Robert Naylor.

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The maker was Mr. Deacon, a Baptist minister of Barton-in-the-Beans, who
began life as a farm boy when he was eleven years of age. A gentleman
happened to call on the farmer one evening and had some nuts given to
him, and as he could not crack them, one of the other servants said to
the boy, "Sam, bring the wooden nut-crackers you made!" When the boy
brought them, the visitor, after cracking a nut, examined them carefully
for some time, and was so struck with the ingenuity displayed in their
construction that he took the lad and apprenticed him to a clock-maker
in Leicester, where he became one of the cleverest workmen in the
kingdom, the most elaborate and curious piece of mechanism he made being
this wonderful clock.

We returned from Lutterworth by a different route, for we were now off
to see Peeping Tom at Coventry; but our experiments on the roads were
not altogether satisfactory, for we got lost in some by-roads where
there was no one to inquire from, and eventually reached the snug little
village of Monks Kirby. Here, according to the name of the village, we
should at one time have found a Danish settlement, and at another a
church belonging to the monks; but on this occasion we found a church
and a comfortable-looking inn opposite to it, where we called for an
early tea. This was quickly served and disposed of, and shortly
afterwards we reached, coming from the direction of the High Cross, the
Fosse, or Foss-way, one of the four great roads made by the Romans in
England, so named by them because there was a fosse, or ditch, on each
side of it. We walked along its narrow and straight surface until we
came to a road which crossed it, and here, about halfway between Rugby
and Coventry, we turned to the right, leaving the "fosse" to continue
its course across Dunsmore Heath, where in ancient times Guy, the famous
Earl of Warwick, slew the terrible Dun Cow of Dunsmore, "a monstrous
wyld and cruell beast." The village of Brinklow was now before us,
presenting a strange appearance as we walked towards it from the brook
below, for at the entrance stood a lofty mound formerly a Roman camp,
while behind it was a British tumulus. In the Civil War there was much
fighting all along the road from here to Coventry, and Cromwell's
soldiers had not left us much to look at in the church, as the windows
had all been "blown out" at that time, leaving only some small pieces of
stained glass. The church, however, was quite a curiosity, for it sloped
with the hill, and was many feet lower at the Tower end than at the
east. We walked along a rather steep inclined plane until we came to a
flight of four steps which landed us on the chancel floor, where another
inclined plane brought us up to the foot of the two steps leading to the
altar; we were told that there was only one other church built in such a
form "in all England." We were now well within the borders of the county
of Warwickshire, which, with the other two Midland Counties of
Worcestershire and Staffordshire, formerly contained more leading Roman
Catholic families than any other part of England, so we were not
surprised when we heard that we were passing through a country that had
been associated with the Gunpowder Plot, and that one incident connected
with it had occurred at Combe Abbey, which we would pass a mile or two
farther on our way. The originator of the Gunpowder Plot, Catesby, was
intimately connected with many of the leading families in these
counties, and was lineally descended from the Catesby of King Richard
III's time, whose fame had been handed down in the old rhyme:

The Rat, the Cat, and Lovel the Dog
Rule all England under the Hog.

the rat meaning Ratcliffe, the cat Catesby, and the hog King Richard,
whose cognisance was a boar. Robert Catesby, the descendant of the
"cat," was said to be one of the greatest bigots that ever lived; he was
the friend of Garnet, the Jesuit, and had been concerned in many plots
against Queen Elizabeth; when that queen died and King James, the son of
Mary Queen of Scots, ascended the throne, their expectations rose high,
for his mother had suffered so much from Queen Elizabeth that they
looked upon her as a martyr, and were sure that their form of religion
would now be restored. But great was their chagrin when they found that
James, probably owing to his early education under John Knox in
Scotland, was more ready to put the laws in force against the Papists
than to give them greater toleration.


