Robert Naylor.

From John O'Groats to Land's End online

. (page 58 of 66)
Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 58 of 66)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the jury had been sworn and other preliminaries arranged, the Parliament
adjourned to the Stannary towns, where its courts of record were opened
for the administration of Justice among the "tinners," the word Stannary
being derived from the Latin "Stannum," meaning tin.

Some of the tors still retained their Druidical names, such as Bel-Tor,
Ham-Tor, Mis-Tor; and there were many remains of altars, logans, and
cromlechs scattered over the moors, proving their great antiquity and
pointing to the time when the priests of the Britons burned incense and
offered human victims as sacrifices to Bel and Baal and to the Heavenly

There was another contingency to be considered in crossing Dartmoor in
the direction we had intended - especially in the case of a solitary
traveller journeying haphazard - and that was the huge prison built by
the Government in the year 1808 on the opposite fringe of the Moor to
accommodate prisoners taken during the French wars, and since converted
into an ordinary convict settlement. It was seldom that a convict
escaped, for it was very difficult to cross the Moor, and the prison
dress was so well known all over the district; but such cases had
occurred, and one of these runaways, to whom a little money and a change
of raiment would have been acceptable, might have been a source of
inconvenience, if not of danger, to any unprotected traveller, whom he
could have compelled to change clothing.

We therefore decided to go round the Moor instead of over it, and visit
the town of Plymouth, which otherwise we should not have seen.

The whole of Dartmoor was given by Edward III to his son the Black
Prince, when he gave him the title of Duke of Cornwall after his
victorious return from France, and it still belonged to the Duchy of
Cornwall, and was the property of the Crown; but all the Moor was open
and free to visitors, who could follow their own route in crossing it,
though in places it was gradually being brought into cultivation,
especially in the neighbourhood of the many valleys which in the course
of ages had been formed by the rivers on their passage towards the sea.
As our road for some miles passed along the fringe of the great Moor,
and as the streams crossed it in a transverse direction, on our way to
Plymouth we passed over six rivers, besides several considerable brooks,
after leaving the River Dart at Totnes. These rivers were named the
Harbourne, Avon, Lud, Erme, Yealm, and Plym, all flowing from Dartmoor;
and although there was such a heavy rainfall on the uplands, it was said
that no one born and bred thereon ever died of pulmonary consumption.
The beauty of Dartmoor lay chiefly along its fringes, where ancient
villages stood securely sheltered along the banks of these streams; but
in their higher reaches were the remains of "hut circles" and
prehistoric antiquities of the earliest settlers, and relics of
Neolithic man were supposed to be more numerous than elsewhere in

There was no doubt in our minds that the earliest settlers were those
who landed on the south coast, and in occupying the country they
naturally chose positions where a good supply of water was available,
both for themselves and their cattle. The greater the number of running
streams, the greater would be the number of the settlers. Some of the
wildest districts in these southern countries, where solitude now
prevailed, bore evidence of having, at one time, been thickly populated.

We did not attempt to investigate any of these pretty valleys, as we
were anxious to reach Plymouth early in order to explore that town, so
the only divergence we made from the beaten track was when we came to
Ivybridge, on the River Erme. The ivy of course flourished everywhere,
but it was particularly prolific in some parts of Devon, and here it had
not only covered the bridge, over which we crossed, but seemed inclined
to invade the town, to which it had given its name. The townspeople had
not then objected to its intrusion, perhaps because, being always green,
it was considered to be an emblem of everlasting life - or was it because
in Roman mythology it was sacred to Bacchus, the God of Wine? In
Egyptian mythology the ivy was sacred to Osiris, the Judge of the Dead
and potentate of the kingdom of ghosts; but in our minds it was
associated with our old friend Charles Dickens, who had died in the
previous year, and whom we had once heard reading selections from his
own writings in his own inimitable way. His description of the ivy is
well worth recording - not that he was a poet, but he once wrote a song
for Charles Russell to sing, entitled "The Ivy Green ":

Oh! a dainty plant is the ivy green.
That creepeth o'er ruins old!
Of right choice food are its meals, I ween;
In its cell so lone and cold.
The wall must be crumbled, the stone decayed,
To pleasure his dainty whim,
And the mouldering dust that years have made
Is a dainty meal for him.
Creeping where no life is seen,
A rare old plant is the ivy green.

