THE country around Shipston-on-Stour is beautifully undulating, its fertile hills and dales producing rich grain-harvests and affording abundant pasture for numerous flocks and herds. The little river on the western bank of which the town is built is as pretty and dainty a stream as could be found anywhere. Its name is not unique: there is a “Stour” in Dorset, Suffolk, Cam-bridge and Kent as well as in Warwickshire. The word is derived from the Saxon styrian, to “stir” or ” move,” and probably alludes to its rapid course” the swift river.” It rises in Oxfordshire, and from the Traitor’s Ford, where it enters the county of War-wick, to Milcote, below Stratford, where it joins the Avon, is, owing to its winding course, about thirty miles long, though the distance as the crow flies is not more than fifteen. Busily it turns the millwheel at Burmington, flows deeply and quietly past Tidmington and Willington, turns the wheel again at Barcheston, gathers its strength for the mill at Shipston, and then runs laughingly off in its childish glee till it broadens itself as it flows by Honington, and afterward, as though half ashamed of its attempt at stateliness, modestly narrows. for its duty again at Tredington and Harford. Bright green meadows and banks where wild flowers grow in rich profusion border it on either side; willows cast their shadows upon its sparkling waters ; here and there in a deep bend are tall flags and nodding rushes and broad-leafed lilies, and many are the quiet nooks where the pike and the perch have their haunt. In this brook the angler finds his patience and skill rewarded, the oarsman discovers water deep and steady enough for his skiff, and the schoolboy enjoys his swim and catches his minnows unmolested a merry, light-hearted stream in summer, but when swollen by the floods of autumn and spring angry and turbulent. Then the yellow, foaming waters rush fiercely through the valley, sweeping across the fields with impetuous haste and passionate violence, carrying away gates, hurdles, fences, bridges, and whatever else may stand in the way, and exciting astonishment in every breast. The roads near the brook are impassable at such times, and the villagers have perforce to stay at home. Traditions of hairbreath escapes and of extraordinary floods, as well as of damages and deaths from that cause, are as common as are stories of immense beasts fattened in the meadow and of heavy fish caught in the brook. The dimensions of eels which have been found in Fletcher’s Pool and the weight of cows which have been fed at Wolford are proofs of the fertility of both country and river and of the salubrity of air and water.
There are fishermen hereabouts few in number, but expert in their art. Most villages near the river have their Izaak Walton an individual, as a rule, more qualified to quaff ale or cider than to write the Lives of divines or such a book as the Compleat Angler. He is frequently a decayed tradesman whose love for sport has injured his business. Here is such a one on his way over the mill-bridge. He is accompanied by a boy who carries his can of bait and looks as if he had reached the acme of honor. Their path lies across the meadows. Let us follow them. The birds and butterflies flit hither and thither; the trees and flowers and green sod are fresh and bright. Now and then they surprise a squirrel or a rabbit in the long wayside grass, but quicker than the boy can run it disappears in the blackberry- or hazel-bushes or in the deep burrows. The contented murmur of the heavily-laden bee as she speeds her way home from the honey-sweetened blossoms of the pimpernel, the agrimony or the wood-betony; the quiet, and yet striking, whistle of the chiff-chaff; the cries of the shepherds and the anxious bleating of the sheep borne on the gentle breeze from far up the river, where the annual washing and shearing is being performed; the singing and prattle of village children rambling in the fields or by the hedgerows in search of flowers or fledglings, these are among the many sounds which fall upon their ears. An hour’s walk, and they are on the banks of the brook. The high trees cast their shadows almost to the other side of the bright, translucent waters, and in the quiet deep corner the fisherman prepares to cast his line. In silence he makes ready his fishing-tackle, fastening a well-scoured worm on the hook, and in a few minutes the white-and-green-striped float is bobbing on the tiny wavelets. The boy pulls up what he calls butter reeds and eats the soft end. There is no bite; only once in the first quarter of an hour is there the sign of one, and then it is only a gudgeon nibbling, and as he turns away he passes down the capacious gullet of a monstrous luce at that moment looking around for his supper. ” Never waste a good bait on a poor fish,” the angler remarks ; and a volume could scarcely impart more wisdom. The line is drawn out, fresh tackle is prepared, a frog is put on the hook even as though he loved him, and the baited barb is dropped silently into the stream. How still is everything in that riverside corner ! Even the sobbing brook is quiet and the sighing wind is hushed. Beneath the thick overhanging boughs of the willows are clouds of swarming gnats and flies ; once in a while a brilliantly-colored dragon-fly whizzes past; now a rat starts to swim across the brook, but disappears in midstream, no doubt seized and swallowed by some monster of the deep ; yonder a bright-hued kingfisher skims the surface of the water ; and the silence is only made more in-tense by the sound of falling water in the distance and the occasional tapping of the woodpecker in the thicket. How intently both man and boy watch at their shadows’ length from the brink ! They speak only in whispers. They grow pale and nervous with excitement. At last ! Hush ! There is a bite, a tug, and the line is whirling and rattling over the reel, and across the water the thin, gleaming foam is cast up as the captured fish rushes to its lair. By and by the line is drawn in, and soon on the green sward lies a splendid jack, his sides glittering in the sunshine and his eyes darting angry glances. Pike thirty-two inches in length and weighing eight and nine pounds have of late years been pulled out of the Stour. When the man returns to town, he will sell his fish and have a pint or two of extra stout on his luck.