Catesby and his friends resolved to try to depose James and to place the
Princess Elizabeth, daughter of James I, afterwards the beautiful Queen
of Bohemia, whom her royal parents had placed under the care of the Earl
of Harrington, then the owner of Combe Abbey, about five miles from
Coventry, on the throne in his stead. The conspirators assembled at
Dunchurch, near Rugby, but held their meetings about six miles away, in
a room over the entrance to the old Manor House at Ashby St. Ledgers,
the home of Catesby, where it was proposed to settle matters by blowing
up the Houses of Parliament. These were to be opened on November 5th,
1605, when the King, Queen, and Prince of Wales, with the Lords and
Commons, would all be assembled. In those days the vaults, or cellars,
of the Parliament House were let to different merchants for the storage
of goods, and one of these immediately under the House of Lords was
engaged and filled with some innocent-looking barrels, in reality
containing gunpowder, which were covered by faggots of brushwood. All
preparations were now completed except to appoint one of their number to
apply the torch, an operation which would probably involve certain
death. In the meantime Catesby had become acquainted with Guy Fawkes, a
member of an old Yorkshire family, and almost as bigoted a Papist as
himself, who had joined the conspirators at Dunchurch, the house where
he lodged being still known as Guy Fawkes' House, and when the question
came up for decision, he at once volunteered his services, as he was a
soldier and a brave man. They were accepted, and Sir Everard Digby was
to stay at Dunchurch in order to be ready to seize the young Princess
Elizabeth while the others went to London. It so happened that one of
the conspirators had a friend, Lord Monteagle, whom he knew would be
sure to attend the opening of Parliament, and as he did not want him to
be killed he caused an anonymous letter to be written warning him not to
attend the opening of Parliament, "for though there be no appearance of
any stir, yet I say they shall receive a terrible blow this Parliament,
and yet shall not see who hurts them." The letter was delivered to
Monteagle by a man in a long coat, who laid it on his table and
disappeared immediately. It was afterwards handed to King James, who,
after reading the last paragraph, repeated it aloud, "and yet they shall
not see who hurts them," and said to Cecil, "This smells gunpowder!"
Their suspicions were aroused, but they waited until midnight on
November 4th, and then sent soldiers well armed to search the vaults,
where they found a man with a long sword amongst the barrels. He fought
savagely, but was soon overpowered. When the conspirators found that
their plot had been discovered, and that Guy Fawkes was in custody,
instead of escaping to France as they might easily have done, they
hastened down to Dunchurch, "as if struck by infatuation," in the wild
hope of capturing the young Princess and raising a civil war in her
name; but by the time they reached Combe Abbey, the Earl of Harrington
had removed Elizabeth to Coventry, which at that time was one of the
most strongly fortified places in England. They now realised that their
game was up, and the gang dispersed to hide themselves; but when the
dreadful nature of the plot became known, it created such a profound
sensation of horror throughout the country, that every one joined in the
search for the conspirators, who in the end were all captured and
executed. Great rejoicings were held, bonfires lit, bells rung, and guns
fired in almost every village, and thereby the people were taught to -

Remember, remember, the Fifth of November
The Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot.

These celebrations have been continued on each fifth of November for
centuries, November 5th becoming known as "Bonfire Day." And in our Book
of Common Prayer there was a special service for the day which was only
removed in the time of Queen Victoria. Guy Fawkes was executed on
February 6th, 1606.

Fortunately for the Protestants the reign of the queen who was known by
them as the "Bloody Queen Mary" was of short duration, for they were
then subjected to very great cruelties; on the other hand there was no
doubt that during the much longer reign of Queen Elizabeth that
followed, the Papists also suffered greatly; still under James they were
now bound to suffer more in every way, short of death, for the great
mass of their fellow-countrymen had turned against them owing to the
murderous character of the Gunpowder Plot, so -

On Bonfire Day, as Britons should,
They heaped up sticks, and turf, and wood;
And lighted Bonfires bright and hot,
In memory of the Popish Plot!