Fast he stealeth on, though he wears no wings.
And a staunch old heart hath he:
How closely he twineth, how tight he clings.
To his friend the huge oak tree;
And slyly he traileth along the ground,
And his leaves he gently waves
As he joyously hugs and crawleth around
The rich mould of dead men's graves.
Creeping where no life is seen,
A rare old plant is the ivy green.

Whole ages have fled, and their works decayed,
And nations have scattered been;
But the stout old ivy shall never fade
From its hale and hearty green;
The brave old plant in its lonely days
Shall fatten upon the past,
For the stateliest building man can raise
Is the ivy's food at last.
Creeping where no life is seen,
A rare old plant is the ivy green.

It is remarkable that the ivy never clings to a poisonous tree, but the
trees to which it so "closely twineth and tightly clings" it very often
kills, even "its friend the huge oak tree."

Near the bridge we stayed at a refreshment house to replenish the inner
man, and the people there persuaded us to ramble along the track of the
River Erme to a spot which "every visitor went to see"; so leaving our
luggage, we went as directed. We followed the footpath under the trees
that lined the banks of the river, which rushed down from the moor above
as if in a great hurry to meet us, and the miniature waterfalls formed
in dashing over the rocks and boulders that impeded its progress looked
very pretty. Occasionally it paused a little in its progress to form
small pools in which were mirrored the luxuriant growth of moss and
ferns sheltering beneath the branches of the trees; but it was soon away
again to form similar pretty pictures on its way down the valley. We
were pleased indeed that we had not missed this charming bit of scenery.

Emerging from the dell, we returned by a different route, and saw in the
distance the village of Harford, where in the church a brass had been
placed to the Prideaux family by a former Bishop of Worcester. This
bishop was a native of that village, and was in a humble position when
he applied for the post of parish clerk of a neighbouring village, where
his application was declined. He afterwards went to work at Oxford, and
while he was there made the acquaintance of a gentleman who recognised
his great talents, and obtained admission for him to one of the
colleges. He rose from one position to another until he became Bishop
of Worcester, and in after life often remarked that if he had been
appointed parish clerk he would never have become a bishop.

We recovered our luggage and walked quickly to Plymouth, where we
arrived in good time, after an easy day's walk. We had decided to stop
there for the night and, after securing suitable apartments, went out
into the town. The sight of so many people moving backwards and forwards
had quite a bewildering effect upon us after walking through moors and
rather sleepy towns for such a long period; but after being amongst the
crowds for a time, we soon became accustomed to our altered
surroundings. As a matter of course, our first visit was to the Plymouth
Hoe, and our first thoughts were of the great Spanish Armada.

[Illustration: SIR FRANCIS DRAKE. _From the picture in the possession of
Sir T.F. Elliot Drake._]

The position of England as the leading Protestant country, with the fact
of the refusal of Queen Elizabeth when the King of Spain proposed
marriage, made war between the two countries almost certain. Drake had
also provoked hostilities, for he had sailed to the West Indies in 1587,
and after defeating the Spaniards there had entered the Bay of Cadiz
with thirty ships and destroyed 10,000 tons of shipping - an achievement
which he described as "singeing the whiskers of the King of Spain." In
consequence of this Philip, King of Spain, declared war on Elizabeth,
Queen of England, and raised a great army of ships to overwhelm the

It was on Friday, July 19, 1588, that Captain Thomas Fleming, in charge
of the pinnace _Golden Hind_, ran into Plymouth Sound with the news that
the Spanish Armada was off the Lizard. The English captains were playing
bowls on Plymouth Hoe when Captain Fleming arrived in hot haste to
inform them that when his ship was off the French coast they had seen
the Spanish fleet approaching in the distance, and had put on all sail
to bring the news. This was the more startling because the English still
believed it to be refitting in its own ports and unlikely to come out
that year. Great excitement prevailed among the captains; but Drake, who
knew all that could be known of the Spanish ships, and their way of
fighting, had no fear of the enemy, and looked upon them with contempt,
coolly remarking that they had plenty of time to finish the game and
thrash the Spaniards afterwards. The beacon fires were lighted during
the night, and -

Swift to east and swift to west
The ghastly war-flame spread;
High on St. Michael's Mount it shone,
It shone on Beachy Head.
Far on the deep the Spaniards saw
Along each southern shire
Cape beyond cape, in endless range
Those twinkling points of fire.

