Highways and Byways in Sussex/Chapter 42
BEING A POSTSCRIPT TO THE SECOND EDITION.
It almost necessarily follows that in a book such as this, which in brief compass attempts to take some account of every interesting or charming spot in a large tract of country, there must be certain omissions. To the stranger the survey may seem adequate; but it is a hundred to one that a reader whose home is in Sussex will detect a flippancy or a want of true insight in the treatment of his own village. Nor (rightly) does he sit silent under the conviction.
I find that, with the keenest desire to be just in criticism, I have been unfair to several villages. I have been unfair, for example, to Burpham, which lies between Arundel and Amberley and of which nothing is said; and more than one reader has discovered unfairness to East Sussex. For this the personal equation is perhaps responsible: a West Sussex man, try as he will, cannot have the same enthusiasm for the other side of his county as for his own. For me the sun has always seemed to rise over Beachy Head, the most easterly of our Downs.
The call for a second edition has however enabled me to set right a few errors in the body of the book, and in this additional chapter to amplify and fortify here and there. The result must necessarily be disconnected; but a glance at the index will point the way to what is new.
“You came, and looked, and loved the view
“Green Sussex fading into blue”—it is the motto for every Down summit, South or North.
With reference to Shelley and Sussex, my attention has been drawn to an interesting account of Field Place by Mr. Hale White, the author of the Mark Rutherford novels, in an old Macmillan's Magazine. Says Mr. White, "Denne Park [at Horsham] might easily have suggested—more easily perhaps than any part of the country near Field Place—the well-known semi-chorus in the Prometheus which begins
‘The path through which that lovely twain
The Prometheus, however, was written when Horsham was well-nigh forgotten"—by its author.
Owing to a curious lapse of memory, I omitted to say that Sompting, near Worthing, should be famous as the home of Edward John Trelawny, author of The Adventures of a Younger Son, and the friend of Shelley and Byron. In his Sompting garden, in his old age, Trelawny grew figs, equal, he said, to those of his dear Italy, and lived again his vigorous, picturesque, notable life. Sussex thus owns not only the poet of “Adonais,” but the friend who rescued his heart from the flames that consumed his body on the shores of the Gulf, and bearing it to Rome placed over its resting place in the Protestant cemetery the words from the Tempest (his own happy choice):—
“Nothing of him that doth fade,
Among the wise men of Lewes I ought not to have overlooked William Durrant Cooper (1812-1875), a shrewd Sussex enthusiast and antiquary, who as long ago as 1836 printed at his own cost a little glossary of the county's provincialisms. The book, publicly printed in 1853, was, of course, superseded by Mr. Parish's admirable collection, but Mr. Cooper showed the way. One of his examples of the use of the West Sussex pronoun en, un, or um might be noted, especially as it involves another quaint confusion of sex. En and un stand for him, her or it; um for them. Thus, "a blackbird flew up and her killed 'n"; that is to say, he killed it.
Among the Harleian MSS. at the British Museum is the account of a supernatural visitation to Rye in 1607. The visitants were angels, their fortunate entertainer being a married woman. She, however, by a lapse in good breeding, undid whatever good was intended for her. "And after that appeared unto her 2 angells in her chamber, and one of them having a white fan in her hand did let the same fall; and she stooping to take it upp, the angell gave her a box on the eare, rebukinge her that she a mortall creature should presume to handle matters appertayninge to heavenlie creatures."
It was an error to omit from Chapter XVII all reference to Frederick William Robertson—Robertson of Brighton—who from 1847 until 1853 exerted his extraordinary influence from the pulpit of Trinity Chapel, opposite the post-office, and from his home at 9, Montpellier Terrace.
Of Robertson's quickening religion I need not speak; but it is interesting to know that much of his magnetic eloquence was the result of the meditations which he indulged in his long and feverish rambles over the Downs. His favourite walk was to the Dyke (before exploitation had come upon it), and he loved also the hills above Rottingdean. Robertson, says Arnold's memoir, "would walk any man 'off his legs,' as the saying goes. He not only walked; he ran, he leaped, he bounded. He walked as fast and as incessantly as Charles Dickens, and, like Dickens, his mind was in a state of incessant activity all the time. There was not a bird of the air or a flower by the wayside that was not known to him. His knowledge of birds would have matched that of the collector of the Natural History Museum in his favourite Dyke Road."
