Robert Naylor.

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assistance, so it still remained the property of the College!


Magdalen College - or Maudlen, as they pronounced it at Oxford - as easily
distinguished from the others by its fine tower, rising to the height of
145 feet, the building of which dates from the end of the fifteenth
century. We took a greater interest in that college because the rector
of Grappenhall in Cheshire, where we were born, had been educated there.
An ancient May-day custom is still observed by the college, called the
"Magdalen Grace" or the "May Morning Hymn," this very old custom having
been retained at Magdalen long after others disappeared. On May-day
morning the choristers ascend to the top of the great tower and enter
the portion railed off for them and other men who join in the singing,
while the remainder of the space is reserved for members of the
University, and other privileged persons admitted by ticket. They wait
until the bell has sounded the last stroke of five o'clock, and then
sing in Latin that fine old hymn to the Trinity, beginning with the

Te Deum patrem colimus.

My brother, however, was sure our rector could never have sung that
hymn, since in cases of emergency he always appealed to him to start the
singing in the Sunday school - for although a very worthy man in other
respects, he was decidedly not musical.

Among the great Magdalen men of the past are the names of Cardinal
Wolsey, Cardinal Reginald Pole, Addison, Gibbon, Collins, Wilson, John
Hampden, and John Foxe, author of the _Book of Martyrs_. The
ecclesiastical students included two cardinals, four archbishops, and
about forty bishops; and my brother would have added to the Roll of
Honour the name of our rector, the Rev. Thomas Greenall, as that of a
man who conscientiously tried to do his duty and whom he held in lasting

[Illustration: AN OXFORDSHIRE FARM.]

There was a kind of haze hanging over Oxford, which gave me the
impression that the atmosphere of the neighbourhood was rather damp,
though my brother tried to persuade me it was the mist of antiquity; but
when I found the rivers Thames (or Isis) and the Cherwell encircled the
city on three sides, and that its name was derived from a passage over
which oxen could cross the water, and when I saw the stiff clay of the
brickfields, I was confirmed in my opinion.

[Illustration: HINKSEY STREAM.]

As early as the year 726 a prince named Didan settled at Oxford, and his
wife Saxfrida built a nunnery there for her daughter Frideswyde, so that
she could "take the veil" in her own church. As she was considered the
"flower of all these parts," we could not understand why this was
necessary, especially as she was sought in marriage by Algar, King of
Leicester, described as "a young and spritely prince," and who was so
persistent that he would not accept her refusal, actually sending
"ambassadors" to carry her away. These men, however, when they
approached her were smitten with blindness; and when Frideswyde saw that
she would not be safe in "her own church" nor able to remain in peace
there, she fled into the woods and hid herself in a place that had been
made as a shelter for the swine. King Algar was greatly enraged, and,
breathing out fire and sword, set out for Oxford. As he still pursued
her, he too was smitten with blindness; and she then returned, but did
not live long, as she died in 739. St. Frideswide's Chapel was said to
have been built over her shrine, around which Oxford, the "City of the
Spires," had extended to its present proportions.

Oxford is also mentioned in A.D. 912 in the _Saxon Chronicle_, and
Richard Coeur de Lion, the great Crusader, was born there in 1156, and
often made it his home. The city was besieged on three different
occasions - by Sweyne, the King of Denmark, in 1013, by William the
Conqueror in 1067, and by Fairfax in 1646 - for it was one of the King's
great strongholds.


_Monday, November 6th._

We had been very comfortable at our hotel, where I had spent a very
pleasant birthday at Oxford, and was sorry that we could not stay
another day. But the winter was within measurable distance, with its
short days and long dark nights, and we could no longer rely upon the
moon to lighten our way, for it had already reached its last quarter. We
therefore left Oxford early in the morning by the Abingdon Road, and
soon reached the southern entrance to the city, where in former days
stood the famous tower from which Roger Bacon, who died in 1292, and who
was one of the great pioneers in science and philosophy, was said to
have studied the heavens; it was shown to visitors as "Friar Bacon's


