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Liskeard, but we were just in time to be well entertained and housed for
the night.

(_Distance walked thirty-six miles_.)


_Thursday, November 16th._

Liskeard was visited in 1757 by John Wesley, who described it as "one of
the largest and pleasantest towns in Cornwall," a description with which
we agreed, but we were inclined to add the words, "and of no
occupation," for there was no outward or visible sign of any staple
industry. As in other similar places we had visited, the first question
that suggested itself to us was, "How do the people live?" Their
appearance, however, caused us no anxiety, as every one we saw looked
both well and happy. They had made a clean sweep of their old castle,
which was said to have been built in the thirteenth century by Richard,
Earl of Cornwall, and King of the Romans, the brother of Henry III; the
site they had formed into a public park, in which stood the old grammar
school where Dr. Wolcot was educated, who wrote a number of satirical
odes, letters, and ballads, under the name of "Peter Pindar," in the
time of George III, many of his satires being levelled at the king
himself. Eventually he sold his works for an annuity of £250.

Liskeard was remarkable for the spring of water round which the town had
been built, and which was described by Leland in his _Itinerary_ as "a
good conduit in the middle of the Town very plentiful of water to serve
the Town." Four pipes originally conveyed the water to different points,
and the street where the well existed was known as Pipewell Street.

The wells of Cornwall were famous, being named after the different
saints who had settled beside them in ancient times, appreciating the
value of the pure water they contained. We had often tested the water of
the wells and springs we had come to in the course of our long walk, and
the conviction had grown upon us that we owed much of our continued good
health to drinking water. We naturally perspired a good deal, especially
when we walked quickly, which of course created thirst; and the
different strata of the various rock-formations we had crossed must have
influenced the water and ourselves to some extent. We had come to the
conclusion that people who went on holidays and attributed the benefit
derived solely to "the change of air" might have equally benefited by
the change of water!

In one part of Cheshire, formerly in possession of the Romans, there was
a rather remarkable spring of water known as the "Roman Well," over
which appeared the following Latin inscription, difficult to translate,
but which had been interpreted thus:

_Sanitate Sacrum_: Sacred to Health!
_Obstructum reserat_, It removes obstruction.
_Durum terit_, It crushes the hard,
_Humida siecat_, It dries the moist,
_Debile fortificat_, It strengthens the weak,
_Si tamen arte bibis_. Provided thou drinkest with knowledge.

The water rises from some subterranean source in the sandstone rock and
enters with considerable force into the receptacle prepared for it,
which is about five feet deep. The water was always beautifully clear
and cool, and visitors often amused themselves by throwing halfpennies
into the bath and watching them apparently being transformed into
shillings as they reached the bottom - a fact attributed to the presence
of lime in the water.

In striking contrast to this was the water afterwards brought through
the district from a watershed on the distant Welsh hills, which depended
for its supply almost entirely on the downfall from the clouds. The
difference between that and the water from the Roman well was very
marked, for while the rainwater was very soft, the other that contained
the lime was very hard, and therefore considered more conducive to the
growth of the bones in children. Our personal experiences also with the
water at Inverness, and in the neighbourhood of Buxton in the previous
year, which affected us in a similar way, convinced us that water
affected human beings very markedly; and then we had passed by Harrogate
and Leamington, where people were supposed to go purposely to drink the
waters. Even the water of the tin-mining district through which we were
now passing might contain properties that were absent elsewhere, and the
special virtues attributed to some of the Saints' Wells in Cornwall in
olden times might not have been altogether mythical.

Besides the four Stannary towns in Devon there were originally four in
Cornwall, including Liskeard, where all tin mined in their respective
districts had to be weighed and stamped. Probably on that account
Liskeard returned two members to Parliament, the first members being
returned in 1294; amongst the M.P.'s who had represented the town were
two famous men - Sir Edward Coke, elected in 1620, and Edward Gibbon, in
1774.

Sir Edward Coke was a great lawyer and author of the legal classic _Coke
upon Littleton_. He became Speaker of the House of Commons,
Attorney-General, and afterwards Chief Justice, and was the merciless
prosecutor of Sir Walter Raleigh, and also of the persons concerned in
the Gunpowder Plot; while his great speech against Buckingham towards
the close of the career of that ill-fated royal favourite is famous.