The scenery around Shipston, though not romantic, is picturesque and pleasing. There are low swelling hills and broad smiling plains where in the spring meadow, field and copse are clothed in vesture of living green, and in the autumn in robes of red and gray and brown. Standing on one of the many rising grounds, the spectator beholds the country rolling in waves of quiet, happy beauty. Farms and hamlets nestling among the trees ; roads running hither and thither, now across open fields, and now between high hedges where grow the crab and the may, here through the greenwood, and there winding up the hillside; church-towers and spires rising from the heart of some rural Eden perhaps in a valley-depth of charming grace, perhaps on an elevation of commanding loveliness; quaint, restful, homelike mansions peeping out of sylvan retreats and surrounded by wide parks within whose glades and beneath whose broad-spreading oaks feed the antlered deer and the striped Alderney cattle, such are among the objects which attract his attention and excite his admiration. The views from Brailes Hill and from Tredington Hill are for gentle, suggestive beauty and exquisite natural charm all that can be desired, while from Edgehill, a little out of sight of Shipston, is a landscape which is unrivalled” in England and unexcelled in the world.
Travel in the olden time was a very different affair from travel in the nineteenth century. Not only was the railway not invented, but the roads were neither good nor safe and the conveyances were unwieldy and uncomfortable. In rainy weather no vehicle could be dragged through the deep mud ; even on horseback the journey was not easy, while on foot it was tiring and difficult. Deep rivers had bridges over them, but shallow streams were forded except in time of flood, when the passage was impossible. Every manor or parish was obliged to keep its own roads in repair, but no one saw that the work was done, and parsimonious squires and vestries therefore did as little as possible. In the Middle Ages people left money for the repairing and making of highways, and they who did so even later by the Reformers themselves were esteemed to have done much to ensure their salvation. But mud, slush and swollen’ streams in rainy weather and unimaginable depths of sand and dust in dry weather were not the only inconveniences. The danger from highwaymen was ever present, and centuries passed before such robbery was suppressed. In one age it was the retainers and servants of the baron through whose estate the road ran that sought to lighten the burden of the stranger : perchance the baron himself helped in the work; then outlaws and professional bandits did the same thing; and thus from time immemorial till near our own day the Jack Sheppards and Dick Turpins levied mail of the passersby. In this way the men of Sherwood, whom romance has made virtuous, got their wealth and made merry, and, though we are told that the brave Robin spared the poor and lay in wait only for rich abbots and wealthy merchants, there is too strong a suspicion of business about this discrimination to suffer one to think much of his great-heartedness. Down in secluded hollows in the forest or the glen or by the stream was done the deed which made even strong men dread travelling and made women shiver with fear. Occasionally the robbery was committed in gentler and more legal form. Heavy toll was exacted for crossing a bridge or passing through a town or by a castle, or a still heavier fine for having incurred the suspicion of being a spy or a foe. As a man cannot help other people’s suspicions, and as there was no available appeal from the bench of country justice, the traveller was lucky if he escaped with half his goods and less than a day in the stocks. Dangers such as these made it necessary for travellers to unite in companies large enough for self-defence, and every wise man before he left his own roof-tree for a distance paid his debts, bade farewell to his friends and disposed of his family and property with far more care than is displayed in these degenerate days by many who are on the eve of taking their journey to that bourne from whence no traveller returns. As an illustration of the perils of the road the following from a newspaper presumably of about the year 1770 is interesting : ” On Thursday night about eight o’clock Mr. Thomas Pratt, farmer and corn-dealer, of Shipston, was stopped between Newbold and Tredington, on his return from Stratford, by a footpad, who rushed from the roadside and knocked him off his horse by striking him several times with a hedge-stake or heavy bludgeon. The villain then knelt on Mr. Pratt’s breast and took from him a pocket-book containing Stratford bank-bills to the amount of £99. Mr. Pratt was found lying on the ground about a quarter of an hour afterward very much cut and bruised about the head, two of his teeth having been knocked out by the blows. The robber was a stout, lusty man.” There is no record of his capture.
