Part 3 out of 3
wandered to Italy, may have been present at the sack of Rome, and was
at last established as a merchant in the city of London. When one says
"merchant" one is talking kindly. His principal business then, as
throughout his life, was that of a usurer, and he showed throughout
his incredible adventures something of that mixture of simplicity and
greed, with a strange fixity in the oddest of personal friendships,
which amuses us to-day in our company promoters and African
adventurers. His abilities recommended him to Wolsey, and when that
great genius fell, Cromwell was, as the most familiar of historical
traditions represents him, faithful to his master.
Whether this faithfulness recommended him to the King or not, it is
difficult to say. Probably it did, for there is nothing that a careful
plotter will more narrowly watch in an agent than his record of
fidelity in the past.
Henry fixed upon him to be his chief instrument in the suppression of
the monasteries. His lack of all fixed principle, his unusual power of
application to a particular task, his devotion to whatever orders he
chose to obey, and his quite egregious avarice, all fitted him for the
work his master ordered.
How the witty scoundrel accomplished that business is a matter of
common history. Had he never existed the monasteries would have fallen
just the same, perhaps in the same manner, and probably with the same
despatch. But fate has chosen to associate this revolution with his
name--and to his presence in that piece of confiscation we owe the
presence in English history of the great Oliver; for Oliver, as will
be presently seen, and all his tribe were fed upon no other food than
the possessions of the Church. Cromwell, in his business of
suppressing the great houses, embezzled quite cynically--if we can
fairly call that "embezzlement" which was probably countenanced by the
King, to whom account was due. Indeed, it is plainly evident from the
whole story of that vast economic catastrophe which so completely
separates the England we know from the England of a thousand
years--the England of Alfred, of Edward I., of Chaucer, and of the
French Wars--it is evident from the whole story, that the flood of
confiscated wealth which poured into the hands of the King's agents
and squires was a torrent almost impossible to control; Henry VIII.
was glad enough to be able to retain, even for a year or two, one half
of the spoils.
We know, for instance, that the family of Howard (which was then
already of more than a century's standing) took everything they could
lay their hands on in the particular case of Bridlington--pyxes,
chalices, crucifixes, patens, reliquaries, vestments, shrines, every
saleable or meltable thing, and the cattle and pigs into the bargain,
and never dreamt of giving account to the King.
With Cromwell, the embezzlement was more systematic: it was a method
of keeping accounts. But our interest lies in the fact that the
process was accompanied by that curious fidelity to all with whom he
was personally connected, which forms so interesting a feature in the
sardonic character of this adventurer. It is here that we touch again
upon the family of Morgan ap William, the public-house keeper of
When Cromwell was at the height of his power he lifted out from the
obscurity of his native kennel a certain Richard Williams, calling him
now "cousin" and now "nephew." We may take it that the boy was a
nephew, and that the word "cousin" was used only in the sense of
general relationship which attached to it at that time. If Cromwell
had been a man of a trifle more distinction, or of tolerable honesty,
we might even be certain that this young fellow was the legitimate son
of his sister Katherine, and, indeed, it is much the more probable
conclusion at which we should arrive to-day. But Cromwell himself
obscured the matter by alluding to his relative as "Williams (alias
Cromwell)," and there must necessarily remain a suspicion as to the
birth and real status of his dependant.
In 1538 this young Richard Williams got two foundations handed over to
him--both in Huntingdon, and together amounting in value to about L500
We have seen on an earlier page how extremely difficult or impossible
it is to estimate exactly in modern money the figures of the
Dissolution. We have agreed that to multiply by twenty for a maximum
is permissible, but that even then we shall not have anything like the
true relation of any particular income to the general standard of
wealth in a time when England was so much smaller than our England of
to-day, and in an England where wealth had been until that moment so
well divided, and especially in an England where the objects both of
luxury and expenditure were so utterly different to our own: where all
textile fabric was, for instance, so much dearer in proportion to food
than it is now, and where yet a man could earn in a few weeks' labour
what would with us be capital enough to stock a small farm.
It is safe to say, however, that when Cromwell had got his young
relation--whatever that relationship was--into possession of the two
foundations in Huntingdon, he had set him up as a considerable local
gentleman, and whether it was the inheritance of the Cromwell blood
through his mother, or something equally unpleasant in the heredity of
his father, Morgan, young Williams ("alias Cromwell") did not stick
Early in 1540 he swallowed bodily the enormous revenues of Ramsey
Now to appreciate what that meant we must return to the case we have
already established in the case of Westminster. Westminster almost
alone of the great foundations remains with a certain splendour
attached to it; we cannot, indeed, see all the dependencies as they
used to stand to the south of the great Abbey. We cannot see the
lively and populous community dependent upon it; still less can we
appreciate what a figure it must have cut in the days when London was
but a large country town, and when this walled monastic community
stood in its full grandeur surrounded by its gardens and farms. But
still, the object lesson afforded by the Abbey yet remains visible to
us. We can see it as it was, and we know that its income must have
represented in the England at that time infinitely more in outward
effect than do to-day the largest private incomes of our English
gentry: a Solomon Joel, for instance, or a Rothschild, does not occupy
so great a place in modern England as did Westminster, at the close of
the Middle Ages, in the very different England of its time.
Well, Ramsey was the equivalent of half Westminster, and young
Williams swallowed it whole. He was not given it outright, but the
price at which he bought it is significant of the way in which the
monastic lands were distributed, and in which incidentally the
squirearchy of England was founded. He bought it for less than three
years' purchase. Where he got the money, or indeed whether he paid
ready money at all, we do not know. If he did furnish the sum down we
may suspect that he borrowed it from his uncle, and we may hope that
that genial financier charged but a low rate of interest to one whom
he had so signally favoured.
Contemporaneously with this vast accession of fortune, which made
Williams the principal man in the county, Cromwell, now Earl of Essex,
fell from favour, and was executed. The barony was revived for his son
five months after his death and was not extinguished until the first
years of the eighteenth century, but with this, the direct lineage of
the King's Vicar-General, we are not concerned: our business is with
the family of Williams.
Young Williams did not imitate his protector in showing any startling
fidelity to the fallen. He became a courtier, was permanently in
favour with the King and with the King's son, and died established in
the great territorial position which he had come into by so singular
His son, Henry, maintained that position, and possibly increased it.
He was four times High Sheriff of the two counties; he received
Elizabeth, his sovereign and patroness, at his seat at Hinchinbrooke
(one of the convents), and in general he played the role with which we
are so tediously familiar in the case of the new and monstrous
fortunes of our own times.
He was in Parliament also for the Queen, and it was his brother who
moved the resolution of thanks to Elizabeth for the beheading of Mary
Queen of Scots.
He died in 1603, and even to his death the alias was maintained.
"Williams (alias Cromwell)" was the legal signature which guaranteed
the validity of purchases and sales, while to the outer world CROMWELL
(alias Williams) was the formula by which the family gently thrust
itself into the tradition of another and more genteel name. The whole
thing was done, like everything else this family ever did, by a
mixture of trickery and patience; he obtained no special leave from
Chancery as the law required; he simply used the "Williams" in public
less and less and the "Cromwell" more and more. When he died, his sons
after him, Robert and Oliver, had forgotten the Williams
altogether--in public--and in the case of such powerful men it was
convenient for the neighhours to forget the lineage also; so with the
end of the sixteenth century these Williams have become Cromwells,
_pur et simple_, and Cromwells they remain. But still the old caution
clings to them where the law, and especially where money, is
concerned; even Robert's son, who grew to be the Lord Protector, signs
_Williams_ when it is a case of securing his wife's dowry. Of Robert
and Oliver, sons of Henry, and grandsons of the original Richard,
Oliver, the elder, inherited, of course, the main wealth of the
family, but Robert also was portioned, and as was invariably the case
with the Williams' (alias Cromwell), the portion took the form of
Many more estates of the Church had come into the hands of this highly
accretive family in the half century that had passed since the
destruction of the monasteries. [Thus at the very end of the century
we find Oliver telling the abbey land of Stratton to a haberdasher in
London for L3000.]
The portion of this younger brother, Robert, consisted of religious
estates in the town of Huntingdon itself, and it is highly
characteristic of the whole tribe that the very house in which the
Lord Protector was born was monastic, and had been, before the
Dissolution, a hospital dedicated to the use of the poor. For the Lord
Protector was the son of this Robert, who by a sort of atavism had
added to the ample income derived from monastic spoil the profits of a
brewery. It was Mrs Cromwell who looked after the brewery, and some
appreciable part of the family revenues were derived from it when, in
1617, her husband died, leaving young Oliver, the future Lord
Protector, an only son of eighteen, upon her hands.
