On the whole it is said to be a very indifferent season, but many plantations look promising. "If," as a grower remarks to us in the train, "we could have a little more of this fine weather! There has been too much rain, and too little sun this year." The apples also are a poor crop.
On a second visit to this pleasant neighbourhood, we see at Mear's Barr Farm, near Rainham, the whole process of hop-picking. True, it is not executed by that ragamuffinly crowd of strangers which Dickens had in his "mind's eye" when he wrote the words just quoted, and which usually takes possession of most of the hop-growing districts of Kent during the picking season, but by an assemblage of native villagers, mostly women, girls, and boys,—neat, clean, and homely,—together with a few men who do the heavier part of the work. They are of all ages, from the tottering old grandmother, careworn wife, and buxom maiden, to the child in perambulator and baby in arms; and in the bright sunlight, amid the groves of festooning green columns, form a most orderly, varied, and picturesque gathering—a regular picnic in fact, judging from the cheerful look on most of the faces, and the merry laugh that is occasionally heard.
Mr. Fred Scott, tenant of the farm, of which Lord Hothfield is owner, is kind enough to go over the hop-garden with us, and describe all the details. When the hops are ripe (i. e. when the seeds are hard) and ready to be gathered, the pickers swarm on the ground, and a man divides the "bine" at the bottom of the "pole" by means of a bill-hook—not cutting it too close for fear of bleeding—leaving the root to sprout next year, and then draws out the pole, to which is attached the long, creeping bine, trailing over at top. If the pole sticks too fast in the ground, he eases it by means of a lever, or "hop-dog" (a long, stout wooden implement, having a toothed iron projection). "Mind my dog don't bite you, sir," says one of the men facetiously, as we step over this rough-looking tool. Women then carry the poles to, and lay them across, the "bin," a receptacle formed by four upright poles stuck in the ground and placed at an angle, supporting a framework from which depends the "bin-cloth," made of jute or hemp, holding from ten to twenty bushels of green hops, weighing about 1-1/2 lbs. per bushel when dry.
The picking then commences, and nimble fingers of all sizes very soon strip the poles of the aromatically-smelling ripe hops, the poles being cast aside in heaps, to be afterwards cleared of the old bines and put into "stacks" of three hundred each, and used again next season.
The bins, which vary in number according to the size of the hop-garden, are placed in rows on the margin of the plantation, and usually have ten "hop-hills" (i. e. plants) on each side, and are moved inside the plantation as the poles are pulled up. Each bin belongs to a "sett" (i. e. family or companionship), consisting of from five to seven persons, and is taken charge of by a "binman." When the bin is full, a "measurer" (either the farmer himself or his deputy) takes account of the quantity of hops picked, and records it in a book to the credit of each working family. Then the green hops are carted off in "pokes" or sacks to the "oast-houses" to be dried. For this purpose, anthracite coal and charcoal are used in the kiln, a shovelful or two of sulphur being added to the fire when the hops are put on. The process of drying takes eleven hours, and afterwards the dried hops are packed in pockets which, when full, weigh about a hundredweight and a half each, the packing being effected by hydraulic pressure. They are then sent to market, the earliest arrivals fetching very high prices. As much as L50 per cwt. was paid in 1882, but the ordinary price averages from L4 to L8 per cwt.
Humulus Lupulus, the hop, belongs to the natural order Urticaceae—a plant of rather wide distribution, but said to be absent in Scotland—and is a herbaceous, dioecious perennial, usually propagated by removal of the young shoots or by cuttings. According to Sowerby, the genus is derived from humus, the ground, as, unless supported or trained, the plant falls to the earth; and the common name "hop" from the Saxon hoppan, to climb. William King, in his Art of Cookery, says that "heresy and hops came in together"; while an old popular rhyme records that:—
"Hops, carp, pickerel, and beer, Came into England all in one year."
Tusser in his Hondreth Good Points of Husbandrie, published in 1557, gives sundry directions for the cultivation of hops, and quaintly advocates their use as follows:—
"The hop for his profit I thus do exalt, It strengtheneth drink, and it savoureth malt; And being well brewed, long kept it will last, And drawing abide—if you draw not too fast."
The hop has many varieties—thirty or more—among which may be mentioned prolifics, bramblings, goldings, common goldings, old goldings, Canterbury goldings, Meopham goldings, etc. When once planted they last for a hundred years, but some growers replace them every ten years or sooner.
The principal enemies of the hop are "mould" caused by the fungus Sphaerotheca Castagnei, and several kinds of insects, especially the "green fly," Aphis humuli, but the high wind is most to be dreaded. It tears the hop-bines from the poles and throws the poles down, which in falling crush other bines, and thus bruise the hops and prevent their growth, besides obstructing the passage of air and sunlight, and causing the development of mould or mildew. The remedy for mould is dusting with sulphur, and for the green fly, syringing with tobacco or quassia water and soap, "Hop-wash," as it is called. Sometimes the lady-bird (Coccinella septempunctata) is present in sufficient numbers to consume the green fly. Very little can be done to obviate the effects of the wind, but a protective fence of the wild hop—called a "lee" or "loo"—is sometimes put up round very choice plantations.
The hop-poles, the preparation of which constitutes a distinct industry, are either of larch, Spanish chestnut, ash, willow, birch, or beech—larch or chestnut being preferred. Women clear the poles of the bark, and men sharpen them at one end, which is dipped in creosote before being used. The ground is cleared, and the poles are stuck in against the old plants in February or March.
We are informed that the hop-picking is much looked forward to by the villagers with pleasure as the means of supplying them with a little purse for clothing, etc., against winter-time. Each family or companionship earns from thirty shillings to two pounds per week during the season.
We proceed on our excursion, and pass Faversham, which stands in a rather picturesque bit of country some way up Faversham Creek, and is sheltered on the west by a ridge of wooded hills where the hop country ceases, as the railway bends north-easterly for Margate and Ramsgate. Whitstable, the next station passed, is famous for the most delicate oysters in the market, the fishery of which is regulated by an annual court; and it is said that one grower alone sends fifty thousand barrels a year to London from this district. We speculate whether these delicious molluscs were supplied at that famous supper described in the thirty-ninth chapter of The Old Curiosity Shop, at which were present Kit, his mother, the baby, little Jacob, and Barbara, after the night at the play, when Kit told the waiter "to bring three dozen of his largest-sized oysters, and to look sharp about it," and fulfilled his promise "to let little Jacob know what oysters meant." All along, as the railway winds from Whitstable to Margate, glimpses of the sea are visible, and vary our excursion pleasantly.
The next noteworthy place we pass is Reculver—the ancient Regulbium—which, according to Mr. Phillips Bevan, is "mentioned in the Itinerary of Antoninus as being garrisoned by the first cohort of Brabantois Belgians. After the Romans, it was occupied by the Saxon Ethelbert, who is said to have occupied it as a palace, and to have been buried there." "The two picturesque towers" (quoting Bevan again), "which form so conspicuous a land and sea mark, are called 'The Sisters,' and are in reality modern-built by the Trinity Board in place of two erected traditionally by an Abbess of Faversham, who was wrecked here with her sister on their way to Broadstairs." The sea is fast encroaching on the land here, notwithstanding the erection of a large sea-wall and piles.
Passing Margate, we reach Broadstairs, about thirty-seven miles from Chatham. Broadstairs, immortalized in Our English Watering Place (which paper, says Forster, "appeared while I was there, and great was the local excitement"), is so inseparably associated with the earlier years of Charles Dickens's holiday-life, that it becomes most interesting to his admirers. Forster also says, "His later seaside holiday, September 1837, was passed at Broadstairs, as were those of many subsequent years; and the little watering-place has been made memorable by his pleasant sketch of it." At the time of his first visit (1837) he was writing a portion of Pickwick (Part 18); in 1838 part of Nicholas Nickleby; and in 1839 part of The Old Curiosity Shop. He was also there in 1840, 1841, and 1842, when writing the American Notes; in 1845 and 1847, when writing Dombey and Son; in 1848 and 1850, when engaged on David Copperfield; and in 1851, when he was drafting the outlines of Bleak House. At the end of November of that year, when he had settled himself in his new London abode (Tavistock House), the book was begun, "and, as so generally happened with the more important incidents of his life, but always accidentally, begun on a Friday." After 1851, he returned not again to Broadstairs until 1859, when he paid his last visit to the place, and stayed a week there. The reason for his forsaking it was that it had become too noisy for him.
Broadstairs stands midway between the North Foreland and Ramsgate, and owes its name to the breadth of the sea-gate or "stair," which was originally defended by a gate or archway. An archway still survives on the road to the sea, and bears on it two inscriptions, (1) "Built by George Culenier about 1540"; (2) "Repaired by Sir John Henniker, Bart., 1795."
