Chapter XVI - Coates

Where Thames Smooth Waters Glide - Thames Head,
Map: Coates

"The winds that played, now brisk, now slack,
Against the stream, were driving back
The running waves, and made them seem
To show an upward-flowing stream
As man, while hope beguiles him, thinks
His life is rising while it sinks.

ONE windy April Eastertide, warmed but slightly with fitful sunshine, I tramped northwest from Kemble to view the land that lies around and just beyond the spring of Thames. The first primroses were sweet in the hedgerows that divide his wooded valley. You go through the railway station which so uniquely encloses a garden, (a bar would often be more welcome, ) and by a two mile avenue like a Dutch picture along to Tarlton. Soon you cross the Akeman Street, running right and left as straight as the Romans left it, from whose crest you may note at your ease in what a hollow among little gradual hills the fountain of Thames is cradled. There is the pumphouse of which I have written; and all around are the wooded slopes the ancient British knew. And there fell upon me that day a curious impression of shock and of strangeness in spying thus upon the threadlike puny stream, after having within an hour or two viewed from the train his stateliness at Mapledurham and at Basildon.

Speaking of the River in these terms reminds me again of those lines of Sir John Denham's which I have hitherto successfully excluded from my book you have seen them already too often; I mean those which contain the couplet

Though deep, yet clear; though gentle, yet not dull;
Strong without rage; without o'erflowing full.

But if you are interested enough to look through your Prior you will find this curious parallel:

Serene, yet strong; majestic, yet sedate
Swift without violence, without terror great

A rather tolerable imitation; but of course Denham has first right, having died in 1669 when Prior was but five years old. There seems indeed at that day to have been quite a craze for spinning variations upon the original poem; much to Swift's annoyance, apparently, for he somewhere makes Apollo exclaim:

Nor let my votaries show their skill
In aping lines from Cooper's Hill
For know I cannot bear to hear
The mimicry of 'deep but clear. '

After crossing Akeman Street the road continues more or less as an avenue all the way to Tarlton, a compact handful of cots sitting upon a hill looking over to Kemble spire and the Berkshire Downs in the southeast, and in the northeast to the square strong tower of Coates. As you enter the village look to the right hand across the valley and notice the curious effect of the cleft in Oakley Woods where a green ride, a "light," descends. There is another like it on Wytham Hill, as you scull down from Eynsham. But Tarlton is a bleak spot in an April northeaster, with little to see, apparently, save the desirable grey stone gables and cosy thatch. I heard later that at the remote end of the village, along a private approach to one of the farms, there is a chapel with late Norman architecture once held by Salisbury cathedral, which still possesses a Tarlton stall. This chapel had fallen to the uses of a barn and lumber store, and was reconsecrated quite recently through the efforts of the rector of Coates. Now this opens a little history which was somewhat difficult to elucidate. Many chroniclers mention a chapel held by the Abbess of Romsey at Coates. But it was not at Coates as now understood. In 1712 Atkyns wrote of Tarlton: "The abbess of Rumsey had the advowson of a chapel, and was possessed of lands in this place 36 Hen. VI'; and in other passages: "Here is a well-built chapel, with handsome seats and pulpit; but all divine service is omitted," "Tithes in Torlton, with a chapel lately belonging to the Benedictine nunnery founded by King Edgar, 907, at Rumsey in Hampshire were granted to Giles Pool 34 Hen. VIII. " In 1779 it was still in existence, but as a barn. Now Domesday says: "Cirecestre hd habuit Elmar HUNLAFESED. " This Hunlafesed, or Hullased, or Hunlacy, was one of the three manors which composed the parish of Coates, and which are all mentioned in Domesday though Coates itself is not. This was the Romsey holding, and it must have been in that part of Coates now known as Tarlton, for in Tarlton is the chapel still, known at one time to have been a barn, and with a permanent tradition of absentee ownership. I dwell upon this, because the copyists constantly reiterate that the chapel is in Coates; and a certain beautiful modern history of Romsey Abbey asserts the abbey's claim upon the very parish church of Coates, presumably through this confusion between the modern and the ancient places.

Turning northeastward to Coates on its opposite hill the white road takes a shrewd dip down to the Severn Canal. Here you will come upon another Round House, like that at Inglesham but without the poplars, standing against a narrowing of the canal that looks like a dismantled lock.

Where the road crosses you can see along a pretty wooded stretch of water the opening of the Sapperton tunnel. Tunnel House, a man at Somerford Keynes told me who had been through the tunnel, was built for the accommodation of the bargemen and their mules and horses. The underground passage, he said, opens in places to a height of about fifty feet, like some cavern of the Peak; and at one spot a spring of water gushes out of the rock on to the course, and you have to shove to one side to avoid being drenched.