We were ourselves greatly interested in November 5th, which was now due
to arrive in three days' time; not because some of our ancestors had
been adherents to the Roman Catholic Faith, nor because of the
massacres, for in that respect we thought one side was quite as bad as
the other; but because it happened to be my birthday, and some of our
earliest and happiest associations were connected with that day. I could
remember the time when a candle was placed in every available
window-pane at home on November 5th, and when I saw the glare of the big
bonfire outside and the pin-wheels, the rip-raps, and small fireworks,
and heard the church bells ringing merrily, and the sound of the guns
firing, I naturally thought as a child that all these tokens of
rejoicing were there because it was my birthday. Then the children from
the village came! first one small group and then another; these were the
"Soulers," or "Soul-Cakers," who ought to have appeared, according to
history, on All Souls' Day; they were generally satisfied with apples or
pears, or with coppers. The most mysterious visitor was the horse's
head, or hobby horse, which came without its body or legs, but could
make a noise just like the neighing of a horse, and could also open its
mouth so wide that a glass filled with beer could pass down its throat.
To complete the illusion we could hear its jaws, which were filled with
very large teeth, close together with a crack, and although the glass
was returned in some way or other, we never saw the beer again. The
horse's head was accompanied by a lot of men known as Mummers, dressed
in all sorts of queer clothes, who acted a short play, but the only
words I could remember were, "King George, King George, thou hast killed
my only son!" and at that point one of the actors fell on the grass as
if he were dead. But these were reveries of the past; when the spell
broke I found myself walking with my brother in the dark alongside the
grounds of Combe Abbey, the only lights we could see being some in the
park, which might have been those from the abbey itself. We were
expecting to come upon a private menagerie which was supposed to exist
somewhere in the park, and we had prepared ourselves for the roars of
the lions seeking their prey as they heard our footsteps on the road, or
for the horrid groans of other wild animals; but beyond a few minor
noises, which we could not recognise, all was quiet, and passing the
small village of Binley we soon arrived at Coventry, where we stayed for
the night at an ancient hostelry near the centre of the town.

St. George, the Patron Saint of England, who lived in the early part of
the fourth century, and was reckoned among the seven champions of
Christendom, was said to have been born in Coventry. In olden times a
chapel, named after him, existed here, in which King Edward IV, when he
kept St. George's Feast on St. George's Day, April 23rd, 1474, attended
service. Coventry was a much older town than we expected to find it,
and, like Lichfield, it was known as the city of the three spires; but
here they were on three different churches. We had many arguments on our
journey, both between ourselves and with others, as to why churches
should have towers in some places and spires in others. One gentleman
who had travelled extensively through Britain observed that towers were
more numerous along the sea coasts and on the borders of Wales and
Scotland, while spires were most in evidence in the low Midland plains
where trees abounded. In these districts it was important to have part
of the church standing out from the foliage, while on a hill or a bare
cliff a short tower was all that was needed. He actually knew more than
one case where the squires in recent times had a short spire placed on
the top of the church tower, like the extinguisher of an old
candlestick, because it was said they needed guide-posts by which to
find their way home from hunting!


In olden times, ere the enemy could approach the village, the cattle
were able to be driven in the church, while the men kept an easy
look-out from the tower, and the loopholes in it served as places where
arrows could be shot from safe cover. In some districts we passed
through we could easily distinguish the position of the villages by the
spires rising above the foliage, and very pretty they appeared, and at
times a rivalry seemed to have existed which should possess the loftiest
or most highly decorated spire, some of them being of exceptional
beauty. The parish churches were almost invariably placed on the highest
point in the villages, so that before there were any proper roads the
parishioners could find their way to church so long as they could see
the tower or spire, and to that position at the present day, it is
interesting to note, all roads still converge.

We had no idea that the story of Lady Godiva and Peeping Tom was so
ancient, but we found it dated back to the time of Leofric, Earl of
Mercia, who in 1043 founded an abbey here which was endowed by his wife,
the Lady Godiva. The earl, the owner of Coventry, levied very hard taxes
on the inhabitants, and treated their petitions for relief with scorn.
Lady Godiva, on the contrary, had moved amongst the people, and knew the
great privations they had suffered through having to pay these heavy
taxes, and had often pleaded with her husband on their behalf. At last
he promised her that he would repeal the taxes if she would ride naked
through the town, probably thinking his wife would not undertake such a
task. But she had seen so much suffering amongst the poor people that
she decided to go through the ordeal for their sakes, and the day was
fixed, when she would ride through the town. Orders were given by the
people that everybody should darken their windows and retire to the back
part of their houses until Lady Godiva had passed. All obeyed except one
man, "Tom the Tailor," afterwards nicknamed "Peeping Tom," who, as the
lady rode by on her palfrey, enveloped in her long tresses of hair,
which fell round her as a garment, looked down on her from his window,
and of him the historian related that "his eyes chopped out of his head
even as he looked." The ride ended, the taxes were repealed, and ever
afterwards the good Lady Godiva was enshrined in the hearts of the
people of Coventry. Many years later a beautiful stained-glass window
was placed in the Parish Church to commemorate this famous event, and
Leofric was portrayed thereon as presenting Godiva with a charter
bearing the words:

