It must indeed be confessed that when all is said and done, essentially romantic as the Cathedral of Chichester is with its so various styles of architecture, lovely as certain parts of it are still, it must always have been a building rather interesting than beautiful, and it has suffered so much from vandalism and restoration that it cannot be accounted a monument of the first order. Nevertheless, I always return to it with delight and am reluctant to go away, for in England certainly a cathedral, even of the second order, of restricted grandeur and spoilt beauty, may be a very charming and delightful and precious thing as indeed this church of Chichester is.
At any rate it is by far the most interesting thing left to us in the city. The other churches, except perhaps St Olave's, are not worth a visit; even in St Olave's everything has been done to make it as little interesting as possible.
The best thing left to us in Chichester, apart from the Cathedral and its subject buildings, is, I think, St Mary's Hospital, a foundation dating from the time of Henry II., which possesses a noble great hall, and a pretty Decorated chapel, with old stalls, which is still used as an almshouse. It stands upon the site of the first Franciscan house established in Chichester. In 1269 the Friars Minor left this place and moved to the site of the old Castle. There they built the church of which the choir still remains, a lovely work ruined at the dissolution and used as the Guildhall. It is now a store room. Nothing in Chichester is more beautiful than this Early English fragment, which seems to remind us of all we have lost by that disastrous revolution of the sixteenth century, whose latest results we still await with fear and dread.
But let who will be disappointed in Chichester, I shall love it all my days; not so much for these its monuments, but for itself, its curiously sleepy air of disinterested quiet, its strong dislike of any sort of enthusiasm, its English boredom, even of itself, its complete surrender to what is, its indifference to what might be. May it ever remain secure within sight of the hills, within sight of the sea, steeped in the Tudor myth, certain in its English heart, that twice two is not four but anything one likes to make it, nor ever hear ribald voices calling upon it to decide what after all it stands for in the world, denying it any longer the consolation it loves best of finding in the conclusion what is not in the premises, or, as the vulgar might put it, of having its cake and eating it too.
SELSEY, BOSHAM AND PORCHESTER
It was my good fortune, while I was in Chichester, to be tempted to explore the peninsula of Selsey, which most authorities declare to have no beauty and little interest for the traveller to-day. For St Wilfrid's sake, I put aside these admonishments, and one morning set out upon the lonely road to Pagham, across a country as flat as a fen, of old, as they say, a forest, the forest of Mainwood, and still in spite of drainage and cultivation very bleak and lonely with marshes here and there which are still the haunt of all kinds of wild-fowl.
It is only to the man who finds pleasure in the Somerset moors, the fens of Cambridgeshire or the emptiness of Romney Marsh that this corner of England will appeal, but to such an one it is full of interest and certainly not without beauty. Pagham, however, of which I had read, with its creek and harbour, its curious Hushing Well, its golden sands, and extraordinary melancholy, as it were a ruin of the sea, sadly disappointed me. Only its melancholy remains. Its harbour, where of old we read the sea-fowl were to be seen in innumerable flocks, and the whole place was musical with the cry of the wild-swan, has been wholly reclaimed, and the famous Hushing Well no longer exists at all. This last was a curious natural phenomenon and must have been worth seeing. It consisted apparently of a great pool in the sea, one hundred and thirty feet long by thirty feet broad, boiling and bubbling and booming all day long. This was caused, it is said, by the air rushing through a bed of shingle beneath which was a vast cavern from which the sea continuously expelled the air as it rushed in. Nothing of the sort exists at Pagham to-day; it has disappeared with the reclamation of the harbour, which itself was formed, we are told, in the fourteenth century by a tidal wave, when nearly three thousand acres were inundated. The only thing which the continual fight of man against water in this peninsula has left us that is worth seeing in Pagham to-day is the church of St Thomas of Canterbury. This is an Early English building much spoiled by restoration, the best thing remaining being the beautiful arcade of the end of the twelfth century. But the eastern window which consists of three lancets is charming, as is the fourteenth-century chantry at the top of the north aisle, founded in 1383 by John Bowrere. In the chancel is a curious slab with an inscription in Lombardic characters, perhaps a memorial of a former rector. The font is Norman. The church was probably built by one of the early successors of St Thomas in the See of Canterbury; for Pagham belonged to the Archbishops until the Reformation, and certain ruins of their palace remain in a field to the south-east of the church. At Nyetimber, on the Chichester road, a mile out of Pagham, are the ruins of a thirteenth-century chapel.
To reach Selsey and its old church of Our Lady, what remains of it, from Pagham is not an easy matter, the footpaths across the fields being sometimes a little vague. The walk, however, is worth the trouble it involves, for you may thus gather some idea of the history of this unfortunate coast, which the sea has been eating up for at least fifteen hundred years. Indeed, in the time of St Wilfrid the peninsula was probably nearly twice as big as it is to-day, and Selsey was undoubtedly a little island, probably of mud, divided from the mainland at least by the tide. It was here, St Wilfrid was shipwrecked in 666, and it is from his adventures in Sussex that we learn of the extraordinary barbarism of the South Saxons, two generations after the advent of St Augustine.
St Wilfrid's ship, it seems, was stranded on the mud flats, and the quite pagan South Saxons attacked him and the crew, and it was only the rise of the tide which floated the ship that saved them, with a loss of five men. It was not till 681 that Wilfrid, really a fugitive, came again into Sussex, and this time as to a refuge, for Ethelwalch, king of the South Saxons, and his queen were then Christians, though their people were still pagan. There was a certain monk, however, probably an Irishman, who had a small monastery at Bosham encompassed by the sea and the woods, and in it were five or six brethren who served God in poverty and humility; but none of the natives cared either to follow their course of life or to hear their preaching. Of these heathen St Wilfrid at once became the Apostle. For, as Bede tells us, he "not only delivered them from the misery of perpetual damnation, but also from an inexpressible calamity of temporal death, for no rain had fallen in that province in three years before his arrival, whereupon a dreadful famine ensued which cruelly destroyed the people. In short, it is reported that very often forty or fifty men, being spent with want, would go together to some precipice, or to the sea-shore, and there hand in hand perish by the fall, or be swallowed up by the waves. But on the very day on which the nation received the baptism of faith there fell a soft but plentiful rain; the earth revived again, and, the verdure being restored to the fields, the season was pleasant and fruitful. Thus the former superstition being rejected, and idolatry exploded, the hearts and flesh of all rejoiced in the living God and became convinced that He who is the true God had, through His heavenly grace, enriched them with wealth, both temporal and spiritual. For the bishop, when he came into the province and found so great misery from famine, taught them to get their food by fishing; for their sea and rivers abounded in fish, but the people had no skill to take them except eels alone. The bishop's men having gathered eel-nets everywhere, cast them into the sea, and by the blessing of God took three hundred fishes of several sorts, which, being divided into three parts, they gave a hundred to the poor, a hundred to those of whom they had the nets, and kept a hundred for their own use. By this benefit the bishop gained the affections of them all, and they began more readily to hear his preaching and to hope for heavenly good, seeing that by his help they had received that good which is temporal. Now at this time King Ethelwalch gave to the most reverend prelate Wilfrid, land of eighty-seven families, which place is called Selsey, that is, the Island of the Sea-Calf. That place is encompassed by the sea on all sides, except the west, where is an entrance about the cast of a sling in width; which sort of place by the Latins is called a peninsula, by the Greeks a chersonesus. Bishop Wilfrid, having this place given him, founded therein a monastery, which his successors possess to this day, and established a regular course of life, chiefly of the brethren he had brought with him; for he, both in word and actions, performed the duties of a bishop in those parts during the space of five years, until the death of King Egfrid. And forasmuch as the aforesaid king, together with the said place, gave him all the goods that were therein, with the lands and men, he instructed them in the Faith of Christ and baptised them all. Among whom were two hundred and fifty men and women slaves, all of whom he by baptism, not only rescued from the servitude of the devil, but gave them their bodily liberty also and exempted them from the yoke of human servitude."
The church and monastery which St Wilfrid thus founded at Selsey, thereby establishing the bishopric of Sussex, have long since disappeared beneath the sea. Camden, however, tells us that he saw the foundations at low water; they lay about a mile to the east of the little church of Our Lady, which remained complete until the middle of the nineteenth century, when it was all pulled down except the chancel which we see to-day in the graveyard which it serves as chapel. It is a work of the fourteenth century, and within is the fine sixteenth-century monument of John Lews and his wife. The old Norman font has been removed to the new church of St Peter at Selsey, built largely out of old materials. There, too, is an Elizabethan chalice and paten of the sixteenth century.
Thus nothing at all remains at Selsey, not even the landscape as it was in St Wilfrid's day. Till yesterday, however, one might realise in the loneliness and desolation of this low, lean headland something of that far-off time in which the great bishop came here and had to teach that barbarous folk even to fish. Now even that is going, or gone, for the new light railway from Chichester is bringing a new life to Selsey, which, after all, it would ill become us to grudge her.
