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Robert Naylor.

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[Illustration: THE "CROWN AND THISTLE INN," ABINGDON.]

But we must not leave Abingdon without giving an account of another
benefactor to the town, though rather on different lines, of whom a
detailed account was given in _Jackson's Oxford Journal_ of November,
1767, from which it appeared that State lotteries were in vogue at that
time in England. The story chiefly related to a Mr. Alder, a cooper by
trade, who kept a "little public house" called the "Mitre." His wife had
handed him £22 to pay the brewer, but instead of doing so he only paid
him £10, and with the other twelve bought a ticket for the lottery, the
number of which was 3379. The following precise account, copied from the
_Journal_, will give the result, and show how events were described in
newspapers in those days, the punctuation being carefully attended to, a
more extensive use made of capital letters to distinguish the more
important words, and some words written separately which now are joined
together:

Last Friday about one o'clock in the morning a Messenger in a Post
Chaise and Four arrived Express at the Crown and Thistle in Abingdon,
Berks., from the Office where his Ticket was sold and registered, to
give Mr. Alder the owner of it, the most early Advice of his good
Fortune, upon which Mr. Powell immediately went with the Messenger to
carry this important Intelligence. Mr. Alder was in Bed, but upon
being called jumped out, and opened the Window; when Mr. Powell told
him he had brought good News, for his Ticket was come up a Prize. Mr.
Alder replied that he knew very well it was only a Joke, but
nevertheless he would come down and drink with him, with all his
Heart. This Point being settled, both Mr. Alder and his Wife came
down; when the Prize still continued to be the Subject of
Conversation whilst the Glass went round, and it was magnified by
Degrees, till at length Mr. Alder was seriously informed that this
Ticket was the Day before drawn a Prize for _Twenty Thousand Pounds_,
and that the Gentleman then present was the Messenger of his Success.
Though the utmost Precaution had been used, it is natural to suppose
that so sudden and unexpected an Acquisition must produce very extra
ordinary Emotions: Mr. Alder, however, supported him with great
Decency, but almost immediately slipped out into the Yard behind his
House, where he staid some little Time, probably to drop a joyful
Tear, as well as to offer an Ejaculation for these Blessings of
Providence; but at his Return into the House, we are told, he
manifested a most open and generous Heart: He was immediately for
doing good, as well as rewarding every one who had in any wise been
instrumental in the Advancement of his Fortune. Mr. Powell was
welcome to the Use of Half the Money without Interest; his Son, and
all his Neighbours were called; he kept open House, set the Bells
a'ringing, and came to the following Resolutions, viz.: That the
Messenger that came down, and the two Blue-coat Boys who drew the
Prize, should be handsomely rewarded; that he would give Mr. Blewitt,
Owner of the Abingdon Machine, at least a New Body for his Stage, on
which should be painted the Cooper's Arms, together with the Number
of his Ticket, 3m379; that he would clothe all the Necessitous of his
own Parish; and likewise give a Couple of the finest fat Oxen he
could purchase to the Poor of Abingdon in general, and lay out the
price of these Oxen in Bread, to be distributed at the same time. To
the Ringers, in Number, fourteen, he gave Liquor in Plenty, and a
Guinea each; and calling for a wet Mop, rubbed out all the Ale Scores
in his Kitchen. In a Word he displayed a noble Liberality, made every
Body welcome; and what is highly to be applauded, showed a charitable
Disposition towards the Relief of the Poor.

We could imagine the joviality of Mr. Alder's customers when they found
their ale scores so generously cancelled, which must have been fairly
extensive, seeing that it required a "mop" to remove them from the
inside of his kitchen door. We had often seen these "scores" at country
inns behind the doors of the rooms where the poorer customers were
served. It was a simple method of "book-keeping," as the customers'
initials were placed at the head of a line of straight strokes marked by
the landlord with white chalk, each figure "one" representing a pint of
beer served to his customer during the week, and the money for the
"pints" had to be paid at the week's end, for Saturday was the day when
wages were invariably paid to working men in the country; as scarcely
one of them could write his own name, it was a simple method of keeping
accounts that appealed to them, and one that could easily be understood,
for all they had to do, besides paying the money, was to count the
number of strokes opposite their names. In some places it was the custom
to place P. for pint and Q. for quart, which accounted for the origin of
the phrase, _Mind your p's and q's_, so that the phrase, becoming a
general warning to "look out," was originally used as a warning to the
drinker to look at the score of p's and q's against him. We once heard
of a landlord, however, whose first name was Daniel, and who was
dishonest. When a customer got "half-seas over" and could not see
straight, he used a piece of chalk with a nick cut in it, so that when
he marked "one" on the door the chalk marked two; but he was soon found
out, and lost most of his trade, besides being nicknamed "Dan
Double-chalk." The custom of keeping ale scores in this way was referred
to in the poem of "Richard Bell," who was -