The quarrels between young Oliver and old Oliver (the absurdly wealthy
head of the family) would furnish material for several diverting
pages, but they do not concern this, which is itself but a digression
from the general subject of my book.
The object of that digression has been to trace the growth of but one
great territorial family, from the gutter to affluence in the course
of less than 100 years; to show how plain "Williams" gradually and
secretly became "Cromwell"--because the new name had about it a
flavour of nobility, however parvenu; to show how the whole of their
vast revenues depended upon, and was born from, the destruction of
monastic system, and to show by the example of one Thames-side family
how rapidly and from what sources was derived that economic power of
the squires which, when it came to the issue of arms, utterly
destroyed what was left of the national monarchy.
The new _regime_ had, however, other features about it which must not
be forgotten. For instance, in this growth of a new territorial body
upon the ruins of the monastic orders, in this sudden and portentous
increase of the wealth and power of the squires of England, the
mutability of the new system is perhaps as striking as any other of
Manors or portions of manors which had been steadily fixed in the
possession and customs of these undying corporations for centuries
pass rapidly from hand to hand, and though there is sometimes a lull
in the process the uprooting reoccurs after each lull, as though
continuity and a strong tradition, which are necessarily attached for
good or for evil to a free peasantry, were as necessarily disregarded
by a landed plutocracy. There is not, perhaps, in all Europe a similar
complete carelessness for the traditions of the soil and for the
attachment of a family to an ancestral piece of land as is to be found
among these few thousand squires. The system remains, but the
individual families, the particular lineages, appear without
astonishment and are destroyed almost without regret. Aliens,
Orientals and worse, enter the ruling class, and are received without
surprise; names that recall the Elizabethans go out, and are not
We are accustomed to-day, when we see some village estate in our own
country pass from an impoverished gentleman to some South African Jew,
to speak of the passing of an old world and of its replacement by a
new and a worse one. But an examination of the records which follow
the Dissolution of the monasteries may temper our sorrow. The wound
that was dealt in the sixteenth century to our general national
traditions affected the love of the land as profoundly as it did
religion, and the apparent antiquity which the trees, the stones, and
a certain spurious social feeling lend to these country houses is
Among the riparian manors of the Thames the fate of Bisham is very
characteristic of the general fate of monastic land. It was
surrendered, among other smaller monasteries, in 1536, though it
enjoyed an income corresponding to about L6000 a year of our money,
and of course very much more than L6000 a year in our modern way of
looking at incomes. It was thus a wealthy place, and how it came to be
included in the smaller monasteries is not quite clear. At any rate it
was restored immediately after. The monks of Chertsey were housed in
it, as we have already seen, and the revenues of several of the
smaller dissolved houses were added to it; so that it was at the
moment of its refoundation about three times as wealthy as it had been
before. The prior who had surrendered in 1536, one Barlow, was made
Bishop of St Asaphs, and in turn of St. Davids, Bath and Wells, and
Chichester; he is that famous Barlow who took the opportunity of the
Reformation to marry, and whose five daughters all in turn married the
Protestant bishops of the new Church of England. But this is by the
way. The fate of the land is what is interesting. From Anne of Cleves,
whose portion it had been, and to whom the Government of the great
nobles under Edward VI. confirmed it after Henry VIII.'s death, it
passed, upon her surrendering it in 1552, to a certain Sir Philip
Hoby. He had been of the Privy Council of Henry VIII. Upon his death
it passed to his nephew, Edward Hoby; Edward was a Parliamentarian
under Elizabeth, wrote on Divinity, and left an illegitimate son,
Peregrine, to whom he bequeathed Bisham upon his death in 1617. It
need hardly be said that before 100 years were over the son was
already legitimatised in the county traditions; his son, Edward, was
created Baron just after the Restoration, in 1666. The succession was
kept up for just 100 years more, when the last male heir of the family
died in 1766. He was not only a baron but a parson as well, and on his
death the estate went to relatives by the name of Mill, or, as we
might imagine, "Hoby" Mill. It did not long remain with them. They
died out in 1780 and the Van Sittarts bought it of the widow.
Consider Chertsey, from which Bisham sprang. The utter dispersion of
the whole tradition of Chertsey is more violent than that perhaps of
any other historical site in England. The Crown maintained, as we have
seen to be the case elsewhere, its nominal hold upon the foundations
of the abbey and of what was left of the buildings, though that hold
was only nominal, and it maintained such a position until 1610--that
is, for a full lifetime after the community was dispersed. But the
tradition created by FitzWilliam continued, and the Crown was ready to
sell at that date, to a certain Dr. Hammond. The perpetual mobility
which seems inseparable from spoils of this kind attaches
thenceforward to the unfortunate place. The Hammonds sell after the
Restoration to Sir Nicholas Carew, and before the end of the
seventeenth century the Carews pass it on to the Orbys, and the Orbys
pass it on to the Waytes. The Waytes sell it to a brewer of London,
one Hinde. So far, contemptuous as has been the treatment of this
great national centre, it had at least remained intact. With Hinde's
son even that dignity deserted it. He found it advisable to distribute
the land in parcels as a speculation; the actual emplacement of the
building went to a certain Harwell, an East Indian, in 1753, and his
son left it by will to a private soldier called Fuller, who was
suspected of being his illegitimate brother. Fuller, as might be
expected, saw nothing but an opportunity of making money. He redivided
what was left intact of the old estate, and sold that again by lots in
1809; a stockbroker bought the remaining materials of a house whose
roots struck back to the very footings of our country, sold them for
what they were worth--and there was the end of Chertsey.
Then there is also Radley: which begins as an exception, but fails. It
was a manor of Abingdon, and after the Dissolution it fell a prey to
that one of the Seymours who proved too dirty and too much even for
his brother and was put to death in 1549. It passed for the moment, as
we have seen several of these riverside manors do, into the hands of
Mary. But upon her death Elizabeth bestowed it upon a certain
Stonehouse, and the Stonehouses did come uncommonly near to founding a
family that should endure. Nor can their tradition be said to have
disappeared when the name changed and the manor passed to the nephew
of the last Stonehouse, by name Bowyer. But Bowyer did not retain it.
He gradually ruined himself: and it is amusing at this distance of
time to learn that the cause of his ruin was the idea that coal
underlay his property. Everyone knows what Radley since became: it was
purchased by an enthusiast, and is now a school springing from his
Or consider the two Hinkseys opposite Oxford, both portions of
Abingdon manors; they are granted in the general loot to two worthies
bearing the names of Owen and Bridges: a doctor.
These were probably no more than vulgar speculators upon a
premium--"Stags," as we should say to-day--for a few years afterwards
we find a Williams in possession of one of the Hinkseys; he is
followed by the Perrots, and only quite late, and by purchase, do we
come to the somewhat more dignified name of Harcourt. The other
Hinksey, after still more varied adventures, ends up in the hands of
the Berties, obscure south-country people who date from a rich
Protestant marriage of the time.
Cholsey, again, with its immemorial traditions of unchanging
ecclesiastical custom, receiving its priests in Saxon times from the
Mont St. Michel upon the marches of Brittany, and later holding as a
manor from the Abbot of Reading, remains with the Crown but a very few
years. In 1555 Mary handed it over to that Sir Robert Englefield who
was promptly attainted by her successor. It gets in the hands of the
Knowleses, then of the Rich's, and ends up with the family of
Edwardes-seventeenth-century Welshmen, who, by a plan of wealthy
marriages, became gentlemen, and have now for 100 years and more been
peers, under the title of Kensington.
The mention of Sir Robert Englefield leads one to what is perhaps the
best example in the whole Thames Valley of this perpetual chop and
change in the holding of English land; that example is to be
discovered at Pangbourne.
Pangbourne also was monastic; and the manor held, as did Cholsey, of
Reading Abbey. In the race for the spoils Dudley clutched it in 1550.
When he was beheaded, three years later, and it passed again to the
Crown, Mary handed it (as she had handed Cholsey) to Sir Robert
Englefield. His attainder followed. Within ten years it changes hands
again. Elizabeth in 1563 gave it to her cofferer, a Mr Weldon. This
personage struck no root, nor his son after him, for in 1613, while
still some were alive who could remember the old custom and immemorial
monastic lordship of the place, Weldon the younger sold it to a
Davis, one would hope--in that seventeenth century which was so
essentially the century of the squires, and in that generation also
wherein the squires wiped out what was left of the Crown and left the
King a salaried dependant of the governing class--Davis might surely
have attempted to found a family and to achieve some sort of dignity
of tradition. He probably made no such an attempt, but if he did he
failed; for only half-a-century later the unfortunate place changes
hands again, and the Davises sell it to the Breedons.
