Chapter XII - Kempsford

Where Thames Smooth Waters Glide - Kempsford,
Map: Kempsford

Hannington Bridge, with its three arches and neighbouring picturesque farmhouse, lies in the midst of the slumberous River meadows, thirty-six miles from Oxford "a large wooden bridge," said Ireland but of more durable material now. The River divides about half a mile above, at Blackford on the skirts of Kempsford, and reunites below this bridge. Here is perhaps the richest pasturage in the land " an ox," says the old adage,"if left to himself, would, of all England, choose to live in the north of Wiltshire. " Between the trees in the southwest you can see Highworth church,"the glory of the Wiltshire height. "

But leave the waterside, and go by the field paths into Kempsford, whose stately fourteenth century tower of St. Mary the Virgin is the cynosure of all this neighbourhood. It is a moment to have lived for when you first apprehend its magnificence. And when you shall have learnt thoroughly to know this church, with Lechlade also that goes before it in my book, and St. Sampson's of Cricklade and St. John's of Cirencester that follow after; to know them I say and easily to associate them together in your memory, you will then discern that they present themselves and excel upon each other, as you ascend the River, in the order and similitude of a fugue, with a gradual and regular heaping up of power and architectural splendour. Lechlade may well be the clear, poignant melody upon which all is built; Kempsford the deep-toned answer; St. Sampson's upon its height is your stretto, your drawing together, your gathering of momentum and your preparation for the close; until you sweep at length, pleno organo, upon the large exultant glory of St. John's.

The doorway to the rood loft is still plain to see, and so is a relic of the time when long sermons were suffered: the hour glass against the pulpit. Though no doubt the old square pews, now swept away, contributed to redress matters. There are two fine Norman doorways, the north and the south; the south porch being in use as a vestry. This entrance formerly communicated with the Chaworth castle, the only surviving relic of which is the so-called gunner's room, or water gate if you prefer it, overlooking the River; which castle, says Ireland, was dismantled about 1786, the materials being used for the erection of Buscot House for Mr. Loveden, a great champion for the improvement of the upper navigation. They were sold for five hundred pounds, the value of the lead on the roofs.

The floor is of Early English tiling; and there is enough stained glass to be attractive and interesting without inducing a headache or confusion of memory; and you may look at it as often and as leisurely as you like; or not at all. In the vestry is a curious old painting, possibly of David and his psalter; perhaps it was not considered worth hanging in a clearer light. But there is something plainer to see, two old painted boards, one of which displays "the sweet old Jesuit prayer":


This south doorway of the bizarre Norman work is finer than the north; being protected from the weather it has had a better chance of preservation.

What religious fury or personal spite impelled the deplorable mutilation of two seated figures upon a tomb on the north chancel wall? the features are entirely chiselled away; was it for the love of God? One of them was no doubt the Blessed Virgin; the other may have been God the Father. Ireland says the arms of Alfred are to be seen amongst those emblazoned upon the angles of the tower ceiling; it seems arguable. The descriptions of these arms vary indeed very considerably. The curious red figure like a bird's claw has been called a gauntlet, the stump of an uprooted tree, and, what is probably the truth, the Plantagenet plantlet. The others are: the three chevronels of Clare, Earl of Gloucester; a cross flory for Edward the Confessor or King Alfred; and the three lions of the House of Lancaster.

You will look in vain for the stocks, which the books continue to tell you are still to be seen in the village. The local history dates from an important dim old battle of the year 802, fought on the very day of King Egbert's accession, when the settlement was known as Kynemeresford, explained by etymologists as "the ford of the chief river," or "ford of the great king. " Why not "ford of the cattle boundary"? This fight was between the Hwiccas and the men of Wiltshire. Ethelmund, ealdorman of the Hwiccas, says the old chronicle, rode horseback over the Thames at Kempsford, where he was met by ealdorman Woxtan with the men of Wiltshire, and a terrible conflict ensued, in which both chieftains were slain, but the men of Wiltshire obtained the victory.

This manor of Kempsford passed during the centuries through the hands of some interesting people. It was held from Harold the king by Osgod the Saxon. Was a later sheep stealer a descendant of his? On the twelfth of May, 1396, there was granted a "pardon to John Osgod the younger of Kynemeresford for stealing there on Thursday after the Assumption in the eighteenth year [of Richard II] six muttons, value 5s. , the goods of John Shepherde of the county of Somerset. " In Domesday one Ernulf de Hesding, a soldier of William's army of conquest, was seized of the manor; but conveyed it about 1085 to Sir Patrick Chaworth, named also de Cadurcis, who built a Norman castle probably on the site of a Saxon palace. A long descent followed of Patricks and Pains, until at last, in 1298, the sole heiress Maud married Henry, second Earl of Lancaster, grandson of Henry III. Her ghost still revisits these ancient haunts. The earl was succeeded by his son Henry, the first Duke of Lancaster, who was born probably in 1299 and died in 1361. John of Gaunt married his younger daughter Blanche; and no doubt Henry and they frequently passed from the castle into the south door of the church. The duke has no sons attributed to him in the books; but you will find a horse shoe nailed up over the north door, which immemorial tradition asserts was cast by his horse when he was riding away overwhelmed by the death from drowning of his "only son" here at Kempsford. Men picked up the shoe and fixed it where I myself have beheld it; a little fresh for its age. The drowned boy would have been brother-in-law to John of Gaunt. After the tragedy Henry could not bear even the possession of the manor; and ganted it in 1355 to the church of St. Mary in Leicester Castle. It reverted to the Crown at the Dissolution.