By that railway indeed I returned to Chichester, and then at once set out westward for Bosham, where I slept. Bosham is perhaps the most interesting place in all this peninsula as well as probably the most ancient. That Bosham was a port of the Romans seems likely, but that it was the earliest seat of Christianity in Sussex after the advent of the pagans is certain. There, as Bede tells us, St Wilfrid, when he came into Sussex in 681, found a Scottish (most probably Irish) monk named Dicul, who had, in a little monastery encompassed by the sea and the woods, five or six brethren who served God in poverty and humility. With the conversion of the South Saxons that monastery flourished, the house grew rich, and Edward the Confessor bestowed it upon his Norman chaplain Osbern, Bishop of Exeter, whom, of course, the Conqueror did not dispossess. Indeed, the place became famous and appears in the Bayeaux tapestry, in the very first picture, where we see "Harold and his Knights riding towards Bosham" to embark for Normandy. Bosham, indeed, was one of Harold's manors, his father, according to the legend, having acquired it by a trick. Da mihi basium, says Earl Godwin to the Archbishop Aethelnoth, thus claiming to have received Bosham. That Earl Godwin held Bosham we are assured by the Domesday Survey, which also speaks of the church, presumably the successor of the old monastery of Dicul. This, as I have said, and as Domesday Book tells us, Bishop Osbern of Exeter "holds of King William as he had held it of King Edward." The Bishop of Exeter still held it, "a royal free chapel" in the time of Henry I. Then was established here, in place, as I suppose, of the monks, a college of six secular canons, the Bishop being the Dean. Exeter, indeed, only once lost the church of Bosham, and that in a most glorious cause, the cause of St Thomas. For when Henry II. quarrelled with Becket [Footnote: Herbert of Bosham, possibly a canon of Bosham, was St Thomas' secretary and devoted follower, and was certainly born in Bosham.] he deprived the Bishop of Exeter, who took his part, of this church and bestowed it upon the Abbot of Lisieux, who held it till 1177, when it came once more to the Bishop of Exeter, who held it, he and his successors till the Reformation. In 1548 the college was suppressed, only one priest being left to serve the church, with a curate to serve the dependent parish of Appledram.
The church, as we have it to-day upon a little sloping green hill over the water, is of the very greatest interest. The foundations of a Roman building have been discovered beneath the chancel, and the foundation and basis of the chancel arch may be a part of this building. But the greater part of the building we have is undoubtedly Saxon; the great grey tower, the nave, the chancel arch, one of the most characteristic works of that period, and the chancel itself, though enlarged in later times, are without doubt buildings of Saxon England. Mr Baldwin Brown in his fine work upon "The Arts in Early England," thus speaks of it: "The plan, as will be seen at a glance, has been set out with more than mediaeval indifference to exactness of measurements and squareing, and the chancel diverges phenomenally from the axis of the nave. The elevations are gaunt in their plainness, and the now unplastered rubble-work is rough and uncomely, but the dimensions are ample, the walls lofty, and the chancel arch undeniably imposing." Of the bases here he says: "These slabs are commonly attributed to the Romans, but it is not easy to see what part of a Roman building they can ever have formed. The truth is that they bear no resemblance to known classical features, while they are on the other hand, characteristically Saxon. The nearest parallel to them is to be found in the imposts of the chancel arch at Worth in Sussex, a place far away from Roman sites. The Worth imposts, like the bases at Bosham, are huge and ungainly, testifying both to the general love of bigness in the Saxon builder and to his comparative ignorance of the normal features which in the eleventh century were everywhere else crystallising into Romanesque. Saxon England stood outside the general development of European architecture, but the fact gives it none the less of interest in our eyes."
The church of Holy Trinity, Bosham, is thus the most important Saxon work left to us in Sussex, indeed save for the aisles and arcades and the Norman and Early English additions to the chancel, that glorious eastern window of five lancets, which in itself is worth a journey to see, the clerestory, and the furniture we have here really a complete Saxon work. The font is later Norman and not very interesting; but the exquisite recessed tomb with the effigy of a girl lying upon it is a noble work of the thirteenth century, said to mark the grave of Canute's daughter. The crypt dates also from that time. Near the south door is another fine canopied tomb, said to be that of Herbert of Bosham. The windows are Norman in the clerestory and Early English and Decorated elsewhere throughout the church. The stalls in the chancel are Perpendicular. But here if anywhere in south-eastern England we have a church dating from the Dark Age, in which happily we were persuaded back again within the influence of the Faith and of Rome. Bosham then for every Englishman is a holy place only second to Glastonbury and Canterbury: it is a monument of our conversion, of the re-entry of England into Christendom, of that Easter of ours which saw us rise from the dead.
A few ruins, mere heaps of stones, mark the site of the college to the north of the church. Of Earl Godwin's manor-house only the moat remains near an ancient mill towards the sea; and there, upon the little green between the grey church and the grey sea, one may best recall the reverent past of this lovely spot. Little is here for pride, much to make us humble and exceeding thankful. God was worshipped here between the sea and the greenwood when our South Saxon forefathers were not only the merest pagans, but so barbarous that they knew not even how to fish, when they were so wretched that in companies they would cast themselves into the sea because there was no light in their hearts and nothing else to do. Out of that darkness St Wilfrid led them, but even before he came with the light of Christ and of Rome, in some half barbarous way in this little place men prayed and Mass was said, and there was the means of deliverance though men knew it not, being barbarians.
It is as though at Bosham we were able to catch a glimpse, as it were, of all that darkness out of which we are come by the guiding of a star.
That Bosham was a harbour in Roman times, and that it had more than a little to do with the founding of Regnum, and the building perhaps of the Stane Street, I had long since convinced myself. All these creeks and harbours were probably known and used even then, and certainly all through the Middle Ages Bosham was of importance as a port; and the series of creeks, the most eastern of which it served, and the most western of which is Southampton Water, with Portsmouth Harbour between them, was still among the greatest ports in England, easily the greatest, I suppose, in the south country.
In order to see something of this low and muddy coast, which has seen so much of the history of England, I set out from Bosham very early one morning, intending to make my way through Emsworth and Havant, by the Roman road which joins Chichester and Southampton and runs across the north of these creeks, which may perhaps be considered as one great port of which only the more western part is famous still.
That way has little to recommend it, and indeed I learned little, for the modern world has obliterated with its terrible footsteps nearly all that might have remained of our humble and yet so glorious past, and it was still early morning when I crossed the Hampshire boundary and came into the little town of Emsworth, once famous for its trade in foreign wines, now, I suppose, best known as a yachting station. Emsworth was originally of far less importance than Warblington, of which it was a hamlet. There the fair was upon the morrow of the feast of the Translation of St Thomas of Canterbury, to which saint the parish church of Warblington is dedicated. This is a very beautiful and interesting building, but it is obvious at once that it cannot always have stood in the name of St Thomas, for part of its central tower—the church consists of chancel, and nave, with a tower between them, north chancel, vestry, north and south nave-aisles, and north porch—is of Saxon workmanship. Only one stage of this, however, now remains, the lower part having been altogether rebuilt. This tower was originally a western tower, the Saxon church standing to the east of it. There is no sign of Norman work here, and it seems probable that the Saxon church remained until in the first years of the thirteenth century a new nave and aisles were built to the west of the old tower, the lower part of which was then removed and the tower supported by arches in order to open a way into the nave of the old church, which thus became the chancel of the new. It was then in all probability that the church was newly dedicated in honour of St Thomas. The whole of the old church, nave and chancel together, however, was destroyed before the end of the thirteenth century, and a large new chancel built with a chapel or vestry at the eastern end upon the north; at the same time the aisles of the nave were rebuilt. Later in the fourteenth century the eastern arch bearing the tower was rebuilt, and thus appeared the church which in the main we still see. The difference in the north and south arcades of the nave is, though, very striking here, because of the great contrast between the exquisite and delicate beauty of the south with its clustered columns of Purbeck and the plain round stone columns of the north, common enough. Tradition has it that the church was built by two maiden ladies who lived in the old castle near the church, and that each built a side of the church according to her taste. One is said to lie in the chapel at the east end of the south aisle, where there is a tomb with effigy, the other in a tomb in the north aisle. The "castle" came in 1551 to Sir Richard Cotton, whose son George entertained Queen Elizabeth there for two days in 1586. In 1643 a Richard Cotton held the "strong house" of Warblington against the Parliament till it was taken by "sixty soldiers and a hundred muskets." All that remains of the place to-day is a beautiful octagonal tower of red brick and stone, once part of the main gateway.
Now when I had seen all this I went on into Havant, and there at the cross-roads I found the church of St Faith close by an old sixteenth- century half-timbered house—the Old House at Home. Havant is, in spite of the modern world, a place of miracle; for it possesses a spring to the south-west of the church, called, I think, St Faith's, which never fails in summer for drought, nor in winter for frost. But for all that the most interesting thing in the town remains the church. This is a cruciform building with a tower over the crossing, and is as, we have it, of Norman foundation, though it seems to stand upon a Roman site, coins having been found when the old nave was destroyed in 1832 and Roman brick and cement and foundations. The church we see, however, dates absolutely from the late twelfth century, and is nowhere, it would appear, older. Unhappily much is far later, the nave being really a modern building and even the central tower has been entirely taken down and rebuilt, and indeed all periods of English architecture would seem to have left their mark upon the church between the end of the twelfth century and our own day. The manor of Havant belonged when Domesday Survey was made to the monks of Winchester. But it is not of them but of William of Wykeham we think here, for his secretary, Thomas Aylward, was rector of this parish and in 1413 was buried here in the north transept, where his brass still remains, showing his effigy vested in a cope. He was not the only notable rector of Havant, for in 1723 Bingham, the author of the "Antiquities of the Christian Church," was holding the living when he died. Three years before he had been wrecked in the South Sea Bubble, and this is supposed to have caused his death. His work was put into Latin, and was, I think, one of the last English works to be translated into the universal tongue.
