Crediton was once, for a brief but fateful moment, the focus of a very serious movement. During 1549 discontent showed itself in many parts of England, and very gravely in the West, where a rising of Devonshire and Cornish men brought about the 'Affair of the Crediton Barns,' and culminated in the siege of Exeter. The first definite outbreak was at Sampford Courtenay, on Whit Monday, June 10. On Sunday the Book of Common Prayer was used for the first time, but the people were dissatisfied. They did not care to hear the service in their own tongue instead of in Latin, and they resented all the other changes. And when on Monday the priest was 'preparing himself to say the service as he had done the day before ... they said he should not do so.... In the end, whether it were with his will or against his will, he ravisheth himself in his old Popish attire, and sayeth Mass, and all such services as in Times past accustomed.'
The news of this incident spread; other villages followed suit, and the local magistrates unwillingly recognized that the ferment of rebellion was working, and met together to try and reason the people into a more submissive frame of mind. But the movement was too full of force to be arrested by such gentle methods, and the justices, 'being afraid of their own shadows, ... departed without having done anything at all.' Unfortunately, their reasoning had merely an irritating effect, so that, when a certain gentleman named Helions tried mildly to enforce some of the remonstrances, a man struck him on the neck with a billhook and killed him. This blow seems to have stirred the mob into taking a definite course of action, and they marched on Crediton. News of the disturbance had, meanwhile, reached the King, and Sir Peter and Sir Gawen Carew were sent down in haste to deal with the matter. From Exeter, they and several other gentlemen rode to confer with the people; but the people, having had notice of the arrival of the knights, 'they intrench the highways, and make a mighty rampire at the Town's End, and fortify the same' and 'also the Barns of both sides of the way.' The walls were pierced with 'loops and holes for their shot,' and 'so complenished with men, well appointed with bows and arrows and other weapons, that there was no passage nor entry for them into the town.' Nor would they listen to 'the Gentlemen,' but refused all conference.
The 'Warlike Knights' then tried force, but were driven back with loss, by a heavy volley. 'Whereupon some one strong man of that company,' says Hooker (who must have admired decision), 'unawares of the gentlemen, did set one of the barns on fire, and then the Commoners, seeing that, ran and fled away out of the town.' This ended all the trouble in Crediton, though the smoking barns served as fuel to the growing spirit of revolt, and the 'Barns of Crediton' became a party-cry.
Clarendon mentions briefly that Charles I came here on his way into Cornwall, and reviewed the troops under Prince Maurice.
About one hundred and fifty years later the distant echoes of war sounded faintly in Crediton, for French prisoners of war on parole, Napoleon's soldiers, were allowed to live in this town. Vague rumours of them may still be heard. The sexton remembers that his mother often told about them, and one of the first people he buried was a man named Henry, 'though,' he explained, 'they spell it rather differently.' The melancholy fate of this stranger throws a light on one of the disregarded tragedies in the train of war, for Henri was not a soldier, but the son of a French prisoner. For some reason he never went home, and died in the workhouse.
Amongst the conditions that the prisoners on parole had to sign was: 'Not to withdraw one mile from the boundaries prescribed there without leave for that purpose from the said Commissioners;' and on some roads a stone was put up marking the limits. One of these stones, of grey limestone, and very like a milestone with no inscription, is still to be seen jutting out from the bank of Shobrooke Park, on the Stockleigh Pomeroy road. Another witness to the presence of the French prisoners lies in the name that clings to a bit of road running behind the Vicarage, for it is still sometimes called the Belle Parade, and tradition says that here they used to assemble on Sundays.
Returning along the river, one passes through the property of the late Sir Redvers Buller. Downes is a white house standing amongst green open lawns sloping to the river, and it has a background of great trees and ample shrubberies. The Bullers at one time lived chiefly in Cornwall, and Downes was originally a shooting-box. A hay-loft stood at one end, and when the house was enlarged the archway under which the hay-waggons were driven was left standing, and now forms part of the drawing-room—a room with an unusually high ceiling. A member of the family has been kind enough to send me notes of one or two incidents in the history of the Bullers.
'The whole Buller family was at one time reduced to a single individual, John Francis Buller. He died of the smallpox. His mother insisted on seeing him after death. It was in the days when air was considered highly prejudicial to smallpox patients, who were covered with red cloth, and every window and cranny through which air might enter was carefully closed. To minimize the risk to his mother, who would listen to no dissuasion, all the windows and doors were opened, and a draught of air admitted, with the result that when his mother entered the room the dead man rose from his bed and received her.' Mr Buller lived to marry Rebecca, daughter of the Bishop Trelawney who was one of the seven Bishops sent to the Tower by James II. His arrest created intense indignation in his own county; and he is the Trelawney referred to in the well-known fragment, all that remains of a ballad written at the time to express Cornish feeling:
'And shall they scorn Tre, Pol, and Pen? And shall Trelawney die? There's twenty thousand Cornishmen Will know the reason why.'
[Footnote 2: In another version 'underground'—i.e., miners.]
A later Mr Buller of Downes had a brief but unpleasant experience of the feeling of the mob in regard to the Reform Bill.
'I recollect hearing that at the time of the first Reform Bill (1830) the members of the House of Commons were threatened with dire consequences if they could not give what the mob considered satisfactory answers to their questions.
'Mr Buller of Downes was on his way to the House in his own carriage, when a crowd stopped him, demanding to know how he meant to vote. He took no notice of their request, but remained quietly seated, when some of the men opened the carriage door with cries of, "Pull him out! Pull him out!" and were proceeding to carry out their threat, when his servant, who was standing behind the carriage, sprang up to the roof, and, waving his hat, shouted: "What! don't you know my master, Squire Buller? Why, he's always for the people!" Whereupon the door was closed again with a bang, the coachman told to drive on, and "Squire Buller" reached the House without further molestation.'
Two miles farther on the river passes the village of Newton St Cyres, or Syriak Newton, as some of the older writers called it. The church has several interesting features, and escaped the ruthless 'restoration' that so many village churches suffered from at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Alders and willows overhang the stream, which winds its way to the south-west, and about two miles farther on one arrives again at Cowley Bridge. The Valley of the Exe gets ever wider and flatter, and after Exeter has been passed the flatness on either side of the banks increases as the river draws near the estuary.
Topsham stands at the head of the estuary, and is a pleasant little town, whose great days are gone by. It is difficult to believe that in the reign of William III Topsham had more trade with Newfoundland than any other port in the country excepting London. Presumably it was at this time that certain Dutch merchants came to live here, and built themselves quaint narrow houses of small Dutch bricks, painted the colour of bath-bricks. Rounded gable-ends are a feature of these houses, which may still be seen along the Strand. In many cases the clerk's house, a smaller, humbler dwelling of exactly the same design, stands close to the merchant's, separated by their respective gardens.
Till wooden ships were superseded, frigates for the navy were built here, but now, although some of the largest ships stop and unload their cargoes for Exeter, there is little of the stir and bustle that the town must once have rejoiced in.
Miss Celia Fiennes, who rode through England about 1695, mentions Topsham in her diary as 'a little market place and a very good Key; hither they convey on horses their serges and soe load their shipps w^h comes to this place, all for London.' She also speaks of Starcross, on the farther side of the river, 'where the Great shipps ride, and there they build some shipps.'
In the end of the seventeenth century there sprang from Topsham a man of great resoluteness, pluck, and the spirit to fight against tremendous odds in cold blood. Robert Lyde, mate of the Friend's Adventure, himself wrote an account of his fortunes on board that vessel. Lyde's great bitterness against the French is explained by the fact that he had already suffered intensely at their hands. Two years before he had been captured at sea by a French privateer, and imprisoned at St Malo, 'where we were used with such inhumanity and cruelty that if we had been taken by the Turks we could not have been used worse.' The prisoners were almost starved, and their condition was wretched in every respect. 'These and their other barbarities made so great an impression on me that I did resolve never to go a prisoner there again, and this resolution I did ever since continue in.' But when he was for the second time made prisoner—this time on board the Friend's Adventure—there seemed no escape from this evil fate. The crew were all removed from the ship, excepting Lyde and one boy, who, under a prize-master and six men, were to help in sailing her to St Malo. The idea of returning to the identical prison where he had endured such misery made Lyde desperate, and, finding no easier expedient, he determined to pit himself against the seven as soon as he could persuade the boy to join him. The boy, not unnaturally, hung back from such a venture, and before he could screw his courage to the sticking-place they had arrived off a small harbour near Brest, and the French had fired a 'patteroe' for a pilot. 'Whereupon, considering the inhuman usage I formerly had in France, and how near I was to it again, struck me with such terror that I went down between decks and prayed God for a southerly wind, to prevent her from going into that harbour, which God was most graciously pleased to grant me, for which I returned my unfeigned thanks.'
Lyde's anxiety to attack the French was now redoubled, and when they invited him to their breakfast, he was so 'ready to faint with eagerness to encounter them' that he could not stay in the same cabin. He went up 'betwixt decks' to the boy, 'and did earnestly entreat him to go up presently to the cabin and stand behind me, and knock down but one man, in case two laid on me, and I would kill and command all the rest presently.' The boy, however, was timid, and when Lyde, to spur him into resistance, told all the horrible details of his former captivity, he calmly replied: 'If I do find it as hard as you say when I am in France, I will go along with them in a privateer.' 'These words,' writes Lyde, 'struck me to the heart, which made me say: "You dog! What! will you go with them against your King and Country, and Father and Mother? Sirrah! I was a prisoner in France four months, and my tongue cannot express what I endured there, yet I would not turn Papist and go with them. If I should take my brother in a French privateer, after he had sailed willingly with them, I would hang him immediately."' Perhaps at this point the boy began to fear opposing Lyde as much as attacking all the Frenchmen, for he now consented to help, and was told that if he would knock down the man at the helm, all the others should be Lyde's affair. The sang-froid of the ensuing conversation is remarkable. 'Saith the boy, "If you be sure to overcome them, how many do you count to kill?" I answered that I intended to kill three of them. Then the boy replied, "Why three, and no more?" I answered that I would kill three for three of our men that died in Prison when I was there.' Lyde went on to express a hope that some day a 'Man-of-War or Fireship' will try to avenge 'the Death of those four hundred men that died in the same Prison of Dinan.' But the boy's fears found the present scheme too merciful, and he protested, 'Four alive would be too many for us.'
