Robert Naylor.

From John O'Groats to Land's End online

. (page 56 of 66)
Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 56 of 66)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

from an incident which occurred there many years ago. A sheep-stealer
had killed a sheep, and was carrying it home slung round his shoulders
when he came to this gate. Finding it fastened, he was climbing over,
when in the dark his foot slipped and the cord got across his neck. The
weight of the carcase as it fell backwards, added to his own, caused him
to be choked, so that he was literally hanged upon the gate instead of
the gallows for what was in those days a capital offence.

After passing the Beacon Hill, we had very fine views over land and sea,
extending to Dartmoor and Dartmouth, and with a downward gradient we
soon came to Berry Pomeroy, the past and present owners of which had
been associated with many events recorded in the history of England,
from the time of William the Conqueror, who bestowed the manor, along
with many others, on one of his followers named Ralph de Pomeroy. It was
he who built the Castle, where the Pomeroys remained in possession until
the year 1547, when it passed into the hands of the Seymour family,
afterwards the Dukes of Somerset, in whose possession it still remained.

After the Pomeroys disappeared the first owner of the manor and
castle was Edward Seymour, afterwards the haughty Lord Protector
Somerset, who first rose in royal favour by the marriage of his
eldest sister Jane Seymour to Henry VIII, and that monarch appointed
him an executor under his will and a member of the Council on whom
the duty devolved of guarding the powers of the Crown during the
minority of his son and successor Edward VI, who only reigned six
years, from 1547 to 1553; and Seymour's father, Sir John, had
accompanied King Henry VIII to his wars in France, and to the Field
of the Cloth of Gold.

Henry VIII had great faith in his brother-in-law, and after the
King's death Seymour quickly gained ascendency over the remaining
members of the Council, and was nominated Lord Treasurer of England,
and created Earl of Somerset, Feb. 17, 1567; two days afterwards he
obtained a grant of the office of Earl Marshal of England for life,
and on the 12th of March following he procured a patent from the
young King, who was his nephew, constituting himself the Protector of
the Realm, an office altogether new to the Constitution and that gave
him full regal power.

It was about that time that the English Reformation began, and the
free circulation of the Bible was permitted. The Latin Mass was
abolished, and the English Liturgy substituted, and 42 Articles of
Faith were adopted by the English Protestants. Protector Somerset was
a Protestant, and always took advice of Archbishop Cranmer, and care
was taken that the young King was instructed in the Reformed
Religion. King Henry VIII had arranged in his lifetime that Edward VI
should marry Mary, the young Queen of Scotland, and Somerset raised
an army and went to Scotland to secure her person: but after fighting
a battle he only just managed to win, he found that the proposed
union was not looked upon favourably in Scotland, and that the young
Queen had been sent away to France for greater safety.

Meantime Somerset's brother Thomas Seymour, High Admiral of England,
had married Catherine Parr, widow of Henry VIII, without the
knowledge of the Protector; and this, with the fierce opposition of
the Roman Catholics, and of the Barons, whose taking possession of
the common lands he had opposed, and the offence given to the
population of London through demolishing an ancient parish church in
the Strand there, so that he could build a fine mansion for himself,
which still bears the name of Somerset House, led to the rapid
decline of his influence, and after causing his brother to be
beheaded he himself shared a similar fate.

Berry Pomeroy was a lovely spot, and the foliage was magnificent as we
walked up to the castle and then to the village, while every now and
then we came to a peep-hole through the dense mass of bushes and trees
showing a lovely view beyond. The ruins of the castle were covered with
ivy, moss, and creeping plants, while ferns and shrubs grew both inside
and out, forming the most picturesque view of the kind that could be
imagined. We were fortunate in securing the services of an enthusiastic
and intelligent guide, who told us many stories of events that had taken
place there, some of them of a sensational character. He showed us the
precipice, then rapidly becoming obscured by bushes and trees, where the
two brothers Pomeroy, with their horses, were dashed to pieces. The
castle had been besieged for a long time, and when the two brothers
found they could hold out no longer, rather than submit to the besiegers
they sounded their horns in token of surrender, and, blindfolding their
horses, mounted and rode over the battlements into the depths below! The
horses seemed to know their danger, and struggled to turn back, but they
were whipped and spurred on to meet the same dreadful fate as their
masters. One look over the battlements was enough for us, as it was
horrible to contemplate, but our guide seemed to delight in piling on
the agony, as most awful deeds had been done in almost every part of the
ruins, and he did not forget to tell us that ghosts haunted the place at