Out of Havant I went, nor did I stay now on my way until a little after noon I reached Porchester; but in Bedhampton I did not forget to pray for the soul of Elizabeth Juliers, who died there after a most unfortunate and most wretched life in 1411. This lady, daughter of the Marquis of Juliers and widow of John Plantagenet, Earl of Kent, took the veil in her widowhood at Waverley. Then appears Sir Eustace Dabrieschescourt, and she being young, in spite of her vow, marries him. And having repented and confessed she devoted her life to penance, being condemned daily to repeat the Gradual and the Penitential Psalms, and every year to go on pilgrimage to the shrine of St Thomas. This penance, with others, she performed during fifty-one years. She was married to Dabrieschescourt in the church of Wingham in Kent, and died here in Bedhampton, and was buried in the church of St Thomas, for the manor was her father's and part of her first dower.
Porchester, where I found myself late in the afternoon, is a very interesting and curious place. What we really have that is ancient there is a great walled green about six hundred feet square. We enter this area to-day on the west, the outer gate being thus opposite to us in the eastern wall, the castle keep and bailey on our left in the north-west corner, and the church to the south-east. All this is mediaeval work, but the origins of Porchester are far older than that; the place was a fortress of the Romans.
It is certain that a Roman road ran, as I have said, from Southampton to Chichester, which it entered by the West Gate, and met the Roman military highway, the Stane Street which entered Chichester by the East Gate, whither it had come from London' Bridge. This Roman road doubtless served many a little port upon these creeks and harbours that lie between Southampton Water and Chichester Harbour, but undoubtedly the most important port upon that road, apart from the two cities which it joined, was the Roman Porchester.
It has been suggested, and not without reason, that the Stane Street itself dates only from the latter part of the Roman occupation of Britain, that it was, in fact, a purely military way built for the passage of troops, which until the fourth century were certainly not needed in any quantity in southern Britain. That they were needed then was due to the Saxon pirates. The same pagan robbers, who, when the Legions left us never to return in the first years of the fifth century, might seem to have overrun the whole country. Now it seems fairly certain that Roman Porchester was a military and perhaps a naval fortress, built not earlier than the fourth century here at the western extremity of what the Romans called the Litus Saxonicum, and for the purpose of defending southern Britain from the raids of these barbarous and pagan rogues. If so, it might seem to be of one piece with that presumably purely military Way the Stane Street, and to give it its meaning.
At any rate, the mediaeval builder of Porchester Castle used, with the help of rebuildings and patchings, the Roman fortifications, which did not perhaps differ very much, and not at all in form, from those we see. Roman Porchester was just what mediaeval Porchester was, a great fortress, not a "city," nor a village, but a port similar to the others that lined the Saxon shore from the Wash to Beachey Head.
Of what became of the place in Saxon times we are entirely ignorant. The Domesday Survey speaks of it as a "halla," but in the first half of the twelfth century the Normans built a castle in the north-west corner of the Roman enclosure, which in 1153 Henry II. granted to Henry Manduit, and from that time it appears as the military port, as it were, of the capital, Winchester; Henry II. Richard I. John and Henry III. not only frequently taking up their residence at Porchester, and there as in a strong place, transacting the most important business, but they all of them most frequently set out thence for the Continent in days when a king of England was as often abroad as at home. Except Edward I. there is scarcely an English king from Henry II. to Henry VIII. who did not use Porchester, and Elizabeth, the last royal visitor, held her court in the Castle.
As we see it to-day the keep of Porchester Castle resembles that of Rochester, not only in its appearance, though there it comes short, but in its arrangement. It is, however, surrounded by some later ruins of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the use of which has, I think, never been ascertained.
The whole place is extraordinarily impressive, and not less so on account of its containing a church within the Roman walls, possibly occupying the site of a Roman sanctuary. The church of Our Lady of Porchester, however, as we see it, was, of course, a Norman building, built not later than 1133 when Henry I. gave it to the Austin Canons as their priory church, but about 1145 the canons were removed to Southwick, where a house was built for them. They must, indeed, have been very much in the way within so important a fortress seeing how international the interests of their congregation were. The church, of course, remained. It was originally a cruciform building, with central tower, but the south transept has been destroyed as has the chapel east of the north transept where now the vestry stands. The eastern apse, too, has been replaced by a square end. Apart from these changes, however, the church remains largely as it was in the time of Henry I., the west front being especially fine, and the font with its relief of the Baptism of Our Lord, a very notable Romanesque work. I lingered long in Porchester, indeed till sundown. Nothing in all England rightly understood is more reverent than this great ruin, not even the Wall. It, too, like that great northern barrier, was built in our defence by our saviours against our worst foes the barbarians, the pagans. It, too, was an outpost of civilisation and of the Faith against the darkness. Wherever Rome has passed, there a flower will blow for ever, wherever Rome has been, there is light, wherever Rome has built, there is something which moves us as nothing else can do, and not least here in England of my heart upon the verge of the Saxon shore, while we recall the past at evening and question the future, the future which will not be known.
When I left Porchester I went on into Fareham to sleep, and next morning set out by train, for it was raining, to go to Clausentum. Before I left the railway, however, the weather began to clear, and presently the sun broke through the clouds, so that when I came into Clausentum the whole world was again full of joy.
Clausentum, which even to-day, is not without charm was as I understand it, the mother of Southampton, a Roman, perhaps even a Celtic foundation, for its name Clausentum is certainly of Celtic origin. Of its high antiquity there can at least be no doubt, for there we may still see parts of the Roman walls near nine feet thick and innumerable Roman remains have been found within them.
The situation of Clausentum, too, was rather Celtic than Roman. It stands upon a tongue of land thrust out into the Itchen from the left bank, between Northam and St Denys on the right bank; the river washed its walls upon three sides, north, south and west, but upon the landward side to the east it was protected by two lines of defence, an outer and an inner, the one nearly three hundred yards from the other. At first this arrangement might seem rather Celtic than Roman, and in fact, it may well be that the Romans occupied here earthworks far older than anything built by them in Britain, and yet it seems perhaps more probable that they are responsible for all we have here, un-Roman though it seems, and that the true explanation is that the outer defences, while their work, are the older of the two; that with the decline of their administration in the fourth century, with the building of the Stane Street and the general walling of the Roman towns this older and larger defence was abandoned, and the place, whatever it may have been, reduced to a mere fort to hold which upon the landward side the inner defence was there built.
Of the fate of Clausentum in the Dark Age we know nothing; if it was a mere fort with no life of its own it may or may not have been abandoned; but it would seem certain that with the renewal of civilisation in southern England, by the return of Christianity, a town was established upon the right bank of the estuary opposite Clausentum. This town was the first Southampton, and there Athelstane is said to have established mints. This town, however, does not seem to have occupied the same site as the Southampton we know, but rather to have been gathered about St Mary's church to the north-east as Leland was told when he visited Southampton in 1546. The place was probably burnt by the Danes, and it is to one of them, to Canute, that we owe the foundation of the town we know. If Canute was the founder of Southampton, however, it was the Normans who really and finally established it, the greatness of the place as a port really dating from the Conquest. The Normans seem to have settled there early in considerable numbers, and their energy and enterprise began the development which continued throughout the Middle Age and the Renaissance. In the seventeenth century, however, Southampton rapidly declined, and this continued till in the time of our grandfathers it was arrested and Southampton rose again, to become the chief port of southern England. So extraordinary indeed has been her modern development that it has completely engulfed the great town of the Middle Age, which, for all that, still forms the nucleus as it were of the modern city, though no one, I suppose would suspect it at first sight.
Of the greatness of Southampton in the Middle Age, however, there can be no doubt. It was the best exit out of that England into Normandy, the natural port of the capital Winchester, and its whole record is full of glory. It was in a very real sense the gate of England. Hither came the great ships from the South and the East, from the ports of Normandy and Anjou, from Bayonne and Venice, with wine and Eastern silks, leather from Cordova, swords and daggers from Toledo, spices from India, and coloured sugars from Egypt. Here the merchants disembarked to trade in the capital or to attend the great fair of St Giles; hither came the pilgrims, thousands upon thousands, to follow the old road from Winchester to the Shrine of St Thomas at Canterbury; while out of Southampton streamed the chivalry of the Crusades; hence "cheerly to sea" sailed the fleets of Coeur de Lion for Palestine, of Edward III. for France, the army that won at Crecy, the army that won at Agincourt. All the glory of mediaeval England Southampton has seen pass by.
That the abandonment of Guienne and Aquitaine by the English was a severe blow to Southampton is certain, but still it had the Venice trade, the "Flanders Galleys" laden with the spoil of the East, the wines of the Levant, the "fashions of proud Italy"; and the real decline of Southampton dates from the moment when Venice too was wounded even to death by the discovery of the Cape route to the East and the rise of Portugal.