The Breedons showed greater stability. They are actually associated
with Pangbourne for over a century, but even this experiment in
lineage broke down, through the extinction of the direct line. In
1776, by a sham continuity consonant to the whole recent story of
English land, it passes to yet another family on the condition of
their assuming the name of Breedon--which was not their own.
All up and down England, and especially in this Thames Valley, which
is in all its phases so typical and symbolical of the rest of the
country, this stir and change of tenure is to be found, originating
with the sharp changes of 1540, and continuing to our own day.
Anywhere along this Berkshire shore of the Thames the process may be
traced; even the poor little ruined nunnery of Ankerwike shows it. The
site of that quiet and forgotten community was seized under Edward VI.
by Smith the courtier. Then you find it in the pockets of the Salters,
after them of the Lysons. The Lysons sell it to the Lees, and finally
it passes by marriage to the Harcourts.
The number of such examples that could be taken in the Valley of the
Thames alone would be far too cumbersome for these pages. One can
close the list with Sonning.
Sonning, which had been very possibly the see of an early bishopric,
and which was certainly a country house of the Bishop of Salisbury,
did not pass from ecclesiastical hands by a theft, but it was none the
less doomed to the same mutability as the rest. In 1574 it was
exchanged with the Crown for lands in Dorset. The Crown kept it for an
unusually long time, considering the way in which land slipped on
every side from the control of the National Government at this period.
It is still royal under Charles I., but it passes in 1628 to Halstead
and Chamberlain. In little more than twenty years it is in the hands
of the family of Rich. Then there is a lull, just as there was in the
case of Pangbourne, and a continuity that lasts throughout the
eighteenth century. But just as a tradition began to form it was
broken, and in the first years of the nineteenth century Sonning is
sold to the Palmers.
Parallel to the rise of the squires and their capture of English
government has gone the development of the English town system. And
this, the last historical phase with which we shall deal in these
pages, is also very well and typically illustrated in the history of
the Thames Valley. That valley contains London, which is, of course,
not only far the largest but in its way the fullest example of what is
peculiarly English in the development of town life; and it contains,
in the modern rise of Oxford and Reading, two of the very best
instances to show how the English town in its modern aspect has sprung
from the industrial system and from the introduction of railways. For
neither has any natural facilities for production, and the growth of
each in the nineteenth century has been wholly artificial.
The most recent change of all, with which these notes will end, is,
one need hardly say, this industrial transformation. It has made a
completely new England, and it nourishes the only civilised population
in the world which is out of touch with arms, and with the physical
life and nature of the country it inhabits, and the only population in
which the vast majority are concerned with things of which they have
no actual experience, and feel most strongly upon matters dictated to
them at second or third hand by the proprietors of great journals.
What that new England will become none of us can tell; we cannot even
tell whether the considerable problem of maintaining it as an
organised civilisation will or will not be solved. All the conditions
are so completely new, our whole machinery of government so thoroughly
presupposes a little aristocratic agricultural state, and our strong
attachment to form and ritual so hampers all attempts at
reorganisation, that the way in which we shall answer, if we do
answer, the question of this sphinx, cannot as yet even be guessed at.
But long before the various historical causes at work had begun to
produce the great modern English town, long before the use of coal,
the development of the navy, and, above all, the active political
transformation of our rivals during the eighteenth century, had given
us that industrial supremacy which we have but recently lost, the
English town was a thing with characteristics of its own in Europe.
In the first place, it was not municipal in the Roman sense. The sharp
distinction which the Roman Empire and the modern French Republic,
and, from the example of that republic, the whole of Western Europe,
establish between town and country, comes from the fact that European
thought, method of government, and the rest, were formed on the
Mediterranean: but the civilisation of the Mediterranean was one of
city states; the modern civilisation which has returned to Roman
traditions is, therefore, necessarily municipal. A man's first country
in antiquity was his town; he died for his town; he left his wealth to
his town; the word "civilisation," like the word "citizen," and like a
hundred words connected with the superiority of mankind, are drawn
from the word for a town. To be political, to possess a police, to
recognise boundaries--all this was to be a townsman, and the various
districts of the Empire took their proper names, at least, from the
names of their chief cities, as do to-day the French and the Italian
Doubtless in Roman times the governing forces of Britain attempted a
similar system here. But it does not seem ever to have taken root in
the same way that it did beyond the Channel. The absence of a
municipal system in the fullest sense is one of the very few things
which differentiates the Roman Britain from the rest of the Empire,
others being a land frontier to the west, and the large survival of
The Roman towns were not small, indeed Roman London was very large;
they were not ill connected with highroads; they were certainly
wealthy and full of commerce; but they gave their names to no
districts, and their municipal institutions have left but very faint
traces upon posterity.
The barbarian invasions fell severely upon the Roman cities of
Britain, in some very rare cases they may have been actually
destroyed, but in the much more numerous cases where we may be
reasonably sure that municipal life continued without a break
throughout the incursions of the pirates, their decay was pitiful; and
when recorded history begins again, after a gap of two hundred years,
with the Roman missionaries of the sixth and seventh centuries, we
find thenceforward, and throughout the Saxon period, many of the towns
living the life of villages.
The proportion that were walled was much smaller than was the case
upon the Continent, and even the most enduring emblem and the most
tenacious survival of the Roman Imperial system--namely, the Bishop
seated in the chief municipality of his district--was not universal to
It is characteristic of Gregory the Great that he intended, or is
believed to have intended, Britain, when he had recivilised it, to be
set out upon a clear Latin model, with a Primate in the chief city and
suffragans in every other. But if he had such a plan (and it would
have been a typically Latin plan) he must have been thinking of a
Britain very different from that which his envoys actually found. When
the work was accomplished the little market town of Canterbury was the
seat of the Primate; the old traditions of York secured for it a
second archbishop, great London could not be passed over, but small
villages in some places, insignificant boroughs in others, were the
sites of cathedrals. Selsey, a rural manor or fishing hamlet, was the
episcopal centre of St. Wilfrid and his successors in their government
of Sussex; Dorchester, as we have seen, was the episcopal town, or
rather village, for something like half England. In the names of its
officers also and in the methods of their government the Anglo-Saxon
town was agricultural.
With the advent of the Normans, as one might expect, municipal life to
some extent re-arose. But it still maintained its distinctively
English character throughout the Middle Ages. Contrast London or
Oxford, for instance, in the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries,
with contemporary Paris. In London and Oxford the wall is built once
for all, and when it is completed the town may grow into suburbs as
much as it likes, no new wall is built. In Paris, throughout its
history, as the town grows, the first concern of its Government is to
mark out new limits which shall sharply define it from the surrounding
country. Philip Augustus does it, a century and a half later Etienne
Marcel did it; through the seventeenth century, and the eighteenth,
the custom is continued: through the nineteenth also, and to-day new
and strict limits are about to be imposed on the expanded city.
Again the metropolitan idea, which is consonant to, and the climax of,
a municipal system, is absent from the story of English towns.
Until a good hundred years after the Conquest you cannot say where the
true capital of England is, and when you find it at last in London,
the King's Court is in a suburb outside the walls and the Parliament
of a century later yet meets at Westminster and not in the City.
The English judges are not found fixed in local municipal centres,
they are itinerant. The later organisation of the Peace does not
depend upon the county towns; it is an organisation of rural squires;
and, most significant of all, no definite distinction can ever be
drawn between the English village and the English town neither in
spirit nor in legal definition. You have a town like Maidenhead, which
has a full local Government, and yet which has no mayor for centuries.
Conversely, a town having once had a mayor may dwindle down into a
village, and no one who respects English tradition bothers to
interfere with the anomaly. For instance, you may to-day in Orford
enjoy the hospitality, or incur the hostility, of a Mayor and
On all these accounts the banks of the Thames, until quite the latest
part of our historical development, presented a line of settlements in
which it was often difficult to draw the distinction between the
village and the town.
Consider also this characteristic of the English thing, that the
boroughs sending Members to Parliament first sent them quite haphazard
and then by prescription.