Travel a long way back was done mostly on horseback or on foot, though there were wagons and carts used for the purpose. The first coach seen in England was about the year 1553, and another hundred and twenty years passed before stage-coaches began to run; they were not received with much favor. In 1673 a treatise was published in London by ” A Lover of his Country, and Well-wisher to the Prosperity both of the King and Kingdoms,” in which were used many elaborate arguments and violent tirades against them. ” These coaches and caravans,” said the writer, ” are one of the greatest mischiefs that hath happened of late years to the kingdom, mischievous to the publick, destructive to trade, and prejudicial to lands.” He laments the decay of good horsemanship which would follow if everybody rode to London in a coach. He calculates that a stage-coach from York, Chester or Exeter would have forty horses on the journey to the capital and carry eighteen passengers a week. In the whole year it would carry about eighteen hundred and seventy-two. Supposing they were returning passengers, there would be nine hundred and thirty-six, and for these forty horses would be sufficient; but if people travelled in the good old-fashioned way, then at least five hundred horses would be required for this work. The use of so many horses would give employment to many who were by the stage-coach thrown out of work, such as cloth-workers, drapers, tailors, saddlers, tanners, curriers, shoemakers, spurriers, lorimers and fellmakers. The inns also suffer, for the stage-coach stops at only a few ; but when gentlemen travelled on horseback, accompanied, as they usually were, by three or four servants, they stopped at any and as often as they liked, and thus encouraged trade. Farmers will be ruined, he says, by the stage-coach; for how can they dispose of their hay, straw and horse-corn ? Moreover, the influence on health would be bad : men called out of their beds before” daylight, hurried from place to place till far on into the night, in the summer stifled with heat and choked with dust, in the winter starving and freezing with cold or choked with filthy fog, obliged to ride all day with strangers and with sick, ancient and diseased persons and young children crying, poisoned with fetid breaths and crippled by the crowd of boxes and bundles. Besides all these troubles, there were the accidents arising from rotten coaches and foul roads. In short, the writer is fully convinced that if stage-coach travelling becomes popular the country will go to ruin. Had he lived to see the railway, he would have been bereft of his senses. Had he lived to see the day when gallows should not be erected by the highway, nor suicides buried in the cross-roads, nor ghosts haunt the uncanny corners, he would have given up his spirit in despair.
The roads around Shipston are interesting. The Fossway, an ancient Roman thoroughfare running in an almost straight line across the country from Lincoln to Bath, passes the town to the north-west at a distance of two or three miles. It is a well-kept though rather unfrequented road. Once in a while the pedestrian meets a gig or a wagon, but one might go from the cross-roads between Tredington and Newbold to Stretton and see no one. In the hedges dog-roses grow in early summer and large luscious blackberries in the autumn. Birds and ploughboys here as elsewhere whistle and sing with varying sweetness and strength; the ” Tally-ho !” of the huntsman, the baying of the hounds and the sharp crack of the whip are sometimes heard, as are also the lowing of cattle, the bleating of flocks and the cries and shouts of laborers ; but the impression one has in traversing the Fossway so far, at least, as man is concerned is that of loneliness and lifelessness. It was a busy road when Roman legions moved through the country; now it is the retreat of the health-seeker, the lover and the antiquary.
There is a characteristic lane running from Tysoe by Tredington, Honington and Barcheston to Willington. Such roads are peculiarly English. In places the grass grows from hedge to hedge. A little beyond Honington it threads its way through a long avenue of tall, stately elms. Near Barcheston it crosses an open field on a rising ground from which a good view of Shipston may be had the still place with its square church-tower snug down in the hollow. At Barcheston one can turn aside to the village, consisting of an ancient church, the parsonage, a mill, a farmhouse, and possibly two cottages, and take a footpath across the fields to Willington a walk almost as pleasant as the one from Tredington to BIackwell by the high hedge.
The turnpike-roads are, of course, somewhat busier, but scarcely less attractive. There are footpaths by the side of the way, hedges and trees for shade and here and there a rustic seat where the tired traveller may sit and rest. The ride from Shipston to Stratford is delightful, and, indeed, one could walk the ten miles without noticing the distance, so velvety the turf, so firm the path, so charming the country. That to Banbury is almost as pleasant; the one to Moreton-in-the-Marsh, wilder and more secluded; and that to Chipping Norton, more romantic. This last-named road leads by the new cemetery, the ancient Tidmington and the once-famous but now deserted hostelry at Chapel-House, some ten miles from Shipston.