The Armada consisted of 131 large ships accompanied by galleys armed
with heavy guns, and many smaller vessels, carrying 27,345 men, of whom
8,050 were seamen and 19,295 soldiers. The twelve largest ships were
named after the twelve Apostles, and a hundred priests were distributed
through the fleet, for King Philip was a very pious man, and the Armada
had been blessed by the Pope. They were under the command of the Duke of
Medina Sidonia, and the Spaniards, who were proverbially cruel, were so
sure of victory that they had brought with them many strange instruments
of torture, some of which we had seen in the Tower of London on our
visit there the previous year.

The Lord High Admiral of England was Lord Charles Howard, a grandson of
the Duke of Norfolk and a cousin to Queen Elizabeth, besides being a
leader of the Court circle. He had, however, been trained as a sailor,
and the advice and assistance of such brave and experienced sailors as
Drake, Hawkins, and Frobisher were sufficient to carry him through any

Drake had inspired his people so that none had any dread of the
Spaniards or of their big ships, which were constructed for fighting at
close quarters only; while Drake pinned his faith on light ships, easily
managed and capable of quick manoeuvring, but armed with big cannon, so
that he could pound away at a safe distance. Compared with the small
English ships, the big ships of the Spaniards, with their huge
superstructures, looked like castles floating on the sea, and the ocean
seemed to groan beneath its heavy burden. But how astonished the English
must have been, both at the vast number and size of the ships composing
the Armada, proudly floating up the Channel in a formation resembling an
arc or segment of a circle extending nearly seven miles.

When the battle commenced, Lord Howard had only got together a fleet of
about a hundred ships, but it soon became evident that the light and
well-handled ships of the English, with their more rapid sailing and
clever manoeuvring, were more than a match for the much larger ships of
the Spaniards. Sir Francis Drake followed the Armada closely during the
night, and came up with a large galleon commanded by Don Pedro de Valdez
that had been damaged in the fight, and this he captured with all on
board. The weather now began to grow stormy, and the strong gale which
sprang up during the night caused some of the Spanish ships to foul each
other, and the English captured several of them the next day. The wind
now began to blow in all directions, and some of the Spanish ships
becoming unmanageable, their formation was broken, so that there was no
fixed order of battle. Meantime the shots from the English, whose boats
were lower in the water, had played havoc with the lofty hulls of the
Spanish ships, whose shot often passed over the English and damaged
their own vessels.

The following day Howard was unable, for want of ammunition, to carry on
the fight, so he took the opportunity to divide his fleet into four
parts: the first he commanded himself, in the _Ark Royal_; the second he
placed under Sir Francis Drake in the _Revenge_; the third under Sir
John Hawkins in the _Victory_; and the fourth under Captain Frobisher in
the _Triumph_.

[Illustration: SIR JOHN HAWKINS _Portrait from the "Horologia" published
in 1620_]

When they came opposite the Isle of Wight the storm ceased and there was
a calm; but Sir John Hawkins contrived to get his ship the _Victory_
alongside a large Portuguese galleon, the _Santa Aña_, and a single
combat ensued. Both fleets watched the progress of the fight, the
Spaniards being quite certain of their comrades' victory, while the
English placed their confidence in the bravery of their champion. It was
a stiff fight, in which many were killed and wounded, but at last the
English were seen swarming like ants up the sides of their opponents'
great ship, and in a few moments her brave captain was seen handing his
sword to Sir John Hawkins. The flag of Spain on the mast of the _Santa
Aña_ descended, and the white flag and red cross of St. George soon
floated in its place. Then arose a mighty cheer, and the triumphant
hurrahs of the English proclaimed the victory to the anxious watchers on
shore. But three huge Spanish galleons were rowed to the scene to
recover the Portuguese ship, and Howard towed the _Ark Royal_ and the
_Golden Lion_ to fight them. It was a desperately unequal fight, and the
boats were for a time hidden from view by the smoke, but in the end the
cheers of the English announced that the galleons had been driven off
and the _Santa Aña_ lost to Spain.

