Robert Naylor.

From John O'Groats to Land's End online

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years, for as early as 1727 the archives recorded that a watch-maker had
been appointed Mayor of Coventry, and for anything we knew the
manufacture of silk might have been quite as old an industry there; but
the competition of American and Swiss watches was making itself
seriously felt, and the Treaty with France which admitted French silks
into England, duty free, was still more disastrous, causing much
apprehension for the future prosperity of the "good old town."

We lost a little time before starting, as my brother had seen something
in a shop window that he wanted to buy, but having forgotten the exact
position of the shop, we had to search diligently until we found it. It
was quite an artistic bookmarker made of white silk, with ornamental
bordering in colours which blended sweetly, enclosing a scroll, or
unfolding banner, which only displayed one word at each fold:

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.

I never knew what became of that book-mark until years later, after he
was married, when I saw it in his family Bible, and then I could guess
where it had been in the interval. I noticed also that he began to
quicken his speed considerably, and to be inclined to walk farther each
day, his explanation being that we were obliged to make up for lost
time. I also noticed that he wrote more notes in his diary in shorthand,
his knowledge of which I envied. He said that before he started on the
journey he imagined he knew the history of England, but had now become
convinced that he had it all to learn, and he thought the best way to
learn it thoroughly was by walking from John o' Groat's to Land's End.


A story was once told of two commercial travellers who had travelled
extensively, and were asked to write down the prettiest road in all
England, and one of them wrote "from Kenilworth to Coventry" and the
other wrote "from Coventry to Kenilworth"! This was the road on which we
had now to walk to reach what was known as "Shakespeare's country."
There were many pretty roads in England, and although this road was very
fine, being wide and straight and passing through a richly wooded
country, we had seen many prettier roads as regarded scenery. We soon
arrived at the historical Castle of Kenilworth, which, judging from the
extent of its ruins and lofty towers, must at one time have been a
magnificent place. According to local history the castle was originally
built in the reign of Henry I, and at one time it was in the possession
of Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, who was born in 1206, and who
has been described as the "Father of English Parliaments." Henry
belonged to the Plantagenet family, the reigning house from Henry II in
1154 to Richard III, who was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field in
1485. The strangest history in that family appeared to be that of
Eleanor Plantagenet, the daughter of Henry II, who caused her to be
married when only four years old to the great Earl of Pembroke, who was
then forty, and who took her as a bride to his home when she was only
fourteen years old, leaving her a widow at sixteen. She was thrown into
such an agony of grief that she took a solemn vow in the presence of the
Archbishop of Canterbury never to marry again, but to become a bride of
Christ. Seven years afterwards, however, she returned to the Court of
her brother, who was then Henry III, and, meeting Simon de Montfort,
Earl of Leicester, the king's favourite, one of the most handsome and
accomplished of courtiers, to whom he had given Kenilworth Castle, the
widowed countess forgot her vow, and though solemnly warned by the
Archbishop of the peril of breaking her oath, Montfort easily persuaded
Henry to give him his sister in marriage. The king knew that both the
Church and the barons would be violently opposed to the match, and that
they could only be married secretly; so on one cold January morning in
1238 they were married in the king's private chapel at Windsor; but the
secret soon became known to the priests and the peers, and almost
provoked a civil war. The Princess Eleanor was not happy, as her
husband, who had lost the favour of her brother the king, was ultimately
killed in the cause of freedom, along with her eldest son, at the Battle
of Evesham. He was the first to create a Parliament.


