Copyright
Robert Naylor.

From John O'Groats to Land's End online

. (page 49 of 66)
Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 49 of 66)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


outwards.

A great treat was in store for us this morning, for we had to pass
through Wilton, with its fine park surrounding Wilton House, the
magnificent seat of the Herberts, Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery. Our
first impression was that Wilton was one of the pleasantest places we
had visited. Wiltshire took its name from the river Wylye, which here
joins the Nadder, so that Wilton had been an important place in ancient
times, being the third oldest borough in England. Egbert, the Wessex
King, had his palace here, and in the great contest with Mercia defeated
Beornwulf in 821 at Ellendune. A religious house existed here in very
early times. In the reign of Edward I it was recorded that Osborn de
Giffard, a relative of the abbess, carried off two of the nuns, and was
sentenced for that offence to be stripped naked and to be whipped in the
churches of Wilton and Shaftesbury, and as an additional punishment to
serve three years in Palestine. In the time of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn
wished to give the post of abbess to a friend, but King Henry had
scruples on the subject, for the proposed abbess had a somewhat shady
reputation; he wrote, "I would not for all the gold in the world clog
your conscience nor mine to make her a ruler of a house, which is of so
ungodly a demeanour, nor I trust you would not that neither for brother
nor sister I should so bestain mine honour or conscience." This we
thought to be rather good for such a stern moralist as Henry VIII, but
perhaps in his younger days he was a better man than we had been taught
to believe.

Wilton suffered along with Old Sarum, as the loss of a road was a
serious matter in those days, and Bishop Bingham, who appeared to have
been a crafty man, and not at all favourable to the Castellans at Old
Sarum, built a bridge over the river in 1244, diverting the main road of
Icknield Way so as to make it pass through Salisbury. As Leland wrote,
"The changing of this way was the total cause of the ruine of Old
Saresbyri and Wiltown, for afore Wiltown had 12 paroche churches or
more, and was the head of Wilesher." The town of Wilton was very
pleasant and old-fashioned. The chief industry was carpet-making, which
originally had been introduced there by French and Flemish weavers
driven by persecution from their own country. When we passed through the
town the carpet industry was very quiet, but afterwards, besides Wilton
carpets, "Axminster" and "Brussels" carpets were manufactured there,
water and wool, the essentials, being very plentiful. Its fairs for
sheep, horses, and cattle, too, were famous, as many as 100,000 sheep
having been known to change owners at one fair.

[Illustration: WILTON HOUSE FROM THE RIVER.]

We were quite astonished when we saw the magnificent church, on a
terrace facing our road and approached by a very wide flight of steps.
It was quite modern, having been built in 1844 by Lord Herbert of Lea,
and had three porches, the central one being magnificently ornamented,
the pillars resting on lions sculptured in stone. The tower, quite a
hundred feet high, stood away from the church, but was connected with it
by a fine cloister with double columns finely worked. The interior of
the church was really magnificent, and must have cost an immense sum of
money. It had a marble floor and some beautiful stained-glass windows;
the pulpit being of Caen stone, supported by columns of black marble
enriched with mosaic, which had once formed part of a thirteenth-century
shrine at Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, some of the stained glass also
belonging to the same period.

The great House of Wilton, the seat of the Herberts, had been built in a
delightful situation on the site of the old monastery, amidst beautiful
gardens and grounds. It was a veritable treasure-house for pictures by
the most famous painters, containing a special gallery filled almost
exclusively with portraits of the family and others painted by Vandyck.
The collection included a good portrait of Prince Rupert,[Footnote: See
page 303.] who gave the army of the Parliament such a lively time in the
Civil War, and who is said, in spite of his recklessness, to have been
one of the best cavalry officers in Europe. Queen Elizabeth stayed three
days there in 1573, and described her visit as "both merrie and
pleasante." During this visit she presented Sir Philip Sidney, the
author of _Arcadia_, with a "locke of her owne hair," which many years
afterwards was found in a copy of that book in the library, and attached
to it a very indifferent verse in the Queen's handwriting. Charles I,
it was said, visited Wilton every summer, and portraits of himself,
Henrietta Maria and their children, and some of their Court beauties,
were also in the Vandyck gallery.