Robertson often journeyed into Sussex on little preaching or lecturing missions (he found the auditors of Hurstpierpoint "very bucolic"), and his family were fond of the retirement of Lindfield. On one occasion Robertson brought them back himself, writing afterwards to a friend that in that village he "strongly felt the beauty and power of English country scenery and life to calm, if not to purify, the hearts of those whose lives are habitually subjected to such influences."
Mr. Arnold's book, I might add, has some pleasant pages about Sussex and Brighton in Robertson's day, with glimpses of Lady Byron, his ardent devotee, and, at Old Shoreham, of Canon Mozley.
And here I might mention that for a very charming account of a still earlier Brighton, though not the earliest, the reader should go to a little story called Round About a Brighton Coach Office, which was published a few years ago. It has a very fragrant old-world flavour.
To Chichester, I should have recorded, belongs a Sussex saint, Saint Richard, Bishop of Chichester in the thirteenth century, and a great man. In 1245 he found the Sussex see an Augæan stable; but he was equal to the labour of cleansing it. He deprived the corrupt clergy of their benefices with an unhesitating hand, and upon their successors and those that remained he imposed laws of comeliness and simplicity. His reforms were many and various: he restored hospitality to its high place among the duties of rectors; he punished absentees; he excommunicated usurers; while (a revolutionist indeed!) priests who spoke indistinctly or at too great a pace were suspended. Also, I doubt not, he was hostile to locked churches. Furthermore, he advocated the Crusades like another Peter the Hermit.
Richard's own life was exquisitely thoughtful and simple. An anecdote of his brother, who assisted him in the practical administration of the diocese, helps us to this side of his character. "You give away more than your income," remarked this almoner-brother one day. "Then sell my silver," said Richard, "it will never do for me to drink out of silver cups while our Lord is suffering in His poor. Our father drank heartily out of common crockery, and so can I. Sell the plate."
Richard penetrated on foot to the uttermost corners of his diocese to see that all was well. He took no holiday, but would often stay for a while at Tarring, near Worthing, with Simon, the parish priest and his great friend. Tradition would have Richard the planter of the first of the Tarring figs, and indeed, to my mind, he is more welcome to that honour than Saint Thomas à Becket, who competes for the credit—being more a Sussex man. In his will Richard left to Sir Simon de Terring (sometimes misprinted Ferring) his best palfrey and a commentary on the Psalms.
The Bishop died in 1253 and he was at once canonised. To visit his grave in the nave of Chichester Cathedral (it is now in the south transept) was a sure means to recovery from illness, and it quickly became a place of pilgrimage. April 3 was set apart in the calendar as Richard's day, and very pleasant must have been the observance in the Chichester streets. In 1297 we find Edward I. giving Lovel the harper 6s. 6d. for singing the Saint's praises; but Henry VIII. was to change all this. On December 14th, 1538, it being, I imagine, a fine day, the Defender of the Faith signed a paper ordering Sir William Goring and William Ernely, his Commissioners, to repair to Chichester Cathedral and remove "the bones, shrine, &c., of a certain Bishop ... which they call S. Richard," to the Tower of London. That the Commissioners did their work we know from their account for the same, which came to £40. In the reformed prayer-book, however, Richard's name has been allowed to stand among the black letter saints.
Under Chichester I ought also to have mentioned John William Burgon (1813-1888), Dean of Chichester for the last twelve years of his life and the author of that admirable collection of half-length appreciations, The Lives of Twelve Good Men, one of whom, Bishop Wilberforce, lived within call at Woollavington, under the shaggy escarpment of the Downs some ten miles to the north-east. Dean Burgon thus happily touches off the Bishop in his South Down retreat:—
... "But it was on the charms of the pleasant landscape which surrounded his Sussex home that he chiefly expatiated on such occasions, leaning rather heavily on some trusty arm—(I remember how he leaned on mine!)—while he tapped with his stick the bole of every favourite tree which came in his way (by-the-by, every tree seemed a favourite), and had something to tell of its history and surpassing merits. Every farm-house, every peep at the distant landscape, every turn in the road, suggested some pleasant remark or playful anecdote. He had a word for every man, woman, and child he met,—for he knew them all. The very cattle were greeted as old acquaintances. And how he did delight in discussing the flora of the neighbourhood, the geological formations, every aspect of the natural history of the place!"
