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[Illustration: _Photo, W. Shawncross, Guildford_.]
[_Frontispiece_. J. ARTHUR GIBBS.]
A COTSWOLD VILLAGE
OR COUNTRY LIFE AND PURSUITS IN GLOUCESTERSHIRE
BY J. ARTHUR GIBBS
“Go, little booke; God send thee good passage, And specially let this be thy prayere Unto them all that thee will read or hear, Where thou art wrong after their help to call, Thee to correct in any part or all.”
PREFACE TO THE THIRD EDITION
Before the third edition of this work had been published the author passed away, from sudden failure of the heart, at the early age of thirty-one. Two or three biographical notices, written by those who highly appreciated him and who deeply mourn his loss, have already appeared in the newspapers; and I therefore wish to add only a few words about one whose kind smile of welcome will greet us no more in this life.
Joseph Arthur Gibbs was one of those rare natures who combine a love of outdoor life, cricket and sport of every kind, with a refined and scholarly taste for literature. He had, like his father, a keen observation for every detail in nature; and from a habit of patient watchfulness he acquired great knowledge of natural history. From his grandfather, the late Sir Arthur Hallam Elton, he inherited his taste for literary work and the deep poetical feeling which are revealed so clearly in his book. On leaving Eton, he wrote a _Vale_, of which his tutor, Mr. Luxmoore, expressed his high appreciation; and later on, when, after leaving Oxford, he was living a quiet country life, he devoted himself to literary pursuits.
He was not, however, so engrossed in his work as to ignore other duties; and he was especially interested in the villagers round his home, and ever ready to give what is of greater value than money, personal trouble and time in finding out their wants and in relieving them. His unvarying kindness and sympathy will never be forgotten at Ablington; for, as one of the villagers wrote in a letter of condolence on hearing of his death, “he went in and out as a friend among them.” With all his tenderness of heart, he had a strict sense of justice and a clear judgment, and weighed carefully both sides of any question before he gave his verdict.
Arthur Gibbs went abroad at the end of March 1899 for a month’s trip to Italy, and in his Journal he wrote many good descriptions of scenery and of the old towns; and the way in which he describes his last glimpse of Florence during a glorious sunset shows how greatly he appreciated its beauty. In his Journal in April he dwells on the shortness of life, and in the following solemn words he sounds a warning note:–
“Do not neglect the creeping hours of time: ‘the night cometh when no man can work.’ All time is wasted unless spent in work for God. The best secular way of spending the precious thing that men call time is by making always for some grand end–a great book, to show forth the wonders of creation and the infinite goodness of the Creator. You must influence for _good_ if you write, and write nothing that you will regret some day or think trivial.”
These words, written a month before the end came, tell their own tale. The writer of them had a deep love for all things that are “lovely, pure, and of good report”; and in his book one sees clearly the adoration he felt for that God whom he so faithfully served. There are many different kinds of work in this world, and diversities of gifts; to him was given the spirit to discern the work of God in Nature’s glory, and the power to win others to see it also. He had a remarkable influence for good at Oxford, and the letters from his numerous friends and from his former tutor at Christ Church show that this influence has never been forgotten, but has left its mark not only on his college, but on the university.
Like his namesake and relative, Arthur Hallam, of immortal memory, Arthur Gibbs had attained to a purity of soul and a wisdom which were not of this world, at an earlier age than is given to many men; and so in love and faith and hope–
“I would the great world grew like thee, Who grewest not alone in power
And knowledge; but by year and hour In reverence and charity.”
LAURA BEATRICE GIBBS.
PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION.
To those of my readers who have ever lived beside a stream, or in an ancient house or time-honoured college, there will always be a peculiar charm in silvery waters sparkling beneath the summer sun. To you the Gothic building, with its carved pinnacles, its warped gables, its mullioned casements and dormer windows, the old oak within, the very inglenook by the great fireplace where the old folks used to sit at home, the ivy trailing round the grey walls, the jessamine, roses, and clematis that in their proper seasons clustered round the porch,–to you all these things will have their charm as long as you live. Therefore, if these pages appeal not to some such, it will not be the subject that is wanting, but the ability of the writer.
It is not claimed for my Cotswold village that it is one whit prettier or pleasanter or better in any way than hundreds of other villages in England; I seek only to record the simple annals of a quiet, old-fashioned Gloucestershire hamlet and the country within walking distance of it. Nor do I doubt that there are manor houses far more beautiful and far richer in history even within a twenty-mile radius of my own home. For instance, the ancient house of Chavenage by Tetbury, or in the opposite direction, where the northern escarpments of the Cotswolds rise out of the beautiful Evesham Vale, those historic mediaeval houses of Southam and Postlip.
It is often said that in books like these we paint arcadias that never did and never could exist on earth. To this I would answer that there are many such abodes in country places, if only our minds are such as to realise them. And, above all, let us be optimists in literature even though we may be pessimists in life. Let us have all that is joyous and bright in our books, and leave the trials and failures for the realities of life. Let us in our literature avoid as much as possible the painful side of human nature and the pains and penalties of human weakness; let us endeavour to depict a state of existence as far as possible approaching the Utopian ideal, though not necessarily the Nirvana of the Buddhists nor the paradise of fools; let us look not downwards into the depths of black despair, but upwards into the starry heavens; let us gaze at the golden evening brightening in the west. Richard Jefferies has taught us that such a literature is possible; and if we read his best books, we may some day be granted that fuller soul he prayed for and at length obtained. Would that we could all hear, as he heard, the still small voice that whispers in the woods and among the wild flowers and the spreading foliage by the brook!
To any one who might be thinking of becoming for the time being “a tourist,” and in that capacity visiting the Cotswolds, my advice is, “Don’t.” There is really nothing to see. There is nothing, that is to say, which may not be seen much nearer London. And I freely confess that most of the subjects included in this book are usually deemed unworthy of consideration even in the district itself. Still, there are a few who realise that every county in England is more or less a mine of interest, and for such I have written. Realising my limitations, I have not gone deeply into any single subject; my endeavour has been to touch on every branch of country life with as light a hand as possible–to amuse rather than to instruct. For, as Washington Irving delightfully sums up the matter: “It is so much pleasanter to please than to instruct, to play the companion rather than the preceptor. What, after all, is the mite of wisdom that I could throw into the mass of knowledge? or how am I sure that my sagest deductions may be safe guides for the opinions of others? But in writing to amuse, if I fail, the only evil is in my own disappointment. If, however, I can by any lucky chance rub out one wrinkle from the brow of care, or beguile the heavy heart of one moment of sorrow; if I can now and then penetrate through the gathering film of misanthropy, prompt a benevolent view of human nature, and make my reader more in good humour with his fellow beings and himself, surely, surely, I shall not then have written in vain.”
The first half of Chapter II. originally appeared in the _Pall Mall Magazine_. Portions of Chapters VII. and VIII., and “The Thruster’s Song,” have also been published in _Baily’s Magazine_. My thanks are due to the editors for permission to reproduce them. Chapter XII. owes its inspiration to Mr. Madden’s excellent work on Shakespeare’s connection with sport and the Cotswolds, the “Diary of Master William Silence.” We have no local tradition of any kind about Shakespeare.
I am indebted to Miss E.F. Brickdale for the pen-and-ink sketches, and to Colonel Mordaunt for his beautiful photographs. Three of the photographs, however, are by H. Taunt, of Oxford, and a similar number are by Mr. Gardner, of Fairford.
PREFACE TO THE THIRD EDITION.
PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION.
The Thames Valley–The Old White Horse–Entering the Cotswolds.
A COTSWOLD VILLAGE
Far from the Madding Crowd–An Old Farmhouse and Its Occupants–The Manor House–Inscription on Porch–Interior of the House–The Garden–A Fairy Spring–The Village Club–Labouring Folk–Village Politics–The Trout Stream–Flowing Seawards–Village Architecture–The Charm of Antiquity–The Spirit of Sacrifice–Wayside Crosses–Tithe Barns.
Quaint Hamlet Folk–The Village Impostor–Rural Economy–Stories of the People–A Curious Analogy–Tom Peregrine, the Keeper–A Standing Dish–A Great Character–Peregrine’s Accomplishments and Proclivities–Farmers and Foxes–Concerning Churchwardens–The Village Quack–An Excellent Prescription–His Lecture–How the Old Fox was Found–A Good Sort–Heroes of the Hamlet–Political Meetings–Humours of the Poll–Gloucestershire Farmers.
THE LANGUAGE OF THE COTSWOLDS, WITH SOME ANCIENT SONGS AND LEGENDS
Strange Travellers–Smoking Concerts–The Carter’s Song–Village Choirs–The Chedworth Band–Sense of Humour of the Natives–Their Geography “a Bit Mixed”–A Large Family–_Noblesse Oblige_–Rustic Legends–Names of Fields–The Cotswold Dialect–How to Talk It–An Ancient Ballad–Tom Peregrine Recites–Roger Plowman’s Excursion–An Expensive Luncheon–Oxtail Soup–“The Turmut Hower.”
ON THE WOLDS
Varied Amusements–Nature on the Hills–The Mysteries of Scent–Partridge-Shooting–A Mixed Bag–Plover–Pigeon-Shooting with Decoys–Bird Life–Sunset on the Downs–A Wild, Deserted Country–An Old Dog Fox.
A GALLOP OVER THE WALLS
An October Meet–Cub-Hunting–The Old Fox Again! A Fast Gallop over the Walls–The Charm of Uncertainty–Fliers of the Hunt–A Narrow Escape–A Check–A Reliable Hound–Failure of Scent–An Excellent Tonic.
A COTSWOLD TROUT STREAM
Loch Leven Trout–Curious Capture of an Eel–The Author Catches a Red-Herring–Macomber Falls–A Sad Episode–South Country Streams–Course of the Coln–Charles Kingsley on Fishing–A May-Fly Stream–Evening Fishing–Dry-Fly Dogmas–Flies for the Coln–Scarcity of Poachers–An Evening Walk by the River–Spring’s Delights.
WHEN THE MAY-FLY IS UP
Derby Day on the Coln–A Good Sportsman–The Right Fly–Pleasures of the Country–Peregrine’s Quaint Expressions–Sport with the Olive Dun–A Fine Trout–Effects of Sheep-Washing–A Good Basket–Life by the Brook–A Summer’s Night–In the Heart of England.
BURFORD, A COTSWOLD TOWN
Curious Names–The Windrush–Burford Priory–An Empty Shell–The Kingmaker–Lord Falkland–Speaker Lenthall–Bibury Races–An Old Tradition–Valued Relics–Burford Church–Mr. Oman’s Discovery–Burford during the Civil Wars.
