Robert Naylor.

From John O'Groats to Land's End online

. (page 47 of 66)
Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 47 of 66)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

caterers, accustomed even as they were to country appetites, by our
gastronomical performances on that occasion.

We were very much surprised when we learned that the small but pretty
village of Milston, where we were now being entertained, was the
birthplace of Joseph Addison, the distinguished essayist and politician,
who, with his friend Steele, founded the _Spectator_, and contributed
largely to the _Tatler_, and whose tragedy _Cato_ aroused such
enthusiasm that it held the boards of Drury Lane for thirty-five
nights - a great achievement in his time. As an essayist Addison had no
equal in English literature, and to his writings may be attributed all
that is sound and healthy in modern English thought. In our long walk we
met with him first at Lichfield, where at the Grammar School he received
part of his early education, and where, on one occasion, he had barred
out the schoolmaster. In the cathedral we saw his father's monument - he
was Dean of Lichfield Cathedral - and at Magdalen College, Oxford, where
he completed his education, we again encountered remembrances of him - we
saw a delightful retreat called after him, "Addison's Walk." On our
journey farther south, when we passed through Lostwithiel, we were
reminded that he was also a politician, for he represented that place in
parliament. His father was Rector of Milston when Joseph was born, in
1672. He was chiefly remembered in our minds, however, for his _Divine
Poems_, published in 1728, for we had sung some of these in our early
childhood, until we knew them off by heart, and could still recall his
beautiful hymn on gratitude beginning:

When all Thy mercies, oh my God,
My rising soul surveys,
Transported with the view, I'm lost
In wonder, love, and praise.

Some of his hymns, which were of more than ordinary merit, were said to
have been inspired by his youthful surroundings. Salisbury Plain, with
its shepherds and their sheep, must have constantly appeared before him
then, as they were immediately before us now, and would no doubt be in
his mind when he wrote:

The Lord my pasture shall prepare,
And feed me with a shepherd's care;
His presence shall my wants supply,
And guard me with a watchful eye;
My noonday walks He shall attend,
And all my midnight hours defend.

And then there was his magnificent paraphrase of the nineteenth Psalm:

The spacious firmament on high,
With all the blue ethereal sky,
And spangled heavens - a shining frame -
Their great Original proclaim.
Th' unwearied sun from day to day.
Doth his Creator's power display.
And publishes to every land
The work of an Almighty hand.

Soon as the evening shades prevail.
The Moon takes up the wondrous tale,
And nightly to the listening Earth
Repeats the story of her birth;
Whilst all the stars that round her burn,
And all the planets in their turn,
Confirm the tidings as they roll.
And spread the truth from pole to pole.

What though in solemn silence all
Move round the dark terrestrial ball;
What though no real voice nor sound
Amidst their radiant orbs be found?
In Reason's ear they all rejoice,
And utter forth a glorious voice;
For ever singing as they shine,
"The Hand that made us is divine."

After resting a short time and carefully writing down the instructions
given us as to how to reach Stonehenge, and the way thence to Amesbury,
we resumed our journey; and near the place where we crossed the River
Avon we had the first indication of our proximity to Stonehenge by the
sight of an enormous stone lying in the bed of the stream, which we were
told was like those we should find at Stonehenge. It was said to be one
that the Druids could not get across the stream owing to its great size
and weight, and so they had to leave it in the river. The country became
still more lonely as we walked across Salisbury Plain, and on a dark wet
night it might quite come up to the description given of it by Barham in
the _Ingoldsby Legends_ in "The Dead Drummer, a Legend of Salisbury
Plain," the first verse of which runs:

Oh, Salisbury Plain is bleak and bare,
At least so I've heard many people declare,
For I fairly confess I never was there; -
Not a shrub nor a tree, not a bush can you see;
No hedges, no ditches, no gates, no stiles,
Much less a house, or a cottage for miles; -
It's a very sad thing to be caught in the rain
When night's coming on upon Salisbury Plain.

Cruikshank's illustration of the legend represents a finger-post on the
Plain without a bush or a tree or a house being visible, one finger of
the post being marked "Lavington" and the other "Devizes." The Dead
Drummer is leaning against the post, with two men nervously approaching
him in the dark, while a flash of lightning betrays the bare plain and
the whole scene to the terrified men.