In the year 1206 a festival was held at Kenilworth, attended by one
hundred knights of distinction, and the same number of ladies, at which
silks were worn for the first time in England, and in 1327 Edward II was
there compelled to sign his abdication in favour of his son. Kenilworth
Castle probably attained the zenith of its prosperity in the time of
Queen Elizabeth, who in 1563 conferred it upon her favourite, Robert
Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who entertained her there with great
magnificence on four different occasions, 1566, 1568, 1572, and 1575.
But the former glory of Kenilworth Castle had departed, and we only saw
it in the deplorable condition in which it had been left by Cromwell's
soldiers. They had dismantled the lofty towers, drained the lake,
destroyed the park, and divided the land into farms, and we looked upon
the ruins of the towers, staircases, doorways, and dungeons with a
feeling of sorrow and dismay. We could distinguish the great hall, with
its chimney-pieces built in the walls; but even this was without either
floor or roof, and the rest appeared to us as an unintelligible mass of
decaying stonework. And yet, about half a century before we made our
appearance at the ruins, a visitor arrived who could see through them
almost at a glance, and restored them in imagination to their former
magnificence, as they appeared in the time of Queen Elizabeth. He has
described the preparations for the great feast given in her honour in
1575 by the Earl of Leicester, and resuscitated the chief actors in that
memorable and magnificent scene. He was described as "a tall gentleman
who leaned rather heavily on his walking-stick," and although little
notice was taken of him at the time, was none other than the great Sir
Walter Scott, whose novel _Kenilworth_ attracted to the neighbourhood
crowds of visitors who might never have heard of it otherwise.

We had begun to look upon Sir Walter in the light of an old
acquaintance, once formed never to be forgotten, and admired his
description of Kenilworth Castle:

The outer wall of this splendid and gigantic structure inclosed seven
acres, a part of which was occupied by extensive stables, and by a
pleasure garden, with its trim arbours and parterres, and the rest
formed a large base-court, or outer yard, of the noble Castle. The
Lordly structure itself, which rose near the centre of this spacious
enclosure was composed of a huge pile of magnificent castellated
buildings, apparently of different ages, surrounding an inner court,
and bearing in the names of each portion attached to the magnificent
mass, and in the armorial bearings which were there blazoned, the
emblems of mighty chiefs who had long passed away, and whose history,
could Ambition have lent ear to it, might have read a lesson to the
haughty favourite who had now acquired and was augmenting the fair
domain. A large and massive Keep, which formed the Citadel of the
Castle, was of uncertain, though great antiquity. It bore the name of
Cæsar, perhaps from its resemblance to that in the Tower of London so
called. The external wall of this Royal Castle was on the south and
west sides adorned and defended by a Lake, partly artificial, across
which Leicester had constructed a stately bridge, that Elizabeth
might enter the Castle by a path hitherto untrodden. Beyond the Lake
lay an extensive Chase, full of red deer, fallow deer, roes, and
every species of game, and abounding with lofty trees, from amongst
which the extended front and massive towers of the Castle were seen
to rise in majesty and beauty.

The great feast provided by the Earl of Leicester in honour of the visit
of Queen Elizabeth to Kenilworth Castle in 1575 was of a degree of
magnificence rarely equalled either before or since, extending
continuously over the seventeen days of the queen's stay, beginning at
two o'clock, at which time the great clock at the castle was stopped and
stood at that hour until the Princess departed. The cost of these
ceremonies was enormous, the quantity of beer alone consumed being
recorded as 320 hogsheads.


Sir Walter describes the preparations for the feast and the
heterogeneous nature of the crowd of people who attended it. The
resources of the country for miles round were taxed to their utmost, for
not only the queen's purveyors, but the Earl of Leicester's household
officers had been scouring it in all directions to provide the necessary
viands and provisions. The services in this respect of all the leading
families had been requisitioned, and -

