Robert Naylor.

From John O'Groats to Land's End online

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otherwise be lost.

[Illustration: VIXEN TOR, TAVISTOCK.]

We had a short walk in the direction of Princetown, where the prison was
situated, but we were not at all favourably impressed by the appearance
of the country, without a house in sight except the inn where our
refreshments were being prepared. Presently we met an official in
uniform, who told us the prisoners were not always kept inside the
prison, but were employed in making and repairing roads and fences and
in cultivating land. He pointed out some men a long distance away who
were so employed, and strongly advised us not to go any farther in that
direction. The only objects of interest on the Moor, beyond the tors and
the views from their summits, were the antiquities, which in that part
were particularly numerous, for without leaving the road between the
prison and Merridale there could be seen a cluster of hut circles, a
kistvaen, a menhir, and a double line of stone rows, and within a short
radius many other relics of prehistoric man, as well as one or two
logans or rocking-stones. We therefore returned with him to the inn - for
even an antiquary cannot live on stones; he ought to be well supported
with both food and clothing to enable him fully to explore and
appreciate the ancient relics of Dartmoor. Our refreshments were quite
ready and were soon put out of sight, and, as we had a downward gradient
to the River Tavy, we had made up for our delay when we crossed the
bridge over the river and entered the town of Tavistock.

The earliest history of Tavistock was no doubt associated with the
prehistoric remains on the hills above, if that had been written; but as
early as the tenth century Orgarius, Earl of Devon, in consequence of a
dream, decided to build a magnificent abbey there, and to dedicate it to
St. Mary. He began to build it in 961, but as he died before it was
completed, his son Ordulph completed it in 981 and endowed it with the
manor of Tavistock and others. Ordulph was also a nephew of King
Ethelred, and, according to tradition, was a giant able to stride across
a river ten feet wide. Orgarius had not only left a gigantic son, but he
had also left a daughter of such surpassing beauty that her fame spread
all over England; and Edgar, who by that time was king, hearing of the
wonderful beauty of Elfrida, sent his favourite - Athelwold - to her
father's castle to ascertain if her beauty was such as had been
reported. Athelwold went on his mission, but was so struck and
bewildered with Elfrida's beauty that he fell violently in love with her
himself, and when he returned he told Edgar that Elfrida was not so
beautiful, but was rich and more fit to be the wife of a subject than a
king. Edgar therefore consented to his favourite's marriage with her;
but the king, discovering that he had been deceived, insisted on paying
Athelwold a visit at his home in Devonshire. Athelwold craved permission
to go home and prepare for the king's visit, which was granted, and with
all possible haste he went and, kneeling before his wife, confessed all,
and asked her to help him out of his difficulties by putting on an old
dress and an awkward appearance when the king came, so that his life
might be spared. Elfrida was, however, disappointed at the loss of a
crown, and, instead of obscuring her beauty, she clothed herself so as
to appear as beautiful as possible, and, as she expected, captivated the
royal Edgar. A few days afterwards Athelwold was found murdered in a
wood, and the king married his widow. But the union, beginning with
crime, could not be other than unhappy, and ended disastrously, the king
only surviving his marriage six or seven years and dying at the early
age of thirty-two. He was buried at Glastonbury, an abbey he had greatly

At the Dissolution the lands of Tavistock Abbey were given by King
Henry VIII, along with others, to Lord John Russell, whose descendants,
the Dukes of Bedford, still possess them. Considerable traces of the old
abbey remained, but, judging from some old prints, they had been much
altered during the past century. The fine old chapter-house had been
taken down to build a residence named Abbey House, which now formed the
Bedford Hotel; the old refectory had been used as a Unitarian chapel,
and its porch attached to the premises of the hotel; while the vicarage
garden seemed to have absorbed some portion of the venerable ruins.
There were two towers, one of which was named the Betsey Grinbal's
Tower, as a woman of that name was supposed to have been murdered there
by the monks; and between that and the other tower was an archway which
connected the two. Under this archway stood a Sarcophagus which formerly
contained the remains of Ordulph, whose gigantic thigh-bones we
afterwards saw in the church. The ruins were nearly all covered with
ivy, and looked beautiful even in their decay; but seeing the purpose to
which some of them had been applied, we thought that the word "Ichabod"
(the glory hath departed) would aptly apply, and if the old walls could
have spoken, we should not have been surprised to hear a line quoted
from Shakespeare - "to what base uses do we come at last."


