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Full text of "The Holyhead Road; the mail-coach road to Dublin"

THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 



WORKS BY THE SAME AUTHOR. 



The Brighton Road: Old Times and 
New on a Classic Highway. 

The Portsmouth Road: and its Tribu- 
taries, To-day and in Days of Old. 

The Dover Road : Annals of an Ancient 
Turnpike. 

The Bath Road: History, Fashion, and 
Frivolity on an old Highway. 

The Exeter Road: The Story of the 
West of England Highway. 

The Great North Road : The Old Mail 
Road to Scotland. 2 Vols. 

The Norwich Road: An East Anglian 
Highway. 

The Oxford Gloucester, and Milford 
Haven Road. [In the Press. 

Cycle Rides Round London. 



T 



HE HOLYHEAD 

ROAD: THE MAIL- 
COACH ROAD TO DUBLIN 



By CHARLES G. HARPER 

Author of " The Brighton Road" " The Portsmouth 

Road" The Dover Road" The Bath Road" " The 

Exeter Road" " The Great North Road" and " The 

Norwich Road " 



Illustrated by the Author, and from 
Old-Time Prints and Pictures 




Vol. I. LONDO^ TO 



LONDON : CHAPMAN & HALL 

LTD. 1902 

[All rights reserved} 



D/ 





" CT^HE olden days of travelling, now to return 
no more, in which distance could not be 
vanquished without toil " those are the days 
mourned by Ruskin, who had little better acquaint- 
ance with them than afforded by his childish 
journeys, when his father, a prosperous wine- 
merchant, travelled the country in a carriage with 
a certain degree of style. Regrets are, under such 
circumstances, easily to be understood, just as were 
those of the old coach-proprietors, innkeepers, 
coachmen, postboys, and all who depended upon 
road-travel for their existence ; but few among 
travellers who lived in the days when the change 
was made from road to rail had feelings of that 
kind, else railways would not have proved so 
immediately successful. It has been left for a 
later era to discover the charm and rosy glamour 
of old road-faring days, a charm not greatly 
insisted upon In the literature of those times, 
which, instead of being rich in praise of the 
road, is fruitful in accounts of the miseries 



Vlll 



PREFACE 



of travel. Pepys, on the Portsmouth Road in 
1668, fearful of losing his way at night, as 
had often happened to him before; Thoresby, in 
1714 and later years, on the Great North Road, 
thanking God that he had reached home safely ; 
Horace Walpole, on the Brighton Road in 1749, 
finding the roads almost impassable^ therefore, 
and reasonably enough, " a great damper of 
curiosity " ; Arthur Young for years exhausting 
the vocabulary of abuse on roads in general ; 
and Jeffrey in 1831, at Grantham, looking 
dismally forward to being snowed up at Alconbury 
Hill these are a few instances, among many, 
which go to prove, if proof were necessary, that 
travelling ivas regarded then as a wholly un- 
mitigated evil. 

Rut, quite apart from such considerations, 
there is a charm clinging about the bygone and 
the out-of-date ivholly lacking in things con- 
temporary. The Romans who constructed and 
travelled along their roads could not find in them 
the interest we discover, and the old posting- 
houses and inns frequented by our grandfathers 
must have seemed to them as matter-of-fact as we 
now think our own railway hotels. It is, indeed, 
just BECAUSE the old roads and the wayside 
inns are superseded by the rail and the modern 
hotel, and because they are altogether removed 
from the everyday vulgarity of use and competi- 
tion, that they have assumed their romantic aspect, 



PREFACE ix 

together with that ivhich now surrounds the slow 
and inconvenient coaches and the harmful un- 
necessary highwayman) long since become genuine 
antiques and puppets for the historical novelist 
to play with. 

The HOLYHEAD B.OAD, in its long course towards 
the Irish Sea, holds much of this old romance, 
and not a little of a newer sort. Cities whose 
history goes back to the era of the Saxons wlio 
Jirst gave this highivay the name of " Waiting 
Street" lie along these many miles; and other 
cities and towns there are whose fame and 
fortunes are of entirely modern growth. Some 
have decayed, more have sprung into vigorous 
life, and, in answer to the demand that arose, a 
hundred years ago, for improved roads, the old 
highway itself was remodelled, in the days that 
are already become distant. 

But better than the cities and towns and 
milages along these two hundred and sixty miles 
is the scenery, ranging from the quiet pastoral 
beauties of the Home Counties to the rocks and 
torrents, the mountains and valleys of North 
Wales. This road and its story are a very 
epitome of our island's scenery and history. 
History of the larger sort that tells of the 
setting up and the putting down of Kings and 
Princes has marched in footprints of blood 
down the road, and left a trail of fire and 
ashes; but it may ivell be thought, ivith one who 



x PREFACE 

has written the history of the English people, 
that the doings of such are not all the story : 
that the village church, the mill by the riverside, 
the drowsy old town, " the tolls of the market- 
place, the brasses of its burghers in the church, 
the names of its streets, the lingering memory 
of its guilds, the mace of its mayor, tell us 
more of the past of England than the spire of 
Sarum or the martyrdom of Canterbury." 



CHARLES G. HARPER. 

PETEESHAM, 
SUBEEY, 
April 1902. 




ILLUSTRATIONS 

SEPARATE PLATES 

PAGE 

THE " WONDER," LONDON AND SHREWSBURY COACH. (From 

a Print after J. Pollard) . . . Frontispiece 

SKETCH-MAP OF THE HOLYHEAD ROAD AND THE WATLING 

STREET ...... xix 

YARD OF THE "BULL AND MOUTH," ST. MARTIN'S-LE- 

GRAND. (From an old Print) . . .13 

" TALLY-HO " AND " INDEPENDENT TALLY-HO," LONDON AND 
BIRMINGHAM COACHES, NEARING LONDON, 1828. 
(From a Print after J. Pollard) . . .25 

THE " ANGEL," ISLINGTON. MAIL COACHES AND ILLUMINA- 
TIONS ON NIGHT OF THE KING'S BIRTHDAY, 1812. 
(From a Print after J. Pollard) . . .41 

HIGHGATE ARCHWAY AND THE TURNPIKE GATE, 1823. 

(From an Old Print) .... 45 

HIGHGATE ARCHWAY : MAIL COACH NEARING LONDON. 

(From a Print after J. Pollard) . . .51 

THE " WOODMAN," FINCHLEY, 1834 : COVENTRY AND 
BIRMINGHAM COACH PASSING. (From a Print after 
J. Pollard) ...... 55 

HIGHGATE VILLAGE, 1826. (From an Old Print) . 59 



xii LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 

PAGE 

THE OLD ROAD, BARNET . 67 

THE OLD ROAD, RIDGE HILL . 99 

THE GREAT SNOWSTORM, DEC. 26TH, 1836. THE LIVER- 
POOL MAIL PASSING Two LADIES SNOWED UP ON 
RIDGE HILL IN THEIR CHARIOT, WITHOUT HORSES, 
THE POSTBOY HAVING RIDDEN TO ST. A LEANS FOR 
FRESH ONES. (From a Print after J. Pollard) . 103 
ST. ALBANS CATHEDRAL . . . . .109 

ST. PETER'S STREET AND TOWN HALL, ST. ALBANS, 1826. 

(From an Old Print) . . , .117 

DUNSTABLE DOWNS . . . . .147 

THE " WHITE HORSE," HOCKLIFFE . . .153 

THE GREAT SNOWSTORM, DEC. 26TH, 1836. THE BIRMING- 
HAM MAIL FAST IN THE SNOW, WITH LITTLE CHANCE 
OF A SPEEDY RELEASE : THE GUARD PROCEEDING TO 

LONDON WITH THE LETTER-BAGS. (From a Print 

after J. Pollard) . . . . .159 

STONY STRATFORD . . . . .173 

DAVENTRY MARKET-PLACE . . . 235 

DUNCHURCH .... 255 

FORD'S HOSPITAL ..... 275 

THE OLD "KING'S HEAD," COVENTRY. (From a Print 

after JRowlandson) . . . . 295 

COVENTRY, FROM WINDMILL HILL. (After J. M. W. 

Turner, R.A.) . . . . .299 

THE LIVERPOOL MAIL, 1836. (From a Print after J. 

Pollard) ... 3 09 



ILLUSTRATIONS IN TEXT 

PAGE 

Vignette : Ogilby's Dimensurator . . . Title Page 

Preface ....... vii 

List of Illustrations ..... xi 

The Holyhead Road : Ogilby's Survey ... 1 

Clark's Steam Carriage, 1832. (From an Old Print) . 33 
The New Highgate Archway . . . .48 

James Ripley, Ostler of the "Red Lion" . . 76 

Hadley Green: Winter ..... 80 

South Mimms ...... 92 

London Colney . . . ' . . . 101 

Entrance to St. Albans . . . . .105 

Market-place, St. Albans . . . . .114 

The "George" . . . . .120 

The " Fighting Cocks " . . . . .123 

St. Michael's ...... 129 

Mad Tom in Bedlam . . . . .132 

Mad Tom at Liberty . . . . .133 

Redbourne Church . . . . .134 

Redbourne . . . . . . .135 

Dunstable Priory Church . . . . .144 

Little Brickhill . . . . . .165 

Yard of the " George " . . . . .166 

Queen's Oak . . . . . .176 

Market-place, Stony Stratford . . . 181 

The "Blue Ball" . . . . . .183 

Lilbourne ....... 206 

Cross-in-hand ...... 209 

High Cross Monument . . . . .210 



xiv LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 



PAGE 



The Watling Street, near Hammerwich . .219 

The "Four Crosses," near Hatherton . . . 222 

Boscobel and the " Royal Oak " . . . . 227 

Town Seal, Daventry . .238 

Braunston Hill ...... 239 

Braunston ....... 240 

Ashby St. Ledgers . . . . .243 

The "Four Crosses," Willoughby (Demolished 1898) . 245 
Lord John Scott's Statue . . . . .257 

Dunsmore Avenue. ..... 260 

Knightlow Cross ...... 264 

The Three Spires ...... 269 

Peeping Tom ...... 273 

The "Old Ordinary" . . . . .285 

The old " Bull's Head," Meriden . . . .304 

Meriden Cross . . . 306 



THE HOLYHEAD BOAD 
LONDON TO BIRMINGHAM 

MILES 

London (General Post Office) to 

Islington (the "Angel") . . . 1J 

Highgate Archway ..... 4J 

East End, Finchley 5f 

Brown's Wells, Finchley Common (" Green Man ") 7 

North Finchley: "Tally-ho Corner" . . 7J 

Whetstone ...... 9J 

Greenhill Cross . . . . . 10J 

Barnet . . . . . lljr 

South Mimms . . . . 14 J 

Ridge Hill . . . . .16 

London Colney . . . . 17 J 

(Cross River Colne.) 

St. Albans (" Peahen ") . . . 20 
Redbourne . . . . . .25 

Friar's Wash ..... 27J 

Markyate ...... 29 

Dunstable ...... 33J 

Hockliffe . . . . . 37J 

Sheep Lane . . . . . .41 

Little Brickhill ..... 45 

Fenny Stratford ..... 48 

(Cross River Ousel.) 

Stony Stratford ..... 52i 

Old Stratford ..... 52| 

(Cross River Ouse.) 



xv i THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

MILKS 

Potterspury . 

Havencote Houses . 59 

Towcester (" Pomfret Arms ") 60} 

(Cross Eiver Towe.) 
Foster's Booth . . 64 

(Cross River Nen.) 
Weedon Beck . 68 

(Watling Street branches off from Holyhead 
Road.) 

Dodford 68} 

Daventry ... . 72| 

Brannston ..... . 75f 

Willoughby 77 

Dnnchurch . . . .80} 

Ryton-on-Dunsmore . . . . 84J 

(Cross River Avon.) 
Willenhall 88} 

(Cross River Sow.) 

Coventry ( King's Head ") . . . 91} 

Allesley ...... 93} 

Meriden .... . .97 

Stonebridge . . . . .100 

(Cross River Tame.) 

Bickenhill . . . . . . 101J 

Elmdon . . . . . . . 102} 

Wells Green ... 104 

Yardley . . . .105} 

Hay Mills . . . . . .106} 

Small Heath . . . 

Bordesley ... 

Deritend -1081 

Birmingham (General Post Office) . . 109} 






THE WATLING STREET, FROM WEEDON BECK TO 
OAKENGATES AND KETLEY 

MILES 

Weedon Beck to 

Watford Gap ..... 5J 

Crick Hallway Station . 9 

Lilbonrne . . . . . 12 J 

Catthorpe Five Houses . . . . 12J 

Cave's Inn . . . . . 14 J 

Gibbet . . . . . .15 

(Cross River Swift.) 
Cross-in-Hand . . . . . 17J 

Willey Railway-crossing . . . .18 

Wibtoft ...... 20 

High Cross ...... 21 

Smockington . . . . .22 

Caldecote . . . . . .30 

Witherley . . . . . 3H 

(Cross River Anker.) 
Mancetter . . . . . .32 

Atherstone ...... 32J 

Baddesley Ensor ..... 36 

Cordon . . . . . 36 J 

Stony Delph . ... 39 

Wilnecote ...... 39J 

(Cross River Tame.) 
Fazeley ...... 4UJ 

Hints ...... 42f 

Weeford 44i 



xviii THE ROAD TO HOLY HE AD 

MILES 

(Cross-road, Lichfield to Coleshill) . 44} 

(Cross-road, Lichfield to Birmingham) . 46 

Wall 4?i 

Mnckley Corner . . 48 

Hammerwich .... 49J 

Brownhills . . 51 

Wyrley Bank . 54} 
" Four Crosses," Hatherton . . .5? 

Gailey Railway Station (L. & N. W. It.) . 59} 

(Cross River Penk.) 

Horsebrook and Stretton . . . 61 J 

Ivetsey Bank (" Bradford Arms ") . . . 65 
Weston-under-Lizard . . . .67 

Crackley Bank ..... 69^ 

St. George's (Pain's Lane Chapel . . . ?2J 

Oakengates ...... 73| 

Ketley Railway Station .... 75^ 




" PEACE hath its victories, 110 less renowned 
than war ; " and there is nothing more remark- 
able than the engineering triumphs that land 
the Irish Member of Parliament, fresh from the 
Division Lobby at Westminster, at North Wall, 
Dublin, spouting treason, in nine hours and a 
quarter, or bring the Irish peasant, with the 
reek of the peat-smoke still in his clothes, and 
the mud of his native bogs not yet dried on his 
boots, to Euston in the same space of time. 

But a hundred years ago, when the peaceful 
labours of the engineer had not begun to 
annihilate space and time, and the Union of 
Great Britain and Ireland had only just been 
effected, no such ready transit was possible, and 
our great-grandfathers reckoned their journeys 
between the two capitals in days instead of hours. 
The Holyhead Road, known to our fathers and 
ourselves, was not in existence ; and Liverpool 
(and even Parkgate, near Chester) was as often 
VOL. i. 1 



2 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

the point of embarkation for Ireland as Holyhead. 
The journey from London to Dublin was then of 
uncertain length, determined by such fluctuating 
conditions as the season of the year, the condition 
of the roads, and the winds of St. George's 
Channel sometimes smooth, but more often 
stormy. 

What the road was, and what it became, shall 
be the business of these pages to relate. 

Close upon two hundred years ago, then, when 
Queen Anne was just dead, and the Elector of 
Hanover had ascended the throne of England 
as George I., the way to Holyhead was, in great 
measure, an affair of individual taste and fancy. 
Some travellers went by way of Oxford and 
Worcester, others by Woburn, Northampton, 
Lutterworth, Stafford, Nantwich, and Chester ; 
some kept the route now known as the Holyhead 
Road as far as Stonebridge, on the other side of 
Coventry, and thence by Castle Bromwich and 
Aldridge Heath; others followed it past Shrews- 
bury and turned off at Chirk for Wrexham; 
while others yet had their own preferences, and 
reached Holyhead goodness knows how them- 
selves, perhaps, least of all. Those were the 
times when, as Pennant tells us, the hardy 
country gentlemen rode horseback. Thickly 
wrapped in riding cloaks, and with jackboots, 
up to their hips, they splashed through mud 
and mire, making light of occasional falls, and 
so journeyed between London and Holvhead in 



THE FIRST COACH 3 

perhaps six days, if they were both active and 
fortunate. Those travellers commonly rode post- 
horses, changing their mounts at well-known 
stages on the way. The system took its origin 
from the establishment of postmasters by the 
Post Office in 1635, when the charge for an 
able horse was 2^d. a mile. None but duly 
authorised persons were then permitted to supply 
horses. In 1658, according to an advertisement 
in the Mercurius Politicus, the mileage had be- 
come 3d. As time went on this monopoly was 
abolished, and most innkeepers supplied horses 
for those hardy riders who despised the new- 
fangled coaches. The. earliest mention of a coach 
on this road is found in the above-named paper, 
under date of April 9th, 1657 : " For the con- 
venient accommodation of passengers from and 
betwixt London and West Chester, there is 
provided several stage-coaches, which go from 
the George Inn, without Aldersgate, upon every 
Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to Coventry in 
two days, for twenty-five shillings ; to Stone in 
three days, for thirty shillings ; and to Chester 
in four days, for thirty-five shillings ; and from 
thence do return upon the same days, which is 
performed with much ease to the passengers, 
having fresh horses once a day." 

It may shrewdly be surmised that, as the 
Chester coach of 1739, mentioned by Pennant, 
did not succeed in performing the journey under 
six days, the coach of 1657 did not find it pos- 
sible to do it in four ; and this suspicion seems 



4 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

warranted by an advertisement in the Her- 
curius Politicus of March 24th, 1659, probably 
emanating from the same persons: 

"These are to give notice, that from the 
George Inn, without Aldersgate, goes every 
Monday and Thursday a coach and four able 
horses, to carry passengers to Chester in five 
days, likewise to Coventry, Cosell (Coleshill), 
Cank, Litchfield, Stone, or to Birmingham, 
Wolverhampton, Shrewsbury, Newport, Whit- 
church, and Holywell, at reasonable rates, by us, 
who have performed it two years. 

"WILLIAM DUNSTAN. 
"HENRY EARLE. 
"WILLIAM FOWLER." 

It will be observed that an alternative route, 
through Birmingham, is announced, probably to 
suit the wishes of those who might chance to 
book seats. The travelling was by no means 
comfortable, and in 1663 a young gentleman is 
found writing to his father : "I got to London 
on Saturday last ; my journey was noe way 
pleasant, being forced to ride in the boote all 
the way. The company that came up with me 
were persons of greate qualitie, as knightes and 
ladyes. This travell hath soe indisposed mee, 
that I am resolved never to ride up again in 
the coatch." He probably rode post ever after- 
wards. 

In 1681 a coach was running (or crawling) 



HIGHIVA Y ROBBER Y 5 

between London and Shrewsbury, by way of 
Newport Pagnell. Sir William Dugdale, travel- 
ling by it from London to Coleshill, says : " The 
first night we stopped at Woburn, the second at 
Hill Morton, near Rugby, and on the third we 
proceeded to Coleshill." Thence it went along 
the old Chester Road to Aldridge Heath and 
Brownhills, and by the Watling Street from 
that point to Wellington. This Shrewsbury 
stage was robbed on January 30th, 1703, in the 
neighbourhood of Brownhills, by a gang of men 
and women, who, after they had plundered the 
passengers, met three county attorneys, whom 
they also robbed. One of the attorneys had what 
is described as a "porte mantel." In it, among 
other things, was a pair of shoes, in which the 
owner had hidden twenty guineas. The thieves 
threw the shoes away, and when they had 
departed he happily regained this most valuable 
portion of his luggage. Other wayfarers were 
not so fortunate on encountering this hybrid 
gang of desperadoes; for, ten days later, when 
two drovers, fresh from Newcastle Fair, with 
bags of money in their pockets, came jogging 
along the road, they were set upon and robbed. 
One was killed and the other dangerously 
wounded. Two days after this exploit, growing 
bolder, the gang attacked the High Sheriff of 
Staffordshire, with his lady and servants, coming 
from Lichfield Pair, took sixty guineas, and cut 
off one of the servants' hands. This was too 
impudent : the country was scoured, and these 



6 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

murderous ruffians seized. They numbered nine 
in all, and of them three were women dressed in 
men's clothes. 

In 1702 the " Wolverhampton and Birmingham 
Plying Stage Coach " was announced, to go once a 
we*ek to London, in three days, and set out on the 
return from the " Eose," in Smithfield, every 
Thursday ; hut this enterprise seems to have been 
short-lived. Meanwhile, the Chester stage of 
1657 and 1659 was still pursuing its steady way ; 
proposing to go the journey in five days, but 
taking six. The difference between promise and 
performance is neatly illustrated by Pennant. 
"In March 1739," he says, " I changed my Welsh 
school for one nearer the capital, and travelled in 
the Chester stage, then no despicable vehicle for 
country gentlemen. The first day, with much 
labour, we got from Chester to Whitchurch, 20 
miles ; the second day to the ' Welsh Harp ' ; the 
third, to Coventry ; the fourth, to Northampton ; 
the fifth, to Dunstable ; and, as a wondrous effort, 
on the last to London, before the commencement of 
night. The strain and labour of six good horses, 
sometimes eight, drew us through the sloughs of 
Mireden and other places. We were constantly 
out two hours before day, and as late at night ; 
and in the depth of winter proportionably later. 
Pamilies which travelled in their own carriages 
contracted with Benson & Co., and were dragged 
up in the same number of days by three sets of 
able horses." 

"The single gentlemen, then a hardy race, 



OGILBY' S "BRITANNIA" 7 

equipped in jack-boots and trousers up to their 
middle, rode post through thick and thin, and, 
guarded against the mire, defying the frequent 
stumble and fall, arose and pursued their journey 
with alacrity : while in these days their enervated 
posterity sleep away their rapid journeys in easy 
chaises, fitted for the conveyance of the soft 
inhabitants of Sybaris." 

The roads at this time were incredibly bad, no 
matter the route, and indeed these several ways 
had their differences originated and continually 
multiplied by certain lengths of road being 
impassable at one season, and others equally so 
on some other occasion. When they were all 
impassable at one and the same time a not 
unusual occurrence the traveller was indeed in 
evil case, and the highwayman suffered from great 
depression of trade. The chief fount of informa- 
tion for travellers at that time was Ogilby's 
Britannia, first printed in 1675 ; a work of which 
much more will presently be said. This was a 
thick folio volume containing engraved plates and 
descriptions of every road in England. Every 
considerable inn kept a copy of " Ogilby ' in 
those days, for the information of travellers ; 
just as in the modern hotel one finds railway 
time-tables and county directories as a matter 
of course. Ogilby was in great request as a 
work of reference ; so greatly indeed, that the 
early road travellers who thumbed his pages 
at meal-times and upset their wine over him, 
or now and again stole a particularly useful 



8 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

map, have rendered clean and perfect copies 
of early editions not a little difficult to come by. 
He was much too bulky for carrying about, and so 
the careful traveller made notes and extracts for 
use from day to day. Such an excerpt is the 
yellow and tattered sheet before the present writer, 
giving manuscript details of how to reach Coventry. 
But besides copied matter there is a good deal 
else drawn doubtless from first-hand observation. 
Coming for instance, to " ffinchley Comon, att y e 
galowes keep to y e right hande " is the direction, 
and the whole distance is punctuated with the 
remarks " bad waye,"" " a slowe," and other signs 
indicating depths of mud and ruggedness of road. 
" Galowes," too, recurs with dreadful frequency, 
probably not because the person who wrote this 
wanted (like the Pat Boy in Pickwick) to . " make 
yer flesh creep," or because he was morbidly 
minded, but for the commonplace reason that 
gallows made excellent landmarks, and were as 
common objects of the road then as signposts 
are now. 

Dean Swift is the great classic figure on the 
Holyhead Eoad at this period ; although, to be 
sure, a very elusive and shadowy one, so far as 
records of his journeys are concerned. He, too, 
like Pennant's hardy single gentlemen, commonly 
rode horseback, and has left traces of his presence 
here and there along the road, generally in witty 
and biting epigrams, written with a diamond 
ring on the windows of wayside inns. There 
could scarce, at this time, be anything more 



HO IV FAR TO HOLYHEAD? 9 

naively amusing than the pleased surprise he 
exhibits in a letter written to Pope in 1726, at 
" the quick change " he made in seven days- 
from London to Dublin " through many nations, 
and languages unknown to the civilised world," 
when he had expected the enterprise, " with 
moderate fortune," to occupy ten or eleven. " I 
have often reflected," he adds, " in how few 
hours with a swift horse or a strong gale, a man 
may come among a people as unknown to him 
as the antipodes." 



II 

THE question, " How far to Holy head ? " had 
in old days been a difficult one to answer. It 
was not only in the uncertainty and variety of 
routes that the difficulty of accurately measuring 
the number of miles lay, but in the wild and 
conflicting ideas as to what really constituted 
a mile. This uncertainty lasted until the middle 
of the eighteenth century, when the first mile- 
stones since the days of the Romans were erected. 
It was, in fact, not before 1750, when, as part 
of their statutory obligations, the numerous 
Turnpike Trusts began to erect their milestones, 
that distances began to be publicly and correctly 
measured. It had already long been known 
that the mileages computed by the Post Office, 
in dealing with postmasters and the mails, were 



10 



THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 



very inaccurate throughout the country, and for 
many years previously compilers of road-books 
had been accustomed to print two tables of 
distances ; one the " computed " and Post Office 
mile, and the other the measured mile. 

The first of English makers of road-books, 
John Ogilby, mentioned this discrepancy, so 
early as 1675, when he published his great work, 
Britannia. Ogilby who had been commissioned 
by Charles II. to survey the roads and measure 
them, did his work thoroughly. He claims 
to have travelled 40,000 miles in compiling 
his book, a folio volume of great typographical 
beauty and exquisitely engraved plans of the 
roads. In making his survey, he used what he 
calls a " wheel dimensurator." Exactly what 
this was is shown in the beautifully etched title- 
page by Hollar, to his first edition, where Ogilby 
himself is seen on horseback, directing the course 
of two men; one wheeling the instrument, the 
other checking its measurements. It apparently 
was a wheel fitted with a handle and wound 
with a ten-mile length of tape. Trundled along, 
it unwound the tape, the intermediate distances 
being noted down by the assistant. Ogilby very 
soon discovered that although the Post Office 
gave the mileage to Birmingham and Holyhead 
respectively as 89 and 208 miles, it was then 
really 116 and 269 miles. The Post Office mile, 
which he calls the "vulgar computation," was 
therefore practically a third larger than our 
so-called Statute Mile, dating from 1593 and 



MILES AND THEIR MEASUREMENTS n 

constituted by a statute of the 35th year of Queen 
Elizabeth's reign, not so much for the purpose 
of creating a standard of measurement for the 
kingdom, as for denning certain limits. That 
Statute was passed by a Legislature dismayed by 
the rapid growth of London, and was an enact- 
ment forbidding persons to build within three 
miles of the capital. When it came to the point 
of defining a mile, it was found that no such 
measure had ever been officially fixed, and that 
English, Irish, Scottish, and local miles were of 
variable lengths. The mile was then' taken to 
be eight "forty-longs," or furlongs, of forty 
perches each ; a perch to consist of 5^ yards. 

That this extraordinary difference between 
actual distances and those computed by the 
Post Office should have arisen on all roads is 
inexplicable, and that it should have remained 
after Ogilby's official measurements had proved 
the " computed " miles utterly wrong is an 
astonishing proof of the vitality of error. But 
the real trouble arose with the appearance of 
milestones along the turnpike roads. They were 
the cause of much bitterness and contention 
between postmasters and the Post Office, and 
between keepers of posting-houses and travellers. 

Those who did business for the Post Office 
claimed extra mileage, and travellers posting 
to or from Birmingham and Holyhead found 
themselves charged in the aggregate for 27 or 
62 miles extra, as the case might be ; which, 
say at Is. 3d. a mile for chaise and four horses, 



12 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

was a consideration. Travellers resented this 
difference and pointed out that, if posting 
establishments could always have afforded to 
do certain stages at certain prices, they could 
continue so to do; to which those men of horses 
and carriages replied by pointing out that the 
milestones were official and that they themselves 
paid more carriage duty on the extra mileage ; 
a generally conclusive retort. 



Ill 

THE earliest coaches made no pretence of 
taking the traveller to Holy head. Chester was 
the ultima thule of wheeled conveyance when 
Sir William Dugdale and Pennant kept diaries, 
or when Swift wrote. We have already seen 
that the Chester stage took six days, and there- 
fore the horrors of the journey described by 
Swift about the year 1700, were protracted as 
well as acute. Whether or not he ever really 
made the journey by coach is uncertain, but if 
so, he certainly for ever after rode horseback. 
But here is his picture of such an experience : 

Resolv'd to visit a far-distant friend, 

A Porter to the Bull and Gate I send, 

And bid the man, at all events, engage 

Some place or other in the Chester stage. 

The man returns" 'Tis done as soon as said ; 

Your Honour's sure when once the money's paid. 



SWIFT ON COACHING 15 

My brother whip, impatient of delay, 

Puts to at three and swears he cannot stay." 

(Four dismal hours before the break of day.) 

Rous'd from sound sleep thrice call'd at length I rise, 

Yawning, stretch out my arm, half-closed my eyes ; 

By steps and lanthorn enter the machine, 

And take my place how cordially ! between 

Two aged matrons of excessive bulk, 

To mend the matter, too, of meaner folk ; 

While in like mood, jamm'd in on t'other side, 

A bullying captain and a fair one ride, 

Foolish as fair, and in whose lap a boy 

Our plague eternal, but her only joy. 

At last, the glorious number to complete, 

Steps in my landlord for that bodkin seat ; 

When soon, by ev'ry hillock, rut, and stone, 

Into each other's face by turns we're thrown. 

This grandam scolds, that coughs, the captain swears, 

The fair one screams and has a thousand fears ; 

While our plump landlord, train'd in other lore, 

Slumbers at ease, nor yet asham'd to snore ; 

And Master Dicky, in his mother's lap, 

Squalling, at once brings up three meals of pap. 

Sweet company ! Next time, I do protest, Sir, 

I'd walk to Dublin, ere I'd ride to Chester ! 



This engine of torture was, however, well 
patronised. 

The first stage-coach to ply between London 
and Holyhead was the conveyance promoted 
chiefly by that enterprising Shrewsbury inn- 
keeper, Robert Lawrence. It started in 1780, 
and went through Coventry, Castle Bromwich, 
Birmingham, Walsall, Wolverhampton, Shrews- 
bury, Llangollen, Corwen, and Con way, thus 
keeping pretty closely to the course taken by the 
modern Holyhead Road. It lay the first night 



T 6 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

at Castle Bromwich, the second at Oswestry, and 
the third (if God permitted) at Holyhead. Five 
years later (in the summer of 1785) the first mail- 
coach to Chester and Holyhead was established, 
going by Northampton, Welford, Lutterworth, 
Hinckley, Atherstone, Tamworth, Lichfield, 
Wolseley Bridge, Stafford, Eccleshall, Woore, 
Nantwich, Tarporley, Chester, and St. Asaph. 
This, the only mail route to Holyhead until 
1808, measured 278 miles 7 furlongs, and was 
the longest of all ways. Other roads for many 
years led by Oxford and Stratford-on-Avon, and 
were used by some of the smartest coaches to 
the end of the coaching age; but the shortest 
route, the great " Parliamentary " road to Holy- 
head, measures 260^ miles. In 1808 the London, 
Birmingham, and Shrewsbury Mail, through 
Oxford, was extended to Holyhead, going by 
Llangollen, Corwen, and Capel Curig. It ran 
thus until 1817, when it was transferred to the 
direct Coventry route. The Holyhead Road had 
then begun to be reformed, and the direct Mail 
took precedence over the old " Holyhead and 
Chester Mail," still going by its old course. 

The " New Holyhead Mail," as it was officially 
named, then started from the " Swan with Two 
Necks," in Lad Lane, every evening at 7.30, 
and took 38 hours about the business. In 1820, 
the year when the Menai Bridge was opened, 
the time was cut down to 32f hours, and in 
1&30 to 29 hours 17 minutes, the mail arriving 
at Holyhead at 1.17 on the second morning after it 



THE MAIL 17 

had left London. In 1836 and the last two years 
of its existence, the journey was performed in 26 
hours 55 minutes; the arrival timed for 10.55 p.m. 
Here is the time-hill for that last and hest 
achievement : 



MILES. 

15 
25 
45 



801 



100 



LONDON 

South Mimms . 
Redbourne 
Little Brickhill. 
Stony Stratford. 
Towcester . 
Daventry . 
Dunchurch 
Coventry . 
Stonebridge 



109| Birmingham 

117| Wednesbury 
122,| Wolverhampton 
137! Shiffnal . 
141! Haygate . 

152 Shrewsbury 

160! Nesscliff . 
170 Oswestry . 
182! Llangollen 

192! Cor wen . 

1981 Tynant . 
205| Cernioge . 
220 Capel Curig 
228 Tyn-y-Maes 

234 Bangor . 

237 Menai Bridge . 
247! Mona Inn 

260! HOLYHEAD 

VOL. I. 



farr. 

' tdep. 

arr. 



dep. 8.0 P.M. 

arr. 9.40 

10.44 

12.32 A.M. 

1.26 

2.12 

3.25 

4.11 

5.18 

6.8 

7.8 

7.43 

8.28 

9.1 , 
. 10.14 

10.59 
/arr. 11.59 

' \dep. 12.4 P.M. 

. arr. 12.53 

. 1.46 

. 2.58 

3.55 

4.0 

5.1 
5.39 

7.2 
7.46 
8.20 
8.25 
8.43 
9.43 

10.55 
2 



Jarr. 

' tdep. 

arr. 



(arr. 

' \dep. 

arr. 



i8 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

The man who made that achievement possible 
was Thomas Telford. Long before his aid was 
sought, the question of improving the com- 
munications between the two countries had 
become a burning one. The Irish members, 
meeting no longer on St. Stephen's Green, had 
a grievance in the circumstance of their journeys 
to the Imperial Parliament at Westminster being 
both tedious and hazardous, and this question of 
road-reform was the first raised by them. The 
Government, in reply, appointed a Commission ; 
Eennie, the foremost engineer of his day, was 
called in to advise upon the harbours of Holyhead 
and Howth, and Telford in 1810 to plan the road 
improvements. 