They took this opportunity of ingratiating themselves by sending
large quantities of provisions and delicacies of all kinds, with game
in huge quantities, and whole tuns of the best liquors, foreign and
domestic. Thus the high-roads were filled with droves of bullocks,
sheep, calves and hogs, and choked with loaded wains, whose
axle-trees creaked under their burdens of wine-casks and hogsheads of
ale, and huge hampers of grocery goods, and slaughtered game, and
salted provisions, and sacks of flour. Perpetual stoppages took place
as these wains became entangled; and their rude drivers, swearing and
brawling till their wild passions were fully raised, began to debate
precedence with their wagon-whips and quarter-staves, which
occasional riots were usually quieted by a purveyor, deputy-marshal's
man, or some other person in authority breaking the heads of both
parties. Here were, besides, players and mummers, jugglers and
showmen, of every description, traversing in joyous bands the paths
which led to the Palace of Princely Pleasure; for so the travelling
minstrels had termed Kenilworth in the songs which already had come
forth in anticipation of the revels, which were there expected. In
the midst of this motley show, mendicants were exhibiting their real
or pretended miseries, forming a strange though common contrast
betwixt the vanities and the sorrows of human existence. All these
floated along with the immense tide of population, whom mere
curiosity had drawn together; and where the mechanic, in his leathern
apron, elbowed the dink and dainty dame, his city mistress; where
clowns with hobnailed shoes were treading on the kibes of
substantial burghers and gentlemen of worship; and where Joan of the
dairy, with robust pace and red sturdy arms, rowed her way onwards,
amongst those prim and pretty moppets, whose sires were knights and
squires. The throng and confusion was, however, of a gay and cheerful
character. All came forth to see and to enjoy, and all laughed at the
trifling inconveniences which at another time might have chafed their
temper. Excepting the occasional brawls we have mentioned among that
irritable race the Carmen, the mingled sounds which arose from the
multitude were those of light-hearted mirth and tiptoe jollity. The
musicians preluded on their instruments - the minstrels hummed their
songs - the licensed jester whooped betwixt mirth and madness, as he
brandished his bauble - the morrice-dancers jangled their bells - the
rustics hallow'd and whistled - men laughed loud, and maidens giggled
shrill; while many a broad jest flew like a shuttle-cock from one
party to be caught in the air, and returned from the opposite side of
the road by another, at which it was aimed.


The arrival of the Queen, who had journeyed from Warwick Castle, had
been somewhat delayed, and the Guards had some difficulty in keeping the
course clear until she appeared with the lords and ladies who
accompanied her. It was dark when she approached the Castle, and
immediately there arose from the multitude a shout of applause, so
tremendously vociferous that the country echoed for miles around. The
Guards, thickly stationed upon the road by which the Queen was to
advance, caught up the acclamation, which ran like wildfire to the
castle, and announced to all within that Queen Elizabeth had entered the
Royal Castle of Kenilworth. The whole music of the castle sounded at
once, and a round of artillery, with a salvo of small arms, was
discharged from the battlements; but the noise of drums and trumpets,
and even of the cannon themselves, was but faintly heard amidst the
roaring and reiterated welcome of the multitude. As the noise began to
abate, a broad glare of light was seen to appear from the gate of the
park, and, broadening and brightening as it came nearer, advance along
the open and fair avenue that led towards the Gallery Tower, lined on
either hand by the retainers of the Earl of Leicester. The word was
passed along the lines, "The Queen! The Queen! Silence, and stand fast!"
Onward came the cavalcade, illuminated by 200 thick waxen torches, in
the hands of as many horsemen, which cast a light like that of broad day
all around the procession, but especially on the principal group, of
which the Queen herself, arrayed in the most splendid manner, and
blazing with jewels, formed the central figure. She was mounted on a
milk-white horse, which, she reined with peculiar grace and dignity, and
in the whole of her stately and noble carriage you saw the daughter of a
hundred kings.

[Illustration: KENILWORTH CASTLE IN 1871.]