The old abbey had done good service in its time, as it had given
Tavistock the claim of being the second town in England where a printing
press was erected, for in 1524 one had been put up in the abbey, and a
monk named Rychard had printed a translation of Boethius' _De
Consolatione Philosophiæ_, and a Saxon Grammar was also said to have
been printed there. The neighbourhood of Tavistock was not without
legends, which linger long on the confines of Dartmoor, and, like
slander, seemed to have expanded as time went on:

The flying rumours gathered as they rolled,
Scarce any tale was sooner heard than told,
And all who told it added something new,
And all who heard it made enlargement too!
On every ear it spread, on every tongue it grew.

Fitzford was the name of one of the river suburbs of Tavistock, and was
once upon a time the residence of the Fitze family. According to some
ancient histories of Devon, one of which had the significant title of
_The Bloudie Book_, Sir John Fitze was noted as a turbulent, dangerous
man, ever ready with his sword on all occasions. Meeting with many of
his neighbours at a noontide dinner at Tavistock, he was vaunting his
free tenure and boasting that he did not hold a foot of land from any
but the "Queene of England," when his neighbour, "Maister Slanning,"
reminded him of a small piece of land he had of his for which he was
liable for rent, but for which no payment had been asked by reason of
"courtesie and friendshippe." Upon hearing these words Fitze flew in a
furious rage and told Slanning with a great oath that he lied,

and withal gave fuel to his rage and reines of spight in the
unjustness of his anger - offering to stab him. But Maister Slanning,
who was known to be a man of no less courage, and more courtesie,
with a great knife that he had, warded the hazard of such

The quarrel was stopped by the intervention of friends, and Slanning,
thinking the matter was at an end, shortly afterwards rode home in
company with only one servant.

Long had they not ridden but commanding the man to walk down his
horses in the way, himself the while taking the greene fields for his
more contented walking; he might behold Sir John Fitze, with four
more, galloping amane after him, which sight could not but be a great
amazement to Maister Slanning.

The quarrel was renewed, and Slanning, who was, by the way, a brave man,
perceived that Fitze was determined to kill him; but he had no chance
against live swords, and when he got to Fitzford gateway he received a
blow from behind which staggered him, and Fitze, seizing the
opportunity, ran his sword through his body, and poor Slanning fell to
the floor a murdered man.

Fitze fled to France, and his friends obtained some kind of a pardon for
him; but when he returned they all gave him the cold shoulder; he was
avoided by everybody, and to add to his discomfort the children of
Slanning sued him in London for compensation.

Meanwhile the guilt in blood weighed heavily upon him, increasing in
intensity as years went on, and the shade of Slanning never left him day
or night, until finally he could not sleep, for the most horrid dreams
awoke him and his screams in the night were awful to hear. Sometimes he
dreamt he was being pursued by the police, then by black demons and
other hideous monsters, while in the background was always the ghost of
the man he had so cruelly murdered.

Late one night a man on horseback, haggard and weary, rode up to the
door of the "Anchor Inn" at Kingston-on-Thames and demanded lodgings for
the night. The landlord and his family were just retiring to rest, and
the landlady, not liking the wild and haggard appearance of their
midnight visitor, at first declined to receive him, but at length agreed
to find him a room. The family were awakened in the night by the lodger
crying in his sleep, and the landlady was greatly alarmed as the noise
was continued at intervals all through the night. They had to rise early
in the morning, as the landlord had some work to do in his fields, but
his wife would not be left in the house with the stranger who had
groaned so horribly during the night. Their footsteps seem to have
awakened the man, for suddenly they were terrified to see him rush
downstairs with a drawn sword in his hand, throw himself upon a man
standing in the yard, and kill him instantly. It was thought afterwards
that he must have mistaken his victim for a constable; but when he came
to his senses and found he had killed the groom to whom he had given
orders to meet him early in the morning, he turned his sword against
himself and fell - dead! And such was the tragic end of John Fitze.

