Highways and Byways in Sussex/Chapter 5

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Highways and Byways in Sussex by Edward Verrall Lucas
Chichester and the Hills
The Ruined Nave of Boxgrove.png

The Ruined Nave of Boxgrove.


CHAPTER V


CHICHESTER AND THE HILLS.


Goodwood—The art of being a park—The Cenotaph of Lord Darnley—Boxgrove—Cowper at Eastham—The Charlton Hunt—A famous run—Huntsman and Saint—Present day hunting in Sussex—Mr. Knox's delectable day with his gun—Kingly Bottom—The best white violets—A demon bowler—Two epitaphs.

Chichester may have a cathedral and a history, but nine out of ten strangers know of it only as a station for Goodwood race-course; towards which, in that hot week at the end of July, hundreds of carriages toil by the steep road that skirts the Duke of Richmond and Gordon's park.

Goodwood Park gives me little pleasure. I miss the deer; and when the first park that one ever knew was Buxted, with its moving antlers above the brake fern, one almost is compelled to withhold the word park from any enclosure without them. It is impossible to lose the feeling that the right place for cattle—even for Alderneys—is the meadow. Cows in a park are a poor makeshift; parks are for deer. To my eyes Goodwood House has a chilling exterior; the road to the hill-top is steep and lengthy; and when one has climbed it and crossed the summit wood, it is to come upon the last thing that one wishes to find in the heart of the country, among rolling Downs, sacred to hawks and solitude—a Grand Stand and the railings of a race-course! Race-courses are for the outskirts of towns, as at Brighton and Lewes; or for hills that have no mystery and no magic, like the heights of Epsom; or for such mockeries of parks as Sandown and Kempton. The good park has many deer and no race-course.

And yet Goodwood is superb, for it has some of the finest trees in Sussex within its walls, including the survivors of a thousand cedars of Lebanon planted a hundred and fifty years ago; and with every step higher one unfolds a wider view of the Channel and the plain. Best of these prospects is, perhaps, that gained from Carne's seat, as the Belvedere to the left of the road to the racecourse is called; its name deriving from an old servant of the family, whose wooden hut was situated here when Carne died, and whose name and fame were thus perpetuated. The stones of the building were in part those of old Hove church, near Brighton, then lately demolished.

In Goodwood House, which is shown on regular days, are fine Vandycks and Lelys, relics of the two Charles', and above all the fascinatingly absorbing "Cenotaph of Lord Darnley," a series of scenes in the life of that ill-fated husband. It may be said that among all the treasures of Sussex there is nothing quite so interesting as this.

Leaving Chichester by East Street (or Stane Street, the old Roman road to London) one comes first to West Hampnett, famous as the birthplace, in 1792, of Frederick William Lillywhite, the "Nonpareil" bowler, whom we shall meet again at Brighton. A mile and a half beyond is Halnaker, midway between two ruins, those of Halnaker House to the north and Boxgrove Priory to the south. Of the remains of Halnaker House, a Tudor mansion, once the home of the De la Warrs, little may now be seen; but Boxgrove is still very beautiful, as Mr. Griggs' drawings prove. The Priory dates from the reign of Henry I., when it was founded very

Boxgrove Priory Church.png

Boxgrove Priory Church.

modestly for three Benedictine monks, a number which steadily grew. Seven Henries later came its downfall, and now nothing remains but some exquisite Norman arches and a few less perfect fragments. Boxgrove church is an object of pilgrimage for antiquaries and architects, the vaulting being peculiarly interesting. At the Halnaker Arms in 1902 was a landlady whom few cooks could teach anything in the matter of pastry.

The next village on Stane Street, or rather a little south of it, about two miles beyond Halnaker, is Eartham; which brings to mind William Hayley, the friend and biographer of Cowper and the author of The Triumphs of Temper, perhaps the least read of any book that once was popular. Hayley succeeded his father as squire of Eartham; here he entertained Cowper and other friends; here Romney painted. When need came for retrenchment, Hayley let Eartham to Huskisson, the statesman, and moved to Felpham, on the coast, where we shall meet with him again. Cowper's occupations upon this charming Sussex hillside are recorded in Hayley's account of the visit: "Homer was not the immediate object of our attention while Cowper resided at Eartham. The morning hours that we could bestow on books were chiefly devoted to a complete revisal and correction of all the translations, which my friend had finished, from the Latin and Italian poetry of Milton; and we generally amused ourselves after dinner in forming together a rapid metrical version of Andreini's Adamo. But the constant care which the delicate health of Mrs. Unwin required rendered it impossible for us to be very assiduous in study, and perhaps the best of all studies was to promote and share that most singular and most exemplary tenderness of attention with which Cowper incessantly laboured to counteract every infirmity, bodily and mental, with which sickness and age had conspired to load this interesting guardian of his afflicted life. . . . The air of the south infused a little portion of fresh strength into her shattered frame, and to give it all possible efficacy, the boy, whom I have mentioned, and a young associate and fellow student of his, employed themselves regularly twice a day in drawing this venerable cripple in a commodious garden-chair round the airy hill of Eartham. To Cowper and to me it was a very pleasing spectacle to see the benevolent vivacity of blooming youth thus continually labouring for the ease, health, and amusement of disabled age."