In a dismal room, or dungeon, under what was known as St. Margaret's
Tower, one sister had imprisoned another sister for years, because of
jealousy, and in another place a mother had murdered her child. He also
told us a story of an old Abbot who had been concerned in some dreadful
crime, and had been punished by being buried alive. Three days were
given him in which to repent, and on each day he had to witness the
digging in unconsecrated ground of a portion of his grave. He groaned
horribly, and refused to take any food, and on the third morning was so
weak that he had to be carried to watch the completion of the grave in
which he was to be buried the following day. On the fourth day, when the
monks came in to dress him in his burial garments and placed him on the
bier, he seemed to have recovered a little, and with a great effort he
twisted himself and fell off. They lifted him on again, and four lay
brothers carried him to the side of the deep grave. As he was lowered
into the tomb a solemn dirge was sung by the monks, and prayers were
offered for mercy on his sinful soul. The earth was being dropped slowly
on him when a faint groan was heard; for a few moments the earth above
him seemed convulsed a little, and then the grave was closed.

The ghost of the blood-stained Fontebrant and that of his assassin were
amongst those that haunted Pomeroy Castle and its lonely surroundings,
and cries and groans were occasionally heard in the village below from
the shrieking shade of the guilty Eleanor, who murdered her uncle. At
midnight she was said to fly from the fairies, who followed her with
writhing serpents, their tongues glistening with poisonous venom and
their pestiferous breath turning black everything with which they came
in contact, and thus her soul was tortured as a punishment for her
horrible deeds. Amongst the woods glided the pale ghosts of the Abbot
Bertrand and the mother with her murdered child.

What a difference there is in guides, and especially when no "tips" are
in sight! You go into a church, for instance, and are shown round in a
general kind of a way and inquiries are answered briefly. As you leave
the building you hand the caretaker a silver coin which he did not
expect, and then, conscience-stricken, he immediately becomes loquacious
and asks if you saw an object that he ought to have shown you, and it
generally ends in your turning back and seeing double the objects of
interest you saw before, and possibly those in the graveyard as well.
Then there are others whose hearts are in their work, and who insist
upon your seeing all there is to be seen and hearing the history or
legends connected with the place. Such was our guide that morning; he
was most enthusiastic when giving us his stories, but we did not accept
his invitation to come some evening to see the ghosts, as we could not
imagine a more lonely and "boggarty" spot at night than amongst the
thick bushes and foliage of Berry Castle, very beautiful though it
looked in the daylight; nor did we walk backwards three times round the
trunk of the old "wishing tree," and in the process wish for something
that we might or might not get; but we rewarded our guide handsomely for
his services.


We had a look in the old church, where there were numerous tombs of the
Seymour family; but the screen chiefly attracted our attention. The
projection of the rood-loft still remained on the top, adorned with fan
tracery, and there was also the old door which led up to it. The lower
panels had as usual been much damaged, but the carved figures could
still be recognised, and some of the original colouring in gold,
vermilion, green, and white remained. The figures were said to
represent St. Matthew with his club, St. Philip with the spear, St.
Stephen with stones in his chasuble, St. Jude with the boat, St.
Matthias with the battle-axe, sword, and dagger, St. Mary Magdalene with
the alabastrum, St. Barbara with the tower, St. Gudala with the lantern,
and the four doctors of the Western Church. The ancient pulpit was of
the same period as the screen, as were also the old-fashioned,
straight-backed, oak pews.


