Chapter XV - River Churn

Where Thames Smooth Waters Glide - Seven Springs,
Map: Cirencester

Oh when the wind is in the west,
The reeds of Thames shrill faint and clear,
And fill my blood with wild unrest
To wander where I hold most dear. . .

To cross again by Bablock Hithe,
At Rushey watch the rising moon,
To tramp again those highways blithe:
That day can never come too soon.

BY hard smooth Akeman Street I have tramped the three miles northeastward from Thames Head into Cirencester, the capital of the Cotswolds, a considerable town before the Roman occupation; city, it ought to be called, recollecting its walls and St. John the Baptist church. "Cirencester, commonly called Ciceter," says old William Smith's MS. History of England in the Sloan Library,"standeth uppon the river Churn, which is the principallest head that the Thamise hath, and springeth in Coteswold out of Cobberly poole, six miles est from Glocester. It is eight miles directly west from Lechlade, and was in tymes past a goodly cittie before Glocester was builded. " Shakespeare too called it Ciceter; and the discussion is eternal and quite a. little acrimonious concerning the correct clipping or abbreviation by which its name should be pronounced. You will notice that no one favours speaking~ it full out. Mr. Hutton is wholly and scornfully for Shakespeare's way; yet not uneducated people call it Cicester, and the countryside burrs out Zizzeter now and then. But the milestones and the townsfolk say "Ciren," toute court; and I wish to uphold this native and popular designation as no mere colloquial abbreviation of the full modern title, but the natural descendant of Corinium, the Roman form of the original British Caer coryn before the Saxon. suffix -ceastre had been dreamt of. I consider it a happy instance of the preservation amongst plain country folk of an original appellation rejected in more pretentious quarters. Lysons mentions a couplet which he saw scratched upon a window of the ancient Ram inn, by some commercial traveller, perhaps, bemused. with the eternal discussion.

Tell me, Mistress; tell me, Mister
When was she the Sirens' sister?

It runs trippingly in one's head; a smiling evasion of partisans. This Ram, I may say here, was pulled down only within living memory; it stood, I think, near Black Jack Street, behind the Crown.

[Fred, in Additions and Corrections, adds: The Ram inn was in Castle Street, next to Messrs. Viners' the confectioners. It may have extended backwards almost, or quite, to Black Jack Street. ]

Cirencester is the meeting-point of four of the primaeval Ways of England. Akeman Street (Oakman's, or Forester's, Way) I have trodden coming in from Bath and the southwest; the Iknield Way also, which runs hence eastwards to Oxford; Irmin Street arrives through from Gloucester and the northwest to lead to Swindon southeastwards; and the Fosse Way runs northwest connecting Exeter with Lincoln. "I wonder," exclaims Hilaire Belloc,"that more men do not set out to follow, let us say, the Fosse Way. It runs right across England from the southwest to the northeast in a line direct yet sinuous, characters which are the very essence of a savage trail. Up the same line went the clans marching when they were called northward to the host; and up this went slow creaking waggons with the lead of the Mendips or the tin of Cornwall or the gold of Wales. "

The scene of much dim battling between the British tribes, Cirencester lay seventy miles beyond the approach of Julius Caesar at the first Roman invasion. A century later, however, it became one of the principal and perhaps the earliest of their stations. It is stated, a little vaguely, to have witnessed the crowning of Constantine as king. Was this the great Constantine of the Hoc signo vinces? Gibbon says he received the purple at York in 306. Looking about for one of the lesser Constantines to suit the case I find it may have been that private soldier whom, simply for the omen of his name, the unruly legions quartered here forced in 407 to assume the sceptre of these islands and of the Western Empire generally, having assassinated his two immediate predecessors. He went some way, but was soon crushed into the abyss. Yet even this conjecture may justly be resisted. In Camden's Remains you will read: "At Silchester, in Hampshire, Constantinus, a military man of some reputation, in hope of his lucky name, and that he would prove another Constantinus Magnus, to the good of the people, was by the Britain Army proclaimed Emperor against Honorius. " It is an interesting riddle.

Towards the end of the next century, in 577, when Wessex invaded the Severn valley, the town was reduced by Ceaulin, becoming the spoil of the West Saxons who under him had gained the battle of Deorham, about twenty-five miles to the southwest; "where," says Green,"Britain as a nation passed away. " In 628, fourteen years after their battle at Bampton, Cynegils and Cwichelm fought with Penda of Mercia at Cirencester, and afterwards entered into a treaty here with him. Cnut held a great council here at Easter in 1020, and another in 1030, at which, says Holinshed, the title of Baron first came into use. But I am forgetting the most enchanting morsel. In the first volume of the Gloucestershire Notes and Queries you may read, on the authority of Polydorus, how that ' Gormund, an African prince, laid siege to Cirencester, which, long before the Saxons came into England, was a famous town to withstand an army. For no less than seven weary years he kept his weary forces before the town and then set all his soldiers to catch sparrows, had combustibles fixed to their tails and set alight, and then let them go. They flew straight under the eaves, which were quickly ablaze, and Gormund succeeded in storming the town; in memory whereof it was afterwards called the City of Sparrows. " This is indeed a delicious story; sour Cox remarks that "the account seems fabulous. " Gormund was no African, but a Dane; and his capture of the town has been dated in 879, immediately after his defeat of Alfred at Ethandune; though the " seven years " of the siege is probably mythical; "poets," says Rudder, are not always good historians. "