Exactly what the road was like before it was 
improved under Telford, let the Report of the 
Commissioners on Holyhead Eoads and Harbours 
tell : " Many parts are extremely dangerous for 
a coach to travel upon. Prom Llangollen to 
Corwen the road is very narrow, long, and steep ; 
has no side fence, except about a foot and a half 
of mould or dirt, thrown up to prevent carriages 
falling down three or four hundred feet into the 
river Dee. Stage-coaches have been frequently 
overturned and broken down from the badness 
of the road, and the mails have been overturned. 
Between Maerdy, Pont-y-Glyn, and Dinas Hill, 
there are a number of dangerous precipices, steep 
hills, and difficult narrow turnings. At Dinas 
Hill the width of the road is not more than 
twelve feet at the steepest part of the hill, and 



THE OLD ROAD 19 

with a deep precipice on one side ; two carriages 
cannot pass without the greatest danger. At 
Ogwen Pool there is a very dangerous place, 
where the water runs over the road ; extremely 
difficult to pass at flooded times." Arrived at 
Bangor there were the dangers of the ferry to 
he braved, and, after these, 26 miles of the 
perilous old road across Anglesey, even now 
to he traced by those curious in these things. 
What travelling to Holyhead and Dublin was 
like in those old times may best be shown by 
quoting an old diary of 1787, of an expedition 
from Grosvenor Square, London. The party 
consisted of a coach and four, a post-chaise and 
pair, and five outriders. They reached Holyhead 
in four days (expenses, so far, 77 Is. 3d.), and 
crossed St. George's Channel at a further cost 
of 37 2s. Id. ; and cheap, too, as times then 
were. 

The first idea of the Government towards 
improving the road was to indict twenty-one 
townships between Shrewsbury and Holyhead. 
It would have been an excellent notion, only for 
the fact that those places were quite unable to 
find the penalties actually recoverable at law, 
much less to reconstruct the road. A larger 
view of the necessities of the case had to be 
taken. The nation was already pledged to the 
construction of two harbours, and to the nation 
now fell the duty of making access to Holyhead 
Harbour moderately safe. The first practical 
result was the selection of Telford as engineer, 



20 



THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 



to survey and report upon the 109 miles between 
Shrewsbury and Holyhead. Telford had already 
carried out many improvements for the Govern- 
ment in the Highlands, and had, years before, 
as Surveyor to the County of Salop and Engineer 
of the Ellesmere Canal, acquired a thorough 
knowledge of the road through North Wales. 
He made a survey in 1811, but it was not until 
1815 that the Government finally adopted his 
report and that of the Commissioners, and the 
Treasury found the money for the work. It 
was then decided that improvements should be 
made along the whole length of road between 
London and Holyhead, but that the Shrewsbury 
to Holyhead portion being incomparably the 
worst, it should have the first attention. In the 
course of five years this first part of the work 
was completed. The general line of the old road 
was followed, along the valley of the Dee, and 
thence from Corwen, across the watershed to the 
Vale of Conway and to the summit-level at 
Ogwen Pool; descending from that point by the 
valley of Nant Ffrancon to Bangor and the 
Menai Straits. There a quarter of a mile of 
stormy water still separated the Isle of Anglesey 
from the mainland, and it was not until the 
January of 1826 that it was bridged. From the 
Anglesey side of the Straits an entirely new 
and direct road was made across the island to 
Holyhead, saving three miles, and giving a level 
route, instead of the precipitous old way. 

In the result, the Holyhead Road through 



THE NEW ROAD 21 

North Wales may, without hesitation, be pro- 
nounced the. finest in the land. Passing though 
it does through the wildest scenery, nowhere is 
the gradient steeper than 1 in 20, while its 
width, from 28 to 34 feet, and its splendid surface 
render it safe and convenient. The old road, 
frequently as steep as 1 in 6J, and with its sides 
unprotected from the cliffs and torrents that 
terrified bygone generations, has almost wholly 
vanished under the new ; but in those places 
where Telford did not merely remodel it, and 
took an entirely new line, its character may still 
be seen. 

In 1820 the London to Shrewsbury portion of 
the work was begun, and the greater part com- 
pleted by 1828. Minor improvements were made 
on it from time to time in after years, but it 
does not nearly compare with the more thorough 
work undertaken through North Wales. Parts 
remain rich in very steep hills, and powerful 
interests situated in the larger towns vetoed the 
cutting of new routes through crooked and 
awkward approaches, and so have left much to 
be desired. Telford himself died, in his seventy- 
seventh year, in 1834, but the Holyhead Road 
Commissioners were in existence for years after- 
wards, and continued to send forth Reports 
until 1851. For a long period, however, before 
that time those documents, containing as they 
do only the surveyors' reports as to the condition 
of the road and bridges, have nothing of interest. 
The last paper of importance is the Parliamentary 



22 



THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 



Return of 1839, giving the sum of the expenses 
incurred on the whole length of road, including 
improvement of the road from Bangor to Chester, 
and cost of building the Menai and Conway 
bridges. The total amount was 697,963 Us. 9d., 
of that sum 164,489 7s. 9d. was granted by 
Parliament towards the work as a national 
undertaking: the remaining 533,474 7s. Od. 
lent by the Treasury, to be repaid by the Com- 
missioners out of the tolls. In 1839, according 
to a return made to Parliament by the Office of 
Woods and Forests, 250,880 5s. 9%d. had been 
thus repaid. That very little of the balance 
found its way back to the Treasury may confi- 
dently be asserted. But, however that matter 
stands, certainly the work was done with rigid 
economy and, considering its nature and extent, 
at a very small cost. 

Some part of the cost of the improved road 
fell upon the letter writers of that day. The 
postage of a letter to Ireland was sixteen pence, 
made up of the following items : 

s. d. 
Inland postage to Holyhead . . . .10 

Conway Bridge 01 

Menai 01 

Sea postage . 02 



It made no difference that the direct Holy- 
head Mail went nowhere near the Conway 
Bridge: letters for Ireland were still charged 



THE COACHING AGE 25 

that penny, until Penny Postage came in 1841 
and treated all places in the United Kingdom 
alike. 



IV 



Meanwhile, stage-coaching had also heen 
revolutionised. The growth of Birmingham and 
the srreat commercial industries of the Midlands 

o 

had rendered the old methods too slow and 
cumhrous ; and the ancient coaches, supported 
on leather straps, and Avith curtained windows, 
starting once, twice or thrice a week, according 
to distance travelled, performing their slow and 
toilsome pilgrimages by daylight and resting 
at sundown, gave place to the well-appointed 
vehicles, hung on steel springs, and with glazed 
windows, that ran from either end, every day, 
and continued their journeys throughout the 
night. No longer was it possible to drive the 
same wretched animals the whole length of the 
weary day, but changes at every ten or twelve 
miles came into vogue, and speed consequently 
increased. The greatest period of coaching on 
the Holyhead Road dawned in 1823, when the 
London and Birmingham " Tallv-Ho " beffan to 

V 

run. This was often called "Mountain's Tally- 
Ho," being horsed out of London by Mrs. Sarah 
Ann Mountain, of the " Saracen's Head," Snow 



24 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

Hill. It was a day coach, and one of the first 
to run " double," that is to say, with up and down 
coaches every day. It left London at 7.45 a.m. 
and Birmingham at 7 a.m. Its popularity was 
very soon challenged hy eager competitors, for in 
the following year the " Independent Tally-Ho " 
was put on the road by Home, of the " Golden 
Cross," Charing Cross, starting an hour and a 
quarter earlier from London, and a quarter of 
an hour earlier from Birmingham, with the idea 
of securing the " Tally-Ho's " custom. Prom 
this time, coaches of this popular name multiplied 
until their number was quite bewildering. In 
1830, the " Original Tally-Ho " was started, and 
in 1832, the "Eeal" and the "Patent Tally-Hoes." 
A picture by J. Pollard of the " Tally-Ho " and 
" Independent " nearing London on a summer 
afternoon, about 1828, shows that if one did 
actually start before the other, they both reached 
London together. The scene is the " Crown," 
Holloway Eoad, a house now numbered 622 in 
that thoroughfare, and rebuilt about 1865, but 
still bearing the same name, situated at the 
corner of Landseer Eoad. 

In 1825 all previous efforts were eclipsed 
by the " Wonder " coach, between London and 
Shrewsbury, established in that year. It was 
the first to perform much over a hundred miles 
a day, and, starting from the " Bull and Mouth," 
St. Martin's-le- Grand, at 6.30 a.m., was in 
Shrewsbury, 154 miles distant, at 10.30 the same 
night. It aroused extraordinary competition. A 




00 'g 

gl 

K 



COACHING COMPETITION 27 

" No Wonder," running three clays a week from 
Birmingham lasted a season, and is heard of no 
more ; but a more thoroughgoing rival was the 
"Nimrod," from Shrewsbury, put on the road 
in 1834. How the proprietors of the "Wonder" 
started the " Stag," and successfully " nursed " 
the " Nimrod," will be found recorded under 
Shrewsbury. There were at this competitive 
time more coaches on the Holyhead Road than 
on any other. So far as Barnet, there were 
eighteen mails and one hundred and seventy-six 
other coaches, besides road -waggons, post-chaises, 
and other vehicles. Some of them turned off at 
Hockliffe for Manchester and Liverpool, but the 
greater number continued to Birmingham. The 
London and Birmingham " Greyhound " was 
started in 1829, and ran light, with an imperial 
on the roof, to prevent luggage being placed there. 
Passengers' luggage must be sent to the office in 
time to be forwarded by the "Economist." So 
ran the notice. Both the " Greyhound " and the 
" Economist " were night coaches : the latter, 
the luggage-carrier, starting an hour earlier. It 
was at one time proposed to light the "Greyhound" 
with gas, but w^hen it was found that the gas- 
tank would take up the space in the fore-boot 
wanted for parcels, the idea was relinquished. 
The down " Greyhound " was ingeniously robbed 
in March 1835 by a gang who set to work very 
cleverly. Two inside places were booked by the 
thieves at the "Swan with Two Necks," and the 
two remaining places at the " Angel," Islington. 



28 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

"When the coach reached Hockliffe, two of the 
confederates alighted, and the other two left at 
Stony Stratford. Nothing was discovered until 
Coventry was reached, when the guard, feeling 
about inside, found that one of the parcels gave 
way. On his leaning against it, away it went 
into the hoot, which had been cut open, and a 
bank parcel, containing 300 sovereigns and a bill 
of exchange for 120 extracted. There is no 
record of the thieves ever having been discovered. 
They disappeared, just as did those who walked 
off with bank-notes to the value of 4002 from 
the Birmingham " Balloon Post Coach," when 
standing in the yard of the " Swan with Two 
Necks," December 12th, 1822. 1000 was offered 
for the discovery of the thieves, and the notes 
were stopped, but the results do not appear. 

Horrified horse - owners, and old-fashioned 
persons with prejudices against invention and 
progress, raise outcries against the pace of motor- 
cars, and have succeeded in reducing the legal 
speed on roads from the original 14 miles an hour 
allowed by Act of Parliament to the 12 miles 
permitted by an order of the Local Government 
Board; but the pace attained toward the close 
of the coaching era by some of the crack coaches 
was much higher. The rival " Tally-Ho " and 
" Independent Tally-Ho" coaches, for instance, 
ran certain stages up to 18} miles an hour, 
and only on one stage did they drop down to 
12 miles. " Furious driving," indeed, and vouched 
for by the contemporary Coventry Chronicle, 



AN OLD RECORD 29 

May 8th, 1830, which well heads its report, 
" Extraordinary Travelling " : 

" Saturday se'night, being May-day, the usual 
competition took place between the London 
Coaches. The " Independent Tally-ho," running 
between Birmingham and London, performed a 
feat altogether unparalleled in the annals of 
Coaching, having travelled the distance of one- 
hundred-and-nine miles in seven hours and 
thirty-nine minutes. 

" The following is a correct account of the 
time it took to perform the distance, horsed by 
the various proprietors : Mr. Home, from London 
to Colney, seventeen-and-quarter miles, in one- 
hour-and-six minutes ; Mr. Bowman, from 
Colney to Redbourae (where the passengers, 
stopped six minutes for breakfast), seven-and- 
half miles, in twenty-six minutes ; Mr. Morris, 
from Redbourne to Hockliffe, twelve-and- quarter 
miles, in one-hour-and-four minutes ; Mr. War- 
den, from Hockliffe to Shenley, eleven miles,, 
in forty-seven minutes ; Mr. May, from Shenley 
to Daventry, twenty-four miles, in one-hour-and- 
forty-nine minutes; Mr. Garner, from Daventry 
to Coventry, nineteen-and- quarter miles, in one- 
hour-and -twelve minutes; Mr. Radenhurst, from 
Coventry to Birmingham, seventeen-and-three 
quarter miles, in one-hour-and-fifteen minutes. 

"The 'Original Tally-ho' performed the same 
distance in seven-hours-and-fifty minutes." 

The extraordinary feat of the " Independent 
Tally-ho " recorded above, excelled the per- 



3 o THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

formances of that famous coach, the "Quick- 
silver " Exeter mail ; hut that is nothing com- 
pared with the passengers' feat of swallowing 
a hreakfast in the six minutes allowed for that 
meal at Redbourne. It is probably no great 
hazard to guess that those unhappy passengers 
had no breakfast at all on that historic occasion. 
It is not to be supposed that coaching was 
an altogether safe method of travelling, especially 
when feats of this kind were indulged in ; but 
it must be acknowledged that comparatively few 
of the accidents happened when racing. Among 
the disasters that now and again occurred, 
besides those recorded elsewhere in these pages, 
the following specimens, from October 1834 to 
the close of 1837, are typical : 

1834, October. Shrewsbury " Union " over- 
turned at Overley Hill, near Welling- 
ton. The coach was heavily laden 
and one of the hind wheels collapsed. 
One of the outsides, a Mr. Newey, 
of Halesowen, jumped off, but not 
far enough, and the coach and luggage 
fell on him, killing him. He died 
the next morning, at the Haygate inn. 
" Nimrod." Coachman thrown off near 

Haygate, and killed on the spot. 
Lichfield and Wolverhampton coach. A 
jockey, named Galloway, had his leg 
broken by being thrown off in an 
upset. In August 1835 he was 
awarded 210 damages. 



COACHING ACCIDENTS 31 

1835, September. "Emerald," London and 
Birmingham coach, upset at 2 a.m. 
near Little Brickhill, owing to axle- 
tree of near fore-wheel breaking. 
The five outsides were pitched into 
a hedge, and not seriously hurt, but 
the coachman, John Webb, was en- 
tangled with the apron, and was 
crushed to death by the coach falling 
on him. His body was found to be 
terribly mangled when carried into 
the " Peacock and Sandhill Tavern." 

1836. Sawyer, the beadle of Apothecaries' Hall, 
returning from Birmingham on out- 
side of coach (name not specified) fell 
asleep. A jerk flung him off, and he 
was killed. 

1837, August. "Emerald," London and Bir- 
mingham coach. Horses dashed away 
up Plumb Park Hill, near Stony 
Stratford, and coach upset in the 
succeeding valley. Outside passengers 
thrown a distance of twenty feet, and 
two of them killed. 

,, October. Birmingham and Shrewsbury 
Mail upset on entering Wolverhamp- 
ton, and coach smashed to pieces. 
All passengers severely injured. 
December. Holyhead Mail upset at 
Willenhall, owing to obstructions in 
the road during alterations. Coach- 
man's skull fractured, and one outside 



3 2 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

passenger injured. The "Swallow" 
coach had been upset on the same 
spot the day before. 

Besides these instances, there was the sad 
case of Yates, a guard on the "Wonder," who 
at Christmas time, in one year not particularised, 
was thrown off the coach at Wolverhampton. 
The coach was overloaded with game and 
Christmas hampers, and he occupied a make- 
shift perch over one of the hind wheels. The 
vehicle gave a lurch, and he fell out; his feet 
catching in the straps, he was dragged some 
distance on his head until the hind wheel caught 
him and crushed his thigh. He died the next 
day. 

The very names of the coaches that ran in 
the last years of the road breathe an air of 
competition. The old " Gee-hoes," " Caravans," 
and " Diligences " ; the " Originals " and their 
like, made way for the " Prince Regent," 
" Royal Union," " Sovereign," and " John Bull " ; 
and to them succeeded such suggestions of 
speed as the "Celerity," "Antelope," "Grey- 
hound," "Express," "Rocket," and "Swallow." 
Moderate charges were hinted at in the names 
of the " Economist " and the " Liberal " ; and a 
high courage, calculated to daunt opponents, in 
those of the "Triumph," " Retaliator," "De- 
fiance," and "Tartar." The public largely 
benefited in those ultimate years by the compe- 
tition, as also did the turnpike tolls; but it 



TOLLS 



33 



may be doubted whether many coach-proprietors 
then made much profit. For one thing, a stage- 
coach running every day throughout the year 
on the road as far as Birmingham paid in tolls 
alone 3 lls. 9d. a day, in addition to the duty 
of a penny a mile paid by all coaches for every 
four passengers they were licensed to carry, 
irrespective of the places being occupied or not. 




CLARK'S STEAM CARRIAGE, 1832. From an old Print. 

Turnpike gates encouraged Sabbatarian feeling 
by charging double on Sundays ; so, on the 
assumption that a Birmingham coach ran 365 
days in the year, it would have to pay some- 
thing like 1100 in tolls alone, or to Holyhead 
3400. 

Long before railways seriously threatened to 
drive coaches off the road, the steam carriages 
of the early motor-car period entered into a 
VOL. i. 3 



34 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

fleeting rivalry with horses. Of these, William 
Clark's steam carriage was the most notable 
It was put upon the road between London and 
Birmingham in June 1832, and was a huge 
three-wheeled conveyance, carrying 50 passen- 
gers, 28 inside. Little is known of 
conveyance beyond the claims made for it, which 
included the statements that it could develop 
100 horse-power and that the pace could be 
regulated at pleasure from 1 to 50 miles 
an hour. Another contrivance of this kind was 
Heaton's steam carriage, of 1833, which is 
recorded to have made several journeys between 
Birmingham and Coventry, at a speed of 8 
miles an hour, but soon faded into obscurity; 
probably crushed out of commercial existence by 
the extravagant tolls levied on all these mechani- 
cal inventions by road trustees, highly prejudiced 
against anything of the kind. 



Y 

SUCH were the conditions of coaching when 

o 

rumours of a projected London and Birmingham 
Railway began to be noised about in 1825, and 
then in 1830. " London and Birmingham " that 
railway was first named, although, if the original 
project be closely followed, it will be seen that 
not London, but Birmingham, took the initiative. 



THE RAILWAY 35 

London has ever lagged in the rear. When the 
early Birmingham, Shrewsbury, and Chester 
coaches plied between those towns and the 
metropolis, it was not from London that they 
originated, but from the provinces; and, just in 
same way, it was the Birmingham merchants to 
whom the idea of a railway to London occurred, 
as not merely a cheaper and more expeditious 
way of travelling to the capital, but an excellent 
means by which goods might be conveyed, and 
London, as a great market for them, duly 
exploited. The original organising committee 
was eventually joined by a body of London 
bankers and financiers, and a line of country 
surveyed by George and Robert Stephenson in 
face of a most determined opposition offered by 
landowners on the way. Hobert Stephenson has 
left an account of his difficulties, and stated that 
he walked the whole distance between London 
and Birmingham no fewer than twenty times. 
The long story of the fight in Parliament for 
the Bill in 1832, of its first defeat, and of its 
eventual success in 1833, is not a matter for 
these pages. Only let it be noted that the 
opposition of the landed proprietors was bought 
off by the addition of half a million sterling to 
the estimates for the purchase of land along the 
route. 

How enormous was the road and canal traffic 
at that time may be judged from the statement 
prepared by the projectors of the railway, who 
put the sum paid annually for travelling and 



3 6 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

conveyance of goods between London and 
Birmingham at 800,000. 

The construction of the railway was begun 
in June, 1834. On July 20th, 1837, the first 
portion was opened to Boxmoor, a distance of 
24 miles, and on October 16th following to 
Tring. On April 9th, 1838, the railhead had 
reached a point just beyond Bletchley, and 
there it stopped for some months, owing to 
engineering difficulties at Roade and Kilsby. 
Meanwhile the works had been pushed on from 
the Birmingham end, and between that town 
and Rugby the line was complete. A temporary 
station, known as "Denbigh Hall," was provided 
near Bletchley, where the railway crossed the 
Holyhead Road, and between this and Rugby the 
38 miles break in the line was traversed by a 
service of coaches until the following September, 
when the London and Birmingham Railway was 
opened along its entire length. 

No one was more pleased at this than Dr. 
Arnold, the great Headmaster of Rugby School, 
whose attitude was in strong contrast with that 
generally adopted by the classes. " I rejoice to 
see it," he said, "and to think that feudality 
has gone for ever. It is so great a blessing to 
think that any one evil is really extinct." 

This event, of course, sounded the death- 
knell of coaching along the first half of the 
Holyhead Road, but there were those who 
thought the railway must soon show its inability 
to beat a well-appointed coach, and so they held 



THE LAST OF THE COACHES 37 

on a little while longer, encouraged by some of 
the more irreconcileable among travellers. The 
"Greyhound" and the "Albion" were the last 
to go, in the early weeks of 1839, basely deserted 
even by those who had egged their proprietors 
to such foredoomed opposition. Edward Sherman, 
the great coach proprietor of the " Bull and 
Mouth," who had nine coaches on this road, was 
a fanatical opponent of railways, and struggled 
to the last against them, losing thereby the 
important carrying and van business of the 
London and Birmingham, secured by the far- 
seeing policy of Chaplin and Home, of the 
" Swan with Two Necks," who abandoned 
coaching and threw in their interest with the 
new order of things. Sherman eventually saved 
himself by joining his interests with the Great 
Western Railway. 

The opening of the London and Birmingham 
had a great effect upon the Irish mails and 
passenger traffic; for the Grand Junction Bail- 
way, between Birmingham and Liverpool, had 
already been in existence since July 1837, and 
thus a continuous route between London and 
Liverpool was available to Post Office and public, 
saving many hours and much expense. Both 
seized the opportunity, and everything went 
by train to the Lancashire port. It seemed as 
though not only the Holyhead Boad but Holy- 
head itself was a thing of the past. 

In 1846 the London and Birmingham and the 
Grand Junction Bailways amalgamated, under 



3 8 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

the title of the London and North- Western 
Railway, and the Liverpool route might thus 
have been thought settled for all time; but in 
the meanwhile two separate lines had been 
authorised one from Crewe to Chester, and 
another from Chester to Holyhead. By the 
completion of the second of these (in March 
1850) Holyhead was brought back to its old 
importance, and is once more on the mail route 
between London and Dublin. Alterations on the 
main line have long since left Birmingham on 
one side, and the "Wild Irishman" now goes 
from Rugby by way of Nuneaton and Tamworth 
to Stafford, Crewe, and Chester. 



YI 

THE Holyhead and the Great North Roads are 
identical as far as Barnet, and the first land- 
mark on the way is the "Angel." Every one 
knows the " Angel," Islington. It is a great 
deal more than a public-house, and has attained 
the dignity of a geographical expression. Any 
teetotaller can afford to know the " Angel," and 
the acquaintance is no more a stigma than an 
intimacy with the English Channel or the North 
Eoreland. live roads meet at this spot for 
seventy years or so the meeting and starting 
point of omnibuses to and from all parts of 



THE ANGEL, ISLINGTON 39 

North London. Nothing strikes the foreigner 
with greater astonishment than that our omnibus 
routes start from or end at some public-house, 
and that the " Angel," the " Elephant and 
Castle," the "Eyre Arms," and the "Horns," 
should be household names in different parts of 
London. The intelligent foreigner goes away 
and writes scathingly upon what he considers 
an evidence of drunkenness rampant in all 
classes of English society, and does not stop to 
enquire the origin of the custom, to be found 
far back in omnibus history, when many public- 
houses had convenient stables, and omnibus 
proprietors had none. 

The " Angel " is not in Islington at all, but 
just within the parish of Clerkenwell. How it 
came to be just inside the Clerkenwell boundary 
is told in the legend of a pauper being found 
dead in what was then called Back Road, now 
the Liverpool Road, at that time in the great 
parish of St. Mary, Islington (which by the way, 
is the largest and most populous parish in 
England, numbering over 350,000 souls), but 
now, with the "Angel" in that of St. John's, 
Clerkenwell. Islington refused to bury the 
pauper and Clerkenwell performed that duty, 
afterwards claiming the land. 

The modern "Angel," built somewhere about 
1870, before public-houses became Elizabethan, 
Jacobean, or Queen Annean, is frankly a public- 
house in appearance, like the rebuilt "Elephant 
and Castle " and others, and carries in its aspect 



40 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

no reminiscence of coaching times. It has been 
left for the proprietors in recent years to grow 
somewhat ashamed of that fact, for, painted on 
tiles, there now appears on the wall of its 
entrance lobby one of those quasi-historical 
pictures, that have of late begun to decorate 
the entrance walls of our otherwise unredeemed 
gin palaces. By means of these tile-pictures 
those patrons who are not too far gone in 
intoxication may learn something of local or 
national history and topography. In. the case 
of the " Angel," the subject selected is that of 
the starting of the Holyhead Mail from the old 
house, whose frontage, pictured from old prints, 
bears the inscription, " For Gentlemen and 
Families," and at whose windows the gentlemen 
and families are accordingly observed to be 
sitting, enjoying the scene. It is not conceivable 
that any one should now hope to find pleasure 
in doing the like at these modern windows that 
nowadays light billiard-rooms, and look down 
upon a busy scene of omnibuses and tram-cars ; 
but perhaps even what we rightly consider to 
be a sordid confluence of traffic may come to 
have a retrospective romance of its own in, say, 
the twenty-first century. Exactly what the 
"Angel" was like in 1812 may be seen from 
the accompanying illustration by Pollard, of the 
illuminations on the night of the King's birth- 
day in that year. The Holyhead Mail is 
prominent in front of two others drawn up 
before the house. 




s* 

% ~ 



02 ^ 



EARLY MORNING COACHES 43 

A few paces north stood the at one time 
equally famous " Peacock," and the not alto- 
gether obscure "White Lion"; coaching inns 
both, but long since rebuilt as mere " publics." 
"All coaches going anywhere north called at 
the ' Peacock,' " says Colonel Birch- Reynardson. 
" As they came up, the old hostler, or a man, 
whoever he was, called out their names as they 
arrived on the scene. Up they come through 
the fog, but our old friend knows them all. 
Now ' York Highflier,' now ' Leeds Union,' now 
'York Express,' now ' Rockingham,' now 'Stam- 
ford Regent,' now 'Truth and Daylight/ and 
others which I forget, all with their lamps lit, 
and all smoking and steaming, so that you 
could hardly see the horses. Off they go. One 
by one as they get their vacant places filled up, 
the guard on one playing ' Off she goes ! ' on 
another, ( Oh, dear, what can the matter be ? ' on 
another, ' When from great Londonderry ' ; on 
another, ' The flaxen-headed ploughboy ' ; in fact, 
all playing different tunes almost at the same 
time. The coaches rattling over the stones, or 
rather pavement for there was little or no 
macadam in those days ; the horses' feet clattering 
along to the sound of the merry-keyed bugles, 
upon which many of the guards played remark- 
ably well, altogether made such a noise as could 
be heard nowhere except at the ( Peacock ' at 
Islington, at half -past six in the morning. All 
this it was curious to hear and see, though not 
over pleasant in a dense fog, particularly if it 



44 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

were very cold into the bargain, with heavy rain 
or snow falling." 

Half-past six in the morning! Yes; but 
that was not by any means an early hour in 
coaching days. If we turn to Tom Browns 
Schooldays, we shall find that Tom, with his 
father, come to see him off to Rugby by the 
"Tally-Ho," stayed at the "Peacock " overnight, 
to make sure of catching that conveyance, and 
that in order to do so they were actually up 
and breakfasting at ten minutes to three on a 
winter's morning. And none too early, either; 
for just as Tom was swallowing the last mouthful 
of breakfast, winding his comforter round his 
throat, and tucking the ends into the breast of 
his overcoat, the horn sounded, Boots looked in, 
with the fateful cry of "Tally-Ho, sir," and the 
" Tally-Ho " itself appeared on the instant 
outside. But what "Tally-Ho" this could have 
been that passed through Rugby does not 
appear. " Tell the young gent to look alive," 
said the guard ; "now then sir, jump up behind," 
and they were off. " Good-bye, father my love 
at home " ; and the coach whirls away in the 
darkness. 

London then ended at Islington. Where 
does it now end ? At Highgate ; at Whetstone, 
where the boundary of the Metropolitan Postal 
District is crossed; or beyond South Minims, 
where the frontiers of the Metropolitan Police 
march with those of the Hertfordshire Constabu- 
lary ? Highgate Archway was wont to be regarded 







H 

O 



!, 



Sl 5 
fc ? 



| I 






HIGHGATE ARCHWAY 47 

as the northern gate into London, and may now 
be taken as dividing the far suburbs and the 
near. Seventy years ago it was quite rural. 



VII 

IT is curious to look upon an old print like 
that of the Archway road and its toll-gate, 
reproduced here, and then, with a knowledge of 
that busy spot, with its thronging omnibuses 
and tramcars, to compare the old view with the 
present-day aspect of the place. An Archway 
Tavern is seen standing at the junction of the 
roads, but it is quite unlike the flaunting gin- 
palace of to-day. What, also, has become of the 
horse and cattle pond in front ? The toll-gate, 
we know, finally disappeared in 1876, but long 
before then the ascending roadway had been 
lined with buildings on either side. Only 
recently the old and ugly archway has been 
removed, to make way for the new and handsome 
iron and steel viaduct, which bears the misleading 
date of 1897, although the structure was not 
opened until the summer of 1900. It may be 
as well to put upon record that it is situated a 
hundred yards to the north of where the old 
Archway stood. Of late years, since the govern- 
ment of London has been taken over by the 
London County Council, the Archway has been 



4 g THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

more than ever a landmark, showing to where 
the frontier of London extended, for the London 
County Council's boundary ran half-way through 
the structure, whose northern moiety lay within 
the territory of the Middlesex Council. 

The new viaduct, wholly in Middlesex, cost 
25,000. Its date, "1897," prominent in cast 
iron' on the southern approach, together with 




THE NEW HIGHGATE ARCHWAY. 



the fact that the work was not completed until 
midway through 1900, perpetuates the sinister 
memory of the great engineering strike in 
progress during that interval. Five authorities 
the London County Council, the Middlesex 
County Council, the Islington Vestry, Hornsey 
District Council, and the Ecclesiastical Com- 
missioners (who are administrators of the Bishop 



LONDON FROM HIGHGATE 49 

of London's estates here) contributed in varying 
proportions to the cost. They may look with 
'satisfaction at the result : a li^ht and handsome 

O 

bridge, that, vaulting across the roadway with a 
clear flight of three times the span of the old arch, 
renders it possible to widen the road to any con- 
ceivable width, against that time which Mother 
Shipton foresaw, when " England shall be undone 
iincl Highgate Hill stand in the middle of 
London." 

Let us look back, on passing beneath this 
triumph of engineering skill, and, seeing with 
what grace the huddled mass of London is 
framed by it, conceive the welcome it may seem 
to extend to the wayfarer (if such there be) 
coming to the capital to seek his fortunes. It 
may, however, be readily supposed that the days 
when ambitious youth resorting by road to 
London, there to win fortune with the customary 
half-crown, are done. The roads nowadays 
have lost all possibilities of that endearing 
romance of high ambition and courage, coupled 
with slender resources and an uninstructed 
belief that London's streets are paved with gold. 
The precociously worldly - wise youngsters of 
to-day, who resort to the Metropolis by rail, 
have no such illusions. 

On the fortune-seekers of old, who tramped 
the weary miles to this gateway of their ambition, 
the forbidding old Archway must needs have 
exercised a dispiriting influence. It looked, 
from its outer side, so like a fortress gate, and 
VOL. i. 4 



5 o THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

was alas ! too often a prison-gate when once 
within. London, lying down helow them, vast 
and unknown; how, they might have thought, 
would it he possible to conquer that; to win 
a place there ? Little hlame to such of them as 
may have trembled at the prospect and retraced 
their steps; and better perhaps had it been for 
many of those who went forward that their 
courage had thus failed them at the threshold ; 
rather than that they had gone down into that 
human whirlpool, to return broken in after 
days, to leap to death from the footpath above 
the lofty arch, into that roadway they had 
trod so hopefully years before. 

For old Highgate Archway was a veritable 
Bridge of Sighs ; a favourite resort of London 
suicides to whom a leap from Waterloo Bridge 
into the river did not offer great attractions. It 
was not until the Archway was opened toll-free 
that the iron railings fencing the upper roadway 
were erected. They were 7 feet in height, cost 
700, and were the cause of great disappoint- 
ment to would-be suicides by leaping, who have 
an illogical objection to falling one yard more 
than necessary for the purpose of breaking their 
necks. This explains the comparative disfavour 
with which suicides regard the Golden Gallery 
of St. Paul's Cathedral and other high places. 

It remains uncertain whether those protective 
railings were erected for the sake of the suicides, 
or for that of the increased number of persons 
who used the Archway Road when tolls were 






SUICIDES 55 

abolished, some of whom might have been 
injured by those too anxious to shuffle off their 
mortal coil,, to first ascertain whether or not the 
road was clear. Certain, however, it is that it 
mattered very much to the local authorities 
from which side the suicides came down : the 
territory of the Islington Vestry having been 
on one side and that of the Hornsey Local 
Board on the other. It is even related that 
one authority proposing to the other that railings 
should be erected, and meeting with a refusal 
to share the cost, fenced in its own side and 
thus left the self-murderers no choice. The 
expense and trouble of the necessary inquests 
falling on the other authority speedily brought 
about the railing-in of that side also. 



VIII 

THE roadway of Highgate Archway is on a level 
with the cross upon the dome of St. Paul's. 
Prom what the perfervid preachers of our own 
time the Solomon Eagles of our day call that 
" sink of iniquity," the voice of London, inar- 
ticulate, like the growl of a fierce beast, rises 
continually, save for some sleepy hours between 
midnight and the dawn. Prank Osbaldistone, 
in Rob Hoy, journeying north, heard the hum 
of London die awav on his ear when he 



54 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

reached Highgate, the distant peal of her 
steeples sounding their admonitory "turn again," 
just as they did to Whittington. Looking back 
from the Hill upon the dusky magnificence 
of the Metropolis, he felt as if he were 
leaving behind comfort, opulence, the charms 
of society, and all pleasures of cultivated life. 
The modern wayfarer is not so easily rid of 
the Great City, whose low-pitched roar not 
only follows him to these northern heights, but 
pursues him, clamant, onwards through Einchley, 
and whose rising tide of houses now laps the 
crest of Highgate Hill and spills over the brim, 
in driblets of new suburban streets, like a brick - 
and mortar Deluge. 

Just half a mile past the Archway, which of 
old was the ultima thule, the Hercules Pillars 
of London in this direction, still stands the 
"Woodman," inn, pictured in the coaching print 
of the thirties, shown over page. It is the 
original building that still stands here, but 
carved and cut about and greatly altered, and 
stands converted into an ordinary public-house. 
The curious little summer-house, or look-out, 
remains, little changed, but no visitors ascend 
to it to admire the view with telescopes, as we 
see them doing in the picture ; for the spreading 
hill and dale towards London are covered with 
houses objects not so rare in the neighbourhood 
of London that one needs to seek them with a 
spy-glass. 