About 1550 Edward VI bestowed the property upon Sir John Thynne, probably through the influence of the Protector, the Duke of Somerset; Sir John being his secretary and the manager, during the protectorate, of his great estates. In the course of this business he brought some odium upon himself and the duke. In one suit it was written: "Mr. Thynne has shewn himself dishonest and covetous. The covetous disposition of this man may do his Grace hurt: nothing his Grace requires so much to take heed of as that man's proceedings. " However, Sir John was content twice to go to the Tower for his patron; he remained a firm Protestant during the adverse reign of Mary, from whose Privy Council he and others received a letter "for the staye of theymselfs in their awne cowntrey untyll they shall understande farther of the Quenes pleasure "; he had distinguished himself greatly in the Scottish expedition of 1544; and one must needs think of him as a man of great shrewdness and ability; of much courage and of unswerving devotion. He built the older portion of Longleat; and was brother-in-law to Sir Thomas Gresham, founder of the Royal Exchange.

About 1750 the castle, rebuilt by the Thynnes, and the estates, went by purchase to Gabriel Hanger, first Lord Coleraine, of whom and whose family I have a great deal to tell you later. The village cross was removed in bad taste by a former vicar from the west end of the parish to the new burial ground. Under it they found a mortar. And they say the great meadow across the River opposite the church was of old time the archery practising ground of the village. In some maps it is marked The Butts. There is a human touch of 1792 in Ireland. "Within this pleasant retreat, the vicarage, we found, not the vicar, but his locum tenens, an humble Welch curate, with a wife and two children, existing on twenty five pounds a year, and honestly confessing he had, on this side the grave, no wish beyond the addition of ten pounds to this salary. " This writer also mentions "several weirs" between here and Lechlade, confirming Taunt, if he need it. No wonder the old reports and collections of evidence are full of bitter complaints against these instruments of extortion set up at their own pleasure by the riparian lords.

Fearnside's Thames, published quite early in the nineteenth century, shews a rather fine old windmill standing close to the River bank.

Some of these things I received from the books. Now the late vicar was a Radical, a man of Cobbett's (whose relatives live in the place); and a conversation with him made this matter entirely modern, and that again full of the ineffable terror that dwells behind immeasureable antiquity. The "gunner's room " or "water gate" he ridicules; it was patched together from old materials by a predecessor only during last century. The adjacent wall, however, under which the River flows, he thinks is original Norman work for some four feet above the water. On the other hand the horse shoe is no relic of Henry of Lancaster; did not his horse cast a shoe at Leicester also at the very same moment? It is a symbol of nature worship; the curious may behold another carved in the stone of Oaksey church. The Butts, and the "pillar" of the maps, on the lawn within the wall, are, he asserts, terms invented by the pleasant young gentlemen of the Ordnance Survey, who roam about bestowing fancy names upon unchristened objects. Yet I think the old alternative field name of Bowstead seems rather to confirm the pleasant young gentlemen. The "pillar" is a mere capital from the ruins of the banqueting hall of the Plantagenets. And finally, he can only believe that the windmill was an effort of Fearnside's fancy.

He shewed me in the register the record of the burial in January, 1814, of "Lord Coleraine, aged 70. " The top of the tomb can with some difficulty be seen in the floor behind the organ. In his will Lord Coleraine had desired to lie above ground; they were an eccentric family, as you shall learn later; and above ground he accordingly long remained in a huge sarcophagus. But ultimately, being sadly in the way, his remains reached their present position. You will observe the letter of the contract has been strictly carried out; the lid of the urn is distinctly above the ground. Now the vicar, with S. C. Hall, was anxious to identify this Coleraine with Colonel George Hanger of Driffield; but it will not do. Contemporary records are clear that it was George's elder brother William who died in 1814, and that George did not die till nine [Fred corrects to ten] years later, at the age of seventy three. Driffield must retain whatever prestige resides in the ownership of the colonel's remains.

Hall says that until 1800 the road went to the ford across the lovely vicarage garden. Was this the little lane which, leaving the Cirencester-Fairford road where it crosses the tip of the eastern horn of Wiltshire, runs southeast across the county boundary into Gloucestershire and down to Kempsford, and winds round the church to the River? You will see it in the little map I print in discussing later on the interesting northern limit of Wiltshire.

Where Thames Smooth Waters Glide - Kempsford,
Map: Kempsford

Castle Eaton