As it happens we have at the time of her greatest prosperity a description of the town from the hand of Leland. "There be," he writes, "in the fair and right strong wall of New Hampton, eight gates. Over Barr Gate by north is the Domus Civica, and under it the town prison. There is a great suburb without it, and a great double dyke, well watered on each hand without it. The East Gate is strong, not so large as Barr Gate, and in its suburb stands St Mary's Church, to the South Gate joins a Castelet well ordinanced to beat that quarter of the haven. There is another mean gate a little more south called God's house gate, of an hospital founded by two merchants joined to it; and not far beyond it is the Water Gate, without which is a quay. There are two more gates. The glory of the Castle is in the dungeon, that is both fair and large and strong, both by work and the site of it. There be five parish churches in the town. Holy Rood Church standeth in the chief street, which is one of the fairest streets that is in any town in England, and it is well builded for timber building. There be many fair merchants' houses, and in the south-east part was a college of Grey Friars. Here was also an hospital called God's House, founded by two merchants, appropriated since to Queen's College, Oxford."
Of all this what remains? Happily more than might seem possible considering the enormous modern development of the place. The town of Southampton stood looking south-west upon a tongue of land thrust out south into the water with the estuary of the Itchen upon the east, and Southampton Water upon the west, upon the south were the vast mud-flats swept by every tide which the great modern docks now occupy. The town was, as we have seen, enclosed by walls, perhaps by Canute, certainly by the Normans, and these seem to have been enlarged by King John, and rebuilt and repaired after the French raid of 1338. They formed a rude quadrilateral, roughly seven hundred yards from north to south, and three hundred from east to west, were from twenty-five to thirty feet high and of varying thickness. Something of them still remains, especially upon the west of the town over the quays. Here we have two great portions of the old wall which is practically continuous from the site of the Bugle Tower upon the south, to the site of the Bigglesgate about half-way up this western side. This portion includes two of the old gates, the West Gate and the Blue Anchor Postern. Beyond the site of the Bigglesgate the old wall has been destroyed as far as the Castle, but from there it still stands all the way to the Arundel Tower at the north-west corner of the town. So much for the western front. Upon the north the wall is broken down at the western end, the Bargate, which still stands, being isolated, but beyond two portions remain complete as far as the Polymond Tower at the north-east angle. Upon the east of the town there is very little standing until we come to the southern corner, where God's House Tower and the South-East Gate remain. Upon the south almost nothing is left.
Southampton in its mediaeval greatness had eight gates, of which, as we see, four remain: two upon the west, the West Gate and the Blue Anchor Postern; one upon the north, the Bargate; upon the east, or rather at the south-eastern angle of the walls, God's House or South-East Gate; upon the south none at all.
The West Gate is a plain but beautiful work of the fourteenth century, a great square tower over a pointed arch, under which is the entry. The tower within consists of three stages, the last being embattled and now roofed, while the first is reached by a picturesque outside stairway of stone, which served both it and the ramparts. Close by, against the wall, is a timber building upon a stone basement, called the guard-room, dating from the fifteenth century.
The best portions of the old wall run northward from the West Gate over the western shore road. This is Norman work added to in the fourteenth century. Here is the Blue Anchor Postern, or as it is more properly called, simply the Postern, little more than a round archway within the great arcading and the wall itself. Just to the south of this gate is the twelfth-century building known as King John's Palace. We follow the grand old wall till it ends upon the site of the Bigglesgate, where we turn eastward a little into the town and come to the Castle, of which, unhappily, almost nothing remains. It consisted of a great Keep in the midst of an enclosure, entered by two gates, the Castle Gate upon the north-east where now is Castle Lane, and the Postern over the site of which we have entered the Castle Green. The decay of this fortress dates, at least, from the sixteenth century, and apparently before the Civil War it had been pulled down.
The walls still enclose the Bailey of the Castle upon the west. There, in some sort, still stands the Castle Water Gate, a mere fragment, within which is a great vaulted chamber some fifty feet long and twenty-five feet high, with only one small window. From this fragmentary gate the wall sweeps away to the salient, for the most part Norman; but beyond the salient its character changes, two towers appear—the Catchcold Tower of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth century, and the fine Arundel Tower, now only a curtain of fourteenth- century work in the Decorated style.
It is in these western walls of the town that we shall get our best idea of what mediaeval Southampton was, and if we add to our impression by an examination of the two remaining gates, one upon the north and the other at the south-east angle, we may perhaps understand how formidable it must have appeared standing up out of the sea armed at all points.
Mediaeval Southampton had eight gates, of these, as I have said, but four remain, the most notable of which is undoubtedly the Bargate, upon the north. This is a fine work of various periods in two stages, the lower consisting of a vaulted passage-way of fine proportions, a work of the fourteenth century and the upper of a great hall, the Guildhall now used as a court room. The original gate, of course, was Norman, and this seems to have endured until about 1330 two towers were built on either side, without the gate, and a new south front added. In the first years of the fifteenth century a new north front was contrived, and this remains more or less as we see it. Of old the gate was reached by a drawbridge across a wide moat.
Beyond the Bargate we come to the Polymond Tower or the Tower of St Denys, beautiful with creepers. This would seem to be in some way connected with the Priory of St Denys which held all the churches in the town, as we shall see. As for its other name of Polymond, it would seem to get it from that John Polymond, who, in the fourteenth century, from which time the tower, as we see it, dates, was nine times mayor of Southampton.
As for the God's House Gateway, to reach it we must cross the town. It is a plain but charming work of two periods, the gate proper being of the thirteenth century, while the tower with the two-storied building attached to it is of the fourteenth. From the beginning of the eighteenth century until 1855 it was used as the town gaol.
The old town of Southampton, a town within a town, is a fascinating study, the interest of its gates and old walls is inexhaustible, but apart from these it has little architectural beauty to boast of. For all that it is amusing to linger there, if only to solve the problems that time has contrived for us. Among these not the least is that of the first site of the town. Not one of the churches in Southampton is of any great beauty or interest, but it is astonishing to find that the mother church is not in the town at all, but at least half a mile outside it upon the north. Leland, as I have already said, was told, when he was in Southampton in 1546, that the first town did not occupy the site of that we see but was further to the north, where St Mary's stands. The fact that St Mary's is the mother church would seen to confirm this. Moreover, there is no mention in the Domesday Survey of any church at all within the borough of "Hantune," and though we may think that the church of St John then existed, St John's was never the mother church; this was St Mary's which possessed all the tithes of the town. In the time of Henry II. we find the King granting to the Priory of St Denys, founded in 1124 by Henry I., a Priory of Austin Canons, his "chapels" of St Michael, the Holy Rood, St Laurence and All Saints, that is all the churches save St John's already granted to the Abbey of St Mary of Lire, in Southampton. But that these chapels had some relation to the mother church of St Mary might seem certain. Indeed the rector of St Mary's was continually in controversy with the canons as to his rights, and eventually, in the thirteenth century, he won the day. In any case the mother church of Southampton was St Mary's, outside the walls of the town. That a Saxon church stood upon this site is certain, and this was possibly represented in Leland's time by the chapel of St Nicholas, "a poor and small thing," which then stood to the East of "the great church of Our Lady," which he saw and which probably dated from the time of Henry I. This church was, alas, destroyed by the town only a few years later because its spire was said to guide the French cruisers into Southampton Water, and the stones were used to mend the roads. It may be that the chancel escaped, or it may be that a new and much smaller church was erected in 1579. This, whichever it was, was much neglected till in 1711 a nave was built on to it. Then in 1723 the chancel was destroyed, and a new one built. In 1833 this was rebuilt, and then in 1878 a new church was built, in place of the old which was pulled down, by Street. Thus in St Mary's church, the mother church of Southampton to-day, we have only a lifeless modern building.
Much the same fate has befallen the churches within the walls of Southampton. The oldest, that of St John, was pulled down in the seventeenth century, that of Holy Rood, in the High Street, was rebuilt about fifty years ago, so was St Laurence, while All Saints was destroyed in the eighteenth century. The only ancient church remaining is that of St Michael, which, though not destroyed, was ruined in 1826. It remains, however, in part, a Norman building, with an interesting font of the twelfth century, a lectern of the fifteenth century, and a fine tomb with the effigy of a priest in mass vestments.
The same fate which has so brutally overtaken the churches of Southampton has, with perhaps more excuse, fallen upon the old religious houses. The Priory of St Denys, founded by Henry I., upon which all these churches within the walls were in a sense dependent, has been totally destroyed, a piece of ruined wall alone remaining, the present church of St Denys dating from 1868.
Nor does much remain of the Hospital of St Julian or God's House, founded for the poor in the town, by Gervase le Riche, in 1197. It was one of the most important hospitals in the diocese of Winchester, and in 1343 the King, its protector, gave it to Queen's College, Oxford, just founded by Queen Philippa. As the possession of this college it survived the suppression, and was still carrying on its good work in 1560. About 1567, however, certain Walloons, refugees from the Low Countries, settled in Southampton, and these were granted the use of St Julian's Chapel by Queen's College.
The house should have remained to us, but that in 1861, by as black an act of vandalism as was ever perpetrated, this seat of learning swept away all the old domestic buildings of the hospital, which dated from its foundation, and in their place erected what we might expect, at the same time "restoring" the chapel of St Julian, of course, out of all recognition. May St Julian forget Queen's College, Oxford, for ever and ever.
