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Robert Naylor.

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the various phases of the luminary that it represented. Between the two
circles was a third ball representing the sun, with a fleur-de-lys which
pointed to the hours as the sun, according to the ancient theory, daily
revolved round the earth; underneath was an inscription relating to the
hours:

PEREUNT ET IMPUTANTUR
(They pass, and are placed to our account.)

The notes telling the hours were struck upon the rich-toned bell named
"Great Peter," which was placed above, the curfew or _couvre-feu_
("cover-fire") being also rung upon the same bell.

The curfew bell was formerly sounded at sunset, to give notice that all
fires and lights must be extinguished. It was instituted by William the
Conqueror and continued during the reign of William Rufus, but was
abolished as a "police regulation" in the reign of Henry I. The custom
was still observed in many places, and we often heard the sound of the
curfew bell, which was almost invariably rung at eight o'clock in the
evening. The poet Gray commences his "Elegy written in a Country
Churchyard" with -

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day;

and one of the most popular dramatic pieces in the English language,
written by an American schoolgirl born in 1850, was entitled "The Curfew
Bell." She described how, in Cromwell's time, a young Englishwoman,
whose sweetheart was doomed to die that night at the tolling of the
curfew bell, after vainly trying to persuade the old sexton not to ring
it, prevented it by finding her way up the tower to the belfry and
holding on to the tongue of the great bell. Meanwhile the old sexton who
had told her "the curfew bell _must_ ring tonight" was pulling the
bell-rope below, causing her to sway backwards and forwards in danger of
losing her life while murmuring the words "Curfew shall _not_ ring
to-night":

O'er the distant hills comes Cromwell. Bessie sees him; and her brow,
Lately white with sickening horror, has no anxious traces now.
At his feet she tells her story, shows her hands all bruised and torn;
And her sweet young face, still haggard with the anguish it had worn,
Touched his heart with sudden pity, lit his eyes with misty light.
"Go! Your lover lives!" cried Cromwell. "Curfew shall not ring to-night!"

Wide they flung the massive portals, led the prisoner forth to die,
All his bright young life before him. 'Neath the darkening English sky
Bessie came, with flying footsteps, eyes aglow with love-light sweet;
Kneeling on the turf beside him, laid his pardon at his feet.
In his brave, strong arms he clasped her, kissed the face upturned and
white,
Whispered: "Darling, you have saved me; curfew will not ring to-night!"

The "Great Peter" bell was presented to Exeter Cathedral in the
fifteenth century by Bishop Peter Courtenay, and when re-cast in 1676
weighed 14,000 lb., being then considered the second largest bell in
England. The curfew was tolled on "Great Peter" every night at eight
o'clock, and after that hour had been sounded and followed by a short
pause, the same bell tolled the number of strokes correspending with the
day of the month. This was followed by another short pause, and then
eight deliberate strokes were tolled.

Ever since the time of William the Conqueror there appeared to have been
too many churches in Exeter, for it was said that thirty-two were known
to have existed at the time of the Conquest, and that in the year 1222
the Bishop reduced the number to nineteen, of which sixteen still
remained at the time of our visit, while the sites of the remaining
three could be located. A further effort to reduce the number was made
in the time of the Commonwealth, when an Act was passed to reduce them
to four, but the accession of King Charles II prevented this from being
carried out.

One of the old churches stood at the top of a small elevation known as
Stepcote Hill, approached by a very narrow street, one half of which was
paved and the other formed into steps leading to the "Church of St.
Mary's Steps," the tower of which displayed a sixteenth-century clock.
On the dial appeared the seated figure of King Henry VIII guarded by two
soldiers, one on each side, who strike the hours; they are commonly
known as "Matthew the Miller and his two sons."

[Illustration: THE GUILDHALL, EXETER. "We thought the old Guildhall even
more interesting than the Cathedral."]

Matthew was a miller who lived in the neighbourhood, and was so regular
in his goings out and comings in that the neighbours set their time by
him; but there was no doubt that the figure represented "Old King Hal,"
and it seemed strange that the same king should have been associated by
one of the poets with a miller who had a mill in our county town of
Chester:

There dwelt a Miller hale and bold
Beside the river Dee,
He work'd and sang from morn till night,
No lark more blithe than he;
And this the burden of his song
For ever used to be -
"I envy nobody, no, not I,
And nobody envies me!"