Broadstairs has good sands, precipitous chalk cliffs, and a very fine sea-view. The railway station is about a mile from the pier, and the town is approached by a well-kept road ("the main street of our watering-place. . . . You may know it by its being always stopped up with donkey chaises. Whenever you come here and see the harnessed donkeys eating clover out of barrows drawn completely across a narrow thoroughfare, you may be quite sure you are in our High Street"), with villas standing in their own gardens, most of which are brightened by summer flowers, notably the blue clematis (Clematis Jackmani) and by those charming seaside evergreens the Escallonia and the Euonymus. As we near the sea, the shops become more numerous, and, on the right-hand side, we have no difficulty in finding (although we heard it had been altered considerably) the house "No. 12, High Street," in which Dickens lived when he first visited Broadstairs. It is a plain little dwelling of single front, with a small parlour looking into the street, and has one story over—just the place that seems suited to the financial position of the novelist when he was commencing life. The house is now occupied by Mr. Bean, plumber and glazier, whose wife courteously shows us over it, and into the back yard and little garden, kindly giving us some pears from an old tree growing there, whereon we speculate as to whether Dickens himself had ever enjoyed the fruit from the same old tree. He appears to have lived in this house during his visits in 1837 and 1838. We ask the good lady if she is aware that Charles Dickens had formerly stayed in her house, and she replies in the negative, so we recommend her to get her husband to put up a tablet outside to the effect "Charles Dickens lived here, 1837," in imitation of the example of the Society of Arts in Furnival's Inn. There can be no doubt as to the identity of the house, for we take the precaution of ascertaining that the numbers have not been altered.
Our efforts to discover "Lawn House," where Dickens stayed on his visits from 1838 to 1848, are attended with some difficulty. First we are told it lay this way, then that, and then the other; a smart villa in a new road is pointed out to us as the object of our search, which we at once reject, as being too recent. But we are patient and persevering, feeling, with Mr. F.'s aunt, that "you can't make a head and brains out of a brass knob with nothing in it. You couldn't do it when your Uncle George was living; much less when he's dead!" Finally, we appeal to some one who looks like the "oldest inhabitant," and obtain something like a clue. We are eventually directed to a veritable "Lawn House," which is the last house on the left as you approach "Fort House." It must have changed in respect of its surroundings since forty years have passed, and although there is nothing outside to indicate it as such, it seems fair to assume that this was the house described in the Life as "a small villa between the hill and the cornfield." The present occupier, who has no recollection of Dickens ever having been there, courteously allows us to see the hall and dining-room. The house is of course a great improvement upon "No 12, High Street."
A few steps from "Lawn House" lead us to the drive approaching "Fort House," pleasantly surrounded by a sloping lawn and shrubbery. John Forster, alluding to it in the Life, says:—
"The residence he most desired there, 'Fort House,' stood prominently at the top of a breezy hill on the road to Kingsgate, with a cornfield between it and the sea, and this in many subsequent years he always occupied."
Alas! the cornfield is no more, but "Fort House," or "Bleak House," as it is indifferently termed locally, remains intact. It is the most striking object of the place, standing on a cliff overlooking the sea, the harbour, and the town (made familiar by several photographs and engravings), with its curious verandahs and blinds, as seen in the vignette of J. C. Hotten's interesting book, Charles Dickens: The Story of His Life. An excellent photograph is published in the town, of which we are glad to secure a copy.
In the sixth chapter of Bleak House it is called "an old-fashioned house with three peaks in the roof in front, and a severe sweep leading to the porch." In the same chapter there is a minute account of the interior, too lengthy to be quoted; but the description does not resemble Fort House. We are kindly permitted by the occupier to see the study in which the novelist worked, a privilege long to be remembered. This room is approached by "a little staircase of shallow steps" from the first floor, as described in Bleak House; but it will be borne in mind that the "Bleak House" of the novel is placed in Hertfordshire, near St. Albans, and not at Broadstairs, although many persons still believe that Fort House is the original of the story. From the study we have a lovely view of the sea—the balmy breeze of a summer's day lightly fanning the waves, and just sufficing to move the delicate filamentous foliage of the tamarisk trees now standing in the place where the cornfield was. Even at the time we see it, changed as all its surroundings are, we can imagine the enjoyment which Dickens had in this healthy spot on the North Downs.
In that interesting "book for an idle hour" called The Shuttlecock Papers, Mr. J. Ashby-Sterry thus sympathetically alludes to "Bleak House":—"What a romantic place this is to write in, is it not? What a glorious study to work in! Indeed, both from situation and association, it would be impossible to find a better place for writing, were it not that one feels that so much superb work has been done on this very spot by so great an artist, that the mere craftsman is inclined to question whether it is worth while for him to write at all."
How well Dickens loved Broadstairs is told in his letter of the 1st September, 1843, addressed to Professor Felton, of Cambridge, U. S. A., as follows:—
"This is a little fishing-place; intensely quiet; built on a cliff, whereon—in the centre of a tiny semi-circular bay—our house stands; the sea rolling and dashing under the windows. Seven miles out are the Goodwin Sands (you've heard of the Goodwin Sands?), whence floating lights perpetually wink after dark, as if they were carrying on intrigues with the servants. Also there is a lighthouse called the North Foreland on a hill behind the village, a severe parsonic light, which reproves the young and giddy floaters, and stares grimly out upon the sea. Under the cliff are rare good sands, where all the children assemble every morning and throw up impossible fortifications, which the sea throws down again at high-water. Old gentlemen and ancient ladies flirt after their own manner in two reading-rooms, and on a great many scattered seats in the open air. Other old gentlemen look all day long through telescopes and never see anything.
"In a bay-window in a one-pair sits, from nine o'clock to one, a gentleman with rather long hair and no neckcloth, who writes and grins as if he thought he were very funny indeed. His name is Boz. At one he disappears, and presently emerges from a bathing machine, and may be seen—a kind of salmon-coloured porpoise—splashing about in the ocean. After that he may be seen in another bay-window on the ground-floor, eating a strong lunch; after that, walking a dozen miles or so, or lying on his back in the sand reading a book. Nobody bothers him unless they know he is disposed to be talked to; and I am told he is very comfortable indeed. He's as brown as a berry, and they do say is a small fortune to the innkeeper who sells beer and cold punch. But this is mere rumour. Sometimes he goes up to London (eighty miles or so away), and then I'm told there is a sound in Lincoln's Inn Fields at night, as of men laughing, together with a clinking of knives and forks, and wine-glasses."
And further in a letter to another correspondent recently made public:—
"When you come to London, to assist at Miss Liston's sacrifice, don't forget to remind your uncle of our Broadstairs engagement to which I hold you bound. A good sea—fresh breezes—fine sands—and pleasant walks—with all manner of fishing-boats, lighthouses, piers, bathing-machines, are its only attractions, but it's one of the freshest little places in the world, consequently the proper place for you."
In the year 1851, in a letter dated 8th September, addressed to Mr. Henry Austin, he thus alludes to a wreck which took place at Broadstairs:—
"A great to-do here. A steamer lost on the Goodwins yesterday, and our men bringing in no end of dead cattle and sheep. I stood supper for them last night, to the unbounded gratification of Broadstairs. They came in from the wreck very wet and tired, and very much disconcerted by the nature of their prize—which, I suppose after all, will have to be recommitted to the sea, when the hides and tallow are secured. One lean-faced boatman murmured, when they were all ruminating over the bodies as they lay on the pier: 'Couldn't sassages be made on it?' but retired in confusion shortly afterwards, overwhelmed by the execrations of the bystanders."
Dickens got tired of Broadstairs in 1847, for reasons given in the following letter to Forster, though he did not forsake it till some years after:—
"Vagrant music is getting to that height here, and is so impossible to be escaped from, that I fear Broadstairs and I must part company in time to come. Unless it pours of rain, I cannot write half an hour without the most excruciating organs, fiddles, bells, or glee singers. There is a violin of the most torturing kind under the window now (time, ten in the morning), and an Italian box of music on the steps—both in full blast."
