here we called to inquire our way to
Nuneaton. The name of the house was the "Royal Red Gate Inn," the pole
we had seen on the Watling Street holding a wooden gate painted red. We
asked why the red gate was a royal one, and the landlady said it was
because Queen Adelaide once called there, but who Queen Adelaide was,
and when she called there, she did not know. When asked what she called
for, she replied, "I don't know, unless it was for a drink!" As we did
not know who Queen Adelaide was ourselves, we had to wait until we
reached Nuneaton, where we were informed that she was the wife of
William IV, and that in her retirement she lived at Sudbury Hall in
Derbyshire, so this would be on her coach road to and from London. The
lane at one end of the Red Gate went to Fenney Drayton, where George Fox
the Quaker was born, about whom we had heard farther north; but we had
to push on, and finally did reach Nuneaton for the night.

_(Distance walked twenty-seven miles_.)


_Thursday, November 2nd._

In our early days we used to be told there was only one man in
Manchester, which fact was true if we looked at the name; in the same
way we were told there was but one nun in Nuneaton, but the ruins of the
nunnery suggested that there must have been quite a number there in the
past ages. We had seen many monasteries in our travels, but only one
nunnery, and that was at York; so convent life did not seem to have been
very popular in the North country, the chorus of a young lady's song of
the period perhaps furnishing the reason why:

[Illustration: "GEORGE ELLIOT."]

Then I won't be a Nun,
And I shan't be a Nun;
I'm so fond of pleasure
That I _cannot_ be a Nun.

The nuns had of course disappeared and long since been forgotten, but
other women had risen to take their places in the minds and memories of
the people of Nuneaton, foremost amongst whom was Mary Ann Evans, who
was born about the year 1820 at the South Farm, Arbury, whither her
father, belonging to the Newdegate family, had removed from Derbyshire
to take charge of some property in Warwickshire. "George Eliot" has been
described as "the greatest woman writer in English literature," and as
many of her novels related mainly to persons and places between Nuneaton
and Coventry, that district had been named by the Nuneaton people "The
Country of George Eliot." _Scenes of Clerical Life_ was published in
1858, and _The Mill on the Floss_ in 1860, and although the characters
and places are more difficult to locate than those in _Adam Bede_, the
"Bull Hotel" at Nuneaton has been identified as the "Red Lion" in her
novel, where Mr. Dempster, over his third glass of brandy and water,
would overwhelm a disputant who had beaten him in argument, with some
such tirade as: "I don't care a straw, sir, either for you or your
encyclopædia; a farrago of false information picked up in a cargo of
waste paper. Will you tell me, sir, that I don't know the origin of
Presbyterianism? I, sir, a man known through the county; while you, sir,
are ignored by the very fleas that infest the miserable alley in which
you were bred!"

[Illustration: SOUTH FARM, ARBURY, THE BIRTHPLACE OF "GEORGE ELIOT"]

We left the "Newdegate Arms" at Nuneaton early in the morning, on our
way to Lutterworth, our next object of interest, and passed by the
village of Hartshill, where Michael Drayton was born in 1563. He was a
lyric poet of considerable fame and a friend of Shakespeare. His
greatest work, _Polyolbion_, a poetic description of different parts of
England, was published in 1613. He became Poet Laureate, and at his
death, in 1631, was buried in Westminster Abbey.

We again went astray owing to the finger-posts being without names, but
at length reached the Watling Street at cross-roads, where there was a
very old public-house called "The Three Pots," and here we turned to the
right along the Street. The road was very lonely, for there were very
few houses on the Street itself, the villages being a mile or two away
on either side, but we had not gone very far before we met a Church of
England clergyman, who told us he had just returned from India, and that
he would much have liked to form one of our company in the journey we
were taking. He was sorry he had not met us lower down the road so that
he could have detained us a short time to listen to some of our tales of
adventures, and he would have given us a glass of beer and some bread
and cheese; which he altered to milk and eggs when we told him we did
not drink beer. We explained to him that we should never be able to
complete our journey if we joined the company of the beer-drinkers at
the many taverns we passed, and lingered at, on our way. Our experience
was that we were expected to tell tales, and the farther we travelled
the more we should have had to tell. He quite saw the force of our
argument, and then he said: "I presume you are not married," and when we
told him we were not, he said, "I thought not, as you would never have
been allowed to engage in so long a journey," and added, "I am just
about to be married myself." We told him we were sorry he was about to
lose his liberty, and, wishing him much happiness, and again thanking
him for his proffered hospitality, we resumed our march.