Edward Gibbon was the celebrated historian and author of that great work
_The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire_. The history of his
Parliamentary connection with Liskeard was rather curious. One morning
in 1774, when in London, he was asked if he would like to enter the
House of Commons, and when he consented, the "free and independent
electors" of Liskeard were duly "instructed" to return him. But it was
very doubtful whether he ever saw any of the electors, or had any
dealings with the Constituency whatever, although he acted as one of
their members for about eight years. Possibly, as there were two
members, the other M.P. might have been the "acting partner."

Liskeard church was the second largest in Cornwall, and in it we saw a
"Lepers' squint" and also a turret at the corner of the aisle from which
the priest could preach to the lepers without coming in contact with
them, for the disease was very infectious - so much so that the hospital
built for them was a mile or two from the town. "Lepers' squints" had
been common in some parts of England, and as the disease is often
mentioned in the Bible, we considered it must have been imported from
the East, perhaps from Palestine by the Crusaders. We had not seen or
heard of any cases of leprosy on our journey, and we concluded that the
disease could not have been natural to our colder climate, and had
therefore died out as a result of more cleanly habits. The pulpit was
dated 1632, the carving on it being the work of a local sculptor, whose
remuneration, we were told, was at the rate of one penny per hour, which
appeared to us to be a very small amount for that description of work.
Possibly he considered he was working for the cause of religion, and
hoped for his further reward in a future life; or was it a silver penny?

[Illustration: LISKEARD CHURCH.]

The houses in Liskeard were built of stone, and the finest perhaps was
that known as Stuart House, so named because King Charles I stayed there
for about a week in 1644. This was of course in the time of the Civil
War, when Cornwall, as it practically belonged to the King or his son,
did not consider itself as an ordinary county, but as a duchy, and was
consequently always loyal to the reigning sovereign. It was also a
difficult county for an invading army to approach, and the army of the
Parliament under the Earl of Essex met with a disastrous defeat there.

But we must not forget the Holy Wells, as the villages and towns took
their names from the saints who presided at the wells. That of St.
Keyne, quite near Liskeard, is described by Southey:

A Well there is in the West Country,
And a clearer one never was seen;
There is not a wife in the West Country
But has heard of the Well of St. Keyne.

An oak and an elm-tree stand beside,
And behind doth an ash-tree grow,
And a willow from the bank above
Droops to the water below.

St. Keyne introduced the rather remarkable belief that the first of a
newly married couple to drink of the water of her well, whether husband
or wife, should in future rule the home. We supposed that the happy pair
would have a race to the well, and the one who arrived there first
would ever afterwards play the first fiddle, if that instrument was in
use in the time of St. Keyne. But a story was related of how on one
occasion the better-half triumphed. No sooner had the knot been tied
than the husband ran off as fast as he could to drink of the water at
St. Keyne's Well, leaving his wife in the church. When he got back he
found the lady had been before him, for she had brought a bottle of the
water from the well with her to church, and while the man was running to
the well she had been quietly seated drinking the water in the church
porch!

[Illustration: ST. KEYNE'S WELL.]

The story was told by the victim to a stranger, and the incident was
recorded by Southey in his poem "The Well of St. Keyne":

"You drank of the Well, I warrant, betimes?"
He to the countryman said:
But the countryman smiled as the stranger spake,
And sheepishly shook his head:

"I hastened as soon as the wedding was done,
And left my wife in the porch;
But i' faith! she had been wiser than me,
For she took a bottle to church."