By good luck we fall in with an "old salt," formerly one of the boatmen of Our English Watering Place who are therein immortalized by much kindly mention, with whom we have a pleasant chat about Charles Dickens. Harry Ford (the name of our friend) well remembers the great novelist, when in early days he used to come on his annual excursions with his family to Broadstairs. "Bless your soul," he says, "I can see 'Old Charley,' as we used to call him among ourselves here, a-coming flying down from the cliff with a hop, step, and jump, with his hair all flying about. He used to sit sometimes on that rail" (pointing to the one surrounding the harbour), "with his legs lolling about, and sometimes on the seat that you're a-sitting on now" (adjoining the old Look-out House opposite the Tartar Frigate Inn), "and he was very fond of talking to us fellows and hearing our tales—he was very good-natured, and nobody was liked better. And if you'll read" (continues our informant) "that story that he wrote and printed about Our Watering Place, I was the man who's mentioned there as mending a little ship for a boy. I held that child between my knees. And what's more, sir, I took 'Old Charley,' on the very last time that he came over to Broadstairs (he wasn't living here at the time), round the foreland to Margate, with a party of four friends. I took 'em in my boat, the Irene," pointing to a clinker-built strong boat lying in the harbour, capable of holding twenty people. "The wind was easterly—the weather was rather rough, and it took me three or four hours to get round. There was a good deal of chaffing going on, I can tell you."
Mrs. Long, of Zion Place, Broadstairs, the wife of an old coastguardman, who was stationed at the Preventive Station when Dickens lodged at Fort House, also remembered the novelist. The coastguard men are also immortalized in Our English Watering Place, as "a steady, trusty, well-conditioned, well-conducted set of men, with no misgiving about looking you full in the face, and with a quiet, thorough-going way of passing along to their duty at night, carrying huge sou'wester clothing in reserve, that is fraught with all good prepossession. They are handy fellows—neat about their houses, industrious at gardening, would get on with their wives, one thinks, in a desert island—and people it too soon."
Mrs. Long says "Mr. Dickens was a very nice sort of gentleman, but he didn't like a noise." The windows of Fort House, she reminds us, overlooked the coastguard station, and whenever the children playing about made more noise than usual, he used to tell her husband gently "to take the children away," or "to keep the people quiet." This little story fully confirms Dickens's often-expressed feeling of dislike, which subsequently grew intolerable, to Broadstairs as a watering-place.
After taking a turn or two on the lively Promenade,—made bright by the rich masses of flesh-coloured flowers of the valerian which fringe its margin,—to enjoy the sunshine and air, and watch the holiday folks, we bid adieu to Broadstairs, and proceed to Margate.
Of Margate there is not much to say. We reach it by an early afternoon train of the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway, to get the quickest service by the South-Eastern Railway on to Canterbury. Our stay at Margate is consequently very limited.
To some minds this popular Cockney watering-place has great attractions; its broad sands, its beautiful air, and its boisterous amusements, negro-melodies, merry-go-rounds, and the like; but it was a place seldom visited by Dickens, although he was so often near it. Only twice in the Life is it recorded that he came here; once being in 1844, when he wrote to Forster respecting the theatre as follows:—
"'Nota Bene.—The Margate Theatre is open every evening, and the four Patagonians (see Goldsmith's Essays) are performing thrice a week at Ranelagh.' A visit from me"—Forster goes on to say—"was at this time due, to which these were held out as inducements; and there followed what it was supposed I could not resist, a transformation into the broadest farce of a deep tragedy by a dear friend of ours. 'Now you really must come. Seeing only is believing, very often isn't that, and even Being the thing falls a long way short of believing it. Mrs. Nickleby herself once asked me, as you know, if I really believed there ever was such a woman; but there will be no more belief, either in me or my descriptions, after what I have to tell of our excellent friend's tragedy, if you don't come and have it played again for yourself, 'by particular desire.' We saw it last night, and oh! if you had but been with us! Young Betty, doing what the mind of man without my help never can conceive, with his legs like padded boot-trees wrapped up in faded yellow drawers, was the hero. The comic man of the company, enveloped in a white sheet, with his head tied with red tape like a brief, and greeted with yells of laughter whenever he appeared, was the venerable priest. A poor toothless old idiot, at whom the very gallery roared with contempt when he was called a tyrant, was the remorseless and aged Creon. And Ismene, being arrayed in spangled muslin trousers very loose in the legs and very tight in the ankles, such as Fatima would wear in Blue Beard, was at her appearance immediately called upon for a song! After this can you longer—?'"
He speaks in a letter to Forster, dated September, 1847, of "improvements in the Margate Theatre since his memorable first visit." It had been managed by a son of the great comedian Dowton, and the piece which Dickens then saw was As You Like It, "really very well done, and a most excellent house." It was Mr. Dowton's benefit, and "he made a sensible and modest kind of speech," which impressed Dickens, who thus concludes his letter:—"He really seems a most respectable man, and he has cleaned out this dusthole of a theatre into something like decency."
There is also the following significant mention of Margate in chapter nineteen of Bleak House:—
"It is the hottest long vacation known for many years. All the young clerks are madly in love, and according to their various degrees, pant for bliss with the beloved object at Margate, Ramsgate, or Gravesend."
If Broadstairs was noisy, Margate must have been intensely so. We leave the crowded holiday-making place without much feeling of regret, and passing Ramsgate—of which there is but one mention in the Life—on our way, reach Canterbury in the afternoon.
We are delighted with this exquisitely beautiful old city, our only regret being that our time is very limited, and our means of ascertaining places situated in "Dickens-Land" more so.
Taking up our temporary quarters at the "Sir John Falstaff" Hotel, in remembrance of its namesake at Gad's Hill, after the refreshment of a meal, we commence our tramp through Canterbury, where David Copperfield passed some of his happiest days. Of the Falstaff here there is an excellent picture in Mr. Rimmer's About England with Dickens; a very quaint old inn with double front, and bay-windows top and bottom, possibly of the sixteenth century, and with a long swinging sign extending over the pavement, on which is painted a life-like presentment of the portly knight, the pretty ornamental ironwork supporting it reminding one of Washington Irving's description in Bracebridge Hall, "fancifully wrought at top into flourishes and flowers."
A few steps further on is the West Gate, "standing between two lofty and spacious round towers erected in the river," built by Archbishop Sudbury, who was barbarously murdered by Wat Tyler in the reign of Richard II., which is the sole remaining one of six gates formerly constituting the approaches to the city. From this gate, looking eastward, with the river Stour on either side, banked by neatly-trimmed private gardens, a beautiful view of the city is obtained. The High Street, crowded with gables of the sixteenth century and later timbered houses, slightly bends and rises as well, until the perspective seems to lose itself in a distant grove of trees, locally called the "Dane John," a corruption of "Donjon." This view, especially when seen on a summer afternoon, is most picturesque. The present appearance of the quiet street is decidedly unlike that which it presented on that busy market-day when Miss Betsey Trotwood drove her nephew along it, for David says, "My aunt had a good opportunity of insinuating the grey pony among carts, baskets, vegetables, and hucksters' goods. The hair-breadth turns and twists we made drew down upon us a variety of speeches from the people standing about, which were not always complimentary; but my aunt drove on with perfect indifference."
We notice in the windows and in many of the shops an abundance of brightly-coloured cut-flowers, a notable feature of the county of Kent; but we have little time to spare, and hasten on to the Cathedral precincts.
"What a magnificent edifice!" is our first thought on beholding the Cathedral, a noble pile so well befitting the Metropolitan See of England, from which the Christianity of the Kingdom first flowed. Dating from Ethelbert, at the close of the sixth century, three structures have successively occupied the site, culminating in the present one, which, according to Mr. Phillips Bevan, was erected at different times between 1070 and 1500; and he goes on to say:—"No wonder that it exhibits so many styles and peculiarities of detail, although the two most prominent architectural eras are those of 'Transition-Norman' and 'Perpendicular.'"
The appropriate stone figures in niches of distinguished Royal and Ecclesiastical personages associated with the Cathedral (which at the suggestion of Dean Alford in 1863 replaced those of the murderers of the martyr, Thomas a Becket), from King Ethelbert to Queen Victoria, and from Archbishop Lanfranc to Archbishop Longley; the lofty groined arches and stately towers, the beautiful carved screen, the noble monuments, the splendid choir (a hundred and eighty feet in length) approached by many steps, the rich stained-glass windows, all attract our admiring attention, and confirm our impression that a modern pilgrimage to Canterbury is a thing to be highly appreciated; and on no account would we have missed this part of our excursion. The murder of Thomas a Becket (1170) took place between the nave and the choir in a transept or cross aisle called "The Martyrdom."
There is an interesting Sidney Cooper Gallery of Art, and also a Museum in the city, the latter containing some rare old Roman Mosaic pavement discovered in Burgate Street at a depth of ten feet.
But our object is to identify spots made memorable in David Copperfield, and we walk round the spacious Cathedral Close and "make an effort" (as Mrs. Chick said) in trying to find the simple-minded and good Dr. Strong's House. It is described as "a grave building in a courtyard, with a learned air about it that seemed very well suited to the stray rooks and jackdaws who came down from the Cathedral towers, and walked with a clerkly bearing on the grass-plat."