The attack was made when two Frenchmen were asleep in the cabin. 'I went softly aft into the cabin, and put my back against the bulkhead, and took the iron crow and held it with both my hands in the middle of it, and put my legs to shorten myself, because the cabin was very low. But he that being nighest to me, hearing me, opened his eyes, and perceiving my intent and upon what account I was coming, he endeavoured to rise to make resistance against me, but I prevented him by a blow upon his forehead which mortally wounded him.' The other man received a heavy blow as he was rising, 'very fiercely endeavouring to come against me.... The master, lying in his cabin on my right hand, rose and sat in his cabin, and seeing what I had done, he called me by most insulting names.' But 'having his eyes every way,' Lyde turned on him with a blow which made him 'lie as still as if he had been dead.'
He then went to 'attack the two men who were at the pump, where they continued pumping without hearing or knowing what I had done;' but one of the wounded men crawled out of the cabin, and when the men at the pump 'saw his blood running out of the hole in his forehead, they came running aft to me, grinding their teeth as if they would have eaten me; but I met them as they came within the steeridge door, and struck at them; but the steeridge not being above four foot high, I could not have a full blow at them, whereupon they fended off the blows, took hold of the crow with both their hands close to mine, striving to haul it from me; then the boy might have knocked them down with much ease, but that his heart failed him.' The master was by this time so far recovered that he was able to join the other two, so that Lyde fought for his life against the three. The boy at one moment, thinking him overborne, 'cried out for fear. Then I said, "Do you cry, you villain, now I am in such a condition? Come quickly and knock this man on the head that hath hold of my left arm." The boy took some courage, but struck so faintly that he missed his blow, which greatly enraged me; and I, feeling the Frenchman about my middle hang very heavy, said to the boy, "Go round the binikle and knock down that man that hangeth on my back"; so the boy did strike him one blow on the head, and he went out on deck staggering to and fro.' After a further tremendous effort, Lyde killed one of the three struggling with him, and the two others then begged for quarter; and at last he set sail for Topsham, with five living prisoners under hatches. But his troubles were not yet all passed. Exhausted as he was, he dared not rest, and suffered from want of sleep, bad weather, and, when he reached home, a cold welcome. Arrived at Topsham Bar, he had no English colours to run up, and the pilot he signalled feared to come out. Lyde did not dare to bring in the ship by himself at night, and was blown off the coast, so that he had the further labour of getting close to the bar a second time. In the end he did succeed in getting safely home.
Just beyond Topsham the little river Clyst joins the Exe. It has given names to a surprising number of villages and manors, considering the shortness of its course—Clyst St Mary, Clyst St Laurence, Honiton Clyst, and so on. At Clyst St George a small estate used to be held on the curious tenure of 'the annual tender of an ivory bow.' About two miles east of the river the land begins to slope upwards to the moorland of Woodbury Common, and on one part of the heath are the remains of an ancient entrenchment called Woodbury Castle. 'No castle at all, built with little cost,' says Westcote, 'without either lime or hewn stone: only a hasty fortification made of mother-earth for the present to serve a turn for need, with plain ditches, the Saxons' usual structure, who commonly lay sub dio, with no other shelter or coverture than the starry canopy.'
Woodbury and Lympstone—a village on the edge of the estuary—were once owned by the family of De Albemarle, which name was gradually transformed into Damarel, and in this guise is not uncommon in the West to-day.
Two and a half miles farther on is Exmouth—a town fortunate in the delightful views on every side. The sea stretches away to the south; on the north-east the hills rise towards Woodbury Common; on the west lie the broad, shining reaches of the river, and beyond them the beautiful heights of Haldon. Here 'Ex taketh his last tribute with a wider channel and curled waves, shedding itself into the sea.'
Exmouth has a rather curious history. In the early part of the eighteenth century it was little more than a hamlet, chiefly consisting of fishermen's cottages; but soon afterwards it became a fashionable watering-place—according to report, because one of the judges on circuit was charmed with the sea-bathing here. The town continues to flourish and is greatly patronized by visitors. The strangeness of the history lies in the fact that Exmouth should ever have been reduced to such a humble condition, for it inherited great traditions. When the Danes descended on it in 1001, they found there a town and a castle, and being 'valiantly repelled by the guardians' of the latter, they revenged themselves by burning the town.
In the reign of King John, Exmouth was a port of some consequence, and when Edward III was at war with France it was able to contribute no fewer than ten ships for an attack on Calais. Risdon says there was 'sometime a castle, but now the place hath no defence than a barred haven and the inhabitants' valour.' It is a little puzzling that both he and Westcote, writing about the beginning of the seventeenth century, should imply that the old fortress had no successor, for a very few years later Exmouth was garrisoned for the King. Either a fort must have been erected in the short interval, or some building turned into a tolerable substitute, for in the spring of 1646 'Fort Exmouth' was blockaded by Colonel Shapcote, and defended with great courage by Colonel Arundell. It capitulated less than a month before the surrender of Exeter.
The Otter and the Axe
'Dear native brook! Wild streamlet of the West! How many various fated years have past, What happy and what mournful hours, since last I skimmed the smooth thin stone along thy breast, Numbering its light leaps! yet so deep imprest Sink the sweet scenes of childhood, that mine eyes I never shut amid the sunny ray, But straight with all their tints thy waters rise, Thy crossing plank, thy marge with willows grey, And bedded sand, that, veined with various dyes, Gleamed through thy bright transparence! On my way, Visions of childhood! oft have ye beguiled Lone manhood's cares, yet waking fondest sighs: Ah! that once more I were a careless child!'
COLERIDGE: Sonnet to the River Otter.
The River Otter rises in Somerset, and runs nearly due south, bearing slightly westwards till it reaches Honiton. Here it makes a curve still farther to the west, and from Ottery St Mary runs southwards to the sea. In Westcote's day, when the derivations of names were taken in a light-hearted spirit, it was said: 'The river Otter, or river of otters (water-dogs), taking name from the abundance of these animals (which we term otters) sometime haunting and using it.' But the more serious authorities of to-day do not allow that the otters in this river have anything to do with the matter, and say that the name comes from the Welsh y dwr, the water. It is a rapid and very clear stream, flowing through green and fertile valleys.
Honiton filled Defoe with admiration when he came to it on his journey to the West. He describes it as 'a pleasant, good town, that stands in the best and pleasantest part of the whole country ... and to the entrance into Honiton the view of the country is the most beautiful landscape in the world, a mere picture, and I do not remember the like in any one place in England.' Beyond this pleasantness there is nothing very remarkable in the town; perhaps its most uncommon feature being a stream of clear water that runs down the street, with square dipping-places at intervals.
To the west the town looks over a space of comparatively flat country, but on the north-west it is overshadowed by St. Cyres Hill, and farther north is the bold height of Dumpdon. On the top of this hill are the remains of an oval camp, and a few miles away to the north-west is the better-known camp called Hembury Fort. The fort stands very high, and looks south to the sea beyond the Vale of the Otter, and west to Haldon and the fringes of Dartmoor over Exeter. Three ramparts surround the fort, which covers a large space of ground, and it is 'divided into two parts by a double agger.... Several Roman coins, and an iron "lar" representing a female figure three inches high, have been found here.'
A great Roman road passes by Honiton. The Fosseway ran from Caithness to Totnes (according to some authorities, on into Cornwall), and crossed the country between Exeter or Seaton and Lincolnshire. It is thought that the Romans, in making their famous roads, usually followed the line of still older British ways.
In coaching days Honiton was well known as a stage for changing horses. Gay, who was a Devonshire man, a native of Barnstaple, says in his Journey to Exeter, 1716, from London:
'Now from the steep, 'midst scatter'd farms and groves, Our eye through Honiton's fair valley roves; Behind us soon the busy town we leave, Where finest lace industrious lasses weave.'
Here the poet mentions the one characteristic of the town known to strangers—the lace-making. When or how it was first started is not exactly known, but there is a theory that certain Flemings, escaping to England from the persecutions of the Duke of Alva, settled near Honiton and introduced the art towards the end of the sixteenth century. The evidence is too slender to prove that this was so, but there is no doubt that by the beginning of the next century the industry was well established, for in the Church of St Michael is a memorial brass plate recording that
JAMES RODGE of Honiton in ye County of Devonshire (Bonelace Siller) Hath given unto the Poore of Honinton P'ishe The Benefytt of L100 for ever. Who deceased ye 27 of July A'o. Di. 1617. AEtate suae 50. Remember ye poore.
So it is obvious that before 1617 there must have been enough lace to dispose of to make the sale of it profitable.
About forty years later Fuller wrote a spirited defence of lace-making on economic grounds. It was then 'made in and about Honyton, and weekly returned to London.' He says: 'Though private persons pay for it, it stands the state in nothing.... Many lame in their limbs and impotent in their arms, if able in their fingers, gain a livelyhood thereby, not to say that it saveth some thousand of pounds yearly, formerly sent over seas to fetch Lace from Flanders.' At this time the lace trade flourished greatly, although there was always a difficulty in competing with Belgium, because of the superiority of its silky flax, finer than any spun in England. Later the workers fell on evil days, for during the American War there was little money to spend on luxuries; and, besides, about this time the fashion of wearing much lace came to an end. In 1816 the introduction of 'machine net' supplanted the vrai reseau, the groundwork of the lace made by hand, and this took away work from very many people, besides lowering prices, so that the workers became discouraged, and the quality as well as the quantity of the lace suffered much in consequence. Queen Adelaide tried to stimulate the dwindling trade by ordering a lace dress, every flower in which was to be copied from Nature. The initials of the flowers chosen spelt her name:
Amaranth, Daphne, Eglantine, Lilac, Auricula, Ivy, Dahlia, Eglantine.
Queen Victoria's wedding-dress was made at Beer, and of later years there has been a revival of lace-making, especially in the neighbourhood of Honiton and of Beer; and considerable quantities are made by village women living at home.