As plodding a man, so his neighbours tell, as ever a chisel wielded.

Richard's fault was that he spent too much money at a public-house named
the "Jolly Kings," and -

One night, 'twas pay night! Richard's score
Reach'd half across the Parlour door.
His "Pints" had been so many
And when at length the bill was paid,
All that was left, he found, dismay'd,
Was but a single penny!

If Mr. Alder's customers had spent their money as freely as Richard had
spent his, we could imagine their feelings of joy when they found their
ale scores wiped out by Mr. Alder's wet mop!

But during all the Jollity occasioned by this Event (the _Journal_
continued), it seems Mrs. Alder was in no wise elated, but rather
thought the having such a great deal of Money a Misfortune; and
seemed of Opinion that it would have been better to have had only
enough to pay the Brewer, and a few Pounds to spare; for it would now
certainly be their Ruin, as she knew well her Husband would give away
all they had in the World, and indeed that it was _presumptuous_ in
him at first to buy the Ticket. The Presumption alluded to by Mrs.
Alder, we find, is that she had made up the Sum of 22l. for the
Brewer, which her Husband took from her for that Purpose, but he
having a strong Propensity to put himself in Fortune's Way, only paid
10l., and with the other Twelve purchased the Ticket.

On Thursday last Mr. Alder set out for London, with Mr. Bowles of
Abingdon, Attorney-at-Law; in order to Cheque His Ticket with the
Commissioners Books, and take the Steps necessary for claiming and
securing his Property.

Subsequent reports in the _Journal_ described Mr. Alder as clothing the
poor and distributing bread and beef throughout the whole place, and of
being elected a churchwarden of St. Helen's, a result, we supposed, of
his having become possessed of the £20,000.

[Illustration: THE ROMAN WAY: WHITE HORSE HILL IN THE DISTANCE.]

We now bade farewell to Abingdon and walked in the direction of
Salisbury Plain, for our next great object of interest was the Druidical
circles of Stonehenge, many miles distant. As we had to cross the
Berkshire Downs, we travelled across the widest part of the Vale of the
White Horse, in order to reach Wantage, a town at the foot of those
lonely uplands. We had the great White Horse pointed out to us on our
way, but we could not see the whole of it, although the hill on which it
stood was the highest on the downs, which there terminated abruptly,
forming a precipitous descent to the vale below. The gigantic figure of
the horse had been cut out of the green turf to the depth of two or
three feet, until the pure white chalk underneath the turf had been
reached. The head, neck, and body were cut out in one waving line, while
the legs were cut out separately, and detached, so that the distant view
showed the horse as if it were galloping wildly. It was 374 feet long,
and covered an acre of land, and was supposed to have been cut out
originally by the army of King Alfred to celebrate his great victory
over the Danes at the Battle of Ashdown, about three miles distant. It
was, however, held by some people that the origin of the horse was far
beyond the time of King Alfred, as the shape strongly resembled the
image of the horse found on early British coins. Certainly there was a
British camp quite near it, as well as a magnificent Roman camp, with
gates and ditch and mounds still as complete as when the Romans left it.
It was, moreover, close to the Icknield Way, 856 feet above sea-level,
from which portions of eleven counties could be seen. On a clear day a
view of the horse could be obtained from places many miles distant, its
white form showing clearly against the green turf surrounding it.

[Illustration: THE ICKNIELD WAY, LOOKING FROM THE WHITE HORSE.]

[Illustration: "BLOWING STONE": ALFRED'S BUGLE HORN.]