I dropped down to the canal towpath and went along to see if there were any water at Thames Head in April; taking with me a bottle to collect some if I found any, as men will preserve the water of the Jordan. But all was as dry as in summer: only the little waterless hollow, with white violets and early cowslips growing by it; and overhead the cawing of the rooks.

Unless you prefer the rough towpath back to the road you can get hence by a farm track into Coates. You will not often see so tall and handsome a house thatched as that which faces you as you cross the stone stile into the hard road. The name of the village is no doubt from the British coed, a wood. The Bishop of Bayeux held it from the Conqueror. John Wyatt, or Wiat, built the tower of St. Matthew's church in the fourteenth century,"25 yards high"; and seems to have rebuilt the chancel also. His name occurs under a "void niche" on the western face of the tower, in a Latin inscription beseeching prayers for the souls of himself, his brother Richard, and their parents. Lysons shews a queer old lipped bowl font; and the curious may see in Relton's Sketches a fine drawing of the building as it appeared about 1840. Of the manor house at the west end of the church only a small part was left in 1768, so that it must have been restored and enlarged since then. It is of undoubted monastic origin; and there is a legend of a subterranean passage into the church, all trace of which has been lost. The original building consisted only of the present north aisle. There is an arcade of remarkably wide arches dividing it from the south aisle; and a cinquefoiled piscina in its chancel. Its roof timbers seem much older than the others in the building.

A rector of bygone times, Tyndale by name, caused a large rose to be carved in stone over the front door of the parsonage near by, to warn his visitors that they were sub rosa, and not to go about tale-bearing.

Southward from Kemble the road to Oaksey also has much of the character of an avenue, where the stonecrop grows wild on the wayside stones. Just after a new red brick cottage, an eyesore in the landscape like those at Clanfield, you cross the railway, beyond which in a dingle lie the cots of Kemble Wick, their smoke blue and dreamy against the brown April woods that Eastertide. And I never saw a lane so thick with primroses. Here you will rejoice in the spectacle of a picturesque stone barn with external steps ascending its grey wall. And in the centre of the hamlet is a sign of the formerly dubious character of the boundaries of these two counties; a little wooden post bearing on one face "Gloshire" and upon the other Wiltshire. Nowadays the place is miles within Wiltshire, but I have a fairly modern map shewing the dividing line through Kemble Wick. Doubtless the souvenir of bygone things pleases the folk who thinly inhabit around; and indeed it is pleasant to see.

Just before the ascent into Oaksey you cross the Flagham Brook running southeast to join the Thames where Skillings mill once stood above Ashton Keynes. Not that it was running just here when I saw it, but stagnant and dusty in a dry and windy spring. I thought the first view of Oaksey quite striking as I climbed to the level of its hilltop. Due north behind me Kemble spire pierced white above the trees; eastward lay displayed the wooded River valley; and in the nearer distance Pool Keynes gleamed tawny yellow beneath the pallid sunlight.

In Oaksey village, once like Fairford held by unhappy Bhrictric, Earl of Gloucester, you will see a fine gabled house, the post office, with unusually high pitched roof. "Oaksey, ' alias Woxy, ' "says Aubrey; explaining that wuxi means a wattled sheepcote. The church, in spite of its crouching lowliness, is altogether handsome. The tower is proportionately massive, though in height only a matter of perhaps twelve feet loftier than the comb of the nave. It is not long since that it was execrably plastered completely over, but the good stone is now left plain to see, picked out with black mortar. The disused south door has a little sundial upon it, and both it and the west door are plain round-headed. The north porch shews a rather fine foliated ogee arch, and is yellow washed within, including a niche over the inner doorway with a defaced Virgin and Child. I was never here but once, and was unable, to my regret, to get inside. They say the great bell bears the words Jesus Nazarenus Rex Judaeorum rniserere nobis, with a crowned head separating each word. Is Aubrey's miesrere merely a misprint, or the fact? Henry IV is amongst the kings' heads; he held here largely. On the outer north wall is a specimen of nature worship sculpture.

Going eastward to Somerford Keynes, Kanes they call it, you pass a notably clean little pond, beyond which the lesser blue periwinkle blooms wild on the roadside bank. All these Keynes villages took their name from a Sir John Keynes, who held in the time of Richard II. He possessed many other manors, very frequently bearing his name. His son John died a minor about 1376, and left a little sister Wentiliana of twelve years old as next heir. She, poor child, died in the same year, perhaps as well in those days of hideous pursuit of landed orphan girls. The manor was granted in 1380 to Hugh de Segrave, steward to Richard II; who dying about 1386 it passed in 1387 to Edmund, Duke of York,"with the wardships, marriages, and other profits of the manor. " The italics, as the newspapers say, are mine.