But lace is not the only thing that comes from Honiton. Cider is made there, and in the reign of George II making it must have been a very profitable occupation. Defoe notes: 'They tell us they send twenty thousand hogsheads of cider hence every year to London, and (which is still worse) that it is most of it bought there by the merchants to mix with their wines—which, if true, is not much to the reputation of the London vintners. But that by-the-bye.' As cider-making was then in such a prosperous condition, it is easy to understand the tremendous outcry that arose a few years later, when Lord Bute imposed the enormous tax of ten shillings per hogshead, to be paid by the first buyer. The storm provoked was so violent, the opposition of country gentlemen of all shades of politics so unanimous, that the Prime Minister modified the tax to one of four shillings on each hogshead, to be paid by the grower, who was thereby rendered liable to the domiciliary visits of excisemen. This alteration was vehemently protested against, and Pitt championed the opposition on the grounds that it was an Englishman's pride that every man's house was his castle, and denounced as intolerable a Bill that allowed excisemen to invade the house of any gentleman who 'owned a few fruit-trees and made a little cider.' The City of London sent petitions to the Commons, the Lords, and the Throne; and the counties of Devon and Hereford, the cities of Exeter and Worcester, urged their respective Members to make all possible resistance to the tax. Lord Bute's personal unpopularity increased enormously, and a shoal of squibs, caricatures, and pamphlets appeared, in which he was held up to ridicule and contempt. One caricature represented him as 'hung on the gallows over a fire, on which a jack-boot fed the flames, and a farmer was throwing an excised cyder barrel into the conflagration. In rural districts he was burnt under the effigy of a jack-boot, a rural allusion to his name.'
An amusing story is told of Lord North in connection with this tax. Not long after it had been imposed, he and Sir Robert Hamilton came to Ashe, near Axminster, on a visit—Lord North, then a Lord of the Treasury, distinctly uneasy as to the risk of coming into Devonshire, for the county was still seething with dissatisfaction against the Government. 'He was one day thrown into great alarm by a large party of reapers, who, having finished cutting the wheat of the estate, approached the house with their hooks in their hands, shouting the usual cry, "We have'n! we have'n!" The portentous words Lord North applied to himself, and, pale with terror, considered himself a dead man. Sir Robert Hamilton seized a sword, and was sallying forth to repulse the visitors, when, meeting a member of the household, an explanation took place, by which the fears so unconsciously excited were removed.'
It was a most ancient custom in the West—indeed, it is said to be a remnant of the pagan rite of dedicating the first-fruits to Ceres—to set aside either the first armful of corn that was cut or else some of the best ears, and bind them into a little sheaf, called a 'neck'. A fragment of the vivid description given by Miss O'Neill in 'Devonshire Idyls' must be quoted: 'The men carried their reaping-hooks; the sheaf was borne by the old man. Bareheaded he stood in the light of the moon. Strange shadows flecked the mossy sward on sundown as he held the first-fruits aloft and waved his arms.
'"We ha'un!" cried he, and the cry was long and wailing. The strange intimation fell on the ear like an echo from pagan days. One could fancy the fauns and weird beings of old had taught the cadence to the first reapers of earth. "We ha'un!" cried he, and all the men in the circle bowed to the very ground.... "We ha'un!" cried Jonas again, and again the reapers bowed and waved. Then the old men took up another strain, at once more jubilant and more resonant, and with an indescribable drawling utterance sang out "Thee Neck!"—sang it out three times, and twice the waving circle of bright steel flashed.'
On leaving Honiton, if the river is followed upstream for a short distance, the traveller will find himself close to ruined Ottery Mohun, the home of two celebrated families in succession. Unfortunately, it has been entirely destroyed by fire. A farm now stands among the ruins, and two fine Perpendicular archways, and a deeply moulded and hooded arch over the frontdoor, alone bear witness to its former state. In the spandril above the outer archway is carved, 'amid elegant scroll-work and foliage, an arm, vested in an ermine maunch, the hand grasping a golden fleur-de-lys'—the old coat-armour of the Mohuns; and on the other spandril 'three lions passant in pale,' the bearing of the Carews.
The Mohuns were a Norman family of distinction, but in later days were notorious rather than famous. The old peerage having died out in the Middle Ages, a member of a cadet branch, by shameless and persevering begging, induced Charles I to grant him a barony. This title only survived a few generations, and the fifth and last bearer of it was known as 'the wicked' Lord Mohun. His life was short—he was barely over forty when he died—but eventful, for he was twice tried before his peers, each time on the charge of being accessory to a murder, and the story has often been told of the desperate duel in which Lord Mohun was killed by the Duke of Hamilton, whom he had mortally wounded. Spectators burst upon the scene to discover the two principals dying on the ground, and the two seconds fiercely fighting each other.
The history of the Carews is more interesting. Ottery Mohun came to them towards the end of the thirteenth century, through the heiress of the elder branch of Mohuns, whom John Carew married. Their names were eminent in camp, court, and council, in one reign after another; but it is only possible to speak here of two, Sir Gawen, and his nephew Sir Peter, on whose death the branch that had been settled at Ottery Mohun for three centuries became extinct in the direct line. There is not even space for the career of another of Sir Gawen's nephews, to whom Queen Elizabeth wrote, with her own hand, in regard to his efforts in subduing the Irish:
'MY FAITHFUL GEORGE,
'If ever more services of worth were performed in shorter space than you have done, we are deceived among many witnesses.'
Sir Peter's youth was spent very strangely even for that age of hazards and chances. As a child he was sent to school in Exeter, where he was so exceedingly naughty that complaints were made to his father, and Sir William, who had remarkable ideas of discipline, came to Exeter, 'tied him on a line and delivered him to one of his servants to be carried about the town as one of his hounds, and they led him home to Mohun's Ottery like a dog.' Not long afterwards he was with his father in London, when, 'walking in Paul's,' they met a French gentleman, an old acquaintance of Sir William's, who took a sudden fancy to the boy, and offered to bring him up in France as if he were his own son. The offer seems to have been accepted offhand, but, unfortunately for the boy, the sudden fancy drooped almost as quickly as it sprang up, and, after enjoying life for a brief moment as an indulged page, he was turned out into the stables, 'there as a mulett to attend his master's mule.' Here he remained till a Mr Carew, a kinsman, happened to come to the French Court, and near the Court gate passed 'sundry lackeys and horseboys playing together, one of whom called to another, "Carew Anglois! Carew Anglois!"' This attracted Mr Carew's attention. He called the boy and questioned him, and finding 'Carew Anglois' to be his cousin, Mr Carew took him under his protection, rebuked the fickle guardian, and trained up Peter 'for a space ... in the court of France, like a gentleman.' Peter, still very young, but extremely independent, was present at the siege of Pavia, and as his patron had just died, and he perceived 'fortune to frown upon the French side,' he went over to the Emperor's camp, and entered into the service of the Prince of Orange. Five or six years later he came home, bringing with him letters of highest commendation to the King, Henry VIII, who received him with great favour.
Sir Gawen and Sir Peter together took a prominent part in 1549, in dealing with the insurrection of Devonshire and Cornishmen against the Reformed religion. Sir Peter, indeed, was afterwards blamed for being over-zealous, and thereby aggravating the trouble; but he was able to clear himself, and was 'well allowed and commended for what he had done.'
In Queen Mary's reign fresh trouble arose, from which he escaped less easily. Many fervent Protestants were made uneasy by the symptoms of Romish rule that began to appear, and were still more disturbed by the news of the Queen's projected marriage with Philip of Spain, which they felt boded ill for their liberties, spiritual and temporal. The Carews were in the counsel of Sir Thomas Wyatt, the Duke of Suffolk, and others, who planned risings to depose the Queen. In a simultaneous movement, the Carews were to raise the West under the nominal leadership of Lord Courtenay, Sir Thomas Wyatt was to raise Kent, and the Duke the Midland counties. But before the preparations were complete, suspicion fell on the Carews, and a letter was despatched from the Council, directing the Sheriff of Devon to send Sir Peter and Sir Gawen to London.
Sir Gawen, who was in Exeter about this time, thought it best to return quietly to his own home, and because his movements now attracted an undesirable amount of attention, he one night 'went out over the walles of the said cytie yn his bowtes.' The account condescends to a touching detail that should appeal to all. Even the agitation of flying from arrest on a charge of treason could not keep Sir Gawen from feeling footsore, and 'for that his bowtes grieved hym he cutt them upon the waye.' Sir Gawen was arrested a few days later, and suffered a long imprisonment.
Meanwhile Sir Peter, in answer to the summons to surrender himself, sent the reply that he had already started for London. But meeting on the way the bearer of a message which assured him that two of his 'dearest friends' here failed him, he turned aside and escaped in a little boat from Weymouth.
Those who interest themselves in dreams and visions may care to hear of Lady Carew's experience at this moment. The night that Sir Peter sailed, Lady Carew dreamed very vividly 'that as he was going aboard his bark, he should fall into the seas and be drowned'; and so great was her trouble on awaking, that she sent a messenger to the seaside to make inquiries for Sir Peter. And when the messenger arrived at Weymouth, he heard the startling news that getting 'out of the boat to enter into the bark, his [Sir Peter's] foot slided or slipped, and he therewith fell into the seas, and had been drowned if one standing by had not taken hold of him.'
Notwithstanding several misfortunes on the way, Sir Peter arrived safely in France, where he lived an exciting and adventurous life for several years, and was then treacherously seized and carried to England and the Tower. Here the much-abused Philip proved himself a real friend, for in an admirable letter to the Queen he intercedes for 'Pedro Caro' and his wife, and Sir Peter was eventually forgiven by Queen Mary, and honoured by Queen Elizabeth.
Between Honiton and Sidmouth is an inn called The Hunter's Lodge (more recently The Hare and Hounds), and opposite the house is a block of stone, over which hovers a gruesome mystery. It is said that in the dead of night the stone used to stir in its place, and roll heavily down into the valley, to drink at the source of the Sid, and, some say, to try to wash away its stain. Human blood has given it this power—the blood that gushed upon it when the witches slew their victims, for it was once a witches' stone of sacrifice.
