Highways and Byways in Sussex/Chapter 14

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Highways and Byways in Sussex by Edward Verrall Lucas
West Grinstead, Cowfold and Henfield

CHAPTER XIV


WEST GRINSTEAD, COWFOLD AND HENFIELD


"The Rape of the Lock"—Knepp castle—The Cowfold brass—Carthusians in Sussex—The Oakendene cricketers—Fourteen Golden Orioles on Henfield common—A Henfield botanist—Dr. Thomas Stapleton's merits—A good epitaph—Sussex humour.


West Grinstead is perhaps the most remarkable of the villages on the line from Horsham to Steyning, by reason of its association with literature, The Rape of the Lock having been to a large extent composed beneath a tree in the park. Yet as one walks through this broad expanse of brake-fern, among which the deer are grazing, with the line of the Downs, culminating in Chanctonbury Ring, in view, it requires a severe effort to bring the mind to the consideration of Belinda's loss and all the surrounding drama of the toilet and the card table. If there is one thing that would not come naturally to the memory in West Grinstead park, it is the poetry of Pope.

The present house, the seat of the Burrells, was built in 1806. It was in the preceding mansion that John Caryll, Pope's friend, made his home, moving hither from West Harting, as we have seen. Caryll suggested to Pope the subject of The Rape of the Lock, the hero of which was his cousin, Lord Petre. The line:—

This verse to Caryll, Muse, is due,

is the poet's testimony and thanks. John Gay, who found life a jest, has also walked amid the West Grinstead bracken.

West Grinstead church is isolated in the fields, a curiously pretty and cheerful building, with a very charming porch and a modest shingled spire rising from its midst. Brasses to members of the Halsham family are within, and a monument to Captain Powlett, whose unquiet ghost, hunting without a head, we have just met. Hard by the church is one of the most attractive and substantial of the smaller manor houses of Sussex, square and venerable and well-roofed with Horsham stone.

A mile to the west, in a meadow by the Worthing road, stands the forlorn fragment of the keep which is all that remains of the Norman stronghold of Knepp. For its other stones you must seek the highways, the road-menders having claimed them a hundred years ago. William de Braose, whom we shall meet at Bramber, built it; King John more than once was entertained in it; and now it is a ruin. Yet if Knepp no longer has its castle, it has its lake—the largest in the county, a hundred acres in extent, a beautiful sheet of water the overflow of which feeds the Adur.

Within a quarter of a mile of the ruin is the new Knepp Castle, which was built by Sir Charles Merrik Burrell, son of Sir William Burrell, the antiquary, whose materials for a history of Sussex on a grand scale, collected by him for many years, are now in the British Museum. But Knepp Castle, the new, with all its Holbeins, was destroyed by fire this 1904.

To the east of the line lies Cowfold, balancing West Grinstead, a village ranged on either side of a broad road. It is famous chiefly for possessing, in its very pretty church, the Nelond brass, being the effigy of Thomas Nelond, Prior of Lewes, who died in 1433. Few brasses are finer or larger; in length it is nearly ten feet, its state is practically perfect, and pilgrims come from all quarters to rub it. John Nelond, in the dress of a Cluniac monk, stands with folded hands beneath an arch, protected by the Virgin and Child, St. Pancras, and St. Thomas à Becket. This splendid relic would, perhaps, were ours an ideal community, be handed over to the keeping of the Carthusian monks near by, in the Monastery of St. Hugh, the commanding building to the south of Cowfold, whose spire is to the Weald what that of Chichester Cathedral is to the plain between the Downs and the sea, and whose Angelus may be heard, on favourable evenings, for many miles. The Carthusian monks of St. Hugh's lend a very foreign air to the village when they walk through it. Visitors are encouraged to call at the porter's gate and explore this huge settlement—often in the very competent care of an Irish brother; while to suffer an accident anywhere in the neighbourhood is to be certain of a cordial glass of the monastery's own Chartreuse.

It was at Brook Hill, just to the north of Cowfold, that William Borrer, the ornithologist and the author of The Birds of Sussex, lived and made many of his interesting observations.