Not far from this hospital for the poor the Grey Friars built their house in 1237, or rather the burgesses of Southampton built it for them, including a cloister of stone, but nothing remains at all of this house.
For the most part, too, the great houses that of old filled Southampton, and helped to glorify it, are gone. "The chiefest house," writes Leland, "is the house that Huttoft, late customer of Southampton, builded on the west side of the town. The house that Master Lightster, chief baron of the King's exchequer, dwelleth in, is very fair; the house that Master Mylles, the recorder, dwelleth in, is fair, and so be the houses of Niccotine and Guidote, Italians." Of these, what remains? Nothing. The only noble dwelling is that called Tudor House, in St Michael's Square, a fine half-timbered building, and of this nothing is known.
No, the only thing to be enjoyed in Southampton to-day is the old wall with its gateways, that upon the west still valiantly outfaces the modern world and recalls for us all that noble great past out of which we are come. And yet I suppose Southampton is fulfilling its purpose to-day more wonderfully than ever before. It was once the port of England for those dominions oversea we held in France. They are gone, but others we have since acquired, though less fair by far, remain. It is to these Southampton looks to-day, south and east, as of old over how many thousand miles of blue water.
BEAULIEU AND CHRISTCHURCH
While I was in Southampton, I made up my mind to visit a place which I had all my life desired to see, but which I had never yet set eyes upon, I mean Beaulieu Abbey in the New Forest. To this end I set out early one morning, by steamboat, across Southampton Water, and landed at Hythe, whence I had only to cross the eastern part of Beaulieu Heath, a walk of some five miles, to find myself where I would be.
The day was fair, the tide at the flood; in the woods, across the water, I could see where Netley Abbey, another Cistercian house, younger than Beaulieu, once lifted up its voice in ceaseless praise of God, the Maker of all that beauty in which it stood, scarcely spoiled even now by the amazing energy of the modern world. It was then with a light heart that I set out by a byway under Furze Down, and so across the open heath, coming down at last through the woods to the ruins of the abbey and the river of Beaulieu.
There can be no more delicious spot in the world. St Bernard loved the valleys as St Benedict the hills, and as St Bernard was the refounder of the Cistercian Order to which Beaulieu belonged, it, like Waverley, Tintern, Netley, and a hundred others in England, was set in one of those delicious vales in which I think England is richer than any other country, and which here, in England of my heart, seem to demand rather our worship than our praise.
Beaulieu Abbey had always interested me. In the first place it was one of the greatest, though not the earliest, houses in England of the Cistercian Order, that reform of the Benedictines begun as William of Malmesbury bears witness by an Englishman, Stephen Harding, sometime a monk of Sherborne. And then it was the only religious house within the confines of the New Forest. It seems that in the year 1204, just a year after he had given the manor of Faringdon in Berkshire to St Mary of Citeaux, and established there a small house of Cistercian monks, King John founded this great monastery of St Mary of Beaulieu for the same Order, making provision for not less than thirty brethren, and giving it Faringdon for a cell. John endowed the house with some six manors and several churches, gave it a golden chalice, and many cattle, as well as corn and wine and money, and besought the aid of the abbots of the Order on behalf of the new house. To such good purpose, indeed, did he support Beaulieu, that Hugh, the first abbot, was alone his friend, when Innocent III., in the spring of 1208 placed England under an interdict. This Hugh went as the King's ambassador to Rome, and having received promises of submission from the King, who awaited his return in the mother house of the Order in England, at Waverley, was successful in reconciling him with the Pope. In return the King gave him a palfrey among other presents, and the interdict being lifted, contributed nine hundred marks towards the building of Beaulieu, to be followed by other even more generous offerings. Nor was Henry III. neglectful of the place, so that in 1227 upon the vigil of the Assumption, the monks were able to use their church, though it was not till nineteen years later that the monastery was completed, and dedicated in the presence of the King and Queen, Prince Edward and a vast concourse of bishops, nobles, and common folk, by the Bishop of Winchester. Upon that occasion, Prince Edward was seized with illness, and, strange as it may seem, we are told that the Queen remained in the abbey, to nurse him, for three weeks. But the house was always under the royal protection. Edward I. constantly stayed there, and the abbots were continually employed upon diplomatic business. From 1260 to 1341, when he asked to be freed from the duty, the abbot of Beaulieu sat in Parliament, and in 1368 Edward III. granted the monks a weekly market within the precincts. One other privilege, unique in southern England, Beaulieu had, the right to perpetual sanctuary granted by Innocent III., and this seems to have been used to the full in the Wars of the Roses, at least we find Richard III. inquiring into the matter in 1463. There it seems Perkin Warbeck had found safety, as had Lady Warwick after Barnet, and at the time of the Suppression there were thirty men in sanctuary in the "Great Close of Beaulieu," which seems to have included all the original grant of land made to the abbey by King John. Beaulieu evidently very greatly increased in honour, for in 1509 its abbot was made Bishop of Bangor but continued to hold the abbey, and when he died the abbot of Waverley, the oldest house of the Order in England, succeeded him, the post being greatly sought after. The Act of 1526 suppressing the lesser monasteries, in which so many Cistercian houses perished, did not touch Beaulieu, but Netley fell early in the following year, and the monks were sent to Beaulieu. Many then looked for the spoil of the great abbey, among them Lord Lisle who besought Thomas Cromwell for it, but he was denied. Indeed there seems to have been no idea of suppressing the house at that time. But the Abbot Stevens was a traitor. In 1538 he eagerly signed the surrender demanded by the infamous Layton and Petre, and the site was granted to Thomas Wriothesley, afterwards Earl of Southampton, from whose family it came in the time of William III. to Lord Montagu, and so to the Dukes of Buccleuch, who still hold it.
Nothing can exceed the beauty of the remains of the house there by the river, in perhaps the loveliest corner of southern England. The great abbey church has gone, destroyed at the Suppression, but not a little of the monastery remains. The great Gate House called the abbot's lodging and now the Palace House, the seat of Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, a fine Decorated building with a beautiful entrance hall, may sometimes be seen. From this one passes across the grass to the old Refectory, now fitted up as the parish church, a noble work of the Early English style of the thirteenth century, as is the fine pulpit with its arcade in the thickness of the wall. Here of old the monk read aloud while his brethren took their meagre repast.
From the Refectory one comes into the ruined cloisters, lovely with all manner of flowers, and so to the site of the old Chapter House, of the sacristy and the monastic buildings. All that remains is in the early Decorated style of the end of the thirteenth century. Here, too, upon the north stood the great abbey church, three hundred and thirty-five feet long, a cruciform building consisting of nave with two aisles, central tower, transepts with aisles, chancel with circular apse and chapels, now marked out in chalk upon the grass. All about are the woods, meadows, fishponds and greens of the monks who are gone.
I do not know how this strikes another who shall see it to-day, in all its useless beauty, in the midst of our restless and unhappy England; but what I felt has already been expressed and by so good an Englishman as William Cobbett.
"Now ... I daresay," he writes, "that you are a very good Protestant; and I am a monstrous good Protestant too. We cannot bear the Pope, nor "they there priests that makes men confess there sins and go down upon their marrow-bones before them." But let us give the devil his due; and let us not act worse by these Roman Catholics (who by the by were our forefathers) than we are willing to act by the devil himself. Now then here were a set of monks. None of them could marry, of course none of them could have wives and families. They could possess no private property; they could bequeath nothing; they could own nothing but that which they owned in common with the rest of their body. They could hoard no money; they could save nothing. Whatever they received as rent for their lands, they must necessarily spend upon the spot, for they never could quit that spot. They did spend it all upon the spot; they kept all the poor. Beaulieu and all round about Beaulieu saw no misery, and had never heard the damned name of pauper pronounced as long as those Monks continued.
"You and I are excellent Protestants; you and I have often assisted on the 5th of November to burn Guy Fawkes, the Pope and the Devil. But you and I would much rather be life holders under Monks than rackrenters...."
St Thomas Aquinas has told us that there were three things for a sight of which he would have endured a year in Purgatory, not unwillingly: Christ in the flesh, Rome in her flower, and an Apostle disputing. Christ in the flesh, I would indeed I might have seen, and Rome in her flower were worth even such a price, but for me an Apostle disputing would, let me confess it, have little attraction. Instead I would that I might see England before the fall, England of the thirteenth, fourteenth or fifteenth century, England of my heart, with all her great cathedrals still alive, with all her great monasteries still in being, those more than six hundred houses destroyed by Henry, and not least this house of the Cistercians in Beaulieu. And if I might see that, I should have seen one of the fairest things and the noblest that ever were in the world.
From Beaulieu I set out in the afternoon across the Forest, and at first over the western part of Beaulieu Heath for Brockenhurst. The road across the heath is not in itself of much beauty, but it affords some glorious views both of the Forest and the sea. As I drew nearer to Brockenhurst, however, I came into the woods, and the sylvan beauty of the vale, through which the Lymington River flows southward, was delicious. Brockenhurst itself is charmingly embowered and is surrounded by some of the loveliest of the woodlands. The church stands high, perhaps as a guide, over a woodland churchyard, and is the evident successor of a Norman building, as its south doorway and font of Purbeck bear witness and the chancel arch too, unless indeed this be earlier still. The chancel, however, dates from the fourteenth century, a good example in its littleness of the Decorated style, but it is half spoiled by the enormous pew which blocks the entrance. The tower and spire and a good part of the nave are completely modern. The great yew in the churchyard must date at least from Edward I.'s time, and perhaps may have seen the day on which Red William fell.
