Highways and Byways in Sussex/Chapter 7
ARUNDEL AND NEIGHBOURHOOD
A feudal town—Castles ruined and habitable—The old religion and the new—Bevis of Southampton—Lord Thurlow lays an egg—A noble park—A song in praise of Sussex—The father of cricket.
Seen from the river or from the east side of the Arun valley, Arundel is the most imposing town in Sussex. Many are larger, many are equally old, or older; but none wears so unusual and interesting an air, not even Lewes among her Downs.
Arundel clings to the side of a shaggy hill above the Arun. Castle, cathedral, church—these are Arundel; the town itself is secondary, subordinate, feudal. The castle is what one likes a castle to be—a mass of battlemented stone, with a keep, a gateway, and a history, and yet more habitable than ever. So many of the rich make no effort to live in their ancestral halls; and what might be a home, carrying on the tradition of ages, is so often only a mere show, that to find an historic castle like Arundel still lived in is very gratifying. In Sussex alone are several half-ruined houses that the builders could quickly make habitable once more. Arundel Castle, in spite of time and the sieges of 1102, 1139, and 1643, is both comfortable and modern; Arundel still depends for her life upon the complaisance of her over-lord.
I know of no town with so low a pulse as this precipitous little settlement under the shadow of Rome and the Duke. In spite of picnic parties in the park, in spite of anglers from London, in spite of the railway in the valley, Arundel is still medieval and curiously foreign. On a very hot day, as one climbs the hill to the cathedral, one might be in old France, and certainly in the Middle Ages.
Time's revenges have had their play in this town. Although the church is still bravely of the establishment, half of it is closed to the Anglican visitor (the chancel having been adjudged the private property of the Dukes of Norfolk), and the once dominating position of the edifice has been impaired by the proximity of the new Roman Catholic church of St. Philip Neri, which the present Duke has been building these many years. Within, it is finished, a very charming and delicate feat in stone; but the spire has yet to come. The old Irish soldier, humorous and bemedalled, who keeps watch and ward over the fane, is not the least of its merits.
Although the chancel of the parish church has been closed, permission to enter may occasionally be obtained. It is rich in family tombs of great interest and beauty, including that of the nineteenth Earl of Arundel, the patron of William Caxton. In the siege of Arundel Castle in 1643, the soldiers of the parliamentarians, under Sir William Waller, fired their cannon from the church tower. They also turned the church into a barracks, and injured much stone work beyond repair. A fire beacon blazed of old on the spire to serve as a mark for vessels entering Littlehampton harbour.
Bevis of Southampton, the giant who, when he visited the Isle of Wight, waded thither, was a warder at Arundel Castle; where he ate a whole ox every week with bread and mustard, and drank two hogsheads of beer. Hence "Bevis Tower." His sword Morglay is still to be seen in the armoury of the castle; his bones lie beneath a mound in the park; and the town was named after his horse. So runs a pretty story, which is, however, demolished with the ruthlessness that comes so easily to the antiquary and philologist. Bevis Tower, science declares, was named probably after another Bevis—there was one at the Battle of Lewes, who took prisoner Richard, King of the Romans, and was knighted for it—while Arundel is a corruption of "hirondelle," a swallow. Mr. Lower mentions that in recent times in Sussex "Swallow" was a common name in stables, even for heavy dray horses. But before accepting finally the swallow theory, we ought to hear what Fuller has to say:—"Some will have it so named from Arundel the Horse of Beavoice, the great Champion. I confess it is not without precedence in Antiquity for Places to take names from Horses, meeting with the Promontory Bucephalus in Peloponesus, where some report the Horse of Alexander buried, and Bellonius will have it for the same cause called Cavalla at this day. But this Castle was so called long before that Imaginary Horse was foled, who cannot be fancied elder than his Master Beavoice, flourishing after the Conquest, long before which Arundel was so called from the river Arund running hard by it."
The owls that once multiplied in the keep have now disappeared. They were established there a hundred years or so ago by the eleventh Duke, and certain of them were known by the names of public men. "Please, your Grace, Lord Thurlow has laid an egg," is an historic speech handed down by tradition. Lord Thurlow, the owl in question, died at a great age in 1859.
To walk through Arundel Park is to receive a vivid impression of the size and richness of our little isolated England.