The castle, which probably stood at the end of Castle Street against the Corinium museum, was perhaps originally erected by Edward the Elder against the Danes, about the same time as the mound at Oxford. It met the fate of many of its like during Stephen's wars; having been garrisoned for Maud. The king sacked and burnt it, with much of the town, in 1142. "Civitatem Cirencestriae improvise devenit, castellumque, custodibus furtive dispersis, evacuatum reperiens, ignitus depascendum commisit. " So runs the Gesta Stephani.

A little earlier, in 1117, an abbey had been constituted here by Henry I, perpetuating and elavating a college of prebendaries of older date than the Conquest, of which the great Reinbald, chancellor of Edward the Confessor, was dean. All Reinbald's manors were bestowed upon the new abbey, and they were many. Its canons first obtained a lease of the town manor from Henry II quite early in his reign, and quite early under Richard I a charter in perpetuity. The Crusader was ready to sell anything for his wars. "Omnia," says Benedict of Peterborough,"erant ei venalia, scilicet, Potestates, Dominationes, Comitatus, et cetera hiis similia. " And a hungry swarm came about him, among others Carlyle's hero Abbot Samson. So for one hundred pounds, as men then reckoned money, Abbot Richard purchased the town and manor of Cirencester, with Minety and other appurtenances and inaugurated those long centuries of monastic dominion over life and limb, labour and goods, over the growing spirit of commerce and of municipal enterprise, over taxation, and over all the dispensation of justice that could be secured, which grew to be much. They were strange old days, when every large landowner, abbots and others, possessed his own pit and gallows for manorial offenders; and smaller men borrowed the accommodation at need. This right of executing justice carried the other not inappreciable right of flemensfrith, seizure of the felon's chattels, and so was keenly watched and very promptly asserted, by abbots and others.

I do not think the municipal struggle here against the abbey ever rose to so epic a height as for instance at Reading; it seems to have remained rather a succession of detached squabbles about inheritances, the legality of private mills; a tale of much petty judicial trickery upon the part of the persistent, omnipotent,"immortal" monastery. The townsfolk were indeed "utterly beaten at last. " Their final success seems to have been when, in 1400, they appealed to Henry IV, on the plea of some effective assistance rendered to him under difficulties, to free them from the power of the abbot.

[ Fred, in Additions and Corrections, adds: Cirencester's service to Henry IV was: "Thomas Holland, Duke of Surrey, the Earl of Salisbury, and other noblemen, retreating there, and lodging in an inn, the bailiff of the town and townsmen assaulted the house, slew them, and sent their heads to London. For this service Henry granted the inhabitants all the goods of these noblemen and their adherents except money, plate and jewels. He also granted to the men four does in the season, six bucks to the women, and one hogshead of wine from Bristol. " All this in addition to the incorporation. ]

Finding himself able, after inquisition, to reward their loyalty, the king erected the town into a corporation, with a mayor and two constables and other privileges; though the abbot was still sufficiently powerful to get the new borough much reduced from its proper extent as delimited by the ancient Roman walls. But about 1413 they rioted against Abbot Lekhampton, and four years subsequently Abbot Best succeeded in having the charter annulled, so that in 1477 the town was referred to as being non-corporate. The resistance here had not that slow, watchful, inexpugnable pertinacity so marked and so admirable in the history of Reading; there was here no such great and quenchiess passion for expansion and high commerce,"muttering to be unbound," as there; and perhaps in consequence you will read here of no such terrific carnival of savage exultation when the secular enemy was at length deposed, when the surrender of the abbey, delayed till December 19th, 1539, was at length complete, and Blake, the last abbot, went down to small quiet Driffield with his pension of two hundred pounds, to an obscure retreat and an almost forgotten tomb.

There are a few remains of the abbey still left upon the north side of the church. It enjoyed the privilege of coining.

King John was a frequent visitor at Cirencester and in the Parliamentary wars the town was stormed in February 1643 by Prince Rupert, and recaptured by Essex during the autumn of the same year. You get a vivid account in de Foe's Cavalier. "About this time the prince being at Oxford, I gave him intelligence of a party of the enemy who lived a little at large, too much for good soldiers, about Cirencester"; and he marched thereupon through the deep mire of the terrible Oxfordshire roads, three thousand horse and dragoons under him, reaching Cirencester at early dawn. They met with the slightest resistance: but read the whole thing in the author himself; his battles live like Carlyle's. Read, too, of the return surprise put upon Rupert, who lay, I think, at the King's Head, for de Foe speaks of a back lane to the inn which helped the prince's defence; and you may still see theirs for a drink. Perhaps to Cirencester belongs the responsibility of having set the torch to those long troubles, so far as Gloucestershire was concerned, in its attack upon Lord Chandos during his attempted execution of the Commission of Array.