The district is dotted with villages and hamlets, many of them small and secluded, but all ancient and interesting. A few minutes’ walk over the mill-bridge and across the meadows brings one to Barcheston or Barson, as it was anciently, and is still locally, pronounced. In Henry IV, Part II., Act V., Scene 3, we read of ” Goodman Puff of Barson,” which some have thought was a corruption of Barton, the village on the Heath, but which others perhaps more correctly have identified with this place. It is of great antiquity, and was once of sufficient importance to give its name to the hundred to which it belonged. In Doomsday the place is called Berricestone. In the reign of Henry VII. a wealthy, merchant, William Willington by name, pulled down the few houses which the village then contained and built a spacious mansion, turning over five hundred acres of the land into a park. He died in 1563, and in a small chapel of the parish church he and his wife lie in effigy on an altar-tomb. The monument has been much mutilated. The little church, dedicated to St. Martin, was built in 1281. It is of Early English style and contains some brasses, an ancient font, an old black-lettered copy of Erasmus’s Paraphrases which was formerly chained to the bench and in the tower a priest’s chamber. This is said to be a good specimen of the domus inclusi. Towers were once frequently used for residence. What a weird sort of home ! Jackdaws chattering among the bells, ghosts lurking in the dark corners, the loneliness calling up legends and creating fancies of soul-subduing and mind-bewildering power, and the wind, as it swept against the buttressed walls and through the narrow loopholes, now sobbing and sighing like poor souls in agony and now roaring and raging, furious as the storm-waves of the sea or the shrieks of despairing demons ! Dismal, dull, melancholy! There are three bells, which are popularly sup-posed to ring this melody as they chime for service :
“‘ Long-tailed sow, Where be’st going?’ ‘ To th’ bean-mow.’ ‘ May I go wi’ thee?’ ‘No; not now: ”
The tower leans perceptibly. On the south side of the church is a curious spout two arms extended holding a bucket or tub to catch the water. The building has accommodation for about a hundred and fifty people, and a whisper can be heard in it from one end to the other. Here survives the time-honored parish clerk, a worthy man who for many years has rung the bells, dusted the pews, waited upon the parson and led the choir. Some of his honors have been taken away : there was once a time when the parish clerk read the first lesson and gave out the psalm.
The greater part of the congregation live at a hamlet about a mile across the fields from the church. The intervening ground was in the park, long since broken up, and to the place where the villagers were removed William Willington gave his own name. A simple place is that Willington, without either a public-house or a dissenter. A few cottages scattered along the irregularly-laid-out lanes, in which shepherds, carters and farm-laborers live, a little shop where a few necessaries, such as needles and thread, sugar and soap, can be bought, a farmhouse, that is all. The place is healthful: there is no excitement to injure the inhabitants. The geese eating the grass by the roadside in front of the houses take their time and scarcely notice the passers-by. The pigs and the dogs grow fat and indolent in no time. The old folks take snuff and drink small beer and sit for hours in solemn vacuity of thought. When the annual wake is held, the people dress in their gayest and best, a fiddler from Shipston scrapes music for the dancers and everybody makes merry. At Christmas most of the natives have a bit of roast beef and a bouncing plum-pudding of approved weight and color; at Easter, a chine of bacon perhaps a survival of the old custom of eating pork at that season to show contempt for the Jews. Long ago the villagers went to the bull-baitings and cock-fights at Shipston, and some of the ancients will justify the former sport on the ground that baiting made the bull’s flesh wholesome. An old pastime in this county was the ” grinning-match.” In a newspaper of 1711 it is said that the Warwickshire men were as famous for their grins as the Kentish men were for their tails. Grinning is better than crying, and at these matches a substantial prize was given to the best competing grinner. Whistling in unison was also practised, but the tendency to laugh at a row of screwed-up mouths was so great that a good bout was seldom secured.
A little farther up the river is Tidelmington or, as it is now called, Tidmington a church, a mansion, a farmhouse and a few cottages. The last parish clerk here served for thirty-one years an old-fashioned type
” Who thought no song was like a psalm, No music like a bell.”
Not long since, he was carried to his grave by four of his grandchildren, and his office is now declared obsolete. This parish borders on that of Todenham. There the ancient custom of ” beating the bounds” is still kept up. This in days gone by was generally observed throughout the country, and consisted of an annual procession or ambulation around the bourns or boundaries of the parish by the rector, churchwardens, prominent parishioners, meresmen and young people. The leading metes and points having been ascertained, they were severally indicated to the village boys and impressed upon their memories by such means as throwing one of them into the water, giving another a sound thrashing or bumping a third against a wall, tree, post, or any other hard substance near at hand. This was supposed to fasten the fact of the parish limits upon the juvenile intelligence, and took the place of the ordnance map. At Todenham, if a stranger happens to be going along the road while the procession is passing, the people leave off beating the bounds and cudgel him instead. Beyond Tidmington is Burmington, and beyond that again is Little Wolford, an ancient hamlet lying off the highway and containing an interesting mansion, partly of thirteenth-century date, of which the dining-hall, buttery-hatch and minstrels’ gallery have been pre-served. Cherrington, Stourton and Sutton are not far distant. In this same direction, seven or eight miles from Shipston, a little off the highway to Chapel-House, is an ancient stone circle similar to that at Stonehenge, known as the Rollendrych, Rowldrich or, more commonly, Rollright Stones. There are about sixty stones, some buried beneath the turf; others less than and some about four feet above the ground, and one over seven feet high, arranged in a ring thirty-five yards in diameter, in the middle of which is a clump of firs. Outside of the circle is the King Stone, eight feet high, and in another direction till lately were the Whispering Knights, five stones leaning against one another, the highest of which was nearly eleven feet. Local tradition has for centuries held that the stones are the transformed bodies of an army. A certain king of the neighboring part of the country, the story says, desiring to be ruler of all England, marched with his men across the country, and when on this spot exclaimed,
“If Long Compton I can see, King of England I shall be.”