"Thou'rt wrong, my friend," cried Old King Hal
"Thou'rt wrong as wrong can be;
For could my heart be light as thine
I'd gladly change with thee.
And tell me now what makes thee sing
With voice so loud and free,
While I am sad though I'm the King,
Beside the river Dee!"

The Miller smil'd and doff'd his cap,
"I earn my bread," quoth he;
"I love my wife, I love my friend,
I love my children three;
I owe no penny I cannot pay;
I thank the river Dee,
That turns the mill that grinds the corn
To feed my babes and me."

"Farewell," cried Hal, and sighed the while,
"Farewell! and happy be -
But say no more, if thou'd be true,
That no one envies thee;
Thy mealy cap is worth my crown,
Thy mill, my kingdom's fee;
Such men as thou are England's boast,
Oh Miller of the Dee."

[Illustration: MATTHEW THE MILLER AND HIS TWO SONS.]

We thought the old Guildhall even more interesting than the Cathedral,
the old Icknield Way, which entered the city by the High Street, passing
close to it; and in fact, it seemed as if the Hall, which formed the
centre of the civic life of the city, had encroached upon the street, as
the four huge pillars which supported the front part were standing on
the outside edge of the footpath. These four pillars had the appearance
of great solidity and strength, as also had the building overhead which
they supported, and which extended a considerable distance to the rear.
The massive entrance door, dated 1593, thickly studded with large-headed
nails, showed that the city fathers in former times had a lively sense
of self-protection from troublesome visitors. But the only besiegers now
were more apparent than real, as the covered footpath formed a
substantial shelter from a passing shower. Behind this a four-light
window displayed the Arms of France as well as those of England; there
were also emblazoned in stained glass the arms of the mayors, sheriffs,
and recorders from 1835 to 1864.

The city arms were ratified in 1564, and in the Letters Patent of that
date they are thus described:

Uppon a wreathe golde and sables, a demye-lyon gules, armed and
langued azure crowned, supportinge a bale thereon a crosse botone
golde, mantelled azure doubled argent, and for the supporters two
pagassis argent, their houes and mane golde, their winges waney of
six argent and azure.

[Illustration: PRINCESS HENRIETTA. (_From the painting by Lely, in the
Guildhall_.)]

The motto "Semper Fidelis" (ever faithful) had been bestowed on the city
by Queen Elizabeth, and Exeter has ever since been described as "The
Ever-Faithful City." There were a number of fine old paintings in the
Hall, but the one which attracted the most attention was that of the
Princess Henrietta by Sir Peter Lely. In the turret above was hung the
old chapel bell, which served as an alarm in case of fire, and bore an
inscription in Latin, "Celi Regina me protege queso ruina," or "O Queen
of Heaven, protect me, I beseech thee, from harm." The insignia case in
the Guildhall contained four maces, two swords of state, a cap of
maintenance, a mayor's chain and badge, four chains for the
sergeants-at-mace, a loving cup, and a salver. The mayor's chain dated
from 1697. The older sword of the two was given to the city by Edward IV
on the occasion of his visit in 1470, "to be carried before the mayor on
all public occasions." The sheath is wrapped in crape, the sword having
been put in mourning at the Restoration; it was annually carried in the
procession to the cathedral on the anniversary of the death of Charles I
until the year 1859, when the service in commemoration of his death was
removed from the Prayer-Book. The other sword was given to the city by
Henry VII on his visit in 1497, after his victory over Perkin Warbeck,
when "he heartily thanked his citizens for their faithful and valuable
service done against the rebels" - promised them the fullness of his
favour and gave them a sword taken from his own side, and also a cap of
maintenance, commanding that "for the future in all public places within
the said city the same should be borne before the mayor, as for a like
purpose his noble predecessor King Edward the Fourth had done." The cap
of maintenance was formerly worn by the sword-bearer on ceremonial
occasions, but was now carried on a cushion. The cap was made of black
beaver, and was preserved inside the embroidered crimson velvet cover
made in 1634. The sword of Edward IV was said to be the only existing
sword of the early English monarchs.