When Essex reached the town to redeem its capture by Rupert he found two regiments of the king's horse, newly entered into the service. "In one of their standards, the invention was the effigies of the Parliament house, with two traitors' heads fixed on two poles on the top thereof; the inscription was this: Sicut extra, sic intus. " After Worcester, in October, 1680, Prince Charles lay a night at the Ram inn, of which I have spoken, disguised as a footman: "The next night we lay at Cirencester," he dictated as Charles II to Samuel Pepys. And in 1688 Lord Lovelace, marching to the support of William of Orange, was defeated and captured hereabouts by the adherents of James II. This was the first bloodshed of the Revolution. Lovelace had ridden unmolested from his seat at Hurley as far as this, where he was captured by the militia. But the populace soon released him, and he entered Oxford in triumph on his way home.

Alexander Pope had a seat of his own designing, a little rustic summerhouse of stone, at the junction of the Seven Ways in Lord Bathurst's beautiful park. The Broad Walk, leading to Sapperton five miles away where the Severn Canal has its two mile tunnel, is very reminiscent of the Long Walk at Windsor, the roofs of Cecily Hill overtopped by the grand tower of the church closing in the view just as the royal castle does. But here all is richer and softer and lovelier.

This is little better than barren cataloguing; but what would you? A full history of Cirencester occupies a volume much larger than this little book. So it can only be mere indications that I set down and I think it worth while, as the town is something remote, and not a place the British holiday folk very busily frequents. To make an end, then: know that John Keble here became engaged to Charlotte Clarke, the sister of his brother's wife; that the chief local industry is carpet weaving; and that the functions of a sixteenth century grammar school, still standing, were removed to another building in 1881. It was founded about 1508 by Thomas Ruthal, Bishop of Durham, a native of the town. His endowment of seven pounds per annum was in later years and after much trouble rescued from Henry VIII, champion of education, and preserved to its proper use. Remains of the Roman circumvallation are still to be seen in the east end of the town, and the "querns" are still traceable, being the British cairns, heaps of stones for burial places, which the Romans also probably used for the same purpose. There is the bull ring, the ancient amphitheatre; and if you are interested in the Roman antiquities, the fine mosaic with its adorable beasts, the jewels, the drinking cups and weapons and coins, you may see them displayed in the Corinium museum.

The poet Young stood unsuccessfully for Parliament here in March, 1721. He had been sent by the Duke of Wharton to oppose the candidate set up by Lord Bathurst. Things looked very bright for the poet, and Lord Bathurst in alarm invited him to dinner and had a report spread abroad that Young had effected a compromise with his rival. The poet's party was inappeasable, and broke violently into his bedroom in the dead of night headed by a particularly truculent cooper, who so savagely menaced the supposed renegade with his adze that " I was obliged," wrote the poor man," to kneel in my shirt and use all the rhetoric I was master of, to save my life. Oh, that cooper! "This," commented Lord Bathurst,"furnished the unfortunate poet with a new 'night thought' for the remainder of his life. " Was it not this Young who once installed a new sundial with the motto Eheu fugaces and the rest, and then with some humour pointed out to his friends the aptness of the legend, the whole thing having been stolen the very first night?

The Churn and the Severn Canal both flow through the town. There was once a bridge at the foot of Cecily Hill over a little branch stream known as the Gunstoole River (in danger of being corrupted into "Council" Brook! ), and here was established the ducking or "gonging" stool for punishment by immersion of brewers of bad ale (women were anciently brewers), scolds, and loose women. "The woman was placed in the chair with her arms drawn downwards; a bar was placed across her back and in front of her elbows; another bar held her upright and there were cords to tie her securely in. The executioners then took hold of the chair which was at the other end of the beam from the stool, and ducked her on the see-saw principle. " The practice is said to have commenced in the fifteenth century, and lasted, at Leominster they say, as late as 1809. The little stream still flows along, but is now largely covered in, and no trace of the old penal institution remains. Perhaps Cirencester happily decided it was no longer necessary. It was, however, for very long a perversion of justice, in the popular mind, for those in authority to punish by fine instead of by pillory or ducking stool. Fines, indeed, to the stricter moralists, have always appeared a questionable form of expiation. "So late as 1745," says the Reverend E. A. Fuller,"Lord Bathurst was presented at the Cirencester court leet for not maintaining these means of punishment, and nominally amerced one hundred and twenty pounds. "

No brawling wives, nor furious wenches,
No fire so hot but water quenches.

This Cecily Hill of pleasant memories was originally called Inchthrope Street, a Danish survival meaning perhaps " entrance to the town," it having been the end of the ancient main road hither from Stroud. It got its present name from a little chapel of St. Cecilia, mentioned by Leland in 1542 as one of three parish churches: "S. Cecilia chirch is clene doun. It was of late but a chapelle. " The second of the trio was St. Laurence's, of which Leland said it "yet stondith, but as no Paroch Chirch"; the third is St. John's.

If you have tramped up the old Way from Thames Head you will have seen on a hillside to the left about half-way to the town the fine buildings of the Royal Agricultural College, whose chapel tower stands out prominent in the landscape. It was founded in 1845, and the Prince Consort held the first five shares, which I believe are still owned by royalty.