Wilton Park attracted our attention above all, as the rivers Wylye and
Nadder combined to enhance its beauty, and to feed the ornamental lake
in front of the Hall. There were some fine cedar trees in the park, and
as we had often seen trees of this kind in other grounds through which
we had passed, we concluded they dated from the time of the Crusades,
and that the crusaders had brought small plants back with them, of which
these trees were the result. We were informed, however, that the cedar
trees at Wilton had only been planted in the year 1640 by the Earl of
Devonshire, who had sent men to collect them at Lebanon in the Holy
Land. Thus we were compelled to change our opinion, for the trees we had
seen elsewhere were of about the same girth as those at Wilton, and must
therefore have been planted at about the same period. The oak trees in
the park still retained many of their leaves, although it was now late
in the autumn, but they were falling off, and we tried to catch some of
them as they fell, though we were not altogether successful. My brother
reminded me of a verse he once wrote as an exercise in calligraphy when
at school:

Men are like leaves that on the trees do grow,
In Summer's prosperous time much love they show,
But art thou in adversity, then they
Like leaves from trees in Autumn fall away.

But after autumn and winter have done their worst there are still some
bushes, plants, or trees that retain their leaves to cheer the traveller
on his way. Buckingham, who was beheaded at Salisbury, was at one time a
fugitive, and hid himself in a hole near the top of a precipitous rock,
now covered over with bushes and known only to the initiated as
"Buckingham's Cave." My brother was travelling one winter's day in
search of this cave, and passed for miles through a wood chiefly
composed of oak trees that were then leafless. The only foliage that
arrested his attention was that of the ivy, holly, and yew, and these
evergreens looked so beautiful that he occasionally stopped to admire
them without exactly knowing the reason why; after leaving the great
wood he reached a secluded village far away from what was called
civilisation, where he inquired the way to "Buckingham's Cave" from a
man who turned out to be the village wheelwright. In the course of
conversation the man informed him that he occasionally wrote poetry for
a local newspaper with a large circulation in that and the adjoining
counties. He complained strongly that the editor of the paper had
omitted one verse from the last poem he had sent up; which did not
surprise my brother, who inwardly considered he might safely have
omitted the remainder. But when the wheelwright showed him the poem he
was so pleased that he asked permission to copy the verses.

The fairest flower that ever bloomed
With those of bright array
In Seasons' changeful course is doomed
To fade and die away;
While yonder's something to be seen -
It is the lovely evergreen!

The pretty flowers in summer-time
Bring beauty to our land,
And lovely are the forest trees -
In verdure green they stand;
But while we gaze upon the scene
We scarcely see the evergreen!

But lo! the wintry blast comes on,
And quickly falls the snow;
And where are all the beauties gone
That bloom'd a while ago?
While yonder stands through winter keen
The lovely-looking evergreen!

Our lives are like a fading flower,
And soon they pass away,
And earthly joys may last an hour
To disappear at close of day;
But Saints in Heaven abide serene
And lasting, like the evergreen!

My brother felt that here he had found one of nature's poets, and no
longer wondered why he had admired the evergreen trees and bushes when
he came through the forest.

[Illustration: COL. JOHN PENRUDDOCKE.]

In about two miles after leaving Wilton we parted company with the River
Nadder, and walked along the road which passes over the downs to
Shaftesbury. On our way we came in sight of the village of Compton
Chamberlain, and of Compton House and park, which had been for centuries
the seat of the Penruddocke family. It was Colonel John Penruddocke who
led the famous "forlorn hope" in the time of the Commonwealth in 1655.
He and another champion, with 200 followers, rode into Salisbury, where,
overcoming the guards, they released the prisoners from the gaol, and
seizing the two judges of assize proclaimed Charles II King, just as
Booth did in Cheshire. The people of the city did not rise, as they
anticipated, so Penruddocke and his companions dispersed and rode away
to different parts of the country; eventually they were all taken
prisoners and placed in the Tower of London. Penruddocke was examined
personally by Cromwell at Whitehall, and it was thought for a time that
he might be pardoned, but ultimately he was sent to the scaffold. He
compared the steps leading up to the scaffold to Jacob's ladder, the
feet on earth but the top reaching to heaven; and taking off his doublet
he said, "I am putting off these old rags of mine to be clad with the
new robes of the righteousness of Jesus Christ." The farewell letters
between him and his wife were full of tenderness and love, and what he
had done was doubtless under the inspiration of strong religious
convictions. It was said that it was his insurrection that led to the
division of the country into military districts, which have continued
ever since. The lace cap he wore on the scaffold, blood-stained and
showing the marks of the axe, was still preserved, as well as his sword,
and the beautiful letters that passed between him and his wife, and the
Colonel's portrait was still to be seen at the mansion.

