Highways and Byways in Sussex/Chapter 2

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Highways and Byways in Sussex by Edward Verrall Lucas
Midhurst's Villages

CHAPTER II


MIDHURST'S VILLAGES


Hanging in chains—A wooded paradise—Fernhurst—Shulbrede Priory—Blackdown—Tennyson's Sussex home—Thomas Otway—Kate Hotspur's Grave—A Sussex ornithologist—The friend of owls—William Cobbett looks at the Squire—The charms of South Harting—Lady Mary Caryll's little difficulties—Gilbert White in Sussex—The old field routine—Witchcraft at South Harting—The Rother—Easebourne—West Lavington and Cardinal Manning.


The road from Midhurst to Blackdown ascends steadily to Henley, threading vast woods and preserves. On the left is a great common, on the right North Heath, where the two Drewitts were hanged in chains after being executed at Horsham, in 1799, for the robbery of the Portsmouth mail—probably the last instance of hanging in chains in this country. For those that like wild forest country there was once no better ramble than might be enjoyed here; but now (1903) that the King's new sanatorium is being built in the midst of Great Common, some of the wildness must necessarily be lost. A finer site could not have been found. Above Great Common is a superb open space nearly six hundred feet high, with gorse bushes advantageously placed to give shelter while one studies the Fernhurst valley, the Haslemere heights and, blue in the distance, the North Downs. Sussex has nothing wilder or richer than the country we are now in.

A few minutes' walk to the east from this lofty common, and we are immediately above Henley, clinging to the hill side, an almost Alpine hamlet. Henley, however, no longer sees the travellers that once it did, for the coach road, which of old climbed perilously through it, has been diverted in a curve through the hanger, and now sweeps into Fernhurst by way of Henley Common.

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Blackdown

Fernhurst, beautifully named, is in an exquisite situation among the minor eminences of the Haslemere range, but the builder has been busy here, and the village is not what it was. Two miles to the north-west, on the way to Linchmere, immediately under the green heights of Marley, is the old house which once was Shulbrede Priory. As it is now in private occupation and is not shown to strangers, I have not seen it; but of old many persons journeyed thither, attracted by the quaint mural paintings, in the Prior's room, of domestic animals uttering speech. "Christus natus est," crows the cock. "Quando? Quando?" the duck inquires. "In hac nocte," says the raven. "Ubi? Ubi?" asks the cow, and the lamb satisfies her: "Bethlehem, Bethlehem."

One may return deviously from Shulbrede to Midhurst (passing in the heart of an unpopulated country a hamlet called Milland, where is an old curiosity shop of varied resources) by way of one of the pleasantest and narrowest lanes that I know, rising and falling for miles through silent woods, coming at last to Chithurst church, one of the smallest and simplest and least accessible in the county, and reaching Midhurst again by the hard, dry and irreproachable road that runs between the heather of Trotton Common.

On the eastern side of Fernhurst, to which we may now return, a mile on the way to Lurgashall, was once Verdley Castle; but it is now a castle no more, merely a ruined heap. Utilitarianism was too much for it, and its stones fell to Macadam. After all, if an old castle has to go, there are few better forms of reincarnation for it than a good hard road. While at Fernhurst it is well to walk on to Blackdown, the best way, perhaps, being to take the lane to the right about half a mile beyond the village, and make for the hill across country. Blackdown, whose blackness is from its heather and its firs, frowns before one all the while. The climb to the summit is toilsome, over nine hundred feet, but well worth the effort, for the hill overlooks hundreds of square miles of Sussex and Surrey, between Leith Hill in the north and Chanctonbury in the south.

Aldworth, Tennyson's house, is on the north-east slope, facing Surrey. The poet laid the foundation stone on April 23 (Shakespeare's birthday), 1868: the inscription on the stone running "Prosper thou the work of our hands, O prosper thou our handiwork." Of the site Aubrey de Vere wrote:—"It lifted England's great poet to a height from which he could gaze on a large portion of that English land which he loved so well, see it basking in its most affluent summer beauty, and only bounded by 'the inviolate sea.' Year after year he trod its two stately terraces with men the most noted of their time." Pilgrims from all parts journeyed thither—not too welcome; among them that devout American who had worked his way across the Atlantic in order to recite Maud to its author: a recitation from which, says the present Lord Tennyson, his father "suffered." Tennyson has, I think, no poems upon his Sussex home, but I always imagine that the dedication of The Death of Œnone and other Poems, in 1894, must belong to Blackdown:—

       There on the top of the down,
       The wild heather round me and over me June's high blue,
       When I look'd at the bracken so bright and the heather so brown,
       I thought to myself I would offer this book to you,
       This, and my love together,
       To you that are seventy-seven,
       With a faith as clear as the heights of the June-blue heaven,
       And a fancy as summer-new
       As the green of the bracken amid the gloom of the heather.