The poet and Mrs. Unwin, after much trepidation and doubt, had left Weston Underwood on August 1, 1792; they slept at Barnet the first night, Ripley the next, and were at Eartham by ten o'clock on the third. They stayed till September. Cowper describes Hayley's estate as one of the most delightful pleasure grounds in the world. "I had no conception that a poet could be the owner of such a paradise, and his house is as elegant as his scenes are charming." The poet, apart from his rapid treatment of Adamo, did not succeed independently in attaining to Hayley's fluency among these surroundings. "I am in truth so unaccountably local in the use of my pen," he wrote to Lady Hesketh, "that, like the man in the fable, who could leap well nowhere but at Rhodes, I seem incapable of writing at all except at Weston." Hence the only piece that he composed in our county was the epitaph on Fop, a dog belonging to Lady Throckmorton. But while he was at Eartham Romney drew his portrait in crayons.

Boxgrove from the south.png

Boxgrove from the South.

Cowper always looked back upon his visit with pleasure, but, as he remarked, the genius of Weston Underwood suited him better—"It has an air of snug concealment in which a disposition like mine feels itself peculiarly gratified; whereas now I see from every window woods like forests and hills like mountains—a wilderness, in short, that rather increases my natural melancholy.... Accordingly, I have not looked out for a house in Sussex, nor shall."

The simplest road from Chichester to the Downs is the railway. The little train climbs laboriously to Singleton, and then descends to Cocking and Midhurst. By leaving it at Singleton one is quickly in the heart of this vast district of wooded hills, sometimes wholly forested, sometimes, as in West Dean park, curiously studded with circular clumps of trees.

The most interesting spot to the east of the line is Charlton, once so famous among sporting men, but now, alas, unknown. For Charlton was of old a southern Melton Mowbray, the very centre of the aristocratic hunting county. The Charlton Hunt had two palmy periods: before the Duke of Monmouth's rebellion, and after the accession of William III. Monmouth and Lord Grey kept two packs, the Master being Squire Roper. With the fall of Monmouth Roper fled to France, to hunt at Chantilly, but on the accession of William III. he returned to Sussex, the hounds resumed their old condition, and the Charlton pack became the most famous in the world. On the death of Mr. Roper—in the hunting field, in 1715, at the age of eighty-four—the Duke of Bolton took the Mastership, which he held until the charms of Miss Fenton the actress (the Polly Peachum of The Beggars' Opera) lured him to the tents of the women. Then came the glorious reign of the second Duke of Richmond, when sport with the Charlton was at its height. The Charlton Hunt declined upon his death, in 1750, became known as the Goodwood Hunt, and wholly ceased to be at the beginning of the last century.

The crowning glory of the Charlton Hunt was the run of Friday, January 26, 1738, which is thus described in an old manuscript:—

A FULL AND IMPARTIAL ACCOUNT OF THE REMARKABLE CHASE AT CHARLTON, ON FRIDAY, 26TH JANUARY, 1738.

It has long been a matter of controversy in the hunting world to what particular country or set of men the superiority belonged. Prejudices and partiality have the greatest share in their disputes, and every society their proper champion to assert the pre-eminence and bring home the trophy to their own country. Even Richmond Park has the Dymoke. But on Friday, the 26th of January, 1738, there was a decisive engagement on the plains of Sussex, which, after ten hours' struggle, has settled all further debate and given the brush to the gentlemen of Charlton.
PRESENT IN THE MORNING:—

{{size|s|The Duke of Richmond, Duchess of Richmond, Duke of St Alban's, the Lord Viscount Harcourt, the Lord Henry Beauclerk, the Lord Ossulstone, Sir Harry Liddell, Brigadier Henry Hawley, Ralph Jennison, master of His Majesty's Buck Hounds, Edward Pauncefort, Esq., William Farquhar, Esq., Cornet Philip Honywood, Richard Biddulph, Esq., Charles Biddulph, Esq., Mr. St. Paul, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Peerman, of Chichester; Mr. Thomson, Tom Johnson, Billy Ives, Yeoman Pricker to His Majesty's Hounds; David Briggs and Nim Ives, Whippers-in.