About a mile before reaching Shaftesbury we left Wiltshire and entered
the county of Dorset, of which Shaftesbury was said to be the most
interesting town from an antiquarian point of view. Here the downs
terminate abruptly, leaving the town standing 700 feet above the sea
level on the extreme point, with precipices on three sides. Across the
far-famed Blackmoor Vale we could quite easily see Stourton Tower,
standing on the top of Kingsettle Hill, although it was twelve miles
distant. The tower marked the spot where, in 879, King Alfred raised his
standard against the Danes, and was built in 1766, the inscription on it
reading:

Alfred the Great A.D. 879 on this summit erected his standard against
Danish invaders. To him we owe the origin of Juries, the
establishment of a Militia, the creation of a Naval Force. Alfred,
the light of a benighted age, was a Philosopher, and a Christian, the
father of his people, the founder of the English monarchy and
liberty.

In the gardens near that tower the three counties of Dorset, Somerset,
and Wilts meet; and here in a grotto, where the water runs from a jar
under the arm of a figure of Neptune, rises the River Stour, whose
acquaintance we were to form later in its sixty-mile run through Dorset.

Shaftesbury had been a stronghold from the earliest times, and so long
ago, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth, who was born A.D. 1100, that an
Eagle spoke to the people who were building the walls words that even he
dare not write. Elgiva, the queen of the Saxon King Edward the Elder,
was buried in the Abbey at Shaftesbury, as were also the remains of
Edward the Martyr, who was murdered by Elfrida his step-mother in 980.
When the bones of this canonised king began to work miraculous cures,
there was a rush of pilgrims to the town, which at one time contained
twelve churches. King Canute, it was stated, died here in 1035; and in
1313 Elizabeth, the wife of Robert Bruce of Scotland, was brought to the
Abbey as a prisoner. The building was demolished in the time of Henry
VIII, all that remained of it being what is known as the old Abbey wall.

Most of the old churches had disappeared too, but under St. Peter's
there was a wine-cellar belonging to a public-house displaying the
strange sign of the "Sun and Moon." The proximity of inns to churches
we had often noted on our journey, but thought _this_ intrusion had been
carried rather too far, although the age of the church proclaimed it to
be a relic of great antiquity. We must not forget to record that between
Wilton and Shaftesbury we saw a large quantity of pheasants feeding
under some oak trees. We counted more than twenty of them, and had never
seen so many gathered together before. Among them we noted three that
were white, the only white pheasants we had ever seen.

Leaving Shaftesbury, we crossed over one section of the Blackmoor Vale,
or what we might describe as the Stour country, for there were many
place-names in which the word Stour occurred. The place where the River
Stour rises is known as Stourhead; and we had seen a monument, rather a
fine one, in Salisbury Cathedral, to the murderer, Lord Charles
Stourton. Three holes on each side of the monument represented the
sources of the Stour at Stourhead, and these figured in the armorial
bearings of the family. Lord Charles was hanged with a silk cord instead
of the usual one made of hemp, the execution taking place in Salisbury
Market-place in 1556; his crime was the murder of two of the family
agents, father and son. His own four agents were hanged at the same time
along with him, and a piece of twisted wire resembling the halter was
suspended over his tomb for many years, to remind people of his
punishment and crime.

