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the town. But the great fire in 1613 must have been quite a fearful
affair, as we saw a pamphlet written about it by an eye-witness, under
the title of _Fire from Heaven_. It gave such a graphic description of
what such a fire was like, that we copied the following extract, which
also displayed the quaint phraseology and spelling peculiar to that
period:

The instrument of God's wrath began first to take hold in a
tradesman's worke-house ... Then began the crye of fier to be spread
through the whole towne man, woman and childe ran amazedly up and
down the streetes, calling for water, so fearfully, as if death's
trumpet had sounded a command of present destruction. The fier began
between the hours of two and three in the afternoone, the wind
blowing very strong, and increased so mightily that, in a very short
space, the most part of the town, was tiered, which burned so
extreamely, the weather being hot, and the houses dry, that help of
man grew almost past ... The reason the fier at the first prevailed
above the strength of man was that it unfortunately happened in the
time of harvest, when people were most busied in the reaping of their
corne, and the towne most emptyest, but when this burnying Beacon of
ruyne gave the harvestmen light into the field, little booted it to
them to stay, but in more than reasonable hast poasted they homeward,
not only for the safeguard of their goods and houses, but for the
preservation of their wives and children, more dearer than all
temporall estate or worldly abundance. In like manner the
inhabitantes of the neighbouring townes and villages, at the fearful
sight of the red blazing element, ran in multitudes to assist them,
proffering the dear venture of their lives to oppresse the rigour of
the fier, but all too late they came, and to small purpose showed
they their willing minds, for almost every streete was filled with
flame, every place burning beyond help and recovery. Their might they
in wofull manner behold merchants' warehouses full of riche
commodities on a flaming fier, garners of breade corn consuming,
multitudes of Wollen and Linnen Clothes burned into ashes, Gold and
Silver melted with Brasse, Pewter and Copper, tronkes and chestes of
Damaskes and fine linnens, with all manner of rich stuffs, made
fewell to increase this universe sole conqueror.... The fierceness of
the fier was such that it even burnet and scorchet trees as they
grew, and converted their green liveries into black burned garments;
not so much as Hearbes and Flowers flourishing in Gardynes, but were
in a moment withered with the heat of the fier.... Dorchester was a
famous towne, now a heap of ashes for travellers that passe by to
sigh at. Oh, Dorchester, wel maist thou mourn for those thy great
losses, for never had English Towne the like unto thee.... A loss so
unrecoverable that unlesse the whole land in pitty set to their
devotions, it is like never to re-obtain the former estate, but
continue like ruinated Troy, or decayed Carthage. God in his mercy
raise the inhabitants up againe, and graunt that by the mischance of
this Towne both us, they and all others may repent us of our sins.
Amen.

It was computed that over three hundred houses were destroyed in this
great fire; but the prayer of the writer of the pamphlet, as to the
town's being raised up again, had been granted. The county of Dorset
generally, lies in the sunniest part of England, and the town was now
prospering and thoroughly healthy, the death-rate being well below the
average: did not the great Dr. Arbuthnot leave it in despair with the
remark, "In Dorchester a physician can neither live nor die"?

Dorchester was one of the largest stations of the Romans in England, and
their amphitheatre just outside the town was the most perfect in the
country, the Roman road and Icknield ways passing quite near it. There
were three great earthworks in the immediate neighbourhood - the Maumbury
Rings or Amphitheatre, the Poundbury Camp, and the far-famed Maiden
Castle, one of the greatest British earthworks; in fact Roman and other
remains were so numerous here that they were described as being "as
plentiful as mushrooms," and the whole district was noted for its
"rounded hills with short herbage and lots of sheep." We climbed up the
hill to see the amphitheatre, which practically adjoined the town, and
formed one of the most remarkable and best preserved relics of the Roman
occupation in Britain. It was oval in shape, and had evidently been
formed by excavating the chalk in the centre, and building up the sides
with it to the height of about thirty feet. It measured 345 feet by 340,
and was supposed to have provided ample accommodation for the men and
beasts that figured in the sports, in addition to about 13,000
spectators.