The road crosses the railway, beyond which is so called Oaksey Moor, still rushy and characteristic although entirely enclosed. Therealong you will again cross by a little white bridge the Flagham Brook, here swift and sparkling enough nearly two miles further on its way. And now the ground grew sacred again for me with my mind ever upon Thames as I walked, and his spirit intensified in the air I breathed, for in less than a mile he flows under the twin arches of Somerford Bridge. Two long-tailed tits preceded me, with short curving flights and flirting of their tails, until I came where Thames dimpled and swirled beneath a franker burst of Easter sunshine, eddying down to Somerford lower mill.

If you are coming this road into Somerford Keynes, of which indeed I have written twice before, you will find a little way in a wonderful group of stone barn and loft stairs and dovecote, which time has cast together. At the inn of the place the host is a man who knows his countryside and can talk well about it and its interests. He has some charming watercolours of his church and of Oaksey village, and a sepia of neighbouring Rodmarton where I have never been all done by his own kin: he does a little that way himself. He knows the Grass of Parnassus wildflower, but has never seen it in bloom. He lamented occasional difficulties with bibulous customers; they do not take kindly the forcible retrenchment of their liquor. "Goodnight, you old rattlesnake! " was not an extreme of their abuse.

Round at the "back," the unhonoured north side of the church, is a Saxon doorway, relic of the first building on the spot. it has a narrow stilted or oval-headed arch, over which is some carving of ropework pattern; and is thought to be possibly of ninth century work. Opposite the south door Hall saw a gigantic mural painting of St. Christopher and the Infant Christ. This was most unhappily destroyed when the church was restored, in spite of an intention to preserve it. The workmen carefully boarded it up in front, but not overhead; and when the roof was removed the rain entirely ruined it. These pictures of the saint were not uncommon; to the intent of "a representation of the duties of a true Christian. "

Sharncott, a mile away, was the cause of a passage of furious rhetoric from Cobbett. It all arose out of the Act of 1818, commanding the clergy to render an account of their livings, the details to include the seating capacity of the churches. The incumbent here seems to have made a return which Cobbett angrily characterises as impudent; and in the year 1826 he went over to inspect. The return had stated that the population of the village amounted to eight and that "the church could contain eight worshippers. " He found the church had eleven pews made to contain eighty-two people; and as these pews only occupied about one third of the floor space he furiously roars out that more than two hundred could be accommodated; and the parson said "can contain eight! " You can hear the old yeoman's shouts as you read. The place is indeed small; a fellow to misty Yelford away beyond Bampton. There are only five houses; three farms and two labourers' cottages. Until quite recently it was a parish, ecclesiastical and civil, but is now annexed to Somerford. A notable place for charity, said the innkeeper there; fourteen pounds a year for the poor, and only these two labourers to get it; now-a-days in the form of orders on the shops for goods. Another bequest is of two fields out on the Cerney road, which the beneficiaries are sometimes too indolent, I heard, to cultivate efficiently.

All Saints church is an interesting little place, dating from about 1120, unbuttressed, except for one ancient morsel, with an elaborate and handsome turret for two bells, only one of which is in position. There is a wonderfully narrow and massive pointed chancel arch, framing a most ancient black carved door screen; an old tub font; and some traces of sculpture on the sides of the west window. The timbered roof is very old. It is curious to notice of what odd-cum-short bits of stone this church, and those at Oaksey and South Cerney, were all built. The south porch has a round inner doorway, over which in 1716 one W. E. set his mark; and this Sunday afternoon two hundred years later full voices and childish were still confessing their sins, as perhaps he did, before the face of Almighty God. The generations of men fall like the forest leaves to the ground and are buried in and forgotten; yet one of them in passing may make a scratch on a stone, and it shall survive you two centuries. Little childish voices upon the afternoon breeze: "poor little people! "

Onwards to South Cerney the road crosses a nameless fresh brookiet that joins the Thames at Hailstone Hill by Cricklade. Then you pass Tudmoor Cottage, a lonely, firmbuilt house that looks out from all four sides across the open levels. And here that Easter Day, late in April, a great snowstorm fell upon me out of the black heaven, and I made what haste I could by the winding road into South Cerney. A large straggling village, this, with a splendid church dedicated to All Saints. The north and south doors are both late Norman, and on the south front of the grand Norman tower is a fine old sundial. The fourteenth century spire was taken down in a panic in 1857, the tower having been struck by lightning and partially displaced; and in spite of appeals for help towards a new one the old stonework is still lying under the north wall of the churchyard.