Five miles to the south-west of Honiton is Ottery St Mary, a pretty little town built on very steep slopes, and full of interesting associations. It lies among 'fair meadows bathed in sunshine; with the Otter river winding through them ... yonder are the red Devon steers grazing up to their dewlaps in buttercups: beyond them dusky moors melt into purple haze.' By making a slight detour one passes the pleasant lawns and copses of Escot. Once the property of the Alfords, Escot was bought in 1680 by Sir Walter Yonge (father of George II's unpopular 'Secretary-at-War'), who built a new and large house and lavishly improved the grounds. But prodigality was the bane of the Yonges, and not much more than one hundred years later it passed away from Sir Walter's ruined grandson, and was bought by Sir John Kennaway.
The streets of Ottery are steep and sinuous, and both roadway and footwalk are paved with pebbles and cobble-stones. The Manor of Ottery was given by Edward the Confessor to the Dean and Chapter of Rouen, and it continued in their possession during the reigns of nine Kings. Then the Dean, finding that the task of collecting his rents and dues was 'chargeable, troublesome, and sometimes dangerous ... desired to sell it, and met with a very fit chapman, John Grandisson, Lord Bishop of Exon.'
Ottery's greatest treasure is the beautiful church, a miniature of Exeter Cathedral, and it is to Bishop Grandisson that its great beauty is due. He did not build the church; indeed, the shadow of a terrible scandal had fallen upon it forty-five years before his rule began. For in the year 1282 'that discreet man, Mr Walter de Lechelade,' the Precentor of Ottery, was waylaid coming from Exeter Cathedral in his canonical robes, and murdered by 'certain sons of perdition full of fiendish ferocity.' 'Mr Walter de Lechelade' was probably extremely unpopular locally, because he had obtained the lease for life of the Manor and Church of Ottery from the authorities at Rouen, and was allowed to make all the profit he could out of the revenues. It is interesting to note the ecclesiastical manner of dealing with such a difficulty at that date. Out of the twenty-one persons convicted of being concerned in the murder, no fewer than eleven were clerics! The Vicar of Ottery St Mary was among the number, and it is sad to say that suspicion fell even on the Dean of Exeter.
Bishop Grandisson found an early English church. He lengthened the nave, altered the chancel, added a beautiful Lady Chapel, and raised towers on the already existing transepts. These transeptal towers are peculiar to this church and the other on which he spent his enthusiasm, Exeter Cathedral. On one tower is a steeple—there was one on the Cathedral—the lead scored by cross-slanted lines. The church is of grey stone. The nave and towers are battlemented, and at intervals in the outer walls are niches, now bereft of the figures they held. Very graceful stone tracery is in many windows, pinnacles and crosses rise from the roof, and the whole effect is of an impressive building of rich and elaborate detail. The number of consecration crosses is remarkable, for there are thirteen without and eight within the walls, and each marks a spot touched by the Bishop with holy oil. Every one is a square stone panel, carved with an angel bearing a small cross. Some are much defaced, but a few are still perfect, and beneath several of them are the remains of iron supports, showing where a light was burned before the 'cross' on great festivals.
The arches of the nave are supported by clustered columns with most delicately carved capitals; and in the nave are two very elaborately decorated tombs—of the Bishop's brother, Sir Otho de Grandisson, and of Beatrice, Sir Otho's wife—each under a monumental arch, with hanging tracery and a crocketed ogee canopy.
The finely carved and pierced minstrels' gallery in the Lady Chapel is an exquisite piece of work; but amongst all that is to be most admired is the exceedingly beautiful fan-tracery in the roof of the 'Dorset' aisle—an aisle built by Cicely, heiress of Lord Bonville, and widow of the Marquis of Dorset, who died in 1501.
Two short pleached alleys of limes stand within the churchyard wall, looking down over a little square into which several streets open, and the old stocks still lie in the shadow of the trees.
Bishop Grandisson obtained a licence to establish here 'a monastery or collegiate church for a fixed number of secular canons ... governed mainly by a Warden, a Minister, and Sacrist, and a Chanter or Precentor,' and he drew up a most comprehensive set of statutes for their guidance. Occasionally he issued additional 'monitions,' as, for example, when the Warden had allowed stage-plays to be performed in church during the Christmas holidays. It is reasonable to suppose, however, that they were 'mystery plays' or 'moralities.'
Lord Coleridge says: 'The town was dominated by the College. The bridge by which you entered the town from the West was the bridge of the Holy Saviour. In one of its recesses the sacred light was ever kept burning, inviting those who passed to pray.' Henry VI and Henry VII both visited the College. The Dissolution swept it away, but a part of its endowment was devoted to founding the King's Grammar School.
Many incidents befell Fairfax and his troops at Ottery. It was chosen for their winter-quarters in 1645, and they arrived worn-out and exhausted and in great need of refreshment. Ill-fortune, however, awaited them, as the Rev. Joshua Sprigg, General Fairfax's chaplain, tells us in Anglia Rediviva, his account of this army's movements. A mysterious disease broke out, very fatal, so that there were 'dying of soldiers and inhabitants in the town of Autree, seven, eight, and nine a day, for several weeks together.' A Colonel Pickering died of it, on whom the chaplain wrote an elegy. One has heard of blank-verse that is merely 'prose cut into lengths,' but his lines suggest that they must have been on the rack to bring them to the right measure. The author feared that it was the lack of action that had proved fatal.
'Must thou be scaling heaven alone, For want of other action? Wouldst thou hadst took that leisure time To visit some responsal clime!'
But Sprigg's deep affection and respect cannot be disguised even by his words.
At Ottery, Sir Thomas Fairfax received and entertained two envoys from besieged Exeter, who came with a view to discussing the possible terms of a general peace; but their mission was, of course, unsuccessful. A pleasant event was the presentation to the General of a fair jewel, set with rich diamonds of great value, 'from both Houses of Parliament, as a testimonial to his great services at Naseby.' The jewel was tied with 'a blue ribbon and put about his neck.' Fairfax was staying in the old Chanter's House, now the property of Lord Coleridge, and the ceremony took place in a long panelled room, with deep-set window, then called the Great Parlour. Here also Fairfax held a deeply important conference with the 'Lord Generall Cromwell,' when he came to decide the plan of campaign in the West.
Ottery St Mary is able to pride itself on being the birthplace of the poet Coleridge, whose family had long been connected with the county. The poet's father was Vicar, and Master of the Grammar School. Great as was his genius, Coleridge was not in every respect worthy of his birthplace, for in one of his letters he actually announces that he prefers Somerset to Devon!—evidence which clearly proves the correctness of the popular belief that poets have no judgment. But his real affection for the Otter is shown in his sonnet to the river on whose banks he lived in early years. Another poem, the 'Songs of the Pixies,' was inspired by the Pixies' Parlour, a tiny cave with roots of old trees for a ceiling, that stands halfway up a low cliff overhanging the river, just beyond the town. In this poem are the lines:
'When fades the morn to shadowy-pale, And scuds the cloud before the gale, Ere the Morn, all gem-bedight, Hath streak'd the East with rosy light, We sip the furze-flower's fragrant dews, Clad in robes of rainbow hues.... Then with quaint music hymn the parting gleam By lonely Otter's sleep-persuading stream; Or where his wave with loud, unquiet song Dashed o'er the rocky channel froths along; Or where, his silver waters smoothed to rest, The tall tree's shadow sleeps upon his breast.'
Ottery has other associations with literature, and it is interesting to remember that Thackeray lived near here in his youth, and that Ottery is the 'Clavering' of Pendennis, which was written while he was staying at Escot Vicarage close by.
A winter traveller in passing through the lanes near here recalls some beliefs of a past generation: 'The faint chimes of St Mary's in distant Ottery are playing their Christmas greeting over many a mile of moorland. We are passing the old "cob" walls and grey-headed barns of a substantial farmstead. The cocks will crow here all the night before Christmas Day, according to the beautiful legend of the county, to bid
'"Each fettered ghost slip to his several grave."
The very oxen at midnight will fall down on their knees before the manger. The next turn brings us to the Otter rushing along some forty feet below with angry stream.' Almost at the mouth of the river is the village of Otterton, and here was a Benedictine Priory, founded in the reign of King John. The Prior of this little monastery had certain privileges. Amongst others, ten marks had to be subscribed among the tenants for 'a palfrey to be presented to a new Prior on his coming to reside in the midst of his flock, and every plough had to plough one acre of land for him annually.' He had the 'right of pre-emption of fish in all his ports, and the choice of the best fish.' Conger-eels were specially mentioned in a marginal note. Besides this, he claimed every porpoise caught in the sea or other neighbouring waters, but paid for it with twelve pence and a loaf of white bread to each sailor, and two to the master of the boat from which it was caught. Lastly, the Prior claimed the half of every dolphin. But no Prior is likely to have had many chances of asserting this right.
The river runs into the sea by the charming little town of Budleigh Salterton; but it is more interesting to cross the water at Otterton, and passing through the village of East Budleigh, nearly opposite, to go towards Hayes Barton, the house where Sir Walter Raleigh was born.
Fardell, near Ivybridge, was the ancestral home of the Raleighs, but Sir Walter's father settled at Budleigh. In front of the garden a swirling stream crosses a strip of green; and in the garden, at the right time, one may see the bees busy among golden-powdered clusters of candytuft, and dark-red gillyflowers, and a few flame-rose-coloured tulips, proud and erect. The house is very picturesque; it has cob walls and a thatched roof, and is built in the shape of the letter E; a wing projects at either end, and in the middle the porch juts out slightly. The two wings are gabled; there is a small gable over the porch and two dormer ones over the windows at each side of it, the windows having lattice lights and narrow mullions. Dark carved beams above them show up well against the cream-coloured walls. The heavy door is closely studded with nails, and over it fall the delicate sprays and lilac 'butterfly' blossoms of a wistaria. The house has been little altered, and its outward appearance was probably almost the same in Sir Walter's boyhood as it is to-day.
In front of Hayes Barton is a hill covered with oak-woods, and to the west the ground begins to slope upwards to the high moorland of Woodbury Common. Sir Walter had a great affection for his boyhood's home, and later, in trying to buy it back, he wrote to the then owner: 'I will most willingly give you whatsoever in your conscience you shall deem it worth; ... for ye naturall disposition I have to that place, being borne in that house, I had rather seat myself there, than anywhere else.'