Alas! it is not here, although there are many such houses that correspond with it in some particulars. So we try several of the "dear old tranquil streets," but fail to discover the identical building.
The next object of our search is Mr. Wickfield's residence, "a very old house bulging out over the road; a house with low latticed windows, bulging out still further, and beams with carved heads on the ends, bulging out too." How strongly the description in many parts tallies with the houses in Rochester opposite "Eastgate House"; but here again we are baffled, as other modern pilgrims have been before, and we cannot associate any particular building with either of the two houses. The house in Burgate Street now occupied as offices by Messrs. Plummer and Fielding, Diocesan Registrars, who obligingly permit an examination of it, is suggested to us as being Mr. Wickfield's house, but, after an inspection, on several grounds we are obliged to reject this suggestion.
There was many a "low old-fashioned room, walked straight into from the street," which would have served for the "umble" dwelling of Uriah Heep and his mother, but none can be pointed out with absolute certainty as being the veritable one.
By the kindness of Dr. Sheppard and Mr. T. B. Rosseter, F.R.M.S., we are, however, enabled to identify two houses in Canterbury alluded to in David Copperfield. The "County Inn," where Mr. Dick slept on his visits to David "every alternate Wednesday," was no doubt The Royal Fountain Hotel in St. Margaret's Street (formerly the Watling Street), which is still recognized as such. A passage in the seventeenth chapter thus refers to these visits:—
"Mr. Dick was very partial to ginger-bread. To render his visits the more agreeable, my aunt had instructed me to open a credit for him at a cake-shop, which was hampered with the stipulation that he should not be served with more than one shilling's-worth in the course of any one day. This, and the reference of all his little bills at the County Inn, where he slept, to my aunt before they were paid, induced me to think that Mr. Dick was only allowed to rattle his money, and not to spend it."
The "little Inn" (as recorded in the same chapter) where Mr. Micawber "put up" on his first visit to Canterbury, and where he "occupied a little room in it partitioned off from the commercial, and strongly flavoured with tobacco smoke," is doubtless the "Sun Inn" in Sun Street, which is at the opposite corner of the square where the ancient "Chequers" in Mercery Lane—the Pilgrim's Inn of Chaucer—stood. It was a place of resort from afar, and was altered in the seventeenth century. Dr. Sheppard calls attention to the interesting fact that the omnibus from Herne Bay stopped at the Sun; and probably, in his visits to Broadstairs, Dickens would often run over for a day's trip to Canterbury.
On their first visit to the "little Inn," Mr. and Mrs. Micawber—notwithstanding their chronic impecuniosity—thus entertained David Copperfield:—
"We had a beautiful little dinner. Quite an elegant dish of fish; the kidney end of a loin of veal roasted; fried sausage-meat; a partridge and a pudding. There was wine, and there was strong ale; and after dinner Mrs. Micawber made us a bowl of hot punch with her own hands."
They spent a jolly evening, and ended with singing Auld Lang Syne.
The "little Inn" is again alluded to later in the story, where Mr. Micawber announces his full determination to abstain from everything until he has exposed the machinations of, and blown to pieces, "the—a—detestable serpent—HEEP;" and finally, where David Copperfield "assisted at an explosion," and Mr. Micawber is triumphant, and the "transcendent and immortal hypocrite and perjurer, HEEP," is forced to succumb.
Speaking of the "little Inn" for the last time, David says:—"I looked at the old house from the corner of the street. . . . The early sun was striking edgewise on its gables and lattice-windows, touching them with gold; and some beams of its old peace seemed to touch my heart."
Dr. Sheppard subsequently told us that, when he was beginning to turn his attention to the deciphering and utilizing of ancient MSS., he was much impressed, when perusing some articles in Household Words, or some other papers written by Dickens, relating to the neglected state of public records, more particularly at Canterbury; and when many years after the very records of which he wrote came under his (Dr. Sheppard's) care, he was surprised to find the names of Snodgrass, Sam Weller, and others therein. The records to which Dr. Sheppard referred were those in charge of the Archbishop's Registrar at Canterbury.
If time permits it would be pleasant to go on to Dover, to see "Miss Betsey Trotwood's house," but this is impossible; and indeed, all that can be said about a tramp in search of "that very neat little cottage with cheerful bow windows in front of it, a small square gravelled court or garden full of flowers carefully tended, and smelling deliciously," has been well said by Mr. Ashby-Sterry in his delightful little volume, Cucumber Chronicles.
After much perseverance, and in spite of almost as many difficulties as beset poor little David Copperfield himself in his search for his aunt (who, as the Dover boatmen told him, "lived in the South Foreland Light, and had singed her whiskers by doing so"—"that she was made fast to the great buoy outside the harbour, and could only be visited at half-tide"—"that she was locked up in Maidstone Jail for child-stealing"—and that "she was seen to mount a broom in the last high wind and make direct for Calais"), Mr. Ashby-Sterry succeeded, although his greatest embarrassment arose from that irrepressible nuisance, "Buggins the Builder," who cannot be controlled even in the neighbourhood of Dover, so "hugely does he delight to mar those spots that have been hallowed by antiquity, seclusion, or the pen of the novelist. Hence the abode of Betsey Trotwood is not so pleasant as it must have been formerly, for other houses have clustered about the back and the front." But Mr. Ashby-Sterry quite satisfied himself as to the identity on Dover Heights of the very neat little cottage, and assures us that "the house, however, still stands high, the fresh breezes from over the sea and across the Down smite it. It still has a view of the sea, though perhaps not so uninterrupted as it was in the days of David Copperfield." He further states that it is, perhaps, not quite so neat as it was in Miss Betsey Trotwood's time, though there are no donkeys about. Here are the bow windows, with the room above, where Mr. Dick alarmed poor David by nodding and laughing at him on his first arrival. The window on the right must have belonged to the neat room "with the drugget-covered carpet," and the old-fashioned furniture brightly polished, where might be found "the cat, the kettle-holder, the two canaries, the old china, the punch-bowl full of dried rose leaves, the tall press guarding all sorts of bottles and pots, and wonderfully out of keeping with the rest." On the strength of this description by an ardent lover of Dickens, we fully make up our minds to visit Dover at no distant date to see Miss Betsey Trotwood's house for ourselves.
A propos of Miss Trotwood's domicile, we have been favoured by Mr. C. K. Worsfold, an old resident of Dover, with a letter containing some interesting particulars, from which we extract the following:—
"Dickens's description of the local habitation of Betsey Trotwood is not consistent with the surroundings. The hills on either side of the town belong to the War Department, and are occupied as fortifications; on the eastern side is the Castle, and on the western side barracks and forts. On the western heights there is a house somewhat answering to Dickens's description, having a garden in front of it, and a small plot of grass in front of the garden; and about forty years ago there lived in this house a lady of rather masculine character, who always resented any intrusion of boys, and perhaps donkeys, on the grass in front of her house and garden, and I believe she was occasionally rather rough with the boys; but there the likeness to Betsey Trotwood ends. This was a married lady living with her husband.
"I know it was a matter of conversation forty years ago that Dickens must have found his original in the lady in question, but I think he was rather in the habit of selecting his characters without reference to locality, and then adapting them to his requirements.
"Dickens was a frequent visitor to Dover, and he may possibly have been a witness of some encounter between this lady and the boys, and on that occasion donkeys may have been present. I do not know of any relative of the lady answering to Miss Trotwood's worthy nephew."
"A moderate stroke," as Mr. Datchery said, "is all I am justified in scoring up"; and we reluctantly leave the "sunny street of Canterbury, dozing, as it were, in the hot light," and take our places in the train for Chatham, distant about twenty-seven miles.
The only new parts of interest which we go over, on our return journey by rail, are the green fields surrounding the ancient city, wherein are numbers of those beautiful and quiet-feeding cattle, which the eminent artist, Mr. T. Sidney Cooper, R.A. (who resides in the neighbourhood), loves to paint, and paints so well; and in due time we pass the chalk-topped hills called Harbledown, overlooking Canterbury, from whence the best view of the city is obtained, and safely reach our headquarters at Rochester.
 According to a "Note" in the Rochester and Chatham Journal, the derivation of this curious term is from uro to burn (ustus).
 One of the "Five Cinque Ports, and two Ancient Towns" often referred to, but not always remembered—Hastings, Sandwich, Dover, New Romney, Hythe, Winchelsea and Rye.
 Mr. Charles Dickens kindly writes to me:—"The lady who objected to the donkeys lived at Broadstairs. I knew her when I was a boy."