We took the precaution of getting our tea before leaving Shaftesbury, as
there was some uncertainty about the road to Sturminster, where,
attracted by the name, we expected to find a minster or cathedral, and
had therefore decided to make that town our next stage. We could see a
kind of mist rising at several points in the valley as we descended the
steep hill leading out of the town in the direction of the Stour valley.
No highway led that way except one following a circuitous route, so we
walked at a quick pace along the narrow by-road, as we had been
directed. Darkness soon came over us, and we had to moderate our speed.
We met very few persons on the road, and saw very few houses, and it
seemed to us a marvel afterwards that we ever reached Sturminster (or
Stourminster) that night. It would have been bad enough if we had been
acquainted with the road, but towards the close of our journey we could
hear the river running near us for miles in the pitch darkness, and
although my brother walked bravely on in front, I knew he was afraid of
the water, and no doubt in fear that he might stumble into it in the
dark. We were walking in Indian file, for there was no room to walk
abreast in safety, while in places we had absolutely to grope our way.
We moved along

Like one who on a lonely road
Doth walk in fear and dread.
And dare not turn his head,
For well he knows a fearful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.

It is perhaps unnecessary to explain that the "fearful fiend" was not
either my brother or myself, but some one supposed to be somewhere in
the rear of us both; but in any case we were mightily pleased when we
reached the "King's Arms" at Sturminster, where we were looked upon as
heroes, having now walked quite 1,100 miles.

(_Distance that day, twenty-eight miles_.)


_Thursday, November 9th._

A sharp frost during the night reminded us of the approach of winter,
and we left Sturminster early this morning with the determination of
crossing the county of Dorset, and reaching the sea-coast that night,
thence to follow the coast-line as far as was consistent with seeing all
the sights we could, until we reached the Land's End. We again crossed
the bridge over the River Stour by which we had entered the town in the
black darkness of the previous night, and were careful not to damage any
of the six arches of which it was composed, as a notice inscribed on the
bridge itself stated that any one damaging any portion of it would be
guilty of felony and liable to transportation for life! We had not been
able to find any special object of interest in the town itself, although
King Edgar had given the manor to the monks of Glastonbury. Even the old
church, with the exception of the tower, had been pulled down and
rebuilt; so possibly the old and well-worn steps that had formed the
base of the cross long since disappeared might claim to be the most
ancient relic in the town. The landlord of the inn had told us that
Sturminster was famous for its fairs, which must have originated in very
early times, for they were arranged to be held on saints' days - St.
Philip and Jacob's, and St. Luke's respectively.

[Illustration: ALL THAT REMAINS OF STURMINSTER CROSS]

After crossing the bridge we climbed up the small hill opposite, to view
the scant ivy-clad ruins of Sturminster-Newton Castle, which was all
that remained of what was once a seat of the Saxon Kings, especially of
Edgar and Edward the Elder. We had a pleasant walk for some miles, and
made good progress across the southern end of the Vale of Blackmoor, but
did not keep to any particular road, as we crossed the country in the
direction of some hills we could occasionally see in the distance.
Eventually we reached Cerne-Abbas, where we were told we ought to have
come in the springtime to see the primroses which there grew in immense
profusion. We had heard of the "Cerne Giant," whose fixed abode was now
the Giant's Hill, immediately behind the village, and whose figure was
there cut out in the turf. Formerly this monster caused great loss to
the farmers by eating their sheep, of which he consumed large
quantities. They were quite powerless to stop him, owing to his immense
size and the enormous club he carried; but one day he had eaten so many
sheep that he felt drowsy and lay down to sleep. He was seen by the
farmers, who could tell by his heavy breathing that the giant was fast
asleep, so they got together all their ropes and quietly tied his limbs
and fastened him to the earth; then, attacking him with their knives and
axes, they managed to kill him. This was a great event, and to celebrate
their victory they cut his figure in the chalk cliff to the exact
life-size, so that future generations could see what a monster they had
slain. This was the legend; and perhaps, like the White Horses, of which
there were several, the Giant might have been cut out in prehistoric
times, or was it possible he could have grown larger during the
centuries that had intervened, for he was 180 feet in height, and the
club that he carried in his hand was 120 feet long! Cerne Abbas was a
very old place, as an early Benedictine Abbey was founded there in 987,
the first Abbot being Aelfric, who afterwards became Archbishop of
Canterbury. It was at Cerne that Queen Margaret sought refuge after
landing at Weymouth in 1471. Her army had been defeated at Barnet on the
very day she landed; but, accompanied by a small force of French
soldiers, she marched on until she reached Tewkesbury, only to meet
there with a final defeat, and to lose her son Edward, who was murdered
in cold blood, as well as her husband Henry VI. Very little remained of
the old abbey beyond its ancient gateway, which was three stories high,
and displayed two very handsome double-storeyed oriel windows.