To realize Sir Walter at all adequately, he must be contemplated as soldier, sailor, statesman, courtier, explorer, poet, historian, Governor of colonies abroad and of very important offices at home—most of all as a seer, for his eyes discerned a light that did not dawn on his contemporaries. He and his half-brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, foresaw 'that colonization, trade, and the enlargement of empire, were all more important for the welfare of England than the discovery of gold.' Major Hume, who is by no means over-prejudiced in Raleigh's favour, has said in his 'Life of Sir Walter Raleigh': 'To him is due the undying glory of having made the great northern continent of America an English-speaking country. With him it was no accident. The plan sprang fully formed from his great brain. He was greedy of gain, but he spent his money like water in this great project. He knew full well that there was no gold to reward him; that the profit, if any, must be slow, and must accrue mainly to the nation, and not to an individual; and yet he laboured on for thirty years in the face of defeat, disaster, contumely, and disgrace, in full faith and confidence that the great continent was by God's providence reserved for England.'
Raleigh's biographers have wondered at his immense knowledge of naval matters, and particularly of naval warfare, for the Ark Raleigh, which he had built after his own plans, was admitted to be the best ship in the fleet at the time of the Armada. Perhaps his genius for absorbing information developed very early, and Sir John Millais's picture of the two little boys, fascinated by the words of the sailor speaking to them of the breathless adventures he had fought through, the gorgeous sights that he had seen in the lands overseas, helps to explain it. Most West-Countrymen can tell a tale dramatically, as the sailor is telling it—the picture was painted at Budleigh Salterton—and it may be that, with Raleigh's amazing faculty for gathering knowledge, he learned enough of seamanship as he grew up to enable him to grasp and hoard in his memory every detail of the subject as it came before him in later life.
It is impossible to judge any character of a past century without trying to realize in many questions of conduct the gulf that lies between the former point of view and our own, and whatever Sir Walter's faults were, his genius was incomparably greater. His failings were those of his age, and were more than surpassed by the shortcomings of several of Queen Elizabeth's very eminent statesmen. Raleigh left Oxford when he was only seventeen, and joined Mr Henry Champernowne's band of gentlemen volunteers who were fighting for the Protestant Princes in France. After six years' fighting he left the army and betook himself to the Middle Temple, where possibly he spent more time over lyrics than over the law, for a biographer, describing this period of his life, passes over his legal acquirements, but says that 'his vein for ditty and amorous ode was esteemed most lofty, insolent, and passionate.' He and Spenser were very congenial companions, and later Spenser, speaking of their great friendship, said: 'He pip'd, I sang, and when he sang, I pip'd.'
Sir Walter left the Temple for the sea, then went to fight in Ireland, and at the time of the Armada he was Lord Warden of the Stannaries, and responsible for the companies of tinners, who had turned to soldiering. He planned one expedition after another to the New World, and sent them out mainly at his own expense, giving careful instructions to those in charge to observe carefully any plants or produce of any kind that might profit this country, whereas usually explorers searched eagerly for precious metals alone. It was due to these instructions that the potato was brought to England. Rumour for long maintained that Sir Walter actually brought back the plant himself, but, as a matter of fact, the credit of this is due to Heriot, a man of science employed by Raleigh. He showed it with the other 'commodities' he had collected to Sir Walter, who took the potatoes with him to Ireland, and planted them in his new estate of Youghal.
And though it was most probably Sir John Hawkins who introduced tobacco into England, it certainly was Sir Walter who brought smoking into fashion. In parenthesis, a warning may be given that anyone who wanders from east to west along the south coast of Devon will be wearied beyond measure by the numbers of rooms, banks, porches, and gardens, shown as the identical spot 'where Sir Walter smoked his first pipe.' Dr Brushfield, in an exhaustive article on 'Raleghana,' counts only six places, but they reach from Penzance to Islington, and one is in Ireland.
After the last dreary voyage, rendered fruitless by the contemptible double-dealing of James I, and during his trial, Sir Walter's self-possession and courage showed at their best. 'From eight in the morning till nearly midnight he fronted his enemies with unshaken courage. The bluster of Attorney-General Coke roared around him without effect. "I want words," stormed the great prosecutor, "to express thy viperous treason."
'"True," said Raleigh, "for you have spoken the same thing half a dozen times over already."'
It was characteristic of his grand views of life that within the four walls of a prison he should undertake no less a work than the History of the World. The unfinished history shows a depth of learning and dignity of style, very wonderful in the writings of a man who spent his life in incessant and absorbing action. It must have been the vast number of the chances and changes of life he had seen around him, and himself experienced, that inspired him to write that splendid apostrophe: 'O eloquent, just, and mighty Death! whom none could advise, thou hast persuaded; what none have dared, thou hast done; and whom all the world have flattered, thou only hast cast out of the world and despised; thou hast drawn together all the far-stretched greatness, all the pride, cruelty, and ambition of man, and covered it all over with these two narrow words, Hic jacet.'
Not only in his visions of colonies was Raleigh far in advance of his time. Major Hume quotes his ideas on trade and commerce, the statesmanship displayed in his Prerogative of Parliaments, and his writings on the construction of ships and naval tactics, to show that in each subject he had arrived at conclusions now generally accepted, but only discovered by the public long after his death. This biographer ends by describing him as 'perhaps the most universally capable Englishman that ever lived.'
Sir Walter's last lines were written a few hours before his death, in his Bible:
'Even such is Time, that takes on trust Our youth, our joys, our all we have. And pays us but with age and dust; Who in the dark and silent grave, When we have wandered all our ways, Shuts up the story of our days. But from this earth, this grave, this dust, The Lord shall raise me up, I trust!'
Following the coast, 'running eastward with many winding and waving creeks,' Sidmouth is soon reached. Westcote is philosophical over both Sidmouth and Seaton: 'In former times, very famous ports (and every place and man hath but his time).' Sidmouth was an important fishing town several hundred years ago; it is now a popular watering-place, set among high red cliffs, amidst very pretty scenery, and favoured with a great deal of sunshine. Leading inland are very high and steep hills, different in shape from most of the hills in the neighbourhood, for they are neither rounded, pointed, nor sloping, but have a curious square, rather flat-topped look, and scarped sides.
Farther eastward, one comes to Branscombe, a straggling village in a broad hollow where three valleys meet. A stream flows down each combe, and eventually all three join and run together into the sea at Branscombe Mouth. There is a great deal to admire in the steep sides and irregular curves, softened by the spreading woods in these valleys, and close to the shore a hill rises almost precipitously for six hundred feet.
A very short distance further on, the white cliffs of the tiny cove of Beer come into view. Beer is an exceptionally delightful village, because of its strong individuality. At the top of the inlet the houses are clustered irregularly in little offshoots, but the main street runs down a deep cleft narrowing towards the sea between white gleaming chalk cliffs such as are rare in this county. A rapid stream races down the side of the street, and, dashing over a rock at the edge of the beach, buries itself in the shingle. Beer Head and the cliff that separates the village from Seaton run out into the sea, so that it is completely shut in, and from the water's edge it is impossible to see past those massive walls standing against the sea and sky on either side. The cove is so small that one wonders it counts as a harbour at all, but the beach is covered with many small boats and several heavily-built trawlers. As I saw it, the water was a clear blue-grey, and some sea-gulls were placidly floating a few yards from land, rising and falling as the waves rolled in, and looking as if they must be buried by each one. From Beer Head there is a splendid view of the coast; to the east, beyond Seaton, the landslip, and Lyme Regis, the line stretches grey and dim in the distance towards Portland; westwards, beyond Sidmouth's red cliffs, one sees how the land bends southward to Budleigh Salterton, and still further south towards Exmouth.
The little inobtrusive haven of Beer was in every way convenient for smugglers, and was naturally much beloved by them. Not more than seventy or eighty years ago, all the people in the village were supposed to take a share in the perils and joys of the ventures whenever they got the chance. The greatest of their number was a certain Jack Rattenbury, who began his life at sea when he was nine years old. Five years later he had already decided, 'I wished to make a figure on the stage of life,' and joined a privateering expedition. The ship was captured by the French, and Rattenbury taken prisoner. He escaped from prison, but not from Bordeaux, where for more than a year he was forced to stay, and he then sailed on his own account to America, and back to Havre, Copenhagen, and Guernsey. By the time he reached home again he was only sixteen! His life was an unceasing turmoil: smuggling, privateering, being impressed for the navy, and devising wiles for slipping away again, with the variation of being taken prisoner by French or Spaniards.
A steep road runs through lovely scenery from Ottery to Seaton. At intervals it passes through woods, or looks down into the misty, green, undulating country northwards; then, climbing a ridge, the sea, framed in woods, is seen over little hollows in the distant cliffs to the south. The road crosses a common with a few knots of wind-swept fir-trees, and runs steeply down to Seaton. On the west side of the bay the cliffs are a creamy white; eastwards, the shades are chiefly buff and pale brown. The variety of their strata make the cliffs interesting to geologists, for here are found layers of different kinds of chalk, limestone, greensand, marls, chert, and interspersed lines of flints.
Seaton is a pleasant little town without any remarkable feature. In the church is this curious epitaph with the date 1633 A.D.:
JOHN STARRE . . . . . . Starr on hie! Where should a starr be But on Hie?
On the east side of Seaton is the flat wide Valley of the Axe. The river is broad and rather important-looking, but it makes a most inglorious exit into the sea, for a huge pebble ridge rises as an impassable barrier, and the river has to twist away farther east and run out obliquely through a narrow channel. Axmouth, on the farther side, is a pretty old-fashioned little village, the thatched whitewashed cottages forming a street that curves round almost into a loop, while a chattering stream runs between the houses. In the church is the figure of a tonsured priest, with chasuble, stole, and alb, supposed to be one of the early Vicars of Axmouth. At his feet lies a dog, and the legend goes that this was not merely the customary image of a dog seen on tombs, but the effigy of his own favourite, whom he desired to be buried at his feet; and as an indemnity for this order he left a piece of ground to be devoted to charitable purposes, called Dog Acre Orchard. Mr Rogers, in his 'Memorials of the West,' tells us that the name remains till to-day.