The most interesting village between Midhurst and the western boundary, due west, is Trotton, three miles distant on the superb road to Petersfield, of which I have spoken above. There is no better road in England. Trotton is quiet and modest, but it has two great claims on lovers of the English drama. In the "Ode to Pity" of one of our Sussex poets we read thus of another:—

                    But wherefore need I wander wide
                    To old Ilissus' distant side,
                      Deserted streams and mute?

                    Wild Arun, too, has heard thy strains,
                    And echo, 'midst my native plains,
                      Been soothed by pity's lute.

                    There first the wren thy myrtles shed
                    On gentlest Otway's infant head,
                      To him thy cell was shown;
                    And while he sung the female heart,
                    With youth's soft notes unspoiled by art,
                      Thy turtles mixed their own.

So wrote William Collins, adding in a note that the Arun (more properly the Rother, a tributary of the Arun) runs by the village of Trotton, in Sussex, where Thomas Otway had his birth. The unhappy author of [[Venice Preserv'd]] and The Orphan was born at Trotton in 1652, the son of Humphrey Otway, the curate, who afterwards became rector of Woolbeding close by. Otway died miserably when only thirty-three, partly of starvation, partly of a broken heart at the unresponsiveness of Mrs. Barry, the actress, whom he loved, but who preferred the Earl of Rochester. His two best plays, although they are no longer acted, lived for many years, providing in Belvidera, in Venice Preserv'd and Monimia, in The Orphan (in which he "sung the female heart") congenial rôles for tragic actresses—Mrs. Barry, Mrs. Oldfield, Mrs. Cibber, Mrs. Siddons and Miss O'Neill. Otway was buried in the churchyard of St. Clement Danes, but a tablet to his fame is in Trotton church, which is of unusual plainness, not unlike an ecclesiastical barn. Here also is the earliest known brass to a woman—Margaret de Camoys, who lived about 1300.

The transition is easy (at Trotton) from Otway to Shakespeare, from Venice Preserv'd to Henry IV.


Hotspur (to Lady Percy). Come, Kate, thou art perfect in lying down: come quick, quick; that I may lay my head in thy lap.
Lady P. Go, ye giddy goose.[The music plays.

Hot. Now I perceive, the devil understands Welsh;
     And 't is no marvel' he's so humorous,
     By'r lady, he's a good musician.

Lady P. Then should you be nothing but musical; for you are altogether governed by humours. Lie still, ye thief, and hear the lady sing in Welsh.
Hot. I had rather hear Lady, my brach, howl in Irish.
Lady P. Wouldst have thy head broken?
Hot. No.
Lady P. Then be still.
Hot. Neither: 'tis a woman's fault.
Lady P. Now God help thee!
Hot. To the Welsh lady's bed.
Lady P. What's that?
Hot. Peace! she sings.

[A Welsh song sung by Lady Mortimer.


Hot. Come, Kate, I'll have your song too.
Lady P. Not mine, in good sooth.
Hot. Not yours, in good sooth! 'Heart, you swear like a comfit-maker's wife. 'Not you, in good sooth'; and, 'As true as I live'; and,
            'As God shall mend me'; and, 'As sure as day':
            And giv'st such sarcenet surety for thy oaths,
            As if thou never walk'dst further than Finsbury.
            Swear me, Kate, like a lady as thou art,
            A good mouth-filling oath; and leave 'in sooth,'
            And such protest of pepper-gingerbread,
            To velvet-guards and Sunday-citizens.
            Come, sing.
 Lady P. I will not sing.
Hot. 'Tis the next way to turn tailor, or be redbreast teacher. An the indentures be drawn, I'll away within these two hours; and so come in when ye will.[Exit.

My excuse for introducing this little scene is that Kate, whose real name was Elizabeth, lies here. Her tomb is in the chancel, where she reposes beside her second husband Thomas, Lord Camoys, beneath a slab on which are presentments in brass of herself and her lord. It was this Lord Camoys who rebuilt Trotton's church, about 1400, and who also gave the village its beautiful bridge over the Rother at a cost, it used to be said, of only a few pence less than that of the church.