A strange story was told relating to that wonderful man, from which it
appeared he had formed the acquaintance of a spirit, who told him that
if he could make a head of brass in one month, so that it could speak
during the next month, he would be able to surround England with a wall
of brass, and thus protect his country from her enemies. Roger Bacon, on
hearing this, at once set to work, and with the aid of another
philosopher and a demon the head was made; but as it was uncertain at
what time during the next month it would speak, it was necessary to
watch it. The two philosophers, therefore, watched it night and day for
three weeks, and then, getting tired, Bacon ordered his man Myles to
watch, and waken him when it spoke. About half an hour after they had
retired the head spoke, and said, "Time is," but Myles thought it was
too early to tell his master, as he could not have had sleep enough. In
another half-hour the head spoke again, and said, "Time was," but as
everybody knew that, he still did not think fit to waken his master, and
then half an hour afterwards the head said, "Time is past," and fell
down with a tremendous crash that woke the philosophers: but it was now
too late! What happened afterwards, and what became of Myles, we did not

In the neighbouring village of North Hinksey, about a mile across the
meadows, stands the Witches' Elm. Of the Haunted House beside which it
stood hardly even a trace remained, its origin, like its legend,
stretching so far back into the "mists of antiquity" that only the
slenderest threads remained. Most of the villages were owned by the
monks of Abingdon Abbey under a grant of the Saxon King Caedwalla, and
confirmed to them by Caenwulf and Edwig. The Haunted House, like the
Church of Cumnor, was built by the pious monks, and remained in their
possession till the dissolution of the monastery, then passing into the
hands of the Earls of Abingdon.

[Illustration: THE WITCHES' ELM.]

The last tenant of the old house was one Mark Scraggs, or Scroggs, a
solitary miser who, the story goes, sold himself to the Devil, one of
the features of the compact being that he should provide for the wants
of three wise women, or witches, who on their part were to assist him in
carrying out his schemes and make them successful. In everything he
seemed to prosper, and accumulated great hoards of wealth, but he had
not a soul in the world to leave it to or to regret his leaving in spite
of his wealth.

At length the time approached when his terrible master would claim him
body and soul, but Scraggs worked out a scheme for evading his bond, and
for a time successfully kept Satan at bay and disposed of the three
witches by imprisoning them in a hollow tree close by, on which he cast
a spell which prevented them from communicating with their master the
evil one, or enabling him to find them. This spell was so successful
that Scraggs soon felt himself secure, but one day, venturing beyond the
charmed circle, he was immediately seized by the Devil, who attempted to
carry him off by way of the chimney, but failed, as the shaft was not
sufficiently wide for the passage of the man's body. In the struggle the
chimney was twisted in the upper part, and remained so till its total
destruction, while Satan, rinding he could not carry off his body, tore
him asunder, and carried off his soul, dashing the mutilated remains of
the miser upon the hearth beneath. The death of Scraggs dissolved the
spell which bound the witches, and their release split the tree in which
they were confined from the ground to the topmost branch.

The great uproar of this Satanic struggle aroused the neighbourhood, and
the miser's body, when it was discovered, was buried beneath the wall of
the church - neither inside nor outside the sacred edifice. Ever
afterwards the house was haunted by the apparition of old Scraggs
searching for his lost soul with groans and hideous cries, until at last
the old mansion was pulled down and its very stones were removed.

The old shattered and knarled elm alone remained to keep alive the
legend of this evil compact. The story, improbable as it may appear, no
doubt contained, as most of these stories do, the element of fact.
Possibly the old man was a miser who possessed wealth enough to become
the source of envy by some interested relations. Perhaps he was brutally
murdered, perhaps, too, the night of the deed may have been wild with
thunder and lightning raging in the sky. Probably the weird story, with
all its improbable trappings, was circulated by some one who knew the
truth, but who was interested in concealing it. Who knows?


We were now passing through scenes and pastures, quiet fields and farms,
of which many of Oxford's famous students and scholars had written and
sung. Matthew Arnold had painted these fields and villages, hills and
gliding, reedy streams in some of his poems, and they were the objective
of many of his Rambles:

Hills where Arnold wander'd and all sweet
June meadows, from the troubling world withdrawn.