The vicarage, which was as usual near the church, must have been a very
healthy place, for the Rev. John Prince, author of _The Worthies of
Devon_, published in 1901, who died in 1723, was vicar there for
forty-two years, and was succeeded by the Rev. Joseph Fox, who died in
1781, aged eighty-four, having been vicar for fifty-eight years. He was
followed by the Rev. John Edwards, who was vicar for fifty-three years,
and died in 1834 aged eighty-three. This list was very different from
that we had seen at Hungerford, and we wondered whether a parallel for
longevity in three successive vicars existed in all England, for they
averaged fifty-one years' service.


There were some rather large thatched cottages in Berry Pomeroy village,
where Seymour, who was one of the first men of rank and fortune to join
the Prince of Orange, met the future King after he had landed at
Brixham on November 5th, 1688. A conference was held in these cottages,
which were ever afterwards known as "Parliament Buildings," that meeting
forming William's first Parliament. Seymour was at that time M.P. for
Exeter, and was also acting as Governor of that city. When William
arrived there four days afterwards, with an army of 15,000 men, he was
awarded a very hearty reception, for he was looked upon as more of a
deliverer than a conqueror.

It was only a short distance from Berry Pomeroy to Totnes, our next
stage, and we were now to form our first acquaintance with the lovely
valley of the River Dart, which we reached at the foot of the hill on
which that picturesque and quaint old town was situated. Formerly the
river had to be crossed by a rather difficult ford, but that had been
done away with in the time of King John, and replaced by a narrow bridge
of eight arches, which in its turn had been replaced in the time of
William and Mary by a wider bridge of three arches with a toll-gate upon
it, where all traffic except pedestrians had to contribute towards the
cost of its erection. A short distance to the right after crossing the
bridge was a monument to a former native of the town, to whom a
sorrowful memory was attached; it had been erected by subscription, and
was inscribed:





When the Australian Government offered a reward for an exploration of
that Continent from north to south, Wills, at that time an assistant in
the Observatory at Melbourne, volunteered his services along with Robert
O'Hara Burke, an Irish police inspector. Burke was appointed leader of
the expedition, consisting of thirteen persons, which started from
Melbourne on August 20th, 1860, and in four months' time reached the
River Barco, to the east of Lake Eyre. Here it became necessary to
divide the party: Burke took Wills with him, and two others, leaving the
remainder at Cooper's Creek to look after the stores and to wait there
until Burke and his companions returned.

They reached Flinders River in February of the following year, but they
found the country to be quite a desert, and provisions failed them. They
were obliged to return, reaching Cooper's Creek on April 21st, 1861.
They arrived emaciated and exhausted, only to find that the others had
given up all hope of seeing them again, and returned home. Burke and his
companions struggled on for two months, but one by one they succumbed,
until only one was left - a man named King. Fortunately he was found by
some friendly natives, who treated him kindly, and was handed over to
the search-party sent out to find the missing men. The bodies of Burke
and Wills were also recovered, and buried with all honours at Melbourne,
where a fine monument was erected to their memory.

Many of the early settlers in Australia were killed by the aborigines or
bushmen, and a friend of ours who emigrated there from our native
village many years ago was supposed to have been murdered by them. He
wrote letters to his parents regularly for some years, and in his last
letter told his friends that he was going farther into the bush in
search of gold. For years they waited for further news, which never
arrived; and he was never heard of again, to the great grief of his
father and mother and other members of the family. It was a hazardous
business exploring the wilds of Australia in those days, and it was
quite possible that it was only the numerical strength of Burke's party
and of the search-party itself that saved them from a similar fate.

But many people attributed the misfortunes of the expedition to the
number who took part in it, as there was a great prejudice against the
number thirteen both at home and abroad. We had often, indeed, heard it
said that if thirteen persons sat down to dinner together, one of their
number would die! Some people thought that the legend had some
connection with the Lord's Supper, the twelve Apostles bringing the
number up to thirteen, while others attributed it to a much earlier
period. In Norse mythology, thirteen was considered unlucky, because at
a banquet in Valhalla, the Scandinavian heaven, where twelve had sat
down, Loki intruded and made the number thirteen, and Baldur was killed.