A very properly indignant friend has reminded me of the claims of Burpham in the following words. "Two miles up the Arun valley from Arundel is Burpham, a pretty village on the west edge of the Downs and overhanging the river. Between South Stoke and Arundel the old course of the Arun runs in wide curves, and in modern times a straight new bed has been cut, under Arundel Park and past the Black Rabbit, making, with the old curves, the form of the letter B. Burpham lies at the head of the lower loop of the B, and while there is plenty of water in the loop to row up with the flood tide and down with the ebb, the straight main stream diverts nearly all the holiday traffic and leaves Burpham the most peaceful village within fifty miles of London. The seclusion is the more complete because the roads from the South end in the village and there is no approach by road from East or West or North. The Church contains a Lepers' window, and passengers by the railway can see, to the right of the red roofs of the village and over the line of low chalk cliffs, a white path still called the Lepers' Path, which winds away in to the lonely hollows of the Downs.
"A curious feature of Burpham is a high rampart of earth, running eastward from the cliff by the river, which according to local tradition was constructed in the days of the Danish pirates. It is said to be doubtful whether the rampart was erected by the Saxon villagers for their own protection, or by the Danes as their first stronghold on the rising ground after they had sailed up the Arun from Littlehampton. The fine name of the neighbouring Warningcamp Hill, from which there is a great outlook over the flat country past Arundel Castle to Chichester Cathedral and the cliffs of the Isle of Wight, suggests memories of the same period."
Of the little retiring church of St. Botolph, Hardham, lying among low meadows between Burpham and Pulborough, I ought also to have spoken, for it contains perhaps the earliest complete series of mural painting in England. The church dates from the eleventh century, and the paintings, says Mr. Philip Mainwaring Johnson, who has studied them with the greatest care, cannot be much less old. The subjects are the Annunciation, the Nativity, the appearance of the Star, the Magi presenting their Gifts, and so forth, with one or two less familiar themes added, such as Herod conferring with his Counsellors and the Torments of Hell. There are the remains also of a series of Moralities drawn from the parable of Dives and Lazarus, and of a series illustrating the life of St. George. The little church, which perhaps has every right to call itself the oldest picture gallery in England, should not be missed by any visitor to Pulborough.
At West Wittering in the Manhood Peninsula, a little village on which the sea has hostile designs, is still performed at Christmas a time-honoured play the actors of which are half a dozen boys or men known as the Tipteers. Their words are not written, but are transmitted orally from one generation of players to another. Mr. J. I. C. Boger, however, has taken them down for the S. A. C. The subject once again, as in some of the Hardham mural paintings, is the life of St. George, here called King George; and the play has the same relation to drama that the Hardham frescoes have to a picture. I quote a little:—
Third Man—Noble Captain:
Until the close is almost reached the West Wittering Tipteers preserve the illusion of mediæval mummery. But the concluding song transports us to the sentiment of the modern music hall. Its chorus runs, with some callousness:—
"We never miss a mother till she's gone,
Mark Antony Lower's Contributions to Literature, 1845, contains a pleasant essay on the South Downs which I overlooked when I was writing this book, but from which I now gladly take a few passages. It gives me, for example, a pendent to William Blake's description of a fairy's funeral on page 64, in the shape of a description of a fairy's revenge, from the lips of Master Fowington, a friend of Mr. Lower, who was one that believed in Pharisees (as Sussex calls fairies) as readily and unreservedly as we believe in wireless telegraphy. Mas' Fowington had, indeed, two very good reasons for his credulity. One was that the Pharisees are mentioned in the Bible and therefore must exist; the other was that his grandmother, "who was a very truthful woman," had seen them with her own eyes "time and often." "They was liddle folks not more than a foot high, and used to be uncommon fond of dancing. They jound hands and formed a circle, and danced upon it till the grass came three times as green there as it was anywhere else. That's how these here rings come upon the hills. Leastways so they say; but I don't know nothing about it, in tye, for I never seen none an 'em; though to be sure it's very hard to say how them rings do come, if it is'nt the Pharisees that makes 'em. Besides there's our old song that we always sing at harvest supper, where it comes in—'We'll drink and dance like Pharisees.' Now I should like to know why it's put like that 'ere in the song, if it a'nt true."