A very short distance beyond is the great landslip which fell in 1839, when about fifty acres of the cliff slid more than a hundred feet to the shore beneath, but in such a way that part of an orchard descended with its growing trees, and they continued to flourish at their new level. More wonderful still, two cottages settled down on to the shore, without falling in pieces. The ground began to slide on the night of Christmas Eve, and by the evening of December 26 the great mass had fallen. To the west is a great chasm, and the cliff rises high on the seaward side. Farther east, no cliff rises beyond the chasm, but little hillocks and sand-dunes slope unevenly to the beach. The undercliff has not in the least the barren look of an ordinary bit of waste ground touching the shore, but is covered with grass and thick undergrowth, oaks and hawthorns, and masses of ivy, and beneath them the long spear-like leaves and scarlet-berried pods of the wild-iris.
If one returns to the Axe and begins to follow up its innumerable bends, one arrives opposite the little town of Colyton, which is not quite on the river. Mr Rogers says that the name comes from the British Collh y tun, and has the pretty meaning of 'the town where the hazels grow.'
Here is a fine church, chiefly Perpendicular, well known, among other reasons, for a richly carved tomb, on which is the effigy of a very small lady, a coronet on her head and a dog at her feet, with coats of arms hanging above. The figure was always known by the curious name of 'Little Choak-a-bone.' The old story said that the lady was the daughter of Lord Devon and his wife, Princess Katherine, daughter of Edward IV, and that she died because a fish-bone choked her. Now this has been corrected, and it is believed that the monument is of the wife of the fifth Earl of Devon, who lived nearly one hundred years earlier. But no disproof has been brought against the fish-bone!
Close to Colyton are the ruins of an old house of the Courtenays, Colcombe, which has been partly converted into a farmhouse. Here Princess Katherine occasionally lived during her widowhood. Colcombe suffered much in the Civil War, for it was garrisoned by Prince Maurice, who led his troops into several skirmishes with the enemy, and during one of these affairs (it is supposed) the Castle was burned down.
The poor people living near Colcombe must have had a very bad time, with energetic Royalist and Parliamentary troops on either hand. Some sad little entries at this time are quoted from the diary of a serge-maker of Colyton, in which he counts up what he lost in cloth through the inroads of the 'Lyme Men' (Parliamentarians), and the 'wostard woole' and 'sarge' torn from him by 'Percy's men' (Royalists).
Unluckily, it is not possible to pause among the throng of interesting memories that are called up by almost every step of the way. One may not sketch the career of Dr Marwood, who journeyed to London from these parts and cured 'a certain noble Lord,' a favourite of Queen Elizabeth, but returned home because, 'finding himselfe much envyed by the Court physitians, he thought he was not safe there!'—a naive reflection on the doctors that reminds one of their contemporary Catherine de' Medici's creature, Rene of Milan, who was popularly known as l'empoisonneur de la reine.
It is only possible to make a brief reference to a manor, nowadays a farm—Ashe, where the great Duke of Marlborough was born. Marlborough can hardly be called a son, but perhaps a grandson, of the county, for though Sir Winston Churchill was of Dorsetshire, the Churchills were an old Devonshire family, of whom one branch had migrated to the next county. Ashe was the home of the Duke's mother, Elizabeth, daughter of Sir John Drake, and here she returned when the Civil War was just ended, and the triumphant Parliamentarians were making themselves very objectionable, especially to such a fervent Royalist as her husband. Sir Winston was eventually forced to compound for so large a sum that it was convenient for them to live for some years with Lady Churchill's father.
There is, unfortunately, no space to look at the very interesting history of the Bonvilles, the ruins of whose old house, Shute, in its beautiful park, among deer and woods and magnificent cedars, is close to Ashe. The title became extinct in the Wars of the Roses, for the family suffered beyond recovery, and the last Lord Bonville had the overwhelming grief of losing his only son and grandson in the Battle of Wakefield. The great estates passed to his little great-granddaughter, Cicely Bonville, who, more than forty years later, built the Dorset aisle in the church at Ottery St Mary.
The fine building, Newenham Abbey, stood close to the outskirts of the park, and Sir Nicholas Bonville was a great benefactor to the Abbey, but it was founded by two brothers, Sir William and Sir Reginald Mohun. The Abbey Church alone was three hundred feet in length and one hundred and fifty feet in breadth, and now of all the buildings, there remain but a few fragments of walls and the stonework of a chapel window.
Axminster, not a mile away, was in Leland's day 'a pratie quik Market Town.' It was the scene of one very interesting event, for here the Duke of Monmouth's followers first met the royal troops under the renowned General Monk, then Duke of Albemarle, and caused them to fly before their inferior undisciplined numbers. Albemarle dared not risk a battle, as he became alarmed by the temper of his troops, and feared lest they might go over to Monmouth if they did but catch sight of their beloved hero; for the General's troops belonged to the Devonshire militia, and Monmouth was adored by all the country-people in the West. The General ordered a hurried retreat, without attempting any engagement, and Monmouth marched triumphantly to Taunton. The callous brutality of Sedgmoor, and the atrocious barbarities of the Bloody Assizes following it, are too intolerable to think of. A ballad has been written called 'The Sorrowful Lamentation of the Widdows of the West', and one wonders whether its obsequious tone is due to the author being a partisan of James II, who expressed what he thought they ought to feel, or whether the verse-maker was one in their midst, who saw that there was indeed no spirit left in them. I quote a few of the verses:
'Alas! we Widdowes of the West, whose Husbands did rebell, Of Comfort we are dispossest, our sorrows did excell. Here for their Crimes they lost their lives, Rebellion was the cause, And we confess, that was their wives, they did oppose the Laws.
When Monmouth came ashore at Lime, it was a Fatal Day; To carry on that base design, which did their lives betray; And many daily did presume to come unto his aid, Bridge-water, Taunton, Dean, and Frome, the Nation to invade.
We said it was a horrid thing, and pray'd them to forbear To take up arms against their king, who was the Lawful Heir, Yet like distracted men they run to cast their lives away, And we their Widdowes are undone; this is a dismal day.
Alas! we had no cause at all, our Laws was still the same, That we should to confusion fall, and hundreds thus be slain. They knew not what they went about; confusion did attend, The Heavens would not bear them out, since they did thus offend.'
'Dartmoor! thou wert to me, in childhood's hour, A wild and wond'rous region. Day by day Arose upon my youthful eye thy belt Of hills mysterious, shadowy....
I feel The influence of that impressive calm Which rests upon them. Nothing that has life Is visible:—no solitary flock At will wide ranging through the silent Moor Breaks the deep-felt monotony; and all Is motionless save where the giant shades, Flung by the passing cloud, glide slowly o'er The grey and gloomy wild.'
The region of the Forest of Dartmoor and Commons of Devon is one which excites a vast difference of opinion. For some it has an extraordinary fascination, whilst to others it is only, like a beautiful view in the Highlands which I once heard depreciated by a native—'just hills.' And the hills on Dartmoor are not even very high. Yes Tor, till lately thought to be the highest point, is only a little over two thousand feet; and High Willhayes, its superior, cannot claim to be more than a few feet higher. So there are no towering heights or tremendous precipices to explain its peculiar spell. Sir Frederick Pollock, in paying true homage to the moor, gives the reason that accounts for Dartmoor's dominion—its individuality. 'The reader may think fit to observe, and with undisputable truth, that there are many other moors in the world. Yes, but they are not Dartmoor.' And there is no more to be said.
A very truthful and vivid description of the moor has been given by the late Mr R. J. King: 'The dusky sweep of hills stretches away with an endless variety of form and outline; in some parts sharply peaked, and crested with masses of broken rock; at others, rounded and massive, and lifting a long line of sombre heath against the sky. The deep hollows which separate the hills are thickly covered with fern and heather, over which blocks of granite are scattered in all directions; and, as in all similar districts, each valley has its own clear mountain stream, which receives the innumerable waterfalls descending from the hill-sides. The whole country has a solitude, and an impressive grandeur, which insensibly carries back the mind to an earlier and ruder age.'
'... Granite-browed, thou sitt'st in grandeur lone, Thy temples wreathed with heaven's unsalted mist; Feet in the brine, and face veiled by the cloud, And vestiture by changing nature wrought— Titan of earth and sky—silent and proud, Even beauty kneeling hath her homage brought. Time as a shadow speeds across thy plains, Leaving no record of his printless feet;
* * * * *
And all our generations come and go, As snowflakes on thy shoulders melting slow.'
[Footnote 3: W. H. Hamilton Rogers, 'Dartmoor.']
Let the time or season be what it may, the moor has some fresh charm to offer. In the early summer there is a special soft greenness, and the hot air quivers above and about the rocks; later the hill-sides are coloured by the lilac-pink of the ling and the richer tones of bell-heather; and when the autumn leaves are fading and falling 'inland,' there may come such a day of sunshine and glorious blue sky, with the larks singing on every side among the golden furze-blossoms, that one is able to forget the calendar. And then, amongst the great boulders covered with white lichen that lie along the sides of streams, the leaves of the whortleberries turn scarlet over the little round fruit, with its plum-like bloom. Sometimes in winter the snow lies in patches on the hills, among stretches of pale grass and rich, dark, red-brown masses of heather. On the edge of the moor, the springs by the roadsides flow through a sparkling white border into a shining ice hollow, and, looking away, one sees snow-covered heights against a pale blue sky, in the unbroken stillness of distance. Perhaps the moor is specially irresistible when the full moon throws its magic over hill and valley, suggesting infinite possibilities. In the clear air the hills look very solemn and impressive, and the long, broken reflections of the moonbeams lie in every stream as it ripples over rocks or breaks against boulders; while the foam gleams and trembles as flakes are torn away by the current and swallowed up by the black shadows. In such a time and place one may learn the meaning of 'a silence that can be heard.'
Dartmoor rises high above the surrounding country, and keeps his white winter livery lying upon it long time, if not washed away by rain. The air is delicious, but it must be admitted that the moor has a very ample share of wind, rain, and mists. Faultfinders have also complained of the bogs, and occasional accidents to travellers' horses have given the mires the significant name of 'Dartmoor Stables,' although the moor ponies are supposed always to be able to pick a safe path through dangerous places.
From a certain point of view, Dartmoor reminds one of the mirror of the Lady of Shalott, for here
'Shadows of the world appear.'
