Robert Naylor.

From John O'Groats to Land's End online

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adventures, did his best to persuade us to stay; but our average must be
made up, and I particularly wanted to celebrate my birthday on the
following Sunday at Oxford.

It was quite dark as we crossed the river bridge on our way to Kineton,
ten miles distant, and we soon lost sight of the lights of Stratford; as
we left we could see the church being lit up for evening service. A man
on the bridge in directing us the way to Kineton told us we should pass
the park where "old Shakespeare stole the deer," and he seemed to think
he was a regular poacher there. We could not see the deer, but we heard
them as we passed alongside the park, the noise resembling that of a
pig, but not nearly so loud. We soon afterwards arrived at a fair-sized
village about half-way between Stratford and Kineton, where we recrossed
the river and, turning towards the right, walked along a lonely road for
an hour or two, until we reached Kineton, where we intended to stay the
night. We were, however, doomed to disappointment, for, as the railway
was being cut through there, the whole place was completely filled with
engineers and navvies, who had taken up all the accommodation. There was
not even a chair "to be let," so we were obliged to move on in the hope
that we might come to some house or village on the road where we could
obtain lodgings for the night. We had already walked thirty miles and
were sleepy and tired and could not walk quickly enough to keep
ourselves warm, for the night was damp with fog and very cold, and our
quick walk had caused us to perspire, so that we were now in what might
be termed a cold sweat, a danger to which we were often exposed during
these later stages of our long journey. Fortunately for us, however, the
cuttings from the sides of the hedges and ditches, which extended for
miles, had been tied in neat little bundles, possibly for sale, and
deposited on the sides of the road, and every now and then we set fire
to one of these and stayed a few minutes to warm ourselves, expecting
every moment to attract the attention of a policeman, and get ourselves
into trouble, but none appeared. The last quarter of the moon was now
due, and although we could not see it through the misty clouds overhead,
it lighted up the air considerably when it rose, so that we could then
see the fields on either side of the road, especially when we came to an
upward gradient. We gradually became conscious of what appeared to be a
great black cloud in front of us as we climbed up the road, and were
astonished when we perceived that instead of a cloud it was a tremendous
hill, towards which our road was leading us. We had been walking for
days through a level country, and did not expect to come to a hill like
this, and this strange and sudden development sharpened us up a little,
for we had only been walking at about the rate, including stoppages, of
one mile per hour, so we walked steadily up the hill, and presently came
in sight of some large trees, from which we knew that we were
approaching civilisation; we had not seen a single habitation or a
living being of any kind since leaving Kineton. On the other side of a
field to the left of our road we could see a rustic-looking shed which
we resolved to visit, so, climbing over the fence, we walked cautiously
towards it, and found it was an ancient store-shed for hay and straw. We
listened attentively for a few moments and, as there was no wind, we
could have heard the breathing of a man or of any large animal that
might have been sleeping there; but as all appeared quiet, we sat down
on the dry straw thankful to be able to rest our weary limbs if only for
a short time.

We had some difficulty in keeping ourselves awake, but we durst not go
to sleep as the night was so very cold, and there was a rough floor
immediately above us which had caused us some uneasiness. When we heard
the footsteps of some small animal creeping stealthily amongst the straw
over our heads, as if preparing to make a spring, we decided to evacuate
our rather eerie position. It might have been a rat or more likely a
cat, but as we did not care for the company of either of these animals,
we lost no time in regaining the road.

As we approached the top of the hill we came to some quaint-looking
houses, which appeared much too large for their occupiers to take in
visitors at that early hour of the morning, especially two tramps like
ourselves. We were almost sure that one of the houses was an inn, as it
had a sign on the wall, though too high up for us to read in the dark.
Presently we passed what appeared to be an old castle.

We could now only walk very slowly, or at a speed that my musical
brother described as about equivalent to the "Dead March in Saul," and
at seven o'clock in the morning reached the entrance to the town of
Banbury, exciting considerable curiosity among the men we met on the way
to their work in the country.