[Illustration: HIGH CROSS, THE CENTRE OF ENGLAND.]

In passing through country villages we often met the local clergyman or
doctor, of whom we invariably inquired concerning any objects of
interest to be seen. It was marvellous how many of them expressed a wish
to imitate our example. This, however, was only on fine days, for we
seldom met those gentlemen when the weather was bad, and we wondered
whether, if we had, they would still have expressed a wish to form one
of our company! Fine weather prevailed that day, and we soon arrived at
the High Cross which marked the Roman centre of England. It was at this
point that their most celebrated roads, the Fosse Way and the Watling
Street, crossed each other, running, we supposed, from north-east to
south-west and from north-west to south-east, to the extreme ends of the
kingdom in each direction. The Cross in the time of the Romans was made
of wood, being replaced or renewed in successive generations, until in
the middle of the seventeenth century it was utilised as a finger-post,
consisting of a long pole with four arms, to direct the way from "London
to West Chester," and from "York to Bristol." In 1712 an ornamental
stone cross was erected on the same spot by a number of gentlemen headed
by Basil, the fourth Earl of Denbigh, who had large estates in that
neighbourhood. The tableland on which it stood was 440 feet above the
sea-level, rivers running from it in every direction, and such was the
extent of the country visible from the Cross that with the aid of a
telescope fifty-six churches could be seen. This elevated position might
account for the Cross being struck by lightning in 1791 and partially
destroyed, but the inscriptions on the base, which had been left
standing, were still visible, although partially obscured by the
numerous names and initials of vandals, who have succeeded in closing
many interesting places to more civilised and sensible people. We could
perhaps go further and describe them as fools, for what will it matter
to posterity what their initials or names are; they only rouse the ire
of those who follow them and a feeling of disappointment that they had
not caught the offenders in their act of wanton mischief and been able
to administer some corporal punishment or other.

Years ago the benevolent owner of a fine estate situated near a town
decided to open his beautiful grounds to his poorer neighbours, but
before doing so he erected at the entrance gate two large wooden
tablets resembling the two tablets of the Ten Commandments formerly
fixed in churches but now rapidly disappearing, and on these he caused
his conditions and desires to be painted in poetry, four verses on each
tablet. They represent what most landowners desire but few obtain:

I

No chief to enter at this gate
To wander through this fine estate;
The owner of this ancient Hall
A kindly welcome bids to all:
Yet hopes that no one will neglect
The following wishes to respect.

II

When in the meadows grown for hay.
Keep to the Drive or right of way.
Fright not the cattle on the lea
Nor damage flower nor shrub nor tree;
And let no vestiges be found
Of paper, scattered o'er the ground.

III

One more request will sure suffice:
From carving any rude device
Refrain! and oh let no one see
Your name on post, or bridge or tree.
Such were the act of fool, whose name
We fear can ne'er descend to fame.

IV

Your olive-branches with you take,
And let them here their pastime make.
These scenes will ever seem more fair
When children's voices fill the air:
Or bring, as comrade in your stroll,
Your Dog, if under due control.

V

If, to the gentle art inclined,
To throw a fly you have a mind.
Send in your card and state your wish
To be allowed to catch a fish:
Or if the woodland to explore,
Pray seek permission at the door.

VI

These boons are granted not quite free,
Y'et for a very moderate fee;
Nor fear but what it is ordained
That all the money thus obtained
Shall to the fund be handed down
For aid to sick in yonder Town.

VII

The owner of this blest domain
Himself to sojourn here is fain;
And if by land or sea he roam
Yet loveth best his native home,
Which, for two centuries or near,
His ancestors have held so dear.

VIII

Admire well the graceful art
Of Nature's hand in every part:
Full well he knoweth how to prize
This fair Terrestrial Paradise;
And 'tis his wish sincere and true
That others should enjoy it too.

But to return to the High Cross and the Watling Street. The description
on the Cross was in Latin, of which the following is a translation:

The noblemen and gentry, ornaments of the counties of Warwickshire
and Leicestershire at the instance of the Right Honourable Basil Earl
of Denbigh, have caused this pillar to be erected in grateful as well
as perpetual remembrance of peace at last restored by her Majesty
Queen Anne. If, Traveller, you search for the footsteps of the
ancient Romans you may here behold them. For here their most
celebrated ways crossing one another extend to the utmost boundaries
of Britain. Here the Bennones kept their quarters and at the distance
of one mile from here Claudius, a certain commander of a Cohort,
seems to have had a camp towards the Street, and towards the Fosse a
tomb.