It was at Liskeard that we first heard of George Borrow, a tramp like
ourselves. Although we should have been pleased to have had a talk with
him, we should scarcely have been able to accompany him on one of his
journeys, for he was 6 feet 3 inches in height against our 5 feet 8
inches, and he would have been able to walk quicker than ourselves. He
was born in 1803 and died in 1881, so that he was still alive when we
were walking through Cornwall, and was for many years a travelling agent
for the British and Foreign Bible Society. In the course of his
wanderings, generally on foot, he made a study of gipsy life, and wrote
some charming books about the Romany tribes, his _Lavengro_ and _Romany
Rye_ being still widely read. He was a native of Norfolk, but his father
was born near Liskeard, to which place he paid a special visit at the
end of 1853. On Christmas Day in that year, which was also a Sunday, he
walked to St. Cleer and attended service in the church, Mr. Berkeley
being the preacher, and although there was no organ, he saw a fiddle in
the gallery, so fiddles must have then been in use in Cornwall. He would
also see the Well of St. Cleer, which was quite near the church, and
must in the time of the Saxons have been covered over with stone, as the
old arches and columns were Saxon work. Borrow's father was born at
Trethinnick Farm, near St. Cleer, which he also went to see. He left
Liskeard in January 1854 on a tramp through Truro and Penzance to Land's
End by almost the same route as that we were about to follow ourselves.
As he made many notes during his wanderings in Cornwall, his friends
naturally expected him to publish an account of his travels there, after
the manner of a book he had published in 1862 entitled _Wild Wales_, but
they were disappointed, for none appeared.

[Illustration: ST. CLEER'S WELL.]

It was said that Cornwall did not grow wood enough to make a coffin, and
the absence of trees enabled us to see a number of huge,
mysterious-looking stones: some upright and standing alone, others in
circles, or in groups named cists composed of upright stones, forming a
cavity between them in the shape of a chest covered at the top, and not
intended to be opened again, for they had been used as tombs.
Occasionally the stones stood quite near our road, some in the shape of
crosses, while we could see others in fields and on the top of small
hills.

There were some remarkable stones near St. Cleer, including the famous
"Cheesewring," formed of eight circular stones each resembling a cheese,
placed one on top of another and rising to a height of about eight
yards; but the strange part about this curious erection was that the
four larger and heavier stones were at the top and the four smaller ones
at the bottom. It was a mystery how in such remote times the builders
could have got those immense stones to the top of the others and there
balanced them so exactly as to withstand the storms of so many years.

[Illustration: THE CHEESEWRING]

Near this supposed Druidical erection was a rough cave known as "Daniel
Gumb's House," formerly inhabited by a man of that name who came there
to study astrology and astronomy, and who was said to have had his
family with him. He left his record by cutting his name at the entrance
to the cave, "D. Gumb 1735," and by inscribing a figure on the roof
representing the famous 47th proposition in the First Book of Euclid.

The Trethevy Menhir, a cromlech or "House of the Dead," which George
Borrow went to see, consisted of seven great hewn slabs which formed a
chamber inside about the height of a man; over the top was an enormous
flat stone of such great weight as to make one wonder how it could have
been placed there so many centuries ago. At one corner of the great
stone, which was in a slanting position, there was a hole the use of
which puzzled antiquarians; but George Borrow was said to have contrived
to get on the top of it and, putting his hand through the hole, shouted,
"Success to old Cornwall," a sentiment which we were fully prepared to
endorse, for we thought the people we saw at the two extremes of our
journey - say in Shetland, Orkney, and the extreme north of Scotland, and
those in Devon and Cornwall in the South of England - were the most
homely and sociable people with whom we came in contact.

[Illustration: "DANIEL GUMB'S HOUSE," LISKEARD.]

Some of the legends attached to the stones in Cornwall were of a
religious character, one example being the three stone circles named the
"Hurlers"; eleven in one circle, fourteen in another, and twelve in a
third - thirty-seven in all; but only about one-half of them remained
standing. Here indeed might be read a "sermon in stone," and one of them
might have been preached from these circles, as the stones were said to
represent men who were hurling a ball one Sunday instead of attending
church, when they and the two pipers who were playing for them were all
turned into stone for thus desecrating the Sabbath Day.

We crossed the country to visit St. Neot, and as the village was away
from the main roads and situated on the fringe of Bodmin Moor, we were
surprised to find such a fine church there. We were informed that St.
Neot was the second largest parish in Cornwall, and that the moor beyond
had been much more thickly populated in former times. We had passed
through a place of the same name in Huntingdonshire in the previous
year, when walking home from London, and had been puzzled as to how to
pronounce the name; when we appealed to a gentleman we met on the road
outside the town, he told us that the gentry called it St. Netts and the
common people St. Noots, but here it was pronounced as spelt, with just
a slight stress on the first syllable - St. Ne-ot, the letter "s" not
being sounded officially.