[Illustration: THE COMMON SEAL OF EXETER.]

The beautiful silver chains worn by the sergeants-at-mace with alternate
links of X and R, standing for Exeter, date from about the year 1500,
and were previously worn by the city waits. Exeter is the only city that
has four mace-bearers, and the common seal of the city is one of the
oldest in the kingdom, dating from 1170, and still in use.

The civic ceremonies, and especially those on Assize Sunday, are very
grand affairs. On that occasion the Judges and Corporation attend the
cathedral in state. The Judges arrive in the state-coach attired in
their robes and wigs, attended by the county sheriff in uniform, and
escorted by trumpeters and a posse of police. The Corporation march from
the Guildhall, the mayor in his sable robe and the sheriff in purple,
attended by their chaplains and the chief city officials in their robes,
and accompanied also by the magistrates, aldermen, and councillors. In
front are borne the four maces, Henry VII's sword and the cap of
maintenance, escorted by the city police. The Judges on their arrival at
the great west door of the cathedral are met by the Bishop and other
dignitaries of the Church in their robes and conducted to their official
places in the choir, whilst the beautiful organ peals out the National
Anthem.

On the third Tuesday in July a curious custom was observed, as on that
day a large white stuffed glove decorated with flowers was hung in front
of the Guildhall, the townspeople having been duly warned, to the sound
of the drum and fife, that the great Lammas Fair, which lasted for
three days, had begun; the glove was then hoisted for the term of the
fair. Lammas Day falls on the first day of August, and was in Saxon
times the Feast of First-fruits; sometimes a loaf of bread was given to
the priest in lieu of first-fruit. It seems to have been a similar fair
to that described at Honiton, but did not appear to carry with it
freedom from arrest during the term of the fair, as was the case in that
town.

The records or archives possessed by the city of Exeter are almost
continuous from the time of Edward I, and have been written and compiled
in the most careful manner. They are probably the most remarkable of
those kept by the various towns or cities in the provinces. They include
no less than forty-nine Royal Charters, the earliest existing being that
granted by Henry II in the twelfth century, and attested by Thomas
à-Becket. A herb (_Acorus calamus_ or sweet sage), which was found in
the neighbourhood of Exeter, was highly prized in former times for its
medicinal qualities, being used for diseases of the eye and in
intermittent fevers. It had an aromatic scent, even when in a dried
state, and its fragrant leaves were used for strewing the floors of
churches. It was supposed to be the rush which was strewn over the floor
of the apartments occupied by Thomas à-Becket, who was considered
luxurious and extravagant because he insisted upon a clean supply daily;
but this apparent extravagance was due to his visitors, who were at
times so numerous that some of them were compelled to sit on the floors.
It was quite a common occurrence in olden times for corpses to be buried
in churches, which caused a very offensive smell; and it might be to
counteract this that the sweet-smelling sage was employed. We certainly
knew of one large church in Lancashire within the walls of which it was
computed that 6,000 persons had been buried.

It was astonishing how many underground passages we had heard of on our
journey. What strange imaginations they conjured up in our minds! As so
few of them were now in existence, we concluded that many might have
been more in the nature of trenches cut on the surface of the land and
covered with timber or bushes; but there were old men in Exeter who were
certain that there was a tunnel between the site of the old castle and
the cathedral, and from there to other parts of the city, and they could
remember some of them being broken into and others blocked up at the
ends. We were also quite sure ourselves that such tunnels formerly
existed, but the only one we had actually seen passed between a church
and a castle. It had just been found accidentally in making an
excavation, and was only large enough for one man at a time to creep
through comfortably.