At a quarter before eight in the morning the fox was found in Eastdean Wood, and ran an hour in that cover; then into the Forest, up to Puntice Coppice through Heringdean to the Marlows, up to Coney Coppice, back to the Marlows, to the Forest West Gate, over the fields to Nightingale Bottom, to Cobden's at Draught, up his Pine Pit Hanger, where His Grace of St. Alban's got a fall; through My Lady Lewknor's Puttocks, and missed the earth; through Westdean Forest to the corner of Collar Down (where Lord Harcourt blew his first horse), crossed the Hackney-place down the length of Coney Coppice, through the Marlows to Heringdean, into the Forest and Puntice Coppice, Eastdean Wood, through the Lower Teglease across by Cocking Course down between Graffham and Woolavington, through Mr. Orme's Park and Paddock over the Heath to Fielder's Furzes, to the Harlands, Selham, Ambersham, through Todham Furzes, over Todham Heath, almost to Cowdray Park, there turned to the limekiln at the end of Cocking Causeway, through Cocking Park and Furzes; there crossed the road and up the hills between Bepton and Cocking. Here the unfortunate Lord Harcourt's second horse felt the effects of long legs and a sudden steep; the best thing that belonged to him was his saddle, which My Lord had secured; but, by bleeding and Geneva (contrary to Act of Parliament) he recovered, and with some difficulty was got home. Here Mr. Farquhar's humanity claims your regard, who kindly sympathised with My Lord in his misfortunes, and had not power to go beyond him. At the bottom of Cocking Warren the hounds turned to the left across the road by the barn near Heringdean, then took the side near to the north-gate of the Forest (Here General Hawley thought it prudent to change his horse for a true-blue that staid up the hills). Billy Ives likewise took a horse of Sir Harry Liddell's, went quite through the Forest and run the foil through Nightingale Bottom to Cobden at Draught, up his Pine Pit Hanger to My Lady Lewknor's Puttocks, through every mews she went in the morning; went through the Warren above Westdean (where we dropt Sir Harry Liddell) down to Benderton Farm (here Lord Harry sank), through Goodwood Park (here the Duke of Richmond chose to send three lame horses back to Charlton, and took Saucy Face and Sir William, that were luckily at Goodwood; from thence, at a distance, Lord Harry was seen driving his horse before him to Charlton). The hounds went out at the upper end of the Park over Strettington-road by Sealy Coppice (where His Grace of Richmond got a summerset), through Halnaker Park over Halnaker Hill to Seabeach Farm (here the Master of the Stag Hounds, Cornet Honywood, Tom Johnson, and Nim Ives were thoroughly satisfied), up Long Down, through Eartham Common fields and Kemp's High Wood (here Billy Ives tried his second horse and took Sir William, by which the Duke of St. Alban's had no great coat, so returned to Charlton). From Kemp's High Wood the hounds took away through Gunworth Warren, Kemp's Rough Piece, over Slindon Down to Madehurst Parsonage (where Billy came in with them), over Poor Down up to Madehurst, then down to Houghton Forest, where His Grace of Richmond, General Hawley, and Mr. Pauncefort came in (the latter to little purpose, for, beyond the Ruel Hill, neither Mr. Pauncefort nor his horse Tinker cared to go, so wisely returned to his impatient friends), up the Ruel Hill, left Sherwood on the right hand, crossed Ofham Hill to Southwood, from thence to South Stoke to the wall of Arundel River, where the glorious 23 hounds put an end to the campaign, and killed an old bitch fox, ten minutes before six. Billy Ives, His Grace of Richmond, and General Hawley were the only persons in at the death, to the immortal honour of 17 stone, and at least as many campaigns.}}

In Singleton church is a record of the Charlton Hunt in the shape of a memorial to one of the huntsmen, the moral of which seems to be that we must all be huntsmen too:—

"Near this place lies interred
Thomas Johnson,
who departed this life at Charlton,
December 20th, 1774.

"From his early inclination to fox-hounds, he soon became an experienced huntsman. His knowledge in the profession, wherein he had no superior, and hardly an equal, joined to his honesty in every other particular, recommended him to the service, and gained him the approbation, of several of the nobility and gentry. Among these were the Lord Conway, Earl of Cardigan, the Lord Gower, the Duke of Marlborough, the Hon. M. Spencer. The last master whom he served, and in whose service he died, was Charles, Duke of Richmond, Lennox, and Aubigny, who erected this monument in memory of a good and faithful servant, as a reward to the deceased, and an incitement to the living.