St. Neot, supposed to have been related to King Alfred, being either a
brother or an uncle, came here from Glastonbury and built a hermitage
near his well, in which he would stand for hours immersed up to his neck
in the water in order "to mortify his flesh and cultivate his memory,"
while he recited portions of the Psalter, the whole of which he could
repeat from memory. Though a dwarf, he was said to be able to rescue
beasts from the hunters and oxen from the thieves, and to live on two
miraculous fishes, which, though he ate them continually, were always to
be seen sporting in the water of his well!

St. Neot was the original burial-place of the saint, and in the church
there was a curious stone casket or reliquary which formerly contained
his remains; but when they were carried off to enrich Eynesbury Abbey at
the Huntingdon St. Neots, all that was left here was a bone from one of
his arms. This incident established the connection between the two
places so far apart.

[Illustration: TRETHEVY STONES, LISKEARD.]

The church had a beautiful Decorated tower and a finely carved
sixteenth-century roof, but its great glory consisted in its famous
stained-glass windows, which were fifteen in number, and to each of
which had been given a special name, such as the Young Women's Window,
the Wives' Window, and so on, while St. Neot's window in its twelve
panels represented incidents in the life of that saint. It was supposed
that these fine windows were second to none in all England, except those
at Fairford church in Gloucestershire, which we had already seen, and
which were undoubtedly the finest range of mediæval windows in the
country. They were more in number, and had the great advantage of being
perfect, for in the time of the Civil War they had been taken away and
hidden in a place of safety, and not replaced in the church until the
country had resumed its normal condition.

The glass in the lower panels of the windows in the Church of St.
Neot's, Cornwall, had at that time been broken, but had been restored,
the subjects represented being the same as before. Those windows named
after the young women and the wives had been presented to the church in
the sixteenth century by the maids and mothers of the parish.

On our way from here to Lostwithiel, which my brother thought might have
been a suitable name for the place where we went astray last night, we
passed along Braddock or Broad-oak Moor, where in 1643, during the Civil
War, a battle was fought, in which Sir Ralph Hopton defeated the
Parliamentary Army and captured more than a thousand prisoners. Poetry
seemed to be rather at a discount in Cornwall, but we copied the
following lines relating to this preliminary battle:

When gallant Grenville stoutly stood
And stopped the gap up with his blood,
When Hopton led his Cornish band
Where the sly conqueror durst not stand.
We knew the Queen was nigh at hand.

We must confess we did not understand this; it could not have been
Spenser's "Faerie Queene," so we walked on to the Fairy Cross without
seeing either the Queen or the Fairy, although we were fortunate to find
what might be described as a Fairy Glen and to reach the old Castle of
Restormel, which had thus been heralded:

To the Loiterer, the Tourist, or the Antiquary: the ivy-covered ruins
of Restormel Castle will amply repay a visit, inasmuch as the remains
of its former grandeur must, by the very nature of things, induce
feelings of the highest and most dignified kind; they must force
contemplative thought, and compel respect for the works of our
forefathers and reverence for the work of the Creator's hand through
centuries of time.

[Illustration: RESTORMEL CASTLE.]

It was therefore with some such thoughts as these that we walked along
the lonely road leading up to the old castle, and rambled amongst the
venerable ruins. The last of the summer visitors had long since
departed, and the only sound we could hear was that made by the wind, as
it whistled and moaned among the ivy-covered ruins, and in the trees
which partly surrounded them, reminding us that the harvest was past and
the summer was ended, while indications of approaching winter were not
wanting.