There were a number of old inns in Exeter besides the old "Globe," which
had been built on the Icknield Way in such a manner as to block that
road, forming a terminus, as if to compel travellers to patronise the
inn; and some of these houses were associated with Charles Dickens when
he came down from London to Exeter in 1835 to report on Lord John
Russell's candidature for Parliament for the _Morning Observer_. The
election was a very exciting one, and the great novelist, it was said,
found food for one of his novels in the ever-famous Eatonswill, and the
ultra-abusive editors. Four years afterwards Dickens leased a cottage at
Alphington, a village about a mile and a half away from Exeter, for his
father and mother, who resided there for three and a half years. Dickens
frequently came to see them, and "Mr. Micawber," with his ample seals
and air of importance, made a great impression on the people of the
village. Dickens freely entered into the social life of Exeter, and he
was a regular visitor on these occasions at the old "Turk's Head Inn,"
adjoining the Guildhall, where it was said he picked up the "Fat Boy" in
_Pickwick_. Mrs. Lupin of the "Blue Dragon" appeared as a character in
_Martin Chuzzlewit_, and "Pecksniff" was a local worthy whom he grossly
and unpardonably caricatured.

[Illustration: "MILE END COTTAGE," ALPHINGTON.]

On leaving Exeter we crossed the river by the Exe bridge and followed
the course of that stream on our way to regain the sea-coast, entering
the suburb of St. Thomas the Apostle, where at a church mentioned in
1222 as being "without the walls," we saw the tower from which the vicar
was hanged for being concerned in the insurrection of 1549. At
Alphington we had pointed out to us the "Mile End Cottage," formerly the
residence of the parents of Charles Dickens, and then walked on to
Exminster, expecting from its name to find something interesting, but we
were doomed to disappointment. On the opposite side of the river,
however, we could see the quaint-looking little town of Topsham, which
appeared as if it had been imported from Holland, a country which my
brother had visited seven years previously; we heard that the principal
treasures stored in the houses there were Dutch tiles. Ships had
formerly passed this place on their way to Exeter, but about the year
1290 Isabella de-Fortibus, Countess of Exeter, having been offended by
the people there, blocked up the river with rocks and stones, thereby
completely obstructing the navigation and doing much damage to the trade
of Exeter. At that time cloths and serges were woven from the wool for
which the neighbourhood of Exeter was famous, and exported to the
Continent, the ships returning with wines and other merchandise; hence
Exeter was at that time the great wine-importing depot of the country.
The weir which thus blocked the river was still known as the "Countess
Weir," and Topsham - which, by the way, unlike Exeter, absolutely
belonged to the Earls of Devon - increased in importance, for ships had
now to stop there instead of going through to Exeter. The distance
between the two places is only about four miles, and the difficulty
appeared to have been met in the first instance by the construction of a
straight road from Exeter, to enable goods to be conveyed between that
city and the new port. This arrangement continued for centuries, but in
1544 a ship canal was made to Topsham, which was extended and enlarged
in 1678 and again in 1829, so that Exeter early recovered its former
position, as is well brought out in the finely-written book of the
_Exeter Guild of Merchant Adventurers_, still in existence. Its Charter
was dated June 17th, 1599, and by it Queen Elizabeth incorporated
certain merchants under the style of "The Governors Consuls, and Society
of the Merchant Adventurers of the Citye and County of Exeter,
traffiqueing the Realme of Fraunce and the Dominions of the French
Kinge." The original canal was a small one and only adapted for boats
carrying about fifteen tons: afterwards it was enlarged to a depth of
fifteen feet of water - enough for the small ships of those days - for
even down to Tudor times a hundred-ton boat constituted a man-of-war.
This canal made Exeter the fifth port in the kingdom in tonnage, and it
claimed to be the first lock canal constructed in England. Its
importance gradually declined after the introduction of railways and the
demand for larger ships, and the same causes affected Topsham, its
rival.

[Illustration: POWDERHAM CASTLE.]

Leaving Exminster, we had a delightful walk to Powderham, the ancient
seat of the Courtenay family, the Earls of Devon, who were descended
from Atho, the French crusader. The first of the three branches of this
family became Emperors of the West before the taking of Constantinople
by the Turks, the second intermarried with the royal family of France,
and the third was Reginald Courtenay, who came to England in the
twelfth century and received honours and lands from Henry II. His family
have been for six centuries Earls of Devon, and rank as one of the most
honoured in England.

