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Indeed, rightly considered, the building and maintenance of this and many another church of its kind was in the nature of an insurance policy against fire—the dreaded eternal fire. It is a small Norman and Early English building, restored in and rubbed up and carpeted in rather a drawing-room style of comfort, so that the monumental effigies look somewhat second-hand and apologetic. The battered, crusading, or, at any rate, cross-legged, effigy of one Roger de Lancaster looks even tenth-hand, and, shoved into a dimly lighted corner, with a bar of Windsor soap 74in his mouth, a mop and a pail and other housewifely things disposed negligently about his mailed person, is the picture of ancient dignity in reduced circumstances.
The tomb, with recumbent effigy, in the south wall of the chancel, is that of Sir Thomas Middleton, With him lies his wife, killed by a stag in Stansted Park. The alabaster tomb, with life-sized and coloured effigy of Esther Salusburye in the Lancaster Chapel, is found unexpectedly by the stranger, behind the organ. The full-length figure lying there, so naturally coloured and dressed in the height of fashion of that bygone year of , when she died, is so extraordinarily lifelike that one almost shrieks with momentary fright; and indeed the work is so perfect, it rather resembles a human being masquerading as an effigy than a mere carved and painted mass of stone.
Stansted Street, skirting the main road with its old-fashioned but nondescript houses, has lost much of its picturesqueness of late years. The Admiral was created Earl of Orford in Again, if we leave the road and take the footpath that leads across a meadow? Fortunately Ugley is among the smallest of places, and therefore the Ugley girls with feelings to be scarified by such a description are few.
Ugley, however, has a near neighbour in misfortune, in the hamlet of Nasty, to be found by the curious, scarce more than ten miles away, between Great Munden and Braughing, in Hertfordshire. Ugley church is situated, as I have here made effort to show, in a very pretty setting of trees. It is a small church, placed just outside a farmyard, but stands otherwise solitary and unheeded by those who keep the main road.
It might be thought the Georgian red-brick tower was built on to the ancient body by some one concerned to make it fit the place-name—for it is not beautiful—did we not know that Georgian towers, and churches too, were commonly hideous, and this, therefore, by no means exceptional. Its note is one with the Christmas cards of our youth, when no one was ashamed of such pictures as that of the old parish church in the snow, or the Robin Redbreast on his spray of holly.
XII Quendon, a scattered little village prettily situated where the road broadens out and curves slightly, with broad margins of grass, bears a resemblance to Trumpington, on the Cambridge Road. Beyond it the open road leads into Newport. Newport, whose name has nothing whatever to do with a water port, derives that title from its situation on a new road—a new gate, or door, or portal—made at some unrecorded time through the Forest of Essex.
It is now nothing but a village, as picturesque and delightful as any on the road, but fallen from its ancient importance, and overshadowed by Saffron Walden, only three miles away. Time was—a very long while ago—when Newport had a market and Saffron Walden had none. At that time Newport was one of the many manors belonging to Harold, and it continued to be a Royal manor for some time after the Conquest; coming afterwards into the hands of the Magnavilles.
The fortunes of Newport fell, and those of Saffron Walden began to rise, when the Empress Maud, somewhere about , authorised Geoffrey de Magnaville to transfer the market to Walden, and although, some sixty years later, in , King John granted Newport the right to hold an annual 82fair, this stricken town never recovered from the blow inflicted by the loss of its market privileges.
The fate of Gaveston seems to prove how dangerous was the stinging gift of satire in the early part of the fourteenth century. That unfortunate man, raised by the King to the highest offices of State, of course became hateful to others not so successful, and his splendour, his arrogance, and, above all, the wittily offensive nicknames he showered upon that baronial crew, aggravated the original offence beyond endurance, so that they finally seized and beheaded him.
It will be allowed that this eminently practical retort was even more stinging than the original satire, and certainly forbade a rejoinder. Later lords of the manor of Newport have been more fortunate, or have been such comparatively obscure persons that their misfortunes are scarcely historic. Indeed, with the passing of Gaveston, the annals of the place are purely domestic, but none the less interesting; Newport is, in fact, singularly full of interest.