Trotton has still other literary claims. At Trotton Place lived Arthur Edward Knox, whose Ornithological Rambles in Sussex, published in 1849, is one of the few books worthy to stand beside White's Natural History of Selborne. In Sussex, as elsewhere, the fowler has prevailed, and although rare birds are still occasionally to be seen, they now visit the country only by accident, and leave it as soon as may be, thankful to have a whole skin. Guns were active enough in Knox's time, but to read his book to-day is to be translated to a new land. From time to time I shall borrow from Mr. Knox's pages: here I may quote a short passage which refers at once to his home and to his attitude to those creatures whom he loved to study and studied to love:—"I have the satisfaction of exercising the rites of hospitality towards a pair of barn owls, which have for some time taken up their quarters in one of the attic roofs of the ancient, ivy-covered house in which I reside. I delight in listening to the prolonged snoring of the young when I ascend the old oak stairs to the neighbourhood of their nursery, and in hearing the shriek of the parent birds on the calm summer nights as they pass to and fro near my window; for it assures me that they are still safe; and as I know that at least a qualified protection is afforded them elsewhere, and that even their arch-enemy the gamekeeper is beginning reluctantly, but gradually, to acquiesce in the general belief of their innocence and utility, I cannot help indulging the hope that this bird will eventually meet with that general encouragement and protection to which its eminent services so richly entitle it."

One more literary association: it was at Trotton that William Cobbett looked at the squire. "From Rogate we came on to Trotton, where a Mr. Twyford is the squire, and where there is a very fine and ancient church close by the squire's house. I saw the squire looking at some poor devils who were making 'wauste improvements, ma'am,' on the road which passes by the squire's door. He looked uncommonly hard at me. It was a scrutinising sort of look, mixed, as I thought, with a little surprise, if not of jealousy, as much as to say, 'I wonder who the devil you can be?' My look at the squire was with the head a little on one side, and with the cheek drawn up from the left corner of the mouth, expressive of anything rather than a sense of inferiority to the squire, of whom, however, I had never heard speak before."

By passing on to Rogate, whose fine church not long since was restored too freely, and turning due south, we come to what is perhaps the most satisfying village in all Sussex—South Harting. Cool and spacious and retired, it lies under the Downs, with a little subsidiary range of its own to shelter it also from the west. Three inns are ready to refresh the traveller—the Ship, the White Hart (a favourite Sussex sign), and the Coach and Horses (with a new signboard of dazzling freshness); the surrounding country is good; Petersfield and Midhurst are less than an hour's drive distant; while the village has one of the most charming churches in Sussex, both without and within. Unlike most of the county's spires, South Harting's is slate and red shingle, but the slate is of an agreeable green hue, resembling old copper. (Perhaps it is copper.) The roof is of red tiles mellowed by weather, and the south side of the tower is tiled too, imparting an unusual suggestion of warmth—more, of comfort—to the structure; while on the east wall of the chancel is a Virginian creeper, which, as autumn advances, emphasises this effect. Within, the church is winning, too, with its ample arches, perfect proportions, and that æsthetic satisfaction that often attends the cruciform shape. An interesting monument of the Cowper and Coles families is preserved in the south transept—three full-size coloured figures. In the north transept is a spiral staircase leading to the tower, and elsewhere are memorials of the Fords and Featherstonhaughs of Up-Park, a superb domain over the brow of Harting's Down, and of the Carylls of Lady Holt, of whom we shall see more directly. The east window is a peculiarly cheerful one, and the door of South Harting church is kept open, as every church door should be, but as too many in Sussex are not.

In the churchyard, beneath a shed, are the remains of two tombs, with recumbent stone figures, now in a fragmentary state. At the church gates are the old village stocks.