On the outer south wall of the chancel is a narrow built up ogee doorway for the priest's use, surmounted with a pointed arch with much ball flower ornament. I wonder if these ogee arches were built by the Crusaders as souvenirs of the minarets they remembered in the East, as someone suggested to me. The chancel arch is pointed, with zigzag ornaments like the arch at Castle Eaton; a curious medley rather common in the beginning of Gothic. The east and west windows are both good Decorated, with plentiful ball flower. The Sunday I was there they had hoisted the Union Jack upon the tower for the first time, and it was straining wildly in the black Northeast. Down from the staff a huge new copper band descended to earth; they are touchy here on the subject of lightning. Against the southwest corner of the church is a curious sepulchral slab, upon which a male and a female figure are cut in high relief as far as the waist, where they die into the flat stone. It covers the manor house vault, which the last burial in 1900 filled up. The whole southern side of the churchyard is dark and romantic with the shadows of ancient yews; and here would be a fine tragical outlook for those men witches who on St. Mark's Eve in ancient times (or was it St. John's? ) would watch fasting from church porches, as from magic circles, to view the spirits of those who should die during the ensuing year come rapping upon the church door in the order of their death. Such wizards became a terror to their neighbours; for if one of them were in any way spited he would, by significant hints and grimaces, shadow forth the speedy decease of someone dear to the offender.

South Cerney has its own mumming play, interesting as a relic of the primitive pastoral sacrificial celebrations of the revival of life in spring, but scarcely as literature. It is still acted on Christmas Eve, usually in the hall or kitchen of the house visited. It has for its characters the Tanner of Nottingham, Robin Hood, Little John, the Doctor, Farmer Jack, Tinker Tom, Father Christmas, Beelzebub, and the Fool; the two last probably borrowed from the Devil and the Vice of the morality plays. The Tanner and Little John very early commence a fight, in which the former is wounded; whereupon the Doctor enters and proclaims himself "a noble Doctor stout and good. " "Bring me," he proceeds,"an old woman nine years dead, ninety-nine years buried, a hundred years laid in her grave; if she'll rise up and crack one of my golden pills I'll be bound in a bond of fifty pound her life shall be saved. So don't believe me any longer, ladies and gentlemen; I can cure this man if he's not quite dead.

I have travelled through England, Scotland, and France
Rise up, bold Tanner, and let's have a dance.

I slept at the inn under whose walls Churn dismisses an overflow to whisper all night over a little weir. An old man and his daughter keep the house; he is asthmatic in winter, but his lips part upon firm white teeth, and his ruddy, snow-fringed face can take on the sweetest of smiles that brought to my mind, I know not why:

A sunset touch,
A fancy from a flower bell, some one's death,
A chorus ending from Euripides.

He has lived here for forty years; and before that came twice a week through the village with a butcher's cart. So he knows much; but had never heard of the Juncare festival, when they used to strew fresh cut rushes upon the floor of the church upon St. John the Baptist's day, to commemorate the Preaching in the Wilderness; and I think the custom must have been discontinued a long time. He had served good old Canon Gibbs, who told me much at Coates, where he has been, they say, for sixty years. And his charge for hospitality I would not leave without almost doubling, so inadequate did it seem, even then.

Stephen the king, in his Cirencester wars, destroyed a petty fort at "Cerney" in 1139; but whether it was here, or at North Cerney eight or nine miles north, or another place altogether, I do not know. "Castellum de Cernei "are the words of the Gesta Stephani. Probably it was neither of these places, but one considerably south in Wiltshire, between Trowbridge and Malmesbury.

I wanted to start next morning by the curiously named Ram Alley, that leads away enticingly by the side of Churn; but the old man boggled at the suggestion, and talked of a "proper road. " And it is well, I learned at Great Coxwell and elsewhere, not to forsake the villagers' advice. Half a mile out, then, you pass under that curious, patient line the Midland & South Western Junction Railway: "Remote, unfriended, melancholy, slow" which by gentle processes connects Birmingham with Southampton. I have used it several times, invariably at the expense of much waiting; indeed I got into talk once with a man going south who being nearly two hours late congratulated me going north upon my delay of less than an hour.

Turning east you cross the Severn Canal, and may see a little way off the three black locks at Cerney Wharf, climbing up the hill close behind each other. Men were just setting out dredging as I went by; perhaps the Easter holiday seemed an auspicious moment for a new start; though the old man at Cerney was very sceptical about the use of the canal at all. For which I loved him.

You get a good backward view of the church and village from the bridge; and from the top of the ascent up from the canal level there must be a fine prospect south and east, but it was all dim and gloomy for me in the iron wind. Of all the hilltop holdings you know think if there be one bleaker and more fortified against the elements than this cot up here, with its narrow window slits in thick walls and very garden fences formed of slabs of native stone. Now irmin Street crosses the lane northwest and southeast; firm and straight after what centuries of use.