However that may be, this fine relic of the fifteenth century is now in secular occupation, and divided into two cottages. The interior is without interest; and its most beautiful and interesting feature the one most easily seen by the wayfarer—the fine old oak-framed oriel window looking upon the road and decorated with an elaborate and curious carving of the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The church, dominating the view at this point, looks almost cathedral-like, and its tower is strongly reminiscent of Great St. He—or they for him—wholly lacked humility. Tragical memories are revived by the memorial window in the south aisle to the son of the vicar, one of the who perished in the destruction 87by fire of the Theatre Royal, Exeter. The church has a treasure of sorts in the musty, dusty old theological library, stored away in the parvise chamber, over the porch.
It is a treasure not likely to be greatly coveted, nor are its constituent volumes frequently read, consisting, as they do, of dull black-letter discourses on just those religious matters in which the learned are of necessity as ignorant as the veriest clod. Not even the best-equipped of those disputants could pierce the veil that hides from us the other world, and now they are gone hence and acquired that knowledge, or just become extinct, they cannot enlighten ourselves.
All they could do was to raise cloudy disputations, and the dust one bangs out of their ponderous folios is typical of their useless labours. A more desirable treasure is the ancient muniment-chest kept jealously under lock and key in the vestry. It is a weighty affair, covered with gilt lead, in perforated patterns, and secured with five locks.
Inside the heavy lid are barbarically coloured paintings of the Crucifixion, the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. John, St. Peter, and St. An early morning bell-ringing custom of immemorial antiquity is still maintained at 88Newport, but happily not with all its old-time severity. Bell-ringing at Newport was wont to be greatly favoured, for there was a nightly curfew, followed by a number of strokes corresponding with the day of the month.
In these latter days, when traffic fares the road unhindered, all public roads are toll-free—except the road through Newport. Pedestrians and cyclists in general, and the whole of the traffic from certain specified neighbouring villages are exempt; but waggons from elsewhere pay 2d. How comes it, then, that this one toll survives when others have been abolished? That is a long story, but one that may readily be summarised here. It seems, then, up to some two hundred years ago the little stream which even now runs across the highway, and is known variously as Wicken Water and the Granta, was unbridged, and crossed only by a ford.
Neither the county nor the parish would be at the expense of building a bridge, and at last the lord of the manor obtained an Act of Parliament which conferred upon him the right of building, and authorised the levying of those tolls which are collected to this day. The tolls are still vested in the lord of the manor, but are not very strictly enforced, and as the gate has not, for many years past, been closed, and is, indeed, half buried in the ground and nearly rotted away, a good many waggons and many cattle must, especially at night, escape paying.
It was a Smith, of Shortgrove, who obtained the Act and built the bridge, and, although Shortgrove Park has been let, these rights are still in the family. The toll has often been disputed, and was once, indeed, some thirty years since, the subject of a law-suit, when the uncle of the present Smith asserted his rights, and won.
Before railways had come, to clear the roads of most of the cattle and the waggons, the income 90of this toll-gate was considerable, but in these days it is not worth the while of the owner of these petty rights to collect the small gains, and the toll-house has been let as an ordinary cottage, but, in consideration of the tolls, at a rent slightly above its value as a dwelling. The occupier is, therefore, in a rather sporting position, and, by strict attention to business and by keeping sleepless vigils, might stand to gain quite a respectable trifle of pocket-money out of sheep that pass in the night, or from waggons that creak and rumble by in the early hours of morn, before the day is well aired.
But it is an elderly occupant, and many a fourpence and a twopence go unchallenged into the darkness. Only the slow-going vehicles and the flocks and herds of daytime find themselves intercepted. One of the most humorous things in connection with this quaint survival was an incident that came under the notice of the present writer, when a huge furniture-removing van—one of the kind that goes at a two-and-a-half miles an hour pace—was stopped, and, much to the amazement of the driver who, in common with the world at large, thought all tolls to be things of the past , made to pay.
It is the most insignificant of streams that causes all this pother, and the smallest of bridges, but it can still be seen, where the road dips, how awkward the old ford must have been. Both unite again in little over a hundred yards. Between the two, and at a higher level than either, on road-bridges, arches, and embankments, goes the railway; the rail-level somewhat above the roofs of the very picturesque line of ancient farms, inns, and cottages that front the older route.