Hannah More, who was born in 1745, wrote a large number of stories
chiefly of a religious character, and was said to have earned £30,000 by
her writings, amongst them a religious tract bearing the title of "The
Shepherd of Salisbury Plain." We found he was not a mythical being, for
David Saunders, the shepherd referred to, was a real character, noted
for his homely wisdom and practical piety, and, as Mrs. More described
him, was quite a Christian Hero. He resided at Great Cherwell, near
Lavington, where his house was still pointed out to visitors. A typical
shepherd of Salisbury Plain was afterwards pictured by another lady, and
described as "wearing a long black cloak falling from neck to heels, a
round felt hat, like a Hermes cap without the wings to it, and sometimes
a blue milk-wort or a yellow hawk-weed in the brim, and walking with his
plume-tailed dog in front leading his sheep, as was customary in the
East and as described in the Scriptures - "the sheep follow him, for they
know his voice."

We did not see one answering to that description as we crossed the
Plain, but no doubt there were such shepherds to be found.

The sky had been overcast that day, and it was gloomy and cloudy when we
reached Stonehenge. Without a house or human being in sight, the utter
loneliness of the situation seemed to add to our feelings of wonder and
awe, as we gazed upon these gigantic stones, the remains of prehistoric
ages in England. We had passed through the circles of stones known as
the "Standing Stones of Stenness" when we were crossing the mainland of
the Orkney Islands on our way to John o' Groat's, but the stones we now
saw before us were much larger. There had been two circles of stones at
Stonehenge, one inside the other, and there was a stone that was
supposed to have been the sacrificial stone, with a narrow channel in it
to carry off the blood of the human victims slain by the Druids. In that
desolate solitude we could almost imagine we could see the priests as
they had been described, robed in white, with oak crowns on their heads,
and the egg of a mythical serpent round their necks; we could hear the
cries and groans of the victims as they were offered up in sacrifice to
the serpent, and to Bel (the sun). Tacitus said they held it right to
stain their altars with the blood of prisoners taken in war, and to seek
to know the mind of the gods from the fibres of human victims. One very
large stone outside the circles was called the "Friar's Heel," the
legend stating that when the devil was busy erecting Stonehenge he made
the observation to himself that no one would ever know how it had been
done. This remark was overheard by a friar who was hiding amongst the
stones, and he replied in the Wiltshire dialect, "That's more than thee
can tell," at which the devil took up a big stone to throw at him, but
he ran away as fast as he could, so that the stone only just grazed his
heel, at the place where it now stands.


We walked about these great stones wondering how they could have been
raised upright in those remote times, and how the large stones could
have been got into position, laid flat on the tops of the others. Many
of the stones had fallen down, and others were leaning over, but when
complete they must have looked like a circle of open doorways. The
larger stones, we afterwards learned, were Sarsen Stones or Grey
Wethers, of a siliceous sandstone, and were natural to the district, but
the smaller ones, which were named the blue stones, were quite of a
different character, and must have been brought from a considerable
distance. If the ancient Welsh story could be believed, the blue stones
were brought over in ships from Ireland after an invasion of that
country under the direction of Merlin the Wizard, and were supposed to
be mystical stones with a medicinal value. As to the time of the
erection of these stones, we both agreed to relegate the matter to the
mists of antiquity. Some thought that because Vespasian's Camp was on
Amesbury Hill, Stonehenge might have been built by the Romans in the
time of Agricola, but others, judging perhaps from the ancient tombs in
the neighbourhood, thought it might date backwards as far as 2,000 years
B.C. Nearly all agreed that it was a temple of the worshippers of the
sun and might even have been erected by the Phoenicians, who must have
known how the Egyptians raised much heavier stones than these. By some
Stonehenge was regarded as the Round Temple to Apollo in the land of the
Hyperboreans, mentioned by Hecatoens in the sixth century B.C., and
after the Phoenicians it was supposed to have been used by the Greeks,
who followed them as traders with the British tin mines. According to
this theory, the Inner Ellipse or Horseshoe of Blue Stone was made by
them, the Druids adopting it as their temple at a much later date.