Or, rather, the shadows of a past world are reflected in its wastes, witnessing to prehistoric man; to the tinners, who appear out of the mists of antiquity, and who peopled the moor through the Middle Ages; to the dawn of Christian teaching in the country; and to the Normans, with their forest rights and laws. Antiquities abound, although there are instances where it is most difficult to decide whether the remains are prehistoric, or merely traces of mediaeval mining. 'It is possible that "old men's workings," as the traces of abandoned mines are called in this country, may account for more of them than is generally admitted.' But modern observations have severely excluded any fanciful theories. 'Certain stone inclosures which have passed for British fortifications are now more plausibly considered to have been made (at a sufficiently remote time, we may freely allow) for the protection of cattle.' However, after deducting any objects of doubtful antiquity, there remain an enormous number as to which, there can be no question—stone rows, kistvaens, menhirs, large circles of upright stones, forts and barrows, and pounds enclosing hut-circles. It is interesting to read the views of antiquaries at different stages of the nineteenth century, and their flat contradictions of the opinions of their predecessors. A good instance is given in the new edition of that mine of information, Rowe's 'Perambulation of Dartmoor,' where certain verdicts as to the origin of Grimspound are quoted. 'Polwhele states that it was a seat of judicature for the Cantred of Darius; Samuel Rowe, that it was a Belgic or Saxon camp; Ormerod considered it a cattle-pound pure and simple; Spence Bate was convinced that it was nothing more than a habitation of tinners, and of no great age; while now the work of the Rev S. Baring-Gould and Mr Robert Burnard goes far to show that its construction reaches back into a remote past, and that its antiquity is greater than any former investigator dared to assign to it.'
The great numbers of prehistoric people who lived on the moor are very remarkable. 'Tens of thousands of their habitations have been destroyed,' says Mr Baring-Gould, 'yet tens of thousands remain. At Post Bridge, within a radius of half a mile, are fifteen pounds. If we give an average of twenty huts to a pound, and allow for habitations scattered about, not enclosed in a pound, and give six persons to a hut, we have at once a population, within a mile, of 2,000 persons.' Perhaps they climbed so high because on the lower slopes the forest was thick, and wild beasts were more to be feared, though, according to tradition, they were certainly not free from danger on the moor; for 'wolves and winged serpents were no strangers to the hills or valleys.' All their possessions that we are aware of belong to the early Bronze Age, when flint was used in great quantities, and bronze was known, but was rare and very valuable. The amber pommel of a dagger, inlaid with gold pins, and part of a bronze dagger blade, were found in a barrow on Hameldon, and a few other bronze weapons have been discovered; flint implements in abundance. Great numbers of flint scrapers for cleaning the skins of animals, and small knives for cutting up meat, have been picked up; arrow-heads are scarce, and it would seem that they left very few celts or axes, and spear-heads.
Of the exceedingly interesting remains, perhaps the most interesting—at any rate, to the uninitiated—is Grimspound. The boundary wall, which is double, encloses four acres; it is from ten to twelve feet thick, but not above five and a half feet in height. Within the circle are twenty-four hut-circles, and in some of them charcoal and fragments of pottery have been found. A brook, dipping under the walls, and passing through the enclosure, supplied the camp with water.
Drizzlecombe, near Sheep's Tor, is rich in a variety of antiquities, for it has three stone rows, a large tumulus, a kistvaen, and a later relic—a miner's blowing-house. One of the avenues is two hundred and sixty feet long, and one is double for a part of the way, and each of the three starts from a menhir, or long stone. Near Merivale Bridge are two double stone rows, but the stones are small. Close by are a sacred circle, a kistvaen, a pound and hut-circles, and one cairn, besides the ruins of others that have been destroyed. It would be absurd to pretend to enter on such a wide subject here. Some idea of its extent may be gathered by considering one single branch of it: Mr Baring-Gould has stated that no fewer than fifty stone avenues have been observed in different parts of the moor. And hut-circles and ancient track-lines are unnumbered, although very many antiquities of all kinds have been destroyed when granite was wanted for rebuilding churches, or for making doorways or gate-posts, or even for mending roads.
The early antiquaries discovered the hand of the Druids in certain unusual rock-shapes, now known to be the work of Nature—such as rock-basins, which are developed in the granite by the action of wind and rain; tolmens, or holed stones; and logans, or rocking-stones. Granite on the moor generally weathers irregularly, and if the lower part of a piled-up mass partly crumbles away, a huge layer of harder granite remains balanced on one or two points, and becomes what is called a logan-stone. In some cases, though the slab is almost impossible to remove, it will rock at a finger-touch. Perhaps the most striking example on Dartmoor is the Rugglestone, near Widdecombe, which it has been calculated weighs about one hundred and ten tons; but there are several in the neighbourhood, and a logan called the Nut-Crackers is perched among the thickly scattered boulders on Lustleigh Cleave. This lovely little valley lies on the eastern edge of the moor, and the River Bovey flows through it. Masses of granite crown the ridge; lower on the hill-side is a jungle of tall bracken, and the stream is overshadowed by a wood, crowded with matted undergrowth and with innumerable rocks tumbled together.
Granite more consistent than that found on most of the tors—that is, 'not broken into the usual layers of soft beds alternating with hard layers'—forms the great masses of rock on Hey Tor, and these have not weathered into strange, jagged outlines. William Howitt wrote a charming description of Hey Tor in his 'Rural Life of England,' from which I quote a few lines: 'Below, the deep dark river went sounding on its way with a melancholy music, and as I wound up the steep road all beneath the gnarled oaks, I ever and anon caught glimpses of the winding valley to the left, all beautiful with wild thickets and half-shrouded faces of rock, and still on high these glowing ruddy tors standing in the blue air in their sublime silence. My road wound up and up, the heather and bilberry on either hand.'
A 'wonder' which has been associated with the Druids is the grove of oaks called Wistman's Wood. It lies close to Two Bridges, on the slope above the West Dart, and at a little distance looks more like a furze-brake than a wood. All the oaks are dwarfs, stunted by the lack of soil and force of the winds. Mr Rowe quotes from a 'botanical writer,' who examined some of them: 'The bole of this tree was about three feet high, and its total height to the topmost branches fifteen feet. The circumference of the trunk was six feet, and its prime must have been about the date of the Norman Conquest.' Some of the boughs, like the trunks, are immensely thick for the height of the trees, and they are covered with very deep cushions of bright green moss and hangings of polypody, and whortleberries grow upon them. Every step between the trees is perilous, among the uneven crowded masses of rocks and half-concealed clefts. Many of the boulders are moss-covered, a kind of sedge and long, flag-like grass spring among the crevices and add to the pitfalls, and the whole wood really has the air of having been bewitched. Mrs Bray's impressions of it are interesting. She found the slope 'strewn' all over with immense masses of granite.... In the midst of these gigantic blocks, growing among them, or starting, as it were, from their interstices, arises wildly, and here and there widely scattered, a grove of dwarf oak-trees.... They spread far and wide at their tops, and their branches twist and bend in the most tortuous manner; sometimes reminding one of those strange things called mandrakes, of which there is a superstition noticed by Shakespeare—
'"Like shrieking mandrakes torn from out the earth."'
Though some of the stone circles on the moor are due to miners rather than to prehistoric man, their antiquity may very well win respect; for, according to the views of the early nineteenth century, it was quite probable that the Phoenicians were trading with this island for tin in the year 1000 B.C.! It is unnecessary to say that the reasoning which supports this theory is very ingenious, and later opinions do not allow that the Phoenicians ever traded directly with Britain at all. The metal, it is held, was brought to the Mediterranean coast through the medium of 'the Veneti of what is now Vannes, and the tin trade was carried through Gaul to Marseilles.' To take a great leap from the date originally suggested, there is certain evidence that British tin was conveyed over this trade route in the year 40 B.C. The Romans taught the Britons better methods of mining, and how tin might be used for household needs. Another long interval without any mention of the subject brings us to the reign of the Normans, when it seems that the mines were almost entirely in the hands of the Jews. On their expulsion by Edward I, the mines were neglected for a few years, and next a charter was granted to several Devonshire gentlemen, at their request, conferring the important privilege of holding plea of all actions relating to the mines, 'those of lyfe, lymme, and lande' excepted. Henceforward the Devonshire miners were separated from the Cornish, and held stannary parliaments on the top of Crockern Tor. The summit is piled with granite, and out of the rock was hewn 'a warden's or president's chair, seats for the jurors, and a high corner stone for the crier of the court, and a table,' says Polwhele; and here the 'hardy mountain council'—twenty-four burgesses from each of the stannary towns—assembled. 'This memorable place is only a great rock of moorstone, out of which a table and seats are hewn, open to all the weather, storms and tempests, having neither house nor refuge near it by divers miles,' wrote Prince. It is much to be regretted that nearly all traces of the court have now disappeared, and a report says that the table and seats were carried away to be used for some buildings not far off. It is said that the last parliament was held on this tor in 1749, but for some time before that date the court merely met on the tor, and, after the jurors had been sworn in, adjourned to one of the stannary towns.
From the charter of Edward I onwards, mining seems to have prospered, with one or two intervals of great depression, and as late as 1861 seventy-four mines were being worked in Devonshire. 'Streaming' for tin was very much practised in the Middle Ages, and the sides of valleys all over Dartmoor are scored with the works of the tin-streamers, who turned about the streams and examined the beds for 'grain-tin.' Many of the ruined 'blowing-houses' are still to be seen on the moor. Mrs. Bray mentions a curious testimony to the wildness and remoteness of the parts in which some of the miners must have worked: 'A very old woodcut ... exhibited a whole pack of hounds harnessed and laden with little bags of tin, travelling over the mountains of Dartmoor; these animals being able to cross the deep bogs of the forest in situations where there were no roads, and where no other beasts of burden could pass.'