The castle was circular in form, and we walked round the outside of it
on the border of the moat which had formerly been filled with water, but
now was quite dry and covered with luxuriant grass. It was 60 feet wide
and 30 feet deep, being formerly crossed by a drawbridge, not now
required. The ruins have thus been described by a modern poet:

And now I reach the moat's broad marge,
And at each pace more fair and large
The antique pile grows on my sight,
Though sullen Time's resistless might,
Stronger than storms or bolts of heaven,
Through wall and buttress rents have riven;
And wider gaps had there been seen
But for the ivy's buckler green,
With stems like stalwart arms sustained;
Here else had little now remained
But heaps of stones, or mounds o'ergrown
With nettles, or with hemlock sown.
Under the mouldering gate I pass,
And, as upon the thick rank grass
With muffled sound my footsteps falls,
Waking no echo from the walls,
I feel as one who chanced to tread
The solemn precincts of the dead.

The mound on which the castle stood was originally of Celtic
construction, but was afterwards converted into one of the fortresses
which the Normans built in the eastern part of Cornwall as
rallying-points in case of any sudden insurrection among the "West
Welshmen." The occupation of the fortress by the Normans was the
immediate cause of the foundation of the town of Lostwithiel, to which a
charter was granted in 1196 by Robert de Cardinan, the then owner of the
castle and the surrounding country.

An exchequer deed showed how the castle and town of Lostwithiel came
into the possession of the Dukes of Cornwall:

Know ye present and to come that I, Isolda-de-Tracey, daughter and
heir of Andrew de Cardinan, have granted to Lord Richard, King of the
Romans, my whole Manor of Tewington.... Moreover I have given and
granted to the aforesaid Lord the King, Castle of Restormell and the
villeinage in demesne, wood and meadows, and the whole Town of
Lostwithiel, and water of Fowey, with the fishery, with all
liberties, and free customs to the said water, town, and castle,
belonging. Whereof the water of Fowey shall answer for two and a half
knights fees (a "knight's fee" being equal to 600 acres of land).

In the year 1225 Henry III gave the whole county of Cornwall, in fee, to
his brother Richard, who was created Earl of Cornwall by charter dated
August 12th, 1231, and from that time Restormel became the property of
the Earls of Cornwall. Afterwards, in 1338, when the Earldom was raised
to a Dukedom, the charter of creation settled on the Duchy, with other
manors, the castle and manor of Restormel, with the park and other
appurtenances in the county of Cornwall, together with the town of
Lostwithiel: and it was on record that the park then contained 300 deer.
Richard, Earl of Cornwall and King of the Romans, caused extensive
alterations and improvements in the castle at Restormel, and often made
it his residence, and kept his Court there. He was elected King of the
Romans or Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire at Frankfort on January 13th,
1256, and crowned at Aix-la-Chapelle, November 27th, 1257. Edward the
Black Prince, upon whom the Dukedom was confirmed when only seven years
old, paid two visits to Restormel. The first of these was in 1354,
possibly while his expedition to France was being prepared at Plymouth,
and the second in 1363.

In the time of the Civil War the commanding position of the castle
caused it to be repaired and held by the Parliamentarians; but after the
disastrous defeat of their army under the Earl of Essex in 1644 it was
garrisoned by Sir Richard Grenville for the King. In recent times it
was again visited by royalty, for on Tuesday, September 8th, 1846, the
royal yacht _Victoria and Albert_ sailed into Fowey and landed a royal
party, who drove to Restormel Castle. It revived old memories to read
the names of the party who came here on that occasion, for in addition
to Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, there were the
Princess Royal and the Prince of Wales, Lady Jocelyn, Miss Kerr, Mdlle.
Geuner, Lord Spencer, Lord Palmerston, Sir James Clark, Mr. Anson, and
Col. Grey.

The castle was not a very large one, and we were more impressed by the
loneliness of its situation than by the ruin itself, for there was a
long approach to it without a cottage or a friendly native in sight, nor
did we see any one in the lonely road of quite a mile along which we
passed afterwards to the town of Lostwithiel. But this road was quite
pleasant, following the tree-covered course of the River Fowey, and
lined with ferns and the usual flower-bearing plants all the way to that
town.

[Illustration: LOSTWITHIEL ANCIENT BRIDGE AND LANDING PLACE.]

Here we rejoined the Liskcard highway, which crossed the river by an
ancient bridge said to date from the fourteenth century. At this point
the river had long ago been artificially widened so as to form a basin
and landing-place for the small boats which then passed to and fro



Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 61 of 66)