They might seem to have died in vain; their cause, as old as Christendom, might seem to have been long since defeated. Not so: this battle truly is decided, but in their favour, and my little son may live to see the glory of their victory. For he shall know and believe in his heart that his love and hope are set upon a country and a city founded in the heavens of which David sang, to which St John looked forth from Patmos, and of which these our Saints have told us.
THE PILGRIMS' ROAD
ROCHESTER TO FAVERSHAM
The old road leaves Rochester to pass through Chatham, and is by no means delightful until it has left what Camden called "the best appointed arsenal the world ever saw." Chatham, indeed, is little else but a huge dockyard and a long and dirty street, once the Pilgrim's Way. There is, however, very little to detain us; only the Chapel of St Bartholomew to the south of the High Street is worth a visit for Bishop Gundulph's sake, for he founded it. Even here, however, only the eastern end is ancient. The parish church of Our Lady was for the most part rebuilt in 1788, but it still keeps a good Norman door to the south of the nave. It was here that Our Lady had in Chaucer's day a very famous shrine concerning which the following rather gruesome legend is told. The body of a man, no doubt a criminal or suicide, having been cast upon the beach in this parish, was buried here in the churchyard. Our Lady of Chatham, however, was offended thereby, and by night went Herself to the house of the clerk and awakened him. And when he would all trembling know wherefor She was come. She answered that near to Her shrine an unshriven and sinful person had been laid, which thing offended Her, for he did naught but grin in ghastly fashion. Therefore unless he were removed She Herself must withdraw from that place. The Clerk arose hurriedly we may be sure, and, going with Our Lady along towards the church, it happened that She grew weary and rested in a bush or tree by the wayside, and ever after this bush was green all the winter through. But the Clerk, going on, dug up the body and flung it back into the water from which it had so lately been drawn.
Now, as to this story, all I have to say of it is that I do not believe a word of it. Not because I am blinded by any sentimentalism of to-day, which, as in a child's story, brings all right for everyone in the end; but for this very cogent reason that of all created beings Our Lady is the most merciful, loving and tender—Refugium Peccatorum.
Also I know a better story. For it is said that one day Our Lord was walking with Sampietro in Paradise, as the Padrone may do with his Fattore, when after a while He said, not as complaining exactly but as stating a fact, "Sampietro, this place is going down!"
Here Sampietro, who is always impetuous and knew very well what He meant, dared to interrupt, "Il Santissimo can't blame me," said he huffily. "Il Santissimo does not suppose they all come in by the gate? Che Che!"
"Not come in by the gate, Sampietro. What do you mean?" said Our Lord. "If Il Santissimo will but step this way, round by these bushes," said Sampietro, "He shall see." And there sure enough He saw; for there was Our Lady drawing us all up helter-skelter, pell-mell, willy-nilly into Heaven in a great bucket, to our great gain and undeserved good. O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria.
The road between Chatham and Sittingbourne might seem to be unquestionably that by which the pilgrims rode, and as certainly the Roman highway. It is, however, rather barren of mediaeval interest, little being left to us older than the change of religion. At Rainham we have a church, however, dedicated in honour of St Margaret, parts of which date from the thirteenth century, though in the main it is a Perpendicular building. Within are two ornaments of the late seventeenth century, and two brasses, one to William Bloor, who died in 1529, and the other to John Norden, who died in 1580, and to his four wives. As for William Bloor, there is a local story of some relation of his, Christopher Bloor by name, and of a nightly journey on a coach driven by a headless coachman beside whom sits a headless footman, and all drawn by headless horses, Christopher himself sitting within, his head in his hands. So much I heard, but I could not find out what it portended or referred to.
But it is not till we come into Newington that we find any sign or memory of St Thomas or the Pilgrimage. This village, however, became famous as a station for the pilgrims, because on his last journey from London to Canterbury, the great Archbishop here administered the rite of Confirmation. A cross was erected to commemorate this event, and there the pilgrims knelt to pray. But Newington in St Thomas's day was better known on account of a great scandal involving the name of the convent there. This convent was held of the king, of his manor of Middleton. We read that divers of the nuns, "being warped with a malicious desire of revenge, took advantage of the night and strangled the lady abbess, who was the object of their fury and passionate animosities, in her bed; and after, to conceal so execrable an assassination, threw her body into a pit, which afterwards contracted the traditional appellation of Nun-pit." [Footnote: Philipotts, "Villare Cantianum," quoted by Littlehales, op. cit. p. 27.] Now whether this tale be true or an invention to explain the queer name "Nun-pit" we shall never know, but as it happens we do know that the nuns were removed to the Isle of Sheppey and that St Thomas persuaded King Henry II. to establish at Newington a small house of seven secular canons to whom was given the whole manor. But curiously enough, one of these canons was presently found murdered at the hands of four of his brethren. Exactly where this convent was situated would seem to be doubtful. What evidence there is points to Nunfield Farm at Chesley, about a mile to the south of the high road.
Newington itself in its cherry-orchards is a pretty place enough to- day, with an interesting, if restored, church of Our Lady in part of the thirteenth, but mainly of the fourteenth century. It is a fine building with charming carved details and at least four brasses, one of the end of the fifteenth century (1488) to William Monde, two of the sixteenth century (1510 and 1581) and one of the year 1600. There is nothing, however, in the place to delay anyone for long, and the modern pilgrim will soon find himself once more on the great road.
On coming out of Newington such an one will find himself in about a mile at Key Street, where is the Fourwent Way, in other words the cross roads, where the highway from the Isle of Sheppey to Maidstone crosses the Pilgrims Way. Here of old stood a chapel of St Christopher or another, at which the pilgrims prayed, and remembering this, I too, at the cross roads, though there was no chapel, prayed in the words of the prayer which begins:
St Christopher who bore Our Lord Across the flood—O precious Load....
So I prayed, "er I come to Sidingborne," as Chaucer says.
The author of "Sittingbourne in the Middle Ages" tells us that, "Mediaeval Sittingbourne consisted of three distinct portions. The chief centre of population was near the church, but there was an important little hamlet called Schamel at the western extremity of the parish on the London Road ... as any traveller from London approached Sittingbourne in the Middle Ages, the first thing to attract his attention was a chapel and hermitage standing on the south side of the road, about three parts of the way up that little hill which rises from Waterlanehead towards the east; this was Schamel Hermitage and the Chapel of St Thomas Becket, to which were attached houses for the shelter of pilgrims and travellers. A small Inn called "The Volunteers" now stands upon or close to the site of this ancient chapel and this hermitage." The chapel and hermitage it seems were first built at Schamel in the time of King John, when they were occupied by a priest named Samuel. He said Mass daily in the chapel and gave such accommodation as he had to wayfarers, by whose alms he lived. After his death the chapel fell into disrepair, but in the time of Henry III. it was rebuilt on a larger scale. A hermit named Silvester, of the "Order of St Austin," was appointed to the house which had now attached to it four lodgings for pilgrims on the road to Canterbury. But on Silvester's death it was realised that the chapel interfered so much with the parish church that before the end of the thirteenth century it was suppressed. It re-arose, and in Chaucer's day would seem to have been in a flourishing condition; at any rate it continued till the spoliation.
If indeed Chaucer and his pilgrims slept in Sittingbourne, as one may well believe, it is probable that they slept either at this chapel at Schamel or at the Lion Inn in the town. This Inn was certainly in existence in his time, and there in 1415 King Henry V. was entertained on his return from Agincourt by the Squire of Milton. There, too, in all likelihood, Cardinal Wolsey rested in the autumn of 1514, and there Henry VIII., who spoiled the face of England and changed her heart, "paied the wife of the Lyon in Sittingbourne by way of rewarde iiiis. viiid." for the accommodation given. This famous Inn stands in the centre of the town, the road passing to the south of it. Unhappily the church is less interesting, having been almost entirely rebuilt in 1762; but close by it were some old houses which apparently once formed part of another old Inn called the White Hart. Certainly much of the town must have been devoted to the entertainment of travellers.
From Sittingbourne I wandered out to Borden, lovely in itself and in its situation upon the rising ground under the North Downs. It possesses a very fine church with a low Norman tower and western door of the same date. Within is a very nobly carved Norman arch under the belfry.
If Schamel was, as it were, the western part of Sittingbourne with its chapel and hermitage, Swanstree was the eastern part, and it, too, had its chapel of St Cross and its hospital of St Leonard. There is, however, this difference, that, whereas the priest and people of Sittingbourne did all they could to suppress the chapel and hermitage of Schamel, they on the contrary did all they could to encourage the chapel and hospital of Swanstree. Why? Because pilgrims coming from London or the north with full pockets towards Canterbury, would reach Schamel before passing through Sittingbourne, but Swanstree only after passing through the town!
Following the Pilgrim's Road out of Sittingbourne one soon comes to Bapchild, where at the exit from the village on the north side of the road of old stood an oratory, and a Leper's Hospital, of which nothing seems really to be known save that it was founded about the year 1200. According to Canon Scott-Robertson, it was dedicated in honour of St James, which is a curious dedication for a Leper House, but common enough in a Hospital for pilgrims. Oratory and Hospital have alike disappeared, but close by the place where they stood there still remains St Thomas's Well, now known as Spring Head or Spring.
So I went on through Radfield, where of old was a wayside chapel, and Green Street to the Inn at Ospringe, passing, half a mile away to the north, Stone Farm, and, nearer the road, the ruins of Stone Chapel, another of those little wayside oratories still so common in Italy and France but which nowadays in England we lack altogether.