We were pleased to see that the remains of the Cross had been enclosed
in the garden of a house belonging to the Earl of Denbigh, a descendant
of the Earl who had been instrumental in building it, and it was now
comparatively safe from further defacement.

The Romans built stations along their roads, and near the High Cross
stood their military station Bennones, on the side of which many Roman
remains, including a Roman urn, had been discovered. It was of great
importance to them that any hostile movement amongst the turbulent
Britons should be reported immediately, so young men who were quick
runners were employed to convey intelligence from one station to
another; but this system was improved upon later by building on the side
of the road, in as prominent a position as possible, at intervals of
five or six miles, a house where forty horses were stabled so that news
or soldiers could, if required, be carried by relays of horses a
distance of a hundred miles along the road in the course of a single
day. We were now only about twelve miles from Leicester, and we had to
walk about six miles in that county in order to reach Lutterworth,
famous throughout England as the parish where the great Reformer John
Wiclif spent the last nineteen years of his life as rector. We passed
through a fine grazing and fox-hunting country on our way, and found
Lutterworth a rather pleasantly situated little town. Our first visit
was naturally to the church, and as we walked along the quiet street
leading up to it we saw a woman standing at her cottage door, to whom
we spoke concerning the great divine, asking incidentally how long it
was since he was rector there. She said she did not know exactly, but as
far as she could remember she thought it was about 146 years since he
died. On arriving at the church we found that it was about 487 years
since Wiclif departed, and we thought it strange that a lady who lived
almost under the shadow of the church steeple could have been so
ill-informed. The church had recently been restored, and a painting of
the Day of Doom, or Judgment, had been discovered over the arch of the
chancel under the whitewash or plaster, which we were told Oliver
Cromwell had ordered to be put on. At the top of this picture our
Saviour was represented as sitting on a rainbow with two angels on each
side, two of whom were blowing trumpets, and on the earth, which
appeared far down below, the graves were opening, and all sorts of
strange people, from the king down to the humblest peasant, were coming
out of their tombs, while the fire and smoke from others proclaimed the
doom of their occupants, and skulls and bones lay scattered about in all
directions.

[Illustration: JOHN WICLIF. _From the portrait in Lutterworth Church_]

It was not a very pleasant picture to look upon, so we adjourned to the
vestry, where we were shown a vestment worn by Wiclif in which some
holes had been cut either with knives or scissors. On inquiry we were
informed that the pieces cut out had been "taken away by visitors,"
which made us wonder why the vestment had not been taken better care of.
We were shown an old pulpit, and the chair in which Wiclif fell when he
was attacked by paralysis, and in which he was carried out of church to
die three days afterwards. We could not describe his life and work
better than by the inscription on the mural monument subscribed for in
1837:

Sacred to the Memory of John Wiclif the earliest Champion of
Ecclesiastical Reformation in England. He was born in Yorkshire in
the year 1324, and in the year 1375 he was presented to the Rectory
of Lutterworth. At Oxford he acquired not only the renown of a
consummate Schoolman, but the far more glorious title of the
Evangelical Doctor. His whole life was one perpetual struggle against
the corruptions and encroachments of the Papal Court and the
impostures of its devoted auxiliaries, the Mendicant Fraternities.
His labours in the cause of Scriptural truths were crowned by one
immortal achievement, his Translation of the Bible into the English
tongue. This mighty work drew on him, indeed, the bitter hatred of
all who were making merchandise of the popular credulity and
ignorance, but he found abundant reward in the blessing of his
countrymen of every rank and age, to whom he unfolded the words of
Eternal Light. His mortal remains were interred near this spot, but
they were not allowed to rest in peace. After a lapse of many years
his bones were dragged from the grave and consigned to the flames;
and his ashes were cast in the waters of the adjoining stream.

That he was a man of distinction may be taken for granted, as he was
master of that famous college at Oxford, Balliol College, where his
picture hangs in the dining-hall to-day.

When in Lichfield Cathedral, where we saw Chantrey's monument of Bishop
Ryder, we had omitted to ask for particulars about him, but here we were
told that he was appointed Rector of Lutterworth in 1801, and had been a
benefactor to the town. He was made Canon of Windsor in 1808, Dean of
Wells 1812, Bishop of Gloucester 1815, and finally became Bishop of
Lichfield and Coventry. He died at Hastings in 1836, and as Chantrey
himself died in 1841, his monument of Bishop Ryder, that had impressed
us so deeply, must have been one of his latest and best productions.