[Illustration: LYDFORD CASTLE.]

There is a saying, "Like father, like son," which sometimes justifies
itself; but in the case of Fitze it applied not to a son, but to a
daughter, who seems to have followed his bad example and to have
inherited his wild nature, for it was said that she was married four
times - twice before she reached the age of sixteen! She afterwards
married Lord Charles Howard, son of the Duke of Suffolk, and after she
had disposed of him - for the country people believed she murdered all
her husbands - she married Sir Richard Granville, the cruel Governor of
Lydford Castle, but preferred to retain the title of Lady Howard. It was
said that she died diseased both in mind and body, and that afterwards
she had to do penance for her sins. Every night on the stroke of twelve
a phantom coach made of bones, drawn by four skeleton horses and
ornamented with four grinning skulls, supposed to be those of her four
husbands, issued from under Fitzford gateway with the shade of Lady
Howard inside. A coal-black hound ran in front as far as Okehampton, and
on the return journey carried in its mouth a single blade of grass,
which it placed on a stone in the old courtyard of Fitzford; and not
until all the grass of Okehampton had been thus transported would Lady
Howard's penance end! The death-coach glided noiselessly along the
lonely moorland roads, and any person who accepted Lady Howard's
invitation to ride therein was never seen again. One good effect this
nocturnal journey had was that every one took care to leave the inns at
Tavistock in time to reach home before midnight.

My Lady hath a sable coach,
With horses two and four;
My Lady hath a gaunt bloodhound.
That goeth on before:
My Lady's coach hath nodding plumes,
The driver hath no head;
My Lady is an ashen white
As one that long is dead.

I'd rather walk a hundred miles,
And run by night and day.
Than have that carriage halt for me
And hear my Lady say:
"Now pray step in and make no din,
Step in with me to ride;
There's room, I trow, by me, for you
And all the world beside!"

The church at Tavistock was dedicated to St. Eustachius, for we were now
quite near Cornwall, a land of saints with all kinds of queer names. The
church had the appearance of having passed through the ordeal of some
severe restorations, but we saw many objects of interest therein. There
was a tomb with effigies of Judge Granville, his wife, and three sons
and four daughters, erected in 1615 by his widow after she had married
again - a circumstance that might give rise to some speculations. The
children's heads had all been knocked off, and the boys had disappeared
altogether; probably, we thought, taken prisoners by some of Cromwell's
men to serve as ornaments elsewhere. There was also a monument to the
Fitze family, including a figure of Sir John Fitze, the last of the
line, who was buried at Twickenham; but whether he was the hero of the
legend or not we could not ascertain.

Thomas Larkham, who was vicar from 1649 to 1660, stood out against the
Act of Conformity, and was dismissed. But he kept a diary, and a page of
it had been preserved which referred to the gifts presented to him after
being deprived of his stipend.

1653, _Nov. 30th._ - The wife of Will Hodges brought me a fat goose;
Lord, do them good! Edward Cole sent by his daughter a turkey; Lord,
accept it! _Dec. 2nd._ - Sara Frowt a dish of butter; accept, Lord!
_Dec. 6th._ - Margaret Sitwell would not be paid for 2-1/2 lbs. of
butter; is she not a daughter of Abraham? Father, be pleased to pay
her. Walter Peck sent me, _Dec. 14th_, a partridge, and Mr. Webb the
same day pork and puddings; Lord, forget not! Mrs. Thomasin
Doidge - Lord, look on her in much mercy - _Dec. 19th_, gave me 5s.
_Jan. 25th._ - Mrs. Audry sent me a bushel of barley malt for
housekeeping; Lord, smell a sweet savour! Patrick Harris sent me a
shoulder of pork, - he is a poor ignorant man. Lord, pity him!