Here too in one of these small hamlets through which we passed Ruskin
with a gang of his pupils in flannels started roadmaking, and for days
and weeks were to be seen at their arduous task of digging and
excavation, toiling and moiling with pick, spade, and barrow, while
Ruskin stood by, applauding and encouraging them in their task of making
and beautifying the roads of these villages which he loved so well.


This experiment was undertaken by Ruskin as a practical piece of
serviceable manual labour, for Ruskin taught in his lectures that the
Fine Arts required, as a necessary condition of their perfection, a
happy country life with manual labour as an equally necessary part of a
completely healthy and rounded human existence, and in this experiment
he practised what he preached. The experiment caused no little stir in
Oxford, and even the London newspapers had their gibe at the "Amateur
Navvies of Oxford"; to walk over to Hinksey and laugh at the diggers was
a fashionable afternoon amusement.

The "Hinksey diggings," as they were humorously called, were taken up
with an enthusiasm which burned so fiercely that it soon expended
itself, and its last flickering embers were soon extinguished by the
ironic chaff and banter to which these gilded youths were subjected.

The owner of the estate sent his surveyor to report the condition of the
road as they had left it, and it is said that in his report he wrote:
"The young men have done no mischief to speak of."

The River Thames, over which we now crossed, is known in Oxford as the
"Isis," the name of an Egyptian goddess - though in reality only an
abbreviated form of the Latin name Tamesis. As the Thames here forms the
boundary of Oxfordshire, we were in Berkshire immediately we crossed the
bridge. We followed the course of the river until we reached Kennington,
where it divides and encloses an island named the Rose Isle, a favourite
resort of boating parties from Oxford and elsewhere. It was quite a
lovely neighbourhood, and we had a nice walk through Bagley Woods, to
the pretty village of Sunningwell, where we again heard of Roger Bacon,
for he occasionally used the church tower there for his astronomical and
astrological observations. He must have been an enormously clever man,
and on that account was known as an alchemist and a sorcerer; he was
credited with the invention of gunpowder, and the air-pump, and with
being acquainted with the principle of the telescope. In the time of
Queen Mary, Dr. Jewel was the rector of Sunningwell, but had to vacate
it to escape persecution; while in the time of the Civil War Dr. Samuel
Fell, then Dean of Christ Church, and father of John Fell, was rector.
He died from shock in 1649 when told the news that his old master, King
Charles, had been executed. He was succeeded as Dean by John Fell, his




We soon arrived at Abingdon, and were delighted with the view of the
town, with its church spire overlooking it as we approached to the side
of the Thames, which now appeared as a good-sized river. As we stopped a
minute or two on the bridge, my brother got a distant view of some
pleasure boats, and suggested we should stay there for the rest of the
day, to explore the town, and row up and down the river! He had
evidently fallen in love with Abingdon, but I reminded him that our
travelling orders were not to ride in any kind of conveyance during the
whole of our journey, and that, if we got drowned, we should never get
to the Land's End, "besides," I added, "we have not had our breakfast."
This finished him off altogether, and the pleasure-boat scheme vanished
immediately we entered the portals of a fine old hostelry, where the
smell of bacon and eggs recalled him from his day dreams. We handed our
luggage to the boots to take care of, and walked into the coffee-room,
where to our surprise we found breakfast set for two, and the waitress
standing beside it. When we told her how glad we were to find she had
anticipated our arrival, she said that the bacon and eggs on the table
were not prepared for us, but for two other visitors who had not come
downstairs at the appointed time. She seemed rather vexed, as the
breakfast was getting cold, and said we had better sit down to it, and
she would order another lot to be got ready and run the risk. So we
began operations at once, but felt rather guilty on the appearance of a
lady and gentleman when very little of the bacon and eggs intended for
them remained. The waitress had, however, relieved the situation by
setting some empty crockery on another table. Having satisfied our
requirements, we tipped the waitress handsomely while paying the bill,
and vanished to explore the town. We were captivated with the appearance
of Abingdon, which had quite a different look from many of the towns we
had visited elsewhere; but perhaps our good opinion had been enhanced by
the substantial breakfast we had disposed of, and the splendid appetites
which enabled us to enjoy it. There were other good old-fashioned inns
in the town, and a man named William Honey had at one time been the
landlord of one of the smaller ones, where he had adopted as his sign a
bee-hive, on which he had left the following record:

Within this Hive we're all alive,
Good Liquor makes us funny;
If you are dry, step in and try
The flavour of our Honey.