STROLL THROUGH THE COTSWOLDS
The Old Coaching Days–Fairford–Anglo-Saxon Relics–Hatherop–Coln-St.-Aldwyns–The “Knights Templar” of Quenington–A Haunt of Ancient Peace–Bibury Village–Ancient Barrows–The Prehistoric Age–Deserted Villages–The Philosopher’s Stone–True Nobleness–On Battues–Roman Remains–Chedworth Woods–An Old Manor House.
Whitsun Ale–Sports of Various Kinds–The Peregrine Family at Cricket–_Prehistoric_ Cricket–A Bad Ground–A “Pretty” Ball–Charles Dickens on Cricket–Dumkins and Podder, Limited–How Dumkins Hit a “Sixer”–Downfall of “Podder”–Bourton-on-the-Water C.C.–A Plague of Wasps–The Treatment of Cricket Grounds–The Author’s Recipe–Reflections on Modern Cricket.
THE COTSWOLDS THREE HUNDRED YEARS AGO.
The Centre of Elizabethan Sport–A Digression on South Africa–The Halo of Association–A Day’s Stag-Hunting in 1592–A Benighted Sportsman–“A Goodly Dwelling and a Rich”–An Old English Gentleman–Shakespeare on Hounds–He Describes the Run–The Death of the Stag–The Ancestral Peregrine–Bacon not Wanted–A “Black Ousel”–The Charm of Music–Shakespeare’s Dream–A Hawking Expedition–Peregrine, the Parson, and the Poet–Methods and Language of Falconry–A Flight at a Heron–Peregrine Views a Fox.
Roman Remains–The Corinium Museum–The Church–Cirencester House–The Park–The Abbey–The “Mop” or Hiring Fair–A Great Hunting Centre–A Varied Country–The Badminton Hounds–Lord Bathurst’s Hounds–The Cotswold Hounds–Charles Travess–A Born Genius–The Cricklade Hounds–The Right Sort of Horse–The Oaksey District–The Heythrop Hounds–A Defence of Hard Riding–A Day in the Vale–A Hunting Poem.
SPRING IN THE COTSWOLDS
Habits of Moorhens–Mallard and Swan–Nuthatches–Woodpeckers–Humane Traps–Badgers–Fox-terriers–Scotch
Deerhounds–Retrievers–Cray-fish–The Rookery–Jackdaws–Foxes–Artificial Earths–Fox among Sheep–Foxes and Fowls–Poultry Claims–Observations on Scent–The Hygrometer–How Trout are Netted–Scarcity of Otters–Water-Voles.
THE PROMISE OF MAY
Wild Flowers–Cottage Gardens–The Paths of Literature–Description of a Horse–Beauty of Trees–Their Loss Irreparable as the Loss of Friends–A Fine Type of Englishman–Lines in Memory of W.D. Llewelyn.
SUMMER DAYS ON THE COTSWOLDS
A Walk in the Fields–Hedgerow Flowers–The Brookside–By “the Pill”–Remarks on Gray–A Fine Piece of Miniature Scenery–The Cricket Ground–The Book of Nature–At the Ford–Habits of Observation–In the Conyger Wood–The Home of the Kingfisher–A Limestone Quarry–The Great Stone Floor of the Earth–Nature’s Endless Cycle–Beauty of the Ash–Hedgehogs–Trout and Snake–Sunset on the Hills.
Remarks on Country Life–Thrashing–The Flail–Gipsies–Harvest Feasts–Fifty Years Ago–The Wolds in Autumn–By the Stream–Wildfowl–Migration of Birds–Lapwings–Winter Visitants–Thunderstorms–Glow-Worms–A Brilliant Meteor–Night on the Hills–The “Blowing-Stone”–Christmas Day on the Cotswolds–A Solar Halo–Hamlet Festivities–Tom Peregrine Baffled–The Mummers Play–The Victorian Era–The True Days of “Merrie England”–_Carpe Diem_.
WHEN THE SUN GOES DOWN
A Glorious Panorama–Peregrine as Secretary–The Light of Setting Suns–Conclusion.
GEORGE RIDLER’S OVEN
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
PORTRAIT OF THE AUTHOR, FROM A PHOTOGRAPH BY MESSRS. SHAWCROSS.
STOKE POGES CHURCH.
THE OLD MANOR HOUSE.
INSCRIPTION ON PORCH OF MANOR HOUSE.
INTERIOR OF MANOR HOUSE.
IN THE GARDEN.
A COTSWOLD MANOR HOUSE.
A FARMHOUSE BY THE COLN.
AN OLD COTTAGE.
ON THE WOLDS.
THE OLD CUSTOMER.
THE OLD MILL, ABLINGTON.
THE COLN NEAR BIBURY.
A BRIDGE OVER THE COLN.
A DISH OF FISH.
THE MANOR HOUSE, COLN-ST.-ALDWYNS.
THE ABBEY GATEWAY, CIRENCESTER.
AN OLD BARN.
THE “PILL” BRIDGE.
IN BIBURY VILLAGE.
SIDE VIEW OF MANOR HOUSE.
BELOW THE “PILL”.
AN OLD-FASHIONED LABOURING COUPLE.
[Illustration: Stoke Poges Church. 019.png]
A COTSWOLD VILLAGE.
London is becoming miserably hot and dusty; everybody who can get away is rushing off, north, south, east, and west, some to the seaside, others to pleasant country houses. Who will fly with me westwards to the land of golden sunshine and silvery trout streams, the land of breezy uplands and valleys nestling under limestone hills, where the scream of the railway whistle is seldom heard and the smoke of the factory darkens not the long summer days? Away, in the smooth “Flying Dutchman”; past Windsor’s glorious towers and Eton’s playing-fields; past the little village and churchyard where a century and a half ago the famous “Elegy” was written, and where, hard by “those rugged elms, that yew-tree’s shade,” yet rests the body of the mighty poet, Gray. How those lines run in one’s head this bright summer evening, as from our railway carriage we note the great white dome of Stoke House peeping out amid the elms! whilst every field reminds us of him who wrote those lilting stanzas long, long ago.
“Ah, happy hills! ah, pleasing shade! Ah, fields, beloved in vain!
Where once my careless childhood strayed, A stranger yet to pain:
I feel the gales that from ye blow A momentary bliss bestow;
As waving fresh their gladsome wing My weary soul they seem to soothe,
And redolent of joy and youth,
To breathe a second spring.”
But soon we are flashing past Reading, where Sutton’s nursery gardens are bright with scarlet and gold, and blue and white; every flower that can be made to grow in our climate grows there, we may be sure. But there is no need of garden flowers now, when the fields and hedges, even the railway banks, are painted with the lovely blue of wild geraniums and harebells, the gold of birdsfoot trefoil and Saint John’s wort, and the white and pink of convolvulus or bindweed. We are passing through some of the richest scenery in the Thames valley. There, on the right, is Mapledurham, a grand mediaeval building, surrounded by such a wealth of stately trees as you will see nowhere else. The Thames runs practically through the grounds. What a glorious carpet of gold is spread over these meadows when the buttercups are in full bloom! Now comes Pangbourne, with its lovely weir, where the big Thames trout love to lie. Pangbourne used to be one of the prettiest villages on the river; but its popularity has spoilt it.
As we pass onwards, many other country houses–Purley, Basildon, and Hardwick–with their parks and clustering cottages, add their charm to the view. There are the beautiful woods of Streatley: hanging copses clothe the sides of the hills, and pretty villages nestle amid the trees. But soon the scene changes: the glorious valley Father Thames has scooped out for himself is left behind; we are crossing the chalk uplands. On all sides are vast stretches of unfenced arable land, though here and there a tiny village with its square-towered Norman church peeps out from an oasis of green fields and stately elm trees. On the right the Chiltern Hills are seen in the background, and Wittenham Clump stands forth–a conspicuous object for miles. The country round Didcot reminds one very much of the north of France: between Calais and Paris one notices the same chalk soil, the same flat arable fields, and the same old-fashioned farmhouses and gabled cottages.
But now we have entered the grand old Berkshire vale. “Fields and hedges, hedges and fields; peace and plenty, plenty and peace. I should like to take a foreigner down the vale of Berkshire in the end of May, and ask him what he thought of old England.” Thus wrote Charles Kingsley forty years ago, when times were better for Berkshire farmers. But the same old fields and the same old hedges still remain–only we do not appreciate them as much as did the author of “Westward Ho!”
Steventon, that lovely village with its gables and thatched roofs, its white cottage walls set with beams of blackest oak, its Norman church in the midst of spreading chestnuts and leafy elms, appears from the railway to be one of the most old-fashioned spots on earth. This vale is full of fine old trees; but in many places the farmers have spoilt their beauty by lopping off the lower branches because the grass will not grow under their wide-spreading foliage. It is only in the parks and woodlands that the real glory of the timber remains.
And now we may notice what a splendid hunting country is this Berkshire vale. The fields are large and entirely grass; the fences, though strong, are all “flying” ones–posts and rails, too, are frequent in the hedges. Many a fine scamper have the old Berkshire hounds enjoyed over these grassy pastures, where the Rosy Brook winds its sluggish course; and we trust they will continue to do so for many years to come. Long may that day be in coming when the sound of the horn is no longer heard in this delightful country!
High up on the hill the old White Horse soon appears in view, cut in the velvety turf of the rolling chalk downs. But, in the words of the old ballad,
“The ould White Horse wants zettin’ to rights.”
He wants “scouring” badly. A stranger, if shown this old relic, the centre of a hundred legends, famous the whole world over, would find it difficult to recognise any likeness to a fiery steed in those uncertain lines of chalk. Nevertheless, this is the monument King Alfred made to commemorate his victory over the Danes at Ashdown. So the tradition of the country-side has had it for a thousand years, and shall a thousand more.
The horse is drawn as galloping. Frank Buckland took the following measurements of him: The total length is one hundred and seventy yards; his eye is four feet across; his ear fifteen yards in length; his hindleg is forty-three yards long. Doubtless the full proportions of the White Horse are not kept scoured nowadays; for a few weeks ago I was up on the hill and took some of the measurements myself. I could not make mine agree with Frank Buckland’s: for instance, the ear appeared to be seven yards only in length, and not fifteen; so that it would seem that the figure is gradually growing smaller. It is the head and forelegs that want scouring worst of all. There is little sign of the trench, two feet deep, which in Buckland’s time formed the outline of the horse; the depth of the cutting is now only a matter of a very few inches.
The view from this hill is a very extensive one, embracing the vale from Bath almost to Reading the whole length of the Cotswold Hills, as well as the Chilterns, stretching away eastwards towards Aylesbury, and far into Buckinghamshire. Beneath your feet lie many hundred thousand acres of green pastures, varied in colour during summer and autumn by golden wheatfields bright with yellow charlock and crimson poppies. It has been said that eleven counties are visible on clear days.