Simon de Montfort gets just a few borough Members to his Parliament
because he knows they will be on his side; and right down to the
Tudors places are enfranchised--as, for example, certain Cornish
boroughs were--not because they are true towns but because they will
support the Government. Once returning Members, the place has a right
to return them, until the partial reform of 1832. It is a right like
the hereditary right of a peer, a quaint custom. It has no relation to
municipal feeling, for municipal feeling does not exist. Old Sarum may
lose every house, Gatton may retain but seven freeholders, yet each
solemnly returns its two Members to Parliament.
From the first records that we possess until the beginning of the
nineteenth century, the line of the Thames was a string of large
villages and small towns, differing in size and wealth far less than
their descendants do to-day. In this arrangement, of course, the
valley was similar to all the rest of England, but perhaps the
prosperity of the larger villages and the frequency of the market
towns was more marked on the line of the Thames than in any other
countryside, from the permanent influx of wealth due to the royal
castles, the great monastic foundations, and the continual stream of
travel to and from London which bound the whole together.
Cricklade, Lechlade, Oxford, Abingdon, Dorchester, Wallingford,
Reading, and Windsor--old Windsor, that is--were considerable places
from at least the period of the Danish invasions. They formed the
objective of armies, or the subject matter of treaties or important
changes. But the first standard of measure which we can apply is that
given us by the Norman Survey.
How indecisive is that standard has already been said. We do not
accurately know what categories of wealth were registered in Domesday.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, barbaric in this as in most other matters,
would have it that the Survey was complete, and applied to all the
landed fortune of England. That, of course, is absurd. But we do have
a rough standard of comparison for rural manors, though it is a very
rough one. Though we cannot tell how much of the measurements and of
the numbers given are conventional and how much are real, though we do
not know whether the plough-lands referred to are real fields or
merely measures of capacity for production, though historians are
condemned to ceaseless guessing upon every term of the document, and
though the last orthodox guess is exploded every five or six
years--yet when we are told that one manor possessed so many ploughs
or paid upon so many hides, or had so many villein holdings while
another manor had but half or less in each category; and when we see
the dues, say three times as large in the first as in the second, then
we can say with certitude that the first was much more important than
the second; _how_ much more important we cannot say. We can, to repeat
an argument already advanced, affirm the inhabitants of any given
manor to be at the very least not less than five times the number of
holdings, and thus fix a _minimum_ everywhere. For instance, we can be
certain that William's rural England had not less than 2,000,000,
though we cannot say how much more they may not have been--3,000,000,
4,000,000, or 5,000,000. In agricultural life--that is, in the one
industry of the time--Domesday does afford a vague statement to the
rural conditions of England at the end of the eleventh century, and,
dark as it is, no other European nation possesses such a minute record
of its economic origins.
But with the towns the case is different. There, except for the
minimum of population, we are quite at sea. We may presume that the
houses numbered are only the houses paying tax, or at least we may
presume this in some cases, but already the local customs of each town
were so highly differentiated that it is quite impossible to say with
certitude what the figures may mean. It is usual to take the taxable
value of the place to the Crown and to establish a comparison on that
basis, but it is perhaps wiser, though almost as inconclusive, to
consider each case, and all the elements of it separately, and to
attempt, by a co-ordination of the different factors given to arrive
at some sort of scale.
Judged in this manner, Wallingford and Oxford are the early towns of
the Thames Valley which afford the best subjects for survey.
Wallingford in Domesday counted, closes and cottages together, just
under 500 units of habitation. It is, of course, a matter of
conjecture how much population this would stand for. A minimum is
here, as elsewhere, easily established. We may presuppose that a
close, even of the largest kind, was but a private one; we may next
average the inhabitants of each house at five, which is about the
average of modern times, and so arrive at a population of 2500. But
this minimum of 2500 for the population of Wallingford at the time of
the Conquest is too artificial and too full of modern bias to be
received. Not even the strongest prejudice in favour of underrating
the wealth and population of early England, a prejudice which has for
it objects the emphasising of our modern perfection, would admit so
ludicrous a conclusion. But while we may be perfectly certain that the
population of Wallingford was far larger than this minimum, to obtain
a maximum is not so easy. We do not know, with absolute certainty,
whether the whole of the town has been enumerated in the Survey,
though we have a better ground for supposing it in this case than in
most others. Such numerous details are given of holdings which, though
situated in the town, counted in the property of local manors that we
are fairly safe in saying that we have here a more than commonly
complete survey. The very cottages are mentioned, as, for example,
"twenty-two cottages outside the wall," and their condition is
described in terms which, though not easy for us to understand,
clearly signify that they could be taken as paying the full tax.
The real elements of uncertainty lie, first in the number of people
normally inhabiting one house at that time, and secondly, in the exact
meaning of the word "haga" or "close."
As to the first point, we may take it that one household of five would
be the least, ten would be the most, to be present under the roof of
an isolated family; but we must remember that the Middle Ages
contained in their social system a conception of community which not
only appeared (and is still remembered) in connection with monastic
institutions, but which inspired the whole of military and civil life.
To put it briefly, a man at the time of the Conquest, and for
centuries later, would rather have lived as part of a community than
as an individual householder, and conversely, those indices of
importance and social position which we now estimate in furniture and
other forms of ostentation were then to be found in the number of
dependants surrounding the head of the house. A merchant, for example,
if he flourished, was the head of a very numerous community; every
parish church in a town represented a society of priests and of their
servants, and of course a garrison (such as Wallingford pre-eminently
possessed) meant a very large community indeed. We are usually safe,
at any rate in the towns, if we multiply the known number of tenements
by ten in order to arrive at the number of souls inhabiting the
borough. To give the Wallingford of the Conquest a minimum of 5000, if
we were certain that 500 (or, to speak exactly, 491) was the number of
single units of taxation within the borough, would be to set that
minimum quite low enough.
The second difficulty is that of establishing the meaning of the word
"haga." In some cases it may represent one single large establishment.
But on the other hand we can point to six which between them covered a
whole acre, and no one with the least acquaintance of mediaeval
municipal topography, no one, for instance, who knows the history of
twelfth-century Paris, would allow one-sixth of an acre to a single
average house within the walls of a town. A close would have one or
more wells, it is true; some closes certainly would have gardens, but
the labour of fortification, and the privilege of market, were each of
them causes which forbade any great extension of open spaces, save in
the case of privileged or wealthy communities or individuals.
From what we know of closes elsewhere, it is more probable that these
at Wallingford were the "cells" as it were of the borough organism. A
man would be granted in the first growth of the town a unit of land
with definitely established boundaries, which he would probably
enclose (the word "haga" refers to such an enclosure), and though at
first there might be only one house upon it, it would be to his
interest to multiply the tenements within this unit, which unit
rendered a regular, customary and unchanging due to its various
superiors, whatever the number of inhabitants it grew to contain.
If we turn to a comparison based upon taxation we have equal
difficulties, though difficulties of a different sort. We saw in the
case of Old Windsor that a community of perhaps 1000, probably of
more, but at any rate something more like a large village than a town
(and one moreover not rated as a town), paid in dues the equivalent of
thirty loads of wheat. Wallingford paid the equivalent of only twenty
or twenty-two. But on the other hand the total Farm of the Borough,
the globular price at which the taxes could be reckoned upon to yield
a profit, was equivalent to no less than 400 such loads.
Judged by the number of hagae we should have a Wallingford about five
times the size of Old Windsor. Judged by the taxable capacity we
should have an Old Wallingford of more than ten times the size of Old
Here again a further element of complexity enters. It was quite out of
the spirit of the Middle Ages to estimate dues, whether to a feudal
superior or to the National Government, or even minor payments made to
a true proprietorial owner at the full capacity of the economic unit
concerned. All such payment was customary. Even where, in the later
Middle Ages, a man indubitably owned (in our modern sense of the word
"owned") a piece of freehold land, and let it (in our modern sense of
the word "let"), it would not have occurred to him or his tenant that
the very highest price obtainable for the productive capacity of the
land should be paid. The philosophy permeating the whole of society
compelled the owner and the tenant, even in this extreme case, to a
customary arrangement; for it was an arrangement intended to be
permanent, to allow for wide fluctuations of value, and therefore to
be necessarily a minimum. If this was the case in the later Middle
Ages where undoubted proprietary right was concerned, still more was
it the case in the early Middle Ages with the customary feudal dues;
these varied infinitely from place to place, rising in scale from
those of privileged communities wholly exempt to those of places such
as we believe Old Windsor to have been, which paid (and these were the
exceptions), not indeed every penny that they could pay (as they would
now have to pay a modern landlord), but half, or perhaps more than
half, such a rent.