COOLING, CLIFFE, AND HIGHAM.
"And now the range of marshes lay clear before us, with the sails of the ships on the river growing out of it; and we went into the Churchyard . . . and the light wind strewed it with beautiful shadows of clouds and trees."
* * * * *
"What might have been your opinion of the place?"
"A most beastly place. Mudbank, mist, swamp and work; work, swamp, mist, and mudbank."—Great Expectations.
* * * * *
"They were now in the open country; the houses were very few and scattered at long intervals, often miles apart. Occasionally they came upon a cluster of poor cottages, some with a chair or low board put across the open door, to keep the scrambling children from the road; others shut up close, while all the family were working in the fields. These were often the commencement of a little village; and after an interval came a wheelwright's shed, or perhaps a blacksmith's forge; then a thriving farm, with sleepy cows lying about the yard, and horses peering over the low wall, and scampering away when harnessed horses passed upon the road, as though in triumph at their freedom."—The Old Curiosity Shop.
NOW for a long tramp in the country of the Marshes—the famous "Meshes" of Great Expectations. The air is sultry on this Thursday afternoon, and there is thunder in the distance. The storm, however, does not pass over Rochester, but further on we find traces of it where the roadways have been washed up. Afterwards the air becomes deliciously cool, and that hum of all Nature which succeeds the quiet preceding the storm is distinctly perceptible. Crossing Rochester Bridge, keeping to the right along Strood and Frindsbury—the churchyard of which affords a splendid view of Rochester, Chatham, and the Medway—passing up Four Elms Hill and through the little village of Wainscot, nothing of interest calls for notice until we have travelled some miles from Strood. After crossing a tramway belonging to Government, and utilized by the Royal Engineers as a means of communication between the powder-magazine and Chatham Barracks, we observe that vegetation, which is so rich in other parts of Kent, here appears to be dwarfed and stunted. A hop-garden presents a very miserable contrast, in its struggle for existence, to others we have seen in the more central parts of the county, and even some of these were far from being luxuriant, owing to such a peculiarly wet and cold season. The hedges in places are diversified with the small gold and violet star-like flowers and the green and scarlet berries of the climbing woody nightshade, or bitter-sweet (Solanum Dulcamara), often mistaken for the deadly nightshade (Atropa Belladonna—a fine bushy herbaceous perennial, with large ovate-shaped leaves, and lurid, purple bell-shaped flowers), quite a different plant, and happily somewhat rare in England. The delicate light-blue flowers of the chicory are very abundant here.
A tramp of upwards of six miles from Rochester, by way of Hoo, brings us to Lodge Hill, overlooking Perry Hill, which affords a magnificent view of the mouth of the Thames beyond the low-lying Marshes, and of Canvey Island, off the coast of Essex, on the opposite side. By the kindness of a farmer's wife we are allowed to take a short cut through the farm-garden and grounds, which leads direct to Cooling (or Cowling) Church, a cheerless, grey-stone structure, the tower standing out as a beacon long before we reach it.
Those unacquainted with this part of Kent may be interested in knowing that the Marshes, which stretch out over a considerable distance on either side of the Thames, on both the Kent and the Essex coasts, consist entirely of alluvial soil reclaimed at some time from the river. They are intersected by ditches and water-courses, and covered with rank vegetation, chiefly of grass, rushes, and flags, where not cultivated. Higher up the land is rich, and large tracts of it are planted with vegetables as market gardens. Sea-gulls, plovers, and herons are numerous; their call-notes in the still evening sounding shrill and uncanny over the long stretches of flat lands.
Dear old Michael Drayton, the Warwickshire poet, who touched upon almost everything, has not omitted to describe the Marshes in a somewhat similar locality, for in the Polyolbion (Song XVIII.) he gracefully compares them to a female enamoured of the beauties of the River Rother, thus:—
"Appearing to the flood, most bravely like a Queen, Clad all from head to foot, in gaudy Summer's green, Her mantle richly wrought with sundry flow'rs and weeds; Her moistful temples bound with wreaths of quiv'ring reeds; And on her loins a frock, with many a swelling plait, Emboss'd with well-spread horse, large sheep, and full-fed neat; With villages amongst, oft powthered here and there; And (that the same more like to landscape should appear) With lakes and lesser fords, to mitigate the heat In summer, when the fly doth prick the gadding neat."
Readers of Great Expectations will remember that the scene in the first chapter between Pip and the convict, Magwitch, is laid in Cooling churchyard, and on reaching this spot we are instantly reminded of what doubtless gave origin to the idea of the five dead little brothers of poor Philip Pirrip, for there, on the left of the principal pathway, are indeed, not five stone lozenges, but ten in one row and three more at the back of them, such peculiarly-shaped and curiously-arranged little monuments as we never before beheld. They consist of a grey stone (Kentish-rag, probably, but lichen-encrusted by time) of cylindrical shape, widening at the shoulders, coffin-like, and about a yard in length, the diameter being about eight inches, including the portion buried in the earth. Four little foot-stones are placed in front, and separating the ten little memorials from the three at the back is a large head-stone, bearing the name—"Comport of Cowling Court, 1771." Cooling Church, which has the date 1615 on one of the bells, has an example of a Hagioscope, a curious, small, square, angular, tunnel-like opening through the wall, which divides the nave from the chancel. It is said to have been the place through which those members of the church, who were unworthy or unable to receive the sacred elements, might get a look at their more acceptable companions during the administration of the sacrament. The Rev. W. H. A. Leaver, the Rector, who kindly shows us over his church, in reply to our question as to whether he could give any information about Charles Dickens, said that he was a new-comer in the district, and that all he remembers is, that when his sister was a little baby in arms, her mother happened once to be travelling in the same train with the great novelist, who, with his usual kindness, gave the child an orange, which she acknowledged very ungratefully by scratching his face!
The following is a picture of the neighbourhood, given in the opening sentences of the story:—
"Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the sea. My first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things, seems to me to have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening. At such a time, I found out for certain, that this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard; and that Philip Pirrip, late of this parish, and also Georgiana, wife of above, were dead and buried; and that Alexander, Bartholomew, Abraham, Tobias, and Roger, infant children of the aforesaid, were also dead and buried; and that the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dykes, and mounds, and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes; and that the low leaden line beyond was the river; and that the distant savage lair, from which the wind was rushing, was the sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all, and beginning to cry, was Pip."
Here follows the appearance of the awful convict, and the terrible threats by which he induces Pip to bring him "that file and them wittles" on the morrow; to enforce obedience the convict tilts Pip two or three times, "and then" [says Pip] "he gave me a most tremendous dip and roll, so that the church jumped over its own weathercock." Then he held him by the arms in an upright position on the top of the stone, finally threatening him "with having his heart and liver torn out," in case of non-compliance.
All the characters described in Great Expectations, and all the scenes wherein they played their parts—Pip, with and without his "great expectations"; his sister Mrs. Joe Gargery, "on the rampage with Tickler;" Joe Gargery, "ever the best of friends, dear Pip;" Mr. and Mrs. Hubble, the former fond of "a bit of savoury pork pie as would lay atop of anything you could mention and do no harm;" the stage-struck Wopsle, alias "Mr. Waldengarver"; "the servile Pumblechook;" the two convicts, "Pip's convict," Magwitch, with "the great iron on his leg," and the "other convict," Compeyson, also ironed; "slouching old" Orlick; Biddy, simple-hearted and loving; "the Serjeant" and "party of soldiers"; Mr. Jaggers, "the Old Bailey lawyer"; Estella, Miss Havisham, Herbert Pocket, and Bentley Drummle at "the market town"; Joe's Forge (now converted into a dwelling-house); "The Three Jolly Bargemen" (obviously taken from "The Three Horse-shoes," the present village inn); the "old Battery," "the little sluice-house by the lime-kiln;"—all centre round Cooling churchyard, and appear before us as though traced on a map.
Forster says in the Life:—"It is strange as I transcribe the words, with what wonderful vividness they bring back the very spot on which we stood when he said he meant to make it the scene of the opening of this story—Cooling Castle ruins and the desolate Church, lying out among the marshes seven miles from Gad's Hill!"
Beyond where the river runs to the sea, we conjure up the chase and recapture of Pip's convict, while poor Pip himself, assisted by his friend Herbert Pocket, is straining every nerve to get him away. As illustrative of the wonderfully careful way in which Dickens did all his work, we also read in Forster's Life:—
"To make himself sure of the actual course of a boat in such circumstances, and what possible incidents the adventure might have, Dickens hired a steamer for the day from Blackwall to Southend. Eight or nine friends, and three or four members of his family, were on board, and he seemed to have no care, the whole of that summer day (22nd of May, 1861), except to enjoy their enjoyment and entertain them with his own in shape of a thousand whims and fancies; but his sleepless observation was at work all the time, and nothing had escaped his keen vision on either side of the river. The fifteenth chapter of the third volume is a masterpiece."