We now followed the downward course of the River Cerne, and walking
along a hard but narrow road soon reached the village of Charminster.
The church here dated from the twelfth century, but the tower was only
built early in the sixteenth century by Sir Thomas Trenchard of
Wolfeton, whose monogram T.T. appeared on it as well as in several
places in the church, where some very old monuments of the Trenchard
family were also to be seen. Wolfeton House was associated with a very
curious incident, which materially affected the fortunes of one of
England's greatest ducal families. In 1506 the Archduke Philip of
Austria and Joanna his wife sailed from Middelburg, one of the Zeeland
ports, to take possession of their kingdom of Castile in Spain. But a
great storm came on, and their ship became separated from the others.
Becoming unmanageable, it drifted helplessly down the Channel, and to
make matters worse took fire just when the storm was at its height, and
narrowly escaped foundering. Joanna had been shipwrecked on a former
occasion, and when her husband came to inform her of the danger, she
calmly put on her best dress and, with all her money and jewels about
her, awaited her fate, thinking that when her body was found they would
see she was a lady of rank and give her a suitable burial. With great
difficulty the ship, now a miserable wreck, was brought into the port of
Weymouth, and the royal pair were taken out with all speed and conveyed
to the nearest nobleman's residence, which happened to be that of Sir
Thomas Trenchard, near Dorchester, about ten miles distant. They were
very courteously received and entertained, but the difficulty was that
Sir Thomas could neither speak Spanish nor French, and the visitors
could not speak English. In this dilemma he suddenly remembered a young
kinsman of his, John Russel of Berwick House, Bridport, who had
travelled extensively both in France and Spain, and he sent for him
post-haste to come at once. On receipt of the message young Russel lost
no time, but riding at full gallop, soon arrived at Wolfeton House. He
was not only a good linguist, but also very good-looking, and the royal
visitors were so charmed with him that when King Henry VII sent the Earl
of Arundel with an escort to convey Philip and Joanna to see him at
Windsor Castle, Russel went with them, and was introduced to King Henry
by his royal guests as "a man of abilities, fit to stand before princes
and not before meaner men." This was a good start for young Russel, and
led to the King's retaining him at Court. He prospered greatly, rising
high in office; and in the next reign, when Henry VIII dissolved the
monasteries, Russel came in for a handsome share of the spoils,
including Woburn Abbey; he was created a peer, and so founded the great
house of Bedford, made a dukedom in 1694 by William III. One of his
descendants, the third son of the sixth Duke of Bedford, was Lord John
Russell (the name being then able to afford an extra letter), who
brought the Great Reform Bill into Parliament in the year 1832. He was
Prime Minister then and in several subsequent Parliaments, and his name
was naturally a household word all over the kingdom; but what made my
brother more interested in this family was that as early as the year
1850 he was nicknamed "Lord John," after Lord John Russell, who was then
the Prime Minister.

We were now quite near Dorchester, but all we knew about that town
previously was from a song that was popular in those days about "Old
Toby Philpot," whose end was recorded in the last verse, when -

His breath-doors of life on a sudden were shut,
And he died full as big as a Dorchester butt!

Our expectations of finding a brewery there were fully realised, and, as
anticipated, the butts we saw were of much larger dimensions, especially
about the waist, than those we had seen farther north. If "Toby" was of
the same proportions as one of these he must have been quite a
monstrosity.

We were surprised to find Dorchester such a clean and pretty town.
Seeing it was the county town of Dorset, one of the most ancient
settlements in England, and the Durmovaria of the Romans, we expected to
find some of those old houses and quaint passages so common to ancient
county towns; but we learned that the old town had been destroyed by a
fire in 1613, and long before that (in 1003) Dorchester had been burnt
to the ground by the Danes. It had also suffered from serious fires in
1622, 1725, and 1775, the last having been extinguished by the aid of
Johnny Cope's Regiment of Dragoons, who happened then to be quartered in



Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 49 of 66)