Where Wallingford stood in this scale it is quite impossible to say,
and we can only conclude with the very general statement that the
Wallingford of the Conquest consisted of certainly more than 5000
souls, more probably of 10,000, and quite possibly of more than
Having taken Wallingford with its minute and valuable record as a sort
of unit, we can roughly compare it with other centres of populations
upon the river at the same date.
Old Windsor we have already dealt with, and made it out from a fifth
to a tenth of Wallingford. Reading was apparently far smaller. Indeed
Reading is one of the puzzles of the early history of the Thames
Valley. We have already seen in discussing these strategical points
upon the river what advantages it had, and yet it appears only
sporadically in ancient history as a military post. The Danes hold it
on the first occasion on which we find the site recorded, in the
latter half of the ninth century: it has a castle during the anarchy
of the twelfth, but it is a castle which soon disappears. It
frequently plays a part in the Civil Wars of the seventeenth, but the
part it plays is only temporary.
And Reading presents a similar puzzle on the civilian side. It is
situated at the junction of two waterways, one of which leads directly
from the Thames Valley to the West of England, yet it does not seem to
have been of a considerable civil importance until the establishment
of its monastery; and even then it is not a town of first-class size
or wealth, nor does it take up its present position until quite late
in the history of the country.
At the time of the Domesday Survey it actually counts, in the number
of recorded enclosures at least, for less than a third of Old Windsor;
and we may take it, after making every allowance for possible
omissions or for some local custom which withdrew it from the taxing
power of the Crown, for little more than a village at that moment.
The size of Oxford at the same period we have already touched upon,
but since, like every other inference founded upon Domesday, the
matter has become a subject of pretty violent discussion, it will
bear, perhaps, a repeated and more detailed examination at this place.
Let us first remember that the latest prejudice from which our
historical school has suffered, and one which still clings to its more
orthodox section, was to belittle as far as possible the general
influence of European civilisation upon England; to exalt, for
example, the Celtic missionaries and their work at the expense of St
Augustine, to grope for shadowy political origins among the pirates of
the North Sea, to trace every possible etymology to a barbaric root,
and to make of Roman England and of early Medieval England--that is,
of the two Englands which were most fully in touch with the general
life of Europe--as small a thing as might be.
In the light of this prejudice, which is the more bitter because it is
closely connected with religion and with the bitter theological
passions of our universities, we are always safe in taking the larger
as against the smaller modern estimates of wealth, of population and
of influence, where either of these civilisations is concerned, and,
conversely, we are always safe in taking at the lowest modern estimate
the numbers and effect of the barbaric element in our history.
To return to the ground we have already briefly covered, and to
establish a comparison with Wallingford, the word "haga," which we saw
to be of such doubtful value in the case of Wallingford, is replaced
in Oxford by the word "mansio." The taxable units so enumerated are
just over 600, but of these much more than half are set down as
untaxable or imperfectly taxable under the epithets "Uasta," "Uastae."
What that epithet means we do not know. It may mean anything between
"out of repair," "excused from taxation because they do not come up to
our new standard of the way in which a house in a borough should be
kept up, and because we want to give them time to put themselves in
order," down to the popular acceptation of the word as meaning
"ruined," or even "destroyed."
We know that at the close of the eleventh century, or indeed at any
time before the thirteenth, the small man who lived under his own roof
would live in a very low house, and that, space for space of ground
area, the cubical contents of these poor dwellings would be less than
those of modern slums. On the other hand, we know that the population
would live much more in the open air, slept much more huddled, and
also that a very considerable proportion--what proportion we cannot
say, but probably quite half of a Norman borough--was connected with
the huge communal institutions--military, ecclesiastical, and for that
matter mercantile, as well--which marked the period. We know that the
occupied space stood for very much what is now enclosed by the line of
the old walls, and we know that under modern conditions this space, in
spite of our great empty public buildings, our sparsely inhabited
wealthy houses, and our college gardens, can comfortably hold some
5000 people. We can say, therefore, at a guess, but only at a guess,
that the Oxford of the Conquest must have had some 3000 people in it
at the very least, and can hardly have had 10,000 at the most. These
are wide limits, but anyone who shall pretend to make them narrower is
imposing upon his readers with an appearance of positive knowledge
which is the charlatanism of the colleges, and pretends to exact
knowledge where he possesses nothing but the vague basis of
It is sufficiently clear (and the reading of any of our most positive
modern authorities upon Domesday will make it clearer) that no sort of
statistical exactitude can be arrived at for the population of the
boroughs in the early Middle Ages. But when we consider that Reading
is certainly underestimated, and when we consider the detail in which
we are informed of Old Windsor, Wallingford, and Oxford, with the
neglect of Abingdon, Lechlade, Cricklade, and Dorchester, one can
roughly say that the Thames above London possessed in Staines,
Windsor, Cookham, probably Henley, perhaps Bensington, Dorchester,
Eynsham, and possibly Buscot, large villages varying from some
hundreds in population to a little over 1000, not defended, not
reckoned as towns, and agricultural in character. To these we may add
Chertsey, Ealing, and a few others whose proximity to London makes it
difficult for us to judge except in the vaguest way their true
In another category, possessing a different type of communal life,
already thinking of themselves as towns, we should have Cricklade,
Lechlade, Abingdon, and Kingston among the smaller, though probably
possessing a population not much larger than that of the larger
villages; while of considerable centres there were but three: Reading
the smallest, almost a town, but one upon which we have no true or
sufficient data; Wallingford the largest, with the population of a
flourishing county town in our own days, and Oxford, a place which,
though in worse repair, ran Wallingford close.
Henley affords an interesting study. At the time of the Conquest,
Bensington was no longer, Henley not yet, a borough. To trace the
growth of Henley is especially engrossing, because it is one of the
very rare examples of a process which earlier generations of
historians, and notably the popular historians like Freeman and the
Rev. Mr Green, took to be a common feature in the story of this
island. They were wrong, of course, and they have been widely and
deservedly ridiculed for imagining that the greater part of our
English boroughs grew up since the barbarian invasions upon waste
places. On the contrary most of our towns grew up upon Roman and
pre-Roman foundations, and are continuous with the pre-historic past.
But Henley forms a very interesting exception.
It was a hamlet which went with the manor of Bensington, and that
point alone is instructive, for it points to the insignificance of the
place. When the lords of Bensington went hunting up on Chiltern they
found on the far side of the hill, it may be presumed, a little
clearing near the river. This was all that Henley was, and it is
probable that even the church of the place was not built until quite
late in the Christian period; there is at any rate an old tradition
that Aldeburgh is the mother of Henley, and it is imagined by those
who wrote monographs upon the locality that this tradition points to
the church of Aldeburgh as the mother church of what was at first a
chapel upon the riverside.
When we first hear of Henley it is already called a town, and the date
of this is the first year of King John, 1199.
It must be remembered that the river had been developed and changed in
that first century of orderly government under the Normans. Indeed one
of the reforms which the aristocracy made much of in their revolt, and
which is granted in Magna Charta, is the destruction of the King's
weirs upon the Thames. But the weirs cannot have been permanently
destroyed; though the public rights over the river were curtailed by
Magna Charta, the system of regulation was founded and endured. It is
probably this improvement on the great highway which led to the growth
of Henley, and when Reading Minster had become the great thing it was
late in the twelfth century, Henley must have felt the effect, for it
would have afforded the nearest convenient stage down the river from
the new and wealthy settlement round the Cluniac Abbey. In the
thirteenth century--that is, in the first hundred years after the
earliest mention we have of the place--Henley became rapidly more and
more important. It seems to have afforded a convenient halting place
whenever progress was made up river, especially a royal progress from
Windsor. Edward I. stayed there constantly, and we possess a record of
three dates which are very significant of this kind of journey. In the
December of 1277 the King goes up river. On the sixteenth of the month
he slept at Windsor, on the seventeenth at Henley, the next day at
Abingdon; and in his son's time Henley has grown so much that it
counts as one of the three only boroughs in the whole of Oxfordshire:
Oxford and Woodstock are the two others.
It was in the thirteenth century also that a bridge was thrown across
the river at this point--that is, Henley possessed a bridge long
before Wallingford, and at a time when the river could be crossed by
road in but very few places. The granting of a number of indulgences,
and the promises of masses in the middle of the thirteenth century for
this object, give us the date; and, what is perhaps equally
interesting, this early bridge was of stone.