We called at the first respectable-looking inn that we came to, where
the mistress informed us we could not have two beds, "as the other
people hadn't got up yet," but a gentleman who had to leave early was
just getting up now, and we "could have his bed if we liked." We were
glad to accept the offer lest in going farther we might fare worse. We
could hear the gentleman's heavy footsteps on the floor above our heads,
and as soon as the room was prepared we got into the bed he had vacated,
which was still quite warm, extremely thankful to get in anywhere, and
in spite of the noises usual in inns on Saturday morning we "slept like
bricks" until eleven o'clock, the hour arranged for our "call."

(_Distance walked forty-two and a half miles_.)

_Saturday, November 4th._

[Illustration: EDGE HILL.]

We were quite surprised to find that the night before we had been
walking along the site of one of the most famous battles - because it was
the first - in the Great Civil War of the seventeenth century, named
after the strange hill we had walked over, and known to history as the
"Battle of Edge Hill." We learned that had we crossed it on a fine clear
day instead of in the dark we should have obtained a splendid view over
the shires of Warwick, Gloucester, and Worcester, and portions of other
counties besides. The hill itself stood in Warwickshire, but we had
crossed the boundary into Oxfordshire on our way to Banbury some time in
the early hours of the morning. The Royalist Army, under King Charles I,
had encamped a few miles from Banbury, when Prince Rupert sent the king
word that the army of the Parliament, under the command of the Earl of
Essex, had arrived at Kineton. The king's army had left Shrewsbury two
days before Essex's army departed from Worcester, and, strange as it
might appear, although they were only about twenty miles away from each
other at the start, they travelled almost side by side for ten days
without either army knowing the whereabouts of the other. The distance
between them was only six miles when the news reached the king, who,
although the day was then far advanced, resolved to give battle at
once. The Earl of Lindsey, who had acquired his military experience
fighting in the Low Countries, was General of the king's army, while the
king's nephew, Prince Rupert, the finest cavalry officer of his day,
commanded the Horse, Sir Jacob Astley the Foot, Sir Arthur Aston the
Dragoons, Sir John Heyden the Artillery, and Lord Bernard a troop of
Guards. The estates and revenues of this single troop were estimated to
be at least equal to those of all the members who, at the commencement
of the war, voted in both Houses of Parliament; so if money could have
won the battle, the king's army ought to have been victorious; the king,
moreover, had the advantage of a strong position, as his army was well
placed under the summit of the hill. The battle was fought on Sunday,
October 23rd, 1643, and resulted in a draw, and, though the armies stood
facing each other the next day, neither of them had the heart to take
the initiative or to fight again, for, as usual in such warfare, brother
had been fighting against brother and father against son; so Essex
retired to Warwick and the king to Oxford, the only town on whose
loyalty he could depend. But to return to the battle! The prayer of Sir
Jacob Astley, the Commander of the king's foot soldiers, has been
recorded as if it were one of the chief incidents on that unhappy day,
and it was certainly admirable and remarkable, for he said, "O Lord!
Thou knowest how busy I must be this day. If I forget Thee, do not Thou
forget me!" and then in place of the usual "Amen" he called out "March
on, boys!" Prince Rupert, with his dashing and furious charge, soon put
Essex's cavalry to flight, pursuing them for miles, while the right wing
was also driven back; but when the king's reserve, commanded by Sir John
Byron, saw the flight of both wings of Essex's army, they made sure that
the battle was won, and, becoming anxious for some share in the victory,
joined the others in their chase. Sir William Balfour, however, who
commanded Essex's reserve, seeing the advantage this afforded him,
wheeled about upon the Royal Infantry, now left without horse, and
dashed in amongst them, slaying right and left. Lindsay fell mortally
wounded, and was taken prisoner, and his son in trying to save him
shared the same fate, while the Royal Standard Bearer, Sir Edmund
Verney, was slain and the standard taken; but this was afterwards
recovered. When Rupert returned from his reckless chase, it looked more
like a defeat than a victory. Both armies had suffered severely, and
when Mr. Fisher, the Vicar of Kineton, was commissioned by Lord Essex to
number those killed on the side of the Parliament, he estimated them at
a little over 1,300 men, all of whom were buried in two large pits on
land belonging to what was afterwards known as Battle Farm, the
burial-places being known as the Grave Fields. As these were about
half-way between Radway and Kineton, we were quite near them when we
were lighting the fires on the sides of the road the night before, and
this may have accounted for the dreary loneliness of the road, as no one
would be likely to live on or near the fields of the dead if he could
find any more desirable place. It was at the village of Radway where
tradition stated the king and his sons breakfasted at a cottage in which
for many years afterwards the old table was shown to visitors on which
their breakfast stood, and it was on the hill near there where the
boy-princes, Charles and James, narrowly escaped being captured as they
were watching the battle that was being fought on the fields below.