Southwood Lane, opposite this old inn, leads 



HIGHGATE 57 

across from this branch of the high road 
to Highgate village, which should be noticed 
before the modern spirit seizes upon and trans- 
forms it. 

When Highgate Archway and the Archway 
Road were completed, in 1813, and traffic, not- 
withstanding the heavy tolls, began to come and 
go this way, Highgate village was ruined. Pew 
cared to painfully toil up Highgate Hill and 
go through the once busy village down the 
corresponding descent of North Hill. Ever since 
then, while the suburbs round about have grown, 
Highgate village has gradually decayed. Little 
alteration has been made here in the broad 
street empty now, that was once so busy and 
Highgate remains preserved like a fly in amber, 
testifying to the old-world appearance of a typical 
coaching village near London. True it is that 
its fine old houses are a thought shabby, while 
the "Red Lion," though still standing, has 
long been closed, and its elaborate sign-post 
innocent these many years of its swinging sign. 
The " Gatehouse Tavern," too, Avas rebuilt in 
1896 ; but, for the rest, Highgate is the Highgate 
of old. 

"Established over five hundred years" was 
the legend displayed by the old " Gatehouse 
Tavern " pictured here. Many old clubs held 
high revel in it literary clubs and others 
making their several ostensible objects the 
excuse for holding high revel. Punch itself 
was founded in a pot-house. Among the clubs 



5 8 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

that foregathered here were the "Ash Sticks," 
the "Aged Pilgrims," and the "Ben Jonson " ; 
while in the old low-ceilinged rooms the Sunday 
ordinary that was long a favourite institution, 
combined with some deservedly renowned port, 
attracted George Cruickshank (before he found 
grace and became a total abstainer) and his 
brother Robert; Archibald Hemming, Punch's 
first cartoonist ; and many an Early Victorian. 

The steep descent of North Hill brings the 
explorer from old Highgate to East Einchley, 
where a modern suburb struggles bravely, but 
with indifferent success, to live down the depress- 
ing circumstance of being set in midst of some 
half-dozen huge cemeteries, and on a road along 
which every day and all day a continual stream 
of funeral processions passes dismally along. 
The chief gainer from this traffic appears to be 
the " Old White Lion," where the mourners halt 
and refresh on their return. Mourning should 
seem, judging from the assemblage outside the 
"Old White Lion" (which should surely, in 
complimentary mourning, be the "Old Slack 
Lion "), to be a thirsty business. 

Beyond the cemeteries lies Brown's Wells, in 
midst of what was once Einchley Common. At 
Brown's Wells, if anywhere, memories of that 
ill-omened waste should be most easily recalled; 
for here, beside the road, in the grounds of 
Hilton House, stands the massive trunk of 
'Turpin's Oak," still putting forth leaves with 
every recurrent spring. Did the conscience- 



FINCH LEY COMMON 61 

stricken spirits of the dead revisit the scenes of 
their crimes, then the garden of Hilton House 
might well he peopled o' nights with remorseful 
spooks ; for many another heside Turpin lurked 
here and snatched purses, or held up coaches 
and horsemen crossing this one-time lonely waste. 

Pennant, the antiquary, writing at the close 
of the eighteenth century, talks of the great 
Common not as an antiquity hut as a place he 
was perfectly well acquainted with, travelling 
as he did the Holyhead Road between Chester 
and London. " Infamous for robberies," he calls 
it, " and often planted with gibbets, the penalty 
of murderers." 

This aspect of Finchley Common was then 
no new thing, and if Pennant had been minded 
to write an antiquarian exercise on its evil 
associations, he would have found much material 
to his hand. But the most sinister period of the 
Common's unsavoury history began at the close 
of the long struggle between King and Parlia- 
ment in the mid-seventeenth century, and for 
long years afterwards robbery and murder were 
to be feared by travellers in these wilds. 

William Cady was early among the highway- 
men who made this a place of dread. His was 
a short and bloody career of four years on the 
King's highway, ending in 1687, when, he was 
hanged at Tyburn for the last of his exploits, 
the murder of a groom on this then lonely 
expanse. He had overtaken a lady riding for 
the benefit of the air, and, ignoring the groom, 



62 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

tore the diamond ring from her finger, snatched 
a gold watch from her pocket, and, threatening 
her with a pistol, secured a purse containing 
eighty guineas. The groom, unarmed, could do 
nothing hut ahuse the highwayman, who shot 
him dead with two hullets through the brain 
and was just about making off when two gentle- 
men rode up with pistols in their hands. Cady 
at once opened fire on them, and a lively 
pistolling began, ending with the highwayman's 
horse being shot and himself seized and bound, 
and in due course taken to Newgate, whence he 
only emerged for that last ride to Tyburn, which 
was the usual ending of his kind. He did not 
make an edifying exit but cursed, drank, and 
scoffed to the last, dying with profanity on his 
lips, at the early age of twenty- five. 

Prom the unrelieved vulgarity and brutality 
of- Cady's exploit it is a relief to turn to that of 
a man of humour. Would that we knew his 
name, so that it might be ranged with those of 
Du Vail and Captain Hind, themselves spiced 
with an airy wit that occasionally eased the loss 
of a watch or a purse to those suddenly bereft 
of them. This unknown worthy, whose exploit 
is recorded in a contemporary newspaper, was 
a humorist, if ever there was one. It was one 
evening in 1732, when he was patrolling the 
Common, that a chariot and four horses ap- 
proached from the direction of London. Hope- 
ful of a rich quarry, he spurred up and thrust 
a pistol through the carriage window, demanding 



A KINDL Y H1GHIVA YMAN 63 

money and jewellery. Now, unhappily for the 
highwayman's hope of plunder, this was the 
carriage of a Yorkshire squire returning home 
without him, and the person sitting within was- 
but a countryman to whom the coachman had 
given a lift. 

" I am very poor," exclaimed the rustic, 
terrified at sight of the pistol, " but here are 
two shillings ; all I have got in the world." 

Cady, doubtless, in his disappointment, would 
have shot the yokel ; but this was a " highway 
lawyer " of a different stamp. " Poor devil ! " 
said that true Knight of the Road, withdrawing 
his pistol and waving the proffered money 
aside ; " here, take a shilling and drink my 
health ! " And so, tossing him a coin, he 
disappeared. 

For accounts of other happenings upon this 
sombre Common, let the curious refer to the 
pages of the GREAT NORTH ROAD, where they 
will be found, duly set forth. 

Not until the first few years of the nine- 
teenth century had passed was the place safe. 
It was an Alsatia wherein the most craven of 
footpads might rob with impunity. 'Strange to 
say, there were those who did not think it right 
to shoot highwaymen, and many of those who 
did so, lost their nerve at the supreme moment 
and fired wildly into space. The robbers' risks, 
were therefore not overwhelming. Dr. Johnson 
was undecided about this matter of right, as we 
learn from one of those semi-philosophical dis- 



6 4 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

cussions into which Boswell led him; discussions 
the indefatigable " Bozzy ' has recorded at 
length. Three of them Johnson, Boswell, and 
Taylor were disputing the question. Tor 
myself," said Taylor, " I would rather be robbed 
than shoot highwaymen." Johnson perhaps 
because he generally took the opposite view, 
from " cussedness " or a love of disputation- 
argued that he would rather shoot the man on 
the instant of his attempt than afterwards give 
such evidence against him as would result in his 
execution. " I may be mistaken," said the 
great man, "as to him when I swear; I cannot 
be mistaken if I shoot him in the act. Besides, 
we feel less reluctance to take away a man's 
life when we are heated by the injury, than to 
do it at a distance of time by an oath after we 
have cooled." 

This seemed to Boswell rather as acting from 
the motive of private vengeance than of public 
advantage ; but Johnson maintained that in 
acting thus he would be satisfying both. He 
added, however, that it was a difficult point : 
" one does not know what to say : one may 
hang one's self a year afterwards from un- 
easiness for having shot a highwayman. Few 
minds are to be trusted with so great a thing." 
And we may add, seeing how many highwaymen 
were shot at, and how few hit, few hands either. 

Half a mile beyond Turpin's Oak is North 
Einchley, a recent suburb of smart shops, risen 
on the site of those gibbets mentioned by 



WHETSTONE 65 

Pennant. Those who affect to be more genteel 
and individualistic, name it Torrington Park, 
and thus hope to be exquisitely distinguished 
from the ruck of Einchleys that take their 
names from the four points of the compass. 
The Park Road Hotel, rising at the angle where 
the road from Child's Hill joins the highway 
we are travelling, actually stands on the site 
of a gibbet. As " Tally-ho Corner," this is a 
spot familiarly known to cyclists. Maps, how- 
ever, know it as "Tallow Corner." 

Whetstone succeeds to North Einchley. It 
once groaned under the oppression of a toll- 
gate a gate that spanned the road by the 
"Griffin" inn, where the old "whetstone" still 
remains. This gate, abolished November 1st, 
1863, was associated with a story of George 
Morland, the artist, who, having received an 
invitation to Barnet, was journeying to that 
toAvn in company with two friends, when he 
was stopped here by a cart containing two men, 
who were disputing with the toll-keeper. One 
was a chimney-sweep, and the other one Hooper, 
a tinsmith and prize-fighter, scarcely higher in 
the social scale ; but they knew Morland, who 
had often caroused with them at the low way- 
side taverns he affected. Now, however, he was 
not in a mood for his old companions ; recent 
success had turned him respectable for a time. 
Accordingly, he endeavoured to pass, when the 
tinsmith called out, " What, Mr. Morland, won't 
you speak to a body ? " 

VOL. i. 5 



66 



THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 



It was of no use trying to escape, for the 
man began to roar out after him, so that he was 
obliged to turn back and shake hands with his 
old "crony; whereupon Hooper turned to the 
chimney-sweep and said, "Why, Dick, don't you 
know this here gentleman ? 'Tis my friend, Mr. 
Morland." The man of soot, smiling a recog- 
nition, forced his unwelcome black hand upon 
his brother of the brush ; then they whipped the 
horse up and went off, much to Morland's relief. 
He used afterwards to declare that the sweep 
was a stranger to him; but the dissolute artist's 
habits made the story generally believed, and 
" Sweeps, your honour," was a joke that followed 
him all his days. 



IX 

BARNET lies two miles ahead, crowning a ridge. 
Between this point and that town the road goes 
sharply down Prickler's Hill, and, passing under 
a railway bridge, climbs upwards again, along an 
embanked road that, steep though it be, takes 
the place of a very much steeper roadway. It 
was constructed between 1823 and 1827, as a 
part of the general remodelling of the Holyhead 
Road. The deserted old way, now leading 110- 
whither, may be seen meandering off to the left, 
immediately past the railway bridge, down in the 



BARNET FAIR 69 

hollow. Passing the " Old Red Lion " and a row 
of old houses that, fallen from their importance 
in facing the high road, look dejectedly across 
one-half of the Fair Ground, it comes to an end 
at the last house, whose projecting bay proclaims 
it to have once been a toll-house. 

Barnet is famous for two things : for its 
Battle and for its Pair. The Battle is a thing 
of the dim and distant past : the Pair belongs to 
the present the poignant present, as you think 
who venture within ear-shot of its Michaelmas 
hurly-burly, what time the horse-copers are 
rending the air with raucous cries, steam-organs 
bellowing, and, in fact, " all the fun of the Pair " 
in progress. It is, according to your taste and 
to the condition of your nerves, a pleasure or a 
martyrdom to be present at the great Pair of 
Barnet : that three days' Pandemonium to which 
come all the lowest of the low, whom, para- 
doxically enough, that "noble animal, the friend 
of man," attracts to himself. Por Barnet is, 
above all other things, a Horse Pair. Por love 
of the Horse, and with the hope of selling 
horses and incidentally swindling the purchasers 
of them such widely different characters as the 
horsey East-ender, the sly and crafty Welshman, 
the blarneying Irishman, and Sandy from Scot- 
land, come greater or smaller distances with 
droves of cart-horses, cobs, hunters, and, in fact, 
every known variety of the Noble Animal ; and 
to this nucleus of a Pair innumerable other 
trades attach themselves, . like parasites. Barnet 



7 o THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

Pair dates back to the time of Henry II. It is, 
therefore, of a very respectable antiquity. This 
antiquity is, indeed, the only respectable thing 
left to it. The rest is riot; and if the Barnet 
people had their will, there is little doubt that 
it would, in common with many other fairs, be 
abolished. When originally established, by Royal 
Charter, it lasted three weeks. From three weeks 
it was successively whittled down, in course of 
time, to sixteen days, and then to three days. 
Prom it, in other times, the Lord of the Manor, 
the Earl of Strafford, derived a splendid revenue ; 
for his tolls, rigorously exacted by his stewards, 
were eightpence for every bull or stallion enter- 
ing the Pair; fourpence for every horse, ass, or 
mule; and for every cow or calf, twopence. 

The Pair Ground extends to either side of 
the long embankment, on whose steep slope the 
high road is carried up into Barnet Town; but 
the chief part of it centres around High Barnet 
station, on the right hand. The Pair begins on 
the first Monday in September, but at least a 
week before that date Barnet town and the roads 
leading into it, usually so quiet, are thronged 
with droves of horses and herds of cattle, and 
with the caravans of the showmen who hope to 
"make a good thing" out of the thousands of 
visitors to the Pair. Whatever private residents 
in Barnet may think of it, and however much 
they would like to see it abolished, its lasting 
success is assured as a popular holiday for 
certain classes of Londoners. The typical 'Arry 




HUMOURS OF THE FAIR ;r 

of Henclon or of Epping would no more think 
of not visiting Barnet Fair than he would 
think of abstaining from deep drinking when 
he reached the place. For, now that all other 
fairs within reach of London have been sup- 
pressed, this is pre-eminently the Cockney's 
outing. To deprive him of it would savour not 
a little of cruelty : it would certainly cut off 
from the travelling showmen and the proprietors 
of the giddy steam roundabouts a goodly portion 
of their incomes, while the pickpockets would 
miss one of the greatest chances in the year. 

Let those who know of fairs only from 
idyllic descriptions of such things in the 
England of long ago, visit this of Barnet. 
Nothing in it is poetic, unless indeed the 
language common to those who attend upon 
the Noble Animal may be so considered; and 
certainly that is full of imagery, of sorts. It 
is wonderful what a power of debauching 
mankind the Horse possesses. Your ordinary 
cattle-drover is no saint, but he is a Bayard 
and a carpet-knight beside these fellows with 
straws in their mouths, and novel and vivid 
language on their tongues. 

Here, as side-shows away from the horses, 
are the boxing - booths, the swings, and the 
trumpet-tongued merry-go-rounds, roaring like 
Bulls of Bashan and glittering with Dutch 
metal and cheap mirrors like Haroun - al - 
Raschid's palace just come out of pawn and 
much the worse for wear. Ladies clad in 



72 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

purple velvet dresses, and with a yard and a 
half of ostrich feather in their hats patronise 
these delights; and lunch oleaginously on the 
fried fish cooking on a stall near by (which 
by the way, you may scent a quarter of a mile 
off). Tor those with nicer tastes, an itinerant 
confectioner makes sweets on the spot. For 
those who are sportively inclined there are 
several methods of dissipating their money : by 
shooting at bottles; shying at cocoanuts (all 
warranted milky ones) or by guessing under 
which of three thimbles temporarily resides the 
elusive pea. The furtive and nervous young 
man who presides over this show is more than 
itinerant. Ghostlike, he flits from group to 
group, harangues them with a phenomenal 
glibness and swiftness : discloses the pea under 
the other thimble ; takes his gains, and so 
departs : the tail of his eye seeking, and hoping 
not to find, any one who may chance to be a 
detective. An ancient a million times exposed 
fraud, and still a very remunerative one ! 
For the rest, a very vulgar and disheartening 
show to those who preach culture to whom the 
cultured term " the masses." How to leaven 
the lump in that direction when you find it 
obstinately set upon such gross things of earth 
as penny shows, including six-legged calves and 
realistic scenes of the latest murders ? Sons 
of Belial, indeed, are those who find delight 
herein : and many are they who do so take 
their pleasure. 



BERGNET" 73 



X 

ON the crest of the steep ascent we come to 
Barnet, crowning its " monticulus, or little hill," 
as the county historian has it. With the town 
we have already made some acquaintance, in 
the pages of the " GREAT NORTH ROAD." 

It stands too well within the suburban 
radius of London for it to escape modern 
influences, and although, as Dickens said, in 
Oliver Twist, every other house was a tavern, 
inns are fewer nowadays and shops more 
numerous ; and many of the surviving inns 
have been rebuilt. The original " Green Man," 
a very much larger and altogether more important 
house than the existing one, is no more. Sir 
Robert Peel the great Sir Robert, statesman 
and originator of " Peelers " often stayed there 
from Saturday to Monday, and it was beneath 
its roof that Lord Palmerston received the news 
of his succession to the title. The " Mitre," one 
of the most important of Barnet's inns at the 
close of the seventeenth century, has wholly 
disappeared, and the little house of that name, 
at the London end of the town, does but stand 
on a very small portion of its site ; the rest 
of the ground being occupied by a large and 
exceedingly hideous building belonging to a 
firm of grocers. The disappearance of the 
"Mitre" is the more to be regretted, because 
it was a house of historic importance, General 



74 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

Monk, on his march up to London in 1660, 
having rested there, while his army encamped 
ahout the town. The country was tired of the 
Commonwealth, and Monk at the head of 
14,000 men, was master of the situation. No one 
knew his intentions. Appointed by Parliament, 
and yet with a commission from the King in 
his pocket, his advance from the north was the 
cause of the liveliest hopes and apprehensions 
to both sides. Accompanying him were two 
" Councellors of State and Abjurers of the 
King's Family," a worthy pair named Scot and 
Robinson, who were really acting as the spies 
of the Parliament. Staying with him at the 
" Mitre," they seciired a room adjoining his, 
and either found or made a hole in the wainscot, 
to see and hear anything that might pass. The 
imagination readily pictures them peeping 
through the chinks and the secretive Monk, 
probably well aware of their doings, smiling 
as he undressed and went to bed. How he 
marched to London and thence, declaring for 
Charles II., to Dover, belongs to other than 
local history. 

The " Red Lion " remains the most promi- 
nent house. What has rightly been called a 
"ghastly story" is that told of it in coaching 
days. An officer and his daughter, on their 
way to London to attend a funeral, only suc- 
ceeded after a great deal of trouble in obtaining 
accommodation here. On retiring to her room, 
the young lady chanced to turn the handle of 



AN EXCEPTIONAL OSTLER 75 

a cupboard, when to her horror the door hurst 
open and a corpse toppled out, almost felling 
her to the floor. The "accommodation" had 
been made by hastily removing the body from 
the bed and placing it where it would not have 
been found, except for that feminine mingled 
curiosity and precautionary sense which impels 
our womenkind to peer agitatedly under every 
bed, to leave no cupboard unexplored, and no 
drawer not scrutinised. 

This Bluebeard kind of a story was long a 
current anecdote in the posting days, and 
implicitly believed. It is probably safe to 
assume that it did the business of the 4< Red 
Lion " enormous damage, and that those travel- 
lers who subsequently stayed there approached 
all cupboards with dread. 

The " Red Lion " possessed a queer character 
in the person of its ostler, James Ripley, who 
in 1781 published a little book of Select Letters 
on Various Subjects. On the title-page he states 
that he was then, and had been " for thirty 
years past," ostler, and in his dedication to 
" the Hon. Col. Blaithwate and the rest of the 
officers of the Royal Regiment of Horse Guards 
Blue," after saying that this dedication is "a 
grateful acknowledgement for the generous treat- 
ment always received for his unmerited services 
in the stable," proceeds to grovel in the most 
abject manner. " I shall always esteem it an 
honour," says he, i to rub down your horses' 
heels, so long as I am able to stoop to my feet." 



7 6 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

This remarkable person, if we may judge 
from the curious frontispiece to his Select 
Letters, appears to have doubled the parts of 
ostler at the "Red Lion" and Postmaster of 




JAMES EIPLEY, OSTLEE OF THE "BED LION." 

Barnet ; while he would also seem to have 
embarked in the newspaper trade, according to 
the little heaps of papers seen in the pigeon- 
holes in the background, labelled "Whitehall 
Evening Post," " Craftsman," and " Gazetteer." 



IMPROVING LITERATURE 77 

Here we perceive him, apparently inditing his 
Letters ; a man with a decidedly Johnsonian 
cast of features, and clad in what looks more 
like a cast-oft' suit of an old Tower of London 
headsman than an ostler's everyday clothes. 
He is evidently at a loss for a word, or is 
perhaps (and rightly) surprised at the gigantic 
size of his quill, plucked from an ostrich, at the 
very least of it. A sieve, a curry-comb, and 
other articles of stable equipment, lie beside 
him, or are more or less artistically displayed 
in the foreground. If it were not for the title, 
we might almost suppose this to be a representa- 
tion of some notorious criminal writing his last 
dying speech and confession in the condemned 
hold of Newgate. The picture appears to have 
been drawn from several points of view at once, 
productive of results more curious than pleasing 
to professors of perspective drawing. 

Mr. James Ripley's letters range from 
scathing denunciations of postboys and advice 
to gentlemen how to treat such rascals, to the 
humane treatment of horses, the construction of 
stage waggons, and the villainous practice of 
writing more or less offensive remarks on 
window-panes. We are, in fact, after perusing 
his improving literature, led to the belief that 
he missed his vocation and ought to have been 
a clergyman of evangelistic views, instead of an 
ostler. But to let him speak for himself : 

" I can justly say that I am no mercenary 
writer, and that all my views are centred in 



7 8 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

reforming the vices, follies, and errors of this 
depraved age. At present I shall confine my- 
self to those nimble-fingered Gentlemen who 
leave specimens of their wit or folly, in trying 
the goodness of their diamonds upon the glass 
windows of every place they visit, or lodge at ; 
curiosity often draws the fair sex to the window 
in expectation of meeting with some innocent 
piece of wit, or quotation from some eminent 
author ; hut how cruel the disappointment when 
she finds some indecent allusion, or downright 
obscenity. " 

Thus the ostler-moralist of the " Red Lion." 
What added terrors the roads would have 
acquired for giddy travellers had there been 
others like him ! 

Among other inns is the " Old Salisbury," 
familiarly known to cyclists of northern clubs 
as the "Old Sal." It was originally a drovers' 
and teamsters' house, and called the "Royal 
Wagon." Many years ago, when the grasping 
proprietors of the " Green Man " and the " Red 
Lion" charged Is. 6d. a mile for posting, the 
Lord Salisbury of that day, being a frugal 
man, transferred his custom here and saved 3d. 
a mile. Pepper, the then landlord, at once 
changed his sign to its present style. 



HADLEY GREEN 79 



XI 

THE modern Holy head Road, made in the 
Twenties is seen midway in Barnet, branching off 
to the left by what remains of the once-famous 
" Green Man." Broad and well-engineered though 
it be, it has little of interest in the three miles 
between here and South Mimms ; its sole 
features, indeed, being a fine view of Wrotham 
Park, to the right, and a glimpse of the gateAvay 
of Dyrham Park, on the left. It can scarce be 
said that that heavy stone entrance a classic 
arch flanked by Tuscan columns is beautiful, 
but it has an interest all its own, for it was 
originally the triumphal arch erected in 1660 
in London Streets, to celebrate the " joyfull 
Hestoracion " of Charles II. 

Taking then, by preference, the old road, 
the way lies across Hadley Green, where, among 

the raffsed fir-trees that are scattered on its 

~~ 

western side, stand the remains of the old stocks. 
The stone obelisk, famous in all the country 
round about as " Hadley Highstone," is presently 
seen ahead, at a parting of the ways. To the 
right hand goes the Great North Road : to the 
left the old road to Holyhead. " Eight miles 
to St. Albans " is the legend on the hither face 
of the monument, whose other inscription we 
halt to read : 

" Here was fought the Famous Battle 
between Edward the Fourth and the Earl of 



8o 



THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 



Warwick, April 14, Anno 1471, In which the 
Earl was defeated And Slain. Stick no Bills." 
Musing sadly on that unromantic injunction, 
modern, but deeply carved, like the rest of the 
inscription, in the stone, we prepare to depart, 
when one, who is probably the "oldest inhabitant," 
approaches and volunteers the information that 
the obelisk was formerly some thirty-two yards 




HADLEY GREEN : WINTER. 

forward, and opposite the inn called the "Two 
Brewers." In 1842, it seems, it was removed 
to its present position. 

Leaving this elevated plateau, which Hall, 
the old chronicler, treating of the Battle of 
Barnet, calls "a fair place for two armies to 
join together "-as though that were the chief 
use for a plain the old road begins its three 
miles of fall and rise; down into pebbly dips 




COACHING ACCIDENTS 81 

and over hunchbacked little rustic bridges 
spanning wandering watercourses ; up steep rises 
and swerving round sharp corners, alternately 
from left to right ; by the forgotten hamlet of 
Kitt's End, down Dancer's Hill, and past the 
suggestively named Minims Wash, where the old 
coachmen, when the waters were out in winter- 
time (as they generally were, at this plashy 
corner) usually drove into the ditch, which, 
concealed by the floods that already covered 
the road and rose to the axle-trees, held a 
dangerous depth of water. 

This old road, in fact, and indeed the whole 
of the eight miles between Barnet and St. 
Albans, pulses with stirring incidents of the 
old coaching days. It was, for example, in 
1820 that what was described as an " accident " 
to the Holy head Mail took place a mile short 
of St. Albans. As a matter of plain fact, it was 
not so much an accident as the almost inevitable 
conclusion of a road race between the Holyhead 
and the Chester Mails. The coachmen had 
been driving furiously all the way from 
Highgate, and striving to pass one another. 
Through Barnet they clattered, and by some 
miracle avoiding a smash on the old road, came 
at last within sight of St. Albans, to where the 
Old Mile House still stands by the way. Here, 
with an inch or two to spare, the coachman of 
the Holyhead Mail took the off side and was 
coming past the Chester Mail, when the 
coachman pulled his horses across the road. In 
VOL. i. 6 



82 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

the collision that followed, both coaches were 
overturned, and one passenger, William Hunt 
hy name, killed. At the inquest held at the 
"Peahen," St. Alhans, both coachmen were, 
very properly, found guilty of manslaughter, 
and were committed for trial at the next 
Hertford sessions, which did not open till six 
months later. During the whole of that period 
they were kept in irons at St. Albans. Eventu- 
ally they received a further term of twelve 
months imprisonment each. 

With happenings such as these, becoming 
more alarmingly frequent as the pace of coaches 
and the rivalry between them increased, 
travelling grew exceedingly dangerous, and 
Lord Erskine, when counsel for a person who 
had had the misfortune to be thrown off one 
of the coaches from the "Swan with Two 
Necks," and to receive a broken arm, was not 
altogether unduly severe in his witty address 
to the jury : 

" Gentlemen of the jury," he gravely began, 
"the plaintiff in this case is Mr. Beverley, a 
respectable merchant of Liverpool, and the 
defendant is Mr. Chaplin, proprietor of the 
' Swan with Two Necks,' in Lad Lane, a sign 
emblematical, I suppose, of the number of necks 
people ought to possess Avho ride in his 
vehicles." 

A further development of coaching dangers 
about 1820 was found in the growing mania of 
the young bloods of that day for driving 



AMATEUR COACHMEN 83 

honours. Every young man about town 
cherished an ambition to become an expert 
coachman, but unhappily they took their lessons, 
not on the box-seats of empty coaches, but laid 
inexperienced hands upon the reins of well-filled 
conveyances. 

This driving ambition was a fine thing for 
the sportively inclined, but staid and elderly 
persons were apt to be greatly terrified by it. 
An " Old Traveller," writing to the Sporting 
Magazine in 1822, after having read the coach- 
ing articles by " Nimrod," asks the Editor if he 
will have the goodness to request his distinguished 
contributor to inform the travelling public how 
they are to travel fifty miles by coach without 
having their necks broken, or their limbs 
shattered and amputated. " In my younger 
days," says he, " when I was on the eve of 
setting out on a journey, my wife was in the 
habit of giving me her parting blessing, con- 
cluding with the words, ' God bless you, my 
dear, I hope you will not be robbed.' But it 
is now changed to, ' God bless you, my dear, 
I hope you will not get your neck broke, and 
that you will bring all your legs safe home 
again.' Now, Mr. Editor, this neck-breaking 
and leg-amputating is all because one daring 
rascal wishes to show that he is a better coach- 
man than another daring rascal ; or because one 
proprietor on the road is determined not to be 
outdone by another. 

" Neither can I think, sir, that such writers 



84 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

as Mr. Nimrod mend the matter much. By "a 
lively and technical description of these galloping 
coaches, he makes many a young man fancy 
himself a coachman, from which cause many 
an old man gets upset and hurt. For example : 
a friend of mine coming up to town a short 
time since hy one of these galloping coaches, 
was upset and much injured. On going to 
sympathise with his misfortune, he informed me 
that the accident was occasioned hy the leaders 
taking one road and the wheelers another; so 
hetween them hoth, over they went. 'My 
God ! ' said I, ' what was the coachman about ; 
was he asleep, or drunk ? ' ' Neither,' replied 
my friend, ' he had nothing to do with it ; a 
young Oxonian was driving.' Now, Mr. Editor, 
it is not at all improbable but that this Oxonian 
had been reading your magazine the night 
before, instead of his classics, and meant the 
next day to put his theory into practice, by 
which my friend, a very worthy man, the father 
of a large family, nearly lost his life. 

" Whoever takes up a newspaper in these 
eventful times, it is even betting whether an 
accident by coach, or a suicide, first meets the 
eye. Now really, as the month of November is 
fast approaching, when, from foggy weather and 
dark nights, both these calamities are likely to 
increase, I merely suggest the propriety of any 
unfortunate gentleman, resolved on self-destruc- 
tion, trying to avoid the disgrace attached to it, 
by first taking a few journeys by some of these 



DRINK AND DISASTER 85 

Dreadnoughts, Highflyer, or Tally-ho coaches ; 
as in all probability he may meet with as 
instant death as if he had let off one of Joe 
Manton's pistols in his mouth, or severed his 
head from his body with one of Mr. Palmer's 
best razors." 

It was all very well to complain of these 
sportsmen, but what about the professionals ? 
How, for instance, would he have relished being 
at the mercy of a man like the driver of one 
of the Birmingham coaches on the home stretch 
between London and Redbourne who, on one 
occasion, full of port and claret, could just 
manage to keep his seat, and in this condition 
started for London ? 

When " the drink was a-dying in him, like," 
and he felt more alive, he sprang his team at 
this dangerous part of the road known as Minims 
Wash, Here he met the Manchester " Coburg " 
coming round a corner at a terrific pace. They 
met, with a resounding crash ; the first coach- 
man finding himself in the ditch and his leaders 
charging over it into the gates of a neighbouring 
park. The coach happily struck one of the 
posts and stopped dead. No one was killed and 
the worst that happened to the passengers was 
that one of them who had jumped off in alarm, 
sprained an ankle. He, very naturally, objected 
to complete the journey on the coach and had 
to be provided with a post-chaise at Barnet. 
Some of the other passengers went with him. 
Only one of the horses received any injury, and 



86 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

that was the off-leader of the " Coburg," whose 
shoulder was smashed. This affair cost the 
tippling coachman 20, and he thought himself 
lucky (as indeed he was) that it was not worse. 
The same coachman, who by this time had 
reformed, met the " Coburg " on another occasion 
on this stretch of road. It was a moonlight 
night and the driver of the " Coburg " was on 
the wrong side in order to avoid some heaps 
of gravel thrown down in repairing the road. 
When he saw the other coach, the driver of 
the " Coburg " tried to cross over to his proper 
side, and in doing so, the heaped up gravel 
turned his coach over. The passengers were 
unhurt, and when they had righted the vehicle 
and found a baby who had been flung out of his 
mother's arms off the roof into a field, they 
resumed their journey. 



XII 

ONE shudders to think what would become of 
railway directors and shareholders if the old 
Law of Deodand were still in existence. It was 
an ancient enactment, going back to the days 
of the Saxon kings, by which the object causing 
the death of a person was forfeited for the 
benefit of his representatives. At least, that 
was originally the humane intention of the law, 



DEODAND 87 

which then really represented the etymology of 
its name, making it a God-given compensation. 
Sometimes the death-dealing object was valuable ; 
occasionally it was practically valueless ; just as 
might happen. But, like many another originally 
just and equitable thing, the Law of Deodand 
became perverted, and the inevitable Landowner 
found his account in it. It is difficult to folloxv 
the reasoning that, when the person killed left 
no representatives, made the offending object 
forfeit to the Lord of the Manor on whose land 
the accident might happen ; but so it came about. 
Deodand became limited after a time, and instead 
of those interested receiving the full value of 
the thing causing death, a jury would sit to 
assess the damages due according to circum- 
stances. Thus, when the Holyhead Mail ran 
over and killed a boy on the road near South 
Minims, the deodand on the coach and horses 
was assessed by the coroner's jury at one 
sovereign. Rightly considered, however, deo- 
dand should not in this case have been levied 
at all, for the accident was entirely due to a 
group of three boys, of whom the deceased was 
one, darting across the road under the horses' 
heads to see how nearly they could come to the 
coach without being run over : a common feat 
with boys in those days, and one that ruined 
many a coachman's nerves. In this case the 
boy was killed, and clearly by his own fault. 
Had the deodand not been limited, a curious 
legal point might have arisen, as it had done 



88 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

before, in the case of a man being killed by a 
horse and loaded waggon running over him ; 
when, the value of the horse and waggon being 
claimed, the lawyers successfully raised the point 
that it was not the horse that killed the man 
but the waggon. In the result, the deodand was 
lessened by the value of the horse. This law 
was finally abolished before railways came into 
existence, or we might have seen locomotives 
and whole trains forfeited to relatives of the 
accidentally killed ; or, failing these, to the 
Lord of the Manor in the particular spot where 
the accident happened. 

A perhaps less sporting practice than that of 
permitting amateurs to handle the ribbons, but 
one certainly also less dangerous to the travelling 
public, was the wholly unauthorised and alto- 
gether illegitimate custom that began to obtain 
in later years of admitting a third person upon 
the box of the mails. 

There was properly but one box seat beside 
the coachman, and this proud eminence was 
most ardently coveted by every man. In early 
coaching days it was attainable by an early 
appearance upon the scene and by tipping the 
yard porter; but when competition had rendered 
coach proprietors keener in their scent for fares, 
this pride of place was valued by them at a 
considerable advance upon the inglorious seats 
away from the bright effulgent genius who 
handled the ribbons, and diffused a strong 
odour of rum around "the bench." 



INFORMERS 89 

There was a heavy penalty 50, it has been 
said against admitting a third person upon the 
box, the reason of this tremendous regulation 
being that the driver, it was considered, could 
not have sufficient room for doing his work 
properly when encumbered with more than one 
passenger on the box. 