It is usual to think of the early bridges over the Thames as wooden
bridges. Aft older generation was accustomed to many that still
remained. This was true of the later Middle Ages, and of the torpor
and neglect in building which followed the Reformation. But it was not
true of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The bridge at Henley,
like the bridge of Wallingford and the later bridge of Abingdon, was
It was allowed to fall into decay, and when Leland crossed the river
at this point it was upon a wooden bridge, the piers of which stood
upon the old foundation. How long that wooden bridge had existed in
1533, when Leland noticed it, we cannot tell, but it remained of wood
until 1786, when the present bridge replaced it.
In spite of the early importance of the town, it was not regularly
incorporated for a long time, but was governed by a Warden, the first
on the list being the date of 1305, within the reign of Edward I. The
charter which gave Henley a Mayor and Corporation was granted as late
as the reign of Henry VIII. and but a few years before Leland's visit.
From that moment, however, the town ceased to expand, either in
importance or in numbers; the destruction of Reading Abbey and of the
Cell of Westminster at Hurley just over the river, very possibly
affected its prosperity. At the beginning of the nineteenth century it
had a population of less than 3000, and sixty years later it had not
added another 1000 to that number.
Maidenhead follows, for centuries, a sort of parallel course to the
development of Henley.
Recently, of course, it has very largely increased in population, and
in this it is an example in a minor degree of what Reading and Oxford
are in a major degree--that is, of the changes which the railway has
made in the Thames Valley. But until the effect of the railway began
to be felt Maidenhead was the younger and parallel town to Henley.
For example, though we cannot tell exactly when Maidenhead Bridge was
built, we may suppose it to have been some few years after Henley
Bridge. It already exists and is in need of repair in 1297. Henley
Bridge is founded more than a generation earlier than that.
"Maidenhythe," as it was called, has been thought to have been before
the building of this bridge a long timber wharf upon the river, but
that is only a guess. There must have been some local accumulation of
wealth or of traffic or it would not have been chosen as a site for
the new bridge which was somewhat to divert the western road.
Originally, so far as we can judge, the main stream of gravel crossed
the Thames at Cookham, and again at Henley. Why this double crossing
should have been necessary it is useless to conjecture unless one
hazards the guess that the quality of the soil in very early times
gave so much better going upon the high southern bank of the river
that it was worth while carrying the main road along the bank, even at
the expense of a double crossing of the stream. If that was the case
it is difficult to see how a town of the importance of Marlow could
have grown up upon the farther shore; that Marlow was important we
know from the fact that it had a Borough representation in Parliament
in the first years of that experiment before the close of the
At any rate, whatever the reason was, whether from some pre-historic
conditions having brought the road across the peninsula at this point,
or, as is more likely, on account of some curious arrangement of
mediaeval privilege, it is fairly certain that, in the centuries before
the great development of the thirteenth, travel did come across the
river in front of Cookham, recross it in front of Henley, and so make
over the Chilterns to the great main bridge at Wallingford, which led
out to the Vale of the White Horse and the west country.
The importance of Cookham in this section of the road is shown in
several ways. First the great market, in Domesday bringing in
customary dues to the King of twenty shillings--and what twenty
shillings means in Domesday in mere market dues one can appreciate by
considering that all the dues from Old Windsor only amounted to ten
pounds. Then again it was a royal manor which, unlike most of the
others, was never alienated; it was not even alienated during the ruin
and breakdown of the monarchy which followed the Dissolution of the
To this day traces remain of the road which joined this market to the
second crossing at Henley.
We may presume that the importance of Cookham was maintained for some
two centuries after the Conquest, until it was outflanked and the
stream of its traffic diverted by the building of the bridge at
Just as this bridge came later than the Bridge at Henley, so it was
inferior to it in structure; it was, as we have seen, of timber, but
such as it was, it was the cause of the growth of Maidenhead much more
than was the bridge at Henley the cause of the growth of Henley. The
first nucleus of municipal government grows up in connection with the
Bridge Guild; the Warden and the Bridge Masters remain the head of the
embryonic corporation throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries, and even when the town is incorporated (shortly before the
close of the seventeenth century), by James II., the maintenance and
guardianship of the wooden bridge remained one of the chief
occupations of the new corporation.
It was just after the granting of the Charter that the army of William
III. marched across this bridge on its way to London, an episode which
shows how completely Maidenhead held the monopoly of the Western road.
The present stone bridge was not built to replace the old wooden one
until the last quarter of the eighteenth century, parallel in this as
in everything else to the example of Henley; and this position of
inferiority to Henley, and of parallel advance to that town, is
further seen in the statistics of population. In 1801, when Henley
already boasted nearly 2000 souls, Maidenhead counted almost exactly
half that number. The later growth of the place is quite modern.
The antiquity of the crossing of the Thames at Cookham is supported by
a certain amount of pre-historic evidence, worth about as much as such
evidence ever is, and about as little. Two Neolithic flint knives have
been found there, a bronze dagger sheath and spear-head, a bronze
sword, and a whole collection or store of other bronze spear-heads.
Such as it is, it is a considerable collection for one spot.
Cookham has not only these pre-historic remains; it has also fragments
of British pottery found in the relics of pile dwellings near the
river, and two Roman vases from the bed of the stream; it has further
furnished Anglo-Saxon remains, and, indeed, there are very few points
upon the river where so regular a continuity of the historic and the
pre-historic is to be discovered as in the neighbourhood of this old
In was in the course of the Middle Ages, and after the Conquest, that
new Windsor rose to importance. It is not recognised as a borough
before the close of the thirteenth century; it is incorporated in the
Reading certainly increased considerably with the continual stream of
wealth that poured from the abbey; it possessed in practice a working
corporation before the Dissolution, was famous for its cloth long
before, and had become, in the process of years, an important town
that rivalled the great monastery which had developed it; indeed it is
probable that only the privileges, the conservatism, of the abbey
forbade it to be recognised and chartered before the Reformation.
Abingdon also grew (but with less vigour), also had a manufactory of
cloth, though of a smaller kind, and was also worthy of incorporation
at the end of the Middle Ages.
Staines cannot take its place with these, for in spite of its high
strategical value, of its old Roman tradition, of its proximity to
London and the rest, Staines was throughout the Middle Ages, and till
long after, rather a village than a town. Though a wealthy place it is
purely agricultural in the Domesday Survey, and the comparative
insignificance of the spot is perhaps explained by the absence of a
bridge. That absence is by no means certain. Staines after all was on
the great military highway leading from London westward, and it must
have been necessary for considerable forces to cross the river here
throughout the Dark Ages and the early Middle Ages, as did for
instance, at the very close of that period, the barons on their way to
Runnymede; and far earlier the army that marched hurriedly from London
to intercept the Danes in 1009, when the pagans were coming up the
river, and whether by the help of the tide or what not, managed to get
ahead of the intercepting force. But if a bridge existed so early as
the Conquest, we have no mention of it. The first allusion to a bridge
is in the granting of three oaks from Windsor for the repairing of it
in 1262. It may have existed long before that date, but it is
significant that in the Escheats of Edward III., and as late as the
twenty-fourth year of his reign--that is, after the middle of the
fourteenth century--it is mentioned that the bridge existed since the
reign of Henry III., which would convey the impression that in 1262
the bridge had first needed repairing, being built, perhaps, in the
earlier years of the reign and completed, possibly, but a little after
the death of King John.
This bridge of Staines was most unfortunate. It broke down again and
again. Even an experiment in stone at the end of the last century was
a failure, because the foundations did not go deep enough into the bed
of the river. An iron absurdity succeeded the stone, and luckily broke
down also, until at last, in the thirties of the nineteenth century,
the whole thing was rebuilt, 200 yards above the old traditional site.
Staines is of interest in another way, because it marks one of those
boundaries between the maritime and the wholly inland part of a river
which is in so many of the English valleys associated with some
important crossing. The jurisdiction of the port of London over the
river extended as high as the little island just opposite the mouth of
the Colne. On this island can still be seen the square stone shaft
which is at least as old as the thirteenth century (though it stands
on more modern steps), and which marks this limit, as it does also the
shire mark between Middlesex and Buckingham.