[Illustration: STONEHENGE.]

"Amongst the ruling races of prehistoric times the father sun-god was
the god on the grey white horse, the clouds, and it was this white
horse - the sun-god of the limestone, flint, and chalk country - -which
was the god of Stonehenge, the ruins of which describe the complete
ritual of this primeval worship. The worshippers of the sun-god who
built this Temple must, it was thought, have belonged to the Bronze Age,
which theory was supposed to have been confirmed by the number of round
barrow tombs in the neighbourhood. It was also noted that the white
sun-horse was still worshipped and fed daily at Kobé, in Japan."

Stonehenge had been visited by Pepys, who described the stones in his
_Diary_ as being "as prodigious as any tales as I had ever heard of
them, and worth going this journey to see"; and King Charles II had
counted them over several times, but could not bring them twice to the
same number, which circumstance probably gave rise to the legend that no
two people ever counted the number alike, so of course we did not
attempt to count them. But the king's head must have been uneasy at the
time he counted them, as it was after the Battle of Worcester, when he
was a fugitive, retreating across the country in disguise and hidden by
his friends until he could reach the sea-coast of Sussex, and escape by
ship from England. One of his hiding-places was Heale House, about four
miles from Stonehenge, where the lady of the house had hidden him in
what was known as the "Priest's Hole," arrangements having been made for
some friends to meet him at Stonehenge, and accompany him a stage
farther towards the south. His friends, however, had been delayed a
little on their way, so they did not reach Stonehenge at the appointed
hour; and Charles whiled away the time by counting and recounting the

Cheshire was formerly noted for the great number of landowners of the
same name as the parishes in which they resided, such as Leigh of Leigh,
Dutton of Dutton, Antrobus of Antrobus. The last-named squire had left
Antrobus and gone to reside at Amesbury in Wiltshire, letting his
mansion in Cheshire and the land attached to it, as a farm, to a tenant
named Wright. This Mr. Wright was an uncle of ours, whom we had often
visited at Antrobus. The elder of his two sons, who followed him as
tenant of the farm, told us a story connected with the old Hall there.
He and his brother when they were boys slept in the same bed, and one
morning they were having a pushing match, each trying, back to back, to
push the other out of bed. He was getting the worst of the encounter
when he resolved to make one more great effort, and placed his feet
against the wall which was near his side of the bed; but instead of
pushing his brother out, he and his brother together pushed part of the
wall out, and immediately he found himself sitting on a beam with his
legs hanging outside over the moat or garden, having narrowly escaped
following the panel. The stability of these old timber-built halls,
which were so common in Cheshire, depended upon the strong beams with
which they were built, the panels being only filled in with light
material such as osiers plastered over with mud; and it was one of these
that had been pushed out. The old mansion was shortly afterwards taken
down and replaced by an ordinary red-brick building. We had often
wondered what sort of a place Amesbury was, where the Squire of Antrobus
had gone to reside, and had decided to go there, although it was rather
out of our way for Salisbury, our next stage. We found that Stonehenge
was included in his estate as well as Amesbury Abbey, where he lived,
and Vespasian's Hill. When we came in sight of the abbey, we were quite
surprised to find it so large and fine a mansion, without any visible
trace of the ancient abbey which once existed there, and we considered
that the lines of Sir Edmund Antrobus, Bart., had fallen in pleasant
places when he removed here from the damper atmosphere of Cheshire, and
that he had adopted the wisest course as far as health was concerned. We
had thought of calling at the abbey, but as it was forty-nine years
since he had left our neighbourhood and he had died in the year 1830, we
could not muster up sufficient courage to do so. We might too have seen
a fine portrait of the old gentleman, which we heard was hanging up in
one of the rooms in the abbey, painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence, a friend
of George IV, and President of the Royal Academy, who had also painted
the portraits of most of the sovereigns of Europe reigning in his time,
and who died in the same year as Sir Edmund.