We were in no hurry to leave Banbury, for we had not recovered from the
effects of our long walk of the previous day and night, and were more
inclined to saunter about the town than to push on. It is astonishing
how early remembrances cling to us in after life: we verily believed we
had come to Banbury purposely to visit its famous Cross, immortalised in
the nursery rhyme:

Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross,
To see a fine lady get on a white horse;
She's rings on her fingers and bells on her toes.
And she shall have music wherever she goes.

[Illustration: BANBURY CROSS.]

The rhyme must, like many others, have been of great antiquity, for the
old Cross of Banbury had been removed by the Puritans in the year 1602,
and its place taken by a much finer one, recently erected to commemorate
the marriage of the Emperor Frederick of Germany to the Princess Royal
of England. The fine lady and the white horse were also not to be found,
but we heard that the former was supposed to have been a witch, known as
the Witch of Banbury, while the white horse might have been an emblem of
the Saxons or have had some connection with the great white horse whose
gigantic figure we afterwards saw cut out in the green turf that covered
the white chalk cliffs of the Berkshire Downs. The nursery rhyme
incidentally recorded the fact that the steps at the base of the Cross
at Banbury were formerly used as a convenience to people in mounting on
the backs of their horses, and reminded us of the many isolated flights
of three or four stone steps we had seen on our travels, chiefly near
churches and public-houses and corners of streets, which had been used
for the same purpose, and pointed back to those remote times when people
rode on horseback across fields and swampy moors and along the
pack-horse roads so common in the country long before wheeled vehicles
came into common use.

We had eaten Eccles cakes in Lancashire, and Shrewsbury cakes in
Shropshire, and had walked through Scotland, which Robbie Burns had
described as -

The Land o' Cakes and brither Scots,

but we had never heard of Banbury cakes until we walked through the
streets of that town, and found that the making of these cakes formed
one of its leading industries. The cakes in Scotland were of a sterner,
plainer character than those farther south, the cakes at Banbury being
described as a mixture between a tart and a mince-pie. We purchased
some, and found them uncommonly good, so we stowed a few in our bags for
use on our way towards Oxford. This industry in Banbury is a very old
one, for the cakes are known to have been made there as far back as
1602, when the old Cross was pulled down, and are mentioned by Ben
Jonson, a great dramatist, and the friend of Shakespeare. He was Poet
Laureate from 1619, and had the honour of being buried in Westminster
Abbey. In his comedy _Bartholomew Fair_, published in 1614, he mentions
that a Banbury baker, whom he facetiously named Mr. "Zeal-of-the-Lord
Busy," had given up the making of these cakes "because they were served
at bridals and other profane feasts." This baker, we imagined, must have
been a Puritan, for from the reign of Queen Elizabeth to that of Charles
II Banbury had been noted for the large number of Puritans who lived
there, and for their religious zeal; they had even been accused of
altering the names of the staple industries of the town from "Cakes and
Ale" to "Cakes and Zeal," and were unpopular in some quarters, for
Braithwaite in his _Drunken Barnaby_ cuts at them rather savagely:

To Banbury came I, O profane one:
Where I saw a Puritane one
Hanging of his cat on Monday
For killing of a mouse on Sunday.

[Illustration: THE PURITAN.]

The Academy at Banbury was famous as the place where Dean Swift began
to write his famous satire entitled _Travels of Lemuel Gulliver_, the
reading of which had been one of the pleasures of our schoolboy days. He
was said to have copied the name from a tombstone in the churchyard.