We have not even yet done with Newport, for it is beside this old road that one of the most interesting houses of the village stands. It displays an elaborately decorated frontage of moulded plaster, and takes its name from the crown in high relief over the door. Criticism has sought to destroy the tradition by pointing out that the date of over the doorway is five years later than the death of Nell, who died, aged thirty-seven, in , and three later than the death of Charles; but traditions very often enshrine truths, and it is permissible to suppose the date merely records some old-time restorations or additions in honour of that exalted patronage and those patrons then so recently passed away.
The house has long been untenanted. The garden wall still displays some fragments of stone said to have come from the chapel. Let us look on them with what veneration we may, even though they might equally well have come from the kitchen. It is with much more, and a very genuine, respect one gazes upon the Big Stone between that wall and the road. Passing farmhands volunteer the information that it has been here all their time, which is fairly obvious, for 94it is, in fact, a glacial boulder, and was left here by some expiring glacier in the beginning of things, before the men of the Stone Age came upon the scene; nay, even before the protoplasmal common ancestral jelly-fish began to crawl in the lifeless ooze.
Whence it was brought on the shoulders of that sliding ice-pack perhaps not even the most cocksure geologist could say; but it is, of course, wholly alien from Essex, which has no stone of any kind. A ruddy sandstone, it might have come from Devonshire, from Worcestershire, or from Midland districts, where red sandstone is a native formation; but it would be a matter of speculation to attempt to fix its origin.
It is very large, must needs be enormously weighty, and must in years past have been sorely tempting to road surveyors hungering in this stoneless county for road metal. But having escaped destruction in those bygone years, we may suppose Newport Big Stone is now pretty safe on that score.
To the present historian nothing is more attractive than a place with an odd name, and he has gone unconscionable distances out of his way, often to find the most unusual names enshrining the most commonplace towns and villages. But not always. Here, for example, Wendens Ambo is a quaint, old-world place, characteristically Essexian. In the churchyard is a tombstone to William Nicholson, who died, aged , in There are, or were, it seems, two Wendens—Great and Little.
Their name derives from that Anglo-Saxon deity, Woden, who gives us the name of our Wednesday, i. The Abbey of Walden then stood here; an ancient foundation built, like most monastic establishments, in a pleasant vale, beside a fishful stream. He was thus a great receiver of stolen property, but put a portion of his gains, at least, to good use, for he founded Magdalene College, Cambridge, as the epitaph on his tomb, in the course of surely one of the most shockingly bad puns in existence, tells us.
The great pile of Audley End was not, however, reared in his time, and although when it arose it was given his name, which it still bears, it speedily, for lack of heirs of his blood, came into altogether alien hands. His daughter was sole heiress. She married, at the age of fourteen, Lord Henry Dudley, and when he died, became wife of the widowed fourth Duke of Norfolk.
She died at the age of twenty-three, and the Duke then married for the third time, became for the third time a widower, and finally closed his career in the approved way by dabbling in conspiracy and getting beheaded for it.
It was he who built the vastly spacious and vastly costly house of Audley End, of which the existing building, large though it be, is only a portion. In , and again in , great ranges of it were taken down by the then owners, 98unable to bear the enormous expense of maintaining so huge a place. He began the works in , and not until thirteen years later were they completed. Well might James I. For some few occasions Audley End was used by the Court, but chiefly by the more reputable section of it.
Here, while Charles was housed at Newmarket with courtiers of an infamous stamp, the Queen and her household led a country life so remarkable for its dulness that on one occasion, in October, , to save themselves from dying of ennui, they are found going in disguise to Saffron Walden fair. Roper before Richmond. One amongst them had seen the Queen at dinner, knew her, and was proud of her knowledge: this soon brought all the Faire into a crowd, to stare at the Queen.
But thus discovered, they, as soon as they could, got to their horses; but as many of the Faire as had horses got up with their wives, children, sweet harts, or neighbours behind them, to get as much gape as they could till they brought them to the Court gate. Thus, by ill conduct, was a merry frolick turned into a pennance.