Ospringe itself is an interesting place. To begin with, the very ancient inn by the roadside, together with the equally old house opposite were once, according to Hasted, the historian of Kent, a Hospital founded by Henry II., for the benefit especially of pilgrims. This hospital, he tells us, "was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and was under the management of a master, three brethren and two clerks existed till the time of Edward IV." Henry VIII., having seized by force all such property as this in England, gave this Hospital to St John's College in Cambridge, which still owns it to the loss of us poor travellers. No doubt what money comes to the college from this poor place goes to the support and bolstering up of the Great Tudor Myth upon the general acceptance of which most of the vested interests in England largely depend. But let us poor men lift up our hearts. The Great Tudor Myth is passing, and every day it is becoming more evident that it can be supported very little longer. Let us determine, however, that we will not be taken in again, and under the pretence of a reformation of religion fix upon our necks a new political despotism worse than the Whig and Protestant aristocracy that the sixteenth century brought into being, to the irreparable damage of the Crown and the unspeakable loss of us the commonalty. May St Thomas avert an evil only too likely to befall us. As for Ospringe, however, it was after all in some sort royal property, the Crown having anciently a Camera Regis there for the King's use when he was on his way to Canterbury or to France.
At Ospringe I left the great road to visit Davington and to sleep at Faversham. The long spring day was already drawing in when I came into Davington, as delightful and charming a little place as is to be found anywhere along the great road. Upon a hill-top there perhaps the Romans had a temple or a villa, at any rate they called the place Durolevum, and so it stands in the Antonine Itinerary. There is evidence, too, that the site was not abandoned when with the failure of their administration and the final departure of the Legions, there went down the long roads, our youth and hope. Where the present church stands, in part a Norman building, there was probably a Saxon Chapel. Then in 1153 came Fulke de Newenham and founded here and built a Benedictine nunnery in honour of St Mary Magdalen. That the house was never richly endowed nor large at all, we may know from that name it had—the house of the poor nuns of Davington. We know, however, very little about them or it, but its poverty did not save it of course at the dissolution. The Priory was then turned into a manor house, and this in part remains so that we find there a part of the cloisters of the time of Edward I., and other remains of Edward III.'s time. Then in Elizabeth's day the house seems to have been practically rebuilt. As for the little church, it owes all it is to-day to its late owner and historian, Mr Willement, and though it is not in itself of very great interest it serves as a memorial of his enthusiasm and love.
Davington is less than a mile out of the town of Faversham, and therefore it was not quite dark when I made my way into that famous place. Faversham must always have been an important place from its position with regard to the great road. We have seen how the source of the greatness of Rochester lay in its position upon the Watling Street where that great highway crossed the Medway. Faversham has half Rochester's fortune, for it stands where the road touches an arm or creek of the Swale, that important navigable waterway, an arm of the sea which separates Sheppey from the mainland.
The Swale there served the road and made of Faversham a port, but the road did not cross it and therefore the Swale, unlike the Medway, was never an obstacle or a defence. Thus Faversham never became a great fortress like Rochester; it was a port, and as it happened a Royal Villa, where so long ago as 930 Athelstan held his witan. Its fate, however, after the Conquest, was to be more glorious. In 1147 Stephen and his wife, Matilda, founded an abbey of Benedictine monks here at Faversham in honour of Our Lord, and known as St Saviours, upon land she had obtained from William of Ypres, Stephen's favourite captain, in exchange for her manor of Littlechurch in this county. At the end of April 1152 she fell sick at Hedingham Castle in Essex, and dying there three days later, was buried in the abbey church at Faversham. In August of the following year her eldest son, Eustace, was laid beside her, and in 1154 Stephen, the King, was also buried here. The abbey was, as I have said, dedicated to Our Saviour, and this because it possessed a famous relic of the True Cross which had been the gift of Eustace of Boulogne; the abbey was thus founded "In worship of the Croys," and one might have expected some such dedication as "Holy Cross." As founder, the King, for he and his Queen had been equally concerned in the foundation, claimed after the death of the abbot certain toll such as the abbot's ring, drinking cup, horse and hound. The abbot was a very great noble, held his house "in chief" and sat in Parliament. At the Suppression Henry VIII. granted the place to Sir Thomas Cheynay. Now mark the almost inevitable end. The Cheynays were living on Church property obtained by theft; at the least they were receivers of stolen goods. Do you think they could endure? They presently sold to a certain Thomas Arden, sometime Mayor of Faversham. Upon Sunday, 15 February 1551, this man was foully murdered in the abbey house he called his own, by a certain Thomas Mosby, a London tailor, the lover of Alice Arden, Thomas Arden's wife. This tragic affair so touched the imagination of the time that not only did Holinshed relate it in detail, but some unknown writer who, by not a few, has been taken for Shakespeare himself, used the story as the plot for a play. Arden of Faversham, according to the dramatist, was a noble character, modest, forgiving, and affectionate. His wife Alecia in her sleep by chance reveals to him her adulterous love for Mosby; but Arden forgives her on her promising never again to see her seducer. From that moment she plots with her lover to murder her husband, and succeeds at last, after many failures, by killing him in the abbey house by the hands of two hired assassins, while he is playing a game of draughts with Mosby. All concerned in the affair were brought to justice, but the abbey of Faversham was no longer coveted as a place of abode.
Almost every stone has disappeared of the abbey church in which lay Stephen, his Queen, and their son. It stood on the northern side of the town, where indeed the Abbey Farm still remains. It is to the parish church of Our Lady of Charity that we must turn for any memory of the conventual house where many a pilgrim must often have knelt to venerate the relic of the Holy Cross.
The great church which remains to us is said to have been used by the monks, and if not part of the abbey itself which would seem to have stood at some distance from it, more than one thing that remains in it would seem to endorse such a theory. To begin with, the church is very spacious, and cruciform in plan, though the tower is at the west end. This, however, is a very ugly affair, dating from 1797. In the main the great church, which has been tampered with at very various times, if not rebuilt, must have been Early English in style. As we see it we have a building divided into three aisles, in nave, chancel and transepts. The nave as it is at present may be neglected, but in the north transept we have a curious hagioscope or other opening in the shape of a cross and there used to be some remains of paintings; the Nativity, the Virgin and Child, the Gloria in Excelsis, the Crucifixion and the holy women at the Sepulchre of Our Lord. In the chancel were other remains of paintings. There still remain the very noble stalls which seem to assure us of the monastic use of the church, and a fine altar tomb of the fifteenth century; this on the north side. On the south are very fine sedilia and piscina. Close by is a brass to William Thanbury, the vicar here, dating from 1448. The inscription considering the use of the church to-day, is pathetic; for there we read CREDO IN SANCT. ECCLES. CATH., a pleasing misreading of the true text which every one, though for different reasons, will rejoice to read.
We are told by local tradition or gossip that the tomb at the end of the south aisle is that of King Stephen. This, however, could only be true if this were indeed the church of the monastery. The tomb is Decorated in style and has a canopy, but is without inscription.
Our Lady of Charity was, however, chiefly famous for its chapel of St Thomas of Canterbury on the north side of the chancel, and for its altars of SS. Crispin and Crispian and of St Erasmus. Many pilgrims turned aside from the road to visit Faversham which was not a station on the pilgrimage, for the sake of these shrines and altars and especially to pray in the chapel of St Thomas.
It is said, indeed, that "no one died who had anything to leave without giving something to St Erasmus light." As for SS. Crispin and Crispian they were the patrons of the town and leapt into great fame after the victory of Agincourt upon their feast day, October 25, when the King had invoked them upon the field.
This day is called the feast of Crispian; He that outlives this day, and comes safe home, Will stand a-tiptoe when this day is named, And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by From this day to the ending of the world, But we on it shall be remembered.
The two saints, Crispin and Crispian, are not less famous in France than in England. They were indeed Rome's missionaries in Gaul about the middle of the third century. They seem to have settled at Soissons, where now a great church stands in their honour. There they practiced the craft of cobblers and of all cobblers they are the patrons. After some years the Emperor Maximian Hercules coming into Gaul, a complaint concerning them was brought to him. They were tried by that most inhuman judge Rictius Varno, the Governor, whom, however, they contrived to escape by fleeing to England and to Faversham, where, as some say they lived, but as others assert they were shipwrecked. For us at any rate their names are secure from oblivion, not so much by reason of the famous victory won upon their day as because Shakespeare has gloriously recorded their names with those familiar in our mouths as household words:
Harry the King, Bedford, and Exeter, Warwick, and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester....
THE PILGRIMS' ROAD
FAVERSHAM TO CANTERBURY
From Faversham at least to the environs of Canterbury, the Pilgrim's Road seems to be unmistakable, for the Watling Street runs all the way straight as a ruled line. Yet so few are the remaining marks of the pilgrimage, so little is that great Roman and mediaeval England remembered by men or even by the fields or the road which runs between them with so changeless a purpose, that at first sight we might think it all a myth. And yet everything that is fundamental or really enduring and valuable in our lives we owe to that England which was surely one of the most glorious and strong, as well as one of the happiest, countries in Europe. Yet must the disheartened voyager take comfort, for in how many small and negligible things may we not see even to-day the very mark and standard of Rome, her sign manual after all, under the rubbish of the modern world. And if you desire an example, let me give you weathercocks.
No man can walk for day after day along this tremendous road which leads us straight as a javelin thrust back through all the lies and excuses to the truth of our origins, without noticing, and especially since he must keep an eye on the wind and the weather, the astonishing number of weathercocks there be between London and Canterbury. Upon almost every steeple, chanticleer towers shining in the sun and wildly careering in the winds of spring. You think that nothing at all, the most ordinary sight in modern England? But for the seeing eye it reveals, how much! Everyone of these weathercocks crows there on the tip top of the steeple over each town or village because of an order of the Pope. They were to be the sign of the jurisdiction of St Peter, and that by a Bull of the ninth century. How entrancing it is to remember such a thing as that in the midst of modern England.