The Arun at North Stoke.
Two or three great towns could be hidden in it unknown to each other. Valley succeeds to valley; new herds of deer come into sight at almost every turn; as far as the eye can see the grass hills roll away. Those accustomed to parks whose deer are always huddled close and whose wall is never distant, are bewildered by the vastness of this enclosure. Yet one has also the feeling that such magnificence is right: to so lovely a word as Arundel, to the Premier Duke and Hereditary Earl Marshal of England, should fittingly fall this far-spreading and comely pleasaunce. Had Arundel Park been small and empty of deer what a blunder it would be.
Walking west of Arundel through the vast Rewell Wood, we come suddenly upon Punch-bowl Green, and open a great green valley, dominated by the white façade of Dale Park House, below Madehurst, one of the most remote of Sussex villages.
By keeping due west for another mile Slindon is reached. This village is one of the Sussex backwaters, as one might say. It lies on no road that any one ever travels except for the purpose of going to Slindon or coming from it; and those that perform either of these actions are few. Yet all who have not seen Slindon are by so much the poorer, for Slindon House is nobly Elizabethan, with fine pictures and hiding-places, and Slindon beeches are among the aristocracy of trees. And here I should like to quote a Sussex poem of haunting wistfulness and charm, which was written by Mr. Hilaire Belloc, who once walked to Rome and is an old dweller at Slindon:—
THE SOUTH COUNTRY.
When I am living in the Midlands,
That are sodden and unkind,
I light my lamp in the evening:
My work is left behind;
And the great hills of the South Country
Come back into my mind.
The great hills of the South Country
They stand along the sea:
And it's there walking in the high woods
That I could wish to be,
And the men that were boys when I was a boy
Walking along with me.
The men that live in North England
I saw them for a day:
Their hearts are set upon the waste fells,
Their skies are fast and grey:
From their castle-walls a man may see
The mountains far away.
The men that live in West England
They see the Severn strong,
A-rolling on rough water brown
Light aspen leaves along.
They have the secret of the Rocks,
And the oldest kind of song.
But the men that live in the South Country
Are the kindest and most wise,
They get their laughter from the loud surf,
And the faith in their happy eyes
Comes surely from our Sister the Spring,
When over the sea she flies;
The violets suddenly bloom at her feet,
She blesses us with surprise.
I never get between the pines,
But I smell the Sussex air,
Nor I never come on a belt of sand
But my home is there;
And along the sky the line of the Downs
So noble and so bare.
A lost thing could I never find,
Nor a broken thing mend;
And I fear I shall be all alone
When I get towards the end.
Who will there be to comfort me,
Or who will be my friend?
I will gather and carefully make my friends
Of the men of the Sussex Weald,
They watch the stars from silent folds,
They stiffly plough the field.
By them and the God of the South Country
My poor soul shall be healed.
If I ever become a rich man,
Or if ever I grow to be old,
I will build a house with deep thatch
To shelter me from the cold,
And there shall the Sussex songs be sung
And the story of Sussex told.
I will hold my house in the high wood
Within a walk of the sea,
And the men who were boys when I was a boy
Shall sit and drink with me.
Richard Newland, the father of serious cricket, came from this parish. He was born in 1718, or thereabouts, and in 1745 he made 88 for England against Kent. He was left-handed, and the finest bat ever seen in those days. He taught Richard Nyren, of Hambledon, all the skill and judgment that that noble general possessed; Nyren communicated his knowledge to the Hambledon eleven, and the game was made. An interest in historical veracity compels me to add that William Beldham—Silver Billy—talking to Mr. Pycroft, discounted some of Nyren's praise. "Cricket," he said, "was played in Sussex very early, before my day at least [he was born in 1766]; but that there was no good play I know by this, that Richard Newland, of Slindon in Sussex, as you say, sir, taught old Richard Nyren, and that no Sussex man could be found to play Newland. Now a second-rate man of our parish beat Newland easily; so you may judge what the rest of Sussex then were." But this is disregarding the characteristic uncertainty of the game.
If one would spend a day far from mankind, on high ground, there is no better way than to walk from Arundel through Houghton Forest (where, as we have seen, Charles II. avoided the Governor) to Cocking.