Great Britain – Homes And Shrines

He who sees only the cities and villages of Great Britain misses one of the most interesting features of English life. Land tenure is so different here from tenure in the United States that the reader will pardon a sketch of the old-fashioned manor. In England, the right of primogeniture still remains and the family home descends to the oldest son. It not only descends to him, but it continues its descent through him to his son and his son’s son, and is not subject to alienation. It was our good fortune to be invited to several of these homes; some of them rich in family heirlooms and of historic interest.

Our ambassador, Mr. Reid, is occupying one of the most famous estates in England; it is known as Wrest Park and is about forty miles from London. During the London season, many spend the “week’s end” at their country home, and after a fortnight’s experience in London we could appreciate the necessity for it, for the dinner hour is eight or eight fifteen, while receptions and balls begin at any hour from ten to twelve. The House of Commons does not convene until three o’clock in the afternoon, and generally sits until midnight. Little wonder that there is an exodus on Saturday morning.

We spent our first week’s end at Wrest Park and were shown through its spacious grounds. The house itself is only about seventy years old, but the land has been in the hands of the family for several centuries. The estate consists of about seven thousand acres, most of it in cultivation, but enough is left adjoining the house for woods, parks, lawns and gardens, and these have been laid out and ornamented by landscape gardeners. There are walks lined with statuary, green stretches of velvet turf, miles of well kept hedges of holly and box and cedar, stately oaks, summer houses, tea houses, green houses and everything in the way of ornament that taste could dictate and money supply. The gardens are especially attractive. They were shut in by high walls, and against these walls fruit trees, vines and flowers are trained with artistic effect. In the hot houses peaches are ripening before their season, and huge bunches of grapes are growing purple. Cucumbers, tomatoes and many other vegetables, as well as fruits which we grow out of doors, are in England raised and ripened under glass. The strawberries are of enormous size, and the gooseberries are as large as pigeon eggs.

Within the house are spacious rooms hung with pictures of the nobility that have occupied the estate, and of members of the royal family who have visited there. The library contains several thousand books accumulated through many generations.

Not far from the house stands the manor church supported by tithes, the owner of the estate usually selecting the minister. In many places the “living,” as it is called, has ceased to be of great value.

The inheritance tax is quite a heavy burden upon the owners of these estates, and many of the landholders are so impoverished that they are obliged to rent their estates in order to raise the money to meet the tax.

Mr. Moreton Frewen, who contributed many articles to the silver literature in 1896, and whose wife is of American birth, took us down to his place, Brede, which is within sight of the battlefield of Hastings. It is a fine old house with a splendid view, and the oak doors and woodwork, although five or six hundred years old, are as good as new. On the way to Brede we stopped for luncheon at Knole, another famous country place owned by the West family. The present occupant, Lord Sackville West, was once Ambassador to America. It is a historic place, and has seven courts, fifty-two stairways and three hundred and sixty-five windows. The earliest record shows that the Earl of Albemarle gave the estate to his daughter when she was married to the Earl of Pembroke. Afterward, it came into the possession of Lord Saye and Sele, and he conveyed it to the Archbishop of Canter-bury, who at his death bequeathed it to the See of Canterbury. Cramner occupied the place in the sixteenth century, and conveyed it to Henry the Eighth. (Cramner will be remembered as one of the three bishops who were burned at the stake.) It was once in the possession of Queen Mary and afterward of Queen Elizabeth, who conveyed it to Dudley, her favorite Earl. The house is a veritable museum and art gallery, and contains hundred of pictures, many of them of kings and others prominent in English history. One of the rooms was fitted up by James First for himself when he paid a visit to Knole, and the room is kept as it was. The bed is said to have cost forty thousand dollars, and the curtains and bed cover are embroidered with gold and silver. The mattresses are of white satin, and the walls are hung with Flemish tapestry representing scenes from the history of Nebuchadnezzar.

The great hall used as a dining room is seventy-five feet long and half as wide. At one end is a raised floor where the table of the Lord of the Manor stood ; below him sat the retainers and lower members of the household. A list of one hundred and twenty-six names is pre-served, that being the number of those who regularly took their meals in the hall in 1624. In this hall there is a large collection of silver and pewter vessels handed down from generation to generation. The grounds and gardens, I need hardly add, are in keeping with the interior of the castle. We saw here one of the prettiest specimens of the skill of the horticulturist’s art that has come under our observation. Grape vines are grown in large pots and trained upon a hoop-like trellis. When we were there the clusters of ripened grapes added to the beauty of the vines.