The Earls of Suffolk ended in , when the tenth of that title died and was illegally succeeded in the property by his kinsman, the Earl of Effingham, from whom the Countess of Portsmouth, one of the two daughters and co-heiresses of Lord Griffin, who were the true but dispossessed owners, bought the house and estate. Again, on his death, childless, the property changed hands, coming into possession of the Nevilles, who still own it and the Braybrooke title.
That account tells something of the quick changes and varied fortunes of Audley End, but only a lengthy disquisition could describe its appearance and contents. Here I played on my flageolet, there being an excellent echo. And indeed the cellars are fine; and here my wife and I did sing, to my great content. And then to the garden, and there did eat many grapes, and took some with us. But there are exceptionally fine views of the exterior from the high road, and from the slip road into Saffron Walden.
From this last the fine bridge over the Cam comes effectively into the picture, but seen from the high road, the great house not only stands nakedly disclosed, across bare pastures, with never an intervening hedge or tree, but looks coldly inhospitable and desolate, even although the extensive stone front is designed in the rich Jacobean style. The prominent, copper-covered cupolas are a bright green.
But if Audley End does by no means look homely, the scenery is delightful. The road passes through an open common on the left, planted with park-like clumps of trees, and with the pretty feature of green alleys cut through dense coppices. Ahead, down the road, the red-brick gabled stables of the mansion, older than the mansion itself, lend a ruddy and cheerful tone.
He is a would-be impressive griffin, but his singularly apologetic attitude, like that of a French poodle on his hind legs, begging for biscuits and conscious all the while that he is making a fool of himself, is only laughable. Saffron Walden lies a mile distant, on a ridge overlooking a wide stretch of country, and is one of the prettiest and neatest of rural corporate towns. Prominent, far and near, is the great Perpendicular church, bracketed with that of Thaxted as the finest in Essex.
Not a little of its proud dominance over neighbouring hill and dale is due to the tall, tapering crocketed spire, added so late as , and one of the earliest and most successful efforts of the Gothic revival. The very late Perpendicular clerestoried nave, with noble timbered roof, is singularly like the great Gothic Guildhall Library in London, which would almost seem to have been designed by its modern architect after this ancient model.
It is a town of old and new in just proportions, and with a staid prosperity not pushful enough to be vulgar, nor so allied to modernity that it must needs sweep away its old relics. In Church Street, indeed, is to be found one of the most curious old plaster houses that any town or village can boast. For whom they may be intended, only the designer of them could say, and he cannot tell us, for if we may believe the date of on the wall, he must have been gathered to his fathers quite two centuries ago.
There is little left of the great castle of Walden, the chief fortress of those Magnavilles, Earls of Essex, of whom Geoffrey, lord of a hundred and seventeen manors in the troublous reigns of the Empress Maud and Stephen, was the third.
There is no more striking figure in the history of these East Anglian districts than that of this third Geoffrey. Not even Hereward, that earlier hero of the Fens, made a deeper impression; but while Hereward was a patriot, fighting the hopeless cause of his people, Geoffrey de Magnaville became a murderous bandit, whose hand was against every man. Succeeding to the family honours in , he took up arms for the Empress Maud when England was plunged into Civil War between the rival claims of herself and Stephen, at the death of Henry I.
Albans, his castles at Walden and Pleshey seized, and his high office of Constable of the Tower of London stripped from him. Unfortunately for the welfare of this part of the kingdom, the mild policy of Stephen aimed at nothing more, and the broken Earl was set free. Some men take their misfortunes with a heroic calm, but Geoffrey de Magnaville was not of that kind. As robber and bandit, he was probably as much feared by those with whom he sided as by his opponents.
The trembling clergy and peasantry knew him well, and feared him with a deathly fear, for murder and sacrilege were his sport. It was at Burwell, whose church tower stands prominently in the view from Newmarket Heath, his furrow came to an end, in It was time. He had for so long been the scourge of these wilds that at length the King made a determined effort to keep him in check by building a castle at Burwell and holding it in force.
By this plan he hoped to keep that strenuous evil-doer shut up in his chosen haunt among the swamps of the Cam, where he might mudlark at will, and it was in attacking this castle, in an attempt to break through, he was mortally wounded by a bolt in the head, and died the next day at Mildenhall, eight miles distant, whither his fellow-outlaws had carried him.