In spite of the weathercocks and their watchfulness, however, the memories of the great pilgrimage between Faversham and Harbledown are dishearteningly few. One might surely expect to find something at Preston for instance, where, coming out of Faversham, one rejoins the Watling Street, but there is nothing at all to remind one of the great past of the Way. It is true that Preston church, dedicated in honour of St Catherine, is both ancient and beautiful, and once belonged to the monastery of Christ Church in Canterbury; but neither in its channel, which must once, before the eastern window was inserted in 1862, with its single lancets and sedilia, have been extraordinarily fine, nor in the nave, is there any memory at all of St Thomas or the Pilgrims. It is not indeed until we come to Boughton that we are reminded of them.
The older part of the parish of Boughton is South Street, where, however, nothing now remains older than the sixteenth century at the earliest. Here, however, was anciently a wayside chapel to the south of the road where now Holy Lane turns out of it. About a mile, or rather less, to the south, and clean off the road, stands on the crest of a steep, though not a high hill, the lovely village of Boughton under Blee, which, curiously enough, if we consider what is omitted, is mentioned by Chaucer,
When ended was the lyf of seint Cecyle, Er we had riden fully fyve myle, At Boghton under Blee us gan atake A man, that clothed was in clothes blake, And undernethe he hadde a whyt surplys.... It semed he had priked myles three.
This man who, with his yeoman, overtakes the pilgrims, is the rich canon, the alchemist who could pave with gold "all the road to Canterbury town." He is said to have already ridden three miles, but whence he had come it is impossible to say. That the pilgrims who had ridden not quite five miles had come from Ospringe might seem certain, and since they were overtaken by the Canon it is possible that he was coming from Faversham. It is, however, more important to explain, if we can, what the pilgrims were doing more than a mile off the true Way at Boughton under Blean. The church of SS. Peter and Paul is of some interest and of considerable beauty it is true, but so far as we may know there was no shrine there of sufficient importance to draw the pilgrims from the road, as at Faversham, nor one might think would they be easily diverted from the goal of their journey almost within reach. All sorts of routes have been given here, one going so far as to lead the pilgrims south and east quite off the Watling Street and across the old green road, the Pilgrims Way from Winchester, to enter Canterbury at last by the South Gate. This is absurd. No good explanation has yet been offered, but perhaps we may be near the truth if we suggest that Chaucer and his pilgrims never visited Boughton under Blean and the church of SS. Peter and Paul at all. After all we have in Chaucer's text (Frag. G. Canon's Yeoman Prologue) merely the name, and that in the old form, Boghton under Blee. All this wild woodland and forest country which lies on a great piece of high ground stretching north-east and south-west across the Way parallel with the valley of the Great Stour, between Faversham and Canterbury, hiding the one from the other, was known as the Blean. It is equally certain that the village of Dunkirk was known as Boughton until the middle of the eighteenth century, when a set of squatters took possession of the ground, then extra parochial as of a "free- port" from which no one could dislodge them. The district including the greater part of the forest was afterwards erected into a separate villa called the "villa of Dunkirk." Now Boughton Hill rises abruptly beyond the village of Dunkirk, and it may well be that this and not the tiny hamlet nearly a mile to the south of the great Way, was Chaucer's Boghton under Blee, where the Canon and his yeoman overtook the "joly companye," and rode in with them to Canterbury. And it is there at Mad Tom's corner that we first catch sight of the glorious city of St Thomas.
"Mad Tom's corner!" That name, it is needless to say I hope, has no reference to the great archbishop or the pilgrimage. Mad Tom's corner, whence we get our first view of Canterbury, is intimately connected with the gate close by, called Courtenay's gate, and refers to the exploits of a mad Cornishman who came to Kent and especially to Canterbury about 1832, and presently proclaimed himself to be the New Messiah and showed to his deluded disciples the sacred stigmata in his hands and feet. It was the custom of these unhappy people to meet in the woods of the Blean, and it is said one may still see their names cut upon the trees. Mad Tom, who, besides proclaiming himself to be the Messiah, claimed also to be the heir to the earldom of Devon, and called himself Sir William Percy Honeywood Courtenay, the Hon. Sydney Percy, Count Moses Rothschild and Squire Thompson, to say nothing of Knight of Malta and King of Jerusalem, was a madman, with a method in his madness and a certain reasonable truth behind his absurdities. His mission was, he said, to restore the land to the people, to take it away, that is to say, from the great rascal families of the sixteenth century, the Russells, Cavendishes and so forth, who had appeared like vermin to feed upon the dead body of the Church, to gorge themselves upon her lands and to lord it in her Abbeys and Priories. In the minds of these people Tom was not only mad but dangerous. Mad he certainly was, for all his dreams. Nevertheless he stood for Canterbury in the year of the Reform Bill and polled 275 votes, and in the following year he started a paper called the Lion which ran to eighteen numbers. Five years later, however, he had become such a nuisance that a warrant was safely issued against him "on the charge of enticing away the labourers of a farmer." Tom shot one of the constables who served the warrant, and on the afternoon of the last morning of May in 1838, two companies of the 45th regiment were marched out of Canterbury to take him. They found him here in Blean Wood, surrounded by his followers. He, however, was a man of action, and he promptly shot the officer in command. The soldiers then began to fire, and next minute were charging with fixed bayonets. Tom and eight of his followers were killed, and three more died a few days later.
One may well ask what can have induced the stolid Kentish folk to follow so wild a Celt as this. We shall probably find the answer in the fact that Tom was exceedingly handsome in an Italian way, having "an extraordinary resemblance to the usual Italian type of the Saviour." Also, without doubt, he voiced, though inanely, the innate resentment of the English peasant against the great sixteenth century robber families and their sycophants. These great families, now on their last legs and about to be torn in pieces by a host, financial and disgusting, without creed or nationality, seven times worse than they, laughed at Tom. They do not laugh at those who, about to compass their destruction, led by another Celt, have digged a pit into which they trample headlong, and astonishing as it might seem, to the regret of that very peasantry which has hated them for so long. At least, and let us remember this, if they were greedy and unscrupulous their vices were ours, something we could understand. They were of our blood, we took the same things for granted, had the same prejudices, and after all the same sense of justice. They with us were a part of Europe and looked to Rome as their ancestor and original. But those who are about to displace them! Alas, whence do they come who begat them, from what have they issued out? I cannot answer; but I know that with all their faults, their sacrilege, robbery, and treason, Russell, Cavendish, Cecil and Talbot are English names, and they who bear them men of our blood, European, too, and of our civilisation. But who are those that now begin to fill their places? Aliens, Orientals and worse now received without surprise into the peerage of England and the great offices of justice. And the names which recall Elizabeth and whose syllables are a part of our mother tongue, are obliterated by such jargon as these.
These are miserable thoughts to come to a man on the road to Canterbury, but they are inevitable to-day in England of my heart. The new times belong to them. Let us then return to the old time before them and here for the first time in sight of Canterbury let us remember St Thomas, the greatest of English Saints, the noblest English name in the Roman calendar.
All that wonder which greets you from Mad Tom's corner upon Boughton Hill is, rightly understood, the work of St Thomas, and we might say indeed that the great Angel Steeple was the last of his miracles for it is the last of the Gothic in England, and it rose above his tomb, while that tomb was still a shrine and a monument in the hearts of men. For "the church dedicated to St Thomas erects itself," as Erasmus says, "with such majesty towards Heaven that even from a distance it strikes religious awe into the beholders."
So I went on my way in the mid-afternoon down hill to what in my heart I knew to be Bob-up-and-down on the far side of which lies and climbs Harbledown and the hospital of St Nicholas.
Wite ye nat wher ther stant a litel town Which that y-cleped is Bop-up-and-down Under the Blee in Caunterbury weye?
This "littel town" it might seem, has disappeared, unless indeed it be Harbledown itself, which certainly bears geographically much resemblance to that descriptive name, as Erasmus describes it in his strange book. "Know then," says he, "that those who journey to London, not long after leaving Canterbury, find themselves in a road at once very hollow and narrow and besides the banks on either side are so steep and abrupt that you cannot escape; nor can you possibly make your journey in any other direction. Upon the left hand of this road is a hospital of a few old men, one of whom runs out as soon as they perceive any horseman approaching; he sprinkles his holy water and presently offers the upper part of a shoe bound with an iron hoof on which is a piece of glass resembling a precious stone. Those that kiss it give some small coin.... Gratian rode on my left hand, next to the hospital, he was covered with water; however he endured that. When the shoe was stretched out, he asked the man what he wanted. He said that it was the shoe of St Thomas. On that my friend was angered and turning to me he said, 'What, do these brutes imagine that we must kiss every good man's shoe? Why, by the same rule, they would offer his spittle to be kissed or other bodily excrements.' I pitied the old man, and by the gift of a small coin I comforted his trouble."
It is easy to see that we are there in the modern world on the very eve of the Reformation. The unmannerly Gratian was John Colet to be the Dean of St Paul's, hardly defended from the charge of heresy by old Archbishop Wareham. And like so many of his kidney he seems to have forgotten the scripture upon which, as he would have asserted, his whole philosophy and action was based,—the scripture I mean which speaks of One, "the lachet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose." We shall not have the opportunity of being so proud and impatient as Dean Colet of unhappy memory, for no shoe, alas, of St Thomas or any other saint will be offered for our veneration in the Hospital of St Nicholas at Harbledown to-day. Yet not for this should we pass it by, for of all places upon the road, it best of all conserves the memory of those far away days when Chaucer came by, and half-way up the hill rested awhile and prayed, e'er from the summit he looked down upon Canterbury.