The White Horse at Westbury, further down the line, represents a horse in a standing position. He reflects the utmost credit on his grooms; for not only are his shapely limbs “beautifully and wonderfully made,” but the greatest care is taken of him. The Westbury horse is not in reality nearly so large as this one at Uffington, but he is a very beautiful feature of the country. I paid him a visit the other day, and was surprised to find he was very much smaller than he appears from the railway. Glancing over a recent edition of Tom Hughes’ book, “The Scouring of the White Horse,” I found the following lines:–
“In all likelihood the _pastime_ of 1857 will be the last of his race; for is not the famous Saxon (or British) horse now scheduled to an Act of Parliament as an ancient monument which will be maintained in time to come as a piece of prosaic business, at the cost of other than Berkshire men reared within sight of the hill?”
Alas! it is too true. There has been no _pastime_ since 1857.
It would have been a splendid way of commemorating the “diamond jubilee” if a scouring had been organised in 1897. Forty years have passed since the last pastime, with its backsword play and “climmin a greasy pole for a leg of mutton,” its race for a pig and a cheese; and, oddly enough, the previous scouring had taken place in the year of the Queen’s accession, sixty-one years ago. It would be enough to make poor Tom Hughes turn in his grave if he knew that the old White Horse had been turned out to grass, and left to look after himself for the rest of his days!
Those were grand old times when the Berkshire; Gloucestershire, and Somersetshire men amused themselves by cracking each other’s heads and cudgel-playing for a gold-laced hat and a pair of buckskin breeches; when a flitch of bacon was run for by donkeys; and when, last, but not least, John Morse, of Uffington, “grinned agin another chap droo hos [horse] collars, a fine bit of spwoart, to be sure, and made the folks laaf.” I here quote from Tom Hughes’ book, “The Scouring of the White Horse,” to which I must refer my readers for further interesting particulars.
There are some days during summer when the sunlight is so beautiful that every object is invested with a glamour and a charm not usually associated with it. Such a day was that of which we write. As we were gliding out of Swindon the sun was beginning to descend. From a Great Western express, running at the rate of sixty miles an hour through picturesque country, you may watch the sun setting amidst every variety of scenery. Now some hoary grey tower stands out against the intense brightness of the western sky; now a tracery of fine trees shades for a time the dazzling light; then suddenly the fiery furnace is revealed again, reflected perhaps in the waters of some stream or amid the reeds and sedges of a mere, where a punt is moored containing anglers in broad wideawake hats. Gradually a dark purple shade steals over the long range of chalk hills; white, clean-looking roads stand out clearly defined miles away on the horizon; the smoke that rises straight up from some ivy-covered homestead half a mile away is bluer than the evening sky–a deep azure blue. The horizon is clear in the south, but in the north-west dark, but not forbidding clouds are rising; fantastic cloudlets float high up in the firmament; rooks coming home to roost are plainly visible several miles away against the brilliant western sky.
This Great Western Railway runs through some of the finest bits of old England. Not long ago, in travelling from Chepstow to Gloucester, we were fairly amazed at the surpassing beauty of the views. It was May-day, and the weather was in keeping with the occasion. The sight of the old town of Chepstow and the silvery Wye, as we left them behind us, was fine enough; but who can describe the magnificent panorama presented by the wide Severn at low tide? Yellow sands, glittering like gold in the dazzling sunshine, stretched away for miles; beyond these a vista of green meadows, with the distant Cotswold Hills rising out of dreamy haze; waters of chrysolite, with fields of malachite beyond; the azure sky overhead flecked with clouds of pearl and opal, and all around the pear orchards in full bloom.
While on the subject of scenery, may I enter a protest against the change the Great Western Railway has lately made in the photographs which adorn their carriages? They used to be as beautiful as one could wish; lately, however, the colouring has been lavished on them with no sparing hand. These “photo-chromes” are unnatural and impossible, whereas the old permanent photographs were very beautiful.
At Kemble, with its old manor house and stone-roofed cottages, we say good-bye to the Vale of White Horse; for we have entered the Cotswolds. Stretching from Broadway to Bath, and from Birdlip to Burford, and containing about three hundred square miles, is a vast tract of hill country, intersected by numerous narrow valleys. Probably at one period this district was a rough, uncultivated moor. It is now cultivated for the most part, and grows excellent barley. The highest point of this extensive range is eleven hundred and thirty-four feet, but the average altitude would not exceed half that height. Almost every valley has its little brook. The district is essentially a “stone country;” for all the houses and most of their roofs are built of the local limestone, which lies everywhere on these hills within a few inches of the surface. There is no difficulty in obtaining plenty of stone hereabouts. The chief characteristics of the buildings are their antiquity and Gothic quaintness. The air is sharp and bracing, and the climate, as is inevitable on the shallow, porous soil of the oolite hills, wonderfully dry and invigorating. “Lands of gold have been found, and lands of spices and precious merchandise; but this is the land of _health_” Thus wrote Richard Jefferies of the downs, and thus say we of the Cotswolds.
And now our Great Western express is gliding into Cirencester, the ancient capital of the Cotswold country. How fair the old place seems after the dirt and smoke of London! Here town and country are blended into one, and everything is clean and fresh and picturesque. The garish church, as you view it from the top of the market-place, has a charm unsurpassed by any other sacred building in the land. In what that charm lies I have often wondered. Is it the marvellous symmetry of the whole graceful pile, as the eye, glancing down the massive square tower and along the pierced battlements and elaborate pinnacles, finally rests on the empty niches and traceried oriel windows of the magnificent south porch? I cannot say in what the charm exactly consists, but this stately Gothic fane has a grandeur as impressive as it is unexpected, recalling those wondrous words of Ruskin’s:
“I used to feel as much awe in gazing at the buildings as on the hills, and could believe that God had done a greater work in breathing into the narrowness of dust the mighty spirits by whom its haughty walls had been raised and its burning legends written, than in lifting the rock of granite higher than the clouds of heaven, and veiling them with their various mantle of purple flower and shadowy pine.”
[Illustration: The Old Manor House. 029.png]
A COTSWOLD VILLAGE.
The village is not a hundred miles from London, yet “far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife.” A green, well-wooded valley, in the midst of those far-stretching, cold-looking Cotswold Hills, it is like an oasis in the desert.
Up above on the wolds all is bleak, dull, and uninteresting. The air up there is ever chill; walls of loose stone divide field from field, and few houses are to be seen. But down in the valley all is fertile and full of life. It is here that the old-fashioned villagers dwell. How well I remember the first time I came upon it! One fine September evening, having left all traces of railways and the ancient Roman town of Cirencester some seven long miles behind me, with wearied limbs I sought this quiet, sequestered spot. Suddenly, as I was wondering how amid these never ending hills there could be such a place as I had been told existed, I beheld it at my feet, surpassing beautiful! Below me was a small village, nestling amid a wealth of stately trees. The hand of man seemed in some bygone time to have done all that was necessary to render the place habitable, but no more. There were cottages, bridges, and farm buildings, but all were ivy clad and time worn. The very trees themselves appeared to be laden with a mantle of ivy that was more than they could bear. Many a tall fir, from base to topmost twig, was completely robed with the smooth, five-pointed leaves of this rapacious evergreen. Through the thick foliage, of elm and ash and beech, I could just see an old manor house, and round about it, as if for protection, were clustered some thirty cottages. A murmuring of waters filled my ears, and on descending the hill I came upon a silvery trout stream, which winds its way down the valley, broad and shallow, now gently gliding over smooth gravel, now dashing over moss-grown stones and rock. The cottages, like the manor house and farm buildings, are all built of the native stone, and all are gabled and picturesque. Indeed, save a few new cottages, most of the dwellings appeared to be two or three hundred years old. One farmhouse I noted carefully, and I longed to tear away the ivy from the old and crumbling porch, to see if I could not discern some half-effaced inscription telling me the date of this relic of the days of “Merrie England.”
This quaint old place appeared older than the rest of the buildings. On enquiry, I learnt that long, long ago, before the present manor house existed, this was the abode of the old squires of the place; but for the last hundred years it had been the home of the principal tenant and his ancestors–yeomen farmers of the old-fashioned school, with some six hundred acres of land. The present occupants appeared to be an old man of some seventy years of age and his three sons. Keen sportsmen these, who dearly love to walk for hours in pursuit of game in the autumn, on the chance of bagging an occasional brace of partridges or a wild pheasant (for everything here is wild), or, in winter, when lake and fen are frostbound, by the river and its withybeds after snipe and wildfowl–for the Cotswold stream has never been known to freeze!
In this small hamlet I noticed that there were no less than three huge barns. At first I thought they were churches, so magnificent were their proportions and so delicate and interesting their architecture. One of these barns is four hundred years old.
Fifty years ago, what with the wool from his sheep and the grain that was stored in these barns year by year, the Cotswold farmer was a rich man. Alas! _Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis!_ One can picture the harvest home, annually held in the barn, in old days so cheery, but now often nothing more than a form. Here, however, in this village, I learnt that, in spite of bad times, some of the old customs have not been allowed to pass away, and right merry is the harvest home. And Christmastide is kept in real old English fashion; nor do the mummers forget to go their nightly rounds, with their strange tale of “St. George and the dragon.”
As I walk down the road I come suddenly upon the manor house–the “big house” of the village. Long and somewhat low, it stands close to the road, and is of some size. Over the doorway of the porch is the following inscription, engraven on stone in a recess:–
“PLEAD THOU MY CAVSE; OH LORD.”
“BY JHON COXWEL ANO DOMENY 1590.”
Underneath this inscription, and immediately over the entrance, are five heads, elaborately carved in stone. In the centre is Queen Elizabeth; to the right are portrayed what I take to be the features of Henry VIII.; whilst on the left is Mary. The other two are uncertain, but they are probably Philip of Spain and James I.
I was enchanted with the place. The quaint old Elizabethan gables and sombre bell-tower, the old-fashioned entrance gates, the luxuriant growth of ivy, combined together to give that air of peace, that charm which belongs so exclusively to the buildings of the middle ages. Knowing that the house was for the time being unoccupied, I walked boldly into the outer porch, meaning to go no further. But another inscription over the solid oak door encouraged me to enter:
“PORTA PATENS ESTO, NULLI CLAUDARIS HONESTO.”