Occasionally the outline had been obscured by the growth of turf and
weeds, and then the lord of the manor had requisitioned the services of
the inhabitants of several of the pretty villages near the downs, who
climbed up to the horse at the appointed time and, armed with picks,
spades, and brushes, "scoured" the horse until it was quite white again,
and its proportions clearly shown. After their work was done a round of
merry-making followed, the occasion being celebrated by eating and
drinking to the health of his lordship at his expense. The first verse
in the "White Horse Ballad," written in the local dialect, was:

The ould White Horse wants zettin' to rights.
And the Squire has promised good cheer;
Zo we'll gee un a scrape to kip' un in shape,
And a'll last for many a year.

A Roman road skirted the foot of the White Horse Hill, and on the side
of this road was a strangely shaped sarsen-stone called the "Blowing
Stone." It was quite a large stone, in which holes had been formed by
nature, running through it in every direction like a sponge. It was said
to have been used by King Alfred to summon his troops, as by blowing
down one of the holes a booing sound was produced from the other holes
in the stone. On a later occasion my brother tried to make it sound, and
failed to do so, because he did not know the "knack," but a yeoman's
wife who was standing near, and who was quite amused at his efforts to
produce a sound, said, "Let me try," and astonished him by blowing a
loud and prolonged blast of a deep moaning sound that could have been
heard far away. The third verse in the ballad referred to it as:

The Blewin Stun, in days gone by,
Wur King Alfred's bugle harn,
And the tharn tree you med plainly zee.
As is called King Alfred's tharn!

The thorn tree marked the spot where the rival armies met - the pagans
posted on the hill, and the Christians meeting them from below - it was
through the great victory won on that occasion that England became a
Christian nation.

We were now in "King Alfred's country," for he was born at Wantage in
849, but his palace, if ever he had one, and the thorn tree were things
of the past, and what traces there were of him in the town were very
scant. There were King Arthur's Well and King Arthur's Bath; the most
substantial building bearing his name was the "King Alfred's Head Inn,"
where we called for light refreshments, and where in former years the
stage-coaches plying between Oxford and London stopped to change horses.
Wantage must have been a place of some importance in ancient times, as a
Witenagemote was held there in the year 990 in the time of Ethelred, at
which the tolls were fixed for boats sailing along the Thames for
Billingsgate Market in London.

[Illustration: WANTAGE MARKET-PLACE.]

There were several old inns in the town, and many of the streets were
paved with cobble-stones. Tanning at one time had been the staple
industry, a curious relic of which was left in the shape of a small
pavement composed of knuckle-bones. Early in the century the town had an
evil reputation as the abode of coiners, and when a man was "wanted" by
the police in London, the Bow Street runners always came to search for
him at Wantage.

We had now to climb to the top of the downs, and after about two miles,
nearly all uphill, reached the fine old Roman camp of Segsbury, where
we crossed the Icknield Way, known locally as the Rudge or the
Ridge-way - possibly because it followed the ridge or summit of the
downs. It had every appearance of having been a military road from one
camp to another, for it continued straight from Segsbury Camp to the
Roman camp on the White Horse Hill, about six miles distant. The "Rudge"
was now covered with turf, and would have been a pleasant road to walk
along; but our way lay in another direction along a very lonely road,
where we saw very few people and still fewer houses.

It was quite dark when we crossed the small River Lambourn at the
village of West Shefford, and after a further walk of about six miles we
arrived at the town of Hungerford, where we stayed the night. What a
strange effect these lonely walks had upon us when they extended from
one centre of population to another! We could remember the persons and
places at either end, but the intervening space seemed like a dream or
as if we had been out of the world for the time being, and only
recovered consciousness when we arrived at our destination and again
heard the sounds of human voices other than our own.

The origin of the name Hungerford appeared to have been lost in
obscurity. According to one gentleman, whose interesting record we
afterwards saw, it "has been an etymological puzzle to the topographer
and local antiquarian, who have left the matter in the same uncertainty
in which they found it"; but if he had accompanied us in our walk that
day across those desolate downs, and felt the pangs of hunger as we did,
mile after mile in the dark, he would have sought for no other
derivation of the name Hungerford, and could have found ample
corroboration by following us into the coffee-room of the "Bear Hotel"
that night. We were very hungry.