The Hospital of the Forest or Wood of Blean, dedicated in honour of St Nicholas, lies upon the southern and western side of the last hill before the western gate of the city. It was founded in 1084 by Archbishop Lanfranc, and no doubt for a time served as a hospital for Lepers, but it was soon appropriated for the use of the sick and wayfarers generally, and though nothing save the chapel remains to us from Lanfranc's day, the whole place is so full of interest that no one should pass it by.
The chapel became in time the parish church of this little place on the hillside which grew up about the hospital which itself was probably placed here on account of the spring of water known as St Thomas's or the Black Prince's well, south and west of the building. Most of the chapel is of Norman building, the western doorway for instance, the pillars and round arches on the north of the nave dating from Lanfranc's time. But the south side is later, of the thirteenth century, and the font and choir are later still, being Perpendicular fifteenth century work.
The hospital, however, as we see it, is a rebuilding of the seventeenth century, but it was fundamentally restored in the nineteenth. In the "Frater Hall," however, are some interesting remains of the old house, among them a fine collection of mazers and two bowls of maple wood, in one of which lies perhaps the very crystal which Erasmus saw, and which was set in the upper leather of the shoe of St Thomas.
Below the hospital in the orchard is the old well known as St Thomas's. Above it grows an elder, surely a relic of the days of the Pilgrimage. For the elder was known as the wayfaring tree and was sacred to pilgrims and travellers. It is not strange then, that it should cool with its shade the spring of St Thomas; it is only strange that the vandal has spared it for us to bless. But why the elder was sacred to travellers I do not know.
Wayfaring Tree! What ancient claim Hast thou to that right pleasant name? Was it that some faint pilgrim came Unhopedly to thee In the brown desert's weary way 'Midst thirst and toils consuming sway, And there, as 'neath thy shade he lay, Blessed the Wayfaring Tree?
But doggerel never solved anything. In truth a very different story is told of the elder and on good authority too. For if we may not trust Sir John Maundeville who tells us that, "Fast by the Pool of Siloe is the elder tree on which Judas hanged himself ... when he sold and betrayed our Lord," Shakespeare says that, "Judas was hanged on an elder," and Piers Plowman records:
Judas he japed With Jewish siller And sithen on an elder tree Hanged himsel.
It is from the quietness and neglected beauty of this well of St Thomas that under the evening I turned back into the road and, climbing a little, looked down upon what was once the holiest city of fair England.
Felix locus, felix ecclesia In qua Thomae vivit memoria: Felix terra quae dedit praesulem Felix ilia quae fovit exsulem.
In that hour of twilight, when even the modern world is hushed and it is possible to believe in God, I looked with a long look towards that glory which had greeted so often and for so many centuries the eager gaze of my ancestors, but I could not see for my eyes like theirs were full of tears.
THE CITY OF ST THOMAS
When a man, alone or in a company, entered Canterbury at last by the long road from London, in the thirteenth, fourteenth or fifteenth century, he came into a city as famous as Jerusalem, as lovely as anything even in England, and as certainly alive and in possession of a soul as he was himself.
When a man comes into Canterbury to-day he comes into a dead city.
I say Canterbury is dead, for when the soul has departed from the body, that is death. Canterbury has lost its soul.
Go into the Cathedral, it is like a tomb, but a tomb that has been rifled, a whited sepulchre so void and cold that even the last trump will make there no stir. It was once the altar, the shrine, and as it were the mother of England, one of the tremendous places of Europe into which every year flocked thousands upon thousands upon thousands of men. The altar is thrown down, the shrine is gone and forgotten, in all that vast church the martyred Saint who made it what it was is not so much as remembered even in an inscription or a stone; and the enthusiasm and devotion of centuries have given place to a silence so icy that nothing can break it. The place is dead.
I remember very well the first time I came to Canterbury. I was a boy, and full of enthusiasm for St Thomas, I would have knelt where he fell, I would have prayed, yes with all my fathers, there where he was laid at last on high above the altar. But there was nothing. I was shown, as is the custom, all that the four centuries of ice have preserved of the work of my forefathers; the glorious tombs of King and Bishop, the storied glass of the thirteenth century, unique in England, the litter and the footsteps of thirteen hundred years. I was led up past the choir into that lofty and once famous place where for centuries the greatest and holiest shrine in England stood. All about were still grouped the tombs of Princes; Edward, the Black Prince, the hero of Crecy, Henry IV., the usurper, Cardinal Chatillon; but of the shrine itself, of the body it held up to love and honour and worship there was nothing, no word even, no sign at all to tell that ever such a thing had been, only an emptiness and a space and a silence that could be felt.
Later I was led down into that north-west transept, once known as the Martyrdom, where St Thomas laid down his life; and left alone there, I remember I tried in all that dumbness and silence to recollect myself, to pray, at least to recall, something of that great sacrifice which had so moved Christendom that for centuries men flocked here to worship—where now no man kneels any more for ever.
I remember very well how it came to me in that tingling and icy silence that St Thomas died for the liberty of the Church, that here in England she might not become the king's chattel or anyway at all the creature of the civil power. I was too young to smile when I remembered that in the very place where St Thomas laid down his life in that cause, there sits to-day in his usurped place one who eagerly acknowledges the king as the "Supreme Governor of the Church within these realms." Yet in my heart I heard again those tremendous words, "Were all the swords of England hanging over my head you could not terrify me from my obedience to God and my Lord the Pope." They who slew him fled away, and their title, shouted in the winter darkness that filled the church, was heard above the thunder and has echoed down the ages since: Reaux! Reaux! King's men! King's men! Is it not they who now sit in Becket's place?
But to-day I am content with a judgment less bitter and less logical. Who may know what is in the heart of God? Perhaps after all, after this age of ice, Canterbury will rise again and my little son even may hear them singing in the streets, gay once more and alive with endless processions that noble old song:
Laureata novo Thoma, Sicut suo Petro Roma, Gaude Cantuaria!
For though St Thomas be forgot in Canterbury, he is on high and valiant, and one day maybe he will return from exile as before, to accomplish wonderful things.
And indeed dead as she is and silent, Canterbury is worthy of resurrection if only because she is as it were a part of him and a part, too, of our origins, the well, though not the source from which the Faith was given us. For some thirteen hundred years when men have spoken of Canterbury, they have had in mind the metropolitan church of England, the great cathedral which still stands so finely there in the rather gloomy close behind Christ Church gate, rightly upon the foundations of its predecessors, Roman, Saxon, and Norman buildings. Ever since there was a civilisation in England, there has been a church in this place; it is our duty, then, as well as our pleasure to approach it to-day with reverence.
Canterbury began as we began in the swamps and the forests, a little lake village in the marshes of the Stour, holding the lowest ford, not beyond the influence of the sea nor out of reach of fresh water. When great Rome broke into England lost in mist, here certainly she established a city that was as it were the focus of all the ports of the Straits whence most easily a man might come into England from the continent. Canterbury grew because she was almost equally near to the ports we know as Lympne, Dover, Richborough and Reculvers, so that a man setting out from the continent and doubtful in which port he would land, wholly at the mercy of wind and tide as he was, would name Canterbury to his correspondent in England as a place of meeting. Thus Canterbury increased. There in the Roman times doubtless a church arose which, doubtless, too, perished in the Diocletian persecution. That it re-arose we know, for Venerable Bede describes it as still existing when, nearly two hundred years after the departure of the Roman legions, St Augustine came into England, sent by St Gregory to make us Christians. He came, as we know, first into Kent to find Canterbury the royal capital of King Ethelbert, and when, says Bede, "an episcopal see had been given to Augustine in the king's own city he regained possession (recuperavit) with the king's help, of a church there which he was informed had been built in the city long before by Roman believers. This he consecrated in the name of the Holy Saviour Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, and fixed there a home for himself and all his successors." [Footnote: Bede, Hist. Eccl., I. xxviii.] This church, rudely repaired, added to and rebuilt, stood until Lanfranc's day, when it was pulled down and destroyed to make way for the great Norman building out of which the church we have has grown.
The little church which Lanfranc destroyed and which had seen so many vicissitudes, was probably a work of the end of the fourth century, at any rate in its foundations. Eadmer indeed who tells us all we know of it says that it was built on the plan of St Peter's in Rome. "This was that very church," he writes, "which had been built by Romans as Bede witnesses in his history, and which was duly arranged in some parts in imitation of the church of the blessed Prince of the Apostles, Peter, in which his holy relics are exalted by the veneration of the whole world." We shall never know much more than Eadmer tells us, for if the foundations still exist they lie within the present church. It is recorded, however, that in the time of St Elphege the church was badly damaged by the Danes, the archbishop himself being martyred at Greenwich. No doubt as often before, the church was patched up, only to perish by fire in 1067, the year after the Battle of Hastings.
When Lanfranc then entered Canterbury, he found his Cathedral a mere ruin, but with his usual energy, though already a man of sixty-five, he set to work to re-establish not only his Cathedral but also the monastery attached to it. He did this on a great scale, providing accommodation for three times the number of monks that had served the Cathedral in the decadent days of the Saxon monarchy, and when this was done he first "destroyed utterly" the Romano-Saxon church and then "set about erecting a more noble one, and in the space of seven years, 1070- 1077, he raised this from the foundations and brought it near to perfection." That he worked in great haste and too quickly seems certain. In fact it must be confessed that Lanfranc's church in Canterbury was a more or less exact copy of his church of St Stephen at Caen, but, built much more quickly, was too mean for its purpose. It soon became necessary to rebuild the choir and sanctuary; the nave, however, was allowed to stand until the end of the fourteenth century; but even then its design so hampered the builders of the present nave, for it had been decided to preserve one of Lanfranc's western towers, that to this day the nave of Canterbury is too short, consisting of but eight bays.