I came next into Driffield,"a parish seven miles in compass," says Cox. They tell you the first syllable of the name is the British dwr, i. e. , water; bestowed on account of the liquid nature of the place. In the winter, says Rudder, an infinite number of small springs break out, and infallibly destroy the crops of corn, if not carried off by proper drains. He grows enthusiastic about the agricultural operation called "drowning the meadows"; and declares that if his description be not clear, it is worth the while of anyone interested to journey five hundred miles to inspect the process for himself. You may still see it in operation, I am told; though some call it "drawing" now. The savage Tosti once held the manor, brother to King Harold. You know the story of his pickling some of his brother's servants at Hereford, against a royal visit.

As I entered the little place there seemed a square stone dovecote on the right, and on the left three stolid horses trudged slowly round and round driving a chaff-cutter with a crisp and merry sound. The church lies quite through the village, and has had a long and various history. Reinbald the prelate of Cirencester held it before the Survey; and no doubt the first building here was Saxon; by which we mean how much more than pre-Conquest Norman? This edifice continued through the succeeding Gothic periods until 1750, when by Gabriel Hanger, created first Baron Coleraine in 1762, it was perverted into the fashionable Italian mode. Finally in 1863 the rector Thomas Maurice and his friends felt they could no longer tolerate this style in a Gothic land, and restored it to its ancient character. The tower is attenuated, and its widened top appears from a distance like a water-tank; but such as it is its restorers did well to renounce the example of Kingstone Bagpuize. They had but one window from which to restore it, left under the plaster of the classical building. An archaic sculpture is built into the south porch. There is a beautifully proportioned yew at the entrance of the churchyard, which is bounded towards the south by a high wall with most massive buttresses. Fosbroke, writing in 1807, has a note: "The marriage psalm, on the first Sunday of the couple's appearance at church, still remains"; a little matter capable of perhaps the simplest explanation, Nothing now survives of it.

The church within is full of Hanger and Coleraine monuments of the late seventeenth century. Of the Hanger family it is written how that one John Aungier, going abroad as a Turkey merchant, acquired a plentiful fortune, and purchased the estate and seat of Driffield in the county of Gloucester, perhaps about 1625; he was buried here in 1654. He had a son George, whose heir was also a George, knighted by William III "for his steady attachment to religion and the law. " This second George married an Ann Beal of Farningham in Kent; and Gabriel, whom I have just mentioned, was the issue of the marriage. He died at Bray in 1773, but was brought, like his son afterwards, westward to Driffield for burial. I copied one of the epitaphs:

Near
this place lieth the Body of
General George Hanger
Lord Coleraine
He lived and died a firm Believer
in one God and in one only
He was
also a Practical Christian
as far as his frail nature did
allow him so to be

This struck me as nearer truth than epitaphs usually travel. And there was a home touch for me upon the tablet of Dame Ann Hanger of Farningham; a village where I spent, in its secluded days, much of my boyhood time. Some of my own people lie buried there.

Beneath the wording of this plain dealing epitaph lies an entertaining history. George Hanger was the salt, the "character," of this solid county family. He was the third and youngest son of Gabriel, and was born in 1751, just after the new Italian church had got itself completed. In the beginning of that curious medley, the Life and Adventures put together for him by William Combe (a Thames historian, by-the-bye, and a man much of Hanger's kidney; perhaps his fellow prisoner in the King's Bench prison), he writes of his father as "one of those respectable, independant old English characters in the House of Commons called County Gentlemen. " In this part of the book he mentions no names of places or persons; but it was at his father's seat at Bray, near Windsor,"in the best bed in the stateroom, according to ancient custom," that he first saw the light. "I am inclined to believe," he adds,"from the length of my nose that at my birth the midwife committed some indignity to my person. " He went through the American War of Independence, and uttered that remarkably definite prophecy which you may read in his book: that before long North and South would be fighting as vigorously against each other as they then were against England. His affairs subsequently became terribly involved, and he got into the King's Bench prison for nearly a year, in 1798-9. After his release, failing to get another command in the army, he started business as a coal merchant. Sunt mihi deliciae, suni mihi divitiae; Carbones! he exclaims in the end of his book, published a year later.

His brother William, third Baron Coleraine, died in 1814 and was buried at Kempsford, as I have said. The title fell to George; but either from contempt, or lack of suitable means, or both, he refused to accept it, and was always vexed if addressed by it. He had got into the Prince Regent's set, being always a handsome man (though fond of disguising it beneath eccentric clothes) and much sought after in fashionable society for his whimsical humour. He became indeed a boon companion of the Regent; "but as the Prince advanced in life the eccentric manners of the colonel became somewhat too free and coarse for the royal taste"! He died in a convulsive fit at his house at Regent's Park in 1824, aged 73; and the barony became extinct. The Gentleman's Magazine well quoted that they could "have better spared a better man. " He published several books, but none I imagine so entertaining as the Life, which frequently digresses into unconventional subjects, but always heartily and openly, and not in an "unsavoury" manner, as someone writes. In the later part he refers in more detail to his birth and descent. "All I know of the genealogy of my ancestors (of which I am not in the smallest degree vain, it being a matter of total indifference to me what they were, and from whom or what they sprung, ) I will now relate. " And he proceeds to print a queer farrago, quite out of correspondence with the facts, so that I can only think he knew as little as he affected to care about the matter. He even breaks into doggerel:

Three pretty boys did Gabriel get,
The youngest George by name, Sir
A funny dog, not favoured much
By fortune or by fame, Sir.

