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The Baron's Yule Feast: A Christmas Rhyme
by Thomas Cooper
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In Kimber and Johnson's Baronetage (vol. i. page 470.) the Thorold of the reign of Edward the Confessor is said to be descended from Thorold, sheriff of Lincolnshire in the reign of Kenelph, king of Mercia. Betham, in his "Baronetage of England" (Ipswich, 1801, vol. i. page 476) says the pedigree of the Thorolds is a "very fine" one, and enumerates its several branches of Marston, Blankney, Harmston, Morton, and Claythorp, and of the "High Hall and Low Hall, in Hough, all within the said county of Lincoln." Betham, and other writers of his class, enumerate Thorolds, sheriffs of Lincolnshire, in the reigns of Philip and Mary, Elizabeth, James I. and Charles I.; and Sir George Thorold of Harmston was sheriff of London and Middlesex, in 1710,—and afterwards Lord Mayor.

Sir John Thorold of Syston is now the chief representative of this Saxon family; but report says that he delights to live abroad—rather than in the midst of his tenantry and dependants, to gladden the hearts of the poor, and receive happiness from diffusing it among others, after the good example of his ancestors.

III.

FOSSE NUNNERY.

"The Nunnery of the Fosse was begun by the inhabitants of Torksey upon some demesne lands belonging to the Crown, pretty early in King John's time; but King Henry III. confirming it, is said to have been the founder. The circumstance of the foundation by the men of Torksey is mentioned in King Henry's charter. The Inspeximus of the 5th Edw. II., which contains it, also contains a charter of King John, granting to the nuns two marks of silver which they had been used to pay annually into the Exchequer for the land at Torksey. In this charter King John calls them the Nuns of Torkesey."—Dugdale's Monasticon, vol. iv. p. 292.

IV.

SAINT LEONARD'S.

Bishop Tanner, following Speed and Leland, says, "Torkesey. On the east side of the new town stood a priory of Black Canons, built by K. John to the honour of St. Leonard."—Notitia, p. 278. This priory was granted to Sir Philip Hobby, after the Dissolution: the Fosse Nunnery to Edward Lord Clinton.

V.

THORNEY WOOD.

In the neighbourhood of Torksey, and, traditionally, part of an extensive forest, in past times. A branch of the Nevils, claiming descent from the great earls of Warwick and Montagu, reside at Thorney.

VI.

GRUNSEL.

This old word for threshold is still common in Lincolnshire; and with Milton's meaning so plainly before his understanding (Paradise Lost, book i. line 460.), it is strange that Dr. Johnson should have given "the lower part of the building" as an explanation for grunsel. Lemon, in his "Etymology," spells the word "ground-sill," and then derives the last syllable from "soil." Nothing can be more stupid. Door-sill is as common as grunsel, for threshold, in Staffordshire, as well as Lincolnshire; and, in both counties, "window-sill" is frequent. I remember, too, in my boyhood, having heard the part of the plough to which the share is fitted—the frame of the harrows—and the frame of a grindstone, each called "sill" by the farmers of Lindsey.

VII.

ROMARA.

In this instance I have also used a name associated with the ancient history of Lincolnshire as an imaginary Norman lord of Torksey. "William de Romara, lord of Bolingbroke, in Lincolnshire, was the first earl of that county after the Conquest. He was the son of Roger, son of Gerold de Romara; which Roger married Lucia, daughter of Algar, earl of Chester, and sister and heir to Morcar, the Saxon earl of Northumberland and Lincoln. In 1142 he founded the Abbey of Revesby, in com. Linc., bearing then the title of Earl of Lincoln."—BANKES' Extinct and Dormant Peerage.

VIII.

THE TRENT.

"Or Trent, who like some earth-born giant spreads His thirty arms along the indented meads."

MILTON.

IX.

THE HEYGRE.

The tide, at the equinoxes especially, presents a magnificent spectacle on the Trent. It comes up even to Gainsborough, which is seventy miles from the sea, in one overwhelming wave, spreading across the wide river-channel, and frequently putting the sailors into some alarm for the safety of their vessels, which are dashed to and fro, while "all hands" are engaged in holding the cables and slackening them, so as to relieve the ships.