Three or four steps farther he would have seen the village he desired, but at that moment a wise woman cried,
” Move no more ! Stand fast, Stone ! King of England thou shalt be none!”
and he and his knights and soldiers were instantly turned into stone. Superstition kept the place from being meddled with. A farmer once carried away one of the Whispering Knights to make a stepping-stone over his brook, but his rest was so disturbed by tormenting spirits that he returned it to its place. Five horses were needed to cart it away ; one sufficed to bring it back again. The nature of the tones proves that they were originally brought from a long distance, thus suggesting anew the mooted question of mechanical arts among the ancients. Camden thinks the stones commemorate a Danish victory; Plot, that they mark the place where kings were elected and crowned ; but most authorities regard them as sepulchral. Some have held that the circle is part of the outer boundary of a Celtic barrow and is at least two thousand years old. Two hundred yards east of the King Stone is a bank running north and south, where the exposed soil is of a darker color than the surrounding earth and covers the remains of men and horses. Various relics have been found close by, and everything seems to support the conclusion that here the people long ago buried their dead, and that the stones remaining formed the temple used for ancestor-worship. The Whispering Knights are possibly the remains of an altar, though the upper slab has been removed, and the King Stone may have served either as a pedestal for an idol or as a mark to guide worshippers from the opposite hills and the valley beneath to the temple. Within the circle itself no re-mains of bodies have been found, and we may reason-ably conjecture that this was the sanctuary, the place where the worship whether of the sun or of other forces of nature, or of ancestors was offered up, around which, as in our modern churchyards, the dead were interred. The weird grandeur and the impressive silence speak of the mutability of human affairs and the transitoriness of human life. Not a name abides ; priests and people, mourners and mourned, have passed away. The sacrificial fires are unkindled, the hymns to the gods unsung. Nothing remains of the temple so lone and grand in the wilderness, open to the winds and rains of heaven, but the gray and lichen-stained stones and an entrancing and strange mystery. How modern the oldest church in the land seems beside those rude and ancient relics !
About five miles from the Long Compton which the traditionary king desired to see is Compton Wingate, also called Compton-in-the-Hole because seated in a deep valley. Close by is Hook Norton, a picturesque village once held by a countess of Salisbury by the tenure of ” carving before the king, and to have the knife with which she carved.” Camden, writing in the reign of James I., says that the inhabitants of this place were formerly such clowns that “to be born at Hook Norton became a proverb to denote rudeness and ill-breeding.” In his day, as at the present time, the people of the neighborhood commonly called it ” Hog’s Norton, where the pigs play upon organs,” alluding, it is said, to a native who aspired to be a musician.
On the opposite side of Shipston, two miles toward Stratford-on-Avon, is Tredington, once the great ecclesiastical centre of the district. No less than ten chapelries in the largest and richest parish in the diocese of Worcester owed allegiance to the great church of St. Gregory. The church is of magnificent proportions and noble architecture. Norman pillars supporting pointed arches and the clerestory separate the nave from the aisles ; the rood-screen between the nave and the chancel remains ; the seats and the pulpit are of carved Perpendicular work, and at the west end is a long low gallery running the whole breadth of the church. The roof is flat and open, the wall timbers resting on grotesque heads, chiefly of animals resembling bears. In the aisle is a trefoliated piscina; near to it is an old lectern, to which is chained a copy of Jewel’s Apology, and in the floor, close by, is a large stone on which may be discerned the carved outlines of a chalice and a book. It is probably the monument of a priest, but no inscription remains. In the north aisle is an aumbry, square, with a wooden shelf. The chancel has among other tablets and slabs two fine brasses of the fifteenth century. The walls were once covered with painted scenes from Scripture and legend, but in 1841 they were scraped away ; nor did the authorities follow the example of the Reformers and place texts from the Bible in their stead. The noble tower contains a good peal of bells, mostly of seventeenth-century make. On some of them are inscriptions, such as ” Drawe neare to God ” and “, Gloria Deo in excelsis ; Jesu be our speed.” The view from the parapet is very fine. Thirty years ago the choir was accompanied by a flute, clarionet, fiddle, base-violin and other musical instruments. There was singing in those days part-singing of an elaborate nature. How the tuning of the instruments just before the chant or the hymn was begun used to echo through the dark nave and aisles ! and when all was ready, how lustily and heartily the sacred minstrelsy poured out its melody and song ! In the churchyard so full of graves that it is much higher than the floor of the church and the outside roadway is an elegant cross of fourteenth-century work, nearly thirteen feet high. Among the many quaint inscriptions on the tombstones are the following :
MARY HALL (1682).
“Here lyes that duste which did enthrone A sovle soe piovs soe divine, That not a daye to her was given But shee advanced a step towrds heaven; Whither shee now is fled to bee Partaker of a blest eternity.”
LAWRANDS SMITH (1680).
“All heads like mine must surely come With natur’s pasport to the tomb; Like vagabonds on earth they must Returne vnto their native duste.”
The equivocal character of this latter one is matched by another, which, referring to the departed, speaks of
” His spirit sinking to its rest.”