I therefore opened the inner door with some difficulty, for it was heavy and cumbersome, and found myself in the hall. Although nothing remarkable met my eye, I was delighted to find everything in keeping with the place. The old-fashioned furniture, the old oak, the grim portraits and quaint heraldry, all were there. I was much interested in some carved beams of black oak, which I afterwards learnt originally formed part of the magnificent roof of the village church. When the roof was under repair a few years back, these beams were thrown aside as rotten and useless, and thus found their way into the manor house. Every atom of genuine old work of this kind is deeply interesting, representing as it does the rude chiselling which hands that have long been dust in the village churchyard wrought with infinite pains. That oak roof, carved in rich tracery, resting for ages on arcades of dog-tooth Norman and graceful Early English work, had echoed back the songs of praise and prayer that rose Sunday after Sunday from the lips of successive generations of simple country folk at matins and at evensong, before the strains of the Angelus had been hushed for ever by the Reformation. And who can tell how long before the Conquest, and by what manner of men, were planted the trees destined to provide these massive beams of oak?
In the centre of the hall was a round table, with very ancient-looking, high-backed chairs scattered about, of all shapes and sizes. Portraits of various degrees of indifferent oil painting adorned the walls of the hall and staircase. Somebody appeared to have been shooting with a catapult at some of the pictures. One old gentleman had a shot through his nose; and an old fellow with a hat on, over the window, had received a pellet in the right eye!
[Footnote 1: The writer, in a fit of infantile insanity, being then aged about nine, was discovered in the very act of committing this assault on his ancestors some twenty years ago, in Hertfordshire.]
A copy of the Magna Charta, a suit of mediaeval armour, several rusty helmets (Cromwellian and otherwise), antlers of several kinds of deer, and a variety of old swords, pistols, and guns were the objects that chiefly attracted my attention. The walls were likewise adorned with a large number of heraldic shields.
I like to see coats-of-arms and escutcheons hanging up in churches and in the halls of old country houses, for the following simple reasons. There is meaning in them–deep, mystic meaning, such as no ordinary picture can boast. Every quartering on that ancient shield emblazoned in red, black, and gold has a legend attached to it Hundreds of years ago, in those splendid mediaeval times–nay, farther back than that, in the dim, mysterious, dark ages–each of those quarterings was a device worn by some brave knight or squire on his heavy shield. It was his cognizance in the field of battle and at the tournament. It was borne at Agincourt perhaps; at Crecy, or Poitiers, or in the lists for some “faire ladye”; and it is a token of ancient chivalry, an emblem of the days that have been and never more will be. It was doubtless the sight of those eighteen great hatchments which still hang in the little church at Stoke Poges that inspired Gray to attune his harp to such lofty strains.
“The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power, And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave, Await alike the inevitable hour
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.”
Among other old masters was a portrait of the “John Coxwel” who built the house, by Cornelius Jansen, dated 1613. The house did not appear remarkable either for size or grandeur; yet there is always something particularly pleasing to me to alight unexpectedly on buildings of this kind, and to find that although they are obscure and unknown, they are on a small scale as interesting to the antiquarian as Knole, Hatfield, and other more famous mediaeval houses. Some lattice windows, evidently at some time out of doors, but now on the inner walls, showed that in more recent times the house had been enlarged, and the old courtyard walled in and made part of the hall. Over one of these windows is the inscription, “_Post tenebras lux_.” The part I liked best, however, was the old-fashioned passage, with its lattice windows and musty dungeon savour, leading to the ancient kitchen and to a little oak-panelled sitting-room: but, knocking my head severely against the oak beam in the doorway, I nearly brought the whole ceiling down, a catastrophe which they tell me has happened before now in this rather rickety old manor house. Opening a door on the other side of the house, I passed out into the garden. How characteristic of the place!–a broad terrace running along the whole length of the house, and beyond that a few flower beds with the old sundial in their midst Beyond these a lawn, and then grass sweeping down to the edge of the river, some hundred yards away. Beyond the river again more grass, but of a wilder description, where the rabbits are scudding about or listening with pricked ears; and in the background a magnificent hanging wood, crowning the side of the valley, with a large rookery in it. I was much struck with the different tints of the foliage; for although autumn had not yet begun to turn the leaves, the different shades of green were most striking. A gigantic ash tree on the far side of the river stood out in bold relief, its lighter leaves being in striking contrast to the dark firs in the background. Then walnut and hazel, beech and chestnut all offered infinite variety of shape and foliage. The river here had been broadened to a width of some ninety feet, and an island had been made. The place seemed to be a veritable sportsman’s paradise! Dearly would Isaac Walton have loved to dwell here! From the windows of the old house he would have loved to listen to the splash of the trout, the cawing of the rooks, and the quack of the waterfowl, while all the air is filled with the cooing of doves and the songs of birds. At night he could have heard the murmuring waterfall amid a stillness only broken at intervals by the scream of the owl, the clatter of the goatsucker, or the weird barking of the foxes: for not two hundred yards from the house and practically in the garden, is a fox earth that has never been without a litter of, cubs for forty years!
In an ivy-covered house in the stable-yard I saw a very large number of foxes’ noses nailed to boards of wood–as Sir Roger de Coverley used to nail them. They appeared to have been slain by one Dick Turpin, huntsman to the Vale of White Horse hounds, some thirty or forty years ago, when a quondam master of those hounds lived in this old place.
What a charm there is in an old-fashioned English garden! The great tall hollyhocks and phlox, the bright orange marigolds and large purple poppies. The beds and borders crammed with cloves and many-coloured asters, the sweet blue of the cornflower, and the little lobelias. Zinneas, too, of all colours; dahlias, tall stalks of anenome japonica, and such tangled masses of stocks! As I walked down by the old garden wall, whereon lots of roses hung their dainty heads, I thought I had never seen grass so green and fresh looking, except in certain parts of Ireland.
But the wild flowers by the silent river pleased me best of all. Such a medley of graceful, fragrant meadow-sweet, and tall, rough-leaved willow-herbs with their lovely pink flowers. Light blue scorpion-grasses and forget-me-nots were there too, not only among the sword-flags and the tall fescue-grasses by the bank, but little islands of them dotted about a over the brook. Thyme-scented water-mint, with lilac-tinted spikes and downy stalks, was almost lost amongst the taller wild flowers and the “segs” that fringed the brook-side.
There are no flowers like the wild ones; they last right through the summer and autumn–yet we can never have enough of them, never cease wondering at their marvellous delicacy and beauty.
Darting straight up stream on the wings of the soft south wind comes a kingfisher clothed in priceless jewelry, sparkling in the sun: sapphire and amethyst on his bright blue back, rubies on his ruddy breast, and diamonds round his princely neck. Monarch he is of silvery stream, and petty tyrant of the silvery fish.
I was told by a labourer that the trout ran from a quarter of a pound to three pounds, and that they average one pound in weight; that in the “may-fly” season a score of fish are often taken in the day by one rod, and that the method of taking them is by the artificial fly, well dried and deftly floated over feeding fish. These Cotswold streams are fed at intervals of about half a mile by the most beautiful springs, and from the rock comes pouring forth an everlasting supply of the purest and clearest of water. I was shown such a spring in a withybed hard by the old manor house. I saw nothing at first but a still, transparent pool, nine feet deep (they told me); it looked but three! But as I gaze at the beautiful fernlike weeds at the bottom, they are seen to be gently fanned by the water that rises–never failing even in the hottest and driest of summers–from the invisible rock below. The whole scene–the silent pool at my feet, the rich, well-timbered valley, with its marked contrast to the cold hills that overlook it–reminded me forcibly of Whyte-Melville’s lines at the conclusion of the most impressive poem he ever wrote: “The Fairies’ Spring”:
“And sweet to the thirsting lips of men Is the spring of tears in the fairies’ glen.”
Out of this fairy spring was taken quite recently, but not with the “dry” fly–for no fish could be deceived in water of such stainless transparency–a trout that weighed three pounds and a half. He was far and away the most beautiful trout we ever saw; as silvery as a salmon that has just left the sea, he was a worthy denizen of the secluded depths of that crystal spring, still welling up from the pure limestone rock in the heart of the Cotswold Hills, as it has for a thousand years.
I was told that the place was still owned by the descendants of the pious John Coxwell who built the manor house and commemorated it by the quaint inscription over the porch in 1590. Doubtless the architecture of all our Elizabethan manor houses in the shape of a letter E owes its origin to the first letter in the name of that great queen.
That year was a fitting time for the building of “those haunts of ancient peace” that have ever since beautified the villages of rural England. Not two years before men’s minds had been stirred to a pitch of deep religious enthusiasm by what was then regarded throughout all England as a divine miracle–the destruction of the Spanish Armada. Scarce three years had passed since the war with Scotland had terminated in the execution of the ill-fated Mary Queen of Scots. It is difficult for us, at the close of this nineteenth century, to realise the feelings of our ancestors in those times of daily terror and anxiety. And when men were daily executed, and human life was held as cheap as we now value a sheep or an ox, no wonder John Coxwell was pious, and no wonder he engraved that pious inscription over those crumbling walls.
In the year 1590 there was a lull in those tempestuous times, and men were able to turn for a while from the strife of battle and the daily fear of death and cultivate the arts of peace.
Thus this stately little manor house was reared, and many like it throughout the kingdom; and there it still stands, and will stand long after the modern building has fallen to the ground. For not without much hard toil and sweat of brow did our forefathers erect these monuments of “a day that is dead”; and they remain to testify to the solid masonry and laborious workmanship of ancient times.
The descendants of this John Coxwell live on another property of theirs some twelve miles away; it is nearly seventy years since they have inhabited this old house. I was pleased to find, however, that the present occupiers look after the labouring classes; that what rabbits are killed on the manor are not sold, but distributed in the village. There is an old ivy-clad building in the grounds, only a few paces from the manor house. This is the village club. Here squire, farmer, and labourer are accustomed to meet on equal terms. I was somewhat surprised to see on the club table the _Times_, the _Pall Mall Gazette_, and other papers. These wonderful specimens of nineteenth-century literature contrast strangely with a place that in many respects has remained unchanged for centuries.
There are few labourers in England, even in these days, who have the opportunity–if they will take it–of reading the _Times’_ report of every speech made in parliament. Perhaps, some day, will come forth from this hamlet
“Some village Hampden, that with dauntless breast The little tyrant of his fields withstood”;
one who from earliest youth has kept himself in touch with the politics of the day, and has fitted himself to sit in the House of Commons as the representative of his class. There are still a few “little tyrants” in the fields in all parts of England, but they are very much scarcer than was the case fifty years ago.
I was much pleased with a conversation I had with an old-fashioned labouring man who, though not past middle age, appeared to be incapacitated from work owing to a “game leg,” and whom I found sitting under a walnut tree in the manor grounds hard by the brook. He informed me that there was bagatelle at the club for those who liked it, and all sorts of games, and smoking concerts: that it was a question who was the best bagatelle player in the club; but that it probably lay between the squire and his head gardener, though Tom, the carter, was likely to run them close! I was glad to find so much good feeling existing among all classes of this little community, and was not surprised to learn that this was a contented and happy village.