Leicester, who glittered like a golden image with jewels and cloth of
gold, rode on her Majesty's right hand, as well in quality as her Host
as of her Master of the Horse. The black steed which he mounted had not
a single white hair on his body, and was one of the most renowned
chargers in Europe, having been purchased by the earl at large expense
for this royal occasion. As the noble steed chafed at the slow speed of
the procession, and, arching his stately neck, champed on the silver
bits which restrained him, the foam flew from his mouth and speckled his
well-formed limbs as if with spots of snow. The rider well became the
high place which he held and the proud animal which he bestrode, for no
man in England, or perhaps in Europe, was more perfect than Dudley in
horsemanship and all other exercises belonging to his rank. He was
bareheaded, as were all the courtiers in the train, and the red
torchlight shone upon his long curled tresses of dark hair and on his
noble features, to the beauty of which even the severest criticism could
only object the lordly fault, as it may be termed, of a forehead
somewhat too high. On that proud evening he wore all the graceful
solicitude of a subject, to show himself sensible of the high honour
which the Queen was conferring on him, and all the pride and
satisfaction which became so glorious a moment. The train, male and
female, who attended immediately upon the Queen's person, were of course
of the bravest and the fairest - the highest born nobles and the wisest
councellors of that distinguished reign, and were followed by a crowd of
knights and gentlemen. It was now the part of the huge porter, a man of
immense size, to deliver an address and drop his club and resign his
keys to give open way to the Goddess of the Night and all her
magnificent train, but as he was so overwhelmed with confusion of
spirit - the contents of one immense black jack of double ale - Sir Walter
only records the substance of what the gigantic warder ought to have
said in his address:

What stir, what turmoil, have we for the nones?
Stand back, my masters, or beware your bones!
Sirs, I'm a warder, and no man of straw,
My voice keeps order, and my club gives law.
Yet soft, - nay stay - what vision have we here?
What dainty darling this - what peerless peer?
What loveliest face, that loving ranks enfold.
Like brightest diamond chased in purest gold?
Dazzled and blind, mine office I forsake,
My club, my Key, my knee, my homage take.
Bright paragon, pass on in joy and bliss; -
Beshrew the gate that opes not wide at such a sight as this!

Elizabeth received most graciously the homage of the herculean porter
and then passed through the guarded tower amidst the sounds of trumpets
and other instruments stationed on the tower and in various parts of the
castle, and dismounted near Mortimer's Tower, which was as light as day
as she walked across the long bridge built especially for her and lit
with torches on either side. She had no sooner stepped upon the bridge
than a new spectacle was provided, for as soon as the music gave signal
that she was so far advanced, a raft on the lake, disposed as to
resemble a small floating island, illuminated by a great variety of
torches, and surrounded by floating pageants formed to represent
sea-horses, on which sat Tritons, Nereids, and other fabulous deities of
the seas and rivers, made its appearance upon the lake, and, issuing
from behind a small heronry where it had been concealed, floated gently
towards the farther end of the bridge. On the islet appeared a beautiful
woman, clad in a watchet-coloured silken mantle, bound with a broad
girdle, inscribed with characters like the phylacteries of the Hebrews.
Her feet and arms were bare, but her wrists and ankles were adorned with
gold bracelets of uncommon size. Amidst her long silky black hair she
wore a crown or chaplet of artificial mistletoe, and bore in her hand a
rod of ebony tipped with silver. Two nymphs attended on her, dressed in
the same antique and mystical guise. The pageant was so well managed
that the Lady of the Floating Island, having performed her voyage with
much picturesque effect, landed at Mortimer's Tower with her two
attendants, just as Elizabeth presented herself before that outwork. The
stranger then in a well-penned speech announced herself as that famous
Lady of the Lake renowned in the stories of King Arthur, who had nursed
the youth of the redoubted Sir Lancelot, and whose beauty had proved too
powerful both for the wisdom and the spells of the mighty Merlin. Since
that period she had remained possessed of her crystal dominions, she
said, despite the various men of fame and might by whom Kenilworth had
been successively tenanted. The Saxons, the Danes, the Normans, the
Saintlowes, the Clintons, the Montforts, the Mortimers, the
Plantagenets, great though they were in arms and magnificence, had
never, she said, caused her to raise her head from the waters which hid
her crystal palace. But a greater than all these great names had now
appeared, and she came in homage and duty to welcome the peerless
Elizabeth to all sport which the castle and its environs, which lake or
land, could afford! The queen received the address with great courtesy
and the Lady of the Lake vanished, and Arion, who was amongst the
maritime deities, appeared upon his dolphin in her place. But amidst all
this pageantry Sir Walter throws a side-light on Mervyn's Tower, where
we see a prisoner, a pale, attenuated, half dead, yet still lovely lady,
Amy Robsart, the neglected wife of Leicester, incarcerated there while
her husband is flirting with the queen in the gay rooms above. Her
features are worn with agony and suspense as she looks through the
narrow window of her prison on the fireworks and coloured fires outside,
wondering perhaps whether these were emblems of her own miserable life,
"a single spark, which is instantaneously swallowed up by the
surrounding darkness - a precarious glow, which rises but for a brief
space into the air, that its fall may be lower."