In the year 1705 quite 10,000 people assembled there to witness the
strangling and burning of a woman named Mary Channing, who had murdered
her husband. This woman, whose maiden name was Mary Brookes, lived in
Dorchester with her parents, who compelled her to marry a grocer in the
town named Richard Channing, for whom she did not care. Keeping company
with some former gallants, she by her extravagance almost ruined her
husband, and then poisoned him. At the Summer Assizes in 1704 she was
tried, but being found pregnant she was removed, and eighteen weeks
after her child was born, she was, at the following Lent Assizes,
sentenced to be strangled and then burned in the middle of the area of
the amphitheatre. She was only nineteen years of age, and insisted to
the last that she was innocent.

About a hundred years before that a woman had suffered the same penalty
at the same place for a similar offence. This horrible cruelty was
sanctioned by law, in those days, in case of the murder of a husband by
his wife; and the Rings were used as a place of execution until the year
1767.

There was a fine view of the country from the top of the amphitheatre,
and we could see both the Poundbury Camp and the Mai-Dun, or "Hill of
Strength," commonly called the Maiden Hill, a name also applied to other
hills we had seen in the country. The Maiden Hill we could now see was
supposed to be one of the most stupendous British earthworks in
existence, quite as large as Old Sarum, and covering an area of 120
acres. It was supposed to be the Dunium of which Ptolemy made mention,
and was pre-Roman without a doubt. At Dorchester the Romans appear to
have had a residential city, laid out in avenues in the direction of
Maumbury Camp, with houses on either side; but the avenues we saw were
of trees - elm, beech, and sycamore.

The burial-places of the Romans were excavated in the chalk, and this
being naturally dry, their remains were preserved much longer there than
if they had been buried in damp soil. Many graves of Roman soldiers had
been unearthed from time to time, and it was discovered that the chalk
had been scooped out in an oblong form to just the exact size of the
corpse. The man was generally found buried on his side with his knees
drawn up to his chest, all sorts of things being buried with him,
including very often a coin of the then reigning emperor placed in his
mouth. His weapon and utensils for eating and drinking, and his
ornaments, had been placed as near as possible to the positions where he
had used them in life; the crown of his head touched one end of the
oval-shaped hole in which he had been buried and his toes the other. The
tomb was exactly in the shape of an egg, and the corpse was placed in it
as tightly as possible, like a chicken in its shell. Women's ornaments
were also found buried with them, such as pins for the hair and beads
for the neck; but we did not hear of any rings having been found amongst
them, so possibly these tokens of slavery were not worn by the Roman
ladies. We might have found some, however, in the local museum, which
was full of all kinds of old things, and occupied a house formerly
tenanted by that man of blood - -Judge Jeffreys, whose chair was still
preserved, and whose portrait by Lely was sufficient alone to proclaim
his brutal character. In the time of Monmouth's rebellion in 1685 Judge
Jeffreys began his "Bloody Assize" at Dorchester. Monmouth had landed at
Lyme Regis in the south of the county, and the cry was "A Monmouth! A
Monmouth! The Protestant Religion!" and a number of Puritans had joined
his standard. More than three hundred of them had been taken prisoners
and were awaiting their trial at Dorchester, the county town. Jeffreys
let it be known that their only chance was to plead guilty and throw
themselves on the mercy of their country, but in spite of this two
hundred and ninety-two received sentence of death. Twenty-nine of these
were despatched immediately, and about ninety were executed in various
parts of the country, their bodies being brutally dismembered and
exposed in towns, villages, and hamlets. Great efforts were made to save
one young gentleman named Battiscombe, who was engaged to a young lady
of gentle blood, a sister of the Sheriff; she threw herself at the feet
of Jeffreys to beg for mercy, but he drove her away with a jest so
shocking to decency and humanity that it could not be repeated, and
Battiscombe perished with the others. Altogether three hundred persons
were executed, more were whipped and imprisoned, and a thousand sold and
transported to the Plantations, for taking part in this rebellion, the
money going as perquisites to the ladies of the Court. Jeffreys rose to
be Lord Chancellor, but falling into disgrace after the abdication of
James II, he was committed to the Tower of London and there died in
1689, before he could be brought to trial. It saddened us to think that
this brute really belonged to our own county, and was at first the
Justice for Chester. The following entry appeared in the records of the
town:

To a Bill for disbursements for ye Gallows. Burning and boiling ye
Rebels, executed p. order £116 4s. 8d. Paid Mr. Mayers att ye Beare,
for so much hee pd. for setting up of a post with ye quarters of ye
Rebells att ye town end as p. his Bill 1s. 6-1/2d.