In this description of “a Cotswold village” we have been looking on the bright side of things, and there is, thank Heaven! many a place, _mutato nomine_, that would answer to it. Alas! that there should be another side to the picture, which we would fain leave untouched.
Gloucestershire, nay England, is full of old manor houses and fair, smiling villages; but in many parts of the country we see buildings falling out of repair and deserted mansions. Would that we knew the remedy for agricultural depression! But let us not despair.
“The future hides in it
Gladness and sorrow;
We press still thorow,
Nought that abides in it
It is a sad thing when the “big house” of the village is empty. The labourers who never see their squire begin to look upon him as a sort of ogre, who exists merely to screw rents out of the land they till. Those who are dependent on land alone are often the men who do their duty best on their estates, and, poor though they may be, they are much beloved. But it is to be feared that in some parts of England men who are not suffering from the depression–rich tenants of country houses and the like–are apt to take a somewhat limited view of their duty towards their poorer neighbours. To be sure, the good ladies at the “great house” are invariably “ministering angels” to the poor in time of sickness, but even in these democratic days there is too great a gulf fixed between all classes. Let all those who are fortunate enough to live in such a place as we have attempted to describe remember that a kind word, a shake of the hand, the occasional distribution of game throughout the village, and a hundred other small kindnesses do more to win the heart of the labouring man than much talk at election times of Small Holdings, Parish Councils, or Free Education.
A tea given two or three times a year by the squire to the whole village, when the grounds are thrown open to them, does much to lighten the dulness of their existence and to cheer the monotonous round of daily toil. It is often thoughtlessness rather than poverty that prevents those who live in the large house of the village from being really loved by those around them. There are many instances of unpopular squires whose faces the cottagers never behold, and yet these men may be spending hundreds of pounds each year for the benefit of those whose affection they fail to gain.
Alas! that there should exist in so many country places that class feeling that is called Radicalism. It is perhaps fortunate that under the guise of politics what is really nothing else but bitterness and discontent is hidden and prevented from being recognised by its true name.
There are many country houses that are shut up for the greater part of the year for other reasons than agricultural depression, often because the owner, while preferring to reside elsewhere, is too proud to let the place to a stranger. This should not be. Let these rich men who own large houses and great estates live _in_ those houses and _on_ those estates, or endeavour to find a tenant. We repeat that the landowners who really feel the stress of bad times for the most part do their duty nobly. They have learnt it in the severe school of adversity. It is the richer class that we should like to see taking a greater interest in their humble neighbours; and their power is great. The possessor of wealth is too often the tacit upholder of the doctrine of _laissez faire_. The times we live in will no longer allow it. Let us be up and doing. In many small ways we may do much to promote good fellowship, and bitterness and discontent shall be no longer known in the rural villages of England.
In the dead of winter these old grey houses of the Cotswolds are a little melancholy, save when the sun shines. But to every variety of scenery winter is the least becoming season of the year, though the hoar frost or a touch of snow will transform a whole village into fairyland at a moment’s notice. Then the trout stream, which at other seasons of the year is a never failing attraction, running as it does for the most part through the woods, in mid winter seldom reflects the light of the sun, and looks cold and uninviting. One may learn much, it is true, of the wonders of nature in the dead time of the year by watching the great trout on the spawn beds as they pile up the gravel day by day, and store up beautiful, transparent ova, of which but a ten-thousandth part will live to replenish the stock for future years. But the delight of a clear stream is found in the spring and summer; then those cool, shaded deeps and sparkling eddies please us by their contrast to the hot, burning sun; and we love, even if we are not fishermen, to linger by the bank ‘neath the shade of ash and beech and alder, and watch the wonderful life around us in the water and in the air.
As you sit sometimes on a bench hard by the Coln, watching the crystal water as it pours down the artificial fall from the miniature lake in the wild garden above, you may make a minute calculation of the day and hour that that very water which is flowing past you now will reach London Bridge, two hundred miles below. Allowing one mile an hour as the average pace of the current, ten days is, roughly speaking, the time it will take on its journey. And when one reflects that every drop that passes has its work to do, in carrying down to the sea lime and I know not how many other ingredients, and in depositing that lime and all that it picked up on its way at the bottom of the ocean, to help perhaps in forming the great rolling downs of a new continent–after this island of ours has ceased to be–one cannot but realise that in all seasons of the year a trout stream is a wonderfully interesting and instructive thing.
TO THE COLN.
Flow on, clear, fresh trout stream, emblem of purity and perfect truth; thou hast accomplished a mighty work, thou hast a mighty work to do. Who can count the millions of tons of lime that thou hast borne down to the sea in far-off Kent? Thou hast indeed “strength to remove mountains,” for day by day the soil that thou hast taken from these limestone hills is being piled up at the mouth of the great historic river, and some day perchance it shall become rolling downs again. Fed by clear springs, thou shalt gradually steal thy way along the Cotswold valleys, draining foul marshes, irrigating the sweet meadows. Thou shalt turn the wheels and grind many a hundred sacks of corn ere to-morrow’s sun is set. And then thou shalt change thy name. No longer silvery Coln, but mighty Thames, shalt thou be called; and many a fair scene shall gladden thy sight as thou slowly passest along towards thy goal.
Smiling meadows and Gloucestershire vales will soon give place to fair Berkshire villages, and, further on, to those glorious spires and courts of Oxford; and here shalt thou make many friends–friends who will evermore think kindly of thee, ever associate thy placid waters with all that they loved best and held dearest during their brief sojourning in those old walls which tower above thy banks. A few short miles, and thou shalt pass a quiet and sacred spot–sacred to me, and dear above all other spots; for close to that little village church of Clifton Hampden, and close to thee, we laid some years ago the mortal body of a noble man. And when thou stealest gently by, and night mists rise from off thy glassy face, be sure and drop a tear in silvery dew upon the moss-grown stone I know so well. And then pass on to Eton, fairest spot on earth. Mark well the playing-fields, the glorious trees, and Windsor towering high. Here shalt thou be loved by many a generous heart, and youth and hope and smiling faces greet thee, as they long since greeted me. Ah well! those friendships never could have been made so firm and lasting mid any other scenes save under thy wide-spreading elms, beloved Eton.
But onwards, onwards thou must glide, from scenes of tranquil beauty such as these. The flag which sails o’er Windsor’s stately towers must soon be lost to sight. Thy course once more through silent fields is laid; but not for long; for, Hampton Court’s fair palace passed, already canst thou hear the wondrous roar of unceasing footsteps in the busy haunts of men.
Courage! thy goal is nearly reached: already thou art great, and greater still shalt thou become. Thy once transparent waters shall be merged with salt. Thus shalt thou be given strength to bear great ships upon thy bosom, and thine eyes shall behold the greatest city of the whole wide world. Nay, more; thou shalt become the most indispensable part of that city–its very life-blood, of a value not to be measured by gold. Thou makest England what it is.
Flow on, historic waters, symbolic of all that is good, all that is great–flow on, and do thy glorious work until this world shall cease; bearing thy mighty burden down towards the sea, showing mankind what can be wrought from small beginnings by slow and patient labour day by day.
* * * * *
Even in winter I do not know any scene more pleasing to the eye than the sight of a Cotswold hamlet nestling amid the stately trees in the valley, if you happen to see it on a fine day. And if there has been a period of rainy, sunless weather for a month past, you are probably all the more ready to appreciate the changed appearance which everything wears. If that peaceful, bright aspect had been habitual, you would never have noticed anything remarkable to-day. It is this very changeful nature of our English climate which gives it more than half its charm.
But the great attraction of this country lies in its being one of the few spots now remaining on earth which have not only been made beautiful by God, but in which the hand of man has erected scarcely a building which is not in strict conformity and good taste. One cannot walk through these Cotswold hamlets without noticing that the architecture of the country in past ages, as well as in the present day to a certain degree, shows obedience to some of those divine laws which Ruskin has told us ought to govern all the works of man’s hand.
“The spirit of sacrifice,” “the lamp of truth” are manifest in the ancient churches and manor houses, as well as in the humble farmhouses, cottages, and even the tithe barns of this district. Two thirds of the buildings are old, and, as Ruskin has beautifully expressed it: “The greatest glory of a building is not in its stones, nor in its gold. Its glory is in its age, and in that deep sense of voicefulness, of stern watching, of mysterious sympathy, nay, even of approval or condemnation, which we feel in walls that have long been washed by the passing waves of humanity. It is in their lasting witness against men, in their quiet contrast with the transitional character of all things, in the strength which, through the lapse of seasons and times, and the decline and birth of dynasties, and the changing of the face of the earth, and of the limits of the sea, maintains its sculptured shapeliness for a time insuperable, connects forgotten and following ages with each other, and half constitutes the identity, as it concentrates the sympathy, of nations;–it is in that golden stain of time that we are to look for the real light and colour and preciousness of architecture; and it is not until a building has assumed this character, till it has been entrusted with the fame and hallowed by the deeds of men, till its walls have been witnesses of suffering and its pillars rise out of the shadow of death, that its existence, more lasting as it is than that of the natural objects of the world around it, can be gifted with even so much as these possess of language and of life.”
If we would seek a lesson in sacrifice from the men who lived and laboured here in the remote past, we can learn many a one from those deep walls of native stone, and that laborious workmanship which was the chief characteristic of the toil of our simple ancestors. “All old work, nearly, has been hard work; it may be the hard work of children, of barbarians, of rustics, but it is always their utmost.” They may have been ignorant of the sanitary laws which govern health, and ill advised in some of the sites they chose, but they grudged neither hand labour nor sweat of brow; they spent the best years of their lives in the erection of the temples where we still worship and the manor houses we still inhabit.
It is not claimed that there is much _ornamental_ architecture to be found in these Cotswold buildings; it is something in these days if we can boast that there is nothing to offend the eye in a district which is less than a hundred miles from London. There is no other district of equal extent within the same radius of which as much could be said.
“Jam pauca aratro jugera regiae
But here all the houses are picturesque, great and small alike. And there are here and there pieces of work which testify to the piety and faith of very early days: fragments of inscriptions chiselled out more than fifteen hundred years ago–such as the four stones at Chedworth, discovered some thirty years ago, together with many other interesting relics of the Roman occupation, by a gamekeeper in search of a ferret. On these stones were found the Greek letters [GREEK: Ch] and [GREEK: r], forming the sacred monogram “C.H.R.” Fifteen hundred years had not obliterated this simple evidence of ancient faith, nor had the devastation of the ages impaired the beauty of design, nor marred the harmony of colouring of those delicate pavements and tesserae with which these wonderful people loved to adorn their habitations. Since this strange discovery the diligent research of one man has rescued from oblivion, and the liberality of another now protects from further injury, one of the best specimens of a Roman country house to be found in England. Far away from the haunts of men, in the depths of the Chedworth woods, where no sound save the ripple of the Coln and the song of birds is heard, rude buildings and a museum have been erected; here these ancient relics are sheltered from wind and storm for the sake of those who lived and laboured in the remote past, and for the benefit and instruction of him, be he casual passer-by or pilgrim from afar, who cares to inspect them.