From Brockenhurst, on the following morning, I set out again over the open heath for Boldre southward. Many a fine view over the woods I had, and once, as I came down Sandy Down, I caught sight of the Isle of Wight. Then the scene changed, and I came through meadows, and past coppices into Boldre. In the midst of a wood, as it were, I suddenly found the church, and this interested me more than I can well say, for here again I found what at one time must have been a complete Norman building. Surely if the history-books are right this is an astonishing thing; but then, as I have long since learned, the history one is taught at school is a mere falsehood from start to finish. There is probably no schoolboy in England who has not read of the awful cruelty and devastation that went with the formation of the New Forest, by the Conqueror in 1079. It is generally spoken of as only less appalling than the burning of Northumberland. It is said that more than fifty-two parish churches within the new bounds of the New Forest were destroyed, and a fertile district of a hundred square miles laid waste and depopulated to provide William with a hunting-ground. Now if this be true how does it come that upon my first day in the Forest I find a Norman church at Brockenhurst with something very like a Saxon chancel arch, and that upon my second day I walk right into another church in part Norman too? This is surely an astonishing thing. It is also, I find, a fact that much of the New Forest had been a royal hunting- ground in the Saxon times, and that the afforestation of William is not so much as mentioned in the Saxon Chronicle. The whole story of the devastation of this great country would seem to rest upon the writings of William of Jumieges or Ordericus Vitalis, neither of whom was alive at the time of the afforestation. This must have been known surely to our modern historians; but so is the history of England written. Our real grievance against William was not his afforestation, but his cruel Forest Law, which demanded the limb of a man for the life of a beast, a thing I think unknown in England before his advent. It was this harsh law, so bitterly resented, which at last, as we may think, cost William Rufus his life. But the old tale remains, and therefore I was greatly astonished in Boldre Church.
Doubtless the original Norman church consisted of a nave, chancel and north and south aisles. The south aisle remains, as does the arcade which separates it from the nave. In the Early English time the north aisle was rebuilt or added, perhaps, for the first time, and the chancel rebuilt. Later the church was lengthened westward, and the tower built at the eastern end of the Norman aisle. In that aisle there is a tablet to William Gilpin, the author of "Forest Scenery," who was vicar of Boldre for a generation, dying in 1804 aged eighty years. He is buried in the churchyard.
Boldre is certainly a place to linger in, a place that one is sorry to leave, but I could not stay, being intent on Lymington. Therefore I went down through the oak woods, over Boldre Bridge, to find the high road, which presently brought me past St Austin's once belonging to the Priory of Christchurch, under Buckland Rings to the very ancient borough of Lymington, with its charming old ivy-clad church tower at the end of the High Street. The church, in so far as it is old of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, has little to boast of, for it has been quite horribly restored. In the long street of Lymington I slept.
There seemed to be nothing to keep me in Lymington, and therefore, early upon the following morning, I set out for Milford, five miles away by the sea, and there I wonderfully saw the Needles and the great Island and found another Norman church, Norman that is to say in its foundations. All Saints, Milford, consists to-day of chancel with north and south chapels west of it, transepts, nave with north and south aisles, and a western chapel on either side the western tower, and a south porch. It is a most beautiful and interesting building. Doubtless there originally stood here a twelfth-century Norman church, consisting of nave with aisles and chancel, of which two arches remain in the south arcade of the nave. Then in the thirteenth century the church was rebuilt, as we see it, and very beautiful it is, in its Early English dress, passing into Decorated, in the chancel and transepts.
From Milford, through a whole spring day, I went on by the coast as far I could, westward to Christchurch. All the way, the sea, the sky, and the view of the island and of Christchurch bay closed by Hengistbury Head in the west, and the long bar on which Hurst Castle stands in the east were worth a king's ransom. They say all this coast has strong attractions for the geologist; but what of the poet and painter? Surely here, when the wind comes over the sea and the Island, showing his teeth, to possess the leaning coast, one may see and understand why England is the England of my heart. At least I thought so, and lingered there so long that twilight had fallen before I found myself under the darkness of the great Priory of Christchurch, the goal of my desire.
It was not without due cause and reason that I wished to see, instead of an Apostle disputing, England before the fall. Indeed I am sure that I should not have been unwise to exchange "Rome in her flower" for such a sight as that; Christchurch proves it.
We march up and down England and count up our treasures, of which this Priory of Christchurch is not the least; but we never pause perhaps to remember what, through the damnable act of Thomas Cromwell and Henry Tudor, we have lost. What we have lost! hundreds of churches, hundreds of monasteries as fine as Christchurch, and hundreds far more solemn and reverent. Reading, which now gives a title to an Isaacs, (God save us all!) was, before the fall, just a great monastery, a Norman pile as grand as Durham or Ely. What of Glastonbury and Amesbury, older far, and of those many hundred others which stood up strong before God for our souls—without avail? They are gone; Christchurch in some sort remains.
Christchurch stands in the angle where the rivers Avon and Stour meet, and it is thus secured upon the north, east, and south; its great and perhaps its only attraction is the great Priory church in whose name that of the town, Twyneham, has long been lost; but there are beside a ruined Norman house, and a pretty mediaeval bridge over the Avon, from which a most noble view of the great church may be had. This, which dates in its foundation from long before the Conquest, is to-day a great cruciform building consisting roughly of Norman nave and transepts, the nave buttressed on the north in the thirteenth century, fifteenth-century chancel and western tower, and thirteenth-century north porch—altogether one of the most glorious churches left to us in England.
Its history, as I say, goes back far beyond the Conquest, when it was served by secular canons, as it was at the time of the Domesday Survey, when we find that twenty-four were in residence. But in the time of William Rufus, Ranulph Flambard, the Bishop of Durham, his chief minister, obtained a grant of the church and town of Christchurch, and soon had suppressed all the canonries save five, and would have suppressed them all but for the timely death of the Red King, which involved the fall and imprisonment of his rascal minister. After an interval, in which the church was governed by Gilbert de Dousgunels, who set out for Rome to get the Pope's leave to refound the house, but died upon the journey, Henry I. gave manor, town and church to his cousin, Richard de Redvers, who proved a great benefactor to the Priory, and established a Dean over the canons, one Peter, who was succeeded by Dean Ralph. Then in 1150 came Dean Hilary, who as Bishop of Chichester, petitioned Richard de Redvers to establish Christchurch as a Priory of Canons Regular of St Austin. This was done; a certain Reginald was appointed first prior, and he ruled Christchurch for thirty-six years till, in 1186, he was succeeded by Ralph. It was not, however, till the time of the third Prior that the high altar of the new church begun by Gilbert and continued by Richard de Redvers and his priors was dedicated upon the feast of St Thomas of Canterbury, 1195. This would seem to prove that the Norman choir was not finished until then; similar consecration of other altars would lead us to believe that perhaps the vault and the clerestory of the nave were completed in 1234. At the same time the beautiful north porch was built and the north aisle was buttressed. To the fourteenth century we owe the fine rood screen restored in 1848, but the next great period of building was the fifteenth century, when the Lady Chapel, with the chapels north and south of it, were built, and later in the same century the great choir was entirely re-erected.
Thus Christchurch Priory grew until the Reformation. It escaped the first raid of Cromwell in 1536, but in spite of the petition of John Draper, the last Prior, in 1539 the house was demanded of him and he surrendered it. The report of the vandals and sacrilegious persons who received it is worth copying, if only to show their character. "We found," they wrote, "the Prior a very honest, conformable person, and the house well furnished with jewels and plate, whereof some be meet for the king's majesty in use as a little chalice of gold, a goodly large cross, double gilt with the foot garnished, and with stone and pearl; two goodly basons double gilt. And there be other things of silver.... In thy church we find a chapel and monument curiously made of Caen stone, prepared by the late mother of Reginald Pole for her burial, which we have caused to be defaced, and all the arms and badges to be delete." It is consoling to note that one of the rascals that signed that report, Dr London, was shortly afterwards exposed in his true colours and openly put to penance for adultery before he died in prison, where he lay for perjury.
The report stated that the church was superfluous. It was the only true word written there. When a religion is destroyed, its temples are certainly superfluous. However, there was a considerable influence brought to bear by the people of the neighbourhood, and the church itself was granted them for their use. The Priory, which stood to the south of the church, was, of course, destroyed.
One might stand a whole month in that glorious building with this only regret, that it is in the hands of strangers. The use to which it is put is not that for which it was intended, and half the delight of the place is thus lost to us. But no one can pass down that great avenue of elms to the glorious north porch, a master-work of the thirteenth century, without rejoicing that when all is said the church was saved to us. The great Norman nave, with its thirteenth-century clerestory, and alas, modern stucco vaulting, the Norman aisles and north transept, are too reverent for destruction, the fifteenth-century choir and eastern chapels too lovely.