These entries bear evidence of this horrible butchery; but the
Dorcestrians seem to have been accustomed to sights of this kind, as
there had been horrible persecutions of the Roman Catholics there in the
time of Queen Elizabeth - sequel perhaps to those of the Protestants in
the time of Queen Mary - one man named Pritchard was hanged, drawn, and
quartered in 1583, and in 1584 four others were executed.

Dorchester, like other places, could boast of local celebrities. Among
these was John White, who in 1606 was appointed rector of Dorchester and
held that office until the day of his death in 1648. He was the son of
one of the early Puritans, and was himself a famous Puritan divine. At
the Assembly of Divines at Westminster in 1643 he was said to have
prayed before the House of Commons in St. Margaret's for an hour and a
half, in the hope that they might be induced to subscribe to the
"Covenant" to resist the encroachments of Charles I on religious
liberty.

He was a pioneer in the New England movement, and was virtually the
founder of Massachusetts, in America. From the first he took a most
active part in encouraging emigration and in creating what at that time
was known as New England, and he was also the founder of the New England
Company. It was in 1620 that the good ship _Mayflower_ arrived at
Plymouth with Robinson's first batch of pilgrims from Holland on their
way across the Atlantic. It is not certain that White crossed the ocean
himself; but his was the master-mind that organised and directed the
expeditions to that far-distant land, and he was ably seconded by Bishop
Lake, his friend and brother Wykehamist.

[Illustration: JOHN ENDICOTT, FIRST GOVERNOR OF MASSACHUSETTS.]

He also influenced John Endicott, "a man well known to divers persons of
note" and a native of Dorchester, where he was born in 1588, to take an
active part in developing the new Colonies, and mainly through the
influence of White a patent was obtained from the Council on March 19th,
1628, by which the Crown "bargained and sold unto some Knights and
Gentlemen about Dorchester, whose names included that of John Endicott,
that part of New England lying between the Merrimac River and the
Charles River on Massachusetts Bay."

At the time this "bargain" was made very little was known about America,
which was looked upon as a kind of desert or wilderness, nor had the
Council any idea of the extent of territory lying between the two
rivers. This ultimately became of immense value, as it included the site
on which the great town of Boston, U.S.A., now stands - a town that was
founded by pilgrims from Boston in Lincolnshire with whom John White was
in close contact.

John Endicott sailed from Weymouth in the ship _Abigail_, Henry Gauder,
Master, with full powers to act for the Company. The new Dorchester was
founded, and soon afterwards four "prudent and honest men" went out from
it and founded Salem. John White procured a patent and royal charter for
them also, which was sealed on March 4th, 1629. It seemed the irony of
fate that on the same day 147 years afterwards Washington should open
fire upon Boston from the Dorchester heights in the American War of
Independence.

A second Dorchester was founded in America, probably by settlers from
the second Dorchester in England - a large village near which we had
passed as we walked through Oxfordshire, where in the distance could be
seen a remarkable hill known as Dorchester Clump. Although it had been a
Roman town, the city where afterwards St. Birinus, the Apostle of
Wessex, set up his episcopal throne from 634 to 707, the head of the See
of Wessex, it was now only a village with one long street, and could not
compare with its much larger neighbour in Dorset. Its large ancient
church, with a fine Jesse window, gave the idea of belonging to a place
once of much greater size. The "hands across the sea" between the two
Dorchesters have never been separated, but the pilgrims now come in the
opposite direction, thousands of Americans visiting Dorchester and its
antiquities; we heard afterwards that the American Dorset had been
presented with one of the tessellated pavements dug up from a Roman
villa in what we might call "Dorchester, Senior," in England, and that a
memorial had been put up in the porch of Dorchester Church inscribed as
follows:

In this Porch lies the body of the Rev. John White, M.A., of New
College, Oxford. He was born at Christmas 1575. For about forty years
he was Rector of this Parish, and also of Holy Trinity, Dorchester.
He died here July 21st, 1648. A man of great godliness, good
scholarship, and wonderful ability. He had a very strong sway in this
town. He greatly forwarded the migration to the Massachusetts Bay
Colony, where his name lives in unfading remembrance.