And having spoken of these things so meagrely let me now tell you of the magnificent church of St. John the Baptist, worthy to be a cathedral. Leland reiterated long ago: "There hath bene 3. Paroche Churches, ... now but one. . . in al Cirencestre: but that is very fair"; adding that the body of the church was all new work, to which Ruthal, Bishop of Durham (who founded the school), promised much,"but preventid with Deth gave nothing. " It still stands here, a glorious memento for the most part of the Perpendicular craftsmen, though there is a tiny trace of the Norman left: a small doorway, originally external, leading into the west end of the north chancel aisle. It is a church of stately distances, in the heart of which the golden rood hangs resplendent. Saved somehow from destruction in the Commonwealth wars, during which the church twice served as a prison in the fights I have spoken of, is a delicate painted stone pulpit of early Perpendicular design.

[Fred, in Additions and Corrections, adds: Sir Gilbert Scott destroyed a Jacobean screen during the restoration he carried out in Cirencester church. ]

In the north chancel aisle is a queer little coloured statuette, of some old benefactor I imagine, unnamed, but holding in his hand a book upon which is inscribed the text about the blessedness of him who remembers the poor. The curious little image stands close against a ruinous old piscina. In the northeast corner of the nave is a cabinet containing some black letter and other old volumes; and close by a curious rhyming inscription is set upon the wall.

In lent by will a Sermon he devised
and yerely precher with a noble prised.
Seven nobles he did geve ye poore for to defend
and 80li to XVI men did lend
In Cisester Burford Abington & Tetburie
Ever to be to them a stocke yerely
Phillip Marner who died in the yere 1587

The heart of Sentia or Senchia, wife of Richard, King of the Romans, was buried in this church. This Richard having had much connection with Oxford in the thirteenth century it was once amusingly assumed, by some hasty chronicler careless of his dates, that judging from his title Oxford must have been well known as a university city to Rome in the days of her pride! As a matter of fact he acquired it," by purchase" say some, in 1257. He was the second son of King John, born in 1208 or 1209. Sentia, Sanchia of Provence, whom he married in 1244, a sister of Queen Eleanor, was the second of his three wives. In the struggle between his brother Henry III and the nobles Richard finally sided with the king against de Montfort, having at first acted the part of peacemaker; and was captured at the battle of Lewes and imprisoned till the battle of Evesham in the following year. He died in 1271, broken hearted they say at the death of his eldest son Henry, who was murdered by the de Montforts and immortalised by Dante. In the fashion of the times he bequeathed his heart to lie by the side of his third wife amongst the Friars Minors at Oxford; his own abbey of Rewley not being yet commenced; and was himself buried at another abbey of his founding, Hailes in Gloucestershire, close to the spring of Windrush. It was to him that his royal brother once mortgaged all the Jews in England as security for a debt. His earldom of Cornwall was elevated to a duchy in 1337, in favour of Edward the Black Prince. A lampoon made upon him soon after the battle of Lewes in 1264 gives him no good character. Part of one mocking stanza runs:

Richard of Alemaigne, whil that he wes kyng,
He spende aI is tresour opon swyvyng; ...
Let him habbe, ase he brewe, bale to dryng,
Richard, thah thou be ever trichard, trichen shalt thou never more.

There are some little villages belonging to the head waters of Thames which can be visited in a day's walk from Cirencester. Concerning Poulton, four miles out eastwards on the Fairford road beyond the Amneys, and about the same distance northwest from Cow Neck, the nearest point of the River, there is but little to say. In 1825 it was described as being an isolated parish of Wiltshire; the county boundaries around here were a long while settling themselves. The village has all the grey slaty look of a bleak Derbyshire hamlet "its houses the same colour as its roads," as someone says. The little towerless church built only in 1873, with a turret for three bells, is quite tidily new and uninteresting. The old church is described as having been "of pure fourteenth century work"; and elsewhere as "small and rather mean, and far away from the village. " It had a curious belfry tower. The only things in the place, indeed, that interested me were the two pillars of cast horseshoes, about seven feet six inches high, which a whimsical blacksmith has erected at the gateway of his forge. I believe the builder of these curious columns is the author of the following composition; I like the sturdy preference of the old tried ways hammered out by the racy, rugged lines of it.

A FARRIER'S ODE.
The Smith has been a mighty man, but, oh I the blessed motor
They say has come to do the work called general agriculture;
They say the motor's come to stop-at least it's the boast of their bosses-
One thing we know, if they stop or go, they cannot shoe the "hosses"!

Then ring the anvil, brother Smiths, in the light of the glowing fire;
Ring it loud as you shape the mould to the feet of the noble sire!
And you, young Smiths, the anvil ring, ring it from brick to centre.
Ring it anew, as you shape the shoe to the feet of the sprightly hunter!

The technical teacher is with us to stay, and is here with a grand intention;
And glad he will be to instruct you and see that your work is worthy of mention:
I have sounded the anvil myself sixty years; still I keep sounding and think on
That if I should live till the time that is giv'n, I shall sure get a moderate pension.