To be in a boat, under the guardianship of a sailor, and to hear the shouts on every hand of "'Ware Heygre!"—as the grand wave is beheld coming on,—and then to be tossed up and down in the boat, as the wave is met,—form no slight excitements for a boy living by the side of Trent.

I find no key to the derivation of the word Heygre in the Etymologists. The Keltic verb, Eigh, signifying, to cry, shout, sound, proclaim; or the noun Eigin, signifying difficulty, distress, force, violence—may, perhaps, be the root from whence came this name for the tide—so dissimilar to any other English word of kindred meaning. It is scarcely probable that the word by which the earliest inhabitants of Britain would express their surprise at this striking phenomenon should ever be lost, or changed for another.

X.

THE PORPOISE.

The appearance of a porpoise, at the season when his favourite prey, the salmon, comes up the river to spawn, is another high excitement to dwellers on the Trent. I remember well the almost appalling interest with which, in childhood, I beheld some huge specimen of this marine visitor, drawn up by crane on a wharf, after an enthusiastic contest for his capture by the eager sailors.

XI.

AGNES PLANTAGENET.

The very interesting relic of the Old Hall at Gainsborough is associated, in the mind of one who spent more than half his existence in the old town, with much that is chivalrous. Mowbrays, Percys, De Burghs, and other high names of the feudal era are in the list of its possessors, as lords of the manor. None, however, of its former tenants calls up such stirring associations as 'Old John of Gaunt, time-honoured Lancaster,' who, with his earldom of Lincoln, held this castle and enlarged and beautified it. Tradition confidently affirms that his daughter was starved to death by him, in one of the rooms of the old tower,—in consequence of her perverse attachment to her father's foe,—the knight of Torksey. Often have I heard the recital, from some aged gossip, by the fireside on a winter's night; and the rehearsal was invariably delivered with so much of solemn and serious averment—that the lady was still seen,—that she would point out treasure, to any one who had the courage to speak to her,—and that some families had been enriched by her ghostly means, though they had kept the secret,—as to awaken within me no little dread of leaving the fireside for bed in the dark!

With indescribable feeling I wandered along the carven galleries and ruined rooms, or crept up the antique massive staircases, of this crumbling mansion of departed state, in my boyhood,—deriving from these stolen visits to its interior, mingled with my admiring gaze at its battlemented turret, and rich octagonal window, (which tradition said had lighted the chapel erected by John of Gaunt,) a passion for chivalry and romance, that not even my Chartism can quench. Once, and once only, I remember creeping, under the guidance of an elder boy, up to the 'dark room' in the turret; but the fear that we should really see the ghostly Lady caused us to run down the staircase, with beating hearts, as soon as we had reached the door and had had one momentary peep!

Other traditions of high interest are connected with this ancient mansion. One, says that Sweyn the Danish invader, (the remains of whose camp exist at the distance of a mile from the town,) was killed at a banquet, by his drunken nobles, in the field adjoining its precincts. Another, avers that in the Saxon building believed to have stood on the same spot, as the residence of the earls of Mercia, the glorious Alfred's wedding-feast was held. Speed gives some little aid to the imagination in its credent regard for the story: "Elswith, the wife of king AElfred, was the daughter of Ethelfred, surnamed Muchel, that is, the Great, an Earle of the Mercians, who inhabited about Gainesborough, in Lincolnshire: her mother was Edburg, a lady borne of the Bloud roiall of Mercia." (Historie of Great Britaine, 1632: page 333.)

XII.

ROCHE.

A visit to the beautiful ruins of Roche Abbey, near ancient Tickhill, and to the scenery amidst which they lie, created a youthful desire to depict them in verse. This doggrel ditty (I forestall the critics!) of the Miller of Roche is all, however, that I preserved of the imperfect piece. The ditty is a homely versification of a homely tale which was often told by the fireside in Lincolnshire. I never saw anything resembling it in print, until Mr. Dickens (whose kind attention I cannot help acknowledging) pointed out to me a similar story in the Decameron.

Roche Abbey, according to the "Monasticon Anglicanum," was founded by Richard de Builli and Richard Fitz-Turgis, in 1147. "The architecture bespeaks the time of Edward II. or III." (Edit. 1825: vol. v. p. 502.)