The early history of Abingdon-on-Thames appeared, like others, to have
begun with that of a lady who built a nunnery. Cilia was the name of
this particular lady, and afterwards Hean, her brother, built a
monastery, or an abbey, the most substantial remains of which appeared
to be the abbey gateway; but as the abbey had existed in one form or
another from the year 675 down to the time of Henry VIII, when it was
dissolved, in 1538, Abingdon must have been a place of considerable
antiquity. St. Nicholas's Church was mentioned in documents connected
with the abbey as early as 1189, and some of its windows contained old
stained glass formerly belonging to it, and said to represent the patron
saint of the church restoring to life some children who had been
mutilated and pickled by the devil. There was also a fine old tomb which
contained the remains of John Blacknall and Jane his wife, who appeared
to have died simultaneously, or, as recorded, "at one instant time at
the house within the site of the dissolved monastery of the Blessed
Virgin Marie, of Abingdon, whereof he was owner." The following was the
curious inscription on the tomb:

Here rest in assurance of a joyful resurrection the Bodies of John
Blacknall, Esquire, and his wife, who both of them finished an happy
course upon earth and ended their days in peace on the 21st day of
August in the year of our Lord 1625. He was a bountiful benefactor of
this Church - gave many benevolencies to the poor - to the Glory of
God - to the example of future ages:

When once they liv'd on earth one bed did hold
Their Bodies, which one minute turned to mould;
Being dead, one Grave is trusted with the prize,
Until that trump doth sound and all must rise;
Here death's stroke even did not part this pair,
But by this stroke they more united were;
And what left they behind you plainly see,
An only daughter, and their charitie.
And though the first by death's command did leave us,
The second we are sure will ne'er deceive us.

This church, however, was very small compared with its larger neighbour
dedicated to St. Helen, which claims to be one of the four churches in
England possessing five aisles, probably accounting for the fact that
its breadth exceeded its length by about eleven feet. The oldest aisle
dates from the year 1182, and the church contains many fine brasses and
tombs, including one dated 1571, of John Roysse, citizen and mercer of
London, who founded the Abingdon Grammar School. There is also a stone
altar-tomb in memory of Richard Curtaine, who died in 1643, and who was
described as "principalle magistrate of this Corpe"; on the tomb was
this charming verse in old English lettering:

Our Curtaine in this lower press.
Rests folded up in nature's dress;
His dust P.fumes his urne, and hee
This towne with liberalitee.

Abingdon is fortunate in having so many benefactors, who seem to have
vied with each other in the extent of their gifts; even the church
itself is almost surrounded with almshouses, which, owing to their
quaint architectural beauty, form a great attraction to visitors. It is
doubtful whether any town in England of equal size possesses so many
almshouses as Abingdon. Those near this church were built in the year
1446 by the Fraternity or Guild of the Holy Cross, and the fine old
hospital which adjoined them, with its ancient wooden cloisters and
gabled doorways and porch, was a sight well worth seeing. The hall or
chapel was hung with painted portraits of its benefactors, including
that of King Edward VI, who granted the Charter for the hospital. This
Guild of the Holy Cross assisted to build the bridges and set up in the
market-place the famous Abingdon Cross, which was 45 feet high. Standing
upon eight steps, this cross had "eight panels in the first storey and
six in the second; of stone, gilt and garnished, adorned with statuary
and coats of arms, a mightily goodly cross of stone with fair degrees
and imagerie." The design of the Abingdon Cross had been copied for
other crosses, including, it was said, portions of those of Coventry and
Canterbury; and it must have been of extraordinary beauty, for Elias
Ashmole, who was likely to know, declared that it was not inferior in
workmanship and design to any other in England. The cross was restored
in 1605, but when the army of the Parliament occupied the town in 1644,
it was "sawed down" by General Waller as "a superstitious edifice." The
Chamberlain's Accounts for that year contained an entry of money paid
"to Edward Hucks for carrying away the stones from the cross."