A Gilbertine priory in honour of the Blessed Virgin was erected here in 1347; affiliated to Sempringham in Lincolnshire. Leland "notid a litle beyond Pulton Village Pulton Priorie, wher was a Prior and 2. or 3. Blake Chanons with him. " This priory was built by Sir T. Seymour in 1347, the latest of the fifteen Gilbertine houses erected after the death of the founder of that order. At the Suppression it surrendered on the same date as the brethren at Marlborough, January 16, 1539. These Gilbertines were "the only order of purely English origin and province. " Their founder was St. Gilbert of Sempringham,"son of a Lincolnshire Norman knight and a Saxon mother. " He lived long; from 1083 to 1189 and founded his first house at his native place in 1135.

They say Poulton was once a sort of city of refuge for highwaymen. With the interesting consequence that at the present time "the descendants of these people in the little village are a bright, intelligent race, very different from the ordinary moonrakers, or Gloucestershire peasantry. "

Not more than a mile away nearer Fairford the church of Meysey Hampton, three miles from Cow Neck as the crow flies, stands above the hard road on the crown of a little hill. It is quite lovely internally there are some fine lancet windows, and the four Decorated arches that support the central tower are plain but handsomely shaped. There is a fine canopy and unblazoned shield over an empty tomb on one side of the altar, facing them. and fine Decorated sedilia and piscina The east window has some good tracery; and there is quite a wealth of the ball flower ornament as at South Cerney. Very curious is what I thought to be an old lock in the chancel, embedded in an ancient block of wood just as it was cut, I imagined, out of some original massive door. But they tell me it is the door of an aumbry, which if you open you find the stone inside cut exactly to the shape of a chalice. The church has been recently restored; there was one here, says Fosbrooke, before the Conquest. "Its west window is peculiarly interesting, and very possibly one of the earliest examples of plate tracery extant, in an unrestored state. "

There is an interesting mural tablet in the south transept:

Stay, mortall, stay: and looke uppon
The language of A speakeing stone
Nor wonder is' t, that hee should give
Speech to A stone who [bid] men live
When nature bid them dye: 't is hee
By whome I live; not hee by mee.
This said, I may againe be dumbe
I've fpoke enough to tell whose Tombe
This is & thou mayest greeveing knowe,
That none but VAULX can lye belowe.

This is that Doctor James Vaulx whom James I refused to allow to "practice" upon him.

[Fred, in Additions and Corrections, adds: The full story about Vaulx is that James, hearing of his great reputation, summoned him to court to make him his physician. But on asking him how he had acquired his skill, whether from reading or from observation and practice, and being answered, By practice, his Majesty exclaimed: "Then by my soul thou hast killed mony a mon; thou shalt never practise upon me"; and so dismissed him. I should perhaps. apologise for the misspelt, quoted "practice"; the first hint I had of the story was, however, printed so. ]

The word "bid" in the fourth line has been partly chiselled out and the blank cemented over, but no doubt is what was originally engraved. The iconoclast dashed it out perhaps during an attack of what Mr. Gladstone called "incontrollable conscience" provoked by some seeming profanity in the sentiment. The memorial includes his two wives and children; the second wife having been a Miss Jenner, a descendant of the Robert Jenner of whom I have written.

There is another tablet close by that has been used twice, a true palimpsest; you can trace parts of both inscriptions. And as you leave the church you will catch glimpses of a lovely Elizabethan vicarage on the right of the road.

Two miles of enchanting lanes, all undulations and leafy windings, lead to Marston Meysey, a mile north of Cow Neck. (Merestone = boundary stone, Meysey. ) As you look southwest in approaching the village there is the St. Sampson tower still tallying his subject communities. It is very tiny, this village of the captivating double name; and so many have one hereabouts. The church is entirely modern, built only in 1875; and while there is much stained glass it does not seem at all admirable, particularly the east window. The rustic gate opposite the south door is the oldest thing about it. There is not even a belfry turret upon this little modern building. " Marston," writes one," is closely connected with Meysey Hampton. The Marston people used to go to Meysey Hampton on Easter Sunday afternoon and partake of a dole. The men had a pint, or perhaps two, of beer, the women half the quantity, and the children some cake. It looks as though the little place was long just a hamlet; even its previous church, they say, was built only in the seventeenth century. " As I have said, Robert Jenner reprimanded by Cromwell once lived here and his descendants after him; and possibly on the strength of the name the great Dr. Jenner has been associated with the place and family, but there seems to be no foundation in fact for the legend.

Down Amney, rather more than two miles westward and over two miles northwest of Cow Neck, is a pleasant scattered village of open roads and rose-hung cottages. The church is removed fully half a mile; one might superficially suppose for the convenience of the exquisite Gothic mansion its neighbour, belonging to Lord St. Germans, than for that of the villagers. The county boundary between Gloucestershire and Wiltshire runs across the kitchen of the house. Externally the church favours Kemble, though the tower and spire are better proportioned to each other. Within it is wonderful, quite wonderful to behold and dream in. There is the rood staircase and the screen, and there on high the rood loft delicately carved in beautiful wood, crowned with a crucifix and the two Marys.