The Italians and even the Turks had strong objections to the number
thirteen, and it never appeared on any of the doors on the streets of
Paris, where, to avoid thirteen people sitting down to dinner, persons
named Quatorziennes were invited to make a fourteenth:

_Jamais on ne devrait
Se mettre a table treize,
Mais douze c'est parfait_.

My brother thought the saying was only a catch, for it would be equally
true to say all would die as one. He was quite prepared to run the risk
of being the thirteenth to sit down to dinner, but that was when he felt
very hungry, and even hinted that there might be no necessity for the
others to sit down at all!

But we must return to Totnes and its bridge, and follow the long narrow
street immediately before us named Fore Street until we reach "the
Arch," or East Gate. The old-fashioned houses to the right and left were
a great attraction to my brother, who had strong antiquarian
predilections, and when he saw the old church and castle, he began to
talk of staying there for the rest of the day and I had some difficulty
in getting him along. Fortunately, close at hand there was a quaint
Elizabethan mansion doing duty as a refreshment house, with all manner
of good things in the windows and the word "Beds" on a window in an
upper storey. Here we called for refreshments, and got some coffee and
some good things to eat, with some of the best Devonshire cream we had
yet tasted. After an argument in which I pointed out the danger of
jeopardising our twenty-five-mile average walk by staying there, as it
was yet early in the forenoon, we settled matters in this way; we would
leave our luggage in Totnes, walk round the town to the objects of
greatest interest, then walk to Dartmouth and back, and stay the night
on our return, thus following to some extent the example of Brutus, the
earliest recorded visitor:

Here I stand and here I rest,
And this place shall be called Totnes.

[Illustration: TOTNES CHURCH WALK]

There was no doubt about the antiquity of Totnes, for Geoffrey of
Monmouth, the author of the famous old English Chronicle, a compilation
from older authors, in his _Historia Britonum_, 1147, began his notes on
Totnes not in the time of the Saxons nor even with the Roman Occupation,
but with the visit of Brutus, hundreds of years before the Christian
era. Brutus of Troy had a strange career. His mother died in giving him
birth, and he accidentally shot his father with an arrow when out
hunting. Banished from Italy, he took refuge in Greece, where it was
said he married a daughter of the King, afterwards sailing to discover a
new country. Arriving off our shores, he sailed up the River Dart until
he could get no farther, and then landed at the foot of the hill where
Totnes now stands. The stone on which he first set foot was ever
afterwards known as Brutus's stone, and was removed for safety near to
the centre of the town; where for ages the mayor or other official gave
out all royal proclamations from it, such as the accessions to the
throne - the last before our visit having been that of her most gracious
Majesty Queen Victoria.

The Charter of Totnes was dated 1205, the mayor claiming precedence over
the Lord Mayor of London, for Totnes, if not the oldest, was one of the
oldest boroughs in England. It was therefore not to be wondered at that
the Corporation possessed many curios: amongst them were the original
ring to which the bull was fastened when bull-baiting formed one of the
pastimes in England; a very ancient wooden chest; the staves used by the
constables in past generations; a curious arm-chair used by the town
clerk; a list of mayors from the year 1377 to the present time; two
original proclamations by Oliver Cromwell; many old placards of
important events; an exceptionally fine fourteenth-century frieze; a
water-pipe formed out of the trunk of an elm tree; the old stocks; and
an engraving representing the arrival of William of Orange at Brixham.

There was a church at Totnes in the time of the Conquest, for it was
mentioned in a charter by which "Judhel de Totnais," the Norman Baron to
whom the Conqueror gave the borough, granted the "Ecclesiam Sancte Marie
de Toteneo" to the Benedictine Abbey at Angers; but the present church
was built in 1432 by Bishop Lacy, who granted a forty-days' indulgence
for all who contributed to the work. His figure and coat-of-arms were
still to be seen on the church tower, which was 120 feet high, with the
words in raised stone letters, "I made the Tour." There was also a
figure of St. Loe, the patron Saint of artificers in brass and iron, who
was shown in the act of shoeing a horse. The corporation appeared to
have had control of the church, and in 1450 had erected the altar
screen, which was perhaps the most striking object there, for after the
restoration, which was in progress at the time of our visit, of nine
stone screens in Devon churches, excepting that in Exeter Cathedral, it
claimed to be the most beautiful.