At the end of that time, upon some flimsy proof being given of his having in his last moments made some expressions of repentance, his spirit received absolution, and the body was buried beside that of his fathers in the Temple Church. He wears a more than usually dour expression of countenance. His head is represented encased in a helmet in shape something midway between a saucepan and a frying-pan: possibly a rendering in stone of that headgear he wore at Burwell, and removed in the midst of that fray, to get the air, when the missile struck him.
The massive walls, long since robbed of all architectural features, still show how securely he built, even though they are at this day only shapeless lumps of rubble. In one corner the stocks and pillory of Walden are still preserved.
It is a castle without a history. No one knows who destroyed it, and no tale has ever been told of those great earthworks, once connected with the fortress, which now, emerald green with luxuriant grass and spangled in springtime with wild flowers, once defended his market-town of Walden against surprise. While it was thought to relieve hysterical depression, it was good also for the small-pox. Placed in bags under the chins of sufferers from that fearful disease, it was supposed to bring on the eruptions, and so quickly relieve the patients.
Fuller gives very emphatic testimony to its virtues. Those were, by consequence, the times of saffron adulteration. Of its high qualities he was, as we have seen, fully convinced, but another proof he advances, is not, to a sceptical modern world, altogether conclusive. He, at any rate, had the capacity for infinite belief, as we shall see.
Nowadays saffron is chiefly used as a colouring material for aromatic confections, for liqueurs and varnishes. Put in common cakes, that prove to have been made of something suspiciously like sawdust and paste, the yellow hue it gives produces a specious and illusory richness only discovered too late XVI We regain the high road at Littlebury, a rural village whose church is said to be built within the lines of a Roman encampment.
Littlebury was the birthplace of Winstanley, the cocksure and unfortunate designer of the Eddystone Lighthouse, who perished with the destruction of his building. The house where he was born was pulled down many years ago, and it is ill work questing for the site of it. Your ordinary villager is no hero-worshipper, and fails to understand such a search as this. Pirraps they knaws him at the Post Orfice.
The only person whom the present writer met at Littlebury who did know was stone deaf, and questions had to be put by the slow and cumbrous process of writing. The house stood on the right-hand side of the cross-road that goes from the church to the water-mill.
Its site is now a little elm-covered mound in a meadow. Passing from here along the river-bordered road, within sight of Little Chesterford, we leave Essex and come into Cambridgeshire, where the village of Great Chesterford is planted down on the further side of the river Cam. A gaunt fork of the roads here presents itself to the view, with an ugly inn at the parting of the ways, a shattered windmill to the left, on a hillside, and the railway running on to Cambridge through Great Chesterford station, with a forest of tall signal-posts outlined against the sky, and the puffings, snortings, and crashings of trains sounding continually, far into the night.
We do not merely leave the modern county of Essex and enter Cambridgeshire at this point, but change our soil as well, coming at once into a chalk country of bare and inhospitable downs, completely altering the nature of the road and keeping a forbidding solitude, without sign of the habitations of men, and only the occasional dull tinkle of a sheep-bell to hint even of farming interests.
This country of the Iceni, comprising to use that favourite word of the auctioneers what we now know as Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, and Huntingdonshire, was a country pre-eminently distinguished from other parts of England by its ancient inaccessibility. Only along the ridges of chalk downs stretching from Haverhill to Linton on the Essex border, or from Great Chesterford on to those other chalk downs of Royston was there any line of advance dryshod, and long lengths of those ridges were in those remote times covered with almost impenetrable woods.
Thus the Icknield Way was the readiest, and almost only, route to or from the country of the Iceni, for friend or foe. It was never a made road, and in places branches out into several routes, but it was always the clearest of trackways, and owes its preservation over many miles to its course lying so greatly out of the way of agricultural operations, along the crests of the chalk hills, where the plough never comes and the faint footsteps of prehistoric man are undisturbed.
The existence of such a continuous track far out of the bounds of the Icenian realm, and the persistence among the peasantry of the different shires and counties of its old name under the transparent disguises of Hickling, Acheling, Hackney Way, and other variants, point not only to a considerable intercourse between the several peoples of this island, but also to the strong personality of the Iceni, who could thus imperishably impress their name on the long route, far from their own frontiers.