We have, after the Dissolution it is true, and when the financial
standing of most of these places had been struck a heavy blow, a
valuable estimate for many of them in the inquiry ordered by Pole in
1555. This estimate gives Abingdon less than 1500 of population,
Reading less than 3000, Windsor about 1000; and in general one may say
that with the sixteenth century, whether the population was
diminishing (as certainly contemporary witnesses believed), or whether
it had increased beyond the maximum which England had seen before the
Black Death, at any rate the relative importance of the various
centres of population had not very greatly changed during those long
five centuries of customary rule and of firm tradition. The towns and
villages which Shakespeare would have passed in a journey up the
river, though probably shrunk somewhat from what they had been in, let
us say, the days of Edward I. or of his grandson, when the Middle Ages
were in their full vigour and before the Black Death had ruined our
countrysides, were still a string of some such large villages and
small walled boroughs as his ancestry had seen for many hundred years,
disfigured only and changed by the scaffolded ruins here and there of
the great religious foundations. Windsor, Wallingford, Reading,
Abingdon, and even Oxford, were towns appearing to him much as
Lechlade to-day remains or Abingdon still. As for the riverside
villages their agricultural and native population was certainly larger
than that which they now possess; and in general the effect produced
upon such a journey was of a sort of even distribution of population
gradually increasing from the loneliness of the upper river to the
growing sites between Windsor and London, but in no part exaggerated;
larger everywhere in proportion to the importance of the stream, or of
agricultural or of strategical position, and forming together one
united countryside, bound together even in its architecture by the
common commerce of the river.
The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries did little to disturb this
equilibrium or to destroy this even tradition. The opening up of the
waterways and the great improvement of the highroads, and the building
of bridges, and the expansion of wealth at the end of the eighteenth
century had indeed some considerable effect in increasing the
population of England as a whole, but the smaller country towns, in
the south at least, and in the Thames Valley, seem to have benefited
fairly equally from the general change. The new canals, entering at
Oxford and at Reading, gave a certain lead to both those centres, and
even the Severn Canal, entering at Lechlade, did a little for that
up-river town. The new fashion of the public schools (which had now
long been captured by the wealthier classes) also increased the
importance of Eton, and towards the close of the period the now
rapidly expanding capital had overfed the villages within reach of
London with a considerable accession of population. But it is
remarkable how evenly spread was even this industrial development.
The twin towns of Abingdon and Reading, for instance, twin
monasteries, twin corporations, had for all these centuries preserved
their ratio of the up-country town and the larger centre that was the
neighbour of London and Windsor. In the beginning of the nineteenth
century, in spite of the general increase of population, that ratio
was still well preserved: it is about three to one. But the Railway
found one and left the other.
The Railway came, and in our own generation that ratio began to change
out of all knowledge. It grows from four, five, six, to _seven_ to
one. After a short halt you have eight, nine and at last--after eighty
years--more than _ten_ to one. The last census (that of 1901) is still
more significant: Abingdon positively declines, and the last ratio is
It is through the Railway, and even then long after its first effect
might have been expected, that the Valley of the Thames, later than
any other wealthy district in England, loses, as all at last are
doomed to lose, its historic tradition, and suffers the social
revolution which has made modern England the unique and perilous thing
it is among the nations of the world.
Abbots. See under separate monasteries.
Aben, legend of, at Abingdon, 98.
Abingdon, 9, 23, 37, 87, 88, 93, 97-99, 102, 139.
Abingdon and Reading, change in ratio of population of, 198.
Ad Pontes, Roman name of Staines, 33.
Alfred, his boundary neglects the Thames, 34.
Andersey Island, opposite Abingdon, 99.
Ankerwike, nunnery of, 109, 168.
Anne of Cleves obtains Bisham, 163.
Barbarian invasions, 90, 91, 94, 95.
Barlow, Prior of Bisham, becomes Bishop of St. Asaphs, 163.
Barons give Tower to Archbishop in trust for Magna Charta, 84.
Barwell obtains Chertsey, 165.
Benedictine Order, 89-100.
Bermondsey, Cluniac Abbey of, 104, 105.
Berties obtain Hinksey, 166.
Birinus receives Cynegil into the Church, 52.
Bisham, dissolution of, 110, 163, 164.
Blackcherry Fair, at Chertsey, 139.
Bowyer obtains Radley, 165.
Brackley, strategical importance of, 72.
Breedons obtain Pangbourne, 167.
Bridge, London, 17-21.
Bridlington Priory, movables of, embezzled by Howards, 156.
conversion of, position of Dorchester in, 49;
first barbarian invasion of, 90, 91.
Burford, early name of Abingdon Ford, 23.
Burgundy, character of that province, 103.
Burnham, nunnery of, mentioned, 109.
Buscot, a royal manor in eleventh century, 28.
Canal, Thames and Severn, building of, 15.
Canterbury, Archbishop of,
holds Tower in pledge for Magna Charta, 84;
St. Thomas of (see St. Thomas).
Canute at Oxford, 55.
Carew obtains Chertsey, 164.
Charterhouse, Sheen, 108.
Chateau Gaillard compared to Windsor, 69.
Chaucer's son custodian of Wallingford, 60.
foundation of, 96;
Abbey, sack of, 137;
fate of land of, 159-165.
Cholsey, Priory of, 109, 166.
Churn joins Thames at Cricklade, 39.
destruction of Wallingford Castle under, 66;
of King and Parliament, 86-89.
Cluny, 102, 103.
Cobham, Manor of, twenty acres possessed by Chertsey in, 149.
Commons, Dissolution House of, significant names in, 146, 147.
See of Dorchester removed to Lincoln, 52, 102.
Constantine, legend of, at Abingdon, 98.
Conversion of Britain, position of Dorchester in, 49.
Cookham, early importance of, 191-194.
importance of, 38-41;
small Priory of, 107;
ford at, 22.
"Cromwell," Oliver. See Williams, his destruction of Wallingford
Cromwell, or Smith of Putney, family of, 153-161.
loses its manors, 144;
British, might have led the modern period in Europe, 145-146;
cause of ruin of, weakness of Tudor character, 148.
Culham, attempted fortification of bridge of, 87.
Cumnor granted to Thomas Rowland, 139.
Cynegil, baptism of, at Dorchester, 50, 51.
Danes at Oxford, 54, 55.
Danish invasions destroy Chertsey, 97.
Davis obtains Pangbourne, 167.
Diocletian, his boundaries, 33;
legend of, at Abingdon, 98.
Dissolution and destruction of monasteries, 110-152.
Oxford in, 56-58;
Survey, ambiguity of, 57;
indecision of, 176, 177.
Dorchester, 33, 47-52, 107, 108.
Dover, isolated defence of, 75.
Drainage of swamps, monastic work in, 97, 98.
Dudley obtains Pangbourne, 167.
Durham, appearance of, before the Dissolution, compared to Reading,
Duxford, ford at, 22.
Ealing, tidal river passable at, 24.
Eaton, meaning of place name, 31.
Economic aspect of Dissolution, 115-137;
aspect of monastic system, 116-118;
of the rise of gentry, 143, 144.
Edge Hill, battle of, 88.
Edmund Ironside at Oxford, 55.
Edward the Confessor,
manorial lord of Old Windsor, 70;
the Confessor rebuilds Westminster Abbey, 96.
prisoner in youth at Wallingford, 60;
his march when a prince to the Tower from Windsor, 85.
Edward II. leaves the Tower, 85.
Edwardes obtains Cholsey, 166.
Elizabeth restores purity of currency, 134.
England, history of, dependent on river system, 1-3.
Englefield, Sir Robert,
obtains Cholsey, 167;
obtains Pangbourne, 167.
Essex occupies Abingdon, 87.
Essex, earldom of, conferred on Thomas Cromwell, 158.
monastery of, 107.
Fawley, parish with special water front, 9.
Fords, 22-34, 33, 99.
Forest, Windsor, 70, 77, 78.
rareness of, along Thames, 47;
on Thames, examples of, 47;
theory of, 62, 63;
mediaeval, never urban, 66,
urban, Louvre an example of, 67.
Fosse Way, 38, 44.
Fuller obtains Chertsey, 165.
Fyfield, example of parish with special water front, 10.
Gentry, territorial, their origins before Reformation, 141-143;
Godstow, nunnery of, mentioned, 109.
Goring, track of Icknield Way through, 42.
Gundulph, Bishop of Rochester, 83.
Hammond obtains Chertsey, 164.
Harold, his council at Oxford, 56.
Henley, growth of, 187-190.
Henry I. enlarges Windsor, 70.
Henry II. at Wallingford, 37.
Henry III., his misfortunes connected with the Tower, 83.
his childhood passed at Wallingford, 61;
buried at Chertsey, 97.
Henry VIII. loses the spoils of the Dissolution, 145.
Hinchinbrooke, seat of the Williamses, 159.
Hind obtains Chertsey, 165.
Hinkseys, fate of land of, 166.
Hoby, Edward, son of Sir Philip Hoby, 163.
Hoby, Sir Philip,
obtains Bisham, 163;
Peregrine, son of Sir Philip Hoby, 164.
Horseferry Road, Westminster, 44.