The ancient Roman town of Cirencester, too, affords many historical remains of the same era. But it is to the part which English hands and hearts have played towards beautifying the Cotswold district that I would fain direct attention; to the stately Abbey Church of Cirencester and its glorious south porch, with its rich fan-tracery groining within and its pierced battlements and pinnacles without; to the arched gateway of twelfth century work, the sole remnant of that once famous monastery–the mitred Abbey of St. Mary–founded by the piety of the first Henry, and overthrown by the barbarity of the last king of that name, who ordained “that all the edifices within the site and precincts of the monastery should be pulled down and carried away”;–it is to the glorious windows of Fairford Church–the most beautiful specimens remaining to us of glass of the early part of the sixteenth century–and to many an ancient church and mediaeval manor house still standing throughout this wide district, “to point a moral of adorn a tale,” that we must look for traces of the exquisite workmanship of English hands in bygone days, “the only witnesses, perhaps, that remain to us of the faith and fear of nations. All else for which the builders sacrificed has passed away–all their living interests and aims and achievements. We know not for what they laboured, and we see no evidence of their reward. Victory, wealth, authority, happiness–all have departed, though bought by many a bitter sacrifice. But of them, and their life, and their toil upon earth, one reward, one evidence is left to us in those grey heaps of deep-wrought stone. They have taken with them to the grave their powers, their honours, and their errors; but they have left us their adoration.” 
[Footnote 2: Ruskin, “Seven Lamps of Architecture.”]
Too many of our modern buildings are a sham from beginning to end–sham marble, sham stonework, sham wallpapers, sham wainscoting, sham carpets on the ground, and sham people walking about on them: even the very bookcases are sham. In these old Cotswold houses we have the reverse. The stonework is real, and the material is the best of its kind–good, honest, native stone. The oak wainscoting is real, though patched with deal and painted white in recent times. The same pains in the carving are apparent in those parts of the house which are never seen except by the servants, as in the important rooms. And so it is with all the work of three, four, and five hundred years ago. The builders may have had their faults, their prejudices, and their ignorances,–their very simplicity may have been the means of saving them from error,–but they were at all events truthful and genuine.
In many villages throughout the Cotswolds are to be seen ancient wayside crosses of exquisite workmanship and design. These were for the most part erected in the fourteenth century. One of the best specimens of the kind stands in the market-place of old Malmesbury, hard by the ancient monastery there. The date of this cross is A.D. 1480. Leland remarks upon it as follows: “There is a right faire and costely peace of worke for poor market folks to stand dry when rayne cummeth; the men of the towne made this peace of worke in _hominum memoria_.” Malmesbury, by the bye, is just outside the Cotswold district.
At Calmsden–a tiny isolated hamlet near North Cerney–is a grey and weather-beaten wayside cross of beautiful Gothic workmanship, erected (men say) by the Knights Templar of Quenington; and there are ancient crosses or remnants of them at Cirencester, Eastleach, Harnhill, Rendcombe, Stow-on-the-Wold, and many other places in the district. But few of these old village crosses still stand intact in their pristine beauty. May they never suffer the terrible fate of a very beautiful one which was erected in the fourteenth century at Bristol! Pope, writing a century and a half ago, describes it as “a very fine old cross of Gothic curious work, but spoiled with the folly of _new gilding it_, that takes away all the venerable antiquity.”
Happily there is no likelihood of the ancient crosses in the Cotswolds being decorated by a coating of gold. The precious metal is all too scarce there, even if the good taste of the country folk did not prohibit it.
I have spoken before of the ancient barns. Every hamlet has one or more of these grand old edifices, and there are often as many as three or four in a small village. In some of these large barns the tithe was gathered together in kind, until rather more than sixty years ago it was converted into a rent charge.
_Tithe_ was made on all kinds of farm produce. The vicar’s man went into the cornfields and placed a bough in every tenth “stook”; then the titheman came with the parson’s horses and took the stuff away to the barn. The tithe for every cock in the farmyard was three eggs; for every hen, two eggs. Besides poultry, geese, pigs, and sheep, the parson had a right to his share of the milk, and even of the cheeses that were made in his parish.
In an ancient manuscript which the vicar of Bibury lately acquired, and which contains the history of his parish since the Conquest, are set down some interesting and amusing details concerning tithe and the cash compensations that had been paid time out of mind. The entries form part of a diary kept by a former incumbent, and were made nearly two hundred years ago.
“For every new Milch Cow three pence.
“For every thorough Milch Cow one penny.
“N.B. Nothing is paid for a dry cow, and therefore tithe in kind must be paid for all fatting cattle.
“For every calf weaned a half penny.
“For every calf sold four pence or _the left shoulder_.
“For every calf killed in the family four pence or _the left shoulder_.
“I have heard that one or two left shoulders of veal were paid to the widow Hignall at Arlington when she rented the tithes of Dr. Vannam, but _I have received none_.”
Then follows an annual account of the value of the tithes of the parish (about five thousand acres), from 1763 to 1802, by which it appears that the year 1800 was the best during these four decades. Here is the entry:–
“1800 The crops of this year were very deficient, but corn of all sort sold at an extraordinary high price. I made of my tithes and living this year clear L1,200; from the dearness of labourers the outgoing expenses amounted to L900 in addition.”
The worst year seems to have been 1766, when the parson only got L360 clear of all expenses; but even this was not bad for those days.
The architecture of the Cotswold barns is often very beautiful. The pointed windows, massive buttresses, and elaborate pinnacles are sufficient indications of their great age and the care bestowed on the building. Some of the interiors of these Gothic structures have fine old oak roofs.
The cottages, too, though in a few instances sadly deficient in sanitary improvements and internal comfort, are not only picturesque, but strong and lasting. Many of them bear dates varying from 1600 to 1700.
It is evident that in everything they did our ancestors who lived in the Elizabethan age fully realised that they were working under the eye of “a great taskmaster.” This spirit was the making of the great men of that day, and in great part laid the foundation of our national greatness. The glorious churches of Cirencester, Northleach, Burford, and Bibury, and the ancient manor houses scattered throughout the Cotswolds are fitting monuments to the men who laboured to erect them. Would that space allowed a detailed account of all these old manor houses! Enough has been said, at all events, to show that there are places little known and little cared for in England where you may still dwell without, every time you go out of doors, being forcibly reminded of the utilitarian spirit of the age.
[Illustration: Cotswold Cottages. 057.png]
“If there’s a hole in a’ your coats, I rede ye tent it;
A chiel’s amang ye takin’ notes, And, faith, he’ll prent it.”
Every village seems to possess its share of quaint, curious people; but I cannot help thinking that our little hamlet has a more varied assortment of oddities than is usually to be met with in so small a place.
First of all there is the man whom nobody ever sees. Although he has lived in robust health for the past twenty years in the very centre of the hamlet, his face is unknown to half the inhabitants. Twice only has the writer set eyes on him. When a political contest is proceeding, he becomes comparatively bold; at such times he has even been met with in the bar of the village “public,” where he has been known to sit discussing the chances of the candidates like any ordinary being. But an election is absolutely necessary if this strange individual is to be drawn out of his hiding-place. The only other occasion on which we have set eyes on him was on a lovely summer’s evening, just after sunset: we observed him peeping at us over a hedge, for all the world like the “Spectator” when he was staying with Sir Roger de Coverley. He is supposed to come out at sunset, like the foxes and the bats, and has been seen in the distance on bright moonlight nights striding over the Cotswold uplands. If any one approach him, he hurries away in the opposite direction; yet he is not queer in the head, but strong and in the prime of life.
Then there is that very common character “the village impostor.” After having been turned away by half a dozen different farmers, because he never did a stroke of work, he manages to get on the sick-list at the “great house.” Long after his ailment has been cured he will be seen daily going up to the manor house for his allowance of meat; somehow or other he “can’t get a job nohow.” The fact is, he has got the name of being an idle scoundrel, and no farmer will take him on. It is some time before you are able to find him out; for as he goes decidedly lame as he passes you in the village street, he generally manages to persuade you that he is very ill. Like a fool, you take compassion on him, and give him an ounce of “baccy” and half a crown. For some months he hangs about where he thinks you will be passing, craving a pipe of tobacco; until one day, when you are having a talk with some other honest toiler, he will give you a hint that you are being imposed on.
When a loafer of this sort finds that he can get nothing more out of you, he moves his family and goods to some other part of the country; he then begins the old game with somebody else, borrowing a sovereign off you for the expense of moving. As for gratitude, he never thinks of it. The other day a man with a “game leg,” who was, in spite of his lameness, a good example of “the village impostor,” in taking his departure from our hamlet, gave out “that there was no thanks due to the big ‘ouse for the benefits he had received, for it was writ in the _manor parchments_ as how he was to have meat three times a week and blankets at Christmas as long as he was out of work.”
It is so difficult to discriminate between the good and the bad amongst the poor, and it is impossible not to feel pity for a man who has nothing but the workhouse to look forward to, even if he has come down in the world through his own folly. To those who are living in luxury the conditions under which the poorer classes earn their daily bread, and the wretched prospect which old age or ill health presents to them, must ever offer scope for deep reflection and compassion.
At the same time it must be remembered that in spite of “hard times” and “low prices,” as affecting the farmers, the agricultural labourer is better off to-day than he has ever been in past times. Food is very much cheaper and wages are higher. The farmers seem to be more liberal in bad times than in good. It is the same in all kinds of business. Except injustice there is no more hardening influence in the affairs of life than success. It seems often to dry up the milk of human kindness in the breast, and make us selfish and grasping.
In the good times of farming there was doubtless much cause for discontent amongst the Cotswold labourers. The profits derived from farming were then quite large. The tendency of the age, however, was to treat the labouring man as a mere machine, instead of his being allowed to share in the general prosperity. (“Hinc illae lacrymae.”) Now things are changed. Long-suffering farmers are in many cases paying wages out of their fast diminishing capital. Many of them would rather lose money than cut down the wages.
Then again agricultural labourers who are unable to find work go off to the coal mines and big towns; some go into the army; others emigrate. So that the distress is not so apparent in this district as the badness of the times would lead one to expect.
The Cotswold women obtain employment in the fields at certain seasons of the year; though poorly paid, they are usually more conscientious and hard-working than the men.