They were, however, at pains to protect themselves and that part of the Way which formed the entrance into their own country, and the traveller still sees, as he journeys on to Newmarket, the means they adopted to that end, in the various ditches and ramparts athwart the road. This was the weakest part of their frontier, and thus it is that along these sixteen miles to Newmarket we find the way to have been barred by three strong earthworks, stretching on the one hand to the primeval forests on the hill-tops and on the other to the impassable fens.
The Icknield Way was thus well defended. It ran from Great Chesterford, partly along the course of the present road, to the neighbourhood of Newmarket, and thence into the heart of Suffolk and Norfolk to Norwich, the Venta Icenorum of the Romans. From Norwich its course is uncertain, but it is thought to have made for Yarmouth. Newmarket had not in those days come into existence, but the village of Exning, two miles from that town, marks the site of an ancient settlement.
From Newmarket the Way becomes more difficult to trace, but it seems to have gone by Kentford, and to have crossed the Lark at Lackford. Thence over the high grounds of Icklingham Heath, by Old Elveden Gap, to Thetford, it is readily found, in a green track that may be followed for miles.
Not every East Anglian village whose name begins with Ick or Ix can claim to mark this principal line of communication. There are the twin villages of Icklingham St. Edmunds, with Ixworth, Ixworth Thorpe, and Ickburgh in other parts of Norfolk and Suffolk, but they merely show those people to have been widely settled in the land, and that the Way, although their principal track, was by no means the only one.
Here, at Great Chesterford, where the bare swooping downs fall into the valley of the Cam—here, or at the neighbouring village of Ickleton—the Iceni would seem to have had a frontier town, and when the Romans so masterfully subjugated them, that conquering people established beside this little river their fortified post of Iciani, or, as some antiquaries would have it, Camboritum.
Whichever of those two places it really was, it is quite certain a post was established here. The adjoining fields have, time and again, yielded treasures in Roman coins and articles of bronze, gold, and brass, and skeletons, perhaps those of the owners of these finds, have been unearthed.
Great Chesterford, perhaps once really great, is now quite a small place, but keeps its annual July fair, even though its market, dating from some time before Domesday Book, has long since decayed. The only sign of modern life in the village at this day is the new roller flour-mill by the Cam, using the electric light. Ickleton and Hinxton, two neighbouring villages, are seen down in the distance, on the left hand, as the road climbs steadily over the chalk downs: pleasant villages in the valley of the Cam, with brilliantly whitewashed cottages showing prominently from their setting in green pastures.
This is a no mere track over the downs, but a well-made highway, embanked in the hollow and cut through the rises. The result is that the present railway journey between Great Chesterford and Newmarket is necessarily through Cambridge, and describes two sides of a triangle, as you may readily discover by consulting a railway map.
The abandoned railway forming the third side of the triangle, would have gone direct, but it was discovered, somewhat late in the day, that there was not sufficient traffic to support both routes, and so the rails of this particular one were torn up and the line abandoned.
It begins at Great Chesterford as an embankment, overgrown with brambles and undergrowth, but presently sinks to the level at the crossing of the road to Sawston and Cambridge, and in the fields on either side has been ploughed out of existence. Where the trains once went, turnips and clover now grow; but the embankment rises again in the distance and looks remarkably like another, and an even more gigantic, earthwork of unknown age. It is singular, indeed, that in this district of prehistoric dykes a modern rival should be thus added for the confusion of antiquaries who may even yet, in the remote future, come to speculate learnedly upon it, to discuss by what tribe it was made or whose kingdom it divided.
Neighbouring the road all the way to Six Mile Bottom, it sometimes drops into deep cuttings, with the bridges still spanning them, and again resumes as a lofty embankment, often shrouded in the fir plantations that in the course of half a century have developed into dense woods. It ends at last on the level at Six Mile Bottom XVIII That cyclist whose way lies in the eye of the wind along these miles to or from Newmarket is greatly to be pitied, for few sheltering plantations break the force of the howling gales that sweep the stark hillsides.
But when the summer sun of a still July afternoon shines mellow upon this country of infinite distances—why, then the way of the pilgrim is made easy, and he can better appreciate a road whose bleakness, when overtaken by rain or night, or struggling against adverse winds, he remembers with horror.