The district was once celebrated for its parish clerks. A noble specimen held office here till within some twenty years. He succeeded his father indeed, I believe the position was in the family for three generations and upward of a century. He knew the services by heart and as a psalm-singer was unrivalled. For a crinclepouchthat is to say, for a sixpence he would show the church to visitors and tell the unked stories of its nooks and corners. What he did not know about ghosts was not worth knowing not, as he used to say, that he had ever seen one himself or anybody else that ever had, but he had heard people who knew people that had heard of others who had, and surely that was evidence enough. When in his desk below the rector’s, during the service he kept one eye on the book and the other on the congregation, as much to look out for strangers and mark new hats and coats as to preserve order and decorum. Prayers ended and sermon begun, he would take out his red silk handkerchief used only on Sundays and at Christmas and Easter and throw it over his head (the church had draughts) and compose himself contentedly with a done-my-duty sort of air in a corner of his box-like desk to listen to the discourse. That he did not sleep was evident from the fact that he could tell what the sermon was about ; which was more than most of the congregation could do. He was a good old fellow, faithful, loyal and earnest, and at the annual tithe-dinner always held at the White Lion he sang his song, cracked his jokes and drank his ale with a good courage. Both parson and farmers liked him, but then those were wicked old times when people loved their beer and thought they would go to heaven.
Across the road is the rectory, a new building replacing one of great age. On the opposite side of the churchyard are the stocks and the whipping-post, long since disused, but in good preservation. The village consists of small, irregularly-built stone houses, many of them of considerable antiquity. Its life has departed ; a highway inn and a wheelwright’s shop are the only signs of trade. There are no dissenters, but not many years since the churchwardens were asked to weigh a woman against the Bible to prove to her neighbors that she had not a familiar spirit. In the old register we read of payments being made to parishioners for killing ob noxious animals; thus, adders were valued at twopence each, urchins at fourpence and foxes at a shilling. Of late years sparrows’ heads were paid for by the church-wardens at the rate of three farthings a dozen. In 1714 a man was paid half a crown for ” whipping ye dogs out of ye church.” Curious customs prevailed here, as else-where in the neighborhood. Two or three evenings every week during Advent the bells were rung to herald in with joyous peals the merry Christmastide. The ” passing-bell,” formerly tolled at the dying of a parishioner to warn his friends and neighbors of their own mortality and to urge them to pray that he might find mercy with God, now rings immediately after the death two strokes for a woman, twice repeated, and three strokes for a man, thrice repeated, followed by a long toll ; and as the solemn tones are wafted over the village and fields the housewife will stay her hand and the ploughman will lift his hat and utter a prayer that God will keep them in the dark hour. At some places in the diocese a muffled peal was rung on Innocents’ Day in token of sorrow for the babes of Bethlehem, and an unmuffled peal as a thanksgiving for the escape of the infant Saviour. Among the payments made the rector were Easter offerings, three or. four pence for each communicant. Householders also paid the smoke-penny and the garden-penny, and the tribute of saddle-silver” was made to the prior of Worcester for the privilege of riding on horseback through the ecclesiastical estate. In Saxon times the place belonged to Eanberht, duke of the Wiccians, and at the Conquest it passed into the possession of the bishop of Worcester. In the fourteenth century Robert Walden, of Warwick, founded a chantry in the parish church. Until the Reformation the manor remained mostly in ecclesiastical hands ; it was then confiscated and given to the earl of Warwick. Darlingscote and Blackwell, two tiny hamlets, still belong to the parish ; Armscott, formerly Edmundscote, and Newbold were cut off about fifty years since. In the latter village, three miles and a half from Shipston, on the highway to Stratford, is a neat little church dedicated to St. David, and containing in the chancel two painted lancets less in size than, but superior in delicacy of coloring and beauty of design to, even the well-executed eastern window containing the scene of the Last Judgment. On the Foss road, to the east of the highway between Tredington and Newbold, about a mile from either place, is Halford, noted for the beauty of its bowling-green. Here, in 1608, the rector of Tredington, then recently appointed, was ” married openlie in the church.” Throughout the reign of Elizabeth clerical marriages, though permitted, were discountenanced, and were performed in secret. In the reign of Edward I. part of the manor was made over by Henry de Hal-ford to a man named Bregge on condition of his supplying thirty-six people on Christmas Day with a loaf of bread, a herring and a flagon of beer. The place shared with Stratford the honor of a poet. There are poets of various sorts. William Shakespeare, the actor, was of one kind; George Grainger, the parson of Halford, was of another. He was presented to the living in 1659, and commemorates his predecessor as follows :
” Here lyes a modell of the Pastour pure, Described by Paul, who undertook the cure Of congregation all, and gave example From Timothy and Titus large and ample; He was no fighter, drunkard, nor yong scholar, Not avaricious nor o’ercome with choller.”
To his own ministry, just beginning, he thus refers :
“Oh, that this Pastour and this people too In apostolique rules would dwell ; Whatever Sodom and Gomorrah doo, Our little Zoar shall fare well.”