We spent one night at Broughton Castle as the guests of Lord and Lady Lennox. The host and hostess have often visited the United States, and are quite liberal in their political views. They are also identified with the community, encouraging artistic industry such as wood carving and the like, by which the young people may add to their income as well as develop their taste. In this connection it -should be explained that the owner of an estate occupies a responsible position. While he draws rent from his tenants, he is expected to be their patron and protector, as well as their general advisor. He provides the Christmas festivities, gives presents to the children and looks after the sick.

The moral standards which he sets up have a large influence upon the religious and social life of the community, and the conscientious land owner is able to do a great deal of good.

Broughton Castle is near Banbury—the Banbury Cross, immortalized in child rhymes by the woman “who rode a white horse”-and was frequented by Cromwell and his chiefs. In fact, in one of the rooms, as tradition goes, the death warrant of Charles the First was signed. The house is of stone and the roof is covered with stone tiles —and a good roof it still is, though six hundred years old. In some of the rooms fine oak paneling had been painted over, and in other rooms handsome stone walls had been disfigured with plaster, but the present occupant is restoring these. As in many of the larger and older country places, Broughton has a little chapel of its own where the family assembled for divine service. The castle is surrounded by a shaded lawn, ornamented by hedge, evergreens, flower beds and rose-covered arbors, and around all these runs the moat, fed from neighboring streams. The memory of feudal times is preserved by the towers, drawbridge and massive gates. English history is illuminated by these ancient country seats, and much in English home life is explained that would otherwise be difficult to understand.

Warwick Castle is near Lemington and but a few miles from Broughton. It is probably the most visited of all the castles of England and is still in the family of the Earl of Warwick, the king maker. It is built upon the banks of the Avon and has. a deep, dark dungeon and lofty towers and all the accessories of an ancient fortress. The great hall is filled with armor and heirlooms. The house contains a valuable collection of paintings by old masters and the furniture of the sleeping rooms is as remarkable for its design as for its antiquity. A few weeks ago a pageant, illustrating the history of the castle, was given on the banks of the stream and attended by some twenty thou-sand visitors.

So much for the great estates of England. They are still maintained and the system is still defended by manly English statesmen as the one best calculated to preserve the family and the present social structure. There does not seem to be as much opposition here as an American would suppose to this system, under which priority of birth carries with it so great an advantage over those born afterward. The younger children, reared to expect little except in case of the death of those older, seem to accept the situation as a matter of course, and tenants, descended from generations of tenants, seem to acquiesce with-out protest in a tenure which deprives them of the prospect of owner-ship. While one can appreciate the beauty of the manors and admit that they could not be maintained under any other system than that which gives them entire to one member of the family and prevents alienation, still an American finds his admiration for American institutions increasing while he travels, for to him the advantages that flow from individual ownership, and the division of estates at death, seem infinitely greater than any that are to be derived from the English system. A hundred farmers, stimulated by hope and secure in their holdings, contribute more than one country gentleman and ninety-nine tenants possibly can to the strength and vigor of a state.

After all; the large estates are insignificant in number when compared with the homes of the middle classes in the various cities and villages, but these are so much like the homes in America, both in appearance and in management, that it is not necessary to dwell upon them. The owners of these homes are potent in parliamentary elections, as are also the laboring men. The House of Lords represents the landed proprietors, more than one-third of all the farm lands in England being owned by members of that body.

We took occasion to visit some of the shrines of Great Britain. Of course, no one place is so rich in historic memories as Westminster Abbey, it being the burial place of most of the illustrious of England. One of the most frequented places outside of London is Stratford-on-Avon, the birthplace and burial place of Shakespeare. The house in which he was born is still standing and is well preserved, considering the years that have passed over it. From its size and arrangement it is evident that Shakespeare’s father was a man of some means. The house is now public property and serves as a museum where numerous Shakespearian relics are exhibited. One oil painting of him, made when he was still a young man, would indicate that even then he enjoyed some distinction among his fellows, although succeeding generations have appreciated him vastly more than his own.

The grammar school which Shakespeare attended is still to be seen, and at the church they have the baptismal font used at his christening and the parish register in which his baptism and burial are entered. His grave is in the floor of the church and there is nothing to mark the stone slab that covers it but the familiar lines :

“Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbeare, To digg the dust enclosed heare. Bleste be ye man yt spares thes stones, And curst be he yt moves my bones.”

At Edinburgh we saw the home of John Knox and were impressed anew with the tremendous influence which he exerted upon the religious life of Scotland. Seldom has it fallen to the lot of one man to so stamp his thought upon so many people. In Edinburgh also stands the little chapel, less known to tourists, in which the Covenanters met and in which the struggle began between them and the Church of England. It is hard to believe that so short a time ago there was a bloody war between two branches of the Protestant Church, in which thousands suffered martyrdom for their religious convictions.