[Illustration: MARKET CROSS, ABINGDON. _From an old print_.]

The records in these old towns in the south, which had been kept by
churchwardens and constables for hundreds of years, were extremely
interesting; and there was much information in those at Abingdon that
gave a good idea of what was to be found in a market-place in "ye olden
time," for in addition to the great cross there were the May pole, the
cryer's pulpit, the shambles, the stocks, the pillory, the cage, the
ducking-stool, and the whipping-post.

In the year 1641, just before the Civil War, Abingdon possessed a
Sergeant-at-Mace in the person of Mr. John Richardson, who also appears
to have been a poet, as he dedicated what he described as a poem "of
harmless and homespun verse to the Mayor, Bayliffs, Burgesses, and
others," in which are portrayed the proceedings at the celebration of
the peace between the King and the Scots. Early in the morning the
inhabitants were roused by "Old Helen's trowling bells," which were
answered by the "Low Bells of honest Nick," meaning the bells of the two

To Helen's Courts (ith'morne) at seven oth' clock,
Our congregation in great numbers flock;
Where we 'till Twelve our Orisons did send
To him, that did our kingdom's Quarrels end.
And these two Sermons two Divines did preach,
And most divinely gratitude did teach.

After these five hours of service, the congregation again returned to
church from two till four, and then proceeded to the cross in the

And thus we march'd: First with my golden Mace
I pac'd along, and after followed mee
The Burgesses by senioritee.
Our Praetour first (let me not misse my Text),
I think the Clergie-men came marching next;
Then came our Justice, with him a Burger sage,
Both marched together, in due equipage.
The rest oth' Burgers, with a comely grace,
Walked two and two along to th' market-place.

And when the procession arrived at the steps of the cross -

The Clerk was call'd, and he a Bible took,
The hundred and sixt Psalme he out did look;
Two thousand Quoristers their notes did raise
And warbled out the Great Creator's praise!

After this came bonfires and wine and beer, and then the musketeers with
rattling drums and fifes and colours flying, under the "skilfull
Sergeant Corderoy," who fired off a barrel of powder before the
well-known "Antelope Inn."

Abingdon was rather roughly handled during the Civil War, for, in
addition to the "sawing off" of the cross, the horses of the
Parliamentary Army were stabled in St. Helen's Church, an entry being
afterwards made in the churchwardens' book of a sum paid "for nailes and
mending the seats that the soldiers had toorne." The fines recorded
during the Commonwealth were: "For swearing one oath, 3s. 4d.; for
drawing Beere on the Sabboth Day, 10s. 0d.; a Gent for travelling on the
Sabboth, 10s. 0d." Our journey might have been devised on a plan to
evade all such fines, for we did not swear, or drink beer, or travel on
Sundays. We might, however, have fallen into the hands of highway
robbers, for many were about the roads in that neighbourhood then, and
many stage-coaches had been held up and the passengers robbed.

There was a rather imposing County Hall at Abingdon, built towards the
close of the seventeenth century, at which an ancient custom was
performed on the coronation of a king. The mayor and corporation on
those occasions threw buns from the roof of the market-house, and a
thousand penny cakes were thus disposed of at the coronation of George
IV, and again at the accession of William IV and of Queen Victoria.

An apprentice of a cordwainer in the town ran away in 1764, or, as it
was worded on the police notice, "did elope from service." He was
described as a "lusty young fellow, wearing a light-coloured surtout
coat, a snuff-coloured undercoat, a straw-coloured waistcoat, newish
leather breeches, and wears his own dark brown hair tied behind," so it
appeared to us that he had not left his best clothes at home when he
"did elope," and would be easily recognised by his smart appearance. We
also noticed that about the same period "Florists' Feasts" were held at
Abingdon, perhaps the forerunners of the "Flower Shows" held at a later
period. In those days the flowers exhibited were chiefly "whole-blowing
carnations," while the important things were the dinners which followed
the exhibitions, and which were served at the principal inns.

Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 45 of 66)