Master Fowington's story of the fairy's revenge runs thus:—
"An ol' brother of my wife's gurt gran'mother see some Pharisees once, and 'twould a been a power better if so be he hadn't never seen 'em, or leastways never offended 'em. I'll tell ye how it happened. Jeems Meppom—dat was his naüm—Jeems was a liddle farmer, and used to thresh his own corn. His barn stood in a very elenge lonesome place, a goodish bit from de house, and de Pharisees used to come dere a nights and thresh out some wheat and wuts for him, so dat de hep o' threshed corn was ginnerly bigger in de morning dan what he left it overnight. Well, ye see, Mas' Meppom thought dis a liddle odd, and didn't know rightly what to make ant. So bein' an out-and-out bold chep, dat didn't fear man nor devil, as de saying is, he made up his mind dat he'd goo over some night to see how 'twas managed. Well accordingly he went out rather airly in de evenin', and laid up behind de mow, for a long while, till he got rather tired and sleepy, and thought 'twaunt no use a watchin' no longer. It was gittin' pretty handy to midnight, and he thought how he'd goo home to bed. But jest as he was upon de move he heerd a odd sort of a soun' comin' tóe-ards the barn, and so he stopped to see what it was. He looked out of de strah, and what should he catch sight an but a couple of liddle cheps about eighteen inches high or dereaway come into de barn without uppening the doores. Dey pulled off dere jackets and begun to thresh wud two liddle frails as dey had brung wud em at de hem of a rate. Mas' Meppom would a been froughten if dey had been bigger, but as dey was such tedious liddle fellers, he couldn't hardly help bustin right out a laffin'. Howsonever he pushed a hanful of strah into his mouth and so managed to kip quiet a few minutes a lookin' at um—thump, thump; thump, thump, as riglar as a clock.
"At last dey got rather tired and left off to rest derselves, and one an um said in a liddle squeakin' voice, as it might a bin a mouse a talkin':—'I say Puck, I tweat; do you tweat?' At dat Jeems couldn't contain hisself no how, but set up a loud haw-haw; and jumpin' up from de strah hollered out, 'I'll tweat ye, ye liddle rascals; what bisness a you got in my barn?' Well upon dis, de Pharisees picked up der frails and cut away right by him, and as dey passed by him he felt sich a queer pain in de head as if somebody had gi'en him a lamentable hard thump wud a hammer, dat knocked him down as flat as a flounder. How long he laid dere he never rightly knowed, but it must a bin a goodish bit, for when he come to 'twas gittin' dee-light. He could'nt hardly contrive to doddle home, and when he did he looked so tedious bad dat his wife sent for de doctor dirackly. But bless ye, dat waunt no use; and old Jeems Meppom knowed it well enough. De doctor told him to kip up his sperits, beein' 'twas onny a fit he had had from bein' a most smothered wud de handful of strah and kippin his laugh down. But Jeems knowed better. 'Tā-ünt no use, sir,' he says, says he, to de doctor; 'de cuss of de Pharisees is uppán me, and all de stuff in your shop can't do me no good.' And Mas' Meppom was right, for about a year ahtawuds he died, poor man! sorry enough dat he'd ever intafēred wud things dat didn't consarn him. Poor ol' feller, he lays buried in de church-aird over yender—leastways so I've heerd my wife's mother say, under de bank jest where de bed of snow-draps grows."
All who know the Downs must know the fairies' or Pharisees' rings, into which one so often steps. Science gives them a fungoid origin, but Shakespeare, as well as Master Fowington's grandmother, knew that Oberon and Titania's little people alone had the secret. Further proof is to be found in the testimony of John Aubrey, the Wiltshire antiquary, who records that Mr. Hart, curate at Yatton Keynel in 1633-4, coming home over the Downs one night witnessed with his own eyes an "innumerable quantitie of pigmies" dancing round and round and singing, "making all manner of small, odd noises."