Harting has a place in literature, for one of the Carylls was Pope's friend, John (1666-1736), a nephew of the diplomatist and dramatist. Pope's Caryll, who suggested The Rape of the Lock, lived at Lady Holt at West Harting (long destroyed) and also at West Grinstead, where, as we shall see, the poem was largely written. Mr. H. D. Gordon, rector of Harting for many years, wrote a history of his parish in 1877: a very interesting, gossipy book; where we may read much of the Caryll family, including passages from their letters—how Lady Mary Caryll had the kind impulse to take one of the parson's nine daughters to France to educate and befriend, but was so thoughtless as to transform into a pretty Papist; how Lady Mary disliked Mrs. Jones, the steward's wife; and many other matters. I quote a passage from a letter of Lady Mary's about Mrs. Jones, showing that human nature was not then greatly different from what it is to-day:—"Mr. Joans and his fine Madam came down two days before your birthday and expected to lye in the house, but as I apprehended the consequence of letting them begin so, I made an excuse for want of roome by expecting company, and sent them to Gould's [Arthur Gould married Kate Caryll, and lived at Harting Place], where they stayed two nights. I invited them the next day to dinner and they came, but the day following Madam huff'd (I believe), for she went away to Barnard's, and wou'd not so much as see the desert [dessert]; however, I don't repent it, he has been here at all the merryment, and I believe you'll find it better to keep them at a civil distance than other ways, for she seems a high dame and not very good humoured, for she has been sick ever since of the mulygrubes." Mrs. Jones soon afterwards succumbed either to the mulygrubes or a worse visitation. Lady Mary thus broke the news:—"Mr. Jones's wife dyed on Sunday, just as she lived, an Independent, and wou'd have no parson with her, because she sayd she cou'd pray as well as they. He is making a great funerall, but I believe not in much affection, for he was all night at a merry bout two days before she died."

On the arrival of the young Squire Caryll at Lady Holt with his bride, in 1739, Paul Kelly, the bailiff, informed Lady Mary that the villagers conducted their lord and lady home "with the upermost satisfaction"—a good phrase.

Mr. Gordon writes elsewhere in his book of a famous writer whom Hampshire claims: "For at least forty years (1754-1792) Gilbert White was an East Harting squire. The bulk of his property was at Woodhouse and Nye woods, on the northern slope of East Harting, and bounded on the west by the road to Harting station. The passenger from Harting to the railway has on his right, immediately opposite the 'Severals' wood, Gilbert White's Farm, extending nearly to the station. White had also other Harting lands. These were upon the Downs, viz.:—a portion of the Park of Uppark on the south side, and a portion of Kildevil Lane, on the North Marden side of Harting Hill. Gilbert White was on his mother's side a Ford, and these lands had been transmitted to him through his great uncle, Oliver Whitby, nephew to Sir Edward Ford."

A glimpse of the old Sussex field routine, not greatly changed in the remote districts to-day, was given to Mr. Gordon thirty years ago by an aged labourer. This was the day:—"Out in morning at four o'clock. Mouthful of bread and cheese and pint of ale. Then off to the harvest field. Rippin and moen [reaping and mowing] till eight. Then morning brakfast and small beer. Brakfast—a piece of fat pork as thick as your hat [a broad-brimmed wideawake] is wide. Then work till ten o'clock: then a mouthful of bread and cheese and a pint of strong beer ['farnooner,' i.e., forenooner; 'farnooner's-lunch,' we called it]. Work till twelve. Then at dinner in the farm-house; sometimes a leg of mutton, sometimes a piece of ham and plum pudding. Then work till five, then a nunch and a quart of ale. Nunch was cheese, 'twas skimmed cheese though. Then work till sunset, then home and have supper and a pint of ale. I never knew a man drunk in the harvest field in my life. Could drink six quarts, and believe that a man might drink two gallons in a day. All of us were in the house [i.e., the usual hired servants, and those specially engaged for the harvest]: the yearly servants used to go with the monthly ones.

"There were two thrashers, and the head thrasher used always to go before the reapers. A man could cut according to the goodness of the job, half-an-acre a day. The terms of wages were £3 10s. to 50s. for the month.

"When the hay was in cock or the wheat in shock, then the Titheman come; you didn't dare take up a field without you let him know. If the Titheman didn't come at the time, you tithed yourself. He marked his sheaves with a bough or bush. You couldn't get over the Titheman. If you began at a hedge and made the tenth cock smaller than the rest, the Titheman might begin in the middle just where he liked. The Titheman at Harting, old John Blackmore, lived at Mundy's [South Harting Street]. His grandson is blacksmith at Harting now. All the tithing was quiet. You didn't dare even set your eggs till the Titheman had been and ta'en his tithe. The usual day's work was from 7 to 5."