The Armada continued its progress towards the Straits of Dover, with the
English hanging on, and anchored off Calais; but by this time the
English fleet had been reinforced by many ships raised by private
gentlemen and others, which brought the number to about 140. Howard now
decided to draw the Spanish fleet from its anchorage, and Drake, turning
eight of his oldest ships into fire-ships, distributed them in the night
amongst the enemy, ordering the crews to set them on fire and then
return in their small boats. The ships were piled up with inflammable
material, with their guns loaded, and when these exploded, the Spaniards
were so terrified that they unfurled their sails, cut their cables, and
so lost their anchors. They fled in confusion, many being seriously
damaged in collision, but only to encounter the English ships _Revenge,
Victory, Mary Rose_, and _Dreadnought_, which immediately attacked. Some
of the Spanish vessels were captured and some were lost on the shores of
France and Holland; but the main body, much battered and with their
crews badly out of spirits, sailed on into the North Sea. Howard was
close up to them east of the Firth of Forth, but shortage of water and
provisions, as well as of munitions, kept him from attacking, and with
bad weather threatening he made for the Channel ports, and on August
7th, 1588, the Lord High Admiral returned to England with his victorious

The remaining ships of the Armada encountered furious storms off the
coast of Ireland, where ten were sunk; and it was not until the end of
September that the battered remnants of the once great fleet reached the
coast of Spain.

Queen Elizabeth went in state to St. Paul's Cathedral to offer up thanks
to the Almighty for the safety of her Kingdom and herself, and caused a
medal to be struck bearing on it a fleet scattered by a tempest and the

He blew with His winds and they were scattered.

Plymouth Hoe is an elevation between that town and the sea, and its
history dates back to legendary ages, when Brutus and Corineus came to
Albion with their Trojan warriors, and found the land inhabited by great
giants, who terrified their men with their enormous size and horrid
noises. Still they were enabled to drive them away by hurling darts and
spears into their bodies. The leader of the giant race of Albion was
Gogmagog, who was the biggest of them all, but they wounded him badly in
the leg, as the story goes, and dragged him to Plymouth Hoe, where they
treated him kindly and healed his wounds. But the question arose who
should be king, and it was decided to settle the matter by a wrestling
match, the winner to be king. The giants selected Gogmagog as their
champion and the Trojans chose Corineus, brute strength and size on the
one hand being matched by trained skill on the other. On the day fixed
for the combat the giants lined one side of the Hoe and the Trojans the
other. At length Corineus succeeded in forcing Gogmagog to the ground.
He fell on his back, the earth shaking with his weight and the air
echoing with the noise of his mighty groan as the breath was forced
from his body. Then, after breathing a minute, Corineus rushed upon his
fallen foe, dragged him with a great effort to the edge of the cliff,
and pushed him over. The giant fell on the rocks below, and his body was
broken in pieces.

Michael Drayton, whose birthplace we had passed in the Midlands, wrote
in his _Polyolbion_ that there was a deadly combat between two giants
"upon that lofty place the Hoe," which took place after the arrival of
the Trojans under Brutus of Troy, and that the figures of the two
wrestlers, one bigger than the other, with clubs in their hands, were
cut out in the turf on Plymouth Hoe, being renewed as time went on. They
vanished when the citadel was built by King Charles II, though in the
digging of the foundations the great jaws and teeth of Gogmagog were

It was supposed that the last of the giants were named Gog and Magog,
and were brought to London and chained in the palace of Bruté, which
stood on the site of the Guildhall there; their effigies were standing
in the Guildhall in the reign of Henry V, but were destroyed in the
Great Fire of London. The present Gog and Magog in the Guildhall, 14
feet high, were carved by Richard Saunders in 1708, and are known as the
"City Giants."


We had often heard and read about Brutus, one of those mysterious men
whose history we could not fathom, for as far north as York we read in a
book there that "Brutus settled in this country when the Prophet Eli
governed Israel and the Ark was taken from the Philistines, about 1140
B.C., or a century and a half later than when David was singing Psalms
in Jerusalem"; then the writer went on to say that a direct descendant
of Brutus, King Ebrancus, anxious to find occupation for his twenty sons
and thirty daughters, built two cities, one of which was York; so
possibly the other city might have been London.