Lanfranc's choir was of but two bays and an apse. This was too obviously inadequate to be tolerated by the monks. In 1096 it was pulled down and a great apsidal choir of ten bays was built over a lofty crypt, with a tower on either side the apse and an eastern transept having four apsidal chapels in the eastern walls, two in the north arm and two in the south. All this was done in the time of St Anselm and finished in 1115, when Conrad was Prior of Christ Church.
It was this church with Lanfranc's short Norman nave, western facade and towers, and Conrad's glorious great choir high up over the crypt, a choir broader than the nave and longer too, and with two transepts, the western of Lanfranc's time, the eastern of St Anselm's, that St Thomas knew and that saw his martyrdom in 1170.
Materials for the life of St Thomas are so plentiful that his modern biographers are able to compose a life fuller perhaps in detail and fact than would be possible in the case of any other man of his time. But no account ever written of his martyrdom is at once so simple and so touching as that to be found in the Golden Legend. It was this account which the man of the Middle Age knew by heart, and which brought him in his thousands on pilgrimage to Canterbury, and therefore I give it here.
"When the King of France had made accord between St Thomas and King Henry, the Archbishop," Voragine tells us, "came home to Canterbury, where he was received worshipfully, and sent for them that had trespassed against him, and by the authority of the Pope's Bull openly denounced them accursed, unto the time they came to amendment. And when they heard this they came to him and would have made him assoil them by force; and sent word over to the King how he had done, whereof the King was much wroth and said: If he had men in his land that loved him they would not suffer such a traitor in his land alive.
"And forthwith four knights took their counsel together and thought they would do to the King a pleasure and emprised to slay St Thomas and suddenly departed and took their shipping toward England. And when the King knew of their departing he was sorry and sent after them, but they were in the sea and departed ere the messenger came, wherefore the King was heavy and sorry.
"These be the names of the four knights: Sir Reginald Fitzurse, Sir Hugh de Morville, Sir William de Tracy and Sir Richard le Breton.
"On Christmas Day St Thomas made a sermon at Canterbury in his own church and, weeping, prayed the people to pray for him, for he knew well his time was nigh, and there executed the sentence on them that were against the right of Holy Church. And that same day as the King sat at meat all the bread that he handled waxed anon mouldy and hoar that no man might eat of it, and the bread that they touched not was fair and good for to eat.
"And these four knights aforesaid came to Canterbury on the Tuesday in Christmas week, about evensong time and came to St Thomas and said that the King commanded him to make amends for the wrongs he had done and also that he should assoil all them that he had accursed anon or else they should slay him. Then said Thomas: All that I ought to do by right, that will I with a good will do, but as to the sentence that is executed I may not undo, but that they will submit them to the correction of Holy Church, for it was done by our holy father the Pope and not by me. Then said Sir Reginald: But if thou assoil not the King and all other standing in the curse it shall cost thee thy life. And St Thomas said: Thou knowest well enough that the King and I were accorded on Mary Magdalene day and that this curse should go forth on them that had offended the Church.
"Then one of the knights smote him as he kneeled before the altar, on the head. And one Sir Edward Grim, that was his crossier, put forth his arm with the cross to bear off the stroke, and the stroke smote the cross asunder and his arm almost off, wherefore he fled for fear and so did all the monks that were that time at Compline. And then each smote at him, that they smote off a great piece of the skull of his head, that his brain fell on the pavement. And so they slew and martyred him, and were so cruel that one of them brake the point of his sword against the pavement. And thus this holy and blessed archbishop St Thomas suffered death in his own church for the right of all Holy Church. And when he was dead they stirred his brain, and after went in to his chamber and took away his goods and his horse out of his stable, and took away his Bulls and writings and delivered them to Sir Robert Broke to bear into France to the King. And as they searched his chambers they found in a chest two shirts of hair made full of great knots, and then they said: Certainly he was a good man; and coming down into the churchyard they began to dread and fear that the ground would not have borne them, and were marvellously aghast, but they supposed that the earth would have swallowed them all quick. And then they knew that they had done amiss. And soon it was known all about, how that he was martyred, and anon after they took his holy body and unclothed him and found bishop's clothing above and the habit of a monk under. And next his flesh he wore hard hair, full of knots, which was his shirt, and his breech was of the same, and the knots sticked fast within his skin, and all his body full of worms; he suffered great pain. And he was thus martyred the year of Our Lord one thousand one hundred and seventy-one, and was fifty-three years old. And soon after tidings came to the King how he was slain, wherefore the King took great sorrow, and sent to Rome for his absolution...."
Of the King's penance Voragine says nothing, but indeed it must have reverberated through Europe, though not perhaps with so enormous a rumour as the humiliation of the Emperor Henry IV. before Pope Gregory VII. at Canossa scarce a hundred years before had done. The first and the most famous of Canterbury pilgrims came to St Dunstan's church upon the Watling Street, outside the great West Gate of Canterbury, as we may believe in July 1174. There he stripped him of his robes and, barefoot in a woollen shirt, entered the city and walked barefoot through the streets to the door of the Cathedral. There he knelt, and being received into the great church, was led to the place of Martyrdom where he knelt again and kissed the stones where St Thomas had fallen. In the crypt where the body of the martyr was preserved, the King laid aside his cloak and received five strokes with a rod from every Bishop and Abbot there present, and three from every one of the eighty monks. In that place he remained through the whole night fasting and weeping to be absolved on the following day.
The martyrdom of St Thomas, the penance of the King, these world- shaking and amazing events might in themselves, we may think, have been enough to transform the church in which they took place, if as was thought at the time, heaven itself had not intervened and destroyed Conrad's glorious choir by fire. This disaster fell upon the city and the country like a final judgment, less than two months after the penance of the King in 1174, and within four years of St Thomas's murder.
Something of the great masterpiece that then perished is left to us especially without, and it is perhaps the most charming work remaining in the city, the tower of St Anselm, for instance, and much of the transept beside it.
For the rest the choir of Canterbury, as we know it, the choir began in 1174 by William of Sens, is as French as its predecessor, but in all else very different. In order perhaps to provide a great space for the shrine of the newly canonised St Thomas of Canterbury, to whose tomb already half Europe was flocking, the choir was built even longer than its predecessor. The great space provided for the shrine in the Trinity Chapel behind the choir and high altar opened on the east into a circular chapel known, perhaps on account of the relic it held, as Becket's Crown. Till 1220 when all was ready, the body of St Thomas lay in an iron coffin in the crypt, and the great feast and day of pilgrimage in his honour was the day of his martyrdom, December 29, so incredibly honourable as being within the octave of the Nativity of Our Lord. But in 1220 it was decided to translate the body from the crypt to the new shrine in the Trinity Chapel in July, for the winter pilgrimage was irksome. From that year a new feast was established, the feast of the Translation of St Thomas upon July 7th, and thus in England down to our own day, St Thomas has two feasts, that of his Martyrdom on December 29, when still his relics are exposed in the great Catholic Cathedral of Westminster, and in the little church of St Thomas, the Catholic sanctuary in Canterbury, and that of his Translation upon July 7th.
Of that first summer pilgrimage to the new shrine of St Thomas we have very full accounts. It was the most glorious and the most extraordinary assemblage that had perhaps ever been seen in England. The Archbishop had given two years' notice of the event, and this had been circulated not only in all England, but throughout Europe. "Orders had been issued for maintenance to be provided for the vast multitude not only in the city of Canterbury itself, but on the various roads by which the pilgrims would approach. During the whole celebration along the whole way from London to Canterbury, hay and provender were given to all who asked, and at each gate of Canterbury in the four quarters of the city and in the four licensed cellars, were placed tuns of wine to be distributed gratis, and on the day of the festival, wine ran freely through the gutters of the streets." In the presence of the young Henry III., too young himself to bear a part, the coffin in which lay the relics of St Thomas was borne on the shoulders of the Papal Legate, the Archbishop Stephen Langton, the Grand Justiciary Hubert de Burgh, and the Archbishop of Rheims, from the crypt up to the Trinity Chapel in the presence of every Bishop and Abbot of England, of the great officials of the kingdom and of the special ambassadors of every state in Europe.
Of bishops and abbots, prior and parsons, Of earls and of barons and of many knights thereto, Of sergeants and of squires and of his husbandmen enow, And of simple men eke of the land—so thick hither drew.
So was St Thomas vindicated and God avenged. And St Thomas reigned as was thought for ever on high, in the new sanctuary of his Cathedral Church.
I say he reigned on high. The choir and sanctuary of Canterbury had even in St Anselm's time as we have seen, been high above the nave. William of Sens designed the new choir, as high as the old, but very nobly raised still higher, the great altar, and higher yet the Chapel of the Trinity in which stood the shrine. St Thomas had an especial devotion to the Holy Trinity. It was in a former Trinity Chapel that he had said his first Mass, and whether on this account or another, his devotion was such that it was he who first established that Feast, till then merely the octave of Whitsunday. His shrine then was well placed in the Chapel of the Holy Trinity.
In examining the church to-day one can well understand the beauty of William of Sens' idea, and see, too, where, and perhaps understand why, it really fails or at least comes short of perfection.
William of Sens trained in Latin traditions had, and rightly, little respect, we may think, for the work of the past. He would have had all new. But by 1174, unlike Anselm in 1096, and still more unlike Lanfranc in 1070, he had in all probability a genuine English and national prejudice to meet, an English dislike of destruction and an English hatred of anything new.