Speaking generally of this fascinating story, which possesses a thousand-fold greater interest to us now we visit the country there described (not formerly very accessible, but now readily approached by the railway from Gravesend to Sheerness, alighting at Cliffe, the nearest station to Cooling), Forster says:—
"It may be doubted if Dickens could better have established his right to the front rank among novelists claimed for him, than by the ease and mastery with which, in these two books of Copperfield and Great Expectations, he kept perfectly distinct the two stories of a boy's childhood, both told in the form of autobiography."
The marshes are also alluded to twice in Bleak House—first, in chapter one—"Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights;" and secondly, in the twenty-sixth chapter, in the dialogue between Trooper George and his odd but kind-hearted attendant Phil Squod, the original of which, by the bye, was a Chatham character.
"'And so, Phil,' says George of the shooting gallery, after several turns in silence; 'you were dreaming of the country last night.'
"Phil, by the bye, said as much, in a tone of surprise, as he scrambled out of bed.
"'What was it like?'
"'I hardly know what it was like, guv'ner,' said Phil, considering.
"'How did you know it was the country?'
"'On accounts of the grass, I think. And the swans upon it,' says Phil, after further consideration.
"'What were the swans doing on the grass?'
"'They was a eating of it, I expect,' says Phil. . . .
"'The country,' says Mr. George, applying his knife and fork, 'why I suppose you never clapped your eyes on the country, Phil?'
"'I see the marshes once,' says Phil, contentedly eating his breakfast.
"'The marshes, commander,' returns Phil.
"'Where are they?'
"'I don't know where they are,' says Phil, 'but I see 'em, guv'ner. They was flat. And miste.'"
Forster says:—"About the whole of this Cooling churchyard, indeed, and the neighbouring castle ruins, there was a weird strangeness that made it one of his [Dickens's] attractive walks in the late year or winter, when from Higham he could get to it across country, over the stubble fields; and, for a shorter summer walk, he was not less fond of going round the village of Shorne, and sitting on a hot afternoon in its pretty shady churchyard."
Altogether, the place has a dreary and lonesome appearance in the close of the summer evening, and we can picture with wonderful vividness the remarkable scenes described in Great Expectations, as the lurid purple reflection from the setting sun spreads over the Thames valley, and lights up the marshes; the tall pollards standing out like spectres contribute to the weirdness and beauty of the scene.
Dickens was not the only admirer of the Marshes. Turner also visited them, and painted some of his most famous pictures from observation there, namely "Stangate Creek," "Shrimping Sands," and "Off Sheerness."
A few paces from the church brings us to Cooling Castle, built by Sir John de Cobham, the third Baron Cobham, in the reign of Richard II., whose arms appear on the gatehouse, together with a very curious motto in early English characters. We extract the following interesting account of the tower from the Archaeologia Cantiana (vol. xi.):—
"On the south face of the eastern Outer Gate Tower, we see the well-known inscription, which takes the form of a Charter, with Lord Cobham's seal appended to it. This is formed of fourteen copper plates exquisitely enamelled. The writing is in black, while the ground is of white enamel; the seal and silk cords are of the proper colours. The whole work is an exquisite example of enamel, which after five hundred years' exposure to the weather remains nearly as good as when it was put up. The inscription states very clearly why Lord Cobham erected a castle here, viz. for the safety of the country. The French invasion had shewn the need, and the inscription was perhaps intended to disarm the suspicions and hostility of the serfs by reminding them of that need. It runs thus, in four lines, each enamelled upon three plates of copper:—
"'Knoweth that beth and schul be That i am mad in help of the cuntre In knowyng of whyche thyng Thys is chartre and witnessyng.'"
"(Seal, 'gules', on a chevron 'or' three lions rampant 'sable'.)
"Inscriptions are rare on Gothic buildings, especially on castles. This at Coulyng is remarkable from being in English, at a time when Latin was employed in all charters; it contains that early form of the plural 'beth' instead of 'are.' The inscription measures thirty-two inches by fourteen, and the diameter of the seal is no less than seven and a quarter inches long."
After stopping a short time to admire the imposing entrance gate and the remains of the ancient moat, we wend our way for two or three miles, by lanes and "over the stubble-fields," to the straggling village of Cliffe, the houses of which are very old and mostly weather-boarded. The approach to the church is by a rare example of a lich-gate, having a room over it for muniments, and the church itself (which is very large, and seems to be out of proportion to the size of the village) stands in a commanding position on a ridge of chalk, overlooking the marshes, from whence the views of the river in the distance are very fine. It is supposed to be the place where the Saxon Church held its councils, and there is a local tradition of a ferry having once existed near here. Evidence of this seems to survive in the fact that all the roads both on the Kent and Essex shores appear to converge to this point. The church has some interesting miserere stalls and brasses to the Faunce family (17th century). On the walls we find specimens of that somewhat rare fern, the scaly spleenwort (Ceterach officinarum).
Time does not permit us to go on to Gravesend, which like this place was one of Dickens's favourite spots ("We come, you see" [says Mr. Peggotty, speaking of himself and Ham to David Copperfield, when they visited him at Salem House], "the wind and tide making in our favor, in one of our Yarmouth lugs to Gravesen'"), so we defer our visit to that popular resort until another occasion.
We notice in places where the harvest has been cleared (which, alas! owing to excess of wet and absence of sun, has not been an abundant one), preparations for cultivation next year, exhibiting that peculiar effect from ploughing which that gifted writer and born naturalist, the late Richard Jeffreys, described in his book Wild Life in a Southern County, with that love for common things which was so characteristic of him:—
"The ploughmen usually take special care with their work near public roads, so that the furrows end on to the base of the highway shall be mathematically straight. They often succeed so well that the furrows look as if traced with a ruler, and exhibit curious effects of vanishing perspective. Along the furrow, just as it is turned, there runs a shimmering light as the eye traces it up. The ploughshare, heavy and drawn with great force, smooths the earth as it cleaves it, giving it for a time a 'face,' as it were, the moisture on which reflects the light. If you watch the farmers driving to market, you will see that they glance up the furrows to note the workmanship and look for game; you may tell from a distance if they espy a hare, by the check of the rein and the extended hand pointing."
Our destination is now Higham—"Higham by Rochester, Kent,"—Dickens's nearest village, in which, from his first coming to Gad's Hill, he took the deepest interest, and after a further long tramp of nearly four miles steadily maintained, we reach Lower Higham towards dusk; and in a lane we ask an old labourer (who looks as though he would be all the better for "Three Acres and a Cow") if we are on the right road to Higham Station. Curtly but civilly the man answers, "Keep straight on," when an incident occurs which brightens up matters considerably. The questioner says to the labourer, "Do you remember the late Charles Dickens?" (We always spoke, when in the district, of "the late Charles Dickens," to distinguish him from his eldest son, who lived at Gad's Hill for some years after his father's death. Frequently the great novelist was spoken of by residents as "old Mr. Dickens!")
"Do I remember Muster Dickens?" responds the venerable rustic, and his eyes sparkle, and his face beams with such animation that he becomes a different being. "Of course I do; he used to have games—running, jumping, and such-like—for us working people, and I've often won a prize. He used to come among us and give us refreshments, and make himself very pleasant."
"How long have you lived in this parish?" says the questioner.
"Sixty-seven year," is the answer.
Time prevents further inquiries, so we bid our friend "good-evening."
In referring to the sports at Gad's Hill, Mr. Langton has recorded how a friend sent him a broadside of a portion of one day's amusements, which from its amateurish appearance was probably printed by Dickens's sons at the private printing-press before alluded to. The occasion was the 26th December, 1866, and the Christmas sports were held in a field at the back of Gad's Hill Place. Mr. Trood, a former landlord of the "Sir John Falstaff" (whose name has been previously mentioned), had, by permission of Charles Dickens, a booth erected for the refreshment of persons contesting. The attendance was between two and three thousand, and there was not a single case of misconduct or damage. Mr. A. H. Layard, M.P. (afterwards Sir Austin Layard), was present, and took great interest in the proceedings, Dickens having appointed him "chief commissioner of the domestic police." Sir Austin Layard said of the sports, "Dickens seemed to have bound every creature present upon what honour the creature had to keep order. What was the special means used, or the art employed, it might have been difficult to say, but that was the result." We made every effort to obtain one of the bills of these sports, but without success, and therefore take the liberty of quoting from Mr. Langton's copy:—
Christmas Sports. The All-Comers' Race. Distance—Once round the field. First Prize 10s.; Second, 5s.; Third, 2s. 6d. Entries to be made in MR. TROOD'S tent before 12 o'clock. To start at 2.45. Starter—M. STONE, ESQ. Judge and Referee—C. DICKENS, ESQ. Clerk of the Course—C. DICKENS, JUNR., ESQ. Stewards and Keepers of the Course—MESSRS. A. H. LAYARD, M.P., H. CHORLEY, J. HULKES, and H. DICKENS.