Plymouth Hoe in the time of Drake was a piece of hilly common land with
a gallows standing at one corner, and nearer the sea a water tower and a
beacon to signal the approach of enemies. But it was also a place of
recreation, and used for drilling soldiers and sailors. There were
archery butts, and there must also have been a bowling green, on which
the captains of the fleet were playing bowls when the news reached them
of the approach of the Spanish Armada. Amongst the English captains were
one from Cheshire, George de Beeston, of Beeston, and a near relative of
his, Roger Townshend. Both had charge of leading ships, and were
knighted on board the _Ark_ by Lord Howard for their services.

When we visited Plymouth Hoe we found it laid out with broad walks and
large plots of grass, where sailors and soldiers were much in evidence.
In later years the greater portion of the old Eddystone Lighthouse was
re-erected there, from the cage on the top of which was a very fine view
over Plymouth Sound, one of the most beautiful in England. Besides the
town and the famous Hoe there could be seen, seawards, Drake's or St.
Nicholas' Island, the famous Breakwater, and the still more famous
Eddystone Lighthouse, while on the Cornish side were the beautiful woods
of Mount Edgcumbe reaching down to the water's edge. Then there was the
estuary of the River Tamar, called the Hamoaze, with the huge railway
bridge crossing it to Saltash, the frame of the general picture being
formed by the hills which surrounded Plymouth, including those of
Dartmoor in the background.

O the fair Town of Plymouth is by the sea-side,
The Sound is so blue and so still and so wide,
Encircled with hills, and with forests all green,
As a crown of fresh leaves on the head of a queen.
O dear Plymouth town, and O blue Plymouth Sound!
O where is your equal on earth to be found?

Eddystone Lighthouse, the top of which could just be seen from the Hoe,
stood on a group of rocks nine miles from the Cornish Coast and fourteen
miles from Plymouth. These rocks were covered at high water by the sea,
and were so dangerous to ships moving in and out of Plymouth or along
the coast, that a lighthouse of wood was built on them in the year 1700,
which was washed away by a great storm three years afterwards, when the
lighthouse people perished as well as the unfortunate architect,
Winstanley, who happened to be there on a visit at the time. In 1709 a
second and a stronger wooden lighthouse was built by Rudyard, but the
progress of the work was delayed owing to the workmen being carried on
to France by a French ship and lodged in a prison there. King Louis XIV,
when he heard of this, chivalrously ordered the Englishmen to be
liberated and their captors to be put in the prison in their places,
remarking that "though he was at war with England, he was not at war
with mankind." So the lighthouse was completed, and remained until 1755,
when it was destroyed by fire. It was the work of years to construct and
build a lighthouse on a rock in the midst of the stormy seas, but a
third was built by Smeaton in 1759, this time made of granite and
Portland stone, and modelled after the shape of the trunk of an old oak
tree. The stones had been prepared on land, and were sent to the rock as
required for the various positions, and so the lighthouse was raised in
about four months.

This one was strongly built, and braved the storms for more than a
hundred years, and was still in position when we visited Plymouth; but
a portion of the rock on which it was built was causing some anxiety, as
it showed signs of giving way. A fourth lighthouse was therefore
prepared during the years 1879-82, being built wholly of granite, the
old lighthouse doing duty meanwhile. This was designed and carried out
by Sir James Douglas, at a cost of about £80,000. It was a substantial
structure, and built on a different foundation 133 feet high, being 50
feet taller than its predecessor, and containing a number of rooms. It
had two 2-ton bells at the top to sound in foggy weather, and the
flash-lights could be seen from a distance of many miles.

The greater portion of the old lighthouse built by Smeaton was carefully
taken down and removed to Plymouth, where it was re-erected on the Hoe
as a lasting memorial to the man whose wonderful genius had conferred
such a benefit on the sailors of all nations - for it was impossible to
calculate how many lives had been saved during the 120 years his
lighthouse had been protecting the ships of all nations from the
dangerous reef on which it stood. The old lighthouse now forms a
conspicuous object on the Hoe, and contains some interesting relics, and
in the lantern are the candlesticks in which the lights were placed that

Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 58 of 66)