XIII.

SCROGG AND CARR.

Johnson says, "Scrog. A stunted shrub, bush, or branch; yet used in some parts of the north." In Lincolnshire, however, the word is used to designate wild ground on which "stunted shrub, bush, or branch" grows, and not as a synonyme with shrub or bush.

Carr I have looked for in vain among the etymologists. Johnson merely quotes Gibson's Camden to show that, in the names of places, Car "seems to have relation to the British caer, a city;" and Junius, Skinner, Lemon, Horne Tooke, Jamieson, &c. are silent about it. The word is applied, in Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire, to the low lands, or wide marsh pastures that border the Trent; and I feel little doubt that, like the word heygre, and many others that might be collected, it has been in use ever since it was given to these localities, by the primeval tribes, the Kelts, when they first saw these beautiful tracts, so much subject to inundation, like the flat borders of their own rivers in the East. HEBREW (car) a pasture, is found in Isaiah, xxx. 23. Psalm lxv. 14, &c., and although HEBREW (kicar) is simply translated "plain" in the established version, and Gesenius would, still more vaguely, render it "circuit, surrounding country," (from HEBREW, in Arabic, to be round,) yet I suspect the words come from the same root, and have the same meaning. Thus, Genesis xiii. 10. HEBREW might literally be rendered "And Lot raised his eyes, and saw all the carr of the Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere, before Jehovah destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, like the garden of Jehovah; like the land of Mitzraim, as thou approachest Zoar." How natural, that the Keltic or Kymric tribes should behold, in the Trent pastures, the resemblance of the plains on the banks of the Jordan, the Nile, the Tigris, and Euphrates—(for the term HEBREW garden of Jehovah most probably denotes Mesopotamia, in the very ancient fragments collected by Moses to form the book of Genesis)—and should denote them by the same name!

ARABIC, khawār, also signifies "low or sloping ground," in Richardson's Arabic and Persian Dictionary; and "Carr, a bog, a fen, or morass," occurs in Armstrong's Gaelic Dictionary. The word I conceive is thus clearly traced to its Keltic or Eastern origin.

XIV.

CROWD.

Sir John Hawkins, in his highly curious "History of Music" (vol. ii. page 274) says "The Cruth or Crowth" was an instrument "formerly in common use in the principality of Wales," and is the "prototype of the whole fidicinal species of musical instruments." "It has six strings, supported by a bridge, and is played on by a bow." "The word Cruth is pronounced in English Crowth, and corruptly Crowd." "Lueth is the Saxon appellation given by Leland, for the instrument (Collectanea: vol. v.)" "A player on the cruth was called a Crowther or Crowder, and so also is a common fiddler to this day; and hence, undoubtedly, Crowther, or Crowder, a common surname. Butler, with his usual humour, has characterised a common fiddler, and given him the name of Crowdero."

"I'th' head of all this warlike rabble Crowdero marched, expert and able."

XV.

REBECK.

Rebeck is a word well known from Milton's exquisite "L'Allegro." Sir John Hawkins (vol. ii. page 86) traces it to the Moorish Rebeb; and believes he finds this old three-stringed fiddle in the hands of Chaucer's Absolon, the parish-clerk, who could "plaie songs on a smale ribible."

XV.

ST. GUTHLACKE.

The patron saint of the ancient Abbey of Croyland.

XVI.

THE SWINEHERD OF STOW.

St. Remigius, the Norman bishop, is placed on the pinnacle of one buttress that terminates the splendid facade, or west front of Lincoln Cathedral, and the Swineherd of Stow, with his horn in his hand, on the other. The tradition is in the mouth of every Lincolner, that this effigied honour was conferred on the generous rudester because he gave his horn filled with silver pennies towards the rebuilding or beautifying of the Minster.

XVII.

"Nor bate a jot of heart or hope."

Milton's Sonnet on his blindness.

THE END.



Transcriber's Notes:

Passages in italics are indicated by underscore.

The original text includes Hebrew and Arabic characters. For this text version these characters have been replaced with HEBREW and ARABIC.

The original text includes one letter printed with a macron; this is indicated by ā.

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