Of the elevation of his father Gabriel to the peerage he says that, the last of an earlier succession of Lords Coleraine having died without issue or heir, Gabriel, though utterly unrelated except by marriage, claimed the title "with just as much right as the clerk or sexton of the parish. After the same manner as Jupiter overcame the beautiful DanaŽ, did he prove his undoubted right. " He insinuates that a lady of high rank, well in favour at the court of George III, benefited very considerably by one of the glistering showers. He also relates an anecdote his parents used to tell: how that "the very gentleman (I forget his name)," probably Sir John Prettyman,"who sold the estate of Dryffield in Gloucestershire, which is now in the possession of our family, to my grandfather, came to the very door of that house, formerly his own, and asked alms. " "Grandfather" is a little carelessness of George's. A self-reliant, hard drinking, original, humorous, valiant soldier of fortune, I picture him; perhaps not without some right, with whatever limitations, to the "Practical Christian" of his monument. Within a month or two after his death the Driffield estate was sold, the house demolished and much fine timber cut down, to pay the family debts: a dark ending to their reign of two hundred years. The older villagers still experience his presence. "He has never rested," they tell you; and returns so that many have seen him. "On dark nights his coach and four rush in full career across the sloping meadows from Driffield to the park and along the avenue of Harnhill. " And I would not disbelieve it on some Southwest-ridden night beneath the glimpses of the moon as the clouds fly overhead. Within what leaping shadow of their flight might the old roysterer not career past. They tell of underground vaults within the great wall against Driffield churchyard, fitted and furnished, wherein he used to "carry on. " The village policeman had a grandfather whose very self had fallen through into one of them, and scrambled out again in terror of the dark. But none the wiser; he never again could find the hole.

A man of very different character, Robert Nelson, the author of the Companion to Festivals & Fasts, was a relative by marriage of the Hangers, and once lived here amongst them. He was born in London in 1656; his father, like John Aungier, being "a considerable Turkey merchant," and his mother, who was a Delicia Roberts, the daughter of another. His father dying the year after Robert's birth, his mother settled down at Driffield near her sister Anne, wife of probably the first George Hanger. Nelson died in 1715 in Kensington; and was the first to be buried in the then just completed cemetery in Lamb's Conduit Fields. He is said himself to have selected this place for his interment; with the result that a prejudice that had existed against being buried there was thus overcome; such, they say, was the strength of his example and influence. This old burying ground is not easy to hear of, but I discovered it at last under the name of St. George's Gardens, now used as a children's playground, hidden away off the Gray's Inn Road just north of the Foundling Hospital. The tomb meets your eye immediately you enter the enclosure; a square block of stone surmounted with the usual urn and issuing flames, and engraved on all four sides; whereupon you may read

H S. E.
ROBERTUS NELSON Armiger
Qui. . .
Dum Christianum Sacrificium rite celebrabitur
Apud Sanctae Coenae Participes
NELSONI vigebit memoria

and the rest, in that unfailing tongue.

Nelson was a staunch Jacobite, and would not assent even in show to the State prayers. Whenever these approached he would rise from his knees in church and take out and use his snuff box; so deserving the current satire

To join in one part, and take snuff at the rest,
Is basely dissembling with God at the best.

"Excellent Mr. Nelson," Johnson called him; and thought that his Festivals had the greatest sale of any book ever published in England; declaring also that Richardson's Sir Charles Grandison was founded upon him.

But the one thing at Driffield which I expected and greatly desired to see I could not certainly discover: the tomb of John Blake, that last abbot of Cirencester of whom I wrote not far back, who in I 539 surrendered his charge to HenryVIII and retired to the abbot's country residence here, with a comfortable pension of two hundred pounds, equal to four thousand pounds nowadays, and is said with all likelihood to have found burial also here. This residence was within the great wall, its grounds also enclosed therein being still known as the abbot's garden. The demesne sloped down across the still terraced meadow eastward of the church to the "abbot's well. " With the wreckage of this residence, and with material from the "Saxon" church, the Coleraines built themselves their fine house upon the same site. Blake's resting place, I learned afterwards, is marked, as indeed I had guessed, by the huge rough uninscribed slab let into the centre of the chancel pavement. This long lay under a rubbish heap, and bears unmistakeable signs of having had brasses torn out of it. Leland has a little note about the prelate's old life; a life perhaps of energy and service to his generation. "Mr. Blake the last Abbate buildid 2. Fulling Milles at Cirencestre that cost a 700. Markes of Mony. They be wonderfully necessary, bycause the Toun standithe all by Clothing. "