[Fred in Additions and Corrections, adds: Not the two Marys, but St. Mary and St. John. Delightfully Fred explains his mistake: Mistaken observation in a dim light; and "sheer ignorance, Madam! "]

The glass is bad, though its effect is pleasing in the semi-obscurity. The medallions are said to be from Siena Cathedral. The triple lancet windows at the east end are delightful in themselves, and their fascination is intensified by the tender colours of the glass, which glow so softly in the mystic half-light of the chancel. The church is a relic of Templar architecture, and a knight in chain armour with palmer's shells on his shield lies in the south transept Sir Nicholas de Villers, who held the manor in 1287, and from whom the Villiers, Dukes of Buckingham, descended. Beyond him a woman rests beneath a canopy, similar to that at Meysey Hampton. From this transept a hagioscope looks through upon the altar. There is some fine wood carving; the old work, including the "SIR ANTHONY HUNGERFORD" of the carved screen across the north transept, is from the minstrels' gallery in the old banqueting hall of the House, now divided up, I hear, into smaller apartments.

There is a fine old chest to be seen marked T K G W 1630 C W; and a splendid Bible on the reading desk, printed by that artist John Baskerville in 1763. It is very interesting to behold a quantity of the sculpture left unfinished on the Early English capitals; the spectacle brings home to you what you read in the books, how that often the capitals were carved long after the pillars were set up. Towards the west end is an inscription to Sir John Hungerford, who died in 1634, set up to his memory, and as a Memento Mori for himself, by his son Sir Anthony Hungerford, who married Elizabeth Lucy, daughter to a certain Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlcote. Is there a touch of Shakespeare history here?

"Let us now praise famous men. . . Such as did bear rule in their kingdoms. . . That have left a name behind them, that their praises might be reported. " Hear some of the chief things in the history of those men of this "great race and noble house "of Hungerford who in the direct line preceded Sir Anthony; in order that they may keep company in your mind with those other magnificent English families of whom I have written something heretofore: the Fettiplaces, the Besils, the Untons and the rest. The earliest known of their name is Everard de Hungerford, who was alive in 1160 and afterwards there lived a Walter, who married into the Heytesbury estates (the Hungerford way) late in the thirteenth century, and thus virtually founded the family. They emerge into more articulate history with another Walter, who sat in three Parliaments between 1331 and 1336; and splendour first began to dawn upon them in Sir Thomas, the next heir, who also entered the House of Commons, and became the first Speaker expressly so styled, though Peter de Ia Mare had preceded him in the post without the title. Sir Thomas "avait les paroles pur les communes d'Angleterre en cet parliament. " It was he who purchased the Down Amney manor and estates in 1374. Dying in 1398 his son, Sir Walter, Lord Hungerford, followed him; a strong Lancastrian in the Wars of the Roses; Speaker, he too, in the Parliament of 1414, the last he sat in. He took a high part in the French wars under Henry V; and it is said that he, and not the Earl of Westmoreland, really uttered the famous wish for ten thousand of the idlers at home in England, in Shakespeare's Henry the Fifth. This Sir Walter died in 1449, leaving a son of the same name. They kept terribly to a certain few names, Walters and Anthonys; they even at times, it is said, bestowed the same name upon brothers of one roof tree. This Walter in 1425, during his father's lifetime, had got himself taken prisoner of war by the French and had to be ransomed at a cost of three thousand marks. In the Bibliothèque Municipale of Tours in France they still preserve a missal of the fifteenth century, splendidly bound and jewelled, which was quite probably deposited as a portion of the ransom. It was long in the possession of the de Bueil family.

[Fred, in Additions and Corrections, adds: The missal is one "a l'usage [perhaps of Sarum] 1 de l'église d'Angleterre," and is numbered 185 in the said library. "It is of the first half of the fifteenth century, and its connection with the Hungerford family is attested by three notes; one on folio eight reading: Idibus octobris, Obitus domini Walteri Hungerford, militis, qui apud Provynce, XVmo die octobris anno Domini M° CCCCmo XXXII° littera dominicalis E. " The de Beuils possessed it from 1458 to 1574; . births and deaths and other matters relating to them being inscribed on margins and fly leaves. No mention is made of how the book changed hands. It is well written, some red initials, some illuminated; but is not exceptional in form. " Further information ... contradicts the conjecture that it was part of Walter Hungerford's ransom in 1425; I hear from Tours that one of the entries states the missal was given by him to his grandson Robert in the vigil of St. James in 1449. This throws the reason for its presence at Tours back into uncertainty. ]