In this church there is a squint in the wall behind the reading-desk, so that formerly the people in the south aisle could see the priest at the altar; Chipping Norton also has one. In many ancient chancels there is a low side-window commonly called a leper-window, through which lepers or sick persons during the time of plague might witness the mass and receive communion without contaminating the congregation. Some, however, think these windows were lychnoscopes, and that their object was to allow the light of the lamp burning in the sanctuary to fall on the graves in the churchyard. There was such a window in Tredington church, but it is now stopped up.
We may not wander farther through this pleasing neighborhood. Places as interesting a$ any we have spoken of abound. Ilmington, Ebrington and Blockley have each a story which we may not in this place tell.
The peculiarities of dialect are many, and, though there is a decided approach to the general English tongue, many of the common people still retain the lingual idiosyncrasies of their fathers. One of the leading features of the dialect is the lengthening of the vowels. This is done so as to give them a double quantity, and frequently to cause them to be repeated as in a diaeresis. For instance, the following are common examples : “don’t” is pronounced ” doön’t ;” “won’t,” ” woön’t ;” ” like,” ” Nike ;” ” time,” “tame.” “Come” runs ” coom,” like the word “coo;” and “there” becomes “theer,” like “thee” with an r.
Another leading characteristic is the general drawl. The words are long drawn out, fairly enunciated, but uttered very slowly. The pitch of voice is high and the tone loud; both painfully so. The sentence is more or less inflected, at times running into a disagreeable sort of rhythm. The aspirate is, of course, utterly neglected. Occasionally it is prefixed to a word to which it does not belong, but not often, for that would need effort ; and the prolonged drawl precludes anything like effort. There appears to be no difficulty in the way of their clearly understanding one another, even in words where the spiritus asper seems to an educated ear absolutely necessary. They neither notice its presence nor miss its absence. The liquids are still clear, making a remarkable contrast. to the London speech. On the whole, there is a harshness, a barbarism, which makes the tongue the reverse of attractive.
The grammatical blunders are many. The nominative and objective cases are freely transposed. ” Hur guved hit to I ” is the common style. Instead of ” are,” the use of “be” is general ; e. g., “You beean’t ah gooin ;” ” I bee gooöd ;” ” Him bee ah stunner.” The number of verbs is woefully, disregarded ; e. g., “I cooms,” “we is” or “us is,” and “him up and hit he.” This last example we heard given “‘Im hup and ‘it ‘ee.”
There are not many words peculiar to the dialect. They use ” gammy ” for ” bad,” “ship ” for the singular of “sheep,” ” scrimmut ” for a piece of anything, and “lissom ” for “lithesome” or nimble. A fence is called a ” mound ;” a heap or rick of hay, a ” mow ;” and a master, a ” gaffer.” The Transatlantic ” ain’t ” is supplied by the equally unpleasant “ahn’t or “han’t.” Most people use the word ” Protestant” as descriptive only of the Church of England; what they do in parishes where the parson repudiates that honored title we do not know.
The vocabulary in the use of country-people is small, their power to grasp ideas very slight, and hence the difficulty in communicating thought. The clergy, who as a class are by no means apt in the pulpit, have their troubles increased on this account. They cannot come down to the rude and narrow colloquial speech of their rustic parishioners. The dissenting preacher, being taken from a lower class and having an inferior education, can. To imagine an Oxford don placed in charge of a re-mote country parish preaching according to the barbarous dialect of his people is to imagine that which is absurd and unreasonable. An eagle and a crow or a nightingale and a sparrow could as well hold communication. Thus the very scholarship of the English clergy sometimes becomes a hindrance to the Church, though with the spread of education this difficulty will disappear.
The position and the influence of the country clergy are, on the whole, unique in Christendom. Nowhere are they more respected; nowhere are they better provided for. If there is a nicer house set in prettier grounds than any other in the village, that is the rector’s. The love which his people will have for him will depend largely upon the manner in which he fulfils his sacred functions. If careless, worldly, unsympathetic or indifferent, they will speak against him without qualification; if, on the other hand, he is faithful and loving, they will yield him an obedience and an affection knowing no restraints. Clergymen differ. We heard one pastor who probably had had some dispute with his congregation preach upon the Israelites asking Samuel for a king. It was not wrong, he said, for them to de-sire a king, since a king was a necessity to every well-constituted nation : ” Honor the king ” was the apostolic injunction. No ; the wrong was committed in their wishing to set aside their good old clergyman, Samuel. The pathos passed into vigor when he concluded, ” My friends, never oppose your clergyman.” The sermon was prosy and soporific, the season was that of making the hay, and, even if his hearers had the presumption to understand, it is probable that the exhortation fell upon hard hearts. People seldom repent when ministers scold, and a scolding minister indicates an unsatisfactory parish and shortcomings on both sides.