The road dips pleasantly down out of Driffield as you turn northwest to Harnhill by the side of a little tributary of the Amney Stream. At the entrance to this village there is a miniature Big Tree of California, through the opening in whose trunk you might certainly drive a sizeable wheelbarrow. A lovely path leads uphill to the church, bordered with ivied walls and overhanging trees. It is an innocent and mossy little building you arrive at, left with its ancient character unspoiled and the tiny spire some old chronicler noted in 1768; though even as I write it is under repair. I hear of many small discoveries an ancient ceiling of the eleventh century under the present one, bearing remains of painting as fresh as when executed; and other mural paintings under the limewash. There is a world of interest in the south porch; a graceful sundial on its outer wall and over its inner door an ancient relief of St. Michael, the patron saint, attacking Apollyon the enemy; called by some a Saxon carving: a notable piece of work. This inner doorway is a splendid specimen of square-headed Norman design. The pointed outer door is one of the narrowest I ever saw to a porch. Within there are fine old square pews, the wood only varnished, and not painted and grained as at Bessilsleigh. But these are to go, to make room for more worshippers. There are ancient black beams and much primitive plainness; and in the east window several odd pieces of old painted glass dug out of the ground when the foundations of the present vicarage were being laid. The little place has passed by various names: Harehille and Harnhull and the rest. The Tames of Fairford once held it, subsequently to the Hornhills from whom it is said to have taken its name early n the fourteenth century. In 1768 the annual births and deaths were registered as two each; and I should scarcely suppose the number is very greatly increased even now.

Northeastward past Harnhill Park I saw eight bullocks in two teams ploughing the brown earth of the uplands. Then the road descended between hedges to the level of the Amney Stream, as wide here as Thames at Somerford Keynes. Amney St. Peter, or Eastington for distinction, climbs along a little lane that leaves the London road, and its motors, at the side of a pond. Over a house that faces you as you go up is a wooden sundial of 1703; and in its garden a summerhouse of white wood and glass. The church conceals itself just beyond; and here indeed is a mystery and a wonder a little place that awes and silences you like Rahere's church in London. Once there was just the south nave, whose west end is full of potent massive Norman square, axe-hewn capitals and round plainness. Behind the ornamented Early English chancel arch are the rood loft and steps and there is a piscina left in the nave where I think the former tiny chancel may have been. No doubt there has [] been an extension eastwards; and a north nave has been added, in whose wall a splayed Norman window is delightful to remember containing a fine stained glass of St. Alban. What is he doing here? In the modern vestibule you may see the original Norman outer arch. The tiny tower ends in a point above the window slits: a wonderful little place, uplifting to see. It was held by Gloucester before the Reformation; not, like its sister church, by the Abbot of Cirencester.

"Across two fields" is Amney St. Mary; whose alternative name Easterbrook is still in use. Its church lies right away southward across the London road in the meadows by Amney side, and is kept locked for fear of tramps. But the exterior alone is worth a visit. At the east end are four enormous elms, two of them mere fire scarred, hollow boles. On the north wall is a strange bit of old sculpture of animals quite in the Norman taste, surmounting what may have been such another square-headed Norman doorway as at Harnhill. This kind of subject, inspired by the mediaeval Bestiaries, was much affected on the Norman tympana in place of the older Biblical allusions. In earlier centuries the symbolism was almost entirely Scriptural, but other designs gradually crept into use from the sixth century, under increasing protest from the sterner dignitaries of the Church. As, however, the moralised Bestiaries increased in number, and associated the characters and habits of animals more and more clearly with Christian qualities, the custom became almost ineradicable. The monsters carved here at Amney St. Mary appear to be a griffin and a lion, with two other doubtful heads probably human-headed serpents with coiled up bodies; vigilant; encompassing the negligent. Now in Romilly Allen's Early Christian Symbolism you may read the interpretation of the matter. "The Bestiary says that the lion has three natures: one, when pursued by the hunters he effaces with his tail all traces of the marks of his feet, symbolising the hidden manner in which Christ makes His influence felt so that the ignorant cannot find Him two; the lion sleeps with his eyes open, as when Christ was buried His body slept but His Godhead was awake; three, when a lioness brings forth a cub it is dead, and in this state she guards it until upon the third day the father comes and brings it to life by breathing in its face, typifying the Resurrection of Christ after three days. As to the griffin, it is a bird living in the deserts of India, and so strong that it can fly away with a live cow in its beak to feed its young, thus signifying the Devil who carries off the soul of the wicked man to the deserts of Hell. " Sir Thomas Browne speaks more flatteringly of this fabulous creature. "The conceit of the griffin, properly taken, being but a symbolical fancy, in so intolerable a shape including allowable morality. So doth it well make out the properties of a guardian, or any person entrusted; the ears implying attention-the wings, celerity of execution-the lion-like shape, courage and audacity-the hooked bill, reservance and tenacity. It is also an emblem of valour and magnanimity; and so is appliable unto princes, presidents, generals, and all heroic commanders. "