There were several charming old gabled houses in the town, and in "Ye
Olde Reindeere Inn" was a beautiful room called the "Globe," a name
given it from a globular chandelier which once stood near the entrance.
This room was panelled in oak now black with age, and lighted by a lofty
mullioned window extending right across the front, while the plastered
ceiling was considered to be one of the finest in the county of Oxford.
In the High Street stood a very fine old house with, three gables
erected about the year 1600, on which was placed an old sun-dial that
immediately attracted our attention, for inscribed on it appeared the
Latin words, "Aspice et abi" ("Look and Go"), which we considered as a
hint to ourselves, and as the Old Castle had been utterly demolished
after the Civil War, and the fine old Parish Church, "more like a
cathedral than a church," blown up with gunpowder in 1740 "to save the
expense of restoring it," we had no excuse for staying here any longer,
and quickly left the town on our way to Oxford.

[Illustration: THE REINDEER INN, BANBURY. (Outside the Globe Room.)]

The Latin motto "Look and Go" reminded my brother of an old timber-built
mansion in Staffordshire which, as it stood near a road, everybody
stayed to admire, its architectural proportions being so beautiful. It
was said that when the fugitive King Charles was in hiding there he was
greatly alarmed at seeing a man on the road staring stedfastly at the
house, and as he remained thus for a considerable period, the king at
last exclaimed impatiently, "Go, knave, what lookest at!" Long after the
king had departed the owner of the house caused his words to be carved
in large characters along a great beam extending in front of the
mansion, which travellers in the present day still stay to admire,
though many take the words as being meant for themselves, and move on as
we did at Banbury, but perhaps more slowly and reluctantly.

We had the valley of the River Cherwell to our left, and at Deddington
we saw the site of the old castle from which Piers Gaveston, the unlucky
favourite of Edward II, was taken by the Earl of Warwick. He had
surrendered to "Joseph the Jew," the Earl of Pembroke, at Scarborough
on condition that the barons spared his life, but Warwick said he never
agreed to that, and as Gaveston had greatly offended him by nicknaming
him the "Black Hound" or the "Black Dog," he took him to Warwick Castle
and wreaked his venegance upon him by cutting off his head.

By what we called a "forced march" we arrived at the grounds of the
famous Palace of Woodstock, and were lucky in meeting with a woodman who
took us across the park, where we had a fine view of the monument, the
lake, and the magnificent Palace of Blenheim.

[Illustration: BLENHEIM PALACE.]

Woodstock is a place full of history and in a delightful position, with
woods still surrounding it as in the days of yore, when it was the abode
of kings and a royal residence. A witenagemot, or supreme council, was
held here by King Ethelred in the year 866, and Alfred the Great pursued
his literary work here by translating the _Consolations of Boethius_,
and in the grounds he had a deer-fold. In Domesday Book it is described
as a royal forest, and Henry I had an enclosure made in the park for
lions and other wild beasts, which he surrounded by a very high wall, in
which menagerie he placed the first porcupine ever seen in England,
presented to him by William de Montpellier. The country people at that
time imagined that the quills of the porcupine were weapons which the
animal could shoot at those who hunted it. Henry II resided at the
palace with the lady of his love, the Fair Rosamond. She was the second
daughter of Walter, Lord de Clifford, who built his castle on a cliff
overlooking a ford on the River Wye at Clifford in Herefordshire, and
his daughter Rosa-mundi (the rose of the world) was born there. She had
a local lover whom she discarded when Prince Henry appeared on the
scene, and finally Henry took her away to Woodstock, where he built
magnificent apartments for her and her children, the entrance to which
was through an intricate maze in the castle grounds. The rear of the
buildings adjoined the park, so that Rosamond and her children could
pass out at the back into the park and woods without being perceived
from the castle. Queen Eleanor was naturally jealous when she heard that
she had been superseded in the king's affections, and it was said she
tried all available means to discover the whereabouts of the Fair
Rosamond, but without success, until she contrived to fasten a thread of
silk to one of the king's spurs, which she afterwards followed in the
maze in the castle grounds to the point where it had broken off at the
secret entrance. She waited for her opportunity, and when the king was
away she had the trap-door forced open, and, taking a large bowl of
poison in one hand and a sharp dagger in the other, found Rosamond near
a well in the park and commanded her to end her life either with one or
the other. Rosamond took the poison, "and soe shee dyed," and the well
ever since has been known as Fair Rosamond's Well; we afterwards found
another well of the same name in Shropshire. She had two sons, one of
whom became the Earl of Salisbury and the other Archbishop of York; an
old ballad runs: -

But nothing could this furious queen
Therewith appeased bee:
The cup of deadlye poyson strong.
As she knelt on her knee,

She gave this comlye dame to drink,
Who took it in her hand;
And from her bended knee arose
And on her feet did stand.