Amesbury Abbey formerly belonged to the Duke of Queensberry, who made
great additions to it from the plans of the celebrated architect Inigo
Jones, who designed the famous Banqueting Hall at Whitehall in London
and the fine gateway of St. Mary's, Oxford. He was known as "the English
Palladio" because he adopted the style of Andrea Palladio, a celebrated
Italian architect of the sixteenth century. He was responsible for the
two Palladian pillars attached to the quaint and pretty entrance gates
to the Abbey Park, and for the lovely Palladian bridge that spanned the
River Avon, which flowed through the grounds, forming a favourite resort
for wild ducks, kingfishers, herons, and other birds. Inigo Jones was a
staunch Royalist, who suffered severely during the Civil War, and died
in 1652. The park was not a very large one, but was very pretty, and
contained the famous Amesbury Hill, which was covered with fine trees on
the slope towards the river; some of which had been arranged in the form
of a diamond, partly concealing a cave now known as the Diamond Cave,
but formerly belonging to the Druids, as all the sunrises would be
visible before the intervening trees were planted. This cave was the
favourite resort of John Gay, the poet, who loved to write there. He was
a great friend of the Duke and Duchess of Queensberry, who then owned
the Amesbury estate, was the author of the _Beggar's Opera_, published
in 1727, and lies buried in Westminster Abbey.

[Illustration: THE CAVE IN THE DIAMOND.]

The church had been heavily restored in 1853, and one of its former
vicars had been a famous man in his day according to the following
account from the _Gentleman's Magazine_, 1789.


Until the year 1853, a slab before the Communion Table in Amesbury
Church bore the following inscription
In memory of the Revd. Thomas Holland, who was for half a century
Minister of this Parish, a small living yet he never solicited for a
nor improved to his own advantage his marvellous talents in applying the
powers of nature to the useful purposes of life, the most curious and
engine which the world now enjoys _for raising water_ being invented by

He departed the 11th day of May in the year of our Lord 1730,
Aged 84 years.

During his term of office the register was kept in a very careful
and excellent handwriting, a contrast to later efforts by his


The evening was now coming on, and we had yet to walk eight miles into
Salisbury by what was called the "Upper Road," which crossed a tract of
bleak and rather uninteresting downs; but the road was well defined and
the daylight, such as it was, remained with us longer than if we had
gone by the more picturesque road along the tree-lined banks of the
River Avon. Amesbury was but a small place, and the only industry that
we could hear of that ever existed there was the manufacture of tobacco
pipes branded with a gauntlet, the name of the maker. We had a lonely
walk, and about two miles from Salisbury saw to the right the outline of
a small hill which turned out to be Old Sarum, a name that figured on
the mileposts for many miles round Salisbury, being the ancient and
Roman name for that city. Old cities tend to be on hills, for defence,
but modern equivalents occur in the valley below, representative of
peace conditions and easy travelling for commercial purposes. It was
now, however, only a lofty grass mound, conical in shape and about a
hundred feet high. It was of great antiquity, for round about it stood
at one time one of the most important cities in the south of England,
after the prehistoric age the Sorbiodunum of the Romans, and the
Sarisberie of the Domesday Book. Cynric captured it by a victory over
the Britons in 552, and in 960 Edgar held a Council there. Sweyn and the
Danes pillaged and burnt it in 1003, and afterwards Editha, the Queen of
Edward the Confessor, established a convent of nuns there. It was made
an Episcopal See in 1072, and twenty years afterwards Bishop Osmond, a
kinsman of William the Conqueror, completed the building of the
cathedral. It was in 1076 that William, as the closing act of his
Conquest, reviewed his victorious army in the plain below; and in 1086,
a year before his death, he assembled there all the chief landowners in
the realm to swear that "whose men soever they were they would be
faithful to him against all other men," by which "England was ever
afterwards an individual kingdom." In course of time the population
increased to such an extent round the old mound that they were short of
room, and the soldiers and the priests began to quarrel, or, as an old
writer described it, "the souldiers of the Castell and chanons of Old
Sarum fell at odds, inasmuch that often after brawles they fell at last
to sadde blowes and the Cleargie feared any more to gang their boundes.
Hereupon the people missing their belly-chere, for they were wont to
have banketing at every station, a thing practised by the religious in
old tyme, they conceived forthwith a deadly hatred against the
Castellans." The quarrel ended in the removal of the cathedral to the
plain below, where Salisbury now stands, and the glory of Old Sarum
departed. As far back as the time of Henry VIII the place became utterly
desolate, and it was interesting to read what visitors in after times
had written about it.