'Go, and do thou likewise.' (St. Luke, x. 37).

      'Here Johnson lies; what human can deny
       Old Honest Tom the tribute of a sigh?
       Deaf is that ear which caught the opening sound;
       Dumb that tongue which cheer'd the hills around.
       Unpleasing truth: Death hunts us from our birth
       In view, and men, like foxes, take to earth.'

A few words on the packs of Sussex at the present time may be interesting in this connection. Chief is the Southdown Fox Hounds, a very fine, fast pack brought to a high state of perfection by the late master, the Hon. Charles Brand. They hunt the open and hill country between the Adur and Cuckmere, between Haywards Heath and the sea. In the north are the Crawley and Horsham Fox Hounds, which have large woodlands, high hedges, and some stiff ploughed soil to their less easy lot. The hounds are bigger and heavier than the South Downers. Smaller packs are Lord Leconfield's Fox Hounds, which have the Charlton country; the Eastbourne Fox Hounds, to which the East Sussex Fox Hounds allotted a share of the western part of their country east of the Cuckmere; and the Burstow and Eridge packs. Of Harriers, the best are the Brighton Harriers, so long hunted by Mr. Hugh Gorringe of Kingston-by-Sea, a very smart pack lately covering the ground between the Adur and Falmer, and now adding the Brookside Harriers' country to their own domain, the two packs having been amalgamated. In the east are the Bexhill Harriers and the Hailsham Harriers; and in the west the South Coast Harriers, for the Chichester country. Sussex, in addition to possessing the Warnham Staghounds, is much raided by the Surrey Staghounds. The Crowhurst Otter Hounds also visit the Sussex streams now and then. Foot Beagles may be numerous but I know only of the Brighton pack.

And here let me give Mr. Knox's description of a day's shooting, in the gentlemanly way, on the Sussex Downs, following, in his Ornithological Rambles, upon some remarks on the battue. "How different is the pursuit of the pheasant with the aid of spaniels in the thick covers of the weald, or tracking him with a single setter among some of the wilder portions of the forest range!—intently observing your dog and anticipating the wily artifices of some old cock, with spurs as long as a dragon's, who will sometimes lead you for a mile through bog, brake, fern, and heather, before the sudden drop of your staunch companion, and a rigidity in all his limbs, satisfy you that you have at last compelled the bird to squat under that wide holly-bush, from whence you kick him up, and feel some little exultation as you bring him down with a snap-shot, having only caught a glimpse of him through the evergreen boughs, as he endeavoured to escape by a rapid flight at the opposite side of the tree.

"And then the woodcock-shooting in November—I must take you back once more to my favourite Downs. With the first full moon during that month, especially if the wind be easterly or the weather calm, arrive flights of woodcocks, which drop in the covers, and are dispersed among the bushy valleys, and even over the heathery summits of the hills. If it should happen to be a propitious year for beech-mast—the great attraction to pheasants on the Downs, as is the acorn in the weald—you may procure partridges, pheasants, hares, and rabbits in perhaps equal proportions, with half a dozen woodcocks to crown the bag.

East Lavant.png

East Lavant.

"The extensive, undulating commons and heaths dotted with broken patches of Scotch firs and hollies on the ferruginous sand north of the Downs, afford—where the manorial rights are enforced—still greater variety of sport. On this wild ground, accompanied by my spaniels and an old retriever, and attended only by one man, to carry the game, I have enjoyed as good sport as mortal need desire on this side of the Tweed. Here is a rough sketch of a morning's work.

"Commencing operations by walking across a turnip-field, two or three coveys spring wildly from the farther end, and fly, as I expect, to the adjoining common, where they are marked down on a brow thickly clothed with furze. Marching towards them with spaniels at heel, up jumps a hare under my nose, then another, then a rabbit. I reload rapidly, and on reaching the gorse 'put in' the dogs. Whirr! there goes a partridge! The spaniels drop to the report of my gun, but the fluttering wings of the dying bird rouse two of his neighbours before I am ready, and away they fly, screaming loudly. The remainder are flushed in detail and I succeed in securing the greater part of them. Now for the next covey. They were marked down in that little hollow where the heather is longer than usual—a beautiful spot! But before I reach it, up they all spring in an unexpected quarter; that cunning old patriarch at their head had cleverly called them together to a naked part of the hill from whence he could observe my manoeuvres, and a random shot sent after him with hearty good will proved totally ineffective.