And casting up her eyes to heaven,
She did for mercy calle;
And drinking up the poyson strong.
Her life she lost with-alle.

Edward III and his Queen Phillipa resided at Woodstock in the fourteenth
century, and it was here that the Black Prince, who figured so largely
in English history, was born. A nice little love story was connected
with their court. The king had a page and the queen had a damsel, who
fell deeply in love with each other, and whenever they got a chance
walked out in the beautiful park and woods which surrounded the castle,
where the young man made some poetry about the "Cuckoo and Nightingale,"
whose notes they so often heard amongst the sylvan beauties of
Woodstock. The king was pleased with the poetry, and the young page
became quite a favourite with him. He afterwards became known as the
"Father of English Poetry." His name was Chaucer, and he achieved
immortality by his "Canterbury Tales." He was not only successful in his
own love affairs, but assisted John o' Gaunt with his, and was
instrumental in obtaining for him the hand of Blanche of Lancaster, who
had inherited from her father, the Duke of Lancaster, an enormous
fortune, of which Kenilworth formed a part. Chaucer wrote an
allegorical history of that love story in his poem entitled "Chaucer's
Dream," and John o' Gaunt being a true friend, as was shown by his
protection of his friend John Wiclif, the great reformer, Chaucer had no
reason to regret the services he had rendered, for his fortunes rose
with those of John o' Gaunt, whose great power and wealth dated from the
marriage. Chaucer described Woodstock Park as being walled round with
green stone, and it was said to have been the first walled park in
England. Richard III held a tournament in it at Christmas 1389, at which
the young Earl of Pembroke was accidentally killed. Henry VII made
additions to the palace, and built the front gate-house in which his
granddaughter Elizabeth, afterwards Queen of England, was imprisoned by
command of her sister Mary, when she wrote with charcoal on one of the
window shutters:

Oh, Fortune, how thy restless wavering state,
Hath fraught with cares my troubled witt.
Witness this present prysoner, whither Fate
Could bear me, and the joys I quitt;
Thou causeth the guiltie to be loosed
From bonds wherein an innocent's inclosed,
Causing the guiltless to be straite reserved,
And freeing those that Death hath well deserved;
But by her malice can be nothing wroughte,
So God send to my foes all they have thought.

A.D. 1555 - Elizabeth, "Prisoner."

In Cromwell's time Woodstock suffered severely, and the castle was
defended for the king by a great warrior, Captain Samuel Fawcett, who
would have been buried beneath the ruins rather than surrender had not
the king ordered him to hand it over to the Parliament.

The manor and park continued to be vested in the Crown until the time of
Queen Anne, who bestowed it on her famous general, the Duke of
Marlborough, as a reward for his numerous victories abroad, so that he
might have a home worthy of him. The nation voted the successful soldier
half a million of money wherewith to build a magnificent palace to be
named after one of his greatest victories, and Blenheim was the result.

We were astonished at the enormous size of the mansion, in which, we
heard, many art treasures were stored, and the woodman told us that the
wall that enclosed the mansion and the park was more than eleven miles
long. A lofty column, with a statue of the great duke on the top, in the
garb of a Roman warrior, had been erected in the park, the base of which
monument was covered with inscriptions containing thousands of words,
including more names of battles won than we had seen on any monument
previously. The Battle of Blenheim was fought in 1704, and forms the
subject of Southey's well-known poem in which he describes old Kaspar
sitting before his cottage door on a summer evening after his day's work
was done, while his grandchildren, little Wilhelmine and her brother
Peterkin, were playing on the green before him. The children had found
something in the stream hard by, and had brought it to Kaspar to explain
to them what it was that they had found "that was so large and smooth
and round." We could almost imagine we could see old Kaspar taking it

Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 43 of 66)