A word ought to have been said of the quiet and unexpected dew-ponds of the Downs, upon which one comes so often and always with a little surprise. Perfect rounds they are, reflecting the sky they are so near like circular mirrors set in a white frame. Gilbert White, who was interested in all interesting things, mentions the unfailing character of a little pond near Selborne, which "though never above three feet deep in the middle, and not more than thirty feet in diameter, ... yet affords drink for three hundred or four hundred sheep, and for at least twenty head of cattle beside." He then asks, having noticed that in May, 1775, when the ponds of the valley were dry, the ponds of the hills were still "little affected," "have not these elevated pools some unnoticed recruits, which in the night-time counterbalance the waste of the day?" The answer, which White supplies, is that the hill pools are recruited by dew. "Persons," he writes, "that are much abroad, and travel early and late, such as shepherds, fishermen, &c., can tell what prodigious fogs prevail in the night on elevated downs, even in the hottest part of summer; and how much the surfaces of things are drenched by those swimming vapours, though, to the senses, all the while, little moisture seems to fall."
Kingsley has a passage on the same subject in his essay, "The Air-Mothers"—"For on the high chalk downs, you know, where farmers make a sheep pond, they never, if they are wise, make it in the valley or on a hillside, but on the bleakest top of the very highest down; and there, if they can once get it filled with snow and rain in winter, the blessed dews of night will keep some water in it all the summer thro', while ponds below are utterly dried up." There is, however, another reason why the highest points are chosen, and that is that the chalk here often has a capping of red clay which holds the water.
To the smuggling chapter might have been added, again with Mr. Lower's assistance, a few words on the difficulties that confronted the London revenue officers in the Sussex humour. To be confounded by too swift a horse or too agile a "runner" was all in the night's work; but to be hoodwinked and bamboozled by the deliberate stealthy southern fun must have been eternally galling. The Sussex joker grinds slowly and exceeding small; but the flour is his. "There was Nick Cossum the blacksmith [the words are a shepherd's, talking to Mr. Lower]; he was a sad plague to them. Once he made an exciseman run several miles after him, to take away a keg of yeast he was a-carrying to Ditchling! Another time as he was a-going up New Bostall, an exciseman, who knew him of old, saw him a-carrying a tub of hollands. So he says, says he, 'Master Cossum, I must have that tub of yours, I reckon!' 'Worse luck, I suppose you must,' says Nick in a civil way, 'though it's rather again' the grain to be robbed like this; but, however, I am a-going your road, and we can walk together—there's no law again' that I expect.' 'Oh, certainly not,' says the other, taking of the tub upon his shoulders. So they chatted along quite friendly and chucker like till they came to a cross road, and Nick wished the exciseman good bye. After Nick had got a little way, he turned round all of a sudden and called out: 'Oh, there's one thing I forgot; here's a little bit o' paper that belongs to the keg.' Paper,' says the exciseman, 'why, that's a permit,' says he; 'why didn't you show me that when I took the hollands?' 'Oh,' says Nick, as saucy as Hinds, 'why, if I had done that,' says he, 'you wouldn't a carried my tub for me all this way, would you?'"
The story, at the end of Chapter XIX, of the clerk in Old Shoreham church, whose loyalty was too much for his ritualism, may be capped by that of a South Down clerk in the east of the county, whose seat in church commanded a view of the neighbourhood. During an afternoon service one Sunday a violent gale was raging which had already unroofed several barns. The time came, says Mr. Lower, for the psalm before the sermon, and the clerk rose to announce it. "Let us sing to the praise and glo—Please, sir, Mas' Cinderby's mill is blowed down!"
Another word on Sussex millers. John Oliver, the Hervey of Highdown Hill, had a companion in eccentricity in William Coombs of Newhaven, who, although active as a miller to the end, was for many years a stranger to the inside of his mill owing to a rash statement one night that if what he asseverated was not true he would never enter his mill again. It was not true and henceforward, until his death, he directed his business from the top step—such is the Sussex tenacity of purpose.
Coombs was married at West Dean, but not fortunately. On the way to the church a voice from heaven called to him, "Will-yam Coombs! Will-yam Coombs! if so be that you marry Mary ———— you'll always be a miserable man." Coombs, who had no false shame, often told the tale, adding, "And I be a miserable man."