It was owing to the mines that Dartmoor became a part of the Duchy, for the 'metalliferous' moors of Dartmoor and Cornwall had, on that account, long been Crown lands; and therefore, when Edward III created his eldest son Prince of Wales and Duke of Cornwall, the Chase of Dartmoor, and the Castle and Manor of Lydford were granted to him with the estates in Cornwall. Dartmoor has existed as a forest practically from time immemorial, and the date when forest laws were first imposed on it is, in the opinion of the learned, 'lost in antiquity.' The first charter affecting the state of the moor was bestowed in 1204, when King John was compelled reluctantly to grant a Charter of Forests, disafforesting the lands that had been gradually appropriated by the Kings since Henry I. Surrounding the forest proper are lands known as the Commons of Devon, and, usually speaking, they are included in any general reference to Dartmoor. Every parish in Devonshire, excepting Barnstaple and Totnes, has a right to pasture cattle on them for the payment of a small sum. Two classes of men have special rights in the moor: owners and occupiers of tenements within the forest, and venville tenants, or owners of land in particular vills, or towns, adjoining the forest. Claims and counter-claims as to their exact rights and liabilities have been pressed in successive centuries, but various ancient documents set forth these tenants' rights, 'time out of mind, to take all things that might do them good, saving green oak and venison.' These privileges include pasturing all 'commonable beasts' on the moor, digging turf for fuel, stone and sand for mending houses and lands, and taking heath for thatching, 'paying their dues and doing their suits and services.' The 'suits and services' involved attendance at the Prince's Courts, and the tenants' help at the time of the bullock and pony drifts—that is, when the herds are driven off the moor by the moormen to a point chosen by the Duchy steward, and are there identified by their owners.
In the Duchy records appear various well-known names that one does not naturally associate with the Forest. The Conqueror granted it to his half-brother, Robert, Earl of Montaigne; King John gave the Earldom of Cornwall to his second son, Richard Plantagenet, afterwards King of the Romans. This Prince 'much augmented the powers of the stannaries of Devon and Cornwall, and under his auspices they thrived exceedingly.' For a short time the earldom was bestowed on Piers Gaveston; Thomas Cromwell and some others had a lease of the lead-mines on the moor for twenty-one years; the first Earl of Bedford was 'Custos of the Forest or Chase of Dartmoor'; and Sir Walter Raleigh was appointed Ranger and Master Forester, besides being Lord Warden of the Stannaries. The first perambulation of the forest boundaries probably took place in 1224, and others have been made at intervals ever since; yet a long tale of grievances from that date almost up to the present time might be heard from commoners whose rights have been encroached upon.
The bounds of property owned by religious houses at certain points were marked by granite crosses, of which a great number are still to be found on the moor. Some of them, however, were standing long before the monasteries were built. To take one instance, the cross on Sourton Down has an inscription which, it has been declared, belongs to the sixth century, and which can still be deciphered when the sun is setting and the rays slant across it. The Abbot's Way, leading over the moor, is marked by crosses. It ran westwards from Buckfast Abbey, and divided at Broad Rock, near Plym Head, in the middle of the moor—one branch going to Tavistock, and the other to Buckland Abbey. The path cannot now be traced the whole way, but the crosses show the line. Beckamoor Cross (or the Windy Post, as it is sometimes called), between two and three miles south-east of Tavistock, is a typical Dartmoor cross, and a fine example, but it cannot be numbered among the very old ones, for it seems to date from the sixteenth century.
Perhaps the Dartmoor village best known by name is Widdecombe-in-the-Moor, and its fame is spread by the song 'Widdecombe Fair;' this is the most popular of Devonshire folk-songs, and the air served the Devon Regiment as a march in the Boer War. But Widdecombe has more solid claims to consideration, and one of them is the large and beautiful church, with its very fine tower and high crocketed pinnacles, each pointed by a cross. The roof is adorned by 'bosses, carved and painted with heads, flowers and leaves, and also figures or marks which obscurely shadow forth the learning of the alchemist.' The presence of these symbols is explained by a tradition that the church was built by miners. 'On one of the bosses is the combination of three rabbits, each with a single ear, which join in the centre, forming a triangle—a favourite alchemical symbol, called the hunt of Venus.' Parts of the rood-screen remain, and on the panels are painted saints and doctors of the Church, and a king and queen. On October 21, 1638, a terrible storm raged here during service-time. First fell 'a strange darkenesse'; then a terrific thunder-clap; 'the ratling thereof' was much like 'the report of many great cannons.' 'Extraordinarie lightning' flashed, 'so flaming that the whole church was presently filled with fire and smoke,' and a smell of brimstone, and a great ball of fire came in at the window and passed through the church. The church itself was much torne and defaced, 'stones throwne from the Tower as thick as if an hundred men had been there throwing.' Several people were killed and many 'grievously scalded and wounded.' The history of the storm has been told in verse, and the lines were painted on tablets and placed in the church. Mrs Bray found 'the wildest tales' of the storm floating among the people in the neighbourhood, and, amongst them, 'One story is that the devil, dressed in black and mounted on a black horse, inquired his way to the church, of a woman who kept a little public-house on the moor. He offered her money to become his guide; but she distrusted him, in remarking that the liquor went hissing down his throat, and finally had her suspicions confirmed by discovering he had a cloven foot, which he could not conceal even by his boot.'
Widdecombe is called cold and bleak, and it is not only with the terrific tempest that its name is associated, for when the snow fell thickly the South Devon folk used to look—as perhaps they still do—towards the moor, and say to the children: 'Widdecombe hills are picking their geese, faster, faster, faster.'
About twelve miles south-west of Widdecombe is Sheeps Tor, a sharply defined height that has given its name to the parish and tiny village that it overshadows. Originally it was called Shettes Tor—that is, Steep Tor, the word being derived from the Celtic syth.
Hidden among the great piles of moorstone heaped upon the tor is a cave known as the Pixies' House. Mrs Bray describes an expedition that she made to Sheeps Tor, and how, on asking her way to the cave, she was told to 'be careful to leave a pin, or something of equal value, as an offering to these invisible beings; otherwise they would not fail to torment us in our sleep.' Grass grows on the lower slopes, but near the summit there spreads a 'bold and shelving sweep of about two hundred feet, the granite ... totally bare, save where it was here and there covered by a coating of mosses and lichens. It lies tossed about in enormous masses in every direction.' The cave itself is in the midst of 'most confused masses of rock, that looked as if they had been tossed about by the fiends in battle,' and the entrance itself is a 'cleft between two rocks.' A story of human interest is also connected with the cave, for here Walter Elford, Lord of the Manor, was forced to hide when the country was being searched for him. Squire Elford was a Parliamentarian, and one of the 'secluded' members of the Long Parliament; but he was so far thrown into opposition by the development of the Protector's policy that he reached the point of plotting against him, and in consequence a party of Desborough's troops were sent in pursuit of the squire to his own house. Fortunately, among the huge boulders the entrance to the cave was very difficult to find, and the Pixies' House proved a safe refuge until the search-parties were withdrawn.
About fifteen miles from Widdecombe, on the north-west side of the moor, lies Lydford, whose size is in no way proportionate to its antiquity. 'Doubtless,' says Risdon, 'in the Saxons' heptarchy, it was a town of some note, that felt the furious rage of the merciless Danes.' And it is true that in 997 Lydford was burned down by them. At this time Lydford had its own mint, and money was coined here; and in the Domesday Book it was described as being taxed equally with London. But the village is very conspicuously a victim of 'the whirligig of time,' and William Browne gives a most unflattering picture of its appearance in the middle of the seventeenth century:
'I oft have heard of Lydford law, How in the morn they hang and draw, And sit in judgment after: At first I wondered at it much; But soon I found the matter such As it deserves no laughter.
'They have a castle on a hill; I took it for some old windmill, The vanes blown off by weather. Than lie therein one night 'tis guessed 'Twere better to be stoned, or pressed, Or hanged, ere you come hither.
* * * * *
'Near these poor men that lie in lurch, See a dire bridge, a little church, Seven ashes and one oak; Three houses standing, and ten down; They say the rector hath a gown, But I saw ne'er a cloak:
* * * * *
'This town's enclosed with desert moors, But where no bear nor lion roars, And nought can live but hogs: For, all o'erturned by Noah's flood, Of fourscore miles scarce one foot's good, And hills are wholly bogs.'
The Castle is not very large, and is now utterly in ruins, though the walls of the square keep are still standing. In Browne's day it was used as the stannary prison, and was denounced in an Act of Parliament as 'one of the most heinous, contagious, and detestable places in the realm.' For many years after this Lydford was a lonely village, generally ignored, in spite of its fine air and beautiful scenery. Towards the moor it looks up to an irregular barrier (about a mile or so distant) of very picturesque tors, and in the opposite direction a fertile and pleasant country spreads beneath it. The River Lyd winds through scenes that are always delightful and sometimes very striking, but the cascade has been so much praised that, if seen in summer, it is apt to be disappointing. Lydford Gorge, however, is properly placed among the 'wonders' of Devonshire—to use Fuller's expression. The gorge is deep and exceedingly narrow, and the sides are precipitous. The river, rushing between blocks of stone, flows so far below the road that from the bridge, where the chasm is only a few yards wide, it is almost invisible. Risdon says: 'It maketh such a hideous noise, that being only heard, and not seen, it causeth a kind of fear to the passengers, seeming to them that look down to it, a deep abyss.' A story (that may quite easily be true) is told of a man arriving late one night in Lydford from Tavistock, to the amazement of Lydford people, who knew that their bridge had been broken down. In the darkness the traveller had noticed 'nothing more than that his horse had made a sudden spring; but on being afterwards led to the chasm he was struck with a mingled sensation of horror, surprise, and thankfulness.'
From an historical point of view, it is ludicrous to think of Lydford and Princetown, its neighbour (as one counts neighbours on a moor)—Lydford, in all its glory nearly a hundred years before the Conquest, and Princetown, created by the Prince Regent. It is, I believe, the highest village in England, and in walking up to it there comes a feeling that this is rather like walking up a gigantic snail-shell, and that, when one reaches the top, it is the very top and end of all things. A tranquillity reigns over the tiny town which even the occasional sight of warders with their loaded rifles does not break; and the workaday world seems to have been left far below.
But the desolate moor as seen from this point, the bleak winds, and very frequent rain, brought cold comfort to the French prisoners of war, on whose account the prison was built. Their views are probably reflected in a gloomy description of Princetown, traducing the climate, which was given by a French writer, quoted by Mr R. J. King. 'For seven months in the year,' says a M. Catel, 'it is a vraie Siberie, covered with unmelting snow. When the snows go away, the mists appear.'