[Illustration: LUTTERWORTH CHURCH]

Lutterworth was the property of William the Conqueror in 1086, and it
was King Edward III who presented the living to Wiclif, who was not only
persecuted by the Pope, but also by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the
Bishop of London. On two occasions he had to appear before the Papal
Commission, and if he had not been the personal friend of John o' Gaunt,
Duke of Lancaster, the fourth son of the King Edward who had given him
the living, and probably the most powerful man in England next to the
king, he would inevitably have suffered martyrdom. He was equally
fortunate in the following reign, as John o' Gaunt was uncle to Richard
II, the reigning monarch, under whose protection he was spared to finish
his great work and to translate the Holy Bible so that it could be read
in the English language.

We went to see the bridge which crossed the small stream known as the
River Swift, for it was there that Wiclif's bones were burned and the
ashes thrown into the stream. The historian related that they did not
remain there, for the waters of the Swift conveyed them to the River
Avon, the River Avon to the River Severn, the Severn to the narrow seas,
and thence into the wide ocean, thus becoming emblematic of Wiclif's
doctrines, which in later years spread over the wide, wide world.

A well-known writer once humorously observed that the existence of a
gallows in any country was one of the signs of civilisation, but
although we did not see or hear of any gallows at Lutterworth, there
were other articles, named in the old books of the constables, which
might have had an equally civilising influence, especially if they had
been used as extensively as the stocks and whipping-post as recorded in
a list of vagrants who had been taken up and whipped by Constables
Cattell and Pope, from October 15th, 1657, to September 30th, 1658. The
records of the amounts paid for repairs to the various instruments of
torture, which included a lock-up cage for prisoners and a cuck, or
ducking-stool, in which the constables ducked scolding wives and other
women in a deep hole near the river bridge, led us to conclude that they
must have been extensively used.

A curious custom prevailed in Lutterworth in olden times. There were two
mills on the River Swift, and the people were compelled to grind all
their malt at one mill and all their corn at another, and to bake all
their bread in one oven; in those "days of bondage" a person durst not
buy a pound of flour from any other miller. These privileges were abused
by the millers to make high charges, and it was on record that a person
who ventured to bake a cake in his own oven was summoned, but discharged
on his begging pardon and paying expenses. This unsatisfactory state of
things continued until the year 1758, when a rebellion arose headed by a
local patriot named Bickley. This townsman roused his fellow-citizens to
resist, and built a malthouse of his own, his example being soon
followed by others, who defied the owner of the privileged mill, and
entered into a solemn bond to defend any action that might be brought
against them. The contest was one of the most interesting and remarkable
ever known in the district, and was decided at the Leicester Assizes in
July 1758, the verdict being in favour of the parishioners, with costs
to the amount of £300. One of the greatest curiosities to be seen in
Lutterworth was an old clock which was there in 1798, and still remained
in good working order; the description of it reads as follows:

The case is of mahogany; and the face is oval, being nineteen inches
by fifteen inches. The upper part exhibits a band of music,
consisting of two violins, a violoncello, a German flute, three vocal
performers, and a boy and girl; the lower part has the hour and
minutes indicated by neat gilt hands; above the centre is a moment
hand, which shows the true dead beat. On the right is a hand
pointing to - chimes silent - all dormant - quarters silent - all active;
to signify that the clock will perform as those words imply. On the
left is a hand that points to the days of the week, and goes round in
the course of seven days, and shifts the barrel to a fresh time at
noon and midnight. The clock strikes the hour, the four quarters, and
plays a tune three times over every three hours, either on the bells
alone, the lyricord, or on both together. Three figures beat exact
time to the music, and three seem to play on their instruments; and
the boy and the girl both dance through the whole if permitted. But
still, by a touch all are dormant, and by another touch all are in
action again. The lyricord will play either low or loud. The machine
goes eight days, either as a watch clock, quarter clock,
quarter-chime-clock or as a quarter chime lyrical clock. It will go
with any or all parts in action, or with any or all parts dormant. It
has four chime barrels, and plays sixty-five tunes, many of them in
two or three parts, on nineteen musical bells, and on the like number
of double musical wires. A child may do everything necessary to show
its varied and complicated action.



Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 39 of 66)