John Leland, who was born in 1506 and was chaplain to Henry VIII, made a
tour of the kingdom, and wrote in his well-known _Itinerary_, "Their is
not one house, neither within or without Old Saresbyri inhabited. Much
notable minus building of the Castell yet remayneth. The diche that
envirined the old town was a very deepe and strong thynge." Samuel
Pepys, who was born in 1632, and who was secretary to the Admiralty
during the reigns of Charles II and James II, describes in his famous
_Diary_ many interesting incidents in the life of that period. He wrote
of Old Sarum: "I saw a great fortification and there light, and to it
and in it, and find it so prodigious as to frighten one to be in it at
all alone at that time of night." It would probably be at an earlier
hour of a lighter night when Mr. Pepys visited it, than when we passed
it on this occasion, for the hill now was enveloped in black darkness
"deserted and drear," and we should scarcely have been able to find the
entrance "to it and in it," and, moreover, we might not have been able
to get out again, for since his time an underground passage had been
opened, and who knows what or who might have been lurking there! Dr.
Adam Clark visited Old Sarum in 1806, and wrote: "We found here the
remains of a very ancient city and fortress, surrounded by a deep
trench, which still bears a most noble appearance. On the top of the
hill the castle or citadel stood, and several remains of a very thick
wall built all of flint stone, cemented together with a kind of
everlasting mortar. What is remarkable is that these ruins are still
considered in the British constitution as an inhabited city, and send
two members to Parliament. Within the breadth of a field from this noble
hill there is a small public-house, the only dwelling within a very
great space, and containing a very few persons, who, excepting the
crows, hens, and magpies, are the only beings which the worthy members
have to represent in the British Senate."

We were glad when we reached Salisbury and found a comfortable refuge
for the night in one of the old inns in the town. It was astonishing how
cosy the low rooms in these old-fashioned inns appeared, now that the
"back end" of the year was upon us and the nights becoming longer,
darker, and colder. The blazing fire, the ingle nook, the pleasant
company, such as it was, the great interest taken in our long walk - for
people knew what heavy walking meant in those days - all tended to make
us feel comfortable and at home. True, we did not care much for the
dialect in these southern counties, and should much have preferred "a
bit o' gradely Lankyshur," so as a rule we listened rather than joined
in the conversation; but we were greatly interested in the story of the
Wiltshire Moonrakers, which, as we were strangers, was apparently given
for our benefit by one of the older members of the rather jovial
company. It carried us back to the time when smuggling was prevalent,
and an occasion when the landlord of a country inn near the sea-coast
sent two men with a pony and trap to bring back from the smugglers' den
two kegs of brandy, on which, of course, duty had not been paid, with
strict orders to keep a sharp look-out on their return for the
exciseman, who must be avoided at all costs. The road on the return
journey was lonely, for most people had gone to bed, but as the moon was
full and shining brightly, all went well until the pony suddenly took
fright at a shadow on the road, and bolted. The men, taken by surprise,
lost control of the reins, which fell down on the pony and made matters
worse, for he fairly flew along the road until he reached a point where
it turned over a canal bridge. Here the trap came in contact with the
battlement of the bridge, causing the pony to fall down, and the two
men fell on top of him. Fortunately this saved them from being seriously
injured, but the pony was bruised, and one of the shafts of the trap
broken, while the kegs rolled down the embankment into the canal. With
some difficulty they managed to get the pony and broken trap into a farm
building near the bridge, but when they went to look for the kegs they
saw them floating in the middle of the canal where they could not reach
them. They went back to the farm building, and found two hay-rakes, and
were just trying to reach the kegs, the tops of which they could plainly
see in the light of the full moon, when a horseman rode up, whom, to
their horror, they recognised as the exciseman himself. When he asked
"What's the matter?" the men pretended to be drunk, and one of them said

Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 47 of 66)