It has been said that the failure of William of Sens' design was due to the meanness of the monks of Christ Church. But meanness is not an English failing; on the contrary, our great fault is the very opposite, extravagance. It was surely not meanness and at such a time and in such a cause that forced the monastery to deny William of Sens the free hand he desired; it was prejudice and a fear, almost barbaric; of destruction. The monks forced their builder to accommodate the new choir to what remained of the old work. They refused to sacrifice St Anselm's tower on the south or the tower of St Andrew on the north, therefore the wide choir of Canterbury, already wider than the nave and growing wider still as it went eastward, had to be strangled between them, and to open again as well as it could into the Trinity Chapel and the Corona. All that was old, too, and that they loved they used; the old piers of the crypt were to remain and still to support the pillars of the choir, which were thus, no doubt to William's disgust, unequally placed so that here the arches are pointed but there round. In many ways William must have considered his employers barbarians, and in the true sense of that much abused term, he was right. No man brought up in the Greek and Latin traditions would have hesitated to destroy in order to build anew. The English cannot do that; they patch and make do, and what must be new they cannot love until it is old; their buildings are not so much works of art as growths, and there is much to be said for them. Only here at Canterbury their prejudice has been a misfortune. Not even the most convinced Englishman can look upon the twisted and constricted choir of Canterbury and rejoice.
William of Sens, however, hampered though he was, is responsible for the work we see. It is true he died after some four years of work at Canterbury, falling one day from a scaffold, but William the Englishman who followed him only completed what was really already finished. The design, the idea, and the genius of Canterbury choir are
French, spoiled by English prejudice, but undoubtedly French for all that.
As it appeared when that great Transitional choir was finished, Canterbury Cathedral remained till 1379. It is true that the north wall of the cloister and the lovely doorway in the north-east corner were built in the Early English time. It is equally true that the lower part of the Chapter House and the screens north and south of the choir and a glorious window in St Anselm's Chapel are Decorated work, but the Cathedral itself knows nothing of the Early English or of the Decorated styles. It stood till 1379 with a low and short Norman nave and transept to the west, and a great Transitional choir and transept to the east. In 1379 Lanfranc's nave and transept were destroyed.
It may be thought that at last a great and noble nave would be built north of the Frenchman's choir. Not at all. Again the English prejudice against destruction—a lack of intellectual daring in us perhaps— prevented this. One of the western towers of Lanfranc was to remain, and therefore the new nave though loftier than the old, was no longer, and it remains a glory certainly without, but within a hopeless disappointment saved from utter ineffectiveness only by the noble height of the great choir above it. It remains without life or zest, not an experiment but a task honestly and thoroughly done in the Perpendicular style.
To the same period belong the great western screen of the choir, the Chapel of St Michael and the Warrior's Chapel in the south transept, the Lady Chapel in the north transept, the Chantry and the tomb of Henry IV. in the Trinity Chapel, the Black Prince's Chantry and the screens of the Lady Chapel in the Crypt, the upper part of the Chapter House, now lost to us by restoration, and the south-west Tower.
There remained at the end of the fifteenth century but one thing needed—the central Tower. This, as it happened, was to be the last great Gothic work undertaken in this country, and in every way it is one of the most impressive and successful. Begun in 1475 and finished in 1503, the Angel Steeple is the last of Catholicism in England, and I like to think of it towering as it does over that dead city, and the low hills of Kent, over all that was once so sacred and is now nothing, as a kind of beacon, a sign of hope until it shall ring the Angelus again and once more the sons of St Benedict shall chant the Mass of St Thomas before the shrine new made: Gaudeamus omnes in Domino, diem festum celebrantes, sub honore beati Thomae Martyris, de cujus passione gaudent angeli et collaudant filium Dei.
For the great shrine, which for so long had been the loftiest beacon in England of the Christian Faith, was destroyed. It was the first work of the last Henry to avenge his namesake, and having made another Thomas martyr in the same cause, to wipe out for ever all memory of the first who had steadfastly withstood his predecessor. It is strange that the severed head of Blessed Thomas More should lie in the very church whence Henry II. set forth to do penance for the murder of the first Thomas.
We have no authentic record of the final catastrophe, such deeds are usually done in darkness. All we really know is that in 1538 "the bones, by command of the Lord (Thomas) Cromwell, were there and then burnt ... the spoile of the shrine in golde and precious stones filled two greate chests such as six or seven strong men could doe no more than convey one of them out of the church." That the shrine was of unsurpassed magnificence we have many witnesses. "The tomb of St Thomas the Martyr," writes a Venetian traveller who had seen it, "surpasses all belief. Notwithstanding its great size it is wholly covered with plates of pure gold; yet the gold is scarce seen because it is covered with various precious stones as sapphires, balasses, diamonds, rubies and emeralds; and wherever the eye turns something more beautiful than the rest is observed; nor in addition to these natural beauties is the skill of art wanting, for in the midst of the gold are the most beautiful sculptured gems, both small and large as well as such as are in relief, as agates, onyxes, cornelians and cameos; and some cameos are of such size that I am afraid to name it; but everything is far surpassed by a ruby, not larger than a thumb-nail, which is fixed at the right of the altar. The church is somewhat dark and particularly in the spot where the shrine is placed, and when we went to see it the sun was near setting and the weather cloudy; nevertheless I saw the ruby as if I had it in my hand. They say it was given by a king of France."
To carry out the theft with impunity it was first of all necessary to degrade the great national hero and saint and expose his memory to ridicule. In November 1538 St Thomas was declared a traitor, every representation of him was ordered to be destroyed, and his name was erased from all service books, antiphones, collects and prayers under pain of his Majesty's indignation, and imprisonment at his Grace's pleasure. The saint indeed is said to have been cited to appear at Westminster for treason, and there to have been tried and condemned. That seems, too superstitiously insolent even for such a thing as Henry. But we may believe Marillac, the French Ambassador, when he tells us "St Thomas is declared a traitor because his relics and bones were adorned with gold and stones."
So perished the shrine and memory of St Thomas, and with it the thousand year old religion of England to be replaced by one knows not what.
With the destruction of religion went the destruction of the religious houses. Of these the chief was the Benedictine monastery of Christ Church which lay to the north of the Cathedral and whose monks from St Augustine's time had always served it. Almost nothing remains of this, save the Cloister and Chapter House and Treasury attached to the Cathedral, the Castellum Aquae, now called the Baptistery, the Prior's Chapel, now the Chapter Library, the Deanery, once part of the Prior's lodging, the Porter's gate, the Norman staircase of the King's school and the fragmentary ruins scattered about the precincts, including the remains of the Archbishop's Palace in Palace Street.
Not less venerable than the Benedictine House of Christ Church was the other Benedictine monastery, also founded by St Augustine in honour of SS. Peter and Paul, to which dedication St Dunstan added the name of St Augustine himself. This stood outside the city to the east. It is said to have been founded by St Augustine outside the walls with a view to his own interment there since it was not the Roman custom, as we know, to bury the dead within the walls of a city. So honourable a place in the Order did this great house hold that we are told the abbot of St Augustine's Canterbury sat next to the abbot of Monte Cassino, the mother house, in the councils of the Order, and none but the archbishop himself consecrated the abbot of St Augustine's, and that in the Abbey Church. This also Henry stole away, seizing it for his own use. But by 1844 what was left of the place had become a brewery, and to-day there remains scarcely more than a great fourteenth century gateway and hall, the work of Abbot Fyndon in 1300. Of the church there is left a few fragments of walling, of St Augustine's tomb, nothing whatsoever.
Less still remains to us of the smaller religious houses that abounded in Canterbury. Of the Austin Canons, the Priory of St Gregory founded by Lanfranc in 1084 near St John's Hospital, also a foundation of Lanfranc, in Northgate Street, really nothing, a fragment of old wall; of the Nunnery of St Sepulchre, a Benedictine house, nothing at all. As for the Friars' houses scarcely more remains. Of the earliest, the Dominican house, only the scantiest ruins of the convent, the refectory, however, once in the hands of the Anabaptists, is now a Unitarian chapel. Of the White Friars, nothing. Of the Franciscan house, the charming thirteenth century ruin that stands over the river to the south of St Peter's Street. That is all.
The Canterbury of St Thomas is no more, it perished with his shrine and his religion. Even the hospital he is said to have founded, which at any rate was dedicated in his honour, was suppressed by Edward VI.; it is, however, still worth a visit, if only for the sake of the wall painting recovered in 1879, in which we see the Martyrdom, and the penance of the King.
But in Canterbury to-day St Thomas is really a stranger, no relic, scarcely a remembrance of him remains; yet he was the soul of the city, he is named in the calendar of his Church St Thomas of Canterbury.
No relic do I say? I am wrong. Let all the pilgrims of the past come in at the four gates in their thousands and their thousands; let the great processions form as though this were a year of jubilee, they shall not be disappointed. Yet it is not to the Cathedral they shall go, but to an ugly little church (alas!), in a back street, where over the last altar upon the Epistle side there is a shrine and in the shrine a relic—the Soutan of St Thomas. The place is humble and meek enough to escape the notice of all but the pilgrims who sought and seek Canterbury only for St Thomas.
Musing there in the late spring sunshine, for the church is open and quiet, and within there is always a Guest, I fell asleep; and in my sleep that Guest came to me and I spoke with Him. It seemed to me that I was walking in early morning—all in the England of my heart—across meadows through which flowed a clear translucent stream, and the meadows were a mass of flowers, narcissus, jonquil, violet, for it was spring. And beyond the meadows was a fair wood all newly dressed, and out of the wood there came towards me a man, and I knew it was the Lord Christ. And I went on to meet Him. And when I was come to Him I said: "I shall never understand what You mean ... I shall never understand what You mean. For You say the meek shall inherit the earth.... I shall never understand what You mean."