Near Cowfold is Oakendene, a stronghold of cricket at the beginning of the last century. William Wood was the greatest of the Oakendene men. He was the best bowler in Sussex, the art having been acquired as he walked about his farm with his dog, when he would bowl at whatever he saw and the dog would retrieve the ball. Borrer of Ditchling, Marchant of Hurst, Voice of Hand Cross, and Vallance of Brighton, also belonged to the Oakendene club. Borrer and Vallance played for Brighton against Marylebone, at Lord's, in 1792, and, when all the betting was against them, including gold rings and watches, won the match in the second innings by making respectively 60 and 68 not out. Another player in that match was Jutten, the fast bowler, who when things were going against him bowled at his man and so won by fear what he could not compass by skill. There are too many Juttens on village greens.

Five miles south of Cowfold is Henfield, separated from Steyning, in the south-west, by the low-lying meadows through which the Adur runs and which in winter are too often a sheet of water.

Henfield consists of the usual street, and a quiet, retired common, flat and marshy, with a flock of geese, some Scotch firs, and a fine view of Wolstonbury rising in the east. It was on Henfield common that Mr. Borrer once saw fourteen Golden Orioles on a thorn bush. Adventures are to the adventurous, birds to the ornithologist; most of us have never succeeded in seeing even one Oriole.

William Borrer, the botanist, uncle of the ornithologist, was born in Henfield and is buried there. In his Henfield garden, in 1860, as many as 6,600 varieties of plants were growing. Beyond a small memoir on Lichens, written in conjunction with Dawson Turner, he left no book. Another illustrious son of Henfield was Dr. Thomas Stapleton, once Canon of Chichester and one of the founders of the Catholic College of Douay, of whom it was written, somewhat ambiguously, that he "was a man of mild demeanour and unsuspected integrity." Fuller has him characteristically touched off in the Worthies:—"He was bred in New Colledge in Oxford, and then by the Bishop (Christopherson, as I take it) made Cannon of Chichester, which he quickly quitted in the first of Queen Elizabeth_. Flying beyond the Seas, he first fixed at Douay, and there commendably performed the office of Catechist, which he discharged to his commendation.

"Reader, pardon an Excursion caused by just Grief and Anger. Many, counting themselves Protestants in England, do slight and neglect that Ordinance of God, by which their Religion was set up, and gave Credit to it in the first Reformation; I mean, CATECHISING. Did not our Saviour say even to Saint Peter himself, 'Feed my Lambs, feed my Sheep'? And why Lambs first? 1. Because they were Lambs before they were Sheep. 2. Because, if they be not fed whilst Lambs they could never be Sheep. 3. Because Sheep can in some sort feed themselves; but Lambs (such their tenderness) must either be fed or famished. Our Stapleton was excellent at this Lamb-feeding."

An epitaph in Henfield Church is worth copying for its quaint mixture of mythology and theology. It bears upon the death of a lad, Meneleb Raynsford, aged nine, who died in 1627:—

Great Jove hath lost his Gannymede, I know,
Which made him seek another here below—
And finding none—not one—like unto this,
Hath ta'en him hence into eternal bliss.
Cease, then, for thy dear Meneleb to weep,
God's darling was too good for thee to keep:
But rather joy in this great favour given,
A child on earth is made a saint in heaven.

Three miles east of Henfield, and a little to the north, is a farm the present tenant of which has made an interesting experiment. He found in the house an old map of the county, and identifying his own estate, discovered a large sheet of water marked on it. On examining the site he saw distinct traces of this ancient lake, and at once set about building a dam to restore it. Water now, once again, fills the hollow, completely transforming this part of the country, and bringing into it wild duck and herons as of old. The lake is completely hidden from the neighbouring roads and is accessible only by field paths, but it is well worth finding.

There once hung in the parlour of Henfield's chief inn—I wonder if it is there still—a rude etching of local origin, rather in the manner of Buss's plates to Pickwick, representing an inn kitchen filled with a jolly company listening uproariously to a fat farmer by the fire, who, with arm raised, told his tale. Underneath was written, "Mr. West describing how he saw a woodcock settle on an oak"—a perfect specimen of the Sussex joke.