Most of the cottages are kept scrupulously clean; they have an air of homely comfort which calls forth the admiration of all strangers. The children, too, when they go to church on Sundays, are dressed with a neatness and good taste that are simply astonishing when one recalls the income of a labourer on the Cotswolds–seldom, alas! averaging more than fourteen shillings a week. A boy of twelve years of age is able to keep himself, earning about five shillings per week. Cheerful and manly little chaps they are. To watch a boy of fourteen years managing a couple of great strong cart-horses, either at the plough or with the waggons, is a sight to gladden the heart of man.
It is unfortunate that there are not more orchards attached to the gardens on the Cotswolds. The reader will doubtless remember Dr. Johnson’s advice to his friends, always to have a good orchard attached to their houses. “For,” said he, “I once knew a clergyman of small income who brought up a family very reputably, which he chiefly fed on _apple dumplings_.”
Talking of clergymen, I am reminded of some stories a neighbour of ours–an excellent fellow–lately told me about his parishioners on the Cotswolds. One old man being asked why he liked the vicar, made answer as follows: “Why, ‘cos he be so _scratchy after souls_.” The same man lately said to the parson, “Sir, you be an hinstrument”; and being asked what he meant, he added, “An hinstrument of good in this place.”
This old-fashioned Cotswold man was very fond of reciting long passages out of the Psalms: indeed, he knew half the Prayer-book by heart; and one day the hearer, being rather wearied, exclaimed, “I must go now, for it’s my dinner-time.” To whom replied the old man, “Oh! be off with thee, then; thee thinks more of thee belly than thee God.”
An old bedridden woman was visited by the parson, and the following dialogue took place:–
“Well, Annie, how are you to-day?”
“O sir, I be so bad! My inside be that comical I don’t know what to do with he; he be all on the ebb and flow.”
The same clergyman knew an old Cotswold labourer who wished to get rid of the evil influence of the devil. So Hodge wrote a polite, though firm, epistle, telling his Satanic Majesty he would have no more to do with him. On being asked where he posted his letter, he replied: “A’ dug a hole i’ the ground, and popped un in there. He got it right enough, for he’s left me alone from that day to this.”
The Cotswold people are, like their country, healthy, bright, clean, and old-fashioned; and the more educated and refined a man may happen to be, the more in touch he will be with them–not because the peasants are educated and refined, so much as because they are not _half_-educated and _half_-refined, but simple, honest, god-fearing folk, who mind their own business and have not sought out many inventions. I am referring now to the labourers, because the farmers are a totally different class of men. The latter are on the whole an excellent type of what John Bull ought to be. The labouring class, however, still maintain the old characteristics. A primitive people, as often as not they are “nature’s gentlemen.”
In the simple matter of dress there is a striking resemblance between the garb of these country people and that of the highly educated and refined. It is an acknowledged principle, or rather, I should say, an unwritten law, in these days–at all events as far as men are concerned–that to be well dressed all that is required of us is _not to be badly dressed_. Simplicity is a _sine qua non_; and we are further required to abstain from showing bad taste in the choice of shades and colours, and to wear nothing that does not serve a purpose. To simple country folk all these things come by nature. They never trouble their heads about what clothes they shall wear. The result is, the eye is seldom offended in old-fashioned country places by the latest inventions of tailors and hatters and the ridiculous changes of fashion in which the greater part of the civilised world is wont to delight. Here are to be seen no hideous “checks,” but plain, honest clothes of corduroy or rough cloth in natural colours; no absurd little curly “billycocks,” but good, strong broad-brimmed hats of black beaver in winter to keep off the rain, and of white straw in summer to keep off the heat. No white satin ties, which always look dirty, such as one sees in London and other great towns, but broad, old-fashioned scarves of many colours or of blue “birdseye” mellowed by age. The fact is that simplicity–the very essence of good taste–is apparent only in the garments of the _best_-dressed and the _poorest_-dressed people in England. This is one more proof of the truth of the old saying, “Simplicity is nature’s first step, and the last of art.”
The greatest character we ever possessed in the village was undoubtedly Tom Peregrine, the keeper.
“A man, take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again.”
The eldest son of the principal tenant on the manor, and belonging to a family of yeoman farmers who had been settled in the place for a hundred years, he suddenly found that “he could not a-bear farming,” and took up his residence as “an independent gentleman” in a comfortable cottage at the gate of the manor house. Then he started a “sack” business–a trade which is often adopted in these parts by those who are in want of a better. The business consists in buying up odds and ends of sacks, and letting them out on hire at a handsome profit. He was always intensely fond of shooting and fishing; indeed, the following description which Sir Roger de Coverley gave the “Spectator” of a “plain country fellow who rid before them,” when they were on their way to the assizes, suits him exactly. “He is a yeoman of about an hundred pounds a year; and knocks down a dinner with his gun twice or thrice a week. He would be a good neighbour if he did not destroy so many partridges: in short, he is a very sensible man, shoots flying, and has been several times foreman of the petty jury.”
Perhaps with regard to the “shoots flying” the reservation should be added, that should he have seen a covey of partridges “bathering” in a ploughed field within convenient distance of a stone wall or thick fence, he might not have been averse to knocking over a brace for supper on the ground. And we had almost forgotten to explain that it was for the manor-house table that he used to knock down a dinner with his gun twice or thrice a week, and not his own–for, some years ago, he persuaded the squire to take him into his service as gamekeeper. When we came to take up our abode at the manor, we found that he was a sort of standing dish on the place. Such a keen sportsman, it was explained, was better in our service than kicking his heels about the village and on his father’s farm as an independent gentleman. And so this is how Tom Peregrine came into our service. For my part I liked the man; he was so delightfully mysterious. And the place would never have been the same without him; for he became part and parcel with the trees and the fields and every living thing. Nor would the woods and the path by the brook and the breezy wolds ever have been quite the same if his quaint figure had no longer appeared suddenly there. Many a time was I startled by the sudden apparition of Tom Peregrine when out shooting on the hill; he seemed to spring up from the ground like “Herne the Hunter”–
“Shaggy and lean and shrewd. With pointed ears And tail cropped short, half lurcher and half cur, His dog attends him.”
The above lines of Cowper’s exactly, describe the keeper’s Irish terrier; the dog was almost as deep and mysterious as the man himself. When in the woods, Tom’s attitude and gait would at times resemble the movements of a cock pheasant: now stealing along for a few yards, listening for the slightest sound of any animal stirring in the underwood; now standing on tiptoe for a time, with bated breath. Did a blackbird–that dusky sentinel of the woods–utter her characteristic note of warning, he would whisper, “Hark!” Then, after due deliberation, he would add, “‘Tis a fox!” or, “There’s a fox in the grove,” and then he would steal gently up to try to get a glimpse of reynard. He never looked more natural than when carrying seven or eight brace of partridges, four or five hares, and a lease of pheasants; it was a labour of love to him to carry such a load back to the village after a day’s shooting. In his pockets alone he could stow away more game than most men can conveniently carry on their backs.
He was the best hand at catching trout the country could produce. With a rod and line he could pull them out on days when nobody else could get a “rise.” He could not understand dry-fly fishing, always using the old-fashioned sunk fly. “Muddling work,” he used to call the floating method of fly fishing.
But Tom Peregrine was cleverer with the landing-net than with the rod. Any trout he could reach with the net was promptly pulled out, if we particularly wanted a fish. Then he would talk all day about any subject under the sun: politics, art, Roman antiquities, literature, and every form of sport were discussed with equal facility.
One day, when I was engaged in a slight controversy with his own father, the keeper said to me: “I shouldn’t take any notice whatever of him”; then he added, with a sigh, “These Gloucestershire folk are comical people.”
“Ah! ’tis a wise son that knows his own father in Gloucestershire, isn’t it, Peregrine?” said I, putting the Shakespearian cart before the horse.
“Yes, it be, to be sure, to be sure,” was the reply. “I can’t make ’em out nohow; they’re funny folk in Gloucestershire.”
He gave me the following account of the “chopping” of one of our foxes: “I knew there was a fox in the grove; and there, sure enough, he was. But when he went toward the ‘bruk,’ the hounds come along and _give him the meeting_; and then they bowled him over. It were a very comical job; I never see such a job in all my life. I knew it would be a case,” he added, with a chuckle.
The fact is, with that deadly aversion to all the vulpine race common to all keepers, he dearly loved to see a fox killed, no matter how or where; but to see one “chopped,” without any of that “muddling round and messing about,” as he delighted to call a hunting run, seemed to him the very acme of satisfaction and despatch.
And here it may be said that Tom Peregrine’s name did not bely him. Not only were the keen brown eye and the handsome aquiline beak marked characteristics of his classic features, but in temperament and habit he bore a singular resemblance to the king of all the falcons. Who more delighted in striking down the partridge or the wild duck? What more assiduous destroyer of ground game and vermin ever existed than Tom Peregrine? There never was a man so happily named and so eminently fitted to fulfil the destinies of a gamekeeper.
Who loves to trap the wily stoat?
Who loves the plover’s piping note? Who loves to wring the weasel’s throat? Tom Peregrine.
What time the wintry woods we walk, No need have we of lure or hawk;
Have we not Tom to _tower_ and talk? Tom Peregrine?
When to the withybed we spy,
A hungry hern or mallard fly,
“Bedad! we’ll bag un by and by,” Tom Peregrine.
“Creep _up wind_, sir, without a sound, And bide thy time neath yonder ‘mound,’ Then knock un over on the ground,”
And so one might go on _ad infinitum_.
A more amusing companion or keener fisherman never stepped. He had all sorts of quaint Gloucestershire expressions, which rolled out one after the other during a day’s fishing or shooting. Then he was very fond of reading amusing pieces at village entertainments, often copying the broad Gloucestershire dialect; apparently he was not aware that his own brogue smacked somewhat of Gloucestershire too. At home in his own house he was most friendly and hospitable. If he could get you to “step in,” he would offer you gooseberry, ginger, cowslip, and currant wine, sloe gin, as well as the juice of the elder, the blackberry, the grape, and countless other home-brewed vintages, which the good dames of Gloucestershire pride themselves on preparing with such skill. Very excellent some of these home-made drinks are.
The British farmer is remarkably fond of a lord. If you wanted to put him into a good temper for a month, the best plan would be to ask a lord to shoot over his land, and tell him privately to make a great point of shaking the honest yeoman by the hand, and all that kind of thing. By the bye, I was once told by a coachman that he was sure the Bicester hounds were a first-rate pack, for he had seen in the papers that no less than four lords hunted with them. There is little harm in this extraordinarily widespread admiration for titles; it is common to all nations. We can all love a lord, provided that he be a gentleman. The gentlemen of England, whether titled or untitled, are in thought and feeling a very high type of the human race. But the man I like best to meet is he who either by natural insight or by the trained habit of his mind is able to look upon all mortals with eyes unprejudiced by outward show and circumstance, judging them by character alone. Such a man may not be understood or be awarded the credit due to him as “lord of the lion heart” and despiser of sycophants and cringers. The habit of mind, nevertheless, is worth cultivating; it will be so very useful some day, when mortal garments have been put off and the vast inequalities of destiny adjusted, and we all stand unclothed before the Judge.