(_Distance walked thirty miles_.)


_Tuesday, November 7th._

The "Bear Inn" at Hungerford, standing as it did on the great coach road
from London to the West, had been associated with stirring scenes. It
was there that a gentleman who had fallen ill while travelling by the
stage-coach had died, and was buried in the churchyard at Hungerford,
with the following inscription on his gravestone:

Here are deposited the remains of William Greatrake, Esqr., native of
Ireland, who on his way from Bristol to London, died in this town in the
52nd year of his age, on the 2nd August 1781
_Stat nominis umbra_

In the year 1769, some remarkably able and vigorous political letters
signed "Junius" appeared in the London _Public Advertiser_. They were so
cleverly written that all who read them wanted to know the author, but
failed to find out who he was. Afterwards they were published in book
form, entitled _The Letters of Junius_: in our early days the author of
these letters was still unknown, and even at the time of our walk the
matter was one of the mysteries of the literary world. The authorship of
_The Letters of Junius_ was one of the romances of literature. Whoever
he was, he must have been in communication with the leading political
people of his day, and further, he must have been aware of the search
that was being made for him, for he wrote in one of his letters, "If I
am a vain man, my gratification lies within a narrow circle. I am the
sole depository of my own secret; and it shall perish with me."
Controversy was still going on about the _Letters of Junius_, for early
in the year of our walk, 1871, a book was published entitled _The
Handwriting of Junius Professionally Investigated by Mr. Charles Chabot,
Expert_, the object being to prove that Sir Phillip Francis was the
author of the famous Letters. The publication of this book, however,
caused an article to be written in the _Times_ of May 22nd, 1871, to
show that the case was "not proven" by Mr. Chabot, for William Pitt, the
great Prime Minister, told Lord Aberdeen that he knew who wrote the
Junius Letters, and that it was not Francis; and Lady Grenville sent a
letter to the editor of _Diaries of a Lady of Quality_ to the same
effect.

While Mr. Greatrake was lying ill at the "Bear Inn" he was visited by
many political contemporaries, including the notorious John Wilkes, who,
born in 1729, had been expelled three times from the House of Commons
when Member for Middlesex; but so popular was he with the common people,
whose cause he had espoused, that they re-elected him each time. So "the
powers that be" had to give way, and he was elected Alderman, then
Sheriff, and then Lord Mayor of London, and when he died, in 1797, was
Chamberlain of London. Mr. Greatrake was born in County Cork, Ireland,
about the year 1725, and was a great friend of Lord Sherburn, who
afterwards became Prime Minister, in which capacity he had to
acknowledge the independence of the United States, and was eventually
created Marquis of Lansdowne. Mr. Greatrake was known to have been an
inmate of his lordship's house when the letters were being published,
and the motto on them was _Stat nominis umbra_ - the words which appeared
on the tomb of Mr. Greatrake; and his autograph bore a stronger
resemblance than any other to that of Junius; so what was a secret in
his lifetime was probably revealed in that indirect way after his death.

The old church of Hungerford had fallen down, and a new one was built,
and opened in the year 1816, the ancient monument of the founder, Sir
Robert de Hungerford, being transferred to the new church - though, as
usual, in a damaged condition. It dated from 1325, and had been somewhat
mutilated in the time of the Civil War. The inscription over it in
Norman-French almost amounted to an absolution or remission of sins, for
it promised, on the word of fourteen bishops, that whoever should pray
for the soul of Sir Robert de Hungerford should have during his life,
and for his soul after his death, 550 days of pardon.

The list of the vicars of Hungerford showed that most of them for some
reason or other - my brother suggested hunger - had served for very short
periods, but there was one notable exception - the Rev. William Cookson,
son of William Cookson of Tomsett, Norfolk, doctor, who held the living
for the long term of forty-eight years (1818-1866).