[Illustration: STATUE OF WILLIAM BARNES.]

Another clergyman, named William Barnes, who was still living, had
become famous by writing articles for the _Gentleman's Magazine_ and
poems for the _Dorset County Chronicle_, and had published a book in
1844 entitled _Poems of Rural Life in Dorset Dialect_, some of which
were of a high order. They were a little difficult for us to understand
readily, for these southern dialects did not appeal to us. After he died
a statue was erected to his memory, showing him as an aged clergyman
quaintly attired in caped cloak, knee-breeches, and buckled shoes, with
a leather satchel strung over his shoulder and a stout staff in his
hand. One of his poems referred to a departed friend of his, and a verse
in it was thought so applicable to himself that it was inscribed on his
monument:

Zoo now I hope this kindly feäce
Is gone to find a better pleäce;
But still wi vo'k a-left behind
He'll always be a-kept in mind.

Thomas Hardy, the founder of Rochester Grammar School in 1569, was the
ancestor of Admiral Hardy, Nelson's flag-captain, who received the great
hero in his arms when the fatal shot was fired at Trafalgar, and whose
monument we could see on Blackdown Hill in the distance. Not the least
distinguished of this worthy family is Thomas Hardy, the brilliant
author of the famous series of West-country novels, the first of which
was published in 1872, the year after our visit.

Our next stage was Bridport, and we had been looking forward to seeing
the sea for some time past, as we considered it would be an agreeable
change from the scenery of the lonely downs. We passed by Winterbourne
Abbas on our way, and the stone circle known as the "Nine Stones." The
name Winterbourne refers to one of those ancient springs common in chalk
districts which burst out suddenly in great force, usually in winter
after heavy autumn rains, run for a season, and then as suddenly
disappear.

[Illustration: BRIDPORT.]

Bridport was an important place even in the time of Edward the
Confessor, when it contained 120 houses and a priory of monks. It was
the birthplace of Giles de Bridport, the third Bishop of Salisbury,
whose fine tomb we had seen in that cathedral, and who died in 1262; of
him Leland wrote, "he kivered the new Cathedral Church of Saresbyrie
throughout with lead." In the time of the Plantagenet kings Bridport was
noted for its sails and ropes, much of the cordage and canvas for the
fleet fitted out to do battle with the Spanish Armada being made here.
Flax was then cultivated in the neighbourhood, and the rope-walks, where
the ropes were made, were in the streets, which accounted for some of
the streets being so much wider than others. Afterwards the goods were
made in factories, the flax being imported from Rusfia.

We did not quite reach the sea that night, as it was a mile or two
farther on; but we put up at the "Bull Hotel," and soon discovered we
had arrived at a town where nearly all the men for ages had been
destined for the army or navy, and consequently had travelled to all
parts of the world - strong rivals to the Scots for the honour of being
found sitting on the top of the North Pole if ever that were discovered.

King Charles II was nearly trapped here when he rode into the town in
company with a few others and put up at the "George Inn." The yard of
the inn was full of soldiers, but he passed unnoticed, as they were
preparing for an expedition to the Channel Islands. Charles received a
private message that he was not safe, and that he was being pursued, and
he and his friends hastily departed along the Dorchester road.
Fortunately Lord Wilton came up, and advised them to turn down a small
lane leading to Broadwindsor, where Charles was immediately secreted; it
was lucky for him, as the pursuing party passed along the Dorchester
road immediately afterwards, and he would certainly have been taken
prisoner if he had gone there. A large stone was afterwards placed at
the corner of Lea Lane, where he turned off the high road, and still
remained there to commemorate that event, which happened on September
23rd, 1651.

One Sunday morning in 1685 about three hundred soldiers arrived in the
town from Lyme Regis, where the Duke of Monmouth had landed on his
unfortunate expedition to seize the crown of his uncle James II. They
were opposed by the Dorset Militia and fired upon from the windows of
the "Bull Inn," where we were now staying, being eventually forced to
retire.