Tom Peregrine was not a “great frequenter of the church”; indeed, both father and son often remarked to me that “‘Twas a pity there was not a chapel of ease put up in the hamlet, the village church being a full mile away.” However, when Tom was ailing from any cause or other he immediately sent for the parson, and told him that he intended in future to go to church regularly every Sunday. Shakespeare would have enquired if he was troubled “about some act that had no relish of salvation in’t.” “Thomas, he’s a terrible coward [I here quote Mrs. Peregrine]. He can’t a-bear to have anything a-wrong with him; yet he don’t mind killing any animal.” He made a tremendous fuss about a sore finger he had at one time; and when the doctor exclaimed, like Romeo, “Courage, man; the hurt cannot be much,” Tom Peregrine replied, with much the same humour as poor Mercutio: “No, ’tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door; but ’tis enough.” I do not mean to infer that he quoted Shakespeare, but he used words to the same effect. If asked whether he had read Shakespeare, he might possibly have given the same reply as the young woman in _High Life Below Stairs_:
“KITTY: Shikspur? Shikspur? Who wrote it? No, I never read Shikspur.
“LADY B.: _Then you have an immense pleasure to come_.”
Let it be said, however, that in many respects Tom was an exceedingly well-informed and clever man. The family of Peregrines were noted, like Sir Roger de Coverley, for their great friendliness to foxes; and to their credit let it be said that they have preserved them religiously for very many years. I scarcely ever heard a word of complaint from them. All honour to those who neither hunt nor care for hunting, yet who put up with a large amount of damage to crops and fences, as well as loss of poultry and ground game, and yet preserve the foxes for a sport in which they do not themselves take part.
When conversing with me on the subject of preserving foxes, old Mr. Peregrine would wax quite enthusiastic “You should put a barley rick in the Conygers, and thatch it, and there would always be a fox.” he would remark. All this I hold to be distinctly creditable. For what is there to prevent a farmer from pursuing a selfish policy and warning the whole hunt off his land?
The village parson is quite a character. You do not often see the like nowadays. An excellent man in every way, and having his duty at heart, he is one of the few Tories of the old school that are left to us. Ruling his parish with a rod of iron, he is loved and respected by most of his flock. In the Parish Council, at the Board of Guardians, his word is law. He seldom goes away from the village save for his annual holiday, yet he knows all that is going on in the great metropolis, and will tell you the latest bit of gossip from Belgravia. He has a good property of his own in Somersetshire, but to his credit let it be said that his affections are entirely centred in the little Cotswold village, which he has ruled for a quarter of a century.
“Full loth were him to curse for his tithes, But rather would be given out of doubt Unto his poore parishens about
Of his off’ring, and eke of his substance. He could in little thing have suffisance. Wide was his parish and houses far asunder, But he ne left not for no rain nor thunder In sickness and in mischief to visit
The farthest in his parish much and lit, Upon his feet, and in his hand a staff, This noble ensample to his sheep he gaf, That first he wrought and afterwards he taught.”
Sermons are not so lengthy in our church as they were three hundred years ago. Rudder mentions that a parson of the name of Winnington used to preach here for two hours at a time, regularly turning the hour-glass; for in those days hour-glasses were placed near the pulpit, and the clergy used to vie with each other as to who could preach the longest. I do not know if Mr. Barrow was ever surpassed in this respect. History relates that he succeeded in emptying his church of the whole congregation, including the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of London–one man only (an apprentice) remaining to the bitter end. Misguided laymen used to amuse themselves in the same way. Fozbrooke mentions that one Will Hulcote, a zealous lay preacher after the Reformation, used to mount the pulpit in a velvet bonnet, a damask gown, and a gold chain. What an ass he must have looked! This reminds me that at the age of twenty-four I accepted the office of churchwarden of a certain country parish. I do not recommend any of my readers to become churchwardens. You become a sort of acting aide-de-camp to the parson, liable to be called out on duty at a moment’s notice. No; a young man might with some advantage to others and credit to himself take upon himself the office of Parish Councillor, Poor Law Guardian, Inspector of Lunatic Asylums, High Sheriff, or even Public Hangman; but save, oh, save us from being churchwardens! To be obliged to attend those terrible institutions called “vestry meetings,” and to receive each year an examination paper from the archdeacon of the diocese propounding such questions as, “Do you attend church regularly? If not, why not?” etc., etc., is the natural destiny of the churchwarden, and is more than human nature can stand: in short, my advice to those thinking of becoming churchwardens is, “Don’t,” with a very big _D_.
According to the “Diary of Master William Silence,” in the olden times a pedlar would occasionally arrive at the church door during the sermon, and proceed to advertise his wares at the top of his voice. Whereupon the parson, speedily deserted by the female portion of his congregation and by not a few of the other sex, was obliged to bring his discourse to a somewhat inglorious conclusion.
We learn from the same work that the churchwardens were in the habit of disbursing large sums for the destruction of foxes. When a fox was marked to ground the church bell was rung as a signal, summoning every man who owned a pickaxe, a gun, or a terrier dog, to lend a hand in destroying him. We are talking of two or three hundred years ago, when the stag was the animal usually hunted by hounds on the Cotswolds and in other parts of England.
Our village is a favourite meet of the V.W.H. foxhounds. An amusing story is told of a former tenant of the court house–a London gentleman, who rented the place for a time. He is reported to have made a special request to the master of the hounds, that when the meet was held at “the Court,” “his lordship” would make the fox pass in front of the drawing-room windows, “For,” said he, “I have several friends coming from London to see the hunt.”
In a hunting district such as this the owners and occupiers of the various country houses are usually enthusiastic devotees of the chase. The present holder of the “liberty” adjoining us is a fox-hunter of the old school. An excellent sportsman and a wonderful judge of a horse, he dines in pink the best part of the year, drives his four-in-hand with some skill, and wears the old-fashioned low-crowned beaver hat.
We have many other interesting characters in our village; human nature varies so delightfully that just as with faces so each individual character has something to distinguish it from the rest of the world. The old-fashioned autocratic farmer of the old school is there of course, and a rare good specimen he is of a race that has almost disappeared. Then we have the village lunatic, whose mania is “religious enthusiasm.” If you go to call on him, he will ask you “if you are saved,” and explain to you how his own salvation was brought about. Unfortunately one of his hobbies is to keep fowls and pigs in his house so that fleas are more or less numerous there, and your visits are consequently few and far between.
The village “quack,” who professes to cure every complaint under the sun, either in mankind, horses, dogs, or anything else by means of herbs, buttonholes you sometimes in the village street. If once he starts talking, you know that you are “booked” for the day. He is rather a “bore,” and is uncommonly fond of quoting the Scriptures in support of his theories. But there is something about the man one cannot help liking. His wonderful infallibility in curing disease is set down by himself to divine inspiration. Many a vision has he seen. Unfortunately his doctrines, though excellent in theory, are seldom successful in practice. An excellent prescription which I am informed completely cured a man of indigestion is one of his mixtures “last thing at night” and the first chapter of St. John carefully perused and digested on top.
I called on the old gentleman the other day, and persuaded him to give me a short lecture. The following is the gist of what he said: “First of all you must know that the elder is good for anything in the world, but especially for swellings. If you put some of the leaves on your face, they will cure toothache in five minutes. Then for the nerves there’s nothing like the berries of ivy. Yarrow makes a splendid ointment; and be sure and remember Solomon’s seal for bruises, and comfrey for ‘hurts’ and broken bones. Camomile cures indigestion, and ash-tree buds make a stout man thin. Soak some ash leaves in hot water, and you will have a drink that is better than any tea, and destroys the ‘gravel.’ Walnut-tree bark is a splendid emetic; and mountain flax, which grows everywhere on the Cotswolds, is uncommon good for the ‘innards.’ ‘Ettles [nettles] is good for stings. Damp them and rub them on to a ‘wapse’ sting, and they will take away the pain directly.” On my suggesting that stinging nettles were rather a desperate remedy, he assured me that “they acted as a blister, and counteracted the ‘wapse.’ Now, I’ll tell you an uncommon good thing to preserve the teeth,” he went on, “and that is to _brush_ them once or twice a week. You buys a brush at the chymists, you know; they makes them specially for it. Oh, ’tis a capital good thing to cleanse the teeth occasionally!”
He wound up by telling me a story of a celebrated doctor who left a sealed book not to be opened till after his death, when it was to be sold at auction. It fetched six hundred pounds. The man who paid this sum was horrified on opening it to find it only contained the following excellent piece of advice: “Always remember to keep the feet warm and the head cool.”
As I said good-bye, and thanked him for his lecture, he said: “Those doctors’ chemicals destroy the ‘innards.’ And be sure and put down rue for the heart; and burdock, ’tis splendid for the liver.”
Nor must mention be omitted of old Isaac Sly, a half-witted labouring fellow with a squint in one eye and blind of the other, who at first sight might appear a bad man to meet on a dark night, but is harmless enough when you know him; he haunts the lanes at certain seasons of the year, carrying an enormous flag, and invariably greets you with the intelligence that he will bring the flag up next Christmas the same as usual, according to time-honoured custom. He is the last vestige of the old wandering minstrels of bygone days, playing his inharmonious concertina in the hall of the manor house regularly at Christmas and at other festivals.
Nor must we forget dear, honest Mr. White, the kindest and most pompous of men, who, after fulfilling his destiny as head butler in a great establishment, and earning golden opinions from all sorts and conditions of men, finally settled down to a quiet country life in a pretty cottage in our village, where he is the life and soul of every convivial gathering and beanfeast, carving a York ham or a sirloin with great nicety and judgment. He has seen much of men and manners in his day, and has a fund of information on all kinds of subjects. Having plenty of leisure, he is a capital hand at finding the whereabouts of outlying foxes; and once earned the eternal gratitude of the whole neighbourhood by starting a fine greyhound fox, known as the “old customer,” out of a decayed and hollow tree that lay in an unfrequented spot by the river. He poked him out with a long pole, and gave the “view holloa” just as the hounds had drawn all the coverts “blank,” and the people’s faces were as blank as the coverts; whereupon such a run was enjoyed as had not been indulged in for many a long day.
But what of our miller–our good, honest gentleman farmer and miller–now, alas! retired from active business? What can I say of him? I show you a man worthy to sit amongst kings. A little garrulous and inquisitive at times, yet a conqueror for all that in the battle of-life, and one of whom it may in truth be said,
“And thus he bore without abuse
The grand old name of gentleman.”