Here we pass the Brent Ditch, going solitary across the unfenced, uncultivated grassy downs, and come to the equally solitary Cambridge and Haverhill Railway that runs in single track in a deep cutting across the road. You see Pampisford station down below as you pass by, and a railway inn, and that is all. If you linger on the bridge and await the coming of a train, you will see it stop, and the station-master and one porter, awakened out of their slumber, like Sleeping Beauties, come yawning on to the platform to meet the passengers who do not alight and to assist into the train those who do not put in an appearance.
This is the Roman road known to antiquaries as the Via Devana, a name coined by them for it, to describe its course diagonally through England from Colchester to Chester, the Deva of the Romans. Ancient roads are the merest commonplaces of this route to Newmarket, and we have gone little more than another mile when another is reached, crossing again at right angles. This also leads, as a made road, on the left, to Cambridge; but its continuation to the right hand is now nothing more than a grassy track.
This junction of roads is peculiarly impressive, and bites deeply into the imagination. In another two miles the Fleam Dyke, or Balsham Ditch, is reached, almost as perfect now as when first dug, but in places overgrown with trees, especially to the left hand, where a prehistoric tumulus called Matlow Hill commands it.
Ahead, along the rising and dipping road, the paltry wayside settlement of Six Mile Bottom comes in sight, distinguished by the very busy and scandalously dangerous level crossing at the railway station, where a frequent service of express trains dashing through at high speed is a menace to life and a hindrance to users of the highway.
Plantations in thick continuous fringes or belts here begin to shield the road from the tempestuous winds, and shut out the empty downs, whose inhospitable nature seems to be reflected in the name of Westley Waterless, a lonely village marked on the map in their midst. The road, and a road coming from Cambridge, pass through a cleft in this great barrier, and under the lee of the opening nestles an old toll-house.
To the left, across a breezy open space stretching away for miles, goes this grassy earthwork, rising and falling with the inequalities of the ground, and with a yawning ditch accompanying it into the dim perspective. A grey church tower is seen in the middle distance, and on the far horizon, gleaming white in occasional sunbursts, or looming blackly under cloud effects, is an architectural Something that dominates the whole scene.
That is Burwell church, showing greyly amid surrounding clumps of trees, three miles away, and that architectural city of dream on the horizon, reflecting through the opalescent haze of the Fens, across the intervening marshes of Wicken and Soham, is St. It was under the Saxons that it was first imputed to the Father of Lies, whose name it still bears, and to whose strenuous labour, in the open-mouthed astonishment of those simple people, amazed at the many such gigantic earthworks they found in the land, they ascribed almost every other such remarkable object.
The Normans, in a later age, not so credulous, knew it as St. Edmundsbury extending thus far westward. But this famous line of defence—for such it is—had really a less distinguished authorship. The Iceni, who at the time of the Roman conquest were a very much more civilised people than the Saxons of five hundred years later, constructed it as the rearward and strongest of the several such ramparts and ditches they had thrown across this only easy line of advance of a possible enemy into their country.
A popular idea of the Iceni is that they were like the Picts of North Britain, who painted themselves a sky-blue, and considered that full dress. But they were far more advanced than anything so nearly allied to the ideals of the Garden of Eden, and would no more have owned kin even with such earlier inhabitants of their own East Anglia as the neolithic men, than we would stoop to call cousins with the gorillas. They had advanced beyond the condition of patriarchal communities and roving tribes, and had passed the intermediate stage of barter, to enter the more civilised one of a nation with a money currency and coin of its own.
Icenian coins, in gold and silver, are well known to numismatists, and although the design on them, said by experts to be intended to represent a horse, is difficult to be recognised, still they are coins. This figure of a horse occurring so constantly on these coins has sometimes led antiquaries to the ingenious conclusion that the neighbourhood of Newmarket, even thus early, was famous for horses, but that is a long shot, and very much in the dark.
A people of their calibre must have been quite capable of such military works as these dykes. This was their best effort and still speaks well for their energy. The ditch, on the western side, clearly showing that the work was a defence from dangers expected from that quarter, is twenty feet deep, and the bank, reared up in an acute angle, thirty feet above the level of the ground, thus presents a formidable climb, in all, of fifty feet. Add to these difficulties offered to an invader, the strong probability that the crest of the rampart was defended by a timber palisade, and we can clearly perceive that when these defences were manned by a determined people, the invasion of the Icenian country must have been a hazardous enterprise.