In still later years Bridport was kept alive in anticipation of the
hourly-expected invasion of England by the great Napoleon, who had
prepared a large camp at Boulogne, the coast of Dorset being considered
the most likely place for him to land.

(_Distance walked thirty miles_.)


_Friday, November 10th._

We left the "Bull Hotel" a little before daylight this morning, as we
had a long walk before us, and in about half an hour we reached Bridport
Quay, where the river Brit terminates in the sea, now lying before us in
all its beauty. There were a few small ships here, with the usual knot
of sailors on the quay; but the great object of interest was known as
the Chesil Bank, "one of the most wonderful natural formations in the
world." Nothing of the kind approaching its size existed elsewhere in
Europe, for it extended from here to Portland, a distance of sixteen
miles, and we could see it forming an almost straight line until it
reached Portland, from which point it had been described as a rope of
pebbles holding Portland to the mainland. The Bank was composed of white
flint pebbles, and for half its distance from the Portland end, an inlet
from the sea resembling a canal, and called "the Fleet," passed between
the land and the Bank, which was here only 170 to 200 yards wide: raised
in the centre and sloping down to the water on either side. The pebbles
at the Bridport end of the Bank were very small, but at the Portland end
they were about three inches in diameter, increasing in size so
gradually that in the dark the fishermen could tell where they had
landed by the size of the pebbles. The presence of these stones had long
puzzled both British and foreign savants, for there were no rocks of
that nature near them on the sea-coast, and the trawlers said there
were no pebbles like them in the sea. Another mystery was why they
varied in size in such a remarkable manner. One thing was certain: they
had been washed up there by the gigantic waves that rolled in at times
with terrific force from the Atlantic; and after the great storms had
swept over the Bank many curious things had been found, including a
large number of Roman coins of the time of Constantine, mediæval coins
and antique rings, seals, plates, and ingots of silver and
gold - possibly some of them from the treasure-ships of the Spanish
Armada, which were said to have been sunk in the Bay. Geologists will
explain anything. They now assert that the Bank is the result of tidal
currents which sweep along the coast eastwards - that they have destroyed
beds in the cliff containing such pebbles, and as the current loses
strength so the bigger and heavier stones are dropped first and the
smaller only reach the places where the current disappears.

[Illustration: CHESIL BEACH, PORTLAND.]

This portion of the sea, known as the West Bay, was the largest
indentation on the coast, and on that account was doubly dangerous to
ships caught or driven there in a storm, especially before the time when
steam was applied to them, and when the constant traffic through the
Channel between Spain and Spanish Flanders furnished many victims, for
in those days the wrecks were innumerable. Strange fish and other
products of the tropical seas had drifted hither across the Atlantic
from the West Indies and America, and in the fishing season the fin
whale, blue shark, threshers and others had been caught, also the sun
fish, boar fish, and the angler or sea-devil. Rare mosses and lichens,
with agates, jaspers, coloured flints and corals, had also been found on
the Chesil Bank; but the most marvellous of all finds, and perhaps that
of the greatest interest, was the Mermaid, which was found there in June
1757. It was thirteen feet long, and the upper part of it had some
resemblance to the human form, while the lower part was like that of a
fish. The head was partly like that of a man and partly like that of a
hog. Its fins resembled hands, and it had forty-eight large teeth in
each jaw, not unlike those in the jaw-bone of a man. Just fancy one of
our Jack-tars diving from the Chesil Bank and finding a mate like that
below! But we were told that diving from that Bank into the sea would
mean certain death, as the return flows from the heavy swell of the
Atlantic which comes in here, makes it almost impossible for the
strongest swimmer to return to the Bank, and that "back-wash" in a storm
had accounted for the many shipwrecks that had occurred there in olden
times.

From where we stood we could see the Hill and Bill of Portland, in the
rear of which was the famous Breakwater, the foundation-stone of which
had been laid by the Prince Consort, the husband of Queen Victoria, more
than twenty years previously, and although hundreds of prisoners from
the great convict settlement at Portland had been employed upon the work
ever since, the building of it was not yet completed.

The stone from the famous quarries at Portland, though easily worked, is
of a very durable nature, and has been employed in the great public
buildings in London for hundreds of years. Inigo Jones used most of it



Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 50 of 66)