And He looked at me and smiled, and stretching forth His hands and looking all about He answered: "But I spoke of the flowers."
THE VALLEY OF THE STOUR
CAESAR IN KENT
It was upon as fair a spring morning as ever was in England, that I set out from Canterbury through the West Gate, and climbing up the shoulder of Harbledown, some little way past St Dunstan's, turned out of the Watling Street, south and west into the old green path or trackway, which, had I followed it to the end, would have brought me right across Kent and Surrey and Hampshire to Winchester the old capital of England. This trackway, far older than history, would doubtless have perished utterly, as so many of its fellows have done, but for two very different events, the first of which was the Martyrdom of St Thomas, and the other the practice of demanding tolls upon the great new system of turnpike-roads we owe to the end of the eighteenth century. For this ancient British track leading half across England of my heart, a barbarous thing, older than any written word in England, was used and preserved, when, with the full blossoming of the Middle Age in the thirteenth century, it might have disappeared. It was preserved by the Pilgrims to St Thomas's Shrine. All those men who came out of the West to visit St Thomas, all those who came from Brittany, central and southern France and Spain, gathered at Winchester, the old capital of the Kingdom, and when they set out thence for Canterbury this was the way they followed across the counties; this most ancient way which enters Canterbury hand in hand with the Watling Street by the West Gate.
To describe a thing so ancient is impossible. It casts a spell upon the traveller so that as he follows under its dark yews across the steep hop gardens of Kent from hillside to hillside, up this valley or that, along the mighty south wall of the North Downs to the great ford of the Medway, and beyond and beyond through more than a hundred miles to Winchester he loses himself; becomes indeed one with his forefathers and looks upon that dear and ancient landscape, his most enduring and most beautiful possession as a child looks upon his mother, really with unseeing eyes, unable to tell whether she be fair or no, understanding indeed but this that she is a part of himself, and that he loves her more than anything else in the world.
But that glorious way in all its fulness was not for me. I had determined to follow the Pilgrims' Road but a little way, indeed but for one long day's journey, so far only as Boghton Aluph, where it turns that great corner westward and proceeds along the rampart of the Downs. But even in the ten miles twixt Canterbury and Boghton, that ancient way gives to him who follows it wonderful things.
To begin with, the valley of the Stour. There can be few valleys in this part of England more lovely than this steep and wide vale, through the hop gardens, the woods and meadows of which, the Great Stour proceeds like a royal pilgrim, half in state to Canterbury, and on to the mystery of the marshes, and its death in the sea. Above Canterbury certainly, and all along my way, there is not a meadow nor a wood, nor indeed a single mile of that landscape, which has not been contrived and created by man, by the love and labour of our fathers through how many thousand years. And this is part of the virtue of England, that it is as it were a garden of our making, a pleasaunce we have built, a paradise and a home after our own hearts. And in that divine and tireless making we, without knowing it, have so moulded ourselves that we are one with it, it is a part of us, a part of our character and nature. There lie ever before us our beginnings, the earthworks we once defended, the graves we built, the defeats, the victories, the holy places. By these a man lives, out of these he draws slowly and with a sort of confidence the uncertain future, glad indeed of this divine assurance that there is nothing new under the sun.
Such monuments of an antiquity so great that they have no history but what may be gathered from barrows and stones, accompany one upon any day's journey in southern England, but it is only in one place that a man can stand and say: Here began the history of my country. That place as it happens lies as it should upon the Pilgrims' Road.
Beyond Harbledown, some two miles from Canterbury, he Pilgrims' Road along the hillside passes clean through earthwork of unknown antiquity. Well, it was here the Seventh Legion charged: here, indeed, we stand upon the very battlefield which saw the birth of civilisation in our island. Lying there in the early morning sunshine I considered it all over again.
Caesar's first landing in Britain in B.C. 55 had been, as he himself tells us, merely a reconnaissance. In the following summer, however, he returned in force, indeed with a very considerable army, and with the intention of bringing us, too, within that great administration which he and his adoptive son Augustus were to do so much to make a final and in many ways an indestructible thing.
It might seem that in spite of the lack of the means of rapid communication we possess, the admirable system of Roman roads enabled Caesar to administer his huge government—he was then in control of the two Gauls—with a thoroughness we might envy. After his first return from Britain in the early autumn of B.C. 55 he crossed the Alps, completed much business in Cisalpine Gaul, journeyed into Illyricum to see what damage the Pirustae had done, dealt with them effectively, returned to Cisalpine Gaul, held conventions, crossed the Alps again, rejoined his army, went round all their winter quarters, inspected all the many ships he was building at Portus Itius and other places, marched with four Legions and some cavalry against a tribe of Belgae known as the Treviri, settled matters with them, and before the summer of B.C. 54 was back at Portus Itius, making final preparations for the invasion of Britain.
This invasion, glorious as it was to be, and full of the greatest results for us, was accompanied all through by a series of petty disasters. Caesar had purposed to set out certainly early in July, but delay followed upon delay, and when he was ready at last, the wind settled into the north-west and blew steadily from that quarter for twenty-five days. It had been a dry summer and all Gaul was suffering from drought. The great preparations which Caesar had been making for at least a year were at last complete, the specially built ships, wide and of shallow draft, of an intermediate size between his own swift- sailing vessels and those of burthen which he had gathered locally, were all ready to the number of six hundred, with twenty-eight naves longae or war vessels, and some two hundred of the older boats. But the wind made a start impossible for twenty-five days.
It was not till August that the south-west came to his assistance. As soon as might be he embarked five Legions, say twenty-thousand men, with two thousand cavalry and horses, an enormous transport, and doubtless a great number of camp followers, leaving behind on the continent three legions and two thousand horse to guard the harbours and provide corn, and to inform him what was going on in Gaul in his absence, and to act in case of necessity.
He himself set sail from Portus Itius, which we may take to be Boulogne, at sunset, that is to say about half-past seven; but he must, it might seem, have devoted the whole day to getting so many ships out of harbour. The wind was blowing gently from the south-west, bearing him, his fortunes and ours. At midnight the second of those small disasters which met him at every turn upon this expedition fell upon him. The wind failed. In consequence his great fleet of transports was helpless, it drifted along with the tide, fortunately then running up the Straits, but this bore him beyond his landing-place of the year before, and daybreak found him apparently far to the east of the North Foreland. What can have been the thoughts of the greatest of men, helpless in the midst of this treacherous and unknown sea? To every Roman the sea was bitter, even the tideless Mediterranean, how much more this furious tide-whipt channel. Caesar cannot but have remembered how it had half broken him in the previous year. Very profoundly he must have mistrusted it. But his Gaulish sailors were doubtless less disturbed; they expected the ebb, and when it came, every man doing his utmost, the transports were brought as swiftly as the long ships to that "fair and open" beach where Caesar had landed in the previous summer, the long beach which Deal and Sandwich hold.
Caesar himself, as it happens, does not tell us that he landed in the same place upon this his second invasion of Britain as he had done before; it is to Dion Cassius that we owe the knowledge that he did so. It is Caesar, however, who tells us that he landed about mid-day and that all his ships held together and reached shore about the same time. He adds that there was no enemy to be seen, though, as he afterwards learned from his prisoners, large bodies of British troops had been assembled, but, alarmed at the great number of the ships, more than eight hundred of which, including the ships of the previous year and the private vessels which some had built for their convenience, had appeared at one time, they had retreated from the coast and taken to the heights. The heights must have been the hills to the south of Canterbury, nearly a day's march from the sea.
If Caesar landed, as we know from Dion Cassius that he did, in the same place as he had done in the previous year, he must have known all there was to know about the natural facilities there for camping, about the supply of fresh water for instance. But perhaps he had not considered the dryness of the summer. In any case it might seem to have been some pressing need, such as the necessity for a plentiful supply of fresh water, which forced him immediately to make a night march with his army. Leaving as he tells us, under Quintus Atrius, ten cohorts, that is, as we may suppose, two cohorts from each of his five legions, and three hundred horse to guard the ships at anchor, and to hold the camp, hastily made between midday and midnight, in the third watch, that is between midnight and three o'clock, he started with his five legions and seventeen hundred horse, as he asserts, to seek out the enemy. Something, we may be sure, more pressing than an attack upon a barbarian foe there was no hurry to meet, must have forced Caesar to march his army sleepless now for two nights, one of which had been spent upon an unusual and anxious adventure at sea, out of camp, in the small hours, into an unknown and roadless country in search of an enemy which had taken to its native hills. The necessity that forced Caesar to this dangerous course was probably a lack of fresh water. He was seeking a considerable river, for the smaller streams, as he probably found, could not suffice after a long drought for so great a force as he had landed.
He himself asserts that he advanced "by night" across that roadless and unknown country a distance of twelve miles. We know of course of what the armies of Caesar were capable in the way of marching; there have never been troops carrying anything like their weight of equipment which have done better than they; but to march something like fifteen thousand men and seventeen hundred horse twelve miles in about three hours into the unknown and the dark, is an impossible proceeding. That march of "about twelve miles" cannot have occupied less than from six to eight hours, one would think, and the greater part of it must have been accomplished by daylight, which would break about half-past three o'clock. As we have good reason to think, Caesar's march, however long a time it may have occupied, was in search of fresh water, and it is significant that when the Britons were at last seen, they "were advancing to the river with their cavalry and chariots from the higher ground." In other words, Caesar's march had brought him into the valley of the Great Stour, where he not only found the water he sought, but also the enemy, who had probably followed his march from the great woods all the way.