The Down Amney line flows, however, not through him, but through Lord Walter's second son Edmund, upon whom his father settled this property. He was knighted after that battle of Verneuil in 1424 at which the English are said to have advanced "lentement et sagement en bel arroi sans se trop échauffer. " He was the first to reside here; and is the immediate ancestor of all the Hungerfords of Down Amney, of Windrush, and of Black Bourton. After his death I do not discover any notable brilliance, political or military, in the family records. A Thomas succeeded Edmund; and there followed an Anthony, who died in 1559; a John, who died in 1583; and then the Sir John and the Sir Anthony of the monument I have mentioned in the church. There is no doubt about the connection with Shakespeare history; it was the park of Sir Anthony's father-in-law the poet robbed; 'and this same father-in-law upon whom the poet is alleged to have written a bitter ballad, lost in the abyss. By this marriage Sir Anthony had an only daughter; he remarried without issue. This daughter Bridget married Edmund Dunch of Wittenham, and so the Down Amney line ends, with whatever sadness you are capable of. The other branches lingered on till the middle of the eighteenth century; and the family seems ultimately to have died out under circumstances very similar to the Hanger ruin, of which I have still to speak. Stet nominis umbra. After the succession of the Dunches the Down Amney estates were purchased by James Craggs, Secretary of State to George I, whose daughter Harriet married Richard Eliot, of Port Eliot. His son Edward, created Baron Eliot of St. Germans in 1784, assumed the additional surname of Craggs in 1789. He died in 1804, and was succeeded by his son John the second baron, created Earl of St. Germans in 1815.

It was from this family that Hungerford Market and Bridge in London took their name. I hoped to be able to connect the Anthony of the interesting little episode in Carlyle's Cromwell with the Down Amney line, but he seems to have been of the Farleigh branch; I will not discover his exact relationship to this one.

A tomb in the chancel is supposed to be that of John Massingham, first vicar of Down Amney, about 1250. He was one of the brethren of the order of St. John of Jerusalem.

There is a village cross, the column and head being, I think, of restored work. Lately I learned its curious and entirely modern history, but will not tell it here. Down Amney, like Kemble and Hinton Waidris, has no inn.

If you continue through the park past the church you will come in about a mile to Latton, a pleasant little village in the midst of orchards sitting astride the Irmin Way a mile or two northwest of Cricklade. It borders upon the Severn Canal rather than the Thames, possessing indeed a lock upon the former which lies but a little way from the stony town. I do not think I know another village that so closely ernbowers itself in clumps of lofty trees; a soothing place if you have come hither from sun smitten Cricklade. Against the Way stands the headless village cross, with its tapering octagonal shaft. A mediaeval cottage close by is traditionally "a Roman Catholic preaching house. " It stands just on the Abbot of Cirencester's side of the Mere, a curious footpath of which I will tell you; and just across Gosditch is a field still called Abbot's Croft. As you enter the churchyard you may see the bowl of an old thirteenth century font in which shrubs are growing; believed with some probability to have belonged to the ancient church at Water Eaton. You will remember the broken font put to the like use at distant Fyfield. The church of St. John the Baptist is quite arresting, though Aubrey could find nothing here "proper for the observation of an antiquary. " Some of the arches are singularly wide. The seats are fashioned out of the beautiful old faded oak that once formed the high pews; and on the tower floor stands a little oak stool bearing the inscription:

RR WT
16 96

The glass is intolerable. In the vestry is a curious tablet; and in passing I may say that a modern architect "restored" and cruelly mutilated this building and others about here; and in so doing threw away, as his evil habit was, all these little white marble memorials as rubbish; though happily they were remembered and rescued. This one reads: Juxta Parentes Hic requiescit MARIA DUNN, Edvardi uxor Pia, Placens, Pudica, Proba: Puerperio taman infelix, Et in Sui Damnum faecunda Morti cessit 5to 9bris A D 1743.

One of the secular priests, I suppose of the fourteenth century, was de more continually bickering with his regulars at Cirencester, and avenged himself by having a fresco painted on the wall of the church depicting a wolf preaching to the flock in a friar's robe, while the true shepherd, the vicar himself, stood near to protect them. This fresco existed until the restoration, some forty years ago, when like so much else of intense interest it was lamentably, and in this case intentionally, destroyed as more rubbish, to the grief of those who love the church. Curiously, one of the corbels on the south wall of the nave represents a wolf s head in a cowl.

The back pew of the north transept is by immemorial tradition reserved for Down Amney House. On a window ledge opposite the south door stands a small block of rudely carved stone; a Saxon symbolical representation of the Trinity: a Lamb, a Hand pointing downwards to Him, and a seated figure of God the Father; reminding one of little, far off Inglesham. The timbered roof is dated back to 1400.

The registers go back to April, 1576: "the 14th Daye of April John Ware, the sonne of Thomas Ware was baptized Ano Domi 1576"; Mr. Randall Ashton being "Vicker. " A field in Latton is still called Ware's Close; and the last squire of the name, who died a century ago, was seen in the village street at the time of his death within doors. Up to 1653 the usual Latin phrase Anno Domini is used in recording dates in the register; then up to 1660 English; and Latin is revived at the Restoration.

Latton and Eisey (Latone and Aisi in Domesday) were held by two thegns as two manors under Edward the Confessor, probably from Reinbald, and were subsequently united by Earl Harold.

Leland calls the place Latinelud; a rival to Lechlade for the possession of the Latin college that coexisted with the Greek school at Cricklade an equal myth so far as any evidence for it can be drawn from the mere name. The North Wilts here enters the Severn Canal; falling fifty-nine feet by twelve locks, they say, on its way from Swindon. It crosses the Ray, the Thames, passes through a hundred yard tunnel by Cricklade, and then crosses the Churn by Latton lock. And all, now-a-days, to grow weeds in picturesque stagnation.