The constables of Hungerford were elected annually, and the extracts
from their accounts were very interesting, as references were made to
instruments of torture: "Cucking stoole, Pilliry, Stocks, and a
Whippinge Post," the last-named having been most extensively used, for
the constables had to whip all wandering tramps and vagrants "by
stripping them naked from the middle upwards, and causing them to be
lashed until their bodies be bloody, in the presence of the Minister of
the Parish, or some other inhabitant, and then to send them away to
place of birth!" Women were stripped as well as men, and in 1692 the
town Serjeant had even to whip a poor blind woman. The whipping of
females was stopped by statute in 1791. As Hungerford was on one of the
main roads, many people passed through there, and in 1678 the whippings
were so numerous that John Savidge, the town Serjeant, was given a
special honorarium of five shillings "for his extraordinary paines this
year and whippinge of severall persons."

Prince William with his Dutch troops halted at Hungerford on December
8th, 1688, on his way from Torbay to London, where, three days
afterwards, he was proclaimed King William III. He was armed on his back
and breast, and wore a white plume, and rode on a white charger,
surrounded by nobles bearing his banner, on which were the words:

THE PROTESTANT RELIGION AND THE LIBERTY OF ENGLAND.

We were now practically at the end of Berkshire, and perhaps the River
Kennett, over which we passed, and on which John o' Gaunt of Lancaster
had given free fishery rights to Hungerford town, might have formed the
boundary between that county and Wiltshire. We could not hear of any
direct road to Stonehenge, so we left Hungerford by the Marlborough road
with the intention of passing through Savernake Forest - -said to be the
finest forest in England, and to contain an avenue of fine beech trees,
in the shape of a Gothic archway, five miles long. The forest was about
sixteen miles in circumference, and in the centre was a point from which
eight roads diverged. We had walked about a mile on our way when we came
to some men working on the roads, who knew the country well, and
strongly advised us not to cross the forest, but to walk over the downs
instead. We decided to follow their advice, for the difficulty that
first occurred to us was that when we got to the eight roads there might
be no one there to direct us on our further way; and we quite saw the
force of the remark of one of the men when he said it was far better to
get lost on the down, where we could see for miles, than amongst the
bushes and trees in the forest. They could only give us general
information about the best way to get to Stonehenge, for it was a long
way off, but when we got to the downs we must keep the big hill well to
the left, and we should find plenty of roads leading across them. We
travelled as directed, and found that the "big hill" was the Inkpen
Beacon, over a thousand feet above sea-level, and the highest chalk down
cliff in England; while the "plenty of roads" were more in the nature of
unfenced tracks; still, we were fortunate in finding one leading in the
right direction for Stonehenge and almost straight.

The Marlborough Downs which adjoined Salisbury Plain are very extensive,
occupying together three-fifths of the county of Wilts, being accurately
described as "ranges of undulating chalk cliffs almost devoid of trees,
and devoted almost exclusively to the pasturage of sheep from remote
ages." These animals, our only companions for miles, can live almost
without water, which is naturally very scarce on chalk formations, since
the rain when it falls is absorbed almost immediately. Very few
shepherds were visible, but there must have been some about, for every
now and then their dogs paid us rather more attention than we cared for,
especially my brother, who when a small boy had been bitten by one,
since which time not much love had been lost between him and dogs. As
there were no fences to the roads, we walked on the grass, which was
only about an inch deep. Sheep had been pastured on it from time
immemorial, and the constant biting of the surface had encouraged the
side, or undergrowth, which made our walking easy and pleasant; for it
was like walking on a heavy Turkey carpet though much more springy. The
absence of trees and bushes enabled us to distinguish the presence of
ancient earth-works, but whether they were prehistoric, Roman, Dane, or
Saxon we did not know. Occasionally we came to sections of the downs
that were being brought under cultivation, the farms appearing very
large. In one place we saw four ploughs at work each with three horses,
while the farmer was riding about on horseback. We inquired about the
wages from one of the farm hands, who told us the men got about 9s. per
week, and the women who worked in the fields were paid eightpence per
day. Possibly they got some perquisites in addition, as it seemed a very
small amount, scarcely sufficient to make both ends meet.

We had been walking quickly for more than four hours without
encountering a single village, and were becoming famished for want of
food; but the farmer's man told us we should come to one where there was
a public-house when we reached the River Avon by following the
directions he gave us. At Milston, therefore, we called for the
refreshments which we so badly needed, and quite astonished our



Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 46 of 66)