There was a curious thirteenth-century chest, trapezium in form, and
said to be the only one of that shape in the West of England. It was of
carved oak, and called a treasure chest, because it had a secret recess
at the back where the priest kept a jewel with which he fastened his
robes. Another old chest contained some ancient Latin writings, the
earliest of which bore the dates 1285, 1325, and 1370, written in old
lettering with what was known as "monk's ink," made from vegetables.
Some of the documents bore seals with rush rings attached, and there was
a black-letter Bible, and a chained book dated 1588, the year of the
Spanish Armada. We were also shown four pewter flagons for Communion
wine, all of the time of Charles I, two churchwardens having each given
one in 1633 and two other wardens one each in 1638. Asked why so many
were required, we were informed that in those days all the people were
compelled to come to church, and it was nothing unusual for quarts of
wine to be used at one Communion, at a cost of several pounds! But in
those days Holy Communion was only administered four times a year!

[Illustration: BRENT TOR, TAVISTOCK.]

Tavistock was one of the four Stannary towns in Devonshire, where
Stannary Courts were established to deal with all matters relating to
tin and the tinners who produced it. Under a charter of Edward I tin was
ordered to be officially weighed and stamped in the towns so appointed.
But while the tinners had the privilege of digging for tin on any
person's land without payment for rent or damage, they were subject to
heavy penalties and impositions in other ways, and especially in the
case of adulteration of tin with inferior metal. The forest laws also in
those early times were terrible and barbarous. To enforce the authority
of the Stannary Courts a prison was constructed in the thirteenth
century out of the keep or dungeon of Lydford Castle, about nine miles
north of Tavistock; and in the sixteenth century this prison was
described as "one of the most annoyous, contagious, and detestable
places in the realm." When Sir Richard Granville, who was noted for his
extremely cruel disposition, was Governor, prisoners were known to be
compelled to swallow spoonfuls of the molten metal they were supposed to
have adulterated. William Browne, a poet born at Tavistock in 1590, in
one of his pastorals perpetuated the memory of Lydford Castle:

I oft have heard of Lydford law -
How in the morn they hang and draw.
And sit in judgement after.

[Illustration: KIT HILL, CALLINGTON.]

We had now to return towards the coast-line from which we had diverged
after leaving Plymouth, and we decided to walk from Tavistock to
Liskeard and stay there for the night. The country was rather hilly, and
in about three miles we crossed the River Tamar, at the same point
passing from Devon into Cornwall, for the river here divided the two
counties. It had made for itself in the course of ages a deep passage
through the hills, which for the pedestrian involved a deep descent and
a sharp ascent on the other side to and from the river. Our way now
crossed the Hingston Downs, where we came to one of the chief landmarks
of Cornwall, named the Kit Hill, at an elevation of 1,067 feet above
sea-level, standing quite near our road. This hill marked the site of a
desperate battle in 835, between King Edgar of Wessex on the one side
and the Danes combined with the men of Cornwall on the other. The Saxons
lost heavily, but they won the battle, and the neighbouring barrows, or
tumuli, were supposed to have covered the remains of those who fell on
that occasion. We were now amongst the tin mines, of which there were
quite a number, used and disused, in sight, some right on the top of the
hills; and from these highlands we could see the two Channels, the
English on one side and the Irish on the other. It was supposed that the
Irish had originally inhabited the whole of Cornwall, but the old
Cornishmen were in reality Celts of a different tribe. One of the miners
told us that on his return from South Africa he could see Kit Hill
distinctly from a long distance out at sea. Some of the tin miners, it
seemed, were emigrating to South Africa, while others were going to
America. Soon afterwards we reached the fair-sized village or town of
Callington, which under the old franchise returned two Members to
Parliament, one of whom had been Horace Walpole, the son of the famous
Robert Walpole. We looked through the church, where we saw a rather fine
monument to Lord Willoughby de Broke erected in 1503. He was represented
as wearing armour and the insignia of the Garter, and at his feet were
two curious figures of monks, said to be unique, for the figures in that
position were invariably those of lions or other animals. A lady from
the vicarage told us that his lordship was the steward of the Duchy of
Cornwall, and an important person, but there was some doubt about his
being buried there. There was another church in the neighbourhood, and
as both the villages belonged to him, he had a tomb made in each, so
that he could be buried in whichever part of his property he happened to
be in when he died, or, as he explained to his friends, "where you drop,
there you may be buried."