We called to see the little church at Powderham, which stood quite near
the river side, and which, like many others, was built of the dark red
sandstone peculiar to the district. There were figures in it of Moses
and Aaron, supposed originally to be placed to guard the two tablets
containing the Ten Commandments; and there were the remains of an old
screen, but the panels had suffered so severely that the figures and
emblems could not be properly distinguished. There was also under an
arch a very old monument, said to be that of the famous Isabella
de-Fortibus, Countess of Devon, who died in 1293. She was the sister of
the last Earl Baldwin de Redvers, and married William de-Fortibus, Earl
of Albemarle, in 1282. Her feet rested on a dog, while on either side
her head were two small child-angels, the dog and children being
supposed to point to her as the heroine of a story recorded in a very
old history of Exeter:

An inhabitant of the city being a very poor man and having many
children, thought himself blessed too much in that kind, wherefore to
avoid the charge that was likely to grow upon him in that way
absented himself seven years together from his wife. But then
returning, she within the space of a year afterwards was delivered of
seven male children at a birth, which made the poor man to think
himself utterly undone, and thereby despairing put them all in a
basket with full intent to have drowned them: but Divine Providence
following him, occasioned a lady then within the said city coming at
this instant of time in his way to demand of him what he carried in
that basket, who replied that he had there whelps, which she desired
to see, who, after view perceiving that they were children, compelled
the poor man to acquaint her with the whole circumstances, whom, when
she had sharply rebuked for such his humanity, presently commanded
them all to be taken from him and put to nurse, then to school, and
so to the university, and in process of time, being attained to man's
estate and well qualified in learning, made means and procured
benefices for every one of them.

The language used in this story was very quaint, and was probably the
best tale related about Isabella, the Countess of Devon; but old
"Isaacke," the ancient writer, in his history remarks that it "will
hardly persuade credit."

We could not learn what became of William her husband; but Isabella
seemed to have been an extremely strong-minded, determined woman, and
rather spiteful, for it was she who blocked the river so that the people
of Exeter, who had offended her, could have neither "fishing nor
shipping" below the weir. On one occasion, when four important parishes
had a dispute about their boundaries, she summoned all their principal
men to meet her on the top of a swampy hill, and throwing her ring into
the bog told them that where it lay was where the parishes met; the
place is known to this day as "Ring-in-the-Mire."

We passed by Powderham Castle, and saw some magnificent trees in the
park, and on a wooded hill the Belvedere, erected in 1773. This was a
triangular tower 60 feet high, with a hexagonal turret at each corner
for sight-seeing, and from it a beautiful view over land and sea could
be obtained.

With regard to the churches in this part of England, we learned that
while Somerset was noted for towers and Cornwall for crosses, the
churches in Devonshire were noted for screens, and nearly every church
we visited had a screen or traces where one had existed, some of them
being very beautiful, especially that in Kenton church, which we now
went to inspect. Farther north the images and paintings on the screens,
and even the woodwork, had been badly disfigured, but some of the old
work in Devon had been well preserved. The screens had been intended to
protect the chancel of the church from the nave, to teach people that on
entering the chancel they were entering the most sacred part of the
church, and images and paintings were placed along the screens. The same
idea, but in another direction, was carried out on the outside of the
churches; for there also the people, scarcely any of whom in those days
could read or write, were taught, by means of images and
horrible-looking gargoyles worked in stone placed on the outside of the
church and steeple, that everything vile and wicked was in the world
outside the church. The beautiful pictures and images inside the church
were intended to show that everything pure and holy was to be found
within: the image of the patron saint being generally placed over the
doorway.

[Illustration: BELVEDERE TOWER.]

[Illustration: KENTON CHURCH.]


The village of Kenton was hidden in a small dell, and possessed a
village green, in the centre of which were the remains of an old cross.
The church tower was one hundred feet high, surmounted by an unusually
tall pinnacle at each corner, the figure of a saint appearing in a
niche, presumably for protection. Kenton must have been a place of some
importance in early times, for Henry III had granted it an annual fair
on the feast of All Saints. The magnificent screen in the church not
only reached across the chancel, but continued across the two transepts
or chapels on either side, and rose in tiers of elaborate carving
towards the top of the chancel arch. No less than forty of its panels
retained their original pictures of saints and prophets, with scrolls of
Latin inscriptions alternating with verses from the Old Testament and
clauses from the Apostles' Creed. Most of the screen was



Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 53 of 66)