I Luriche for love of thee
Doe make Coventry toll free.

[Illustration: THOMAS PARR =_The Olde, Old, very Olde Man or Thomas Par,
the Sonne of John Parr of Winnington in the Parish of Alberbury. In the
County of Shropshire who was Borne in 1483 in The Raigne of King Edward
the 4th and is now living in The Strand, being aged 152 yeares and odd
Monethes 1635 He dyed November the 15th And is now buryed in Westminster

This story Tennyson has immortalised, and its memory is still
perpetuated in the pageants which are held from time to time in the
city. Coventry was described in 1642 by Jeremiah Wharton, an officer
under the Earl of Essex in the Parliamentary Army, as "a City environed
with a wall, co-equal with, if not exceeding, that of London, for
breadth and height, and with gates and battlements, and magnificent
churches and stately streets, and abundant fountains of water,
altogether a place very sweetly situated, and where there was no lack of
venison." The walls of Coventry, begun in the year 1355, were very
formidable, being six yards high and three yards thick, and having
thirty-two towers and twelve principal gates. They defied both Edward IV
and Charles I when with their armies they appeared before them and
demanded admission, but they were demolished after the Civil War by
order of Charles II, because the people of Coventry had refused
admission to his father, King Charles I. Coventry possessed a greater
number of archives than almost any other town in England, covering eight
centuries and numbering over eleven thousand. My brother was delighted
to find that one of them related to a very old man named Thomas Parr,
recording the fact that he passed through the town on his way to London
in 1635, at the age of 152 years. It reminded him of a family medicine
known as Old Parr's Pills, which at one time was highly prized; they had
been used by our grandfather, who died in his ninety-seventh year, and
he often wondered whether his longevity was in any way due to those
pills. They were supposed to have been made from the same kind of herbs
as old Parr was known to have used in his efforts to keep himself alive,
and during supper my brother talked about nothing else but that old man;
if he was an authority on anything, it was certainly on old Thomas Parr.
This man was born on the Montgomery border of Shropshire, where a tablet
to his memory in Great Wollaston Church bore the following inscription:

The old, old, very old man


was born at Wynn in the Township of Winnington
within the Chapelry of Great Wollaston, and Parish of
Alberbury, in the County of Salop, in the year of our
Lord 1483. He lived in the reigns of 10 Kings and
Queens of England, King Edward IV. and V. Richard III.
Henry VII. VIII. Edward VI. Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth.
King James I. King Charles I.
He died the thirteenth and was buried at
Westminster Abbey on the fifteenth November 1635
Age 152 years and 9 months.

John Taylor, known as the Water Poet because he was a Thames waterman,
who was born in 1580, and died in 1656, was a contemporary of Parr, and
wrote a book in 1635, the same year that old Parr died, entitled _The
Olde, Olde, very Olde Man_, in which he described Thomas Parr as an
early riser, sober, and industrious:

Though old age his face with wrinkles fill.
He hath been handsome and is comely still;
Well-faced, and though his Beard not oft corrected
Yet neate it grows, not like a Beard neglected.