There were more temperance hotels, or houses, in Cornwall than in most
other counties we had passed through, almost invariably clean and good,
and it was to one of these that we adjourned at Callington for tea. We
found it quite up to the mark, and we had a splendid feed there both as
regarded quantity and quality, Devonshire cream being evidently not
confined to its own county. It would have been a grand place in which to
stay the night, but, though the weather was threatening, we must place
our average mileage in a safe position, especially as we were now
nearing the end of our long walk. It was nearly dark when we left
Callington, and, on our inquiring the way to Liskeard, a man we saw at
the end of the village said he could put vis in a nearer way than going
along the high road, which would save us a good half-mile in the
journey. Going with us to the entrance of a narrow lane, he gave us very
careful and voluminous instructions about the way we must follow.
Thanking him, we left him, and proceeded along the lane in search of a
farmhouse, or rather a gate at the end of the road leading towards it,
for he had told us we should not be able to see the house itself in the
dark, but should be sure to see the gate, as it was a large one, painted
white, and after passing this we were to make one or two turns which he
described. The sky was overcast and the night very dark, and although
there was a new moon, it was only three days old - too young to be of any
service to us. But we could not find either the gate or the farm, or any
turns in the road, nor could either of us remember distinctly the latter
part of the instructions given to us by the man, one thinking we had to
turn to the right and the other to the left. The fact was, we had
calculated upon meeting some one on the road from whom, we could inquire
further. We had been walking slowly for some time, stopping occasionally
to listen for the footsteps of some person from whom we could inquire,
but not a sound could we hear until we almost stumbled against a gate
that barred our further progress, for it reached right across our road,
and beyond this we could hear the sound of rushing water.

I knew now that we had come to a full-stop, as my brother would never
go beyond that gate after he had heard the roar of the stream, which
must have been quite near us. He had often rowed a boat on dangerous
rivers and on the sea; had been nearly lost one dark night in a high
spring-tide on the sandbanks of the River Mersey; had been washed out to
sea through the failure of an oar at Barmouth; had narrowly escaped
being swamped with his boat off the East Coast; and a few years before
had a hair-breadth escape from drowning by being drawn under the wooden
framework protecting the piles for a future famous bridge over the River
Thames near the heart of London; but, owing to a narrow escape from
drowning when he was almost a child, he had the greatest horror of
having his head under water and of being drowned, and even now he was
afraid of the sound of rushing water in the dark, for he could not swim
a yard; but he was a brave man nevertheless!

So there we stood on a pitch-dark night, leaning over a gate in an
unknown country, and on a by-road, listening to the rush of the water
beyond, wishing that some one might come that way to direct us; but it
was hopeless. When we struck a match and lit a piece of paper, we
discovered that there was no road beyond the gate, the lane having made
an abrupt turning towards the left upon reaching it. We walked along
carefully, striking a match occasionally, and at length came to a
finger-post, green with age; we could not, however, distinguish the
lettering on the arms at the top, so I knew that my turn had now come,
as when there was any climbing to be done during our journey, I had to
do it. I "swarmed up" the post to the arms at the top, while my brother
lighted a piece of newspaper below; but it was of no use, as the names
were partly obscured. Still I could see that Liskeard was not one of
them, so I dropped down again, nearly knocking my brother over, as the
ground was not level at the foot of the post and the light had gone out.
We had to stop a minute or two, for the glare of the light from the
burning paper had made the darkness more impenetrable than before; but
the narrowness of the road was an advantage to us, as we knew we could
not get far astray. Coming to a good hard road, we arrived at a bridge
where there were a few houses, and soon we were walking quickly again on
the right way to Liskeard; but how we blessed that countryman who with
the best of intentions had directed us the nearer way! In a few miles we
saw a light ahead, and found it came from a small inn by the roadside
where one road crossed another, and here we called to inquire our way,
and were informed we had arrived at St. Eve, which we thought must be
the name of some doubtful Cornish saint; but that impression was removed
when we found it was the local pronunciation for St. Ive. We could just
discern the outline of a small church to the right of our road, and as
there were so few houses we did not confound it with the much larger
place in Cornwall, St. Ives, nor, needless to say, with another place
named St. Ives in Huntingdonshire, which we passed through on our walk
from London the previous year.

It was getting unpleasantly near "closing time" when we reached

Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 60 of 66)