Coombs' inseparable companion was a horse which bore him and his merchandise to market. In order to vary the monotony of the animal's own God-given hue, he used to paint it different colours, one day yellow and the next pink, one day green and the next blue, and so on. But this cannot have perplexed the horse so much as his master's idea of mercy; for when its back was over-loaded, not only with sacks of flour, but also with Coombs, that humanitarian, experiencing a pang of sympathy, and exclaiming "The marciful man is marciful to his beast," would lift one of the sacks on to his own shoulders. His marcy, however, did not extend to dismounting. Our Sussex droll, Andrew Boorde, when he invented the wisdom of Gotham, invented also the charity of Coombs. But the story is true.
Coombs must not be considered typical of Sussex. Nor can the tricyclist of Chailey be called typical of Sussex—the weary man who was overtaken by a correspondent of mine on the acclivity called the King's Head Hill, toiling up its steepness on a very old-fashioned, solid-tyred tricycle. He had the brake hard down, and when this was pointed out to him, he replied shrewdly, "Eh master, but her might goo backards." Such whimsical excess of caution, such thorough calculation of all the chances, is not truly typical, nor is the miller's oddity truly typical; and yet if one set forth to find humorous eccentricity, humorous suspicion, and humorous cautiousness at their most flourishing, Sussex is the county for the search.
It ought to be known that those Londoners who would care to reach Sussex by Roman road have still Stane Street at their service. With a little difficulty here and there, a little freedom with other people's land, the walker is still able to travel from London to Chichester almost in a bee-line, as the Romans used. Stane Street, which is a southern continuation of Erming Street, pierced London's wall at Billingsgate, and that would therefore be the best starting point. The modern traveller would set forth down the Borough High Street (as the Canterbury Pilgrims did), crossing the track of Watling Street near the Elephant and Castle, and so on the present high road for several not too interesting miles; along Newington Butts, and Kennington Park Road, up Clapham Rise and Balham Hill, and so on through Tooting, Morden, North Cheam, and Ewell. So far all is simple and a little prosaic, but at Epsom difficulties begin. The road from Epsom town to the racecourse climbs to the east of the Durdans and strikes away south-west, on its true course again, exactly at the inn. The point to make for, as straight as may be (passing between Ashstead on the right and Langley Bottom farm on the left), is the Thirty-acres Barn, right on the site. Then direct to Leatherhead Down, through Birchgrove, over Mickleham Down, and so to the high road again at Juniper Hall. Part of the track on this high ground is still called Erming Street by the country folk; part is known as Pebble Lane, where the old Roman road metal has come through. The old street probably followed the present road fairly closely, with a slight deviation near the Burford Bridge Inn, as far as Boxhill Station, whence it took a bee-line to the high ground at Minnickwood by Anstiebury, four miles distant, a little to the west of Holmwood. This, if the line is to be followed, means some deliberate trespassing and a scramble through Dorking churchyard, which is partly on the site.
Hitherto the Roman engineer has wavered now and then, but from Minnickwood to Tolhurst Farm, fifteen miles to the south, the line is absolute. Two miles below Ockley (where it is called Stone Street), at Halehouse Farm, the road must be left again, but after three miles of footpath, field, and wood we hit it once more just above Dedisham, on the road between Guildford and Horsham, and keep it all the way to Pulborough, through Billingshurst, thus named, as I have said, like Billingsgate, after Belinus, Stane Street's engineer. At Pulborough we must cut across country to the camp by Hardham, over water meadows that are too often flooded, and thence, through other fields, arable and pasture, to the hostel on Bignor Hill, which once was Stane Street; passing on the right Mr. Tupper's farm and the field which contains the famous Bignor pavements, relic of the palatial residence of the Governor of the Province of Regnum in the Romans' day; or better still, pausing there, as Roman officers faring to Regnum certainly would in the hope of a cup of Falernian.
The track winding up Bignor Hill is still easily recognisable, and from the summit half Sussex is visible: the flat blue weald in the north, Blackdown's dark escarpment in the north-west, Arundel's shaggy wastes in the east, the sea and the plain in the south, and the rolling turf of the downs all around. Henceforward the road is again straight, nine unfaltering miles to Chichester, which we enter by St. Pancras and East Street. For the first four miles, however, the track is over turf and among woods, Eartham Wood on the right and North Wood on the left, and, after a very brief spell of hard road again, over the side of Halnaker Down. But from Halnaker to Chichester it is turnpike once more, with the savour of the Channel meeting one all the way, and Chichester's spire a friendly beacon and earnest of the contiguous delights of the Dolphin, where one may sup in an assembly room spacious enough to hold a Roman century.