A little pathway in the village called the Mere, running parallel with the Gosditch and notwide enough for wheeled traffic, is of curious interest in that by immemorial custom nothing but a coffin is allowed to be borne along it. It is thought to have been an old church path along the boundary of the Abbot of Cirencester's land; maintained dry and paved at the church's expense in case floods and mud should make Gosditch lane (by which you come from the cross and which in living memory was lined with a wide ditch or pond) impassable for churchgoers. Two mills are mentioned here in Domesday; one still stands, as I have said, on the Churn near the canal bridge, grey and stubborn; the other has been pulled down and only the old millhouse remains. And it is quite within living memory that a hare started by the hounds ran a little way until being bitten she changed into Barbara Hannah Peopals sitting on a bank combing her withered locks; the neighbours had long suspected her for a witch. She retained the mark of the hounds' teeth until her death. She got fixed in a hole in a barn on the Mere when the dogs pursued her, the very barn whose likeness is before you. Its old thatched roof has been removed since Barbara Hannah's day, and replaced with zinc. She seems to have been quite a character in the village, though, like other celebrities, many anecdotes are fathered upon her perhaps without due authority. Tales were muttered abroad of her turning milk sour, and of riding horses at night, found trembling and sweating in the morning by the carter. At last he caught her red-handed, whereupon she evaporated into a wisp of hay on the stable floor.

Many coins and tokens have from time to time been dug up in Latton. One batch came to light under strange circumstances. About fifty years ago a cottager noticed a strange dog occasionally sniffing at a stone in his dwelling. At last out of curiosity he raised the slab, and found a heap of coins beneath it; after which the phantom dog never returned. There is another village tale of a poor fellow who had fallen into a rapid consumption. He took some of "them things as you finds under sto-äns" as pills, and recovered, but "died o' summat else dree months arter. " It would not be surprising if the pills turned out to have been live woodlice. Odd local expressions are, to a child: "Don't yer get a-'oondermenting with that there," meaning, don't meddle; "'t is so burrow," that is, cosy,"'t is a nice hedge, it burrows the garden," "in the burrow," on the sheltered side; " I keeps some in ambush," in reserve. " But these good old people have gone or are passing away and their delicious Anglo-Saxon with them. As one of them not long dead remarked: 'You don't hear a man say a lo-ad of hay now, but a lode. '"

In A True Relation of The Diurnall Marchings "of the Red and Blew Regiments of the Trained Bands of the City of London," written, I imagine from the style, by one of the troopers, there is a short allusion to Latton. "Saturday, September 16 [1643]: We advanced from Ciceter five miles to a village called Letton; where were ten cart load of cavaliers, who were sick and lame, and brought thither to be quartred, who when they heard we were marching to this place, they then found their leggs and run away"; a little barrack room joke apparently, connected with the recapture of Cirencester by Essex that autumn.

The English Register of Godstow Priory contains an account of a little dispute at Latton in 1307, illuminating those old days, when the priory was presented at the Wiltshire assizes for having stopped "a course of water in temyse [not Isis, you will notice, ] I-callid Morheued within the liberteis" of Queen Margaret,"florem Francorum," consort of Edward I; to the annoyance of the queen "& of all the cuntre & cetera. " Godstow denied the charge; and proved that there were of old time "certain stones placed at the Mereheued, with iron and lead joined together to the ease and profit of the people. " I cannot hear of any spot likelier to fit in with this old record than one just West of the iron Horse Bridge at Water Eaton House, Where to this very day great stones remain in Thames; concerning Which an old man only ten years dead is remembered to have said that there were once many more; which were removed within his memory upon a timber carriage and used for the foundation stones of an addition to Down Amney House. The smallest of them weighed half a ton. If the water were unduly dammed here it would overflow into Latton territory west of Eisey Hill, the nearest outlet on the north bank. The queen's lands were probably just there, west of the Warlick Ditch, an ancient watercourse on the north bank almost opposite the Dance Brook, dividing Latton and Eisey. The spot would be peculiarly liable to floods. What Mor- or Mereheved means I have not certainly discovered; possibly Mere-head: the head or end of some parish or agricultural boundary running down to the Riverside at this stone crossing. Or even more probably, and still regarding the v as an intruder, the word may be a reduplication Moor, and the Teutonic heide, for heath; a waste and marshy River common like those wide spaces by little white-railed Rushey lock.

Irmin Street probably crossed the River between Amney Stream and Eisey Bridge.

[Fred, in Additions and Corrections, adds: Irmin Street probably crossed a little west of the confluence of the Amney Stream. ]

The bit of the Street in the neighbourhood of Latton was in old times a great place for highwaymen. One of these heroes, flying from pursuit, was thrown from his horse at Cricklade Wharf, and striking his head against the stonework of the bridge over the Churn was instantly killed. Other local history of the sort still lives; notably that once, up the bed of the Churn and in behind the old millhouse, there escaped that. redoubtable character: "him as rode Black Bess. "

Where Thames Smooth Waters Glide - Seven Springs,
Map: Cirencester

 
 
 
 
Coates