Like all Sussex villages, Harting has had its witches and possessors of the evil eye. Most curious of these was old Mother Digby (née Mollen), who, in Mr. Gordon's words, lived at a house in Hog's Lane, East Harting, and had the power of witching herself into a hare, and was continually, like Hecate, attended by dogs. Squire Russell, of Tye Oak, always lost his hare at the sink-hole of a drain near by the old lady's house. One day the dogs caught hold of the hare by its hind quarters, but it escaped down the drain, and Squire Russell, instantly opening the old beldame's door, found her rubbing the part of her body corresponding to that by which the hound had seized the hare. Squire Caryll, however, declined to be hard on the broomstick and its riders, as the following entry in the records of the Court Leet, held for the Hundred of Dumford in 1747, shows:—"Also we present the Honble. John Caryll, Esq., Lord of this Mannor, for not having and keeping a Ducking Stool within the said Hundred of Dumford according to law, for the ducking of scolds and other disorderly persons."

The road from South Harting to Elsted runs under the hills, which here rise abruptly from the fields, to great heights, notably Beacon Hill, like a huge green mammoth, 800 feet high, on which, before the days of telegraphy, lived the signaller, who passed on the tidings of danger on the coast to the next beacon hill, above Henley, and so on to London. In the days of Napoleon, when any moment might reveal the French fleet, the Sussex hill tops must often have smouldered under false alarms. The next hill in the east is Treyford Hill, above Treyford village, whose church tower, standing on a little hill of its own nearly three hundred feet high, might take a lesson in beauty from South Harting's, although its spire has a slenderness not to be improved. Next to Treyford Hill is Didling Hill, above Didling, and then Linch Down, highest of all in these parts, being 818 feet.

Elsted, which has no particular interest, possesses an inn, the Three Horse Shoes, on a site superior to that of many a nobleman's house. It stands high above a rocky lane, commanding a superb sidelong view of the Downs and the Weald.

Midhurst's river is the Rother (not to be confounded with the Rother in the east of Sussex), which flows into the Arun near Hardham. It is wide enough at Midhurst for small boats, and is a very graceful stream on which to idle and watch the few kingfishers that man has spared. One may walk by its side for miles and hear no sound save the music of repose—the soft munching of the cows in the meadows, the chuckle of the water as a rat slips in, the sudden yet soothing plash caused by a jumping fish. Around one's head in the evening the stag-beetle buzzes with its multiplicity of wings and fierce lobster-like claws out-stretched.

Following the Rother to the west one comes first to Easebourne, a shady cool village only a few steps from Midhurst, once notable for its Benedictine Priory of nuns. Henry VIII. put an end to its religious life, which, however, if we may believe the rather disgraceful revelations divulged at an episcopal examination, for some years had not been of too sincere a character. In Easebourne church is the handsome tomb of the first Viscount Montagu (the host of Queen Elizabeth), which was brought hither from Midhurst church some forty years ago. Beyond Easebourne, on the banks of the Rother, is Woolbeding, amid lush grass and foliage, as green a spot as any in green England.

On the eastern side of the town (with a diversion into Queen Elizabeth's sombre wood-walk) one may come by the side of the river part of the way to West Lavington, which stands high on a slope facing the Downs, with pine woods immediately beneath it, perhaps as fair a site as any church can claim. The grave of Richard Cobden, the Free Trader, a native of Heyshott, near by, is in the churchyard. Here, in 1850, Henry Edward Manning, afterwards Cardinal, preached his last sermon for the Church of England. It is, indeed, Manning country, for besides being curate and rector of Woollavington with Graffham (four or five miles to the south-east) from 1833 until his secession, he was for nine years Archdeacon of Chichester; he married Miss Sargent, daughter of the late rector and sister of Mrs. Samuel Wilberforce of Woollavington; and while rector, he rebuilt both churches. Graffham is interesting also as being the present home of one of the most truthful of living painters, Mr. Henry La Thangue, whose scenes of peasants at work (in the manner of Barbizon) and studies of sunlight spattering through the trees are among the triumphs of modern English art.

One more village and we will make for the hills. A mile beyond the eastern gate of Cowdray Park is Lodsworth, still a paradise of apple orchards, but no longer famous for its cider as once it was. Arthur Young had the pleasure of tasting some Lodsworth cider of a superior quality at Lord Egremont's table at the beginning of the last century, but I doubt if Petworth House honours the beverage to-day. Cider, except in the cider country, becomes less and less common.

Cowdray House, 2.png

Cowdray