A certain amount of the old furniture remains to the church in the restored screen of the fourteenth century, and the reredos over the communion table and another in the Lady Chapel; here, too, is the old altar stone of Purbeck. The chantry of the poor Countess of Salisbury, who was beheaded for high treason in 1541, so brutally defaced by Dr London and his infamous colleagues, stands there too upon the north; and close by in the north chapel is the tomb with fine alabaster effigies of Sir John and Lady Chydroke (d. 1455), removed from the nave, and in the Lady Chapel lie its founders, Sir Thomas and Lady West. Of the modern restorations and additions I have nothing to say, and more especially of the monument to Shelley; a parody of a Pieta merely blasphemous, beneath the tower.
Now when I had seen all this, to say nothing of the old school-room over the Lady Chapel and the Norman house and castle mound of the De Redvers, somewhat sorrowful for many things, I began to think again of the Forest, and immediately set out where the road led to Lyndhurst, and this just before midday.
THE NEW FOREST AND ROMSEY ABBEY
All day I went through the Forest, sometimes by green rides, enchanted still, such as those down which Lancelot rode with Guinevere, talking of love, sometimes over heaths wild and desolate such as that which knew the bitterness of Lear, sometimes through the greenwood, ancient British woodland, silent now, where the hart was once at home in the shade, and where at every turn one might expect to come upon Rosalind in her boy's dress, and think to hear from some glade the words of Amiens' song:
Under the greenwood tree Who loves to lie with me, And turn his merry note Unto the sweet bird's throat; Come hither, come hither, come hither....
There are days in life of which it can only be said, that they are blessed; golden days, upon which, looking back, the sun seems to shine; they dazzle in the memory. Such was the day I spent in the byways of Holmsley and Burley, in the upper valleys of Avon water, Ober water and Black water, forest streams; in the silent woods, where all day long the sun showered its gold, sprinkling the deep shade with flowers and blossoms of light, where there was no wind but only the sighing of the woods, no sound but the whisper of the leaves or the rare flutter of a bird's wings, no thoughts but joyful thoughts filling the heart with innocence.
Who doth ambition shun, And loves to live i' the sun, Seeking the food he eats And pleased with what he gets; Come hither, come hither, come hither....
At evening I came to Lyndhurst.
Lyndhurst is the capital of the Forest; as its name implies it was established in a wood of limes, a tree said to have been introduced into England only in the sixteenth century. It is already spoken of in the tenth century Anglo-Saxon ballad of the Battle of Brunanburh!
Athelstan king, Lord among earls, Bracelet bestower and Baron of barons; He with his brother Edmund Atheling Gaining a lifelong Glory in battle. Slew with the sword-edge, There by Brunanburh, Brake the shield wall, Hew'd the lindenwood, Hack'd the battleshield, Sons of Edward with hammered brands.
Oak, beech, and holly, which so largely make up the woodland of the New Forest we have always had in England, but the limes which named Lyndhurst it is said we owe to someone else, and if so it can only be to the Roman.
What the Forest was when the Romans administered the land we know not; but in Anglo-Saxon times it was doubtless a royal hunting ground, terra regis and silva regis, for spoiling which by fire as for killing the game therein fines must be paid. These royal hunting grounds, of which the great Forest in Hampshire was certainly not the least, only became legal "forests" with the Conquest, when they were placed under a new Forest law of extraordinary harshness, which even in the Conqueror's time indeed demanded an eye or a hand for the taking of game, and in the days of the Red King the life of a man for the life of a beast.
The Conqueror, as we know, greatly enlarged the old "royal hunting ground" here in Hampshire when he made the New Forest, and that act of his which brought an immensely larger area than of old under a new and incredibly harsher forest law gradually produced a legend of devastation and depopulation here which, as I have already said, can no longer be accepted as true. Henry of Huntingdon (1084?-1155) asserts that "to form the hunting ground of the New Forest he (William) caused churches and villages to be destroyed, and, driving out the people, made it a habitation for deer." It is true that the Conqueror forged a charter purporting to date from Canute in which the king's sole right to take beasts of chase was asserted, and to this he appealed as justifying his harsh new laws; but it is untrue that he depopulated and destroyed a thriving district to make a wilderness for the red deer. "We shall find," says Warner, "that the lands comprised in this tract (the New Forest) appear from their low valuation in the time of the Confessor to have been always unproductive in comparison with other parts of the kingdom; and that notwithstanding this pretended devastation they sunk (in many instances) but little in their value after their afforestment. So that the fact seems to have been, William, finding this tract in a barren state and yielding but little profit, and being strongly attached to the pleasures of the chase, converted it into a royal forest, without being guilty of those violences to the inhabitants of which Henry of Huntingdon, Malmesbury, Walter Mapes, and others complain."
Of this great New Forest, Lyndhurst was made the capital and the administrative centre, and such it is still. In Domesday Book we read: "The King himself holds Lyndhurst, which appertained to Amesbury, which is of the King's farm."
The King granted a small part, namely, one virgate to "Herbert the Forester," before 1086, and this Herbert is generally supposed to have been the ancestor of those Lyndhursts who for so long held the wardenship of the Forest. The King's house, a fine building of Queen Anne's time, is the successor of the old royal lodge at least as old as the fourteenth century, and is now occupied by the Deputy Surveyor of the Forest. In the Verderers' Hall close by, the forest courts of the verderers are still held. There, too, may be seen the old dock, certain trophies of the chase and "the stirrup-iron of William Rufus," really the seventeenth century gauge "for the dogs allowed to be kept in the forest without expeditation, the 'lawing' being carried out on all 'great dogs' that could not pass through the stirrup."
Lyndhurst itself, as we see it to-day, is devoid of interest; even the church dates but from 1863, and its greatest treasure is the wall- painting by Lord Leighton of the Wise and Foolish Virgins in the chancel. A church, a chapelry of Minstead, certainly stood here in the thirteenth century, but was destroyed, and a Georgian building erected —in its turn to give place to the church we see.
Lyndhurst, though almost without interest itself, is undoubtedly the best centre for exploring the Forest, or, at any rate, perhaps the most beautiful and certainly the most interesting parts of it. So by many a byway I went northward to Minstead in Malwood, where I found a most curious church, rather indeed a house than a church, with dormer windows in the roof, an enormous three-decker pulpit within, galleries, and two great pews, one with a fireplace, and I know not what other quaint rubbish of the eighteenth century. All this I found enchanting, and more especially because the nave and chancel seemed to me to be originally of the thirteenth century, and certainly the font is Norman. But the church with its eighteenth-century tower is perhaps the most amazing conglomeration of the work of all periods since the twelfth century to be found in southern England.
From Minstead I went on up the Bartley water to Stone Cross, nearly four hundred feet over the Forest, from which by good fortune I saw the mighty Abbey of Romsey in the valley of the Test, where I intended to sleep. Then I went down past Castle Malwood to where stands Rufus' Stone. There I read:
"Here stood the oak-tree on which an arrow shot by Sir Walter Tyrrell at a stag glanced and struck King William II., surnamed Rufus, on the breast, of which stroke he instantly died on the 2nd August 1100.
"King William II., surnamed Rufus, being slain as before related, was laid in a cart belonging to one Purkess and drawn from hence to Winchester and buried in the cathedral church of that city.
"That where an event so memorable had happened might not hereafter be unknown this stone was set up by John Lord Delaware who had seen the tree growing in this place anno 1745.
"This stone having been much mutilated and the inscriptions on the three sides defaced, this more durable memorial with the original inscription was erected in the year 1841 by him. Sturges Bourne, warden."
The memorial and inscription are of iron.
The most famous thing that ever befell in the New Forest was this strange murder or misfortune which cost the Red King his life. It haunts the whole forest, and rightly understood fills it with meaning and can never have been or be far from the thoughts of anyone who wanders there, even as I have done in the excellent days of Spring.
No less than three members of the Conqueror's family were killed in the New Forest; first Richard, one of his sons, then another Richard, bastard son of Duke Robert of Normandy, this in May 1100; and in August of the same year, his son and successor William, surnamed Rufus. All these deaths are said to have been caused by accidents, all were caused by arrows; it is a strange thing.
All we really know about the death of William Rufus may be found in the English "Chronicle." "On the morrow was the King William shot off with an arrow from his own men in hunting." Whether the arrow, as tradition has it, was shot by Walter Tyrrel or no, whether it was aimed at the King or no, can never now be known. The most graphic account of the affair is given to us by Ordericus Vitalis, who, however, was not only not present, but at best can have been but a child at the time, for he died in 1150. For all that he doubtless had access to sources of which we now know nothing, and the whole atmosphere of his story suggests that, as we might expect, the King was murdered because of his general harshness and oppression, perhaps especially exemplified in his Forest Law. It was he and not the Conqueror who demanded the life of a man for that of a beast; his father had been content with an eye or a limb.
It would seem, according to Ordericus, that the whole country was full of stories of terrible visions concerning the end of the King long before his sudden death. Henry of Huntingdon, for instance, tells us that "blood had been seen to spring from the ground in Berkshire," and adds that "the King was rightly cut off in the midst of his injustice," for "England could not breathe under the burdens laid upon it." Ordericus himself says that "terrible visions respecting him were seen in the monasteries and cathedrals by the clergy of both classes, and becoming the talk of the vulgar in the market-places and churchyards, could not escape the notice of the King."