The spot at which Caesar struck the valley was, as we may be sure, that above which the great earthwork stands, opposite Thannington. Here upon the height was fought the first real battle of Rome upon our soil. It was opened by the Britons who "began to annoy the Romans and to give battle." But the Roman cavalry repulsed them so that they again sought refuge in the woods where was their camp, "a place admirably fortified by nature and by art ... all entrance to it being shut by a great number of felled trees." But like all barbarians, the Britons were undisciplined and preferred to fight in detached parties, and as seemed good to each. Every now and then some of them rushed out of the woods and fell upon the Romans, who continually were prevented from storming the fort and forcing an entry. Much time was thus wasted until the soldiers of the Seventh Legion, having formed a testudo and thrown up a rampart against the British fort, took it, and drove the Britons out of the woods, receiving in return a few, though only a few, wounds. Thus the battle ended in the victory of our enemies and our saviours. Caesar tells us that he forbade his men to pursue the enemy for any great distance, because he was ignorant of the nature of the country, and because, the day being far spent, he wished to devote what remained of the daylight to the building of his camp.
Caesar speaks of this camp and rightly of course, as a thing of importance. We know from his narrative, too, that it was occupied by some fifteen thousand foot and seventeen hundred horse, with their baggage and equipment for more than ten days. Where did it stand? It must have been within reach of the river, for without plentiful water no such army as Caesar encamped could have maintained itself for so long a period as ten days; exactly where it was, however, we shall in all probability never know.
Wherever it was, there Caesar spent the night, both he and his army, sleeping soundly, we may be sure, after the sleepless and anxious nights, one spent in the peril of the sea, the other in a not less perilous night march in a roadless and unknown country.
Yet did Caesar sleep? Towards sunset the wind arose, and all night a great gale blew. This was the fourth misfortune the expedition had experienced. It had first been delayed for twenty-four days in starting; it had then lost the wind and had been for hours at the mercy of the tide, only landing at last when the day was far spent after a whole night upon the waters; it had been compelled by lack of water to quit the camp at the landing-place without rest, and utterly weary and sleepless, to undertake a perilous night march in search of water. And now in the darkness, after the first encounter with the enemy, a great gale arose.
How often during that night must Caesar have awakened and thought of the sea and his transports. It was, as he would remember, just such a storm which had ruined him in the previous summer. To avoid a like disaster he had had his boats built for this expedition, shallow of draft and with flat bottoms that they might be beached. But with the Mediterranean in his mind and the certain weather of the south, Caesar, seeing the August sky so soft and clear, had anchored and not beached the ships after all. Perhaps the late landing, the necessity of building a large camp, and finally the perilous lack of water had prevented him from calling upon his men for a task so enormous as the beaching of eight hundred ships. Whatever had prevented him, that task was not undertaken. The eight hundred ships were anchored in the shallows, when, upon that third night of the expedition, a great gale arose.
Anxious though he must have been, very early in the morning of the following day, he sent out three skirmishing parties to reconnoitre and pursue the defeated Britons of the day before; but the last men were not out of sight when gallopers came in to Caesar from Quintus Atrius, at the camp by the shore, to report "almost all the ships dashed to pieces and cast upon the beach because neither the anchors and cables could resist the force of the gale, nor the sailors or pilots outride it, and thus the ships had dashed themselves to pieces one against another."
The appalling seriousness of this disaster, as reported to Caesar, was at once understood by him. He recalled his three parties of skirmishers, and himself at once returned to Quintus Atrius and the ships. He tells us that "he saw before him almost the very things which he had heard from the messengers and by letters"; but he adds that only "about forty ships were lost, the remainder being able to be repaired with much labour." This he at once began with workmen from the Legions, and others he brought from the Continent, and at the same time he wrote to Labienus at Portus Itius "to build as many ships as he could." Then he proceeded to do what he had intended to do at first; with great difficulty and labour he dragged all the ships up on the shore and enclosed them in one fortification with the camp. In these matters about ten days were spent, the men labouring night and day. Then he returned to the main army upon the Stour.
But that delay of ten days had given the Britons time to recover themselves and to gather all possible forces. Caesar returned to his army to find "very great forces of the Britons already assembled" to oppose him, and the chief command and management of the war entrusted to Cassivellaunus, who, though he had been at war with the men of Kent, was now placed, so great was the general alarm, in command of the whole war.
Caesar, however, cannot have been in any way daunted save perhaps by the memory of the time already lost and the advancing season. He at once began his march into Britain. We may well ask by what route he went, and to that question we shall get no certain answer. But it would seem he must have marched by one of two ways for he had to cross the Stour, the Medway and the Thames. We may be sure then that his route lay either along the old trackway which, straightened and built up later by the Romans, we know as the Watling Street, which fords the Medway at Rochester, and the Thames at Lambeth and Westminster, or by the trackway we call the Pilgrims' Way along the southern slope of the North Downs, in which case he would have forded the Medway at Aylesford and the Thames at Brentford. The question is insoluble, Caesar himself giving no indications.
Now, when I had well considered all this, I went on to that loveliness which is Chilham; passing as I went, that earthwork older than any history called Julaber's Grave, marked by a clump of fir trees. Here of old they thought to find the grave of that Quintus Laberius, who fell as Caesar relates, at the head of his men, on the march to the Thames; but it was probably already older when Caesar passed by, than it would have been now if he had built it.
No one can ever have come, whether by the Pilgrims' Road or another, into the little hill-village of Chilham, into the piazza there, which is an acropolis, without delight. It is one of the surprises of England, a place at once so little, so charming and so unexpected that it is extraordinary it is not more famous. It stands at a point where more than one little valley breaks down into the steep valley of the Stour and every way to it is up hill, under what might seem to be old ramparts crowned now with cottages and houses, till suddenly you find yourself at the top in a large piazza or square closed at the end by the church, at the other by the castle, and on both sides by old lines of houses; really a walled place.
The church dedicated in honour of Our Lady is of some antiquity in the main and older parts, a work of the fourteenth century replacing doubtless Roman, Saxon and Norman buildings, but with later additions, too, of the Perpendicular time in the clerestory, for instance, and with much modern work in the chancel. Of old the place belonged to the alien Priory of Throwley in this county, itself a cell of the Abbey of St Omer, in Artois; but when these alien houses were suppressed, Chilham like Throwley itself went to the new house of Syon, founded by the King. To-day, apart from the English beauty of the church, not a work of art but of history, its chief interest lies in its monuments, some strangely monstrous, of the Digges family—Sir Dudley Digges bought Chilham at the beginning of the seventeenth century—the Colebrooks, who followed the Digges in 1751 and a Fogg and a Woldman, the latter holding Chilham until 1860. There is little to be said of these monuments save that they are none of them in very good taste, the more interesting being those to Lady Digges, and a member of the Fogg family, both of the early seventeenth century, in which the Purbeck has been covered with a charming arabesque and diapered pattern in relief.
But it was not the church, beautiful though I found it on that afternoon of spring, that made me linger in Chilham, but rather the castle, which occupies the site of a Roman camp; and perhaps of what a camp? It may be that it was here Caesar lay on the first night of his resumed march after the disaster of the ships. It may be that it was here, after all, that Quintus Laberius fell, and that here he was buried so that the ancient earthwork known as Julaber's Grave, though certainly far older than Caesar, was in fact used as the tomb of the hero whose immortality Caesar insured by naming him in his Commentaries. Who knows? If Julaber is not a corruption of Laberius as the old antiquaries asserted, and as the people here about believe, one likes to think it might be, for no other explanation of this strange name is forthcoming.
So I went on through King's wood, and as I came out of it southward I saw a wonderful thing. For I saw before me that division or part of the world which stands quite separate from any other and is not Europe, Asia, Africa nor America, but Romney Marsh. It lay there under the sunset half lost in its own mists, far off across the near meadows of the Weald, for I was now upon the southern escarpment of the North Downs and in the foreground rose the town of Ashford where I was to sleep. It was twilight and more, however, before I reached it, for in those woods I heard for the first time that year the nightingale, and my heart, which all day had been full of Rome, was suddenly changed, so that I went down through the dusk to Ashford, singing an English song:
By a bank as I lay, I lay, Musing on things past, heigh ho! In the merry month of May O towards the close of day— Methought I heard at last— O the gentle nightingale, The lady and the mistress of all musick; She sits down ever in the dale Singing with her notes smale And quavering them wonderfully thick. O for joy my spirits were quick To hear the bird how merrily she could sing, And I said, good Lord, defend England with Thy most holy hand And save noble George our King.
THE WEALD AND THE MARSH
Ashford as we see it to-day, a town of thirteen thousand inhabitants, is altogether a modern place and really in the worst sense, for it owes its importance and its ugliness to the railway; it is a big junction and the site of the engineering works of the South Eastern and Chatham Company. Lacking as it is in almost all material antiquity, it has little that is beautiful to show us, a fine church with a noble tower that has been rather absurdly compared with the Angel Steeple at Canterbury—nothing more—and its history is almost as meagre. It stands, the first town of the Kentish Weald, where the East Stour flows into the Great Stour, in the very mouth of the deep valley of the latter which there turns northward through the Downs. To the North, therefore, it is everywhere cut off by those great green uplands, save where the valley, at the other end of which stands Canterbury, breaks them suddenly in twain. To the south it is cut off by a perhaps greater barrier; between it and the sea, stands the impassable mystery of Romney Marsh. In such a situation, before the railways revolutionised travel in England, how could Ashford have had any importance? Even the old road westward from Dover into Britain, the Pilgrims' Way to Stonehenge or Winchester passed it by, leaving it in the Weald to follow the escarpment of the Downs north or west. No Roman road served it, and indeed it was but a small and isolated place till the Middle Age began to revive and recreate Europe. Even then Ashford was probably late in development.