For seven miles the Ditch runs, from the waters of the Cam at Reach to the woods on the chalk hills of Wood Ditton. It is possible to walk along the summit of the bank most of the way, for, although rough and uneven pedestrian exercise, it is in general eighteen feet in breadth, and remarkably like an abandoned railway embankment.
Little is now left of this once prominent mound, once important enough to be marked on Ordnance maps, but now ploughed nearly flat. It stands in the third field from the road, on the right hand, a field now under corn, but until forty years ago a wood XX Newmarket Heath is a large place. It is easily possible to ramble on it quite away from any sight or sound of the races and the race crowds, and to find a solitude in its midst while eight thousand people are shouting themselves hoarse in cheering a popular winner.
You would almost think that the Iceni, who dug the Ditch, had planned the Course, and built the Stand on it as well, so deserted of the world they look. Nothing can be more dreary than the sight of this simple race-stand. Built to hold a thousand people, here it squats, an emptiness; the only sounds those in the long sombre belt of firs, whose branches sway with a sound of the sea in the airs that sweep the breezy Heath. Newmarket is first mentioned in , when it seems to have been established in consequence of an epidemic raging at the mother-parish of Exning, about two miles away.
That phenomenally pious lady, St. Etheldreda, one of the daughters of King Anna, and foundress of Ely Cathedral, was born at Exning, and there, we are asked to believe, was anciently a great horse-fair, to which Newmarket can trace its origin as Metropolis of the Turf.
But Newmarket did not come into prominence until the reign of James I. It was for hunting the hare and the bustard, and for the sport of hawking, rather than for horse-racing, that Newmarket first became favoured. It was not long, however, before the sportsmen who surrounded James discovered that on the elastic turf of the Heath they had an ideal running-ground for horses, far better than that of the several places where matches were already being made, and racing very soon occupied the foremost place.
King James was a frequent visitor, and was the first to establish a palace here, and here, in after-years, Charles I. Newmarket was under a cloud of neglect during the Commonwealth, for under Puritan rule horse-racing was forbidden, but with the Restoration its fortunes grew bright. There was never a more ardent turfite than Charles II. The Duke of Buckingham was now in mighty favour, and had with him that impudent woman, the Countess of Shrewsbury, with his band of fiddlers.
The wholesale and unblushing—nay, boastful—immorality of that Court is amazing; and still more amazing is the historical condonation of viciousness that has made Nell Gwynne a heroine. Seven cities have claimed that old Greek as a native. Reared in the foulest slums, and the common property of quite a number of persons, she yet became the favourite of a King, the mother of a Duke, and the grandmother of a Bishop. One feels sorry for that dignitary of the Church.
It was quite a businesslike transaction, and his price was the step in the Peerage that made him Earl of Dorset. But that was not the first change of proprietors, for an earlier love had been Charles Hart, an actor.
Her new protector, the King, she therefore spoke of as her Charles the third. That is a well-known story, how she procured a title for her boy. Charles was shocked at the coarseness of the expression, but she was prepared with a retort. Albans Newmarket, with a licentious and idle Court seeking only to be amused, was in the time of Charles II.
Charles and a great crowd of courtiers were present. The hero of that occasion lies buried in Attleborough Church, with a long set of eulogistic verses over him, which do not, however, refer to any of his sporting exploits. He died, it seems, October 22nd, , forty-eight years of age.
He accomplished that feat in ten hours. This famous pedestrian, son of another Robert Barclay, who once walked the miles from London to Ury in ten days, was the hero of many such sporting performances, and in walked 1, miles on the Heath in 1, consecutive hours. He was thirty years of age at the time.
The wager for no one in those days did anything without wagering was for 1, guineas a side. It was supposed that not less than , guineas changed hands among those 10, onlookers. His mile average the first week was 14 min. During the last week it fell to 21 min. This performance was undertaken without any training, and so does not compare on even terms with those of Edward Payson Weston, the American pedestrian, who, at the beginning of , walked 1, miles in hrs.
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