He then gives a particular instance: "A certain monk of good repute and still better life, who belonged to the Abbey of St Peter at Gloucester, related that he had a dream in the visions of the night to this effect: 'I saw,' he said, 'the Lord Jesus seated on a lofty throne, and the glorious host of heaven, with the company of the saints, standing round. But while, in my ecstasy, I was lost in wonder, and my attention deeply fixed on such an extraordinary spectacle, I beheld a virgin resplendent with light cast herself at the feet of the Lord Jesus, and humbly address to Him this petition, "O Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, for which Thou didst shed Thy precious blood when hanging on the Cross, look with an eye of compassion on Thy people, which now groan under the yoke of William. Thou avenger of wickedness, and most just judge of all men, take vengeance I beseech Thee on my behalf of this William and deliver me out of his hands, for as far as lies in his power he hath polluted and grievously afflicted me." The Lord replied, "Be patient and wait awhile, and soon thou wilt be fully avenged of him." I trembled at hearing this and doubt not that the divine anger presently threatens the King; for I understood that the cries of the holy virgin, our mother the Church, had reached the ears of the Almighty by reason of the robberies, the foul adulteries and the heinous crimes of all sorts which the King and his courtiers cease not daily of committing against the divine law.'"
On being informed of this, the venerable Abbot Serle wrote letters which he despatched in a friendly spirit from Gloucester informing the King very distinctly of all the monk had seen in his vision.
William of Malmesbury also records that the King himself the day before he died, dreamed that he was let blood by a surgeon, and that the stream, reaching to heaven, clouded the light and intercepted the day. Calling on St Mary for protection he suddenly awoke, commanded a light to be brought and forbade his attendants to leave him. They then watched with him several hours until daylight. Shortly after, just as the day began to dawn, a certain foreign monk told Robert Fitz Haman one of the principal nobility that he had that night dreamed a strange and fearful dream about the King: "That he had come into a certain church, with menacing and insolent gesture as was his custom, looking contemptuously on the standers by. Then violently seizing the Crucifix he gnawed the arms and almost tore away the legs; that the image endured this for a long time, but at length struck the King with its foot, in such a manner that he fell backwards; from his mouth as he lay prostrate issued so copious a flame that the volumes of smoke touched the very stars. Robert, thinking that this dream ought not to be neglected as he was intimate with him, immediately related it to the King. William, repeatedly laughing, exclaimed, 'He is a monk and dreams for money like a monk; give him a hundred shillings.'"
"Nevertheless," adds William of Malmesbury, "being greatly moved, the King hesitated a long while whether he should go out to hunt as he designed; his friends persuading him not to suffer the truth of the dreams to be tried at his personal risk. In consequence he abstained from the chase before dinner, dispelling the uneasiness of his unregulated mind by serious business. They relate that having plentifully regaled that day, he soothed his cares with a more than usual quantity of wine."
All this, I suppose, befell in the Castle of Malwood.
After dinner the King prepared to hunt. "Being in great spirits," says Ordericus, "he was joking with his attendants while his boots were being laced, when an armourer came and presented him six arrows. The King immediately took them with great satisfaction, praising the work, and unconscious of what was to happen, kept four of them himself and held out the other two to Walter Tyrrel. "It is but right," said he, "that the sharpest arrows should be given to him who knows best how to inflict mortal wounds with them." This Tyrrel was a French knight of good extraction, the wealthy lord of the castles of Poix and Pontoise, filling a high place among the nobles, and a gallant soldier; he was therefore admitted to familiar intimacy with the King and became his constant companion. Meanwhile as they were idly talking and the King's household attendants were assembled about him, a monk of Gloucester presented himself and delivered to the King a letter from his abbot. Having read it, the King burst out laughing and said merrily to the knight just mentioned, "Walter, do what I told you." The knight replied, "I will, my lord." Slighting then the warnings of the elders, and forgetting that the heart is lifted up before a fall, he said respecting the letter he had received, "I wonder what has induced my lord Serlo to write me in this strain, for I really believe he is a worthy abbot and respectable old man. In the simplicity of his heart he transmits to me, who have enough besides to attend to, the dreams of his snoring monks and even takes the trouble to commit them to writing and send them a long distance. Does he think that I follow the example of the English, who will defer their journey or their business on account of the dreams of a parcel of wheezing old women?
"Thus speaking, he hastily rose and mounting his horse rode at full speed to the forest. His brother, Count Henry with William de Bretanel, and other distinguished persons, followed him, and having penetrated into the woods the hunters dispersed themselves in various directions according to custom. The King and Walter Tyrrel posted themselves with a few others in one part of the forest and stood with their weapons in their hands eagerly watching for the coming of the game, when a stag suddenly running between them the King quitted his station and Walter shot an arrow. It grazed the beast's grizzly back, but glancing from it mortally wounded the king, who stood within its range. He immediately fell to the ground, and, alas! suddenly expired."
William of Malmesbury gives a somewhat different account of the King's death. "The sun was declining when the King, drawing his bow and letting fly an arrow; slightly wounded a stag which passed before him; and keenly gazing followed it still running a long time with his eyes, holding up his hand to keep off the power of the sun's rays. At this instant, Walter, conceiving a noble exploit, which was, while the King's attention was otherwise occupied, to transfix another stag which by chance came near him, unknowingly and without power to prevent it—oh gracious God!—pierced his breast with a fatal arrow. On receiving the wound the King uttered not a word; but breaking off the shaft of the weapon where it projected from his body, fell upon the wound by which he accelerated his death. Walter immediately ran up, but as he found him senseless and speechless he leaped swiftly upon his horse, and escaped by spurring him to his utmost speed. Indeed, there was none to pursue him; some consented in his flight, and others pitied him, and all were intent on other matters. Some began to fortify their dwellings; others to plunder, and the rest to look out for a new king. A few countrymen conveyed the body, placed on a cart, to the cathedral at Winchester, the blood dripping from it all the way. Here it was committed to the ground within the tower, attended by many of the nobility though lamented by few. Next year [really in 1107] the tower fell; though I forbear to mention the different opinions on this subject, lest I should seem to assent too readily to unsupported trifles, more especially as the building might have fallen through imperfect construction even though he had never been buried there. He died in the year of our Lord's Incarnation, 1100, of his reign the thirteenth, on the fourth before the nones of August, aged above forty years."
So died the Red King. Whose arrow it was that slew him, whether it came aforethought from an English bow or by chance from that of Walter Tyrrel, we shall never know. The Red King fell in the New Forest and there was no one in all broad England to mourn him. William of Malmesbury says that a few countrymen carried his body to Winchester. We may well ask why not to Malwood Castle, which was close by? We may ask, but we shall get no answer. According to a local legend it was a charcoal burner of Minstead, Purkess by name, who found the King's body and bore it away, and ever after his descendants have remained in Minstead, neither richer nor poorer than their ancestor. As for Sir Walter, he is said to have sworn to the Prior of St Denys de Poix, a monastery of his foundation, that he knew nothing of the King's death. Leland tells us that in his day not only did the tree still exist against which, according to him, the arrow glanced off and struck the King, but a little chapel remained there then very old, in which Mass was wont to be offered for the repose of the King's soul. I wish that I might have seen it, for it would have pleased me.
Now when I had well considered all this, not without an orison for that misguided King, I set off for Cadnam, and holding now only to the road, marching fast, for it was late, I came over the ridge beyond Black water into the valley of the Test, and so entered Romsey a little after it was dark.
Romsey, as I soon found on the following morning, has nothing at all to offer the traveller except one of the most solemn and noble Norman churches in all England, monastic too, for it was the church of the great Benedictine Nunnery of Our Lady of Romsey. It is impossible to exaggerate the impression this astonishing Norman pile, of vast size and unsurpassed age and reverence, makes upon the traveller. One seems in looking upon it to see before his eyes the foundation of England. I cannot hope to describe it or to convey to another what it meant to me. It is at once grandiose and reverent, of enormous, almost incredible size and weight and strength larger than many a cathedral, heavy as a kingdom, stronger than a thousand years. It seems to have been hewn bodily out of the cliffs or the great hills.
It is enormously old. The house was founded or perhaps refounded more than a millennium ago by Edward the Elder in 907; his daughter was abbess here, and here was buried. In 967 Edgar his grandson gave the house to the Benedictines. It remained English after the Conquest, for William seems not to have dealt with it and in 1086 the sister of Edgar Atheling became abbess. Out of it Henry I. chose his bride that Abbess's niece Maud a novice of Our Lady of Romsey. Said I not well that it was as the foundation of England?
We know little of the Abbey for near a hundred years after that, and then in 1160 the daughter of King Stephen, Mary, whose uncle, Henry of Blois, was Bishop of Winchester, became abbess, and it was decided to rebuild the place. Thus the great Norman church we have, arose in the new England of the twelfth century. Mary, princess and abbess, was, however, false to her vows. How long she was abbess we do not know, perhaps only a few months or even days. At any rate, in the very year she became abbess, the year of her mother's death,[Footnote: See supra under Faversham.] she forsook her trust and married the son of the Earl of Flanders, and by him she had two daughters. Then came repentance; she separated from her husband and returned to Romsey as a penitent.