We visited Loch Katrine and Loch Lomond, to which Scot has given a permanent place in literature, and after seeing them will not enter into a dispute with any Highlander, however extravagant his praise of these beautiful lakes. And if I may digress for a moment, we al-so visited the lakes of Killarney of which Moore sang. They also are beautiful enough to move a poet’s heart and inspire a poet’s pen, al-though to be truthful I must assert that Lake Tahoe, which shines like a jewel in the crown of the Sierras, on the boundary line between California and Nevada, need not fear comparison with any of the lakes of Scotland or Ireland. In one thing, however, we cannot compare with England, Scotland and Ireland, namely, the ivy-mantled ruin. It is picturesque and pleasing to the eye and yet who would exchange a plain cottage, occupied by a happy family, for the crumbling vine-clad walls of a tenantless castle?

From Glasgow we went by automobile to Ayr, the birthplace of Burns. Thirty-three miles out and thirty-three miles back, and it rained nearly the entire way ! We were sustained amid the discomforts of the trip by our interest in Scotland’s rustic bard, whose simple lays have endeared him to the universal heart, but our sympathies went out to two kind friends, Mr. McKillup, a member of parliament, and Mr. Henry Wright, a Glasgow barrister, who accompanied us. It was an humble cottage in which Burns first saw the light and in which he lived when he made the acquaintance of those rollicking companions, Tam O’Shanter and Souter Johnny. Near by is the famous bridge over the “Bonny Doon” of whose “banks and braes” he sang, and not far away are the old bridge and the new one which his fancy clothed with life and brought together in animated dialogue. After visiting the places and looking upon the scenes enshrined in literature by his verse one reads with even greater zest the homespun ballads of this impulsive apostle of democracy. I was glad to learn that increasing thousands wend their way to his birthplace each year and that among the visitors Americans are very numerous.

We reserved for the conclusion of our tour of the British Isles Ha-warden Castle, the home of Gladstone. With our usual luck we reached Hawarden just as Mr. Henry Gladstone arrived from his home, eight miles away, and were taken through the house and grounds by him. The estate of several thousand acres, which came into the family from Mrs. Gladstone’s ancestors, has just passed, according to the law of primogeniture, into the hands of a grandson of Mr. Gladstone. The new owner is a sober, studious young man who has already achieved distinction in college debates and who is preparing himself for a public career. While we enjoyed a drive through the woods and through the park, where the elder Gladstone was wont to cut down trees for exercise, our interest naturally centered in the big, roomy house, castle-like in its structure, and in the commodious library where England’s Christian statesman labored for more than threescore years, for it must be remembered that his public life extended over two generations. The walls are concealed by books, and shelves jut out into the room at right angles. Gladstone was a prodigious worker and, amidst the cares of official life, found time to devote to the classics, to the sciences and to religious discussion. Among the busts in the room is one of Disraeli, his most conspicuous political antagonist. The prominence thus given to his distinguished opponent may possibly be explained, as Hercules explained the courtesy shown by him to the goddess whose enmity compelled him to perform the labors which made him immortal.

Opening off from the library is a fireproof vault in which Mr. Gladstone kept his papers and valuable documents, and he was so methodical that Mr. John Morley, his biographer, found the materials for his work in excellent order. Not far from the house is a large building, erected as a memorial to Gladstone, which contains his religious library of several thousand volumes. The family has built a dormitory adjoining the library to accommodate the students who come from all countries to study theological questions.

We also visited the chapel near by where the statesman attended church and often read the service. His son-in-law, the present rector, showed us the memorial, since unveiled, which will draw multitudes to this historic edifice. It is a marble group by the sculptor Richmond and represents the great Commoner and his wife sleeping side by side, an angel guarding them with outstretched wings. It is fitting that they should thus rest at the end of life, for they had together borne life’s burdens and together shared the many triumphs that crowned their efforts. While he was master of the ship of state, she was miss tress of an ideal home; while he was seeking to ameliorate the condition of the whole people, she was conducting a private orphanage with-in a stone’s throw of the castle, an institution still maintained in her memory. So happy was the long married life of this well-mated pair that at the approach of death he requested the family not to permit his interment in Westminster Abbey, except on condition that his wife be given a place beside him, and this unusual honor was paid them.

Although nations boast of material wealth and manufacturing plants, their most valuable assets are their men and women of merit, and their greatest factories are their institutions of learning, which convert priceless raw material into a finished product of inestimable worth. Gladstone, vigorous in body, strong in mind and elevated in moral purpose, was an ornament to the age in which he lived and will be an inspiration to succeeding generations.