Or one might reverse the order and walk out of Sussex into London by the Roman way, or, better still, through London, and on by Erming Street to the wall of Antoninus. Merely to walk to London and there stop is nothing; merely to walk from London is little; but to walk through London ... there is glamour in that! To come bravely up from the sea at Bosham, through Chichester, over the Downs to the sweet domestic peaceful green weald, over the Downs again and plunge into the grey city (perhaps at night) and out again on the other side into the green again, and so to the north, left-right, left-right, just as the clanking Romans did; that would be worth doing and worth feeling.
The best knower of Sussex of recent times has died since this book was printed: one who knew her footpaths and spinneys, her hills and farms, as a scholar knows his library. John Horne of Brighton was his name: a tall, powerful man even in his old age—he was above eighty at his death—with a wise, shrewd head stored with old Sussex memories: hunting triumphs; the savour of long, solitary shooting days accompanied by a muzzle-loader and single dog—such days as Knox describes in Chapter V; historic cricket matches; stories of the Sussex oddities, the long-headed country lawyers, the Quaker autocrats, the wild farmers, the eccentric squires; characters of favourite horses and dogs (such was the mobility of his countenance and his instinct for drama that he could bring before you visibly any animal he described); early railway days (he had ridden in the first train that ran between Brighton and Southwick); fierce struggles over rights-of-way; reminiscences of old Brighton before a hundredth part of its present streets were made; and all the other body of curious lore for which one must go to those whose minds dwell much in the past. Coming of Quaker stock, as he did, his memory was good and well-ordered, and his observation quick and sound. What he saw he saw, and he had the unusual gift of vivid precise narrative and a choice of words that a literary man should envy.
A favourite topic of conversation between us was the best foot route between two given points—such as Steyning and Worthing, for example, or Lewes and Shoreham. Seated in his little room, with its half-a-dozen sporting prints on the wall and a scene or two of old Brighton, he would, with infinite detail, removing all possibility of mistake, describe the itinerary, weighing the merits of alternative paths with profound solemnity, and proving the wisdom of every departure from the more obvious track. Were Sussex obliterated by a tidal wave, and were a new county to be constructed on the old lines, John Horne could have done it.
Of his talk I found it impossible to tire, and I shall never cease to regret that circumstances latterly made visits to him very infrequent. Towards the end his faculties now and then were a little dimmed; but the occlusion carried compensation with it. To sit with an old man and, being mistaken by him for one's own grandfather, to be addressed as though half a century had rolled away, is an experience that I would not miss.
To the end John Horne dressed as the country gentlemen of his young days had dressed; he might have stepped out of one of Alken's pictures, for he possessed also the well nourished complexion, the full forehead, and the slight fringe of whiskers which distinguished Alken's merry sportsmen. His business taking him deep into the county among the farms, he was always in walking trim, with an umbrella crooked over one arm, his other hand grasping the obtuse-angled handle of a ground-ash stick. These sticks, of which he had scores, he cut himself, his eye never losing its vigilance as he passed through a copse. Under the handle, about an inch from the end, he screwed a steel peg, so that the stick, when it was not required, might hang upon his arm; while a long, stout pin, with a flat brass head, was also inserted, in case his pipe needed cleaning out. Thus furnished, with umbrella and stick, pipe and a sample of his merchandise, John Horne, in his wide collar, his ample coat with vast pockets over the hips, his tight trousers, and his early-Victorian headgear, has been, these fifty years, a familiar figure in the Weald as he passed from farm to farm at a steady gait, his interested glances falling this way and that, noting every change (and perhaps a little resenting it, for he was of the old Tory school), and his genial salutation ready for all acquaintances. But he is now no more, and Sussex is the poorer, and the historian of Sussex poorer still. I believe he would have liked this book; but how he would have shaken his wise head over its omissions!
- This is the Sussex preterite of the verb "to join."
- In tye—not I.
- Chucker; in a cheerful, cordial manner.