This heavy penalty, or part of it, was recover- 
able by any informer, and the result was that 
the roads were infested by such gentry, not only 
on the look-out for a contravention of the rule, 
but practising all manner of dodges to inveigle 
a good-natured or greedy coachman into letting 
a third man get up for "just a few miles." 

But the game was so well known that such 
an application was apt to be answered by a coil 
of thong winding itself round the thighs of the 
applicant. There was one particularly active 
informer, Byers by name, who is referred to in 
the Inyoldsby Legends as " the accusing Byers, 
the Prince of Peripatetic Informers, and terror 
of Stage-coachmen, when such things were. 
Alack ! alack ! " says Barham, " the Railroads 
have ruined his ' vested interest.' ' 

The interests, "vested" or not, of these 
informers, were large and varied. Mail and 
stage-coachmen, postboys, travellers with their 
taxcarts, and waggoners, all contributed to their 
income. Sometimes these lynx-eyed fellows 
would find a coach carrying more passengers 
than it was licensed for. The discrepancy could 
be seen at a glance, for all stage-coaches were 



9 o THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

bound to carry a conspicuous plate stating these 
particulars. Perhaps the guard would artfully 
hang a rug over it, and then the common 
informer, hanging about at the changing place, 
would lift it up and have a look; finding, after 
all, that the coach was only carrying its legal 
complement. Whereupon, the coachman and 
guard, who had been lying in wait for him, 
would duck him finely in the nearest horse- 
trough for his pains. 

Even the humble turnpike men were liable 
to be informed against for not giving a ticket, 
for taking too much toll, or for not having their 
names displayed over their doorways. 

There were at one time no fewer than five 
turnpike-gates between London and St. Albans, 
a distance of only just over twenty miles. The 
series originally began with the gate on 
Islington Green, removed afterwards to the 
Holloway Road, and was continued by the one 
at Highgate Archway, and others at Whetstone, 
and South Mimms ; the fifth being at the 
entrance to St. Albans itself. These numerous 
gates within so comparatively short a distance, 
gave excellent opportunities to the informing 
gentry, who were wont to take little excursions 
into the country along this route, returning with 
memoranda that brought them a goodly return 
on their enterprise. They cast their nets wide 
and captured an astonishing diversity of fish. 
But their memoranda had to be made with 
discretion. It was a risky thing to be seen noting 



POETIC JUSTICE 91 

down the name of a " collector of tolls," as a 
turnpike-man was officially styled. The present 
writer has held converse with an old man who 
once kept the toll-gate at South Minims. Age 
had withered him, but custom had not staled 
his reminiscences. He had an especially favourite 
and Homeric story of an encounter with one of 
these pests. 

It was springtime, and our toll-keeping friend 
had a mind to whitewash the exterior of his 
house. To this end he not only took down the 
climbing roses, that rendered his official residence 
a fugitive glimpse of beauty to those who fared 
the road by coach, but he also removed his 
name-board. To him entered, while engaged in 
wielding the whitewash brush, one of the 
informing species, who, thinking himself un- 
observed, made to examine the board, lying face 
downwards, on the ground. Our friend, how- 
ever, was not so intent upon his whitewashing 
but that lie saAV with the tail of his eye what 
was toward behind him. He must have been a 
man of elemental passions, for he reached over, 
his brush fully charged, and delivered a stagger- 
ing sideways blow with it upon the face of the 
unsuspecting note taker. " I gin him a good 
'mi," he always used to say; "but he come up 
for more, an' I punched his head and kicked 

his " No matter what he kicked. Suffice 

it to say that his language was forcible, 
adjectival, and Saxon. 



9 2 



THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 



XIII 

THE old road regains Telford's Holyhead Road 
of the Twenties a little distance short of South 
Minims, close by where the cast-iron plate of 
the old milestone proclaims " Barnett " to he 
three miles distant. It crosses the hroad high- 
way at an acute angle and goes in an ascent, 
and with many curves behind the village ; 

*/ r^ 




SOUTH MIMMS. 

descending again and almost returning upon 
itself through the village street, as though a 
circuitous course and the mounting of every hill 
were things greatly to be desired by travellers 
bound on a long and toilsome journey. South 
Minims, village and church, is completely 
islanded by these old and new roads. 



SOUTH MIMMS 93 

In the accompanying illustration, the church 
with the houses behind it may be seen standing 
on a knoll. It is a hillocky and picturesque 
place, with a church unspoiled by the restoration 
of 1868, and rustic cottages that might well be 
fifty, instead of less than fifteen, miles from 
London. The view is towards London, and the 
road in the foreground is Telford's ; the old 
road coming steeply down and crossing again. 
There was an excellent reason for that ancient 
way taking such high ground at this point. It 
was for the accommodation of the village, and 
continued to be the main road until the days of 
a mere local intercourse between one parish and 
its next neighbour gave place to the more 
frequent and extended travel of later times, 
when direct communication between distant 
places became of much more importance than 
the convenience of wayside hamlets. The black 
despair that overtook the innkeepers and other 
frontagers relegated by Telford from a position 
in the midst of the traffic to a stagnant back- 
water of life may readily be imagined, but they 
received no compensation for this " worserment," 
which must have practically ruined many of 
them ; nor did those more fortunate ones pay 
for betterment who, in the making of new roads, 
found themselves, from being in a bye-lane, 
suddenly placed in the best of situations, on the 
main road. 

Mimms was not only infamous for its floods. 
In days of yore it harboured highwaymen and 



94 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

footpads in plenty, and for quite a long time. 
It seems odd, nowadays, that a particular spot 
should have heen of so evil a repute, and yet 
that no efforts were made to secure the rascals. 
A quaint document still preserved in the archives 
of the House of Lords recounts what befell 
William Symonds here in 1647. It is a petition 
in which he, as a prisoner in the King's Bench 
prison, prays for a new trial. It seems that he 
was entrusted by Henry Fitzhugh and Richard 
Wells with a sealed packet of money, for him 
to carry from Bedford to London, and that Avhen 
he reached Mimms at break of day he was set 
upon and robbed by three or four thieves and 
lost not only the money, but almost all the rest 
of what he had to bring to London. He further 
says that he was no common carrier, and that 
he had not negligently lost the money. Yet 
Fitzhugh and Wells prosecuted him, and, 
obtaining judgment, laid him prisoner in the 
King's Bench. He concludes by praying for a 
new trial; but whether or not he ever obtained 
it does not appear. In any case, coming from 
Bedford to London, he had no business on this 
road. 

The strange story of unfortunate William 
Symonds is followed by equally strange happen- 
ings some forty years later; when, for example, 
on November 9th, 1690, seven highwaymen not 
only robbed the Manchester carrier near this 
spot of 15,000, tax-money being conveyed from 
the Midlands to London, but also killed or 



MARLBOROUGH ROBBED 95 

hamstrung eighteen horses of the escort, in order 
to prevent pursuit. It was a leisurely business 
and thoroughly well carried out ; all travellers 
who were unlucky enough to he passing at the 
time being robbed first and then tied to wayside 
trees, where they were left to be released by 
later wayfarers. Two Roman Catholics were 
subsequently arrested on a charge of being con- 
cerned in this affair, and committed for trial, 
but it does not appear what happened to them. 
At any rate, whatever their fate may have been, 
it did not stop these outrages on the Holyhead 
Road ; for, two years later, the most audacious 
bands were still at work in this district, reaping 
almost incredible plunder. On the night of 
August 23rd, 1692, for instance, the great 
Churchill, the terrible " Malbrouck," scourge of 
the foreigner on many a stricken field, tamely 
submitted to be robbed by the highwaymen who 
lay wait for him near " Coney," as Narcissus 
Luttrell calls London Colney, and plundered 
him of 500 guineas; a loss "w^hich," says 
Macaulay, alluding to that great captain's 
miserly disposition, " he doubtless never ceased 
to regret to the last moment of his Ions? career 

O O 

of prosperity and glory." 

The plunder reaped by these daring highway- 
men must have been immense, and inferior only 
to that bagged by modern company promoters. 
Three months later than their little parley with 
Marlborough, a party of eight or nine made a 
haul of between 1,500 and 2,000 out of a 



9 6 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

waggon "near Barnet," and might have long 
continued their career had it not been for the 
King, who suspecting Roman Catholics and 
Jacobites in all these marauding bands, took 
measures that for a time effectually cleared the 
roads near London. Detachments of a regiment 
of Dragoons were posted some ten miles out, 
along all the great roads, and formed patrols. 
Captures were numerous, and executions almost 
as many. Among their notable seizures was 
that of Captain James Whitney, at some un- 
specified spot " at Barnet." In this later Battle 
of Barnet, between the soldiers and Whitney's 
band, December 6th, 1692, in which one dragoon 
was killed and several wounded, he was captured, 
and afterwards promptly hauled off to Newgate, 
amid great rejoicings, for he had been a terror 
in many widely separated districts of England. 
They hanged the "Captain," not at Tyburn but 
in Smithfield, in the beginning of 1693, and the 
roads knew an interval of peace. 

The parish registers and church wardens' 
accounts of South Minims throw a further and 
a sombre light upon the history of the road, 
with their entries of " strangers " buried and 
"poor people" relieved. No fewer than seven 
" strangers " were found dead on the road, within 
the limits of the parish, in 1727, one of them 
having been drowned in Minims Wash. Among 
other items in the accounts is one of 1737, " To 
a man that had the small-pox, to go forwards, 
00 . 1 . OOd." Set down in this manner a 



THE OLD ROAD 97 

shilling looks a great deal, but what astonishes 
the reader of these things more than anything 
else is the heartless way in which the poor and 
the sick were given a trifle and hurried off to the 
next parish, to die on the way, if they would, in 
order that some other community should have 
the expense of them, or the infection, as the 
case might be. 



XIV 

THE Holyhead Road goes broad and straight, and 
with a long perspective of dust-clouds and tele- 
graph-poles, up Ridge Hill, where the borders of 
Middlesex are crossed and Hertfordshire entered ; 
but the old way, after passing the "White Hart," 
crosses to the right hand and climbs up by itself 
as a deserted track. Near the hill-top it crosses 
again, and so descends on the left hand towards 
St. Albans. It is quite a narrow way, measuring 
at the most twelve feet across, against the 
average twenty feet of the modern road ; and, 
sunk between deep banks as it is, giving rise to 
astonishment that a road such as this was, until 
the first quarter of the nineteenth century had 
nearly passed away, the chief means of com- 
munication between the capitals of England and 
Ireland. Nature, left to herself, has long since 
resumed sway over the old road, here and there 
scored with waggon-ruts through eighty years' 
VOL. i. 7 



9 8 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

deposit of leaf -mould, or, in other places, become 
a green ride through the unchecked trees that 
grow along it and interlace overhead. It is a 
relic of Old England of the days before railways : 
no museum specimen, but an open-air survival, 
unnoted and un travelled ; discovered by the few 
who, haply realising what it is, thread its winding 
course and leave the modern well worn road to 
the crowd. 

Descending Ridge Hill, into the valley of 
the Colne, London Colney is reached, skirting 
the road by that insignificant stream, spanned 
by a picturesque old red-brick bridge, whose 
generous proportions seem to be much too large 
for so unassuming a runlet. Such criticism, 
however, is severely deprecated by those who 
know the Colne throughout the year. They tell 
wondrous stories of the things it is capable of. 
London Colney's name is perhaps not a very 
attractive one, but the place itself is exceedingly 
picturesque. Quaint village inns, timber-and- 
plaster gabled cottages, and old brick houses 
with a certain air of refinement that conies of 
chaste design and sound workmanship, are its 
constituent features. 

The stretch of road between the northern face 
of Ridge Hill, London Colney, and St. Albans 
was always dreaded by coachmen in winter, for 
when snow fell in conjunction with a driving 
north or north-east wind, huge drifts resulted 
in this district. Ridge Hill formed a barrier 
against which the snow- charged wind battled, 




THE OLD EOAD, EIDGE HILL. 



THE GREAT SNOWSTORM 



101 



with the result that a flurry of snow-wreaths 
gathered in the levels. The great storm that 
began with startling suddenness on the Christmas 
Day of 1836 was a great deal more widespread 
than any other experienced during the coaching 
age. Curiously enough, it had its exact counter- 
part precisely half a century later, when the 
terrible snowstorm of Christmas night, 1886, fell, 
equally without warning, from what had been 
a blue and sunshiny sky. The storm of 1836 




LONDON COLNEY. 



buried many coaches all over the country, par- 
ticularly in the neighbourhood of St. Albans 
and Dunstable. The Manchester down mail of 
the 26th reached St. Albans, and, getting off the 
road into a hollow, was upset, and left where it 
fell, the guard returning to London with the 
bags and the passengers in a post-chaise. A 
mile distant from this accident, on the London 
side, a " chariot " that is to say, a family 
carriage was seen the next day without horses, 



102 



THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 



and nearly covered with snow; two ladies 
making frantic appeals from its windows for 
help, saying their postboy, having left them 
two hours before to go to St. Albans for fresh 
horses, had not returned. They could not be 
helped; and so, still wildly gesticulating, we 
leave them for ever, without the means of 
knowing whether that postboy ever did return. 

The up Birmingham mail, via Aylesbury, 
also on the 26th, just managed to get beyond 
that town when it ran into a drift and thus 
suddenly ceased its journey. All attempts to 
force a way through were fruitless. Accord- 
ingly, Price, the guard, mounted one of the 
horses and, tying the mailbags on another, set 
out in this fashion for London. Joined a little 
later by two postboys on other horses, with 
the bye-bags, all three pushed on together, 
discovering now and again that they had 
wandered far from the road when the hoof of 
a horse chanced to strike on the top bar of a 
field-gate or stick in the summit of a hedge 
buried in the drifts. By great good fortune 
they reached London at last, exhausted, but 
safe. The passengers, who were quite a second- 
ary consideration, were left behind to be dug 
out by the country folk, and taken back, 
somehow, to Aylesbury. The Chester and the 
Holyhead mails were embedded at the same time 
at Hockliffe. 

On leaving the old-world village of London 
Colney behind, a distant view of St. Albans 



ST. ALLAN'S 



opens out, the Abbey first disclosing itself, 
and then the clock-tower in the market-place, 
followed by an indiscriminate grouping of roofs 
and chimneys. The Abbey in recent years 




ENTRANCE TO ST. ALBANS. 



ennobled as a Cathedral and by consequence of 
that and the creation of the See conferring the 
dignified style of " city " upon the town very 
rightly dominates all else. 



XV. 



WE must penetrate very deeply into the past to 
reach the event that gave the City and Cathedral 
of St. Alban their name. So dim have records 
and traditions become, by reason of lapse of time, 
that it is not quite certain whether the year 



I0 6 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

A.D. 285 or A.D. 305 witnessed the martyrdom 
of that saint. By all accounts it would seem 
that the proto-martyr of Britain was a citizen of 
Verulamium, and a pagan, when the Diocletian 
persecution of Christians broke out ; but a 
strange thing happened to turn him towards 
the Faith that already had made converts 
steadfast throughout many dangers and trials. 
To him came one Amphibalus, a Christian, 
seeking shelter from the fury of the persecutors ; 
and, whether from innate nobility of character 
or from long friendship with the fugitive, Alban 
offered him the protection of his house. Sheltered 
thus, Amphibalus expounded to him the tenets 
of this new creed that had made enemies so 
bitter and so powerful, with the result that 
Alban himself became a Christian. It was not 
long before the fugitive's hiding-place was 
discovered, but Alban, filled with the newborn 
zeal that distinguishes the convert, secretly 
allowed his guest to depart, and then, acknow- 
ledging as much, cursed the gods and announced 
himself a Christian and prepared to suffer in 
his stead. Imprisonment and torture availed 
nothing to shake his resolution, and it was not 
long before the day dawned when he was led 
out from the gates of Verulam and beheaded 
upon that hill beyond the Roman city, now 
arid for eleven hundred years past, the site of 
a succession of great churches set up in memory 
of him. Vague stories of a very early church 
erected upon the scene of the martyrdom may 



HISTORY OF THE CITY 107 

be met with, but the relics of Saint Alban (as 
in the meanwhile he had become) had long- 
been lost when, four hundred and eighty-seven 
years later, Offa, King of Mercia, penitent for 
having compassed the murder of Ethelbert, 
King of the East Angles, proposed to absolve 
his soul by founding a church over the scene 
of the martyr's agony. Divine light and a ray 
of fire are said by the legend to have conducted 
him to a certain spot called Holmhurst (that 
is to say " Holly wood ") where the relics lay, 
and they were removed to the church he then 
built, or, as some accounts will have it, enlarged. 
Of that edifice only some doubtful fragments 
remain, for not only did Ealdred and Eadmer 
alter it about A.D. 950, but Paul de Caen, the 
first Norman Abbot after the Conquest, set 
himself to entirely rebuild it on a grander scale, 
little more than a hundred years later. Again, 
in A.D. 1195, rebuildings and enlargements 
were undertaken, and throughout the centuries 
very few decades have passed without something, 
good or ill, being done to the huge fabric. 
Huge it is, for it measures from end to end 
550 feet, and is only surpassed in this particular 
by Winchester Cathedral, the longest in England ; 
but only by seven feet. How great is the rise 
of the Holyhead road from London may be 
gathered from the fact that the ground on which 
the Cathedral of St. Alban stands is on a level 
with the cross on the dome of St. Paul's. The 
long story of the Abbey ; how those slain in the 



I0 8 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

two battles of St. Albans are buried here and 
at St. Peter's; how it was sold to the people 
for a parish church for 400 after the dissolution 
of the monastery in 1539 ; how it in modern 
times became a Cathedral ; and how Sir Gilbert 
Scott and Lord Grimthorpe successively have 

wrought havoc with their " restorations," at a 

~ 

total cost of over 166,000, are matters for 
ecclesiologists, and not for telling in a book 
on the road. 

Par or near, the Abbey dominates the city, 
whose clustered roofs rise gradually toward where 
it stands on its elevated plateau, overlooking the 
quiet Hertfordshire meadows. Indeed, it stands 
on higher ground than any abbey or cathedral 
in England, the floor level at the crossing being 
340 feet above mean sea-level. Lichfield is 
next highest, standing at 286 feet, and Durham, 
placed though it be on a craggy cliff beside the 
river Wear, comes only third, at 212 feet. St. 
Albans' very bulk is impressive, and, to the 
distant view, softened as it is by the smoke 
of the town chimneys, not unlovely, despite 
that long outline which rivals Winchester's great 
span ; and though the crudities of the wealthy 
architectural amateur are insistent at close 
quarters they are fortunately lost in great 
measure from a distance. Por where by-gone 
abbots strove so greatly to build in ages past, 
it is happily difficult for one man to largely 
alter the outline of their work. 

A cheerful old place is St. Albans, crowning 



^ 



ROADS ALTERED in 

its hill proudly with a mural crown, and rich 
in all the traditional attributes of a cathedral 
city darkling nooks, quaint alleys, and ancient 
churches satellites attendant upon the central 
fane. Before the present main road from London 
came into existence in 1794, the entrance was 
by Sopwell Lane, still in use, branching oft' to 
the left at something more than half a mile 
from the city. It is a steep and rugged way, 
leading down into the meadows where Sopwell 
ruins stand, and so to Holywell Hill, where an 
acute right-angle turn and a formidable climb 
used to bring the early coaches staggering into 
the market-place by the aid of an extra pair of 
horses. The Roman way, the famous "Watling 
Street," avoided the site of St. Albans altogether, 
and went considerably to the left of the Holy- 
head Road, to the valley of the Yer, where the 
ruins of Verulamium may yet be found below 
the hilly site of the monastery of St. Alban, 
founded by King Off a of Mercia in 793. It was 
the monks Avho in mediaeval times diverted the 
Watling Street from its straight course to 
Verulam, and made the road from St. Stephens 
into St. Albans, by the tremendous descent and 
ascent of Holywell Hill. The travellers of those 
times came from London chiefly by the Watling 
Street, via Stanmore, Brockley Hill, and Elstree, 
and it was not until later that the present route 
came greatly into vogue. 

This monkish interference with the road was 
by no means on behalf of travellers, but rather 



II2 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

from a highly developed sense of self-preservation. 
Before they laid hands upon it, traffic went by 
in the valley, and the town and monastery 
suffered from neglect. St. Albans Monastery, 
like other religious houses, did not exist by 
grants of land alone, but owned tolls and 
market-rights, and it was to increase the value 
of these that this drastic plan was adopted. 
Drastic, indeed, it was, for the paved Roman 
way was grubbed up and utterly destroyed from 
St. Stephens to Yerulam, so that it became 
impossible to travel by it, and every one was 
then compelled to come into St. Albans by the 
mountainous Holy well Hill. 

Verulamium had from the earliest times of 
the Roman settlement of Britain been the 
wealthiest of all the towns in this island. It 
possessed a theatre and all the graces of civilisa- 
tion, but no walls or defences of any kind. Thus 
it was that when Boadicea, Queen of the Iceni, 
revolted under oppression in A.D. 61, it became 
the easiest, as well as the earliest prey of her 
avenging hosts. Verulamium and Londinium 
fell before their onslaughts, and in the massacres 
following, 70,000 persons are said to have perished, 
in addition to those who fell at Camulodunum. 

Verulamium, in common with those other 
towns, was afterwards rebuilt, and grew more 
prosperous than before ; but it met a similar 
fate some 400 years later, when the Roman 
troops left Britain, and barbaric hordes, over- 
whelmed it in some obscure foray. The very 



WAETLINGA-CEASTER 113 

obscurity that clings about its end adds to the 
horror of those times. Those were wars of 
extermination, and none were left to tell the 
tale of how the great town and its people 
perished by fire and sword. Only when, in 
course of time, civilisation touched the Saxons, 
and historians were produced, do we hear any- 
thing of these long-ruined places, by that time 
become tinged with mystery and regarded with 
shrinking aversion. Bede, writing about A.D. 720, 
calls this " Waetlinga-ceaster," the city of the 
Watlings. In his time vast ruined walls and 
houses remained. Off a, when founding St. Albans 
Abbey, some seventy years later, was probably 
dissuaded by fears of the supernatural from 
drawing upon the ruins for building material. 
It was not so with those who rebuilt and enlarged 
his Abbey from time to time. They found and 
worked the ready mine of bricks and tiles, 
doubly valuable in that district innocent of 
stone, and thus it is that so little of ruined 
Verulam is left; but, gazing upon the Abbey, 
we see, in the immense quantities of Roman 
brick and tile that have gone towards its con- 
struction, that ancient Roman town in a manner 
re-incarnated. 

Towards the middle of the tenth century, 
those ruins in the valley were a source of terror 
to the good folks of the rising town of St. 
Albans. In them lurked those outlaws 
robbers, murderers, and general offscourings of 
society for whom it would have been dangerous 
VOL. i. 8 



THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

to appear in the town, and who ^rendered it 
equally dangerous for law-abiding burgesses to 
Tnder far from their domestic hearths when 
the sun had set and darkness gathered. 




MARKET-PLACE, ST. ALBANS. 

partly for this reason, perhaps quite as much 
as for the use of the materials for building 
purposes, that so much of the ruins was 
removed by Ealdred, the eighth Abbot. He 
warred with the Verulam vagabonds, carting 
much of their harbourage away, and explored 



HOLY WELL HILL 115 

a cave supposed to be inhabited by a dragon 
who was not at home on that occasion. The 
good Abbot, however, is said to have found 
traces of the monster ! His successor, Eadmer, 
was of the fiery sort. He, too, removed much 
building material, but the "pagan altars" 
found during his explorations he ground to 
powder and so earns the maledictions of all 
antiquaries. 

And so it went on for centuries. Stukeley, 
about 1690, noticed a good part of the walls 
standing, but, as he rode along, saw hundreds 
of loads of Roman bricks being carted off, to 
mend the highway. 



XVI 

THE old entrance by Holywell Hill is the most 
charming part of St. Albans, with fine old 
red -brick mansions and old inns where the 
coaches and the post-chaises used to come. 
Many of the inns are either mere shadows of 
their former selves, or have been entirely altered 
to other uses, but their coach-entrances and 
yards remain to tell of what they once were. 
There stands a building now a girls' school, 
but once the " Old Crown," and close by the 
"White Hart," with "Saracen's Head Yard" 
beyond, but the " Saracen's Head " itself is IIOAV 



n6 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

divided into shops. In a continuous line up-hill 
were the "Angel," "Horsehead," "Dolphin," 
"Seven Stars," " Woolpack," "Peahen," and 
" Key " ; which last house stood squarely on the 
site where the London road now enters the city. 
It was from the "Keyfield," at the back of this 
house, that the Yorkists burst into the streets 
and fell upon the Lancastrians in the first 
Battle of St. Albans, 1455. Another long- 
vanished inn was the " Castle," made famous 
by Shakespeare in a scene of Henry VI "., where 
Richard Plantagenet kills the Duke of Somerset, 
in this fight : 

So, lie thou there : 

For underneath an alehouse' paltry sign, 

The Castle in St. Alban's, Somerset 

Hath made the wizard famous in his death. 

Somerset had been warned by a witch to 
" shun castles " : 

Let him shun castles ; 

Safer shall he be upon the sandy plains, 

Than where castles mounted stand. 

He could scarce have interpreted the 
prophecy in the crooked way it was verified. 

Holywell Hill still echoes to the sound of 
the coach-horn, as the modern "Wonder," 
with an extra pair of horses, dashes up from 
the hollow to the "Peahen." The "Wonder,'' 
however, does not journey to and from St. 
Albans by the Holyhead road. Leaving London 
from the Hotel Victoria, Northumberland Avenue, 



OLD INNS 119 

at 10.50 a.m., it follows somewhat the line of the 
Watling Street by Hendon, the " Welsh Harp," 
Edgware, Great Stanmore, Bushey, and Watford ; 
reaching its destination at 1.50, and setting 
out on the return journey at 3.45. The 
" Wonder " has run daily to and from St. 
Alhans, sometimes through the winter as well 
as summer, since 1882 ; owned hy that consistent 
amateur of coaching, Mr. P. J. Rumney, familiarly 
known down the road and at Brighton as " Dr. 
Ridge," from his proprietorship of a certain 
world -famed " Food for Infants." But, before 
the " Wonder " came upon the scene, the 
modern coaching revival had provided St. 
Albans with summer coaches from about 1872. 
The now famous " Old Times " began to run, 
November 4th, 1878, and continued to St. 
Albans until the following spring, when it was 
transferred to Virginia Water. 

The " Peahen," standing at the meeting of 
Holywell Hill and the London Road, has of late 
been rebuilt in a somewhat gorgeous and baronial 
style, but is the lineal descendant of a house of 
the same name in existence so far back as 1556. 
The name of the " Peahen " is thought to be 
unique. 

Continuing the line of hostelries past the 
"Peahen" and the "Key," into Chequer Street, 
there were the "Chequers,*" the "Half Moon," 
and the " Bell " ; and in French Row the 
"Fleur-de-Lis," and the "Old Christopher," 
still remaining. The " Great Red Lion " in 



120 



THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 



the market-place, has been rebuilt. Near it, 
in George Street, on the old road out of St. 
Albans, is the " George," one of the pleasant est 
old places still left, with an old red-brick front 




THE ''GEORGE." 



and a picturesque courtyard. There was an 
mn on this site certainly as early as 1448, 
when it was mentioned as the "George upon 
the Hupe " -whatever that may mean In 
those times it was a pilgrim's inn, and had an 



THE "GEORGE" 121 

oratory cliapel. Nothing so interesting as that 
survives, but the old house has its features. 
The room to the right of the archway, used in 
old times, when a coach plied from the 
"George" to London and back every day, as 
a booking-office and waiting-room, remains in 
use as a parlour and rendezvous for the 
country-folk on market days, and all the 
summer the courtyard is like a bower with 
flowers and vines. Under the gable can be 
seen a spoil snatched from the destruction of 
old Holywell House in 1837 the decorative 
carving from the pediment, a work representing 
Ceres, surrounded with emblems of agriculture 
its products, and attended by Cupids and 
shameless creatures of that sort. 

To and from the " George " went daily the 
" Favourite " London coach, until the first of 
the railways came in May 1858, and ran it off 
the road. William Seymour, who used to drive 
it, then descended to the position of driver of 
an omnibus plying between St. Albans and 
Hat field, but even that humble occupation was 
soon swept away by railway extension. He 
then became landlord of the " King Harry " 
inn at St. Stephens, and died at last, May 30th, 
1869, in the Marlborough almshouses, St. Albans. 
Two other coaches in those days plied between 
St. Albans and London, generally taking three 
and a half hours. One came and went from 
the "Woolpack," and the other, the "Accommo- 
dation," from the " Meur-de-Lis," French Row. 



122 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

A particularly haughty and exclusive establish- 
ment was the "Verulam Arms." No common 
fellow who travelled by public conveyances was 
encouraged there. Only the lordly travellers who 
came in their own family coaches, or posted, 
ever sheltered beneath that condescending roof. 
The house remains, on the right-hand of Telford's 
new road leaving St. Albans, but had, as an 
hotel and posting-house, the shortest of careers. 
Built between 1827 and 1828, another ten years 
saw the coming of the railway. With that event 
vanished the trade of the " Verulam Arms." 
The house was soon closed, and has for fifty years 
past been a private residence. It is an extremely 
plain and uncompromisingly formal building in 
pallid brick, within railings enclosing a semi- 
circular drive. It is said that the Princess 
Victoria stayed here once. Some portions of 
the once extensive stable-yards and coach- 
houses remain, but the greater part of the 
grounds was taken, as long ago as 1848, as the 
site for a Roman Catholic Church, an unfortunate 
building discontinued and sold before completion, 
and finally purchased and finished as a Church 
of England place of worship, as it still remains, 
with the title of Christ Church. It would be 
difficult to find a more hideous building. 

But a far higher antiquity than can be shown 
by any other house in St. Albans belongs to a 
little inn called the " Fighting Cocks," standing 
by the river Ver, below the Abbey. Its origin 
goes back to early monastic days, when the lower 



THE "FIGHTING COCKS" 



123 



part of this curious little octagonal building was 
a water-gate to the monastery, and known as 




THE "FIGHTING COCKS.' 



St. Germain's Gate. Here the monks kept their 
nets, using the upper part as a fortification. 



,24 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

That embattled upper stage disappeared six hun- 
dred years ago, and in its place the upper storey 
of the inn is reared, in brick and timber, upon 
the stone substructure. The inn claims to be 
the oldest inhabited house in the kingdom, and 
exhibited until recently the inscription : 

The Old Round House, 
Rebuilt after the Flood. 

Obviously, judging from that old sign, the 
distinction between an eight-sided and a round 
house was too subtle to be noticed. The "Re- 
built after the Mood" does not (seeing where 
the house stands, beside the river Ver) necessarily 
mean the Deluge. 

The hanging sign has of late years become 
pictorial. On one side the Cocks are to be 
seen, a whirling mass of contention, and on the 
other the victor stands proudly over the prostrate 
body of the vanquished, and indulges in a 
triumphant crow. 



XVII 



WE often read in romances of the villainous 
innkeepers of long ago, who were in league with 
highwaymen, and we generally put those stories 
down as rather wild and far-fetched illustrations 



AN OLD STORY 125 

of a bygone age. But there were many such 
innkeepers in the old road-faring times, and 
they were the highwaymen's best sources of 
information. Such an one was the host of an 
inn at St. Albans, who in 1718 was associated 
with Tom Garrett and another "road agent" 
working the highway between St. Albans and 
London, in an evil partnership. It is a pity 
that the sign of this inn is not specified ; we 
should have gazed upon it with interest. 

To this inn came one evening a gentleman 
travelling to London on horseback. The land- 
lord himself helped him up to his bedroom with 
a weighty portmanteau Avhich promised good 
plunder, and while his guest was preparing for 
supper, took the good news of a likely haul ta 
Garrett and his partner, who were staying in 
the house. A pretty scheme was arranged on 
the instant, and the landlord, when his guest 
came downstairs, introduced his two confederates, 
to him in the guise of travellers, also on their 
way to London the following morning, who 
would be glad of his company. The unsuspecting 
stranger, nothing loth to spend an evening in 
pleasant company, instead of sitting in solitary 
state, joined the other " travellers " with a good 
will, and they had a convivial night ; setting out 
the next morning together. When they had 
reached a lonely part of the road near London 
Colney, the one covered him with a pistol while 
the other ransacked his portmanteau, taking 
all its contents, including a hundred guineas. 



126 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

from his person. Then they disappeared down 
a bye-road. 

Our traveller sat mournfully by the roadside 
for a while, contemplating his empty pack and 
the reins of his horse, which had been cut by 
the two partners in crime. It was not long 
before he arrived at the very just conclusion 
that the landlord of the inn was a party to this 
business, and a very pretty little scheme occurred 
to him by which he saw the possibility of 
getting his own again. He carefully refilled 
his portmanteau with stones, and retracing his 
way to St. Albans, called first at a saddler's to 
have his reins mended, and then leaving the 
horse behind him, went back to the inn. When 
the rascally landlord saw him return with his 
baggage as heavy as before, he came to the 
natural conclusion that his confederates had not 
robbed the stranger, and cursed them under 
his breath for a pair of bungling fools. The 
returned traveller himself confirmed this im- 
pression, accounting for his reappearance by 
telling how an accident had happened to his 
nag. In the meantime, he said, before starting 
out again, he must have dinner, and only wished 
he could have had the pleasure of the company 
at that meal of the good fellows his host had 
introduced him to the night before. With 
much extravagant praise of their good and 
sociable qualities, he declared that he must 
really not lose sight of such fine fellows. Did 
mine host know where they lived in London ? 



RETRIBUTION 127 

That villainous tapster was quite deceived. 
He did know the addresses, and gave them. In 
due course, then, imagine our traveller once 
more on his way, and finally arriving in town. 
The next morning he called upon Garrett, in 
the guise of a " gentleman on important business." 
Garrett was still in hed, and could not he seen, 
having "just returned from a journey in the 
country." 

To this he replied that it was urgent and 
important business, and this message brought 
the highwayman down. The traveller had not 
come without very potent persuaders to support 
his demand for his property. The one was a 
threat to have both highwaymen arrested ; the 
other was a pistol. These inducements were 
successful, and his hundred guineas found their 
way back to his pockets, together with a portion 
of his other property. Then he made a similar 
call upon the other malefactor, who yielded up 
the other moiety of the contents of the port- 
manteau, and (as we are told by the contemporary 
historian of these things) another hundred guineas. 
We need not believe in this epic completeness 
and overflowing measure of justice and retribu- 
tion. There lurks the eighteenth-century moralist, 
eager to cross the t's and dot the i's of every 
situation. But there is no reason why, up to 
that point, the story should not be true. 