Sir Walter Scott described Kenilworth as "a place to impress on the
musing visitor the transitory value of human possessions, and the
happiness of those who enjoy a humble lot in virtuous contentment," and
it was with some such thoughts as these in our own minds that we hurried
away across fields and along lovely by-lanes towards Leamington, our
object in going there by the way we did being to get a view of the great
mansion of Stoneleigh, the residence of Lord Leigh, who was also a
landowner in our native County of Chester. It seemed a very fine place
as we passed through the well-wooded park surrounding it, and presently
reached his lordship's village of Ashow, where the old church, standing
on a small knoll at the end of the village, looked down upon the River
Avon below, which was here only a small stream. The roofs of many of the
cottages were thatched with straw, and although more liable to be set on
fire than those covered with the red tiles so common in the County of
Warwick, they looked very picturesque and had the advantage of not being
affected so much by extremes of temperature, being warmer in winter and
cooler in summer for those who had the good fortune to live under them.
We noticed several alms houses in the village, and near the smithy had a
talk with an old man who was interested to know that we came from
Cheshire, as he knew his lordship had some property there. He told us
that when a former Lord Leigh had died, there was a dispute amongst the
Leigh family as to who was the next owner of the estate, and about fifty
men came up from Cheshire and took possession of the abbey; but as the
verdict went against them they had to go back again, and had to pay
dearly for their trespass. He did not know where the Leighs came from
originally, but thought "they might have come from Cheshire," so we told
him that the first time they were heard of in that county was when the
Devil brought a load of them in his cart from Lancashire. He crossed
the River Mersey, which divided the two counties, at a ford near
Warrington, and travelled along the Knutsford road, throwing one of them
out occasionally with his pikel, first on one side of the road and then
on the other, until he had only a few left at the bottom of his cart,
and as he did not think these worth taking any farther, he "keck'd" his
cart up and left them on the road, so there were persons named Lee,
Legh, or Leigh living on each side of that road to the present day. The
old man seemed pleased with our story and grinned considerably, and no
doubt it would be repeated in the village of Ashow after we had left,
and might probably reach the ears of his lordship himself.

Two of the Lees that the Devil left on the road when he upset his cart
took possession of the country on either side, which at that time was
covered with a dense forest, and selected large oak trees to mark their
boundaries, that remained long after the other trees had disappeared.
But in course of time it became necessary to make some other distinction
between the two estates, so it was arranged that one landlord should
spell his name Legh and the other Leigh, and that their tenants should
spell the name of the place High Legh in one case and High Leigh in the
other, so that when name-plates appeared on carts, each landlord was
able to tell to which estate they belonged. There were many antiquities
in the country associated with his Satanic Majesty, simply because their
origin was unknown, such as the Devil's Bridge over which we had passed
at Kirkby Lonsdale, and the Devil's Arrows at Aldborough, and it was
quite possible that the remote antiquity of the Legh family might
account for the legend connected with them. There were several facts
connected with the Cheshire estate of the Leghs which interested us, the
first being that my grandfather was formerly a tenant on the estate, and
the squire had in his possession the rent rolls for every year since
about 1289. A fact that might interest ladies who are on the lookout for
a Mr. Wright is, that out of a hundred tenants on that estate at the
present day, twenty-seven householders bear the name of Wright.


But the strangest incident connected with High Legh was the case of a
young man who came from Scotland to work in the squire's gardens there.
He had attended Warrington Market, and was returning over the river
bridge when he stopped to look at a placard announcing a missionary
meeting to be held in the town that night. He decided to stay, although
he had quite seven miles to walk on his way home, and was so impressed
by what he heard that he decided to become a missionary himself, and

Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 41 of 66)