"Now the spaniels are worming through the thick sedges on either side of the brook which intersects the moor, and by their bustling anxiety it is easy to see that game is afoot. Keeping well in front of them, I am just in time for a satisfactory right and left at two cock pheasants, which they had hunted down to the very edge of the water before they could persuade them to take wing. Now for that little alder coppice at the further end of the marshy swamp. Hark to that whipping sound so different from the rush of the rising pheasant or the drumming flight of the partridge! I cannot see the bird, but I know it is a woodcock. This must be one of his favourite haunts, for I perceive the tracks of his feet and the perforations of his bill in every direction on the black mud around. Mark! again. A second is sprung, and as he flits between the naked alders a snap-shot stops his career. I now emerge at the farther end, just where the trees are thinner than elsewhere. A wisp of snipes utter their well-known cry and scud over the heath; one of these is secured. The rest fly towards a little pool of dark water lying at a considerable distance from the common, a well-known rendezvous for those birds. Cautiously approaching, down wind, I reach the margin. Up springs a snipe; but just as my finger is on the trigger, and when too late to alter my intention, a duck and mallard rise from among the rushes and wheel round my head. One barrel is fortunately left, and the drake comes tumbling to the ground. Three or four pheasants, another couple of woodcocks, a few more snipes, a teal or two, and half a dozen rabbits picked up at various intervals, complete the day's sport, and I return home, better pleased with myself and my dogs than if we had compassed the destruction of all the hares in the county, or assisted at the immolation of a perfect hecatomb of pheasants."

Kingly Bottom is the most interesting spot to the west of Singleton. One may reach it either through Chilgrove, or by walking back towards Chichester as far as Binderton House, turning then to the right and walking due west for a couple of miles. Report says that the yews in Kingly Bottom, or Kingly Vale, mark a victory of Chichester men over a party of marauding Danes in 900, and that the dead were buried beneath the barrows on the hill. The story ought to be true. The vale is remarkable for its grove of yews, some of enormous girth, which extends along the bottom to the foot of the escarpment. The charge that might be brought against Sussex, that it lacks sombre scenery and the elements of dark romance, that its character is too open and transparent, would be urged to no purpose in Kingly Vale, which, always grave and silent, is transformed at dusk into a sinister and fantastic forest, a home for witchcraft and unquiet spirits.

So it seems to me; but among the verses of Bernard Barton, the Quaker poet and the friend of Charles Lamb, I lately chanced upon a sonnet "written on hearing it remarked that the scenery [of Kingly Bottom] was too gloomy to be termed beautiful; and that it was also associated with dolorous recollections of Druidical sacrifices." In this poem Barton takes a surprisingly novel line. "Nay, nay, it is not gloomy" he begins, and the end is thus:—

     Nor fancy Druid rites have left a stain
       Upon its gentle beauties:—loiter there
       In a calm summer night, confess how fair
     Its moonlight charms, and thou wilt learn how vain
     And transitory Superstition's reign
       Over a spot which gladsome thoughts may share.

The ordinary person, not a poet, would, I fear, prefer to think of Kingly Bottom's Druidical past.

The last time I was in Kingly Bottom—it was in April—after leaving the barrows on the summit of the Bow Hill, above the Vale, I walked by devious ways to East Marden, between banks thick with the whitest and sweetest of sweet white violets. East Marden, however, has no inn and is therefore not the best friend of the traveller; but it has the most modest and least ecclesiastical-looking church in the world, and by seeking it out I learned two secrets: the finest place for white violets and the finest place to keep a horse. There is no riding country to excel this hill district between Singleton and the Hampshire border.

At the neighbouring village of Stoughton, whither I meant to walk (since an inn is there) was born, in 1783, the terrible George Brown—Brown of Brighton—the fast bowler, whose arm was as thick as an ordinary man's thigh. He had two long stops, one of whom padded his chest with straw. A long stop once held his coat before one of Brown's balls, but the ball went through it and killed a dog on the other side. Brown could throw a 4½ oz. ball 137 yards, and he was the father of seventeen children. He died at Sompting in 1857.

Of Racton, on the Hampshire border, and its association with Charles II., I have already spoken. Below, it is Westbourne, a small border village in whose churchyard are two pleasing epitaphs. Of Jane, wife of Thomas Curtis, who died in 1719, it is written:—

      She was like a lily fresh and green,
      Soon cast down and no more seen.

and of John Cook:

      Pope said an honest man
      Is the noblest work of God.
      If Pope's assertion be from error clear,
      One of God's noblest works lies buried here.