Howards, noble family of, embezzled property, 155.
Huntingdon, two foundations in, given to Richard Williams, 156.
Icknield Way, 38, 40-44.
birth of the Confessor there, 55;
a private manor of Queen Emma, 55.
Jews in Tower, 85.
Joel, Solomon, contrasted with gentry of the Dissolution, 158.
John, King, 71-76.
Kelmscott, loneliness of neighbourhood of, due to nature of soil, 7.
Knowles obtain Cholsey, 166.
Lanfranc colonises Bermondsey Abbey, 105.
Lechlade, small Priory of, 107.
Lincoln succeeds Dorchester as a see, 52.
Little Marlow, nunnery of, mentioned, 109.
Littlemore, example of parish with special water front, 10, 11.
London, 65-68, 73, 86, 87, 89.
Longchamps surrenders Tower, 84.
Long Wittenham, ford at, 23.
Lords, House of, utterly transformed by Dissolution of monasteries,
Louis of France called in by barons, 75.
Magna Charta, 29, 71-76, 84.
probable origin of name, 32;
growth of, 190-194.
Mandeville holds Tower, 83.
in monastic hands in Thames Valley, 124-126;
English, probably Roman in origin, certainly Saxon, 141, 142;
royal lapse of, 144;
mutability of ownership in, after Dissolution, 161-169.
Matilda, fealty sworn to, at Windsor, 70.
Medmenham, Priory of, 109.
Mill, family of, succeeds Hobys at Bisham, 164.
Monasteries, system of, 91-93.
Monastic foundations on Thames, list of, 122, 123.
Monastic possessions in Thames Valley, list of, 125-126.
Monastic system, 108, 116, 117, 127, 148, 150.
Montlhery, originally dominated Paris as Windsor London, 67.
Mont St. Michel, connection with Cholsey, 166.
Morgan, first known of the Williamses, 152.
"Mota de Windsor," 70.
Mortimer holds Wallingford, 60.
English, different from that of other countries, 170-175;
in Roman Britain, 172.
Naseby, battle of, women massacred after, by Puritans, 88, 89.
Norman Conquest, 52, 82, 93.
Normandy, modern boundaries of, fixed by Diocletian, 33.
Nuneham Morren, example of parish with special water front, 11.
Observants at Richmond, 93.
Ock, River, original marsh at mouth of, 8.
Offa, Wallingford mentioned under, 37.
Oilei builds Osney, 105.
Old Windsor, 69, 70.
Oligarchy rose on ruins of Catholicism, 140-152.
Orby obtains Chertsey, 164.
Osney, Abbey of, at Oxford, 105;
loot of, by Henry VIII., 106;
appearance of, before Dissolution, 112, 113.
Owen obtains Hinksey, 166.
Oxford, 22, 31, 53, 58, 86, 87, 106, 183-186.
Oxford Street, Roman military road into London, 68.
Pangbourne, ford at, 34;
held of Reading Abbey, 167;
fate of land of, 167.
Paris, dominated by Montlhery as London by Windsor, 67;
an example of fortification following residence, 77.
Parishes, shape of, 8, 11.
Penda, his opposition to Christianity, 51.
Peregrine Hoby, 164.
Perrots obtain Hinksey, 166.
Philiphaugh, battle of, massacre of women after, by Puritans, 89.
on the Thames, 30, 32, 33;
Celtic, rare in Thames Valley, 30;
Roman, disappeared in Thames Valley, 32.
Pole, his estimate of population, 196.
of Abingdon and Reading, typical of change in nineteenth century,
of Oxford in early times, 56, 57.
Prices and values at time of Dissolution compared with modern,
Priory of Medmenham, 109.
Puritans, their massacre of the women after battle of Philiphaugh, 88,
Radley, fate of land of, 165, 166.
given to Richard Williams, 157;
value of, 158.
Reading, 64, 88, 103, 104, 113, 114, 129, 166, 167, 182.
Reading and Abingdon, change in ratio of population of, typical of
nineteenth century, 198.
Religious, numbers of, at time of suppression, 122, 123.
Richard Williams or "Cromwell" born at Llanishen, 152.
Riches obtained Cholsey, 166.
Rivers, importance of,
in English history, 1-3;
as early highways, 5-8;
military value of, 46, 47.
original, of Britain, four in connection with Thames Valley, 37;
original in Thames Valley, 38.
Rochester, Bishop of, builds Tower for the Conqueror, 83.
place names disappeared in Thames Valley, 34;
occupation of Britain, thoroughness of, 45, 46;
origins of Wallingford, 60;
work, none certain in Tower, 79;
origins of Tower discussed, 79, 81, 82;
origin of English manors probable, 141, 142;
fortification, urban, 66;
occupation of Windsor, 65;
municipal system, 171.
Roman Britain, municipal system of, 172.
Roman roads, 68.
Rowland, Thomas, last Abbot of Abingdon, 139.
Royal manors, lapse of, 144.
conjectured etymology of, 75;
meeting of barons and John at, 75.
Rupert, Prince, attempts to recapture Abingdon, 87.
St. Augustine begins the civilisation of England, 91.
St. Frideswides receives new Protestant bishopric of Oxford, 106.
Saxon Chronicle, first mention of Oxford in, 54.
Saxon origin of first part of place names on Thames, 31;
of Oxford Castle, 54;
of English manors probable, 141, 142.
obtains Chertsey, 165;
obtains Radley, 165.
Sheen, monastery of, late foundation of, 108.
fortification of, 48;
geological parallel to Windsor, 66.
Sir Philip Hoby obtains Bisham, 163.
Somerford Keynes, ford at, 22.
Sonning, fate of land of, 168, 169.
Squires, English, their origins and rise before Reformation, 140-143.
Staines, 45, 68, 69, 74, 194, 196.
Stephen, Civil Wars under, Tower besieged during, 83.
Stonehouse obtains Radley, 165.
Stow, in Lincolnshire, mother house at Eynsham, 106.
Stratton, monastic lands of, sold by Oliver Williams, 161.
Streatley, 33, 34, 48.
Sweyn at Oxford, 55.
Taxes a basis for calculation of prices, 133, 134.
Tenant right under monastic system, 150.
surface soil of valley of, 7-9;
estuary of, unimportant in early history, 13;
probably a boundary under Diocletian, 33;
a boundary between counties, 34;
points at which it is crossed, 36, 37;
traffic upon, begins after entry of Churn at Cricklade, 39, 40;
absence of traces of Roman bridges on, 46;
military value of, 46, 47;
imaginary voyage down, before Dissolution, 111-115.
in Civil Wars, 86-89;
affords William III. his approach to London, 89;
affords Charles I. his approach to London, 89;
economic importance of sites therein, produced by the monastic
railway of, draws its prosperity from beyond the valley, 121;
towns of, 169-190.
Thomas Rowland, last Abbot of Abingdon, 150.
Thorney, original site of Westminster Abbey, 95.
its importance in campaign in Magna Charta, 74, 78-86;
compared to Louvre, 79;
White, true Tower of London, 79, 82;
military misfortunes of, 83, 84;
Jews in, 85.
Towns of Thames Valley, 160-199.
Van Sittarts succeed Mills at Bisham, 164.
Wages a basis for calculation of prices, 133, 134.
Waite obtains Chertsey, 164.
Wallingford, 22, 24, 37, 58-62, 75, 76, 177-182.
Waste land, social and strategical importance of, in Europe, 75, 76.
Water front, examples of parishes seeking, 8-11.
Watling Street, 38;
place of crossing Thames by, 44;
identical with Edgware Road, 44.
Weldon obtains Pangbourne, 167.
Welsh land left to Chertsey, 97.
Westminster Abbey, 63-97, 130, 137.
Westminster, 95, 69, 93, 95, 96, 130.
White Tower, 79, 82, 83.
William the Conqueror,
crosses at Wallingford, 37;
his choice of Windsor Hill, 65;
exchanges Windsor with monks of Westminster, 69;
builds Tower of London, 82;
anointed at Westminster, 96.
William Rufus completes Tower, 82.
William III., his approach to London afforded by Thames Valley, 89.
Williams obtains Hinksey, 166.
Williams, family of, rise of, 152-162.
Williams, Henry, son of Richard, his career, 159.
Williams, Oliver, uncle of Protector, 160.
is given two monastic foundations by his uncle, 156;
gets the revenues of Ramsey Abbey, 157.
Williams, Robert, grandson of Richard, father of the Protector, 160.
Wimbledon, manorial rolls of, evidence of William's marriage in, 153.
Windsor, 65-78, 85.