In a letter written to Mr. Forster next day, Dickens said, "The road between this and Chatham was like a fair all day, and surely it is a fine thing to get such perfect behaviour out of a reckless sea-port town."
We presently meet with another representative of the class of village labourer at Upper Higham, a cheery old man, although, as is sadly too often the case in his class, he was suffering from "the Rheumatiz." "Those are nice chrysanthemums in your garden," we observe. "Yes, they are, sir," he replies; "but if they had been better attended to when they was young, they'd have been nicer." "Well, I suppose both of us would," is the rejoinder. We are in touch on the instant. Our new acquaintance laughs, and so a question or two is put to him, and the following is the substance of his answers, rendered a la Jingle but very feelingly:—
"Mr. Dickens was a nice sort of man—very much liked—missed a great deal when he died—poor people and the like felt the miss of him. He was a man as shifted a good deal of money in the place. You see, he had a lot of friends—kept a good many horses,—and then there was the men to attend to 'em, and the corn-chandler, the blacksmith, the wheelwright, and others to be paid—the poor—and such-like—felt the miss of him when he died."
"How long have you lived here?"
"Well, I come in '45, eleven years before Mr. Dickens."
"And I suppose you are over sixty."
"Well, sir, I shall never see seventy again."
Wishing our friend "good-night," we continue our tramp. On another occasion we met, in the same place, a third specimen of village labourer, "a mender of roads," who knew Charles Dickens, and so we walked and chatted pleasantly with him for some distance. Said our informant, "You see, Mr. Dickens was a very liberal man; he held his head high up when he walked, and went at great strides." The "mender of roads" was some years ago a candidate for a vacant place as under-gardener at Gad's Hill, but the situation was filled up just an hour before he applied for it. He said Mr. Dickens gave him half-a-crown, and afterwards always recognized him when he met him with a pleasant nod, or cheerfully "passed the time of day." We heard in many places that Dickens was "always kindly" in this way to his own domestics, and to the villagers in a like station of life to our intelligent friend "the mender of roads." A fourth villager, a groom, who had been in his present situation for twenty years, said:—"Both the old gentleman and young Mr. Charles were very much liked in Higham. There wasn't a single person in the place, I believe, but what had a good word for them."
It may be interesting to mention that Higham—the old name of which was Lillechurch—is an extensive parish divided into several hamlets. In a useful little book published in 1882, called A Handbook of Higham, the Rev. C. H. Fielding, M.A., the author, says:—"There are few parishes more interesting than Higham, as it provides food for the antiquarian and the student of Nature; while its position near the 'Medway smooth, and the Royal-masted Thame,' affords to the artist many an opportunity for a picture, while the idler has the privilege of lovely views." Mr. Roach Smith was of opinion that Higham was the seat of "a great Roman pottery." A Monastery of importance existed here for several centuries, Mary, daughter of King Stephen, being one of the Prioresses; but it was dissolved by Henry VIII. The list of flowering plants given in Mr. Fielding's book is extensive and interesting, and contains many rarities.
A "Cheap Jack," a veritable Doctor Marigold, had taken up his quarters at Higham, and we loiter among the bystanders to hear his patter. We feel quite sure that had Dickens been present he would have listened and been as amused with him as ourselves. We heard a few days previously the public crier going round in his cart, announcing the arrival of this worthy by ringing his bell and proclaiming in a stentorian voice something to this effect:—
"The public is respectfully informed that the Cheap Jack has arrived, bringing with him a large assortment of London, Birmingham, and Sheffield goods, together with a choice collection of glass and earthenware, which he will sell every evening at the most reasonable prices."
On our arrival here we find him on his rostrum surrounded by some flaring naphtha lamps, and thus disposing of some penny books of songs: "Now, ladies and gentlemen, what shall we have the pleasure of saying for this handsome book, containing over a hundred songs sung by all the great singers of the day—Macdermott, Madam Langtry, Sims Reeves, and other eminent vocalists—besides numerous toasts and readings. Well, I won't ask sixpence, and I won't take fivepence, fourpence, threepence, twopence—no, I only ask a penny. Sold again, and got the money. Take care of the ha'pence" (to his assistant), "for we gives them to the blind when they can see to pick 'em up." We of course bought a copy of the famous collection as a "Dickens-item."
Before returning to Rochester we are anxious to identify the blacksmith's shop where the feu de joie was fired from "two smuggled cannons," in honour of the marriage of Miss Kate Dickens to Mr. Charles Collins. Alterations have taken place which render identification impossible; but a local blacksmith, who has established himself here, gives us some interesting particulars of the games in which he took part. He mentions also a circumstance relating to Dickens's favourite horse, Toby. It appears that it was an express wish of the novelist that when he died this horse should be shot; and according to our informant the horse was shod on the Tuesday before the 9th of June (the day of Dickens's death), and shot on the following Monday. The gun was loaded with small shot, and poor Toby died immediately it was fired. The blacksmith thoroughly confirms the opinion of the old labourers as to the kindness of Charles Dickens to his poorer neighbours. A curious episode occurs in our conference with this man: he seems under the impression, which no amount of assertion on our part can overcome, that my friend and fellow tramp, Mr. Kitton, is Mr. Henry Fielding Dickens. Whether there was any facial resemblance or likeness of manner did not transpire, but again and again he kept saying, "Now ain't you Harry Dickens?" Among the names at Higham we notice that of a well-remembered Dickens character—Mr. Stiggins!
On arriving at Higham Railway Station, we chat a bit with the station-master and porter there, but both are comparatively fresh comers and knew not Charles Dickens. After an enjoyable but somewhat fatiguing tramp, we are glad to take a late evening train from Higham to Strood, and thus ends our inspection of the land of "the Meshes."
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By the kindness of Mr. Henry Smetham (locally famed as the "Laureate of Strood"), we subsequently had an introduction to Mrs. Taylor, formerly school-mistress at Higham, who came there in 1860, and remained until some years after the death of Charles Dickens. She knew the novelist well, and used to see him almost every day when he was at home. She said, "If I had met him and did not know who he was, I should have set him down as a good-hearted English gentleman." He was very popular and much liked in the neighbourhood. On his return from America, in the first week of May, 1868, garlands of flowers were put by the villagers across the road from the railway station to Gad's Hill. There was a flag at Gad's (a Union Jack, she thinks), which was always hoisted when Dickens was at home. He never read at Higham, and never came to the school; but he always allowed the use of the meadow at the back of Gad's Hill Place for the school treats, either of church or chapel, and contributed to such treats sweets and what not.
Mrs. Taylor remembers that the carriage was sent down from Gad's Hill Place to the Higham railway station nearly every night at ten o'clock to meet either Charles Dickens or his friends. It passed the school, and she well recollects the pleasant sound made by the bells. She heard Dickens read Sairey Gamp in London once, and did not like the dress he wore, but thought the reading very wonderful.
This lady says she was in London at the time of the death of Charles Dickens, the announcement of which she saw on a newspaper placard, and was ill the whole of the day afterwards. It was a sorrowful day for her.
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We are much indebted to Mrs. Budden of Gad's Hill Place for the following interesting particulars which she obtained from Mrs. Easedown, of Higham, "who was parlour-maid to Mr. Dickens, and left to be married on the 8th of June, the day he was seized with the fit. She says it was her duty to hoist the flag on the top of the house directly Mr. Dickens arrived at Gad's Hill. It was a small flag, not more than fourteen inches square, and was kept in the billiard-room. She says he was the dearest and best gentleman that ever lived, and the kindest of masters. He asked her to stay and wait at table the night he was taken ill; she said if he wished it she would, and then he said, 'Never mind; I don't feel well.' She saw him after he was dead, laid out in the dining-room, when his coffin was covered with scarlet geraniums—his favourite flower. The flower-beds on the lawns at Gad's Hill in his time were always filled with scarlet geraniums; they have since been done away with. Over the head of the coffin was the oil painting of himself as a young man (probably Maclise's portrait)—on one side a picture of 'Dolly Varden,' and on the other 'Kate Nickleby.' He gave Mrs. Easedown, on the day she left his service, a photograph of himself with his name written on the back. Each of the other servants at Gad's Hill Place was presented with a similar photograph. She said he was unusually busy at the time of his death, as on the Monday morning he ordered breakfast to be ready during the week at 7.30 ('Sharp, mind') instead of his usual time, 9 o'clock, as he said 'he had so much to do before Friday.' But—'Such a thing was never to be,' for on the Thursday he breathed his last!"