Earl Arundel told King Charles I about this very old man, and he
expressed a desire to see him; so the earl arranged to have him carried
to London. When the men reached old Parr's cottage, which is still
standing, they found an old man sitting under a tree, apparently quite
done. Feeling sure that he was the man they wanted, they roused him up,
and one said, "We have come for you to take you to the King!" The old
man looked up at the person who spoke to him, and replied, "Hey, mon!
it's not me ye want! it's me feyther!" "Your father!" they said, in
astonishment; "where is he?" "Oh, he's cuttin' th' hedges!" So they went
as directed, and found a still older man cutting away at a hedge in the
small field adjoining the cottage, and him they took, together with his
daughter, for whom the earl had provided a horse. Musicians also went
with him, and it was supposed that he was exhibited at the different
towns they called at on their way to London, and such was the crush to
see him in Coventry that the old man narrowly escaped being killed. When
he was taken into the presence of King Charles, the king said, "Well,
Parr, you've lived a long time," and Parr answered, "Yes I have, your
Majesty." "What do you consider the principal event in your long life?"
asked the king, to which Parr replied that he hardly knew, but mentioned
some offence which he had committed when he was a hundred years old, and
for which he had to do penance in Alberbury Church, with the young woman
sitting beside him barefooted, and dressed in white clothing! Whereupon
King Charles said, "Oh, fie, fie, Parr, telling us of your faults and
not your virtues!"

[Illustration: OLD PARR'S COTTAGE.]

Parr was fêted in London to such an extent that he died of surfeit, and
was buried in the Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey, where his
tombstone still exists, and is inscribed:

Thomas Parr of Y'E County of
Sallop Borne in A'P 1483. He lived
in Y'E Reignes of Ten Princes VIZ: -
K. Edw. 4. K. Edw. 5. K. Rich. 3.
K. Hen. 7. K. Hen. 8. K. Edw. 6.
Q. Ma. Q. Eliz. K. Ja. & K. Charles
Aged 152 Years
& was buried Here
Novemb. 15. 1635.

His portrait was painted by Van Dyck, who at that time was the Court
painter of King Charles I, and there were other oil paintings of him in
various places in England and abroad.

(_Distance walked thirty-one miles_.)

_Friday, November 3rd._


Our hotel was quite near the Coventry Parish Church dedicated to St.
Michael, which was said to be the largest parish church in England, so
we went out early this morning to visit it. We found it to be a very
fine church, and in it we saw some workmen erecting a beautiful
stained-glass window in which they had already placed the likeness of
two saints, one of whom was St. Ambrose. We wondered why they should be
putting such images in what we supposed to be the Reformed Church of
England. The men told us we should find a very fine stained-glass window
across the way in St. Mary's Hall, which had been erected in the time of
Henry VI, and was originally the work of John Thornton of Coventry, who
also had charge of the erection of the famous east window we had already
seen in York Minster. We only saw the exterior of the windows in St.
Mary's Hall, as we could not find any door that was open, so we hurried
away to form the acquaintance of "Peeping Tom," whose image we had come
so many miles to see. We found him high up on a corner of a street as if
looking down on the passers-by below. The building in which he appeared
was doing duty as a public-house, so we went in and saw the landlord, to
whom we explained the nature of our visit and journey, and he kindly
conducted us up the steps to the small room at the top of the house
where Peeping Tom was to be seen. He was a repulsive-looking image of
humanity, made of wood, without arms, and with a hideous face; how long
he had occupied his present position no one knew, but as we had seen
images of wood made hundreds of years ago, we were willing to suppose
that he was a relic of antiquity. Photography at the time of our visit
was only in its infancy, but small cards, 4 inches long by 2-1/2 inches
wide, with photographic views on them, were beginning to make their
appearance - picture postcards being then unknown. On our tour we
collected a number of these small cards, which were only to be found in
the more populous places. In our case we were able to get one at
Coventry of Peeping Tom, a facsimile of which we here produce. We did
not stay long in his company, for we looked upon him as an ugly and
disreputable character, but hurried back to our hotel for a good
breakfast before starting on our walk to the country of Shakespeare.


[Illustration: PEEPING TOM.]

The dull days of November were now upon us, which might account to some
extent for the sleepy appearance of the old town of Coventry; but it
appeared that underlying all this was a feeling of great depression
caused by the declining state of its two staple industries - watches and
silk. The manufacture of watches had been established here for many

Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 40 of 66)