It was our good fortune to have come into contact with one clergyman who brought vividly to mind Chaucer’s and Cowper’s description of a good pastor. His influence upon his parish and neighborhood was as that of the sun in its quiet, steady round of work. The people loved him ; all men admired him. There were in him the gentleness and holiness, the churchliness and poetry, of a George Herbert, and the forty years of his ministry in the one parish had made it as a garden of the Lord. One summer evening we drove to his church and attended service a plain little church, but at this time filled with worshippers. Before the evensong began a woman was churched at the altar-rails ; the office was read distinctly, and the congregation joined in the responses. A choir of girls in white led the people in singing; and lusty singing it was, such as made one’s heart glad. In the fields around the church the red brown wheat rustling in the evening breeze and softly lightened up by the sinking sun made a picture never to be forgotten. After the third collect a young preacher went up into the pulpit and delivered a sermon upon the first verse of the Nunc Dimittis. Before he had finished, the twilight darkened, so that the unlighted church was filled with gloom. After the sermon, in the night-shadows, the aged rector read the Litany most impressively. The twinkling taper at his stall was the only light in the church. Then the people rose and sang the hymn, ” Sun of my soul.” They knew it by heart and needed no book, while the ever-deepening shadows added emphasis to the line, ” It is not night if thou be near.”
It is the work of such men as this worthy rector which makes the Church dear to the hearts of the people. We heard something of disestablishment, but always as a remote possibility. Some country-people asked us who would support the clergyman in such an event taking place. ” We could not,” they added, ” and the result would be that we should soon become heathen.” As the Church does not receive one penny from the State from one year’s end to the other, and as she was never established by the State, being, indeed, some centuries older, it is difficult to understand what is meant by disestablishment, unless it be confiscation. Such a robbery is possible, but it is only likely when Socialism has so prevailed as to take away all rights of personal property. The tithes and the endowments are not the gifts of the nation at large, but the bequests of the-faithful of past ages. They belong to the individual parish, even as buildings and trusts do in America; if taken away, then schools, colleges, hospitals and all endowed institutions are likewise liable.
Oftentimes in this district of which we are writing the people have real humor not the wit of the Irish, but the rarer and higher gift of a merry, lightsome disposition. Here and there a delightful stupidity is shown. The story is told of two men disputing over the purchase of pigs. One believed in buying large ones ; the other, in buying small ones. The question turned upon the quantity which the latter would eat. It seemed that the one who opposed their purchase had once bought one, intending to fatten it, but, though it ate a bucketful of meal at a time, it would not grow. One morning the man carried out a bucketful of food, and after the little pig had swallowed it all he picked it up and put it into the same bucket, and the little wretch did not fill it half full !
Some years ago a man and his wife belonging to a village close by Shipston resolved to go to America ; but when at Liverpool they saw the great sea, the good fellow exclaimed, ” Let’s go back, Betty, till the flood’s gone down.” This was the contrary of the impression which was made upon another man when he took his sweetheart to spend a day at the seaside, and arrived just in time for the ebb tide: ” Wy, Ann, danged if they bain’t a-lettin t’ watter off!” One of the sayings in the country is, If you only wait, you may carry water in a sieve.”” How long ?” you ask.” Till it freezes,” is the triumphant reply. Some one told us of a woman who had six children, the eldest only seven years old. She was very careful about the Saturday-night scrub, in accordance with the custom of this neighborhood, and we asked if she put them all in a big tub together. ” Oh no,” was the reply; “she washes them as she can catch them.” The picture of a mother running after her little ones in that fashion struck us as highly amusing.
A talkative old fellow was speaking of his wife in terms of lavish praise. She was the best this and the best that the world had ever known. She had a conscience, was industrious, thrifty and tidy, and, in short, to use his expression, was an uncommonly good woman. Above all, she was ever ready to help her neighbors. As he paused for breath another garrulous individual abruptly injected the observation, possibly to confirm the story of her many virtues, ” Yes ; and if there is any sore throat around, she is bound to take it.”
In old time the dry humor of the people was frequently expressed in the sculptured faces in the churches. In one porch we saw a figure in which the hands were drawn over the stomach and the face had the woebegone expression which follows a nauseous dose of medicine or indicates an active stage of seasickness. As one looked at the grim-cut and blackened countenance it seemed to say, That’s the sort of stuff you get in this place.” At Badsey was a home for the sick monks of the abbey of Evesham; the sculptured heads in the church represent men in the pains of illness toothache, colic, etc. This sort of humor is now expressed in obituary poetry unconsciously, of course, as in the following lines taken from a stone in a Birmingham graveyard :
“O cruel death ! How could you be so unkind As to take him before and leave me behind ? You should have taken both, if either, Which would have been more pleasant to the survivor.”
This at Naunton Beauchamp upon a Captain Wambey is too good to be omitted:
” Here lies, retired from worldly deeds, An old officer of the Invalids, Who in the army was born and bred, But now lies quarter’d with the dead. Stripp’d of all his warlike show, And laid in box of oak below, Confin’d in earth, in narrow borders, He rises not till further orders !”