I think this church cannot be much less ancient than its little sister of St. Peter, but it has no tower. Reinbald held here also: a strong and considerable man.

Due westward the great road runs to Amney Crucis, where the Amney Stream turns a mill. I had a meal at the Mitre, whose hostess laid the knives at a whimsical and uniform angle that pleased me. It is a charming village on a gentle slope above the road and amongst the trees stands the handsome cruciform church of Holy Cross, held once by Tewkesbury. Here you may see the rood loft relics again, the entrance closed with a brown carved door. In the north transept stands the tomb of George Lloyd, who was buried in 1584, and of Anne his wife. It touches the heart closely to see the kneeling sculptures of his three boys and seven girls; the girls the very pattern of those who look over each other's shoulders at Pool Keynes. His most interesting achievement, beyond his family, seems to have been the recovery, by petition to Queen Elizabeth, of part of its endowment for the grammar school of Cirencester. There is some very fine old glass; a Norman font of 1125; and still there remains the original door and its ironwork that was hung, they say, about 1380. The five bells were gifts at different dates between the fifteenth and the late eighteenth century. On an early one is written:

Protege pura pia
Quos convoco Virgo Maria

Interesting are the pillars that carry the handsome chancel arch. In the churchyard is a complete cross of about 1400, concerning which there is a booklet in the British Museum. The head was found amongst some rubbish in the rood stairway and replaced only about the middle of the nineteenth century; forming a most interesting example of the spectacle all these crosses once afforded. The criticism has been made that another length of stone should have been added to the shaft before the head was replaced.

Now here are the poor relics of what must once have been a more wonderful collection of mural paintings than even those you remember at South Leigh, though by the grace of God and its own reverence the Oxfordshire village can now cast out its shoe over Amney Crucis in regard to such matters. Of the number of paintings here, and their subjects, there is no complete record; and of those that remain upon the walls you will find most, faded and almost undecipherable, in the north transept. The whole seem to have been more or less visible until 1871, when, incredible as it may seem, they were first uncovered and then again plastered over, It is said that copies of them were taken at that time, but being laid aside by a former vicar in his coachhouse they decayed, and finally were burnt. The one that most fascinates me, and the legend at whose heart I have been unable to discover, is "Les Trois Rois Morts et Les Trois Rois Vifs. " There resides a recessional effect, a vague and noble stateliness, in those little words. At least twenty-five examples of the subject are known to have existed in England. Over the chancel arch stood a painting of the Doom, as at South Leigh; and there was an Erasmus on his wheel, a copy of which, the only one saved from the coachhouse, you may see framed in the vestry. Another was of Thomas ŗ Becket, beheaded in paint by order or approval of Henry VIII, as they relate, on account of the saint's devotion to the Pope of Rome. You may still behold a faded Dance of Death, wherein the Skeleton converses with Kings and Queens and Men about the final surrender. An Ecclesiastic points to Death, proclaiming:

Ye men ye bee
This that ye see:

while over the head of the Skeleton is written:

Alive be ye
To that ye be.

And the last I will mention is that of St. Christopher, once, like its fellow at Somerford Keynes, opposite the south door, and, also like the other, destroyed apparently during restoration. This, as I have written, was a favourite subject; they say there is an example extant at little neighbouring Baunton.

You will see round the built up north door for the priest some Saxon herringbone masonry. This door was discovered under the ivy only in very recent years. Some think it would be a pleasant thing to reopen all these ancient entrances, now so often built up. Others again say not: "We do not want, surely, to destroy the work of the later centuries that closed them because, possibly, the church was enlarged, or some winter night the churchwarden found the draught too searching. " On the right hand of the outer doorway of the porch there is scratched a little priest's dial. And the niche in the porch was once used, they say, as a cupboard for a charity of loaves. Many Pleydells, who held after the Lloyds, have memorials here; and of the last of them, Robert Pleydell, who died in 1719, it is inscribed, had he married: Quam Beata fuisset Uxor! Progenies quam Proba! And turning thence I went by the great road full circle round once more to Corinium of the Romans.

Where Thames Smooth Waters Glide - Thames Head,
Map: Coates

 
 
 
 
Valedictory