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Mrs. Wright, the wife of Mr. Henry Wright, surveyor of Higham, lived four years at Gad's Hill Place as parlour-maid. She is the proud possessor of some interesting relics of her late master. These include his soup-plate, a meerschaum pipe (presented to him, but he chiefly smoked cigars—he was not a great smoker), a wool-worked kettle-holder (which he constantly used), and a pair of small bellows. When she was married Mr. Dickens presented her with a China tea service, "not a single piece of which," said Mrs. Wright proudly, "has been broken."
She remembers, at the time of her engagement as parlour-maid, that the servants told her to let a gentleman in at the front door who was approaching. She didn't know who it was, as she had never seen Mr. Dickens before. She opened the door, and the gentleman entered in a very upright manner, and after thanking her, looked hard at her, and then walked up-stairs. On returning to the kitchen the servants asked who it was that had just come in. She replied, "I don't know, but I think it was the master." "Did he speak?" they asked. "No," said she, "but he looked at me in a very determined way." Said they, "He was reading your character, and he now knows you thoroughly," or words to that effect.
As parlour-maid, it was part of her duty to carve and wait on her master specially. The dinner serviettes were wrapped up in a peculiar manner, and Mrs. Wright remembers that Lord Darnley's servants were always anxious to learn how the folding was done, but they never discovered the secret. At dinner-parties, it was the custom to place a little "button-hole" for each guest. This was mostly made up of scarlet geranium (Dickens's favourite flower), with a bit of the leaf and a frond of maidenhair fern. On one occasion in her early days, the dinner-lift (to the use of which she was unaccustomed) broke and ran down quickly, smashing the crockery and bruising her arm. Mr. Dickens jumped up quickly and said, "Never mind the breakage; is your arm hurt?" As it was painful, he immediately applied arnica to the bruise, and gave her a glass of port wine, "treating me," Mrs. Wright remarked, "more like a child of his own than a servant."
When she was married, and left Gad's Hill, she brought her first child to show her former master. He took notice of it, and asked her what he could buy as a present. She thanked him, and said she did not want anything. On leaving he gently put a sovereign into the baby's little hand, and said, "Buy something with that."
Mrs. Wright spoke of the great interest which Dickens took in the children's treats at Higham, lending his meadow for them, providing sweets and cakes for the little ones, and apples to be scrambled for. He took great delight in seeing the scrambles.
She also referred to the cricket club, and said that when the matches were going on it was a regular holiday at Higham. Dickens used to take the scores, and at the end of the game he gave prizes and made little speeches. Her husband, Mr. Henry Wright, acted as secretary to the club, and is the possessor of a letter written by Mr. Dickens, in reply to an address which had been presented to him, of which letter the following is a copy:—
"GAD'S HILL PLACE, "HIGHAM BY ROCHESTER, KENT. "Tuesday, 29th July, 1862.
"As your name is the first on the list of signatures to the little address I have had the pleasure of receiving—on my return from a short absence—from the greater part of the players in the match the other day, I address my reply to you.
"I beg you to assure the rest that it will always give me great pleasure to lend my meadow for any such good purpose, and that I feel a sincere desire to be a good friend to the working men in this neighbourhood. I am always interested in their welfare, and am always heartily glad to see them enjoying rational and healthful recreation.
"It did not escape my notice that some expressions were used the other day which would have been better avoided, but I dismiss them from my mind as being probably unintentional, and certainly opposed to the general good feeling and good sense.
"Faithfully yours, "CHARLES DICKENS. "MR. H. WRIGHT."
Both Mrs. Easedown and Mrs. Wright informed us (through Mrs. Budden) that "Mr. Dickens was the best of masters, and a dear good man; that he gave a great deal away in the parish, and was very much missed; that he frequently went to church and sat in the chancel. . . . When he lived in Higham there used to be a great deal of ague, and he gave away an immense quantity of port wine and quinine. Since the Cement Works have been at Cliffe there has been very little ague at Higham."
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Mr. Robert Lake Cobb, of Mockbeggar House, Higham, a land agent of high position and a County Councillor, told us that he took in the Pickwick Papers as they appeared in numbers, and he recollected how eagerly he read them, and how tiresome it was to have to wait month by month until the story was finished. The book made a tremendous sensation at the time. Many years afterwards Charles Dickens came to reside at Gad's Hill Place, and the families became intimate. "Mr. Dickens," observed our informant, "was a very pleasant neighbour, and had always got something nice to say. He was a dreadful man to walk—very few could keep up with him."
Mr. Cobb had one son, Herbert, who was a playfellow of Dickens's boys; and as illustrative of the interest he took in his neighbours, on one occasion the novelist and our informant were talking over matters, when the former said, "What are you going to bring your boy up to?" "A land agent," replied Mr. Cobb. "Ah," said the novelist, "whatever you do, make him self-reliant." He thought that of all the sons Mr. Henry Fielding Dickens most resembled his father.
Among the notable people Mr. Cobb met at Gad's Hill Place were Mr. Forster, Mr. Wilkie Collins, Mr. Fechter the actor, and others. When Hans Christian Andersen was visiting there, Dickens took him to Higham Church. Mr. Cobb spoke of the pleasant picnic parties which Dickens gave on Blue Bell Hill. He was of opinion that Cob-Tree Hall in that neighbourhood, about one and a half miles from Aylesford, nearly parallel with the river, suggested the original of Manor Farm, Dingley Dell. It formerly belonged to Mr. Franklin, and is now occupied by Major Trousdell. Mr. Cobb believed that Dickens took the title of No Thoroughfare—which he and Wilkie Collins contributed to the 1867 number of All the Year Round, and in the dramatizing of which Dickens subsequently was so interested—from the notice-boards which were put up by Lord Darnley in many parts of Cobham Park.
On one occasion our informant remembers a stoppage of the train in Higham tunnel, which caused some consternation to the passengers, as no explanation of the delay was forthcoming from any of the railway officials. The station-master coming up at the time, Dickens remarked—"Ah! an unwilling witness, Mr. Wood."
Mr. Cobb mentioned that Miss Hogarth, Dickens's sister-in-law, was a great favourite in the neighbourhood, from her kindness and thoughtfulness for all with whom she came in contact, and especially the poor of Higham.
 Speaking of Hoo, Lambarde says (1570)—"Hoh in the old English signifieth sorrow or sickness, wherewith the Inhabitants of that unwholesome Hundred be very much exercised[!]."
 Lambarde says, "The Town [of Cliffe at Hoo] is large, and hath hitherto a great Parish Church: and (as I have been told) many of the houses were casually burned (about the same time that the Emperor Charles came into this Realme to visite King Henry the eight), of which hurt it was never thorowly cured."
COBHAM PARK AND HALL, THE LEATHER BOTTLE, SHORNE, CHALK, AND THE DOVER ROAD.
"It's a place you may well be fond of and attached to, for it's the prettiest spot in all the country round."—The Village Coquettes.
"The last soft light of the setting sun had fallen on the earth, casting a rich glow on the yellow corn sheaves, and lengthening the shadows of the orchard trees."—The Pickwick Papers.
WE reserve this, our last long tramp in "Dickens-Land," for the Friday before our departure. Mrs. Perugini, the novelist's second daughter, had recently told us that this was the most beautiful of all the beautiful parts of Kent, and so indeed it proves to be. Its sylvan scenery is truly unique.
Mr. Charles Dickens the younger, in his valuable annotated Jubilee edition of Pickwick, has included this note relating to Cobham:—
"As all the world knows, the neighbourhood of Rochester was dear to Charles Dickens. There it is that Gad's Hill Place stands, the house to which, as 'a queer, small boy,' he looked forward as the possible reward of an industrious career, and in which he passed the later years of his life; and near Rochester, still approached by the 'delightful walk' here described, is Cobham, one of the most charming villages in that part of Kent. Down the lanes, and through the park to Cobham, was always a favourite walk with Charles Dickens; and he never wearied of acting as cicerone to his guests to its fine church and the quaint almshouses with the disused refectory behind it."
Happily the weather again favours us on this delightful excursion. It is just such a day as that on which we made our visit to Gad's Hill. As we have had much tramping about Rochester during the morning, we prudently take an early afternoon train to Higham, to save our legs. The short distance of about four miles consists almost entirely of tunnels cut through the chalk.