In the church there was also an elaborate brass candelabrum for eighteen
lights with this suitable inscription:

Thy Word is a Lantern to my Feet
And a light unto my Path.
_Donum Dei et Deo_
17th May 1701.

The corporation has also some property in the church in the shape of
elaborately carved stalls erected in 1636; also an ancient Bible and
Prayer Book handsomely bound for the use of the mayor, and presented
April 12th, 1690, by the Honble. Lady Anne Seymour of Berry Pomeroy
Castle, whose autograph the books contain; and in the Parvise Chamber
attached to the church there were about 300 old books dating from 1518
to 1676, one a copy of Sir Walter Raleigh's _History of the World_,
published in 1634.

The carved stone pulpit, of the same date as the screen, had at one time
been divided into Gothic panels, on which were shields designed to
represent the twelve sons of Israel: Judah was represented by a lion
couchant, Zebulon by a ship under sail, Issachar as a laden ass resting,
and Dan as a serpent coiled with head erect, and so on according to the
description given of each of the sons in the forty-ninth chapter of

There were a number of monuments in the church, the principal being that
of Christopher Blacall, who died in 1635. He was represented as kneeling
down in the attitude of prayer, while below were shown his four wives,
also kneeling.

The conductor showed us the very fine organ, which before being placed
there had been exhibited at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851; and
we also saw the key of the church door, which, as well as the lock, had
been in use for quite four hundred years.


We then paid a hurried visit to the ruins of the old castle, which in
the time of Henry VIII was described by Leland the antiquary as "The
Castelle waul and the strong dungeon be maintained; but the logginges of
the Castelle be cleane in ruine"; but about thirty years before our
visit the Duke of Somerset, the representative of the Seymour family,
laid out the grounds and made of them quite a nice garden, with a flight
of steps of easy gradient leading to the top of the old Norman Keep,
from which we had a fine view of the country between Dartmoor and the

Totnes was supposed to have been the Roman "Ad Darium," at the end of
the Fosse Way, and was also the famous harbour of the Celts where the
great Vortigern was overthrown by Ambrosius. As the seas were infested
with pirates, ports were chosen well up the estuaries of rivers, often
at the limit of the tides; and Totnes, to which point the Dart is still
navigated, remained of importance from Saxon times, through the
struggles with the Danes until the arrival of the Normans; after this it
was gradually superseded by Dartmouth.

At Totnes, when we asked the way to Dartmouth, the people jocularly told
us that the only direct way was by boat down the river; but our rules
and regulations would not permit of our going that way, so we decided to
keep as near to the river as we could on the outward journey and find an
alternative route on our return. This was a good idea, but we found it
very difficult to carry out in the former case, owing to the streams
which the River Dart receives on both sides on its way towards the sea.
Relieved of the weight of our luggage, we set off at a good speed across
fields and through woods, travelling along lanes the banks of which
were in places covered with ferns. In Cheshire we had plenty of bracken,
but very few ferns, but here they flourished in many varieties. A
gentleman whom we met rambling along the river bank told us there were
about forty different kinds of ferns and what he called "fern allies" to
be found in the lanes and meadows in Devonshire. He said it was also
noted for fungi, in which he appeared to be more interested than in the
ferns, telling us there were six or seven hundred varieties, some of
them being very beautiful both in colour and form; but we never cared
very much for these, as we thought them too much akin to poisonous
toadstools. We asked him why the lanes in Devonshire were so much below
the surface of the land, and he said they had been constructed in that
way in very ancient times to hide the passage of cattle and produce
belonging to the British from the sight of their Saxon oppressors. He
complained strongly of the destruction of ferns by visitors from
populous places, who thought they would grow in their gardens or
back-yards, and carried the roots away with them to be planted in
positions where they were sure to die. In later years, it was said,
young ladies and curates advertised hampers of Devonshire ferns for sale

Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 56 of 66)