Before the road was remodelled by Telford, 
in 182(5, the way out of St. Albans was past 
the "George" and down the steep descent of 



128 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

Eomeland and Fishpool Street, through the 
village of St. Michael's, and diagonally across a 
portion of Gorhambury Park, crossing the river 
Yer at Bow Bridge, at a point one and a half 
miles from the city, just short of Prae Mill. 
The present Holyhead Road, starting from the 
"Red Lion" in the Market Place, was in 1828 
an entirely new work. It is described hy Telford 
as a two miles' length, extending from the " Red 
Lion "to " Pond Yards," a spot prohahly identical 
with Shefford Mill, half a mile heyond Prae 
House, the site of the ancient hospital of 
St. Mary de la Pre, or de Pratis ("St. Mary 
of the Meadows ") originally a retreat for women 
lepers, founded in 1190, and afterwards a Priory 
of Benedictine nuns, suppressed by Wolsey in 
1528. Priory and mill are alike gone, but Prae 
House is seen on the left of the road, dwarfed 
hy the embankment with which the roadway is 
raised securely above danger of flooding from the 
river Yer. 

When the new road was completed, the old 
route through Gorhambury became private, and 
the entrance to it is now guarded, in the village 
of St. Michael's, by lodge gates. St. Michael's, 
now lying on the road to nowhere in particular, 
remains a sweetly old-world place, and the break- 
neck descent to it is one of the quaintest corners 
of St. Albans. Here old houses and quaint signs 
are the rule, and modern buildings the exception. 
The "Jackdaw," the "Cock and Flower Pot," 
and many other old names attract attention. 



PUDDING-STONE 



129 



Curiosities of the geological sort at St. Michael's 
are the huge masses of conglomerate rock, or 
"pudding-stone," found here and there in 
prominent positions, having been dug up at 
different periods in the neighbourhood. The 
name of " pudding-stone " is excellently descrip- 
tive, the rock consisting entirely of pebbles 
welded together by some prehistoric force, and 
resembling, to the imaginative mind, Cyclopean 




ST. MICHAEL'S. 

fossilised fragments of some antediluvian plum- 
pudding, extraordinarily rich in plums. 

St. Michael's Church, standing as it does 
almost in the centre of the site of old Veru- 
lamium, is largely built of Roman tiles. It is 
of many periods, from Saxon to Scottian and 
Grimthorpian, and of an extraordinary interest, 
somewhat blighted by the heavy hand of Sir 
Gilbert Scott, who "thoroughly restored" it in 
1867, and the inconceivably heavier hand of Lord 
Grimthorpe, who pulled it about shamefully in 
VOL. i. 9 



I3 o THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

1897, utterly demolishing its quaint old rough- 
cast tower, and building a new one from his own 
amateur-architect design. The odd architectural 
details would be ridiculous if they were not 
pitiful, in view of the really interesting work 
they replace. One device, in especial, resembles 
a cycling free-wheel clutch rather than anything 
known in the whole range of Gothic design. 

But greater than any other conceivable interest 
is the association of the great Francis Bacon, 
Lord Verulam, Viscount St. Albans, with Gor- 
hambury and St. Michael's. Bacon, who in his 
sixty-five years of life studied law, and rose to 
be Lord Chancellor, was a sufficiently remarkable 
man. Not only was he a successful lawyer and 
a diligent courtier, a philosopher, and the 
industrious author of essays, historical works, 
and the Advancement of Learning, but wrote all 
the plays attributed to Shakespeare, Greene, and 
Christopher Marlowe, as we are asked by in- 
genious latter-day discoverers of cryptograms to 
believe. Nay, not only so, but a rival Columbus 
on the stormy sea of cryptogramic discovery 
has even found that Francis was not the son 
of Nicholas Bacon, but the unacknowledged 
offspring of Queen Elizabeth and the Earl of 
Leicester ! This is startling, and lends an alto- 
gether novel interest to the statue of Bacon in 
the church, and the ruins of old Gorhambury 
House in the park. "Thus he sat," runs the 
inscription beneath the statue, seated in philo- 
sophic abstraction in an arm-chair, and truly 



MAD TOM 131 

he looks wise enough for anything ; hut it was 
not serious wisdom alone that went towards the 
construction of Shakespeare's plays. 



XVIII 

LEAVING the city of St. Alban, the river Ver 
is crossed at Prae House, and continues com- 
panionable as far as Redbourne, where it 
disappears in another direction, in deference 
to the rise on which Redbourne is built. That 
old coaching village is a veritable jewel of 
quaintness in the Queen Anne and Georgian 
sort. Red-brick houses of those reigns, and 
wayside hostelries with elaborate signs of 
wrought iron that seem to await the coming of 
the coaches again, are the chief of Redbourne 's 
architectural features. Very conspicuous, although 
but the sign of a humble beer-house, is the 
pictorial sign of the "Mad Tom." Painted on 
a large circular plate of copper, it hangs out 
from the frontage, displaying a different picture 
on each of its two sides : the first showing 
"Mad Tom in Bedlam," the second, "Mad 
Tom at Liberty." A very old sign, it represents 
one of those pauper lunatics who, in other ages, 
were confined in Bethlem Hospital, and who, 
when sufficiently recovered to be released, were 
provided with " briefs," or licences to beg a 



I32 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

livelihood. These "Mad Toms," as they were 
called, were once familiar figures upon the 

roads. 

In the first picture, Tom is seen in a barred 
cell, madly clutching his hair: fetters load his 
arms and legs, and a loaf (a stale one, no doubt) 
stands on a bracket, and looks anything but 
appetising. The second scene shows him, gaily 
attired in white stockings and blue knee- 




breeches, with a gorgeous red coat and a still 
more gorgeous turban, walking the road and 
blowing a trumpet. 

The more rural part of Redbourne is quite 
away from the road, across a wide common 
traversed by a noble elm avenue. Beyond this, 
and in a hollow where a quite unsuspected street 
of ancient cottages is found, the exquisitely 
picturesque church stands. One may look in 
vain in the guide-books for any mention of its 



COBBETT 

beauties of colour and quaintness of detail that 
instantly capture the affections of the artist. 
Long may the restorer be kept at a proper 
distance, and the delicate silver-grey hues of 
the old plastered tower, the crumbling " clunch " 
stone, the patches of black flint and Roman 
tile and the unconventional beauty of the 
sixteenth-century brickwork be suffered to remain 
untouched. 




Redbourne seems to have found favour in 
the eyes of sturdy Cobbett; but rather on 
negative than positive grounds, and on account 
of what it did not possess. " No villainous 
things of the fir tribe here," he observes, looking 
upon the landscape with approval. He missed 
a point though, at Friar's Wash, where the 
recurrent Ver or Verlam is seen to cross the 
road again, by the " Chequers " inn, where a 
hilly bye-lane goes off in a north-easterly 



I34 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

direction to Mamstead. But doubtless Cobbett 
missed the name, else we might well have heard 
him characteristically lashing out, something in 
this sort: "Friars' Wash! indeed. Good God, 
when did friars wash ? Everybody knows, or ought 
to know that they did nothing of the sort, and 
counted personal uncleanliness as not merely 
next to godliness, but a constituent part of it. 
They were as dirty physically as Mr. Pitt and 




REDBOURNE CHURCH. 



his stock-jobbing and funding, fawning and 
slavering creatures are morally. Aye ! and I 
tell you, poor down-trodden victims of an 
arbitrary government," etc., etc. Something of 
that kind Cobbett would have written in his 
Rural Hides. Indeed, the " friars austere, 
unwashed and unpleasantly yellow," as they 
were, by all accounts, might well have resented 
that naming of the ford as an unwarrantable 



FLAMSTEAD 



135 



aspersion upon their well-earned reputation for 
an ancient and invincible dirtiness. 

Mamstead, let it be noted, having originally 
been Verlamstead, owes its name directly to 
the river whose valley it overlooks from its 
hill-top. Its church-tower and characteristic 
Hertfordshire dwarf extinguisher spire may be 




EEDBOURNE. 



glimpsed from the road, crowning a wooded 
ridge. The succeeding mile on to Markyate 
Street the " River Hill improvement," as it 
was called was one of the last pieces of work 
undertaken in the long series of Holyhead Road 
alterations, and was cut after 1830. The old 
road, still visible on the right, goes for the 
length of a mile as a steep and narrow lane, 



i 3 6 



THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 



almost parallel with the improved higliAvay, 
and falls into it at the beginning of the village 
of Markyate, as it is shortly named nowadays. 
The " street " has only of late years been officially 
dropped by the General Post Office, in response 
to the request of the inhabitants, to whom, and 
to strangers having business here, the old 
address caused considerable trouble and mis- 
understanding ; those not familiar with the place 
not unnaturally thinking " Markyate Street, 
Dunstable," to be a thoroughfare in that town, 
instead of, as a matter of fact, 4| .miles 
distant. Markyate is indeed merely a street 
of houses fringing either side of the road, and 
what the old coachmen called a "thoroughfare 
village " ; a long street certainly, but nothing 
else, and realising the Euclidian definition of a 
line, " length without breadth." It is an old- 
world place, drowsily conducting from Hertford- 
shire into Beds, with too many inns for its 
present needs, and one the original " Sun " of 
coaching days converted into a laundry and 
looking with severity upon the house directly 
opposite, that has assumed its old style and 
title. 

Beyond Markyate, where the land shelves 
steeply down from the road on the right hand, 
is the lovely park of Markyate Cell, with a fine 
old Elizabethan manor-house, turreted, terraced, 
and with noble clusters of carved brick chimneys, 
once the site of a nunnery ; and in a hollow 
the roof of its absurd little Georgian red-brick 




" GENTLEMAN HARR Y" 1 3 7 

tower below the road level the toy-like church 
of this beautiful domain. Tfye rest of the way 
to D unstable is lonely, Kens worth village hidden 
somewhere in the folds of the hills, and its Post 
Office only visible. At one mile from Dunstable 
remains an old toll-house, the first now met 
with on the journey from London. 

It was on this stretch of road, between 
St. Albans and Hockliffe, that the gay and 
mercurial highwayman, " Gentleman Harry," did 
his last stroke of business, in the spring of 
1747. Harry Simms had been highwayman, 
rover, soldier, sailor on board a man o' war, 
and, deserting and setting foot ashore at Bristol, 
became highwayman again. Having, as himself 
might have said, thus boxed the compass, his 
career was fully rounded off, and the only things 
necessary to complete it were a rope and a hang- 
man. They were nearer than he thought, poor 
butterfly! * 

He had been a successful ruffler along the 
road in all his brief but varied career, and 
although a man of peace, and never known to 
enforce his demands for the turning out of 
pockets with anything worse than an oath and 
a well-assumed air of truculence, had always 
enjoyed exceptional fortune. It is scarce neces- 
sary to add that his gains were spent as freely 
as they were made : few highwaymen ever put 
anything by for a rainy day. On his return 
home, he amassed so great a store of gold 
watches, diamonds, and guineas, in so short a 



138 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

time that, had they grown wild in the hedges, 
he could scarce have gleaned more, or more 
speedily. "Jam satis" he exclaimed (for he 
had been a Cambridge undergrad in his time, 
and loved a Latin tag) when coming out of 
Essex into Aldgate with his pockets bursting 
with gold rings and chains ; and, putting up at 
the " Saracen's Head," determined to forswear 
the road and live cleanly on his accumulated 
wealth. An incident he had witnessed in the 
dusk, coming from Snaresbrook to Aldgate, had 
probably been the inducement to " the quiet 
life " thus contemplated. At the turnpike gate 
he had observed a gentleman arrested in mistake 
for himself! 

So, leaving the " Saracen's Head " early the 
next morning, he set out on horseback on the 
long journey to Holyhead, proposing to voyage 
over to Dublin and there dispose of his plunder. 
Good resolutions filled his heart : he carolled as 
he went, in rivalry with the hedgeside warblers, 
and in this manner left St. Albans behind, and 
so came into this broad reach of the road near 
Redbourne. Unhappily for him, he had taken 
a little too much port at St. Albans, and the 
port disguised his prudence to that extent that, 
seeing three horsemen slowly ambling along the 
highway, he must needs resume his old trade 
and bid them " stand and deliver ! " 

" Gentleman Harry ' had never been dis- 
tinguished for his personal courage, and those 
who dared to disregard him generally found 



"GENTLEMAN HARRY'S" EXIT 139 

themselves safe enough. The first of the 
travellers said he would not he robhed, and 
rode on; the second gave our friend a slash 
over the head with his riding- whip ; and all 
three went their way. " Blood and wounds ! " 
thought Simms, the wine fermenting in his 
hrain ; "shall I be scorned thus? Never!" 
And, in a drunken fury, he titupped after them, 
and really did secure a delivery. From one he 
received nine shillings, from another an old 
watch and seven shillings, and from the third 
two guineas and seventeen shillings. 

Other spoil fell to him on the way, and 
when the Warrington stage hove in sight, he 
held it up with dramatic completeness and much 
financial success, spurring on to Dunstable in a 
tumult of port and professional pride. At the 
"Bull" he called for brandy, and had but raised 
the glass to his lips when the robbed coach 
came lumbering in, and the passengers entered 
the room where he was. How he rushed out, 
and, mounting his horse, dashed away, he never 
knew ; but presently found himself at Hocklift'e, 
where, in the kitchen of the " Star," with more 
brandy at his elbow, he fell into a drunken 
stupor by the fire. 

The whole district was, however, aroused, 
and the road being searched while he lay in 
that condition. Three soldiers traced him to the 
" Star," and he aAvoke to find himself covered 
by their pistols. To them he yielded all his 
varied wealth, with the exception of a few trifles 



i 4 o THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

hidden in his neckcloth, and then staggered up 
to hed with the troopers at his heels. There 
they watched him all night. 

He was, as he says in his last account and 
confession of a wild career, " a good deal 
chagrined " at this. How to escape ? He 
thought of a plan. Throwing the few remain- 
ing trinkets suddenly in the fire, the soldiers, 
as he had expected, made a dash to save them, 
while he pounced upon the pistols. He seized 
a couple, and, standing at the door, desperately 
pulled the triggers. The soldiers would probably 
have been sent to Kingdom Come but for the 
trifling circumstance that the weapons missed 
fire. It was a mishap that cost Simms his life, 
for he was quickly seized and more vigilantly 
guarded, and, when morning dawned, taken up to 
London on the road he had so blithely travelled 
the day before. One more journey followed to 
Tyburn, where they hanged him in the following 
June. 

The pilgrim of the roads who looks for 
the "Bull" at Dunstable, or the "Star" at 
Hockliffe, will not find those signs : the shrines 
of the saints and the haunts of the highwaymen 
are alike the food of ravenous Time. 




DUNSTABLE 141 



XIX 



WHO shall say certainly how or when the phrase 
" Downright Dunstable " first arose, or what it 
originally meant. Not the present historian, 
who merely sucks his wisdom from local legends 
as he goes. And when it happens, as not 
infrequently is the case, they have no agreement, 
hut lead the questing toiler after truth into 
culs-de-sac of falsehoods and blind-alleys and 
mazes of contradictions, the labour were surely 
as profitless as the mediaeval search for the 
Philosopher's Stone. Briefly, then, " Downright 
Dunstable " is a figurative expression for either 
or both of two things : a state of helpless 
intoxication, or for that kind of candid speech 
often called "brutal frankness." At any rate, 
it is ill questing at Dunstable for light on the 
subject, and it is quite within the usual run 
of things to find the old saying unknown 
nowadays in the place that gave it birth. 

There is no evidence in the long broad street 
of Dunstable town of the age and ancient 
importance of the place. It looks entirely 
modern, and the Priory church is hidden away 
on the right. When in the course of a century 
or so the young limes, sycamores, and chestnuts, 
planted on either side of that main thoroughfare, 
have grown to maturity, the view coming into 
Dunstable from London will be a noble one. 
At present it is merely neat and cheerful. 



I42 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

No mention is made of Dunstable in Dooms- 
day Book. When that work was compiled, the 
old Roman station of Durocobrivae, occupied 
in turn by the Saxons and burnt to the ground 
by marauding Danes, lay in a heap of blackened 
ruins, the only living creatures in the neighbour- 
hood the fierce robbers who lay wait for travellers 
at this ancient crossing of the Watling and the 
Icknield Streets. If any of the surveyors who 
took notes for the making of Doomsday Book 
were so rash as to come here for that purpose, 
certainly they must have perished in the doing. 
At that period and until the beginning of 
Henry I.'s reign the road was bordered by dense 
woodlands, affording a safe hiding-place for 
malefactors, chief among whom, according to 
an absurd monkish legend, purporting to account 
for the place-name, was a robber named Dun. 
The ruined town and the impenetrable thickets 
were known, they said, as " Dun's Stable." 

The first step towards reclaiming the road 
and the ruins from anarchy and violence was 
the clearing of these woods. This was followed 
by the building of a house probably a hunting- 
lodge for the King, and the founding of the once 
powerful and stately Priory of Dunstable, portions 
of whose noble church remain to day as the parish 
church of the town. To the Augustine priors 
the town and its market rights were given, and 
the place, new-risen from its ashes, throve under 
the combined patronage of Church and State. 
Whatever the religious merits of those old 



PRIORY AND TOWN 143 

monks may have been, certainly they were 
business men, stock-raisers, and wool- growers 
of the first order. Their flocks and herds covered 
those downs that remain much the same now 
as eight hundred years ago, and their Dunstable 
wool was prized as the best in the kingdom. 
But these business-like monks were not 
altogether loved by the townsfolk, who resented 
the taxes laid upon them by the Church, all- 
powerful here in those days. It seemed to men 
unjust that fat priors and their crew should 
command the best of both worlds : should wield 
the keys of heaven and take heavy toll of goods 
in the market. The townsfolk, indeed, in 1229 
made a bold stand, and protesting that they 
"would sooner go to hell than be taxed," vainly 
attempted to form a new settlement outside 
the town. The sole results were that they were 
taxed rather more heavily than before, and 
ecclesiastically cursed. To detail here the 
grandeur and the pride of that great Priory 
would be to halt too long on the way. All who 
had, in those ancient times, any business along 
this great road were entertained by the Prior. 
The common herd in those early days were 
entertained at the guest house, a building facing 
the main road, on a site now occupied by a 
house called " The Priory." King John in 
1202 had given his hunting-lodge to the Priory, 
and from that time onward Kings and Queens 
were lodged in the Priory itself. Here rested 
the next halting-place from Stony Stratford 



144 



THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 



the body of Queen Eleanor on the way to 
Westminster, in 1290; and one of the Ion- 
series of Eleanor crosses remained 
market-place until 1643, when it was destroyed 
by the Parliamentary troops. In the 

Chap el ( lon S since swept away ) f the Pri iy 
Church, Cranmer promulgated the divorce of 




DUNSTABLE PBIO11Y CHURCH. 



Henry VIII. and Katherine of Arragon. Two 
years later, the Priory itself was dissolved. 
At first it seemed likely that Dunstable would 
be made the seat of a Bishop and the great 
church erected to the dignity of a Cathedral, 
but the project came to nothing, and the sole 
remaining portions of the old buildings are 
the nave and the west front. Presbytery, choir, 




VANDALS, ANCIENT AND MODERN 145 

transepts, lady chapel, and aisles were torn 
down. The aisles and east end of the church 
are modern, the nave a majestic example of 
Norman architecture, and the west front a 
curiously picturesque mass of Transitional 
Norman, Early English, and Perpendicular, 
worthy the dexterous pencil of a Prout. 

The spoliation of the Priory Church was a 
long but thorough process. Many of its carved 
stones are worked into houses and walls in and 
around the town, hut it was left for modern 
times to complete the vandalism ; when, for 
example, great numbers of decorative pillars and 
capitals were discovered, some put to use to 
form an " ornamental rockery " in a neighbouring 
garden, the remaining cartloads taken to a 
secluded spot in the downs and buried ; when 
the stone coffin of a prior was sold for use as 
a horse-trough and afterwards broken up for road- 
metal ; when a rector could find it possible to 
destroy a holy-water stoup, the old font could be 
thrown away, and the pulpit sold to a publican 
for the decoration of a tea-garden. Among other 
objects that have disappeared in modern times 
is the life-size effigy of St. Fredemund, the sole 
remaining portion of his shrine. Fredemund was 
a son of King OfFa. His body had been 
brought hither in ancient times, on the way 
to Canterbury, but was, by some miraculous 
interposition, prevented from leaving Dunstable. 
No miracle saved his statue. The ancient 
sanctus bell of the church, inscribed " Ave 
VOL. i. 10 



i 4 6 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

Maria, gracia plena," hangs on the wall of the 
modern town-hall. 

"Dunstable," says Ogilby, writing in 1675, 
"is full of Inns for Accommodation, and noted 
for good Larks." This would seem to hint at 
an unwonted sprightliness in the hostelries and 
town of Dunstable, were it not that larks bore 
but one signification in Ogilby 's day. Slang had 
not then stepped in to give the word a double 
meaning. Of the notable old inns of Dunstable 
the "Sugarloaf" remains, roomy and staid, 
reprobating unseemliness. Larks, like Dunstable 
wool in still older days, and straw-plaiting in 
more recent times, no longer render the town 
notable. Straw-plaiting and hat-making are, it 
is true, yet carried on, but the industry is a 
depressed one. A greater feature, perhaps, is 
seen in the extensive printing works established 
here in recent years by the great London firm 
of Waterlow & Sons. 



XX 

EB.OM Dunstable the road enters a deep chalk 
cutting through the Downs similar to, but not 
so great a work as, the chalky gash through 
Butser Hill, on the Portsmouth Road, In this 
mile-length of cutting the traveller stews on still 
summer days, blinded by the chalky glare; or, 
when it blows great autumnal guns and snow- 
laden winter gales, whistling and roaring through 



D UNSTABLE DOWNS 149 

this exposed gullet with the sound of a railway 
train, freezes to his very marrow. Before this 
cutting was made, and the " spoil " from it 
used in the making of the great embankment 
that carries the road above the deep succeeding 
valley, this was a precipitous ascent and descent, 
and a cruel tax upon horses. Looking backwards, 
the embankment is impressive, even in these days 
of great engineering feats, and proves to the eye 
how vigorously the question of road reform was 
being grappled with just before the introduction of 
railways. Prom this point the famous Dunstable 
Downs are well seen, rising in bold terraces and 
swelling hills from the hollow, and receding 
in fold upon fold of treeless wastes where the 
prehistoric Icknield Way runs and the stone 
implements and flint arrows dropped by primitive 
man for lack of reliable pockets, are found. 

The neolithic ancestor seems to have been 
particularly fond of these windy hillsides, and 
has left a great earthwork on them, ten acres 
in extent. Maiden Bower they call it nowa- 
days as grotesquely unsuitable a corruption of 
the original " Maghdune-burh " as may well be 
imagined. Its wind-swept terraces, distinctly 
seen from this embankment, scarce give the idea 
of a boudoir. Neolithic man was fond of these 
hillsides in a purely negative way. He would 
have preferred the warmer valleys, only in those 
remote times they were filled with dense and 
almost impenetrable forests, and abounded in the 
fiercest and wildest of wild animals, that came 



150 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

at night and preyed upon his family circle when 
the camp-fires hurnt low. And when those wild 
creatures were not to he dreaded, there were 
always hostile tribes prowling in the thickets. 
So, on all counts, the Downs were safest. Where 
that remote ancestor huilt his hee-hive huts and 
handed together with his fellows to raise a 
fortified post, others Britons, E-omans, and 
Saxons came and added more and taller earth- 
works, so that the tallest of them are sixteen 
feet high even now. 

Shortly after leaving the embankment behind, 
a signpost marks a lane to the left, leading to 
Tils worth, a dejected village, looking as though 
agricultural depression had hit it hard. A 
deserted schoolhouse, by the church, is falling 
to pieces. Just within the churchyard is a 
headstone, standing remotely apart from the 
others. Its isolation invites scrutiny ; an atten- 
tion rewarded by this epitaph : 

THIS STONE WAS ERECTED 

BY SUBSCRIPTION 
TO THE MEMORY OF 

A FEMALE UNKNOWN 

FOUND MURDER'D IN BLACKGROVE WOOD 

AUG. 15 TH 1821 

Oh pause my friends and drop the silent tear 

Attend and learn why I was buried here ; 

Perchance some distant earth had hid my clay 

If I'd outliv'd the sad, the fatal day : 

To you unknown, my case not understood ; 

From whence I came, or why in Blackgrove Wood. 

This truth's too clear ; and nearly all that's known 

I there was murder'd, and the villain's flown. 

May God, whose piercing eye pursues his flight, 

Pardon the crime, but bring the deed to light. 



HOCKL1FFE 151 

That the deed was " brought to light " is 
ol)vious enough, but that is not what the author 
of those lines meant. The perpetrator of the 
deed was never discovered. Blackgrove Wood, 
a dark mass in a little hollow, is easily seen 
from the road. In another two miles Hockliffe 
is reached. 



XXI 

" A DIRTY way leads you to Hockley, alias 
Hockley-in-the-Hole," said Ogilby, in 1675 ; 
and it seems to have gradually become worse 
during the next few years, for Celia Eiennes, 
confiding her adventures to her diary, about 
1695, tells of " seven mile over a sad road. 
Called Hockley in y e Hole, as full of deep slows 
in y e winter it must be Empasable." It 
received, in fact, all the surface-water draining 
from Dunstable Downs to the south and Brick- 
hills to the north. It is not, however, until 
he has left Hockliffe behind and started to 
climb out of it that the amateur of roads 
discovers how deeply in a hole Hockliffe is, 
for it is approached from the Dunstable side 
by a level stretch that dims the memory of the 
downs, and makes all those old tales of sloughs 
appear like fantastic inventions. It is at this 
time perhaps the most perfectly preserved 
example of Telford's roadmaking. Surface, 



152 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

cross-drains, ditches, and hedges are maintained 
in as good condition as when first made. And 
why so more than in other places ? For this 
very reason ; that it is in a hole, and if not 
properly drained, would again hecome as 
" empasahle " as it was over two hundred 
years ago. 

Hockliffe, originally a very small village, 
grew to great importance in coaching times, 
for here is the junction of the Holy head and 
Manchester and Liverpool roads, both in those 
times of the greatest vogue and highest 
importance. An after-glow of those radiant 
glories of the road is seen in the long street. 
Hockliffe was in Pennant's time, when coaching 
had grown enormously in importance, "a long 
range of houses, mostly inns." It is so now, 
with the difference that the houses mostly have 
been inns, and are so no longer. In his day he 
observed "the English rage for novelty" to be 
" strongly tempted by one sagacious publican, 
who informs us, on his sign, of newspapers 
being to be seen at his house every day in the 
week." 

At which of the two principal inns, the 
"White Hart" or the "White Horse," this 
enterprising publican carried on business he 
does not tell us. Perhaps it was the "White 
Horse"; now certainly one of the most interest- 
ing of inns, and then the chief est in Hockliffe. 
Before its hospitable door the " Holyhead 
Mail," the Shrewsbury " Greyhound,"' the 



THE "WHITE HORSE" 155 

Manchester " Telegraph," the Liverpool " Royal 
Umpire," and many another drew up, together 
with some of the many " Tally-Hoes" that 
spread a fierce rivalry down the road. It was 
probably at Hockliffe and at the hospitable 
door of' the "White Horse," that the "Birming- 
ham Tally-Ho " conveying Tom Brown to 
Rugby drew up at dawn " at the end of the 
fourth stage." We need not look for exact 
coaching data in that story ; else, among other 
things, we might cavil at the description of 
it as a "little" roadside inn. 

A bright fire gleaming through the red 
curtains of the bar window gave promise of 
good refreshment, and so while the horses were 
changed, the guard took Tom in to give him 
"a drop of something to keep the cold out," or 
rather to drive it out, for poor Tom's feet were 
already so cold that they might have been in 
the next world, for all he could feel of them, 
and the guard had to pick him off the coach- 
top and set him in the road. " Early purl " 
set that right, and warmed the cockles of his 
heart. 

There is no nonsense of the plate-glass and 
electric-bell kind about the " White Horse." 
If the old coachmen were to come back, and 
the passengers they drove, they would find the 
old house much the same the stables docked 
perhaps of some of their old extent and a trifle 
ruinous, and the house in these less palmy days 
crying out for some fresh paint and a few minor 



156 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

repairs ; but still the same well - remembered 
place. Even the windows in the gables, blocked 
up over a century ago to escape Mr. Pitt's 
window-tax, have not been re-opened. There 
are low-browed old rooms at the inn, with a 
cosy kitchen that is as much parlour ; with 
undisguised oaken beams running overhead, 
rich in pendant hams that by due hanging 
have acquired artistic old-masterish tones, like 
mellow Morlands and rich Gainsboroughs. There 
is a capacious hearth, there are settles to sit 
easily in, and warming pans that have warmed 
many a bed for old-time travellers ; and there 
are memories, too, for them that care to 
summon them. Will they come ? Yes, I 
warrant you. They are memories chiefly of 
moving accidents by flood and fell, for Hocklift'e 
has had more than its due share of coaching 
accidents. They happened chiefly on the hills 
a mile out, where Battlesden Park skirts the 
road, and where, although Telford did some 
embanking of the hollows and cutting of the 
crests, they remain formidable to this day. 
Eattlesden became an ominous name in those 
days, and the " White Horse " and many another 
Hockliffe inn very like hospitals. The year 
1835 was an especially disastrous one. In May, 
the ; <Hope" Halifax coach, on the way to 
London, was being driven down hill at a furious 
pace, when the horses became unmanageable, 
and the coach, overloaded with luggage piled 
up on the roof, after reeling in several directions, 



SNOWED UP 157 

fell on the off side. All the passengers were 
injured more or less severely. The next 
happening was when the Shrewsbury " Grey- 
hound," coming towards London, was overturned 
at a point almost opposite Battlesden House. 
Again most of the passengers were seriously 
injured, and the coachman had a leg broken. 
Two of the horses suffered similar injuries. This 
accident was caused by the near-side wheeler 
kicking over the pole and thus upsetting the 
coach while it was running at high speed down 
hill. Of course, when the great Christmas 
snowstorm of 1836 blocked nearly all the roads 
in England, Hockliffe was a very special place 
for drifts, and the Birmingham, Manchester, 
Holyhead, Chester and Holyhead, and Halifax 
mails were all snowed up. An attempt made 
to drag the Chester mail out resulted in the 
fore-axle giving way and the coach being 
abandoned. The boys went forward on horse- 
back. The Holyhead mail, with the Irish bags, 
was more fortunate. When the horses suddenly 
floundered up to their necks in the snow, the 
coachman dived off headlong, and was nearly 
suffocated; but with the aid of the guard and 
the passengers he was pulled out by the legs, 
and, a team of cart-horses being requisitioned, 
the coach itself dragged through. These are 
examples of the perils His Majesty's Mails 
encountered in those times, and of the dis- 
comforts endured by the men who carried them 
for little wage. 



i 5 8 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

The Post Office has never been generous to 

the rank and file of its staff. The secretarial 

staff, whose business it is to receive complaints 

and to scientifically fob off the public with tardy 

promises of enquiries never intended to be made, 

draw handsome salaries, but those who do the 

actual work have always been paid something 

less than they could obtain from other walks of 

life. The guards in Post Office employment 

received half a guinea a week salary in the old 

mail-coach days as, in fact, a retaining fee it 

being estimated by the Department that they 

could make a good thing of it by the "tips" 

they would be receiving from passengers. That 

they did make a good thing of it we know, but 

the principle was a shabby one for a Government 

Department to adopt, and really created a kind 

of indirect taxation. No traveller could refuse 

to "tip" the guard as well as the coachman, 

unless very hard-hearted or possessed of a moral 

courage quite beyond the ordinary. 

Beyond his half-guinea a we,ek, an annual 
suit of clothes, and a superannuation allowance 
of seven shillings a week, a mail guard had 
no official prospects. Occasionally some crusty 
passenger, whom the guard, being extra busy 
with his letters and parcels, had perhaps no time 
to humour, would refuse to tip, and would write 
to the Post Office to complain ; whereupon the 

Secretary would indite some humbug of this 
i . -i 
kind : 

"Sin, I have the honour of vour letter of 



OLD POST-OFFICE SERVANTS 161 

the - , to which I beg leave to observe that 
neither coachman nor guard should claim any- 
thing of ' vails ' as a right, having ten and 
sixpence per week each; but the custom too 
much prevails of giving generally a shilling 
each at the end of the ground, but as a 
courtesy, not a right ; and it is the absolute 
order of the office that they shall not use a 
word beyond solicitation. This is particularly 
strong in respect of the guard -for, indeed, over 
the coachman we have not much power ; but if 
he drives less than thirty miles, as your first 
did, they should think themselves well content 
Avith sixpence from each passenger." 

In those times sixpence might have been 
enough, but when, in later days, the coachman 
or the guard at the end of their respective 
journeys would come round with the significant 
remark, " I leaves you here, gentlemen ! " he 
who offered sixpence would have been as daring 
as one who gave nothing at all. The sixpence 
would have been returned with a sarcastic 
courtesy, and a shilling not received with any 
remarks of gratitude. This custom was known 
a,s " kicking the passengers." 

Very occasionally, and under pressure, the 
Post Office doled out an extra half-guinea in 
seasons of extraordinary severity, when passen- 
gers were few and tips scarce, and on occasions 
when the mails were so heavy that the seats 
generally occupied by passengers were given up 
to the bags, the guards had an allowance made 
VOL. i. 11 



!6 2 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

them. Their zeal under difficulties also received 
rare and grudging recognition, as when Thomas 
Sweatman, guard of the Chester mail in the early 
part of 1795, was awarded half a guinea for his 
labours at Hockliffe, where, in the middle of 
the night and up to his waist in water, he helped 
to put on new traces, travelling to town on his 
hox with his wet clothes freezing to him. 



XXII 

THE red-brick face of the "White Horse" is 
set off and embellished by a very wealth of 
elaborate old Renaissance wood-carving that 
decorates the coach-entrance. It was obviously 
never intended for its present position, and is 
said to have come from an old manor-house at 
Chalgrave, demolished many years ago. Long 
exposure to the weather and generations of 
neglect have wrought sad havoc with this old 
work. A fragment in the kitchen gives the 
date 1566, and some strips under the archway, 
with the inscription "John Havil dwiling in 
cars," present a mystery not easy to solve. 

The ominous Battlesden Park, belonging to 
the Dukes of Bedford, with jealously locked 
lodge-gates that hinder the harmless tourist from 
inspecting the church within the demesne, is one 
of a vast chain of Russell properties stretching 
for miles across country, from here to Woburii 



B UCKINGHAMSHIRE 1 63 

and away to the Great 'North Road at Wansford. 
Battlesden is without a tenant, except for those 
who tenant family vaults and resting-places in 
the little churchyard : Duncombes within and 
nobodies in particular without. It was one of 
these Duncombes of Battlesden Sir Samuel 
who in 1624 introduced Sedan-chairs into Eng- 
land. Weeping marble cherubs on Duncombe 
monuments, rubbing marble knuckles into marble 
eyes, testify to grief overpast, but Nature, 
indifferent as ever, keeps a cheerful face. It 
here becomes evident that we are on the borders 
of a stone country, for the little church tower 
is partly built of that ferruginous sandstone 
whose rusty red and yellow is for the next 
thirty miles to become very noticeable. 

Gaining the summit of Sandhill, a house 
lying back from the road, on the left, is seen, 
with traces of a slip-road to it and through its 
grass-grown stable-yard. It is a noticeable red- 
brick house, with a steep tiled roof crowned by 
a weather-vane. Once the " Peacock " inn, it 
has for many years been a private residence. A 
short distance beyond, past the cross-roads known 
as Sheep Lane, Bedfordshire is left behind for 
the county of Buckingham, through which for 
the next twelve miles, to the end of Stony 
Stratford, the Holyhead Road takes its way. 

Buckinghamshire, on the map, is a quaintly 
shaped county, standing as it were on end, 
washing its feet in the Thames at Staines, and 
with its head in the Ouse, in the neighbourhood 



l64 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

of Olney. Wags have compared it with a cattle- 
goad, "because it sticks into Oxon and Herts." 
The glimmerings of possible similar verbal 
atrocities are apparent in the fact that it is 
also bordered by Beds and Berks. Northants 
and Middlesex also march with its frontiers. 
Its name is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word 
"bucken," alluding to the beech woods that 
spread over it, but more particularly in the 
south, on the densely wooded Chiltern Hills. 
The Welsh language, innocent of any word for 
the beech, bears out the statement of Caesar, 
that this tree was unknown in Britain at the 
time of his invasion. 

Little Brickhill is the first place that Buck- 
inghamshire has to show, and a charming 
old-world place it is, despite its name, which, 
together with those of its brothers Great and 
Bow Brickhills near by, prepares the traveller 
for of course bricks. But the greater number 
of houses here are stone. It is difficult to 
imagine this little hillside village an assize 
town ; but so it once was, and the " Sessions 
House," a small Tudor building, one of the few 
in red brick, still stands as a memento of the 
time when this was the scene of the General 
Gaol Delivery for the county of Bucks, from 
1433 to 1638. The chief reason for this old- 
time judicial distinction appears in the fact that 
Aylesbury, the county town, was practically 
unapproachable during three parts of the year, 
owing to the infamously bad bye-roads. 



A RETIRED INN 



'65 



The old " George " inn, that stands directly 
opposite the Sessions House, is not the only inn 
at Brickhill against whose name "fuit" must 
be written. Others, now vanished, were the 
"White Lion," now the Post Office, with some 
delicate decorative carving on its front (the old 
sign is still preserved upstairs) ; the " Swan," 
the "Shoulder of Mutton," and the "Waggon." 
The class of each one of these old houses may 
still he traced. The " George " was beyond 







LITTLE BEICKHILL. 

comparison the chief, and legends still linger of 
how the old fighting Marquis of Anglesey came 
up and stayed here as Lord Uxbridge with two 
legs, and returned after Waterloo as Lord 
Anglesey with one. They say, too, that the 
Princess Victoria once halted here the night. 
In the churchyard, that so steeply overlooks 
the road at the hither end of the village, you 
may see stones to the memory of William Rat- 
clift'e, the last host of the " George," his wife, 



i66 



THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 



his relatives, and his servants. He died, aged 
eighty-two, in 1856; his wife in 1842. Many 
years before, a servant, Charlotte Osborne, had 
died, aged thirty-eight; the stone "erected by 
three sisters, as a tribute of their regard for a 
faithful servant, and as a testimony to one who 
anxiously endeavoured to alleviate the sufferings 
of a beloved and lamented parent upon a dying 
bed." Here also is the epitaph of Isaac Webb, 




YAED OF THE "GEORGE." 

"for more than forty years a good and faithful 
servant to Mr. Ratcliffe of the 'George Inn,' 
during which, he gained the esteem of all who 
knew him." He died, aged fifty-eight, in 1854. 

The old " George " is now occupied or partly 
occupied, for it is a very large house by a 
farm bailiff. Just what it and its old coach- 
yard are like let these sketches tell. 

Within the church a curious wooden-framed 
tablet records the death at Little Brickhill of 
an old-time traveller when journeying from 



FENNY STRATFORD 167 

London to Chester. This was William Bennett, 
son of the Mayor of Chester. He died March 
19th, 1658. 

But most curious of all is the stone in the 
churchyard to a certain " True Blue," who 
died in 1725, aged fifty-seven. Time has lost 
all count of " True Blue," who or what he 
was, and speculation is futile. If only the 
vicar who entered his burial in the register 
had noted some particulars of him, how grateful 
we should be for the unveiling of this mystery ! 
Those registers have, indeed, no little interest, 
containing as they do the gruesome records of 
many criminals executed in the old gaol 
deliveries, as 'well as of a woman who was 
wounded at the battle of Ed?e Hill and died 

O 

of her hurts. 



XXIII 

A LONG and steep descent into the valley of 
the Ouse conducts from Little Brickhill into 
Penny Stratford, seen in the distance, its roofs 
glimmering redly amid foliage. The river, a 
canal, and the low-lying flats illustrate very 
eloquently the " fenny " adjective in the place- 
name, and it is in truth a very amphibious, 
bargee, wharfingery, and mudlarky little town. 
Agriculture and canal-life mix oddly here. 
Wharves, the " Navigation " inn, and hunch- 
backed canal-bridges admit into the town ; and 



168 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

the lazy, willow-fringed Ouzel, with pastures 
and spreading cornfields on either side, bows 
one out of it at the other end. The arms of 
Penny Stratford, to he seen carved ahove the 
church door, allude in their wavy lines to its 
riverain character, hut, just as Ipswich and 
some other ancient ports hear curiously dimi- 
diated arms showing monsters, half lions and 
half hoats, so " Fenny " (as its inhabitants 
shortly and fondly call it) should bear for arms 
half a barge and half a plough, conjoined, with, 
for supporters, a bargee and a ploughman. 

The church just mentioned is exceedingly 
ugly, and of the giorified-factory type common 
at the period when it was built. It owes its 
present form to Browne Willis, the antiquary, 
who built it in 1726, and, as an antiquary, 
ought to have known better. He dedicated 
it to St. Martin, in memory of his father, who 
was born in St. Martin's Lane, and died on 
St. Martin's Day. A kindly growth of ivy now 
screens the greater part of Browne Willis's 
egregious architecture. He lies buried beneath 
the altar, but his memory is kept green by 
celebration of St. Martin's Day, November llth, 
when the half-dozen small carronades he pre- 
sented to the town and now known as the 
"Fenny Poppers," fire a feu-de-joie, followed 
by morning service in the church and a dinner 
in the evening at the " Bull " inn. 

Bletchley and its important railway junction 
have caused much building here in recent years, 



"DENBIGH HALL" 165 

and bid fair to presently link up with " Fenny," 
just as Wolverton with " Stony." The distance 
between the two Stratfords is a little over four 
miles, the villages of Loughton and Shenley, 
away from the road, in between, and the main 
line of the London and North-Western. Railway 
crossing the road on the skew-bridge described 
in a rapturous railway - guide of 1838 as a 
" stupendous iron bridge, which has a most 
noble appearance from below." At the cross- 
roads between these two retiring villages stands 
the " Talbot," a red-brick coaching inn, mournful 
in these days and descended to the lower status 
of a wayside public. It lost its trade at the 
close of 1838, when the London and Birmingham 
Railway was completed, but, with other neigh- 
bouring inns, did a brisk business at the last, 
when the line was opened for traffic only as 
far as " Denbigh Hall," in the April of that 
year. The temporary station of that name was 
situated at the spot where the railway touches the 
road, at the skew-bridge just passed. Between 
this point and Rugby, while Stephenson's 
contractors were wrestling with the difficulties 
of the great Roade cutting and the long drawn 
perils of Kilsby Tunnel, coaches and convey- 
ances of all kinds were run by the railway 
company, or by William Chaplin, for meeting 
the trains and conveying passengers the thirty- 
eight miles across the gap in the rail. From 
Rugby to Birmingham the railway journey was 
resumed. 



17 o THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

" Denbigh Hall " no longer figures in the 
time-tables, for the idea of a " secondary station," 
once proposed to be established here was 
abandoned. But while the break in the line 
continued this was a busy place. It is best 
described in the words of one who saw it 

then : 

"Denbigh Hall, alias hovel, bears much the 
appearance of a race-course, where tents are in 
the place of horses lots of horses, but not 
much stabling ; coachmen, postboys, post-horses, 
and a grand stand! Here the trains must stop, 
for the very excellent reason that they can't go 
any further. On my arrival I was rather 
surprised to find all the buildings belonging to 
the Railway Company of such a temporary 
description ; but this Station will become only 
a secondary one when the line is opened to 
Wolverton. There is but one solitary public- 
house, once rejoicing in the name of the ' Pig 
and Whistle,' but now dignified by the title 
of * Denbigh Hall Inn,' newly named by Mr. 
Calcraft, the brewer, who has lately bought the 
house. Brewers are very fond of buying up 
inns, to prevent, I suppose, other people 
supplying the public with bad beer, wishing 
to have that privilege themselves. The un- 
expected demands for accommodation at this now 
famed place obliged the industrious landlord 
to immediately convert his parlour into a coffee- 
room, the bar into a parlour, the kitchen into 
a bar, the stable into a kitchen, the pig-sty 



THE STORY OF "DENBIGH HALL" 171 

into a stable, and tents into straw bedrooms 
by night, and dining-rooms by day." 

Another contemporary says : " The building 
called ' Denbigh Hall,' respecting which the 
reader may have formed the same conception 
as ourselves, and imagined it to be the august 
mansion of some illustrious grandee, is nothing 
but a miserable hostelry of the lowest order, a 
paltry public-house, or ' Tom and Jerry shop,' 
as we heard an indignant fellow-traveller con- 
temptuously style it, which has taken the 
liberty of assuming this magnificent appellation." 
Tradition described how this house, once called 
the " Marquis of Granby," had been resorted 
to by the Earl of Denbigh on one occasion when 
his carriage had broken down, and that he 
stayed the night under its roof, and was so 
grateful for the attentions of the host that he 
left some property to that fortunate man, who 
thereupon changed the name of his sign to 
the " Denbigh Hall." This, at any rate, was 
the story told when the London and Birming- 
ham Railway was first opened. There were 
those who looked upon it as a myth invented 
for the amusement of travellers, and perhaps 
those sceptics were right, but let others who 
are not unwilling to believe the story, hug 
the apt reflection that so unusual a sign must 
have had an unusual origin ; and, so much 
being granted, let them go a little further and 
accept the legend as it is told. The little inn 
still stands by the wayside. 



1 72 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 



XXIV 

STONY Stratford, a hundred years ago " princi- 
pally inhabited by lace-makers, with women 
and children at almost every door, industriously 
employed in this manufacture," is now perhaps 
best known for the famous non sequitur associated 
with it. "You may well call it Stony Stratford," 
said the tormented traveller, " I was never so 
bitten with fleas in my life ! " It would be ill 
questing among the old inns of " Stony " to 
discover which of them could claim the doubtful 
honour of giving rise to that ancient jest. 
There are many inns the " Cock," the " Bull," 
"George," "White Swan," and numerous others 
but among them the " Cock " is easily first in 
size and architectural dignity. The explorer, 
entering the mile-long street of Stony Stratford 
at " Tram-end," whence a hideous steam-tramcar 
plies to Wolverton, a mile and a half away, 
discovers no focus of interest in the long 
thoroughfare stretching out before him, excepting 
in the old red-brick frontage of the " Cock," 
with its handsome wrought - iron sign and 
beautiful late seventeenth-century oak doorway, 
brought, according to tradition, from some old 
manor-house near Olney ; or " Ony," as they 
choose to call it in the neighbourhood. It was 
not always so undistinguished a street, for in 
it stood one of the twelve crosses erected to 
mark where the body of Queen Eleanor had 



"QUEEN'S OAK" 175 

rested on the way from Harby in Northants, 
to Westminster. It was wrecked, with others, 
in 1646. 

Stony Stratford and its immediate neighbour- 
hood are intimately concerned in the events 
leading up to the tragedy of young King 
Edward V. and his brother, murdered in the 
Tower of London, in 1483. Scarce three miles 
beyond the town, and distinctly seen from the 
Holy head Road, there stands an ancient and 
historic house known as Potterspury Lodge, at 
the end of a long and majestic avenue of limes. 
This was at one time a hunting-lodge, and 
borders upon what is left of the sylvan glades 
of Whittlebury Forest, once a Royal Chase of 
the enormous extent of thirty-two square miles, 
but shrunken for centuries past into woodlands 
of not one quarter the original area. In times 
long gone by, the Forest began at the very 
end of Stony Stratford, and the timorous way- 
farer plunged at once, after crossing the river 
Ouse, into its dim and tangled alleys of oaks 
and thick undergrowth. 

It was when hunting in this wild resort of 
deer in the short January days of 1464, that 
Edward IV. met Elizabeth Woodville, not more 
than two hundred yards to the rear of the spot 
where the old hunting-lodge stands. The place 
of meeting is still marked by the ancient and 
gigantic tree known far and wide as the 
" Queen's Oak," a gnarled and hollowed giant, 
whose trunk measures thirty-one feet round 



i 7 6 



THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 



and whose cavernous interior can, and constantly 
does in summer-time, seat a tea-party of three 
or four persons. It must have been a notable 
tree when, four hundred and forty years ago, 




QUEEN'S OAK. 

Edward, a king peculiarly susceptible to female 
loveliness, found here the beautiful young widow 
of Sir John Grey of Groby, a knight who had 
been killed in the second battle of St. Albans, 
little more than two years before, on the 



THE WOODVILLES 177 

Lancastrian side, and whose estates had since 
been confiscated by the Yorkists. The story 
tells that the beautiful and distressed lady, 
anxious to see the King and to obtain from 
him the restoration of her lands, was waiting 

' o 

at the oak when he rode by, and that, not 
recognising him, she asked where his Majesty 
could be found. The probabilities are, however, 
that she knew perfectly well to whom she 
spoke. Edward declared himself to be the one 
she sought, and, when she fell upon her knees, 
raised her up and escorted her to her home at 
Graf ton. It is a historic instance of calculating 
ambition and of love at first sight. On May 
1st, then, Edward was privately married to the 
fair stranger at Grafton, the only others present 
being her stepmother, the Dowager Duchess 
of Bedford, two gentlemen, and "a young man 
to help the priest sing." Not until the Michael- 
mas following was the marriage disclosed. 

The new-made Queen came of the old family 
of Wydvil, Widville, or Woodville, as it is 
variously spelled, settled at Grafton certainly 
three hundred years before. They now rose at 
once into favour, and her father, already Baron, 
was then created Earl Rivers. It was, how- 
ever, a bloody and fatal alliance. Securing the 
allegiance of the family to the Yorkists, its 
firstfruits were the capture and execution of her 
father and brother at the obscure battle on 
Danesmoor, when the King's adherents were 
defeated by a rabble insurrection out of the 

VOL. i. 12 



I7 8 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

north. Taken to Northampton, Earl Rivers and 
his son, Sir John Woodville, were beheaded 
August 12th, 1469. 

Edward IV. died early in 1483. His Queen 
survived him, with two sons and five daughters. 
The eldest, Edward, now hecome Edward V., 
was but twelve years of age, and he and his 
brother, Richard, Duke of York, were under the 
guardianship of their maternal uncle, the second 
Earl Rivers. The news of his father's death 
brought the young King, with an escort of two 
thousand horse, from Ludlow Castle towards 
London. That was the proudest moment in the 
history of the Woodvilles. Disliked and feared 
as they had been for nearly twenty years, of 
family aggrandisement they had now secured 
supreme power. But they reckoned without the 
sinister figure of Richard of Gloucester, the late 
King's brother, at that moment hasting south- 
ward from warring with the Scots. The hurried 
journeys of both parties toward London read like 
moves in some bloody game of chess. Richard 
of Gloucester, reaching York, had been the first 
to swear allegiance to his nephew. That done, 
he continued southward, receiving as he went, 
tidings of popular discontent with the Woodville 
faction. The news strengthened him in the 
design, already forming in his mind, of seizing 
the Crown for himself. He reached Northampton 
simultaneously with the arrival of the young 
King at Stony Stratford, sixteen miles away. 
The next day saw him here, professing loyalty 



AMBITION AND TRAGEDY 179 

on bended knee, and at the same time dismissing 
the King's attendants and disarming his escort. 
It was a clever and a daring move, that, if 
bungled in the doing, might have led to another 
battle, to be counted among the many fought 
on English soil. 

Everything was now in the usurper's hands. 
The boy-King, in tears, and virtually a prisoner, 
was taken by him to Northampton, and thence 
to London, where all might yet have been well 
had public opinion disapproved of what had 
already been done. But the past insolence and 
selfishness of the Woodvilles had earned them a 
bitter hatred. 

The young King's maternal uncle and guardian 
had in the meanwhile been seized and hurried 
to Pontefract, where he was beheaded, no one 
raising a voice in protest. The King himself 
and his young brother, Richard, Duke of York, 
were in custody in the Tower, and it was not 
until Gloucester had been offered the Crown by 
his creatures, and had with feigned reluctance 
accepted it, that the nation woke up to an under- 
standing of the crafty conspiracy in which it 
had taken a passive hand. It was then too late, 
and the horror with which the country soon 
learnt that the young King and his brother had 
been murdered in the Tower was without avail 
to overthrow the sanguinary hunchback who 
now ruled as Richard III. 

Such was the tragedy that overwhelmed the 
ambition of the Woodvilles, springing from that 



!8o THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

May-day marriage of 1464. The Queen, sorrow- 
ing in the Sanctuary at Westminster, had seen 
her father, her two brothers, and her two sons 
cruelly put to death, as a direct consequence 
of that alliance. She retired, forlorn, to the 
seclusion of Bermondsey Ahbey ; seeing, it is 
true, a gleam of happiness in the overthrow of 
Richard two years later, and the marriage of 
her eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York, to 
Henry VII., but dying broken and disappointed, 
leaving in her will to her daughters, "my 
blessing, for worldly goods I have none to 
bestow." 



XXV 

PROM " Stony's " mild annals the two fires that 
in 1736 and 1742 destroyed great parts of the 
town stand forth with appropriate luridity. The 
second was the more destructive, and was caused 
by the carelessness of a servant, who acci- 
dentally set some sheets ablaze. The flaming 
linen, alighting on a thatched roof, . brought 
about, not only the destruction of many houses, 
but also of one of the two churches. The tower, 
the sole relic of that unfortunate building, yet 
remains in the rear of the High Street, and 
was for some years rendered conspicuous by an 
elder-tree takin root and flourishin on the 



STOJVY STRATFORD 



181 



battlements. The remaining church, rebuilt, 
with the exception of the tower in 1776, is a 
Aveird and wonderful eighteenth-century attempt 
at Gothic. It is the tower of this church that 
looks so picturesque from the Market Place, an 
obscure square, hidden from those who hurry 
along the High Street and so through the town 




MARKET-PLACE, STONY STRATFORD. 

and out at the other end, looking neither to 
right nor left. 

The town is left behind by Avay of a long 
causeAvay and a bridge spanning the Ouse, in 
succession to the " street ford " that once plunged 
through it. Once across the river and the canal 
that runs parallel, and so uphill into the not 



1 82 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

unpicturesque village of Old Stratford and the 
frontiers of Buckinghamshire "the historic 
county of Bucks," as Disraeli, posing as a Buck- 
inghamshire farmer in one of his after-dinner 
political speeches called it are crossed and 
Northamptonshire entered. Northants is tra- 
ditionally the " county of squires and spires " ; 
hut the squire as a political force and a great 
social figure is extinct nowadays, and let it be 
said at once that, in all the twenty-three miles 
of Northants through which the Holyhead Road 
takes its way, only one spire that of Braunston 
is visible : the rest of the churches on the way 
have towers, save indeed the freakish, classical 
church of Daventry, rejoicing in a steeple. 

Potterspury, succeeding to Old Stratford, is 
a kind of brother village, as it were, to Paulers- 
pury, a mile away. Potterspury, really owing 
its name to an ancient pottery trade in common 
ware of the kitchen utensil and flower-pot sort, 
stands partly facing the old coach-road and 
partly down a bye-lane, and is wholly old-world 
and delightful. One comes into it under the 
thickly interlacing branches of tall hedgerow 
elms that conspire to cheer the traveller with a 
perpetual triumphal arch of welcome. Through 
this leafy bower one perceives the roadside 
cottages dwindling away in perspective along a 
gentle rise. Graceless the village looks awhile, 
for no church meets the gaze. That, however, 
is a long distance down the bye-lane, and in 
the neighbourhood of a little inn with the odd 



A CURIOUS SIGN 



183 



name of the " Blue Ball," and the still more 
odd sign pictured in the accompanying sketch. 
The blue ball, apparently representing the world, 




THE "BLUE BALL." 



is placed below a brown heart, the whole mysti- 
cal composition semi-circled by the motto " Cor 
supra mundiim" It is a representation of the 
triumph of sentiment that would have caused 



1 84 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

the Rev. Laurence Sterne to shed tears. " Heart 
above the world." How idyllic! 

It would be as vain to seek the old potteries 
that gave its name to Potterspury as it would 
be to enquire for any living representatives of 
the Paveleys who provided Paulerspury with 
style and title. The potteries vanished in times 
beyond the memory of man, and the sole 
relics of the Paveleys are the thirteenth- century 
wooden effigies of Sir Laurence de Paveley and 
his dame in Paulerspury Church. 

At some little distance beyond Potterspury, 
Potterspury Lodge and its lime avenue come 
in sight, on the right side of the road. A 
wonderfully picturesque old mansion it is, recently 
restored by the retired tradesman who has pur- 
chased the property. At the rear of the house 
stands the historic " Queen's Oak," whose story 
has already been told. 

The remaining four miles into Towcester, 
though hilly, had much of their difficulties 
disposed of when Telford came this way with 
theodolite, chain, and spirit-level. Plum!) Park 
Hill is not what it was, thanks to this fifteen- 
foot cutting and the forty-four foot high em- 
bankment in the hollow of Cuttle Mill^ where 
the road goes nowadays on a level with the 
chimney-pots of old roadside cottages. 

At the crest of one of these rises stand 
Havencote Houses, which it pleased the com- 
pilers of old road-books to name " Heathencott," 
and beyond come the lodges of Sir Thomas 



ILLITERATE HERALDS " 185 

Hesketh's domain Easton Neston Park, an 
originally fine, but now somewhat dreary parade 
of classical stone columns forming an open 
screen, with stone stags couchant, and a central 
display of a coat-of-arms supported by weary- 
looking lions. The motto, " Hora e Semper " 
"Now and Always " bids a futile defiance to 
irresistible change. 

The lodges on either side are deserted, and 
their windows boarded up. Somewhere within 
the park stand the " great house " and the 
manorial church, with monuments of the Fermors, 
successively Barons Lempster and Earls of 
Pomfret, to whom the estates came so long ago 
as 1527. Those titles, duly engrossed on their 
original patents in that manner of spelling, derive 
from the towns of Leominster and Pontefract, 
and prove the local pronunciation to have been 
the same then as now. They prove, in addition, 
that there was no person then at the Heralds' 
College who could correctly spell the names of 
those places ; but my Lords Lempster and Pomfret 
had to take and use the illiterate forms, just as 
the Earl of Arlington, whose title, conferred in 
1663, came from Harlington in Middlesex, was 
made by those 'eralds to write himself with 
every signature an 'Any. 



!86 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

XXVI 

WHERE the park-wall of Easton Neston ends, 
Towcester " vulgo Tosseter," as Ogilby says, on 
the Towe, and once the Lactodorum of the Romans 
begins. It is not the best of beginnings, or one 
calculated to favourably impress the stranger 
with the town. On the left hand rises a terrace 
of dingy brick houses, whose age is certified 
by the inscription, " Jubilee Row, 1809 " ; their 
height masked by the raising of the road in 
front, in Telford's improvements of 1820, their 
social status evident in the notice on their 
frontages, "Lodgings for Travellers " tramping 
travellers being understood. Beyond, Towcester 
unwinds its one long street of brick, stone, and 
plaster, with roofs, tiled, slated, and thatched : 
a very miscellaneous street. Among the houses, 
ancient, modern, and middle-aged; among the 
few dignified old stone mansions of golden 
russet stone, and the older, but more familiar, 
gabled plastered houses, that nod as though they 
could tell a thing or two worth the hearing ; 
among these and the less interesting brick 
dwellings stand the Bickerstaif Almshouses, 
" rebuilt in the year 1815," brick themselves 
and wholly uninteresting, except for the tablet 
preserved from the older buildings : 

Hee that earneth Wages By labour and 
care By the Blessing of god may 
Have Something to Spare. T. B. 

1689. 



THE "TALBOT" 187 

Only when the Town Hall is reached, at a 
considerable distance along this street, may we 
fairly claim to have entered Towcester. All this 
hitherward part is outside the pale, as it were, 
and looked down upon, contemned, and sniffed 
at. It can only be looked down upon in a 
social, ungeographical sense, for Towcester from 
end to end is flat ; but those who would sniff 
corporeally as well as mentally will not go un- 
rewarded, considering that the gas-works occupy 
a very prominent position here. The Town Hall, 
built in 1866, when the flighty and Mansard-roofy 
French Renaissance was the architectural craze 
of the moment, turns its back to this quarter and 
shoulders the broad street into the semblance 
of a narrow lane, emphasising the difference 
between these social strata. 

Emerging from this narrow way, a broad 
street of inns and shops expands. On the left 
is the " Talbot," an old inn with modern front, 
and with a long perspective of stables vanishing 
down its yard into the dim distance. The 
" Talbot," it is thought, owes its present name 
to that Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, who fought 
and died in the Battle of Northampton, eight miles 
away, in 1460. As the " Tabard," it was pur- 
chased in 1440 by Archdeacon Sponne, a charit- 
able Rector of Towcester, who gave it to the 
town, its rent to go in relief of taxation, toward 
paving, " or for other uses." The good Arch- 
deacon lies, under a gorgeous monument, in the 
church, and a fragment of stained glass bearing 



1 88 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

his shield of arms, with his name, "William 
Sponne " underneath, still remains in one of the 
windows of the " Talbot." In what was once, 
in coaching days, the taproom, but now a store 
for empty boxes and such lumber, a relic of old 
times is left, in the wide stone chimney-piece 
carved with the figure of that old English 
hound, something between a foxhound and blood- 
houndthe talbot. Beside it is the date, 1707, 
together with the initials, " T.O." and " G.S." 
The story that Dean Swift halted often at the 
old house on his many journeys is likely enough, 
and a chair, said to have been used by him, is 
still a cherished relic. 

But another, and equally famous, hostelry claims 
attention. The " Pomfret Arms," as it is now 
named, is the old coaching inn once known as the 
"Saracen's Head," the inn where Mr. Pickwick 
stayed the night after the wet postchaise journey 
from Birmingham. " Dry postboys " and fresh 
horses had been procured on the way, at the 
usual stages at Dunchurch and Daventry; but 
as, "at the end of each stage it rained harder 
than it had done at the beginning," Mr. Pickwick 
wisely decided to halt at Towcester, together with 
those undesirable companions of his, Bob Sawyer 
and Ben Allen. 

" There's beds here," said Sam Weller, 
"everything clean and comfortable. Wery good 
little dinner, sir, they can get ready in half an 
hour pair of fowls, sir, and a weal cutlet; 
French, beans, 'taturs, tarts, and tidiness. You'd 



MR. PICKWICK AT TOIVCESTER 189 

better stop vere you are, sir, if I might 
recommend." 

At the moment when this conference was 
proceeding- in the rain, the landlord of the 
" Saracen's Head " himself appeared, " to confirm 
Mr. Weller's statement relative to the accommo- 
dations of the establishment, and to back his 
entreaties with a variety of dismal conjectures 
regarding the state of the roads, the doubt of 
fresh horses being to be had at the next stage, 
the dead certainty of its raining all night, the 
e'qually moral certainty of its clearing up in the 
morning, and other topics of inducement familiar 
to innkeepers." 

When the decision to stay was arrived at, 
" the landlord smiled his delight," and issued 
orders to the waiter. " Lights in the Sun, 
John ; make up the fire ; the gentlemen are 
Avet," he cried anxiously ; although doubtless, if 
the gentlemen had gone forward, they might 
have been drowned for all he cared. 

" This way, gentlemen," he continued ; " don't 
trouble yourselves about the postboy " who, poor 
devil, must have been wet through several times 
over " I'll send him to you when you ring for 
him, sir." 

And so the scene changes, from the rain- 
washed road to a cosy room, with a waiter laying 
the cloth for dinner, a cheerful fire burning, 
and the tables lit with wax candles; "everything 
looked (as everything always does in all decent 
English inns) as if the travellers had been 



I9 o THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

expected, and their comforts prepared for, days 
beforehand." 

Upon this picture of ease at one's inn de- 
scended the atrabilious rival editors of the 
Eatanswill Gazette and the Eatanswill Indepen- 
dent, the organs respectively of "blue" and 
" buff " shades of political opinion. Both Pott 
of the Gazette, and Slurk of the Independent 
found the rival sheet lying on the tables of the 
inn; but what either of the editors, or their 
newspapers, were doing in Northamptonshire 
(Eatanswill being an East Anglian town generally 
identified as Ipswch) is not clearly specified. 
Even in these days Suffolk newspapers are not 
found at Towcester. 

Slurk retired to the kitchen when the inn 
was closed for the night, to drink his rum and 
water by the fire, and to enjoy the bitter-sweet 
luxury of sneering at the rival print ; but as it 
happened, Mr. Pickwick's party, accompanied by 
Pott, also adjourned to that culinary shrine, to 
smoke a cigar or so before bed. How the rival 
editors the "unmitigated viper" and the " un- 
grammatical twaddler " met and presently came 
from oblique taunts to direct abuse of one another, 
and thence to blows, let the pages of the Pickwick 
Papers tell. 

The inn itself stands the same as ever, at the 
end of Towcester's long street ; but the sign, 
long since changed, owes its present style to the 
Earls of Pomfret, of whom the fifth and last died 
in 1867. The somewhat severe frontage, in the 



TOM BROWN AT TOWCESTER 191 

golden-brown ferruginous local stone, is the same 
as when Dickens knew it, and if the kitchen of 
that time has now become the bar and the room 
called the " Sun " cannot with certainty be 
identified, the old coach-archway through the 
centre of the building into the stable-yard re- 
mains, as do the alcoves above, containing white 
plaster statuettes of two very scantily draped 
classic deities Venus and Mars perhaps. They 
still tell at Towcester the tale of an old land- 
lady Mrs. Popple coming new to the house, 
and asking the old ostler what " those disgraceful 
things " were. 

" They carls 'em Junus and "Wenus," he said r 
" but I don't rightly knaw the history on 'em ; 
but there, mum, you'll find arl about 'em in 
the Bible." 



XXVII 

WE shall not be far wrong if we identify 
Towcester with the town at which the coach 
with Tom Brown on board stopped for breakfast, 
and the "well-known sporting house," famous 
for its breakfasts, with the "Saracen's Head.' : 
A half-past seven breakfast, in a low, dark, 
wainscoted room, hung with sporting prints; a 
blazing fire, and a card of hunting fixtures 
stuck in the mantel-glass. Twenty minutes 



I92 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

for breakfast, with such a spread as pigeon-pie, 
ham, cold boiled beef, kidneys and steak, bacon 
and eggs, buttered toast and muffins, coffee and 
tea, smoking hot why, an irresolute man would 
waste some of those precious minutes in con- 
sidering where to begin. But the hungry are 
not at such a loss, and certainly little Tom 
Brown could not have been, for he ate kidney 
and pigeon-pie and drank coffee till his skin 
was as tight as a drum, and then had sufficient 
time to pay the head waiter in leisurely manner 
and to stroll calmly to the door, to see the 
horses put to. 

And then, all being ready, they are off again. 
" Let 'em go, Dick ! " says the coachman, and 
the ostlers fly back, drawing off the horse-cloths 
like lightning. Along the High Street goes the 
" Tally- Ho," with passing glimpses into first- 
floor windows, where the burgesses are seen 
shaving ; past shops and private houses, where 
shopboys are cleaning windows and housemaids 
doing the steps, and out of the town as the 
clock strikes eight. 

A very pretty glimpse, this, of the "good 
old times," but the coaches did not always hark 
away so triumphantly ; as, for example, when, 
on a day in March, 1829, an axle of the 
celebrated "Wonder" coach broke in Towcester 
street, and the unfortunate coachman was killed 
in the inevitable upset. The hilly eight miles 
or so between Towcester and Weedon Beck 
witnessed many thrilling escapades in the 



COACHES COLLIDE 193 

coaching sort. One eminence, rejoicing in the 
name of Dirt House Hill, was the scene of a 
violent collision, in which the Holyhead Mail 
and the Manchester Mail came into disastrous 
contact, June 29th, 1838. It was one of the 
closing smashes of the Coaching Age. Here 
is the official account : 

" Both coaches were in fault. The Holyhead 
coach had no lamps, and the explanation of 
their absence was that the 28th June was the 
Coronation Day of our beloved Queen, and the 
crowd was so great in Birmingham that, in 
paying attention to getting the horses through 
the streets, and having lost considerable time 
in so doing, in the hurry to get the coach off 
again the guard did not ascertain if the lamps 
were with the coach, or not. The Manchester 
coach, at the time of the accident, was 
attempting, when climbing the hill, to pass 
the Carlisle Mail, and was ascending on the 
wrong side of the road. The horses dashed 
into each other, with the result that one of the 
wheelers of the Holyhead Mail, belonging to 
Mr. Wilson, of Daventry, was killed, and the 
others injured, one seriously. The harness 
was old and snapped like chips, or more serious 
would have been the consequences ; and had 
not the horse killed been old and worn out, 
the sudden concussion would have been more 
violent, and might have deprived the passengers 
of life. As it was difficult to decide which of 
the two coachmen was most in the wrong, it 
VOL. i. 13 



I94 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

was left to the two coachmasters to arrange 
affairs between themselves. 

In Telford's reports mention is made of no 
fewer than seven hills cut down and hollows 
filled on this stretch of road, with an aggregate 
length of cutting and embanking of two and 
a half miles. Yet, even so, this remains the 
most trying part of the route ; so much so, 
that the two hillsides past Poster's Booth are 
laid with granite kerbs for the purpose of 
easing the pull-up for horses drawing heavy- 
laden waggons. The place oddly named Poster's 
or Porster's Booth is said, on the authority of 
Pennant, to have derived that title from a 
wayside booth established by " one Porster, a 
poor countryman." It grew at length into a 
scattered street of houses and carrier's inns, 
and so remains. 

Stowe Hill, the last of this hunchbacked 
company leading to Weedon, acquires its name 
from the village of Stowe - Nine - Churches, 
whose scattered houses and one church lie on 
the hill -top, hid from the road by lanes and 
windy coppices. The title of " Nine Churches " 
is rather lamely said to arise from nine 
benefices having been included in the lordship 
of the manor in ancient times, but a much more 
picturesque origin is found in the legend of 
the triumphant diabolism that foiled eight 
previous attempts to erect the church on other 
sites. Every night, the stones of the eight 
ill-fated buildings set up in the daytime were 



STO\VE CHURCH 195 

removed by a mysterious shape " summat 
bigger nor a hog," but the existing church, 
the ninth, was suffered to grow to completion. 
As it is of Saxon origin, this fearful legend 
itself perhaps goes back to that superstitious 
time. 

Stowe Church is remarkable for the fine 
monuments it contains : those of Sir Gerald de 
1'Isle, about 1250; Lady Carey, 1630; and Dr. 
Turner, 1714. The first is the Purbeck marble 
effigy of a cross-legged knight, shield on arm, 
and clad in chain-mail. That of Lady Carey, 
"the most elegant," says Pennant, "that this or 
any other kingdom can boast of," is a white 
marble sleeping figure raised on a black and 
white marble altar- tomb. This beautiful work of 
Renaissance art was by the "Master Mason" of 
James I. and Charles I. Nicholas Stone, who 
executed it and set it up here "for my Lady," as 
he says in his still- existing correspondence, ten 
years before her death; " for the which," he adds, 
" I had 220." Although of the most delicate 
workmanship, it remains, strange to say, in per- 
fect preservation ; even the sharp beak of the 
very savage-looking griffin at the foot of the 
effigy quite uninjured. 

The monument to Dr. Turner, who does not 
lie here, but at Oxford, where he was President 
of Corpus Christi College, is a huge mass, occupy- 
ing a great wall space. He was a non-juring 
pluralist, who, unlike his brother non- jurors, 
held successfully to what he had gotten. An 



I9 6 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

effigy of him, very wiggy and gowny, stands in 
midst of alcoves, scrolls, and volutes, represent- 
ing him, like some reverend acrobat, standing 
on a globe and holding a book in his hand. 
Religion, beside him, offers a cross and a temple, 
which he seems disinclined to take, and an 
all-seeing eye like that blood-freezing eye in 
Martin's " Belshazzar's Feast " radiates down 
upon the group. 



XXVIII 

ONE mile from Weedon and halfway down Stowe 
Hill, a broad vale opens to the view, the London 
and North- Western Railway shooting out below 
from Stowe Hill Tunnel, with the Grand Junc- 
tion Canal and the river Nen in close company. 
Weedon Beck is seen while yet a great way off, 
its neighbourhood fixed by an immense ugly 
block of yellow brick buildings on a distant 
hillside, Nearing the place, these are found to 
be the officers' quarters of Weedon Barracks ; 
but before that fact is ascertained the stranger 
occupies the time between first glimpsing them 
and arriving at the spot in speculating whether 
the hideous pile forms a lunatic asylum, a work- 
house, an infirmary, or a prison. Weedon, in fact, 
is a large military depot, originally established 
for the Ordnance Department in 1803. Its situa- 



WEEDON BECK 197 

tion here is due to one of the periodical scares 
with which the fear of foreign invasion afflicts 
nervous Governments once in every half-century 
or so. The scare that produced Weedon Barracks, 
among other odd things, was a particularly severe 
and craven one, for it assumed our being unable 
to hold our own upon the sea-coast and in the 
capital, and selected this site as being as nearly 
as possible in the centre of England, and the 
safest place for retiring to in the event of a 
sudden descent upon our shores. So great was 
the national terror of " Boney " a hundred years 
ago ! Even the needs of the Court were not 
forgotten, and a pavilion was provided for the 
use of George III. over against the time when 
it should be necessary to flee from Windsor 
Castle ! 

The name of Weedon " Beck " might not 
unreasonably be supposed to derive its second 
half from the river Nen, that ripples not un- 
picturesquely through the village, were it not 
that it has clearly been proved an ancient 
manor of the Abbey of Bee, in Normandy. 
W r hen Leland was pursuing his antiquarian 
studies through England, in the time of Henry 
VIII., he found it " a praty thoroughfare, sette 
on a playne grounde, and much celebrated 
by cariars, bycause it stondeth hard by the 
famose way there comunely caullid of the people 
AVatheling Street." It became a very busy place 
in coaching times, and Avas then chiefly a street 
of inns. What would have become of Weedon 



198 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

had the military depot not been placed here to 
keep it alive before the railway came, with the 
thoroughness of a new besom, to sweep the long 
road clear of traffic from end to end, goodness 
only knows. There is a Providence that shapes 
the ends of even old thoroughfare villages ; and 
undoubtedly Weedon believes in the beneficence 
of that Providence, because, taking away with 
one hand, it has given double Avith the other : 
that is to say, it has a railway junction and a 
canal, so that when the officers become bored to 
death in their ugly quarters they can either 
drown themselves in the canal, or take leave of 
absence and train to some more lively spot. A 
third course is to enjoy the billiards and society 
that the hotels of Weedon afford, or the pleasures 
of the Grafton Hunt. Those hotels, chiefly of 
the old coaching type, have all been restored 
and added to of recent years, and a very large 
modern one, the " Globe," taking the name of 
the old and extinct " Globe " half a mile onward, 
has been built at that spot where the Holyhead 
Road and the Watling Street part company for 
some seventy-three miles : a spot quaintly called 
by Ogilby, in 1675, "Cross o' th' Hand/' The 
"White Hart" stands next door, and opposite 
glares the "Red Lion"; while the "New" inn 
new in 1740, as a tablet over its doorway 
tells is trebled in size by two modern wings. 
" Cash Stores " spell modernity, and the im- 
posing branch of a Northamptonshire bank 
speaks of business. In contrast with all this, 



MILITARY WEED ON 199 

the old " Bull " inn, situated on the left hand, 
at the entrance to the village, is now a farm- 
house, and the road by which the carriages and 
postchaises came to it off the turnpike, though 
still traceable, has long been stopped at either end. 

There is a great deal more of Weedon than 
the hurried traveller along the Holyhead Road 
would suspect. It lies down the turning by this 
same old house and on the other side of the 
parallel embankments of railway and canal ; em- 
bankments so tall that they succeed in completely 
hiding all but the upper stage of Weedon Church 
tower. " Here," says that tower, " is Weedon " ; 
and there it is ; barracks like model lodging- 
houses, with children playing and clothes drying 
upon tier over tier of balconies ; women fresh 
from the washtub, with arms akimbo and rolled- 
up sleeves, voluble in the entries ; and soldiers 
" married on the strength," slatternly and listless, 
at the windows : all very domestic and inglorious. 
The everyday aspect of the barracks is not in- 
spiring. Only occasionally, when on the neigh- 
bouring hill-sides a sabre-scabbard flashes by 
chance in the sun, and the eye thus startled 
discovers some leisurely horseman scouting, visible 
to all the world, is the military view of Weedon 
productive of a thrill. 

Many soldiers lie in the crowded churchyard 
round the ugly church, jammed in an angle 
between railway and canal : the trains rushing 
by on a lofty viaduct that looks down upon the 
damp, sunless and melancholy wedge of land. 



200 



THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 



Among those soldiers lies " Charles Lockitt, who 
died August 27th, 1877, in the fifty-third year of 
his age. Deceased was formerly a sergeant in the 
97th Regiment, and was present at the storming 
of the Redan before Sebastopol, September 8th, 
1855, where he was severely wounded, from the 
effects of which he died." 

A much older, and somewhat curious epitaph, 
is that to "Alice Old, widow, who lived in ye reigne 
of Queen Elizabeth, in ye reigne of Kinge James 
ye 1st, in ye reigne of Kinge Charles ye 1st and 
Kinge Charles ye 2nd, and Kinge James ye 2nd, 
and deseased ye Second Day of Jany., ye 3rd year 
of ye reigne of Kinge William and Queen Mary, 
1691." 



XXIX 

No wild geese, according to an ancient fable, 
ever again spoiled the cornfields of Weedon after 
they had once been banished by the miraculously 
successful prayers of the Princess Werburgh, a 
holy daughter of Wulfere, King of Mercia, some- 
where about A.D. 780 That pious lady, afterwards 
raised to the hierarchy of saints, was abbess of a 
religious house here. Her steward assembled the 
birds : the abbess commanded them to depart, and 
they immediately took wing, but refused to leave 
the neighbourhood until a missing one of the 



WATLING STREET 201 

flock (killed, cooked and eaten, as it happened) 
was restored to them. Nothing easier than this 
to a Saxon saint, and the bird was restored alive 
to his friends and relations ! " The vulgar super- 
stition," says an old writer, " now observes that no 
wild geese are ever seen to settle and graze in 
Weedon field." Nor in any other field nowadays, 
it may be added, in this modern England of ours. 

At Weedon the old Watling Street bids good- 
bye to the Holyhead E/oad for 71| miles, and goes 
by itself in a route 75^ miles long, rejoining the 
modern road at Ketley, near Wellington. 

The meaning of the name " Watling Street " is 
sought under many difficulties, so many and so 
ha/y are the derivations of it advanced. The 
Britons, it is said, knew the rough track crossing 
the island before the Romans came as the Sam 
Gwyddelin, or Foreigners' Road, along whose 
uncertain course came and went the Phcenician 
merchants who traded with Britain long before 
Caesar had heard of this lonely isle ; long, indeed, 
before he was born. According to Stewkeley, the 
name " Gwyddelin " stood for "wild men," and 
this therefore was the Wild Men's Road ; the 
savages so named being the wild Irishmen from 
across St. George's Channel. Camden and others 
boldly say the Romans named the road Via 
Vitellianus, or Vitelliana, an easy Latin modifi- 
cation of "Gwyddelin," the name by which 
they heard the Britons call it. At any rate, it is 
to the Romans that its transformation from a 
mere forest track to a broad, well-engineered, and 



202 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

well-paved road was due. The work was not soon 
done, but when completed it took rank among the 
greatest of military ways. 

The Eomans engineered the road and did the 
skilled work ; the Britons performed the carrying 
and the hard labour, forced to it by a thousand 
stripes and indignities. To them fell the clearing 
of the woods along the route, and the digging of 
earth and stone, and to Roman workmen the staking 
out of the way and the weaving together of those 
brushwood wattles that compacted the foundations 
in moist and boggy places. Some fanciful commen- 
tators find in those wattles the source of the name 
given to the road. Completed at length as a 
military necessity, and with much pagan ceremony 
committed to the care of the Lares Viales and the 
less supernatural custody of the road-surveyors, 
the Via Vitelliana was for over three hundred 
years a crowded highway, with busy towns and 
villages along its course ; the palatial villas of 
wealthy Roman citizens peeping out from sheltered 
nooks. Then came disaster. The Roman garrisons 
withdrawn, successive waves of savage invasions 
wrecked the civilisation of that time, and only 
the burnt walls of towns and settlements remained 
to tell of what 'had been. It was not until another 
four hundred years had passed that the fierce 
Saxons, becoming tamed, began to rear a civili- 
sation of their own. To this great road they gave, 
according to that monkish chronicler, Roger de 
Hoveden, the name " Waetlinga-street, the Way 
of the Sons of Waetla, a legendary king ; and the 



COURSE OF THE WATLING STREET 203 

Celtic British whom they found in the country, 
talking what was to them a strange and uncouth 
tongue, they called, with all the arrogance 
imaginahle, " Wealas," or strangers, forgetting 
that they themselves were the strangers and the 
others upon their native soil. But as "Wealas" 
they remained, and as such they are still, for 
from that word sprang the name of the Welsh 
people, who as a matter of fact, style themselves 
" Cymru." 

A curious point to be noted is that this is 
by no means the only "W^atling Street." The 
name is found repeatedly in this country, applied 
locally to ancient Roman roads ; but the Wat ling 
Street prominent above all others is this great 
way, which traversed Britain from its extreme 
south-eastern verge, over against Gaul, diagonally 
in a north-westerly direction for 340 miles, Until 
it touched the sea at Carnarvon and Chester. 
Prom the three great fortified starting-points at 
Dubris, Portus Z/emanis, and Portus Hutiqris 
severally identified with Dover, Lympne, and 
Eichborough it ran in triplicate to Canterbury, 
and thence, chiefly along the existing Dover 
Road, to London. By way of that thoroughfare 
still known as Watling Street, it traversed the 
City and emerged at Newgate through the city 
wall, and so into what were then swampy 
wildernesses on the line of the present Holborn 
and Oxford Street. At the Marble Arch it 
turned abruptly to the right, and thence went 
in a straight line along the course of the 



20 4 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

Edgware Road to the great city of Verulamiwm, 
adjoining the St. Albans of our own day. 

Prom this point the Wat ling Street and the 
Holyhead Road are practically identical so far 
as Weedon Beck. D unstable marks the site of 
the Roman market-town of Forum Diana, or 
Durocobrwce, as it was also named ; and Stony 
Stratford by its name proclaims its situation on 
the old route. It was the Roman " Magio- 
vintum." Towcester was the " Lactodorum " of 
the Itinerary. At Weedon the ancient road and 
the modern part company for 71J miles, to meet 
again at Ketley rail way -station, between Oak en - 
gates and Wellington. 



XXX 

IT is this stretch of 75^ miles that will now be 
explored. Bid farewell, traveller who would 
trace the Roman way, to the company of your 
fellow-men, for this is no frequented route, and 
towns and villages are few along its course. 
It begins by climbing out of Weedon and up 
to a gate, where those who will may trace it 
across a field. For those others who will not, 
an ancient divergence, forming a kind of elbow, 
preserves the continuity of roadway and brings 
the route over the Grand Junction Canal to 
Welford Station and Watford Gap, where the 



ALONG THE WAT LING STREET 20,5 

old route of the London and Coventry coach 
from Northampton to Hillmorton and Coventry, 
travelled hy Dugdale in the seventeenth century, 
crosses this Roman way. The " New Inn " men- 
tioned hy him still stands here, but is now a 
farmhouse. The name of "Gap," as applied to 
cross-roads, is very ancient. Curiously enough, 
a " Watford Gap " is to be found in Staffordshire, 
on the Birmingham and Lichfield Road. 

Eew houses are glimpsed in these first nine 
miles of the Watling Street. At a grim crossing 
of two high roads near Crick station, but with 
an appearance as solitary as though many miles 
remote from villages or railways, it suddenly 
ends, or continues only as a formidably rugged, 
grass-grown track. Here the explorer either 
finds himself daunted, or proves his mettle by 
plunging boldly forward, reckless of what may 
betide. For one thing, the telegraph-poles are 
faithful to the track, and where they lead who 
shall fear to follow ? They conduct, in fact, 
steadily downhill along this green alley, and in 
a mile and a half, crossing two fields, bring one 
out to a flat and low-lying country, and to Avhat 
the country-folk call the "hard road" again. 
Three miles of this, and a rise, with a cross-road 
to the right, leads to Dove Bridge, spanning the 
Warwickshire Avon. All around, here, there, 
and everywhere at Lilbourne, Catthorpe, and 
Cave's Inn are speculative sites of the Roman 
station of Tripontium. For the last three miles 
the Watling Street has formed the boundary 



206 



THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 



between Northants and Warwickshire, and hence- 
forward, for eighteen miles more, it performs 
the same office for Warwickshire and Leicester- 
shire. On the Leicestershire side, where the 
ground rises steeply hey on d the little river, is 
a mysterious mound, called by the villagers of 
Lilbourne "Castle Hill" -an odd, evidently 
artificial hill, with two beech trees growing on 
its summit. Whether it be a Roman speculum, 
or look-out hill, or the grave-mound of some 
tribal king, ancient even when the Eomans 




LILBOURNE. 



came, who shall say? "Tripontium " was 
named from three bridges that then crossed the 
Avon somewhere here, but they and their sites 
have vanished. Lilbourne itself lies down the 
right-hand lane, and is a village on the hither 
hillside, with a very dilapidated church by the 
little river, and a great huddled mass of grass- 
grown mounds in the water-meadows opposite. 
Within sight is the wayside railway station of 
Lilbourne, incongruous amid these forlorn relics 
of the past in this out-of-the-wav corner of the 



CAVE OF CAVE'S INN 207 

country. Let no one think these mounds to be 
the remains of a Roman camp : they are the 
only vestiges now left of the once proud Norman 
castle of Lilbourne. 

Uphill, steep and rugged, goes the road to 
the outlying fringe of Catthorpe, that still con- 
tinues to he known as " Catthorpe Five Houses," 
even though they are now, and have long been, 
but three. Prom this hill-top the spires and 
roofs of Rugby are plainly visible by day, and 
by night the great junction spreads its station 
and signal-lights in a gorgeous illumination of 
white, red, and green. 

Beyond, in the deep hollow where that 
latest of great trunk lines, the Great Central 
Railway, crosses over the road on a blue-brick 
archway, is " Cave's Inn," an inn no longer. 
" Cave's Hole " they used to call it in old 
times, from its situation in this hollow. The 
lone house was kept in the long ago (that 
is to say, about 1680) by Edward Cave, grand- 
father of that Edward who founded the 
Gentleman's Magazine, and was the friend 
of Johnson. His father, Joseph, was a younger 
son of the inn -keeping Edward, and, the entail 
of the family estate being cut off, was reduced 
to plying the cobbler's trade at Rugby. The 
literary Edward was born in 1691 at the hamlet 
of Newton, a short distance off the Watling 
Street, between this and Catthorpe Five 
Houses. 

It is an obviously Roman way straight 



20 8 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

and uncompromising that leads onward from 
Cave's Inn to the cross-roads, at the suggestively 
lonely spot called " Gihbet," the site in the 
"good old days" of a gallows-tree originally 
set up in 1687 for a certain Loseby who had 
"barbarously murdered" a man named Bunbury, 
and, being caught almost red-handed, was 
promptly executed. Nothing is left of "Loseby's 
Gibbet," as it is marked on old Warwickshire 
maps. The remains of it, together with the 
prehistoric tumulus on which it was erected, 
were swept away when the cross - road from 
Banbury and Daventry to Lutterworth was 
made, in 1730. A dense grove of trees at the 
fork of the roads to Lutterworth and Shawell 
marks the neighbourhood of the spot. 

Beyond this Golgotha, the road dips to the 
reedy river " Swift " ; a lazy little stream and 
not answerable to its name, as the traveller 
may see for himself by halting and leaning 
over Brunsford Bridge. Another solitary stretch 
conducts to Cross - in - Hand, where there are 
five roads, two old toll-houses, a modern red- 
brick cottage, a very fine distant view of 
Lutterworth church-to wer and not a mortal 
or immortal body or soul in sight. Ordnance 
maps mark a " Blackenhall " oft' to the right, 
a name that seems to fix the site of the 
deserted " aula," or country seat, of some 
Roman notable, whose notability, in the passing 
of fifteen centuries, has vanished as though he 
had never been. " Willey Crossing," where 



TO HIGH CROSS 



209 



a branch of the Midland Railway bars the 
cyclist's progress, only serves to emphasise the 
solitude, and the country girl, who in answer 
to the summons of the bell, opens the gates, 
stares at the strange spectacle of a wayfarer. 
Willey lies somewhere off to the left, but, so 
far as it affects the road, might be non-existent. 
Up the steep road that now lies lief ore the 




CROSS-IN-HAND. 



explorer, with the little church of Wibtoft 
peering over a shoulder of the hill on the left, 
and suddenly you are at High Cross, the famous 
crossing of the Watling Street and the Fosse 
Way the great north-western road of the 
Romans and their not quite so great Avay that 
led out of Somerset through Gloucestershire, 
the shires of Worcester and Warwick, to 
Leicestershire and Lincoln. 



VOL. I. 



2IO 



THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 



XXXI 

HIGH Cross is among the oddest and most per- 
plexing of places. A multiplicity of roads and 
sign-posts are gathered together on the hill-top 
and the traveller, bedevilled with their number, 
and the shrubberies and the farmyards that 




HIGH CEOSS MONUMENT. 

mask them, is fain to halt and unravel the 
tangled skein. The Watling Street here slightly 
changes direction, so that its continuation to 
Atherstone, ten miles distant, is hidden round 
an angle. Other roads all round the compass 
lead, according to the testimony of the signposts, 
to Rugby, 10 miles; Coventry, 12; Daventry, 



HIGH CROSS 2ii 

18 ; Lutterworth, 6 ; and lastly, Leicester, 13 
miles. The road to Leicester the Roman city 
of Ratce lies along the Fosse Way, and that 
is now not a road at all, but a meadow, with 
meadows beyond it ; traces of the old way only 
discoverable by the diligent antiquary. More- 
over, the field-gate, padlocked and bristling 
with the most barbaric of barbed wire, emphasises 
" no road " and gives the signpost the lie. 

High Cross is no misnomer, so far as the 
adjective goes. It is high : very high. Illimit- 
able vales, shading off from green foreground 
to indigo distance, are unfolded below. Fifty - 
seven churches are said to be visible from this 
vantage-point, and goodness only knows how 
many counties. Fifty-seven churches ! Say a 
hundred and fifty-seven, or more, if you knew 
on what particular pin-points in that view to 
look. 

There is a monument at High Cross, erected 
in 1712, both to direct travellers in the way 
they should go and to mark this supposed site 
of the Roman station of Vennonce. Nowadays 
the pillar is so completely screened by a little 
groove of hollies, sycamores, firs, beeches, and 
laburnums that, although it stands at an angle 
of the junction, none but those who know 
exactly where to look are likely to find it. A 
little wicket-gate leads up to it, in the centre 
of the grove a nondescript pile of moulded 
stones and red-brick, surmounted with what look 
like fragments of Roman columns. The whole 



2 i2 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

structure bears the appearance of having been 
built of architectural fragments retrieved from 
some early eighteenth-century rubbish heap. 
It is not improved, nor its Latin inscriptions 
rendered any clearer, by the countless pocket- 
knives that have been set to work upon it. 
High Cross is a lonely place, but its loneliness 
is belied by this multitude of names and initials, 
some dating back to 1733. 

The story of how this pillar came to be 
erected here is told in the Proceedings of the 
Warwickshire justices in the Easter Sessions of 
1711. As the Watling Street divides that county 
and Leicestershire, a conference of the justices 
of the two shires was called, Avheii it was resolved 
to " build something memorable in stone " on 
this site, not only to mark the whereabouts of 
Yennonce and to direct travellers, but " also for 
that it was esteemed the centre of England. 
The cost of this " something memorable " was 
83, contributed in equal shares by the tAvo 
shires. The inscriptions were composed by a 
Mr. Green way, a schoolmaster of Coventry. 
Englished, the principal one runs : 

Traveller, if you seek the footsteps of the ancient 
Romans, here yon may find them. Hence their 
most famous military ways, crossing one another, 
proceed to the utmost limits of Britain. Here 
the Vennones' had their settlement, and at the 
first mile hence along the street, Claudius, the 
commander of a cohort, had his camp, and at 
the same distance along the Fosse, his tomb. 



CALDECOTE 213 

" Cleycester " the Saxons named the deserted 
Roman camp of Vennonce, that stretched along 
the road towards Wibtoft. Even yet the whistling 
ploughman occasionally turns up relics of it, in 
the form of broken pottery and defaced coins. 
The tomb of Claudius remained, until quite 
modern times, along the Posse Way. It was a 
tumulus, overgrown with brambles, and known 
as " Cloudsley Bush." No traces of it are now 
left. 

Ahead, rather more than a mile off the road, 
the smoky chimneys of Hinckley and Burbage 
make inky and fantastical wreaths in the sky. 
Smockington is the name of a hamlet in a 
bottom, Avith some reminiscences of a coaching 
age. Beyond is the " Three Pots " public-house ; 
and again, beyond that, a deserted Primitive 
Methodist Chapel, standing woe-begone by a 
canal. Caldecote lies off to the left in another 
few miles, opposite to the " Royal Red Gate " 
inn; its name inviting an exploration of the 
place, for there are those who explain the 
frequently recurring name of " Caldecote " along 
the line of Roman roads to mean "cold cot " a 
variant of " Coldharbour," that equally common 
place-name in such situations. The cold cots 
and the cold harbours had once been, accord- 
ing to this theory, ruined and deserted Roman 
villas, in whose roofless and chilly recesses the 
first people who dared to travel after Roman 
Britain was ravaged by savage tribes took such 
cold comfort as they might ; not daring to light 



2i 4 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

a warming fire, lest its blaze should bring 
lurking- bandits and murderers to their cheerless 
refuge. 

Prom this point of view Caldecote is dis- 
appointing, for nothing Roman is visible there. 
It is just a tiny village, with a modernised 
Hall, and in the Park, less than a stone's throw 
from the house, the little church. But it is a 
place with a story ; for it was here, on August 
28th, 1642, that an attack was made upon the 
Hall, then the residence of Colonel Purefoy, a 
noted Republican. The Colonel was at Coventry, 
and the house in charge of his wife, Dame 
Joan, and his son-in-law, Master George Abbott, 
when a raiding-party, said to have been under 
the command of Prince Rupert, appeared and 
demanded its surrender. Portunately the inmates 
had warning of their approach, and when they 
would have forced an entrance, the soldiers 
found doors and windows barred. In the affray 
that followed, Dame Joan fired first, bringing 
down her man, and the garrison of men and 
women servants, headed by Master George, gave 
so good an account of themselves that the 
Royalists drew off with a loss of three officers 
and fifteen soldiers killed. Caldecote Hall was 
not molested again. Memorials of Dame Joan 
and Master George still remain in the little 
church. 



MANCETTER 215 



XXXII 

BEYOND Caldecote comes Mancetter the Roman 
Manduessedum on the Warwickshire side, and 
Witherley, in Leicestershire. Between the two, 
an earthwork named " Castle Bank," a rectangle 
measuring six hundred by four hundred feet, 
seems to have been the site of the Roman camp. 
Across the road flows the pretty river Anker, 
with trees densely overhanging it, and framing 
with their boughs a charming view of Witherley 's 
graceful crocketed spire. Mancetter how nearly 
it escaped from being another " Manchester " ! 
is thought to have derived the first syllable of 
its name in Roman times from some historic 
or remarkable stone, "maen," in the British 
tongue ; but, however that may be, no such 
stone has ever been found. It is now a pretty 
village, a little distance retired from the road, 
with a very fine old church, and a churchyard 
remarkable for its illiterate tombstones and 
odd epitaphs, from the merely misspelt to the 
quaintly conceived : 

Here lies the Wife of Joseph Grew, a Tender 
Parerent And a Vertious Wife. She died 
February 1782. 

Another, weirdly ungrammatical and savagely 
cynical, hides the identity of those who lie 



2l6 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

beneath by initials, and by the omission of any 

date : 

HERE LIETH INTERRED 

THE BODY'S OF 

H. I. M. 

What E're we was or am 

it Matters not 
To whome related, 

or by whome begott. 
We was but amnot : 

Ask no more of me 
; Tis all we are 

And all that you must be. 

Another, to Sarah and Mary Everitt, 1720, and 
others of that family, puts a truth in a quaint 
guise : 

The World is a Caty Full of Crooked Streets 
Death is ye Markett plass Whereall must 
meet if life Was merchandise That men 
Could Buy ye Rich Would Allways live 
ye poor must Die. 

Purchasable immortality would be a much more 
potent inducement to become a multi-millionaire 
than any now existing. But what a terrible 
thing that would be for the Diamond Kings, 
the Railway, Oil, Steel, and other monarchs to 
become immortal. As it is, however, a live 
tramp has the laugh of a dead millionaire and a 
better chance of the Elysian Fields than Dives. 
The town of Atherstone, a mile long, breaks 
the loneliness of Wat ling Street, half a mile 
beyond Mancetter. It is chiefly one long street, 
of the miscellaneous character common to the 




STONY DELPH 217 

small country town : not unpleasing, nor highly 
interesting. The exit from the town is marked 
by a railway level crossing, become famous of 
late years as a source of contention between 
the local governing body and the London and 
North-Western Railway. Beyond, the villages 
of Merevale and Baddesley Ensor are seen to 
the left ; and Dordon, a mushroom growth called 
into unlovely existence by the new pits of the 
Hall End Colliery. 

"Stony Delph" is the odd name of a village 
two miles onward, adjoining Wilnecote. It is a 
name alluding to some quarry, or "stony digging," 
now forgotten. (Compare, " When Adam delved 
and Eve span.") Wilnecote, down into whose 
street the road dips from Stony Delph, is 
a place of brick, tile, and pottery kilns, with a 
railway-station, formerly called " Two Gates." 
Where Wilnecote ends and Fazeley begins is not 
easy to tell, save perhaps by reference to the 
river Tame, here dividing Warwickshire and 
Staffordshire. Fazeley has that maritime and 
Dutch-like appearance belonging to all places 
settled beside some old canal, and the canal 
here is one of the oldest, with long rows of 
wharves and equally long rows of cottages 
opposite. Both have seen their best days. 

Now, good-bye for awhile to level roads, for 
the Watling Street on entering Staffordshire goes 
straight for the steepest hill in the neighbour- 
hood, and thereby proves its Roman ancestry. 
This is the hill leading to Hints. When you 



2 i8 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

have reached the top, another hill, abrupt and 
entrenched, with gloomy woods on its brow, 
scowls down upon it from the left hand. It 
had a history, without possibility of a doubt, 
but it has not. come down to us ; and those who 
defended and those others who attacked are alike 
gone to the shores of the Styx, without leaving 
any other traces save those dumb and reticent 
earthworks that loom so provokingly mysterious 
against the sky. 

Beyond Weeford, the next landmark, the 
Watling Street goes straight for three and a 
half miles, and then brings up against another 
dead end, where it is crossed by the Lichfield 
and Birmingham road. A hedge and a ploughed 
field forbid further progress, and it is only when 
armed with large-scale maps, and by comparing 
antiquarian authorities, that the course of the 
Watling Street can be traced, straight on to 
Wall. That village is found by following the 
road to Lichfield until the first left-hand turn- 
ing is reached, leading, as a steep lane, uphill 
for a mile. On the hill-top, Wall is found and 
the Watling Street regained. The tiny village 
is built over the site of Etocetum, of whose 
ruins some fragments were yet to be seen in 
Pennant's time, including portions of the ancient 
Roman wall giving a name to the place. These 
have long since disappeared, but in 1887 some 
excavations here laid bare many foundations 
heaped with the ruins of Roman civilisation, 
among whose oddments were found roofing- 



WALL 219 

slates from Bangor and lime from Walsall. If 
thorough search were made, much more might 
be brought to light, for this was an important 
station in those times, situated at the inter- 
section of the Ickriield Street with Watling 
Street. Below the hill, and on the line of the 
Icknield Street, is the hamlet or farm called 
Chesterfield a significant name, telling of Roman 
relics. 




THE WATLING STREET, NEAR HAMMERWICH. 

Muckley Corner, beyond Wall, is the meeting- 
place of roads from Walsall to Lichfield and 
Wolverhampton. The Watling Street still goes 
unflinchingly ahead, and reaches the outskirts 
of Hammerwich, uphill. At that nail-making 
and coal-mining place, it becomes somewhat 
confused, but is well-known, locally to every 
man, woman, and child as the "Watling Street 
Road." Here it has reached a very high-lying 



220 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

tract, that abomination of desolation called 
Brownhills. Words are ineffectually employed 
to describe the hateful, blighted scene ; but 
imagine a wide, dreary stretch of common land, 
surrounded by the scattered, dirty, and decrepit 
cottages of a semi-savage population of nail-makers 
and pitmen, with here and there a school, a 
woe-begone brick chapel, a tin tabernacle, and 
a plentiful sprinkling of public-houses. Further, 
imagine the grass of this wide-spreading common 
to be as brown, wiry, and innutritions as it is 
possible for grass to be, and with an extra- 
ordinary wealth of scrap-iron, tin-clippings, 
broken glass, and brickbats deposited over every 
square yard, and all around it the ghastly 
refuse-heaps of long-abandoned mines. Finally, 
clap a railway embankment and station midway 
across the common, and there you have a dim 
adumbration of what Brownhills is like. 

The Roman road makes a sudden change of 
direction here, at a point opposite the " Rising 
Sun," where the old Chester road falls in. It 
is a change that would be inexplicable, were 
it not for a strange relic that by chance has 
survived for sixteen hundred years to explain it. 
This is a mile's length of deserted road that 
continues the straight line of Watling Street, 
and then abruptly ends, as though the Romans 
had abandoned some contemplated work. It is, 
as a matter of fact, a monument to the incom- 
petence of the surveyor who had the construction 
of this division of the Watling Street in his 



THE "FOVR CROSSES" 221 

charge. The several changes of direction taken 
here and there along the whole length of this 
great military way as, for example, at High 
Cross and Gailey are explained by the work 
having heen in progress from both ends at once, 
and the surveys being somewhat inaccurate ; 
but the official entrusted with the road from 
Etocetum seems to have lost his bearings very 
badly indeed, and to have been road-making at 
a wide angle from the correct line, when his 
chief appeared and plotted out the direction 
afresh from Brownhills. 

The road now goes downhill again, past 
a fine old inn, the " Fleur-de-Lis," and conies 
to Wyrley Bank, a busy colliery district on 
the verge of Cannock Chase. Bridgetown, 
Great Wyrley, arid Churchbridge are lumped 
together in this coal-getting neighbourhood, 
and the crash of waggons, the shrieking of 
engines, and coal-dust everywhere bedevil the 
scene. But, with all these unlovely details, 
it is far preferable to the stark and hopeless 
barrennesss of Brownhills. 

In little more than two miles this coalfield 
is quite out of sight and sound, and the road 
approaches the beautiful old " Four Crosses" 
inn at Hatherton. Dean Swift is commonly 
said to have visited this old house on his 
journeys, and it is quite likely he did, but it 
could not for reasons shown elsewhere in these 
pages-* have been the house where he wrote 

* Page 245. 



222 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

his famous epigram on the landlady. But most 
accounts continue to give this as the scene, 
and locally it is firmly believed in. 

The old house is of two distinct periods : 
one dating back to the sixteenth century 
and exquisite in black oak and white plastered 
and gabled front; the other probably built 
about 1710, in a handsome " Queen Anne " style. 
A curious feature is the Latin couplet carved 




THE "FOUR CROSSES," NEAR HATHERTOX. 

in 1636, on an oak beam outside the older 
portion of the house : 

Fleres si scires unum tu'a tempera me'sem, 
Rides cum non sit forsitan una dies, 

which has been translated : 

Brief is your time : a month, perchance, 

Nor even but a day, 
Yet ignorant, poor foolish wight, 

You laughing go your way. 



MORE HIGHWAYMEN 223 

Adjoining is a disused toll-house, and 
opposite stands another old inn, the " Green 
Dragon," the group forming a little oasis of 
settlement in the surrounding desert of lonely 
road. It was between this and the " Welsh 
Harp " inn at Stonnal, on the Castle Bromwich 
road, that the " Shrewsbury Caravan " was 
halted and robbed on April 30th, 1751, by "a 
single Highwayman, who behaved very civilly 
to the Passengers, told them he was a Tradesman 
in Distress, and hoped they would contribute 
to his assistance." Whereupon, he handed 
round his hat and each passenger gave him 
something, making an involuntary contribution 
of about 4, " with which he was mighty well 
satisfied," as indeed he had every reason to be. 
But he was not so distressed a tradesman that 
he could condescend to accept coppers, and so 
" returned some Halfpence to one of them, 
saying he never took Copper." After this, 
informing his victims that there were two other 
" collectors " on the road (were they also 
Distressed Tradesmen ? ) he rode with the 
Caravan for some distance, until it was out of 
danger and he almost in it, when he left with 
much courtesy, begging the passengers that 
they would not at their next inn mention the 
affair, nor appear against him should he after- 
wards be arrested. 



224 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 



XXXIII 

THE gently undulating stretch of country 
from "Four Crosses" to " Spread Eagle," 
once dreaded by the name of Calf Heath, is 
now under cultivation, and the Watling Street, 
crossing it, broad and well-kept, wears more 
the look of a high-road. The spreading lakes 
seen here and there, known as " Gailey Pools," 
are reservoirs of the old Staffordshire and 
Worcestershire Canal that presently crosses 
the road under a hunch-backed bridge and by 
an old round-house, whose tower stands out 
prominently for a long distance down the 
straight perspective. The " Spread Eagle," 
an old coaching-inn, once gave a name to the 
adjoining railway station of Gailey, but where 
the village hides that now serves sponsor to 
it is not readily discovered. A mile beyond 
comes the river Penk, crossed at a pretty spot 
by a substantial stone bridge, and across the 
meadows by a red-brick one, where a mill-cut 
froths and foams, and a cheerful old mill and 
farmhouse stand. On the other side of the 
river is the hamlet of Horsebrook, with Stretton 
down a side lane, suppossed to have been the 
Pennocrucium the crossing of the Penk of 
Roman times. 

The ubiquitous Thomas Telford is recalled 
to mind at a little distance onward by his name 
in cast-iron on the aqueduct of the Birmingham 




BOSCOBEL 225 

and Liverpool Canal. Near by is another 
reservoir, rejoicing in the name of " Stinking 
Lake." At that fine old inn, the " Bradford 
Arms," Ivetsey Bank, the left-hand road leads 
in less than two miles to Boscobel, one of the 
most famous places in our history, for to that 
hunting-lodge in the forests then thickly over- 
spreading this part of the country came 
Charles II. in 1651, as a hunted fugitive, after 
the disastrous defeat at Worcester. Boscobel 
had been built seventy years before, by the 
Gift'arcls of Chillington, ostensibly as a hunting- 
lodge where their guests might rest in the 
intervals of the chase, and in a sense it was 
so used, with officers of the law for hunters, 
and fleeting Papists as quarry ; but in the other 
sense it was a very transparent pretence, when 
we consider that the family residence at 
Chillington Hall stands not more than a mile 
away. For many years it had been used as 
a refuge for recusant Roman Catholic priests, 
at a time when that religion was proscribed ; 
for the Giffards were then, as they are still, 
of that faith, and so were the yeomen Penderels 
who occupied the house. It was built, too, 
under the direction of a Jesuit lay-brother, one 
Nicholas Owen, or " Little John " as his 
intimates called him, a skilful deviser of 
priest's-holes and such like hiding-places under 
stairways or in the recesses of panellings. No 
Roman Catholic gentleman's house was at that 
time considered to be complete without some 
VOL. i. 15 



22 6 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

of " Little John's " darkling hutches and incon- 
veniently cramped nooks secreted somewhere 
between foundation and roof. Truth to tell, 
however, these supposedly "secret" places are 
fairly obvious, and, given a search - party 
convinced that the fugitive was somewhere 
near, they must have been dull-witted fellows 
Avho did not light upon them. 

When Worcester Eight ended so badly for 
"the man Charles Stuart, that Son of Belial," as 
the Republicans were pleased to call Charles II., 
he made at once for Boscobel, the place 
where, only a feAV days before, the Earl of 
Derby had secreted himself. Accompanied by 
Colonel Carless, he threw himself upon the 
assured loyalty of the five Penderel brothers 
and their widowed mother, Dame Joan, Avho 
then lived here and at ruined Whiteladies 
Priory, half a mile away. "Will Jones," for 
that was the name he adopted, could have found 
no more loyal hearts had he searched the realm, 
and the Penderels had already found the transi- 
tion from secreting priests to Royalist fugitives 
an easy one. But Boscobel had become suspect, 
and the quarry w r as now so important that 
rigorous search was made, and Charles and 
Carless, although hid respectively in the secret 
recess behind the panelling in the Squire's 
room, and in the pit beneath the cheese-loft 
during the night, were in daytime for greater 
security secreted in the bushy head of a pollard 
oak growing in a meadow near the house : the 



THE ROYAL OAK 22? 

tree afterwards famous as the "Royal Oak." 
In that leafy refuge Charles slept,' with his 
head in the faithful Colonel's lap, and beneath 
them quested the search-party of Cromwell's 
dragoons. The story is well known, how that 
tree effectually concealed them, and how, after 
many wanderings, the King fled the country 
from the sea shore at Brighthelmstone. 

The original Royal Oak is gone; hacked to 




BOSCOBEL AND THE " ROYAL OAK." 

pieces for mementoes in a very short while after 
the Restoration, and the youthful oak that 
stands solitary in a field does but mark the 
spot. But the house stands still, with its old 
hiding-places, and many are those who come 
to see ; so that the pile of visitors' books, all 
closely filled, is a mighty and a groAving one. 
Of the "bosco bello," the Fair Wood that gave 
the old house its name, not a trace remains. 
Downhill from Ivetsey Bank, the Watling 



22 8 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

Street presently crosses into Shropshire, and 
comes to the village of Weston-under-Lizard 
or " Weston-subter-Liziard " as it was formerly 
named a cheerful little place, clinging like 
some feudal dependant to the park and Hall, 
the seat of the Earl of Bradford. The church 
and mansion stand adjoining, at the end of a 
short drive : in the church the cross-legged 
effigies of Sir Hugh and Sir Hamo de Weston, 
who flourished six or seven hundred years ago; 
and in the exquisitely fitted Bradford Chapel 
memorials of that family. 

Burlington Pool, a reedy lake on the right 
hand, is now passed, and Crackley Bank, leading 
down -hill towards another scene of industry and 
coal-mining, seen from afar by reason of its 
smoky skies. Close by, at the place called Red 
Hill, the Roman station of Uxaconium was 
placed. 

Before the pits and furnaces of the Lilies- 
hall, Oakengates, and Ketley coal and iron 
mines are reached, the long street of St. 
George's has to be passed through. There was 
a time, not so long since, when this was merely 
the hamlet of " Pain's Lane," and its local 
makeshift place of worship simply " Pain's 
Lane Chapel." All this is changed, and though 
its old prosperity has abated, the place now 
possesses a fine Gothic church dedicated to 
St. George, and has changed its name to 
match. Oakengates also has seen its best days, 
for many of the mines are exhausted. In these 



IVEEDON AGAIN 229 

latter 'circumstances, the neat little houses of 
"Perseverance Place, 1848," and others with 
similarly virtuous titles, look not a little 
pathetic. Perseverance, indulged in continually,' 
has stripped the district of its mineral wealth, 
and the miners, living like maggots in a cheese, 
have eaten their home away. The township, at 
the very bottom of a steep descent, is husy, 
hut dirty and slatternly, with a railway station 
and level crossing, and huge cinder heaps, 
likening it to some domestic dustbin in 
Brobdingnag. Ascending out of it, Ketley is 
reached, and with it the junction of Watling 
Street with the Holyhead Road. 



XXXIV 

AND now to resume, at Weedon, the modern 
road. It is a tiring pull up out of Weedon, 
on the way to Daventry, and anything that 
may excuse a rest is welcome. That excuse is 
found in the contemplation of a substantial 
stone-built farmhouse, with nine windows in a 
row, half a mile out of the village, on the right 
of the road, and fronted at this day with a 
pleasant garden. This, now called the " Grange," 
was formerly the " Globe " coaching and posting 
inn. Beyond it, opposite a group of Georgian 
red-brick wayside houses, the old road goes 



230 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

over what used to be a water-splash in the deep 
hollow ; but Telford's road proceeds inflexibly 
onward. The church in the meads to the right 
is that of Dodford, the name of the water- splash 
aforesaid. As for the derivation of that name, 
Fuller, with some hesitancy, gives " ' Dods',' 
water- weeds, commonly called by children ' cat's- 
tails,' growing thereabouts." 

The rough cart-track by which alone Dodford 
Church is reached, and the unusual jealousy 
that keeps the building locked, combine to hide 
much of interest from all wayfarers, save those 
of the most determined type. The enterprising 
and energetic who prevail have their reward, 
for the interior good Early English and 
Decorated has an unusually interesting col- 
lection of monuments. Here, cross-legged and 
mail-clad, lies the effigy of Sir William Keynes, 
one of the last of his family, settled here no, 
not settled, because they were continually away, 
warring for kings or against kings ; rather let 
us say, who owned this manor from the 
Conqueror's time until that of Edward III., 
when the name was extinguished in the 
marriage of an heiress, the last representative. 
The true significance of the crossed legs of these 
old knights is still in dispute, but the commonly 
received idea is that the attitude proclaims a 
Crusader. But it is scarce possible that Sir 
William de Keynes (who died in 1344) ever 
fought for the Cross in Palestine. Had he 
done so, he must have been, in two senses, an 



THE 'ARRY FAMILY 231 

infant in arms, for the Crusades were over and 
done with, and the Soldan had got his OAVH 
again (or what was as good as his own) before 
William could have relinquished his coral and 
bells and taken to mace and broadsword. The 
fact seems to be that the early Crusaders, who 
adopted this mortuary symbolism, were followed 
in it by many who had never warred against 
the Infidel at all, and debased the original 
significance into a mere fashion. 

Two others of the family are represented 
here in effigies of women, thought to be Hawisa 
tie Keynes (1330) and her great-granddaughter, 
Wentiliana (1376). The earliest of the two is 
wooden, and is represented in the nun-like head- 
dress of her time. 

But the finest monument is that of Sir John 
Cressy, who died in 1444, across the seas in 
Lorraine, in the service of Henry VI. He is 
represented in plate-armour, and wears the 
Lancastrian badge, the Collar of SS. On the 
breastplate of the effigy is carved, very bold 
and deep, " lohn Newell 1601." Who John 
Newell was, except that he thus proves himself 
of the great 'Arry family, it is hopeless to 
inquire. " I. A. 1770 " has also proved on the 
alabaster the barbarism of his nature and the 
mettle of his penknife. 

Besides these memorials, the church has 
numerous brasses and tablets, while in the 
churchyard a stone tells of a Major Campbell, 
commanding the Royal Artillery at Weedon, 



232 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

who died in 1809, after having lived "strictly 
fulfilling the duties of the Soldier, Gentleman, 
and Christian : not less lamented in death than 
valued in life." In conclusion, an odd custom 
prevailing here and in surrounding villages may 
he noticed : epitaphs on stones erected hy widows 
over their husbands giving the relationship, " the 
hushand of." So complete a reversal of the 
usual practice, placing the man in the subsidiary 
place, is a novelty. 

The remainder of the way to Dav entry, or 
" Daintry," as old travellers always called it, 
is hilly, but beautifully shaded by hedgerow 
trees. Hills and vales in constant alternation 
are seen on either hand; the frowning bulk of 
Borough Hill on the right, crowned with British 
earthworks, converted by the Romans into a 
military camp, probably identical with the lost 
station of Beneventa. Roman remains have 
been discovered up there in great numbers in 
days before the hill became enclosed, cultivated, 
and hedged about with difficulties in the way of 
exploring antiquaries. Down below, and near 
the road, is the ruin-strewn field called " Burnt 
Walls," known by that name at least six hundred 
and fifty years ago, when it is mentioned as "ad 
brende walles " in a deed relating to property. 
On the eastern side of Borough Hill, near the 
village of Norton, and adjoining the Watling 
Street, another field, oddly named " Great Shaw- 
ney," has yielded many traces of old Home. 
The name, indeed, is thought to be a faint and 






DAVENTRY 233 



far echo of Isannavaria, another vanished Roman 
camp. 

It was on Borough Hill that Charles I.'s 
army of ten thousand men, on a night in June, 
1645, set a seventeenth-century example to the 
eighteenth-century ten thousand under the "brave 
old Duke of York," who were marched to the 
top of a hill and then marched down again, as 
a well-knoAvn rhyme tells us. Nothing happened 
on either occasion. Charles's troops, occupying 
Daventry and the surrounding villages for some 
days before, were frightened to that night's hill- 
top vigil by some skirmishing exploits on the 
part of Fairfax. Before morning came, they 
descended and went off in retreat to Naseby, 
the King with them, reluctant to leave the 
comfortable lodgings he had enjoyed for six 
nights past at the " Wheatsheaf." 



XXXV 

THE first prominent object on approaching the 
town is the "Wheatsheaf" itself, boasting of 
being established in 1610, but rebuilt in the 
coaching age, and just a white-painted, stucco- 
fronted building with a courtyard and a general 
Pickwickian and respectable Early Victorian air. 
Opposite stands an " Independent Chapel, erected 
1722," which, with its secular air and big gates, 



234 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

looks like a converted inn. Continuing along 
the narrow and unpicturesque Sheaf Street thus 
entered, the unwary pilgrim, unobservant on 
wheels, is downhill at the other end and out of 
the town in the proverbial "jiffy," or the not 
less proverbial " two-twos." But Sheaf Street, 
lining the Holyhead Road, is a snare and a 
delusion. That does not form the sum and 
substance of Daventry, sprawling largely down 
a street to the right and developing itself 
astonishingly at the end in a mutton-chop-shaped 
market-place, continued to the left hand again 
as a High Street. It is as though Daventry had 
long ago resolved to keep itself retired and select 
from the throng that once went up and down 
the Holyhead Road ; and very quiet and empty 
the market-place looks to this day, with a church 
rebuilt in 1752 and supposed to be Doric : the 
exterior in a yellow sandstone rapidly crumbling 
away, and the interior like a concert-hall. The 
eye lights upon only one memorable thing, and 
that an epitaph to a certain Susanna Pritchett 
Godson, who died in 1809, aged twenty-five: 

She was 



But room won't let me tell you what. 
Name what a Wife should be, 
And She was that. 

Daventry Priory once stood hereby, but many 
years have passed since its last fragments were 
cleared away to provide a site for the town 
gaol in front of this ugly church. The Priory 



VENGEANCE 237 

itself was, with others, suppressed by Wolsey, 
that ambitious Cardinal, for the purpose of 
seizing its funds, towards the endowment of his 
colleges at Oxford and Ipswich. He is charged 
with having sent five of his creatures to pick a 
quarrel with the house, and, causing the dispute 
to l)e referred to himself, of having dissolved 
it by fraud. The story of what happened to his 
five emissaries and himself, and the moral drawn 
from their fate, are quite in keeping with the 
superstitious spirit of those times. Thus, one 
learns that two of the five quarrelled, and 
one slew the other, the survivor being hanged ; 
that a third drowned himself in a well ; that a 
fourth, formerly well-to-do, became penniless and 
begged till his dying day ; and that the remain- 
ing one " was cruelly maimed in Ireland." This 
series of " judgments " is then carried on to the 
Cardinal, whose miserable end is historic; to his 
colleges, of which one was immediately pulled 
down, and the other finished under other patron- 
age ; and to the Pope who permitted Wolsey's 
high-handed doings, and who was besieged and 
long imprisoned. Unhappily, for the sake of 
a poetic completeness of vengeance, Henry 
VIII. who dissolved more religious houses than 
any one, and, moreover, appropriated their 
revenues and lands to his own uses flourished 
amazingly for years afterwards. Like the wicked 
whose good fortunes are bitterly lamented by 
the Psalmist, his eyes swelled out with fatness, 
and he was well filled. 



238 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

The old pronunciation of " Daintry ' goes 
back certainly to the sixteenth century, when it- 
was probably responsible for the device of the 
old town seal, adopted at that time, represent- 
ing a figure intended to picture a Dane at odds 
Avith an indeterminate kind of a tree. Pennant, 
on the other hand, derives the name from 
" Dwy avon tre," " the dwelling of the two 
Avons " : and indeed the town is placed, as it 




TOWN SEAL, DAVENTEY. 

were, at the fork of the Nen, sometimes called 
the Avon, and another insignificant stream ; but 
this is looked upon with an almost equal con- 
tempt, and mystery still enshrouds the real 
origin and the significance of the name. 

Whips were made at Daventry a hundred 
years ago, but it is now a boot-making town, 
not altogether unpicturesque, in the slatternly 
sort. Besides its " Wheatsheaf," there are the 
"Peacock," the " Euri Cow," the "Bear," and 



THE "SARACEN'S HEAD" 239 

the "Saracen's Head "all old; but the palm 
must be given to the last, containing much 
black oak, and altogether a great deal more 
interesting than a casual glance at its common- 
place plastered front would disclose. Its court- 
yard is especially quaint; in red brick, with 
a large building to one side, now practically 
disused, but once the busy dining-room of the 
coaches. It was built probably about 1780 : the 




BRAUNSTON HILL. 



upper part ornamented with grotesque wooden 
figures of Jacobean date, evidently the spoils of 
some demolished building. The whole, overhung 
with grape-vines, makes a very pretty picture. 

One leaves Daventry steeply down hill, through 
a trampish, out-at-elbows, dirty-children- wallow- 
ing-in-the-dust-in - the - middle - of - the-road quarter. 
Hills again rise to left and right : on the left 
Catesby Abbey ; ahead, the exceedingly steep 



2 4 o THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

descent of a mile down Braunston Hill, with 
Braunston spire, a deserted and ruinated wind- 
mill, and leagues upon leagues of distant country, 
unfolded to the startled eye. The " steep and 
dangerous descent " was to have been improved 
by Telford, but the design was never put into 




BRAUNSTON. 



execution, and the hill still owns those 
defects, and hurtling motor-cars and cycles 
descending at extravagant speeds alarm' the 
propriety of the neighbourhood. In the hollow, 
197 feet below the hill-top, stands Braunston 
Station, the " Old Ship " inn nestling beneath 



BRAUNSTON 241 

the thunderous girders of the railway-bridge 
crossing over the road ; and on the next rise 
over the Oxford Canal, a roadside forge and 
the " Castle " inn, as old as Queen ^Elizabeth's 
day. Here the rising road forks, presenting a 
puzzle to the stranger, for either has the appear- 
ance of a high road. The Holyhead Road, 
however, bears to the left, that to the right 
leading in an outrageously steep semi-circle to 
the long, rustic, stone-built street of Braunston 
village. 

The tower and spire of the fine Decorated 
church are imposing, but the interior is of little 
interest the body of the building, reconstructed 
some fifty years ago, swept and garnished, and 
cleared of everything but one old relic : the 
mail-clad effigy of a splay-footed crusading 
knight, in the act of violently drawing his 
sword, thrust in an unobtrusive corner. 



XXXVI 

TWO-AND-A-HALF miles from this point, across 
country and in the angle formed by the branch- 
ing of the Watling Street and the Holyhead 
Road from Weedon, lie the village and the 
romantic manor-house of Ashby St. Ledgers, 
the home of Robert Catesby, chief conspirator 
in the Gunpowder Plot. From Braunston is by 
VOL. i. 16 



242 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

no means the best way to Ashby : reached by a 
long, steep lane, and across six fields and two 
cross-roads. The only guides on this solitary 
way are the traveller's bump of location and a 
battered sign-post in a cross-road, on one of 
whose decrepit arms, pointing vaguely through 
an impenetrable hedge into a ploughed field, 
the words, " To Ashby St. Ledgers and Crick 
Station," can, under favouring circumstances of 
sunshine, be faintly spelled. A meditative rook, 
perching on a deserted harrow, typical of soli- 
tude, seemed, when the present historian came 
this way, to hold and keep the secret of the 
route, only discovered by diligent scouting at 
the next field-gate. 

But Ashby St. Ledgers is worth this effort. 
At the end of the rather uninteresting village, 
and closing the view, there suddenly comes the 
beautiful grouping of old church, gate-house, and 
ancient trees, leading to the manor-house itself, 
glimpsed through the gato a fine old Elizabethan 
house, a picturesque pile of terraces, oriel windows 
and gables, weather-stained and delightfully pic- 
turing the orthodox character of a conspirator's 
home. 

They still show the " Gunpowder Plot Room " 
over the gateway, and the memorials of Catesby's 
ancestors can even now be seen in the church- 
that Church of St. Leodegarius from whom the 
place derives its name. There they lie on the 
floor ; monumental brasses of Catesbys, with 
their cognizance, a black lion, conspicuous where 



CATESBYS 



243 



the fury of centuries ago has not hacked the 
workmanship out of recognition. There lie Sir 
\Villiam Catesby, 1470, and his son, Sir William, 
taken prisoner at Bosworth Pield fifteen years 
later, <\r parte Richard III., and beheaded 
at Leicester ; great-great-great-grandfather of 
the conspirator, Robert, and a warning, had he 




ASH BY ST. LEDGERS. 



lent an ear to the history of his family, against 
too rashly entering into the bloody politics of 
those times. That remote ancestor's fate carried 
with it the forfeiture of his estates, soon restored 
to his son ; but when Robert Catesby fell in his 
attempt to destroy King and Parliament, and 
to subvert the Protestant religion, the property, 
forfeited again, was never restored. 



244 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 



XXXVII 

RETRACING our steps to the Holyhead Road 
again, the "dumpling hills of Northamptonshire," 
as Horace Walpole calls them, give place to 
the long Warwickshire levels. Pour miles and 
a half from Daventry, and just before reaching 
Willoughby village, lying off the road, the Great 
Central Railway comes from Rugby, and crosses 
over on an embankment and a blue-brick-and- 
iron-girder bridge ; a station labelled " Willoughby, 
for Daventry," looking up and down the road. 
Does any one, it may be asked, ever alight for 
Daventry in this solitary road, four miles and a 
half distant from that town, on the inducement 
of that notice ? And when the innocent 
traveller has thus alighted, what does he say 
when he gets his bearings, and finds himself 
thus marooned, far away from where he would 
be? 

Possibly he resorts, after being thus scurvily 
tricked by the railway company, to the " Four 
Crosses " Inn, a house with a history, standing 
close by. The old inn of that name, demolished 
in 1898, faced the bye-road to Willoughby 
village; the new building fronts the highway. 
The junction of roads at this point has only 
three arms, hence the original sign of the 
'Three Crosses," changed to four, according to 
the received story, at the suggestion of Dean 



THE "FOUR CROSSES 



2 45 






Swift, who was a frequent traveller along this 
road between Dublin and London, riding horse- 
back, with one attendant. The old inn, hardly 
more than a wayside pot-house, was scarce a fit 
stopping place for that dignitary ; but it is well 
known that Swift delighted in such places and 




THE "FOUR CROSSES," WILLOUGHBY (DEMOLISHED 1898). 



the odd society to be met in them, and it may 
have been in some ways more convenient than 
the usual posting-houses at Daventry and 
Dim church. 

The story runs that on one of his journeys, 
anxious for breakfast and to be off, he could not 
hurry the landlady, who tartly told him " he must 
wait, like other people." He waited, of necessity, 



24 6 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

but employed the time in writing with his 
diamond ring upon one of the panes: 

There are three 

Crosses at your door : 
Hang up -your Wife 

And you'l count Four. 

Swift, D., 1730.* 

The landlord probably did not hang up his wife, 
but he certainly seems to have altered his sign. 

The window-pane disappeared from the old 
inn very soon afterwards, and it is not at all 
unlikely that the landlady herself saw to it 
being removed. Certainly it had disappeared 
in 1819, when some verses in the Gentlemen 9 s 
Magazine gave the misquotation of those lines 
that has been the basis of every incorrect 
rendering since then. Many years ago the late 
Mr. Cropper, of Rugby, who was a native of 
Willoughby, and whose father had kept the 
" Four Crosses," purchased the pane of a cottager 
in the village. It is of the old diamond shape, 
of green glass, and bears the words quoted 
above, scratched in a fine, bold style. 

The distinction is wrongly claimed for the 
" Pour Crosses " Inn at Hatherton, near Cahnock, 
on the Watlirig Street; a very fine old coaching 

* The date is worth notice. All who have ever written 
on Swift give his last visit to England as 1727. But this 
flatly contradicts them. Nor is it in order to suppose this 
inscription a forgery, for it exhibits the characteristic hand- 
writing of the Dean, as seen in his manuscript diary at 
South Kensington. 



IVILLOUGHBY 247 

inn, under whose roof Swift must certainly often 
have stayed ; Imt as the roads at that point 
form a complete cross of four arms, the sign 
must always have been what it is now, and 
certainly all the evidence points to the 
Willoughby claim being justified. 

Willoughby may on some old maps be found 
marked as a "spa," and a little handbook, 
published in 1828, dealing with the merits of 
the " New Sulphureous and Saline Baths " that 
stood opposite the " Four Crosses," assured all 
likely and unlikely scrofulous visitors that the 
waters were just as unpleasing to taste and smell, 
and inferentially as efficacious, as those of 
Harrogate itself. Cropper was both proprietor 
of the new baths and keeper of the inn, some- 
what grandiloquently described as the " principal 
house for the reception of company." The 
little shop seen built out from the old " Four 
Crosses " was a chemist's, added at that hopeful 
time. But the Willoughby Spa, although so 
conveniently situated on the great road, never 
attracted much custom, and is now quite forgot. 
The chemist gave up in despair, and his shop 
was in use as a bar-parlour at the last : the old 
drug draAvers, with their abbreviated Latin 
labels, remaining until the house was pulled 
down. 

Willoughby legends still linger. They tell 
even yet, of the cross that stood here in the 
seventeenth century, and of Cromwell's soldiery, 
retreating from Edge Hill, tying a rope round 



24 8 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

the shaft to pull it down, only being dissuaded 
bv the vicar, who diverted their attention with 
a foaming beer-jug. It is gone now, however, 
but the date of its disappearance is uncertain. 
Gone too are the seventeen hundred acres of 
common land that once belonged to the parish; 
but their fate is a matter of precise information. 
They were enclosed in 1758 and the plunder 
divided, as by law enacted. 

There was once a " New Inn " between 
Willoughby and Dunchurch, but it no longer 
tempts the wayfarer; just as there was a toll- 
gate at Woolscot, not far beyond, that no longer 
takes tolls. The toll-house remains, as do 
certain legends of the ways of Rugby boys with 
the pikeman ; boys and man alike long since 
ferried across the inky Styx by the grim 
boatmen. 

Pikemen acquired a preternaturally acute 
memory for faces. It is an acquirement that, 
with the smile of recognition which costs 
nothing, makes princes more popular and 
beloved than the exercise of the most austere 
virtues. Not that pikemen commonly smiled. 
Suspicion and malevolence sat squarely on their 
countenances, and when a something that might 
by an effort be construed as a smile contorted 
their countenances, it was like that of an 
alligator who perceives a fine fat nigger within 
reach of his jaws. A pikeman who took toll 
of even a thousand persons in the course of a 
day, might safely be counted upon to recognise 



A TOLL-GATE STORY 249 

each on his return and to pass him without the 
formality of halting to show the ticket issued 
in the morning ; hut let one who had not 
already paid toll that day attempt to pass with 
the customary nod of the returning traveller, 
franked through by his morning's payment, 
and he was certain to be stopped and asked 
for his ticket. Those were the occasions when 
the pikeman smiled in his most hateful manner. 
The only places where this cold-blooded grin of 
triumph may nowadays be seen off the melo- 
dramatic stage, are the Old Bailey and other 
criminal courts ; when prosecuting counsel have 
forged the last link in a chain of conviction. 

It was at Woolscot toll-gate that the pike- 
man 011 one occasion was paid twice in one 
day for a gig. Tom Pinner, a well-known 
coachman who afterwards kept the " Five 
Ways " tavern at Birmingham, was once visited 
at Dunchurch by some friends who set out early 
from Dav entry. They had a pleasant day and 
wound up with dinner. The feast was good, 
the wines potent, and the guests slept heavily. 
As they lay thus, the jocular Pinner blacked 
their faces, and when they had revived a little 
started them home. When the gig drew up 
in the flickering light of the toll-gate, they of 
course could not find their tickets, and the 
pikeman insisted on toll being paid : he was 
quite sure no black men had passed that 

day! 

* Passing over the streamlet spanned by Rains 



25 o THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

Bridge, which is probahly the " stone bridge " 
referred to by Ogilby in 1075, as situated at 
the end of the twelve furlongs' length of 
"Dunchurch Lane, bad way," the exquisite 
half-mile avenue of majestic elms leading along 
a gently curving road into Dunchurch is 
entered. Branches and thick foliage meet 
overhead and realise the oft-met similitude 
drawn between cathedral aisles and avenues 
such as this. 



XXXVIII 

DUNCHURCH and the surrounding Dunsmore 
at this time tamed somewhat from its ancient 
Avildness and tickled into productiveness and 
smiling fertility by plough and harrow- -were 
associated, close upon three hundred years ago, 
with a conspiracy that might well, had it been 
successful, have added such a page to England's 
story whose likeness for horror and ferocity it 
would perhaps be impossible to match. Dun- 
church, in short, has a scenic part in the 
" Gunpowder Treason and Plot," that came near 
to blowing up King, Lords, and Commons, in 
Parliament assembled, on the famous Fifth of 
November, 1605. "To blow the Scottish beggars 
back to their native mountains " was Guy 
Fawkes' savagely humorous explanation of the 



GUNPOWDER TREASON AND PLOT 251 

plot, when asked its object by a Scottish noble- 
man ; but its real aim was the avenging of 
Roman Catholic wrongs and disabilities upon 
James I., and the Protestants. We have already 
seen the home of Robert Catesby, the true and 
original begetter of the plot : and here, at 
Dunchurch, was to be assembled a great 
gathering of Roman Catholic noblemen and 
gentlemen, to take part in a rising to folloAv 
upon the success of the blow to be struck in 
London. Those were times when assemblages 
of any kind were looked upon with suspicion, 
and so it was given out that the great prepara- 
tions being made along the road from London. 
in providing relays of horses at every stage, 
were in connection with an elaborate hunting- 
party on Dunsmore, to which the squire of 
Ashby St. Ledgers had bidden the whole 
country-side. Never doubting the success of 
their design to blow Parliament sky-high, 
Catesby with three of his fellow-conspirators, 
Percy, and John and Christopher Wright, left 
London for Dunchurch on the eve of the fatal 
Fifth. Pawkes, fanatically courageous, was 
in his cellar, under the Parliament House : the 
sinister figure that close upon three hundred 
anniversary "Guy Pawkes Days" and innumer- 
able ludicrous " guys " have not wholly succeeded 
in robbing of its dramatic force. There he 
lurked : booted and spurred, slouch-hatted and 
cloaked; slow-matches in his pocket, and a 
dark -lantern behind the door. 



2 5 2 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

Two others of the conspirators remained in 
town, to watch the success of the dark design. 
They were Ambrose Rookwood and Thomas 
Winter. But as the midnight of November 4th, 
sounded from the clocks of London and ushered 
in the opening hour of the Fifth, Fawkes Avas 
arrested in his hiding-place, and the scheme 
wrecked. Instantly, as though by magic, the 
rumours of some calamity narrowly averted, 
pervaded London, and warned Rook wood and 
Winter to fly. Had they trusted to the staunch- 
ness of Fawkes they and the others would have 
been safe enough, for that unwilling sponsor 
of all subsequent "guys" was as secret as the 
grave, and even under torture made no disclosures 
until by their own later acts the conspirators 
had rendered concealment useless. But, panic- 
stricken, Rookwood and Winter left London 
behind in the forenoon ; Winter for hiding in 
Worcestershire, Rookwood to overtake and warn 
Catesby and his companions on the Holyhead 
Road. He came up with them at Little 
BriekhUl and with laboured breath for he 
had ridden headlong told the tale of how the 
plot had been discovered. They wasted no time 
in discussion. If they had hasted before, they 
journeyed frantically now. By six o'clock, 
riding through a day of November rain, they 
had gained Ashby St. Ledgers, casting away 
their heavy cloaks as they went, together with 
aught else that might hinder their mad flight. 
Seventy-eight miles in seven hours was a mar- 






THE "LION" INN 253 



vellous ride in those times, and under such 
conditions. Perhaps some modern cyclist, eager 
to draw a parallel, will essay the feat under 
like meteorological conditions. 

That evening, after wild and gloomy con- 
ference at Ashby, they set out for Dunchurch, 
making for the "Lion" inn, the head-quart <M-S 
of the pretended hunting-party, where the young 
and handsome Sir Everard Digby was in ex- 
pectation of hearing other news than that 
which burst upon him when the exhausted and 
dispirited band drew rein before the old gabled 
house in the stormy night. The story of their 
further flight, of how Catesby and Percy died 
together in the fighting at Holbeach House, does 
not concern us here, but the old house does. 
An inn no longer, it still stands, as a farm- 
house, in midst of Dunchurch. village : a long, 
low, gabled building, with casement windows 
and timbered and plastered front ; low-ceiled 
and heavily raftered rooms within. In the rear, 
beyond the farm-yard, may even yet be seen 
the remains of a moat, enclosing a wooded 
patch of ground whose story is vague and 
formless : relics, these, of times much more 
ancient than those of the Gunpowder Plot. The 
" Lion " was an old " pack-horse " inn for many 
generations afterwards. 

Dunchurch, in the old coaching days, was a 
place of many and good inns : all of them, how- 
ever, excelled by the " Dun Cow," almost the sole 
remaining member of the herd of " White Lions," 



254 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

"Red Lions," "Blue Boars," "Green Men," 
and such-like zoological curiosities that once 
thronged it. There was an excellent reason for 
such wealth of accommodation, for the village 
was situated not only on the Holyhead Road, 
hut at the intersection of it by the Oxford and 
Leicester Road, along which plied a goodly 
throng of traffic. On that road lies Rugby, 
three miles away, and along it went, among 
other forgotten conveyances, the " Regulator " 
"young gents calls it the i Pig and Whistle,' ' 
remarked the guard of the coach that conveyed 
vomiff Tom Brown from London to Dunchurch. 

7 

Rugby and its famous school have made a 
vast difference to this village, now postally 
" Dunchurch, near Rugby," but formerly the 
post-town whence the once insignificant village 
of Rugby Rugby-under-Dunchurch was served. 

The "Dun Cow," survivor and representative 
of the jolly days of old, takes its name from 
the mythical monster of a cow slain, according 
to confused and contradictory legends, upon 
Dunsmore by the almost equally mythical Guy 
of Warwick. 

Steadfastly regarding the old inn, and with 
its back turned upon the church, the white 
marble effigy of "the Right Honble. Lord John 
Douglas Montagu Douglas Scott " cuts a 
ludicrous figure in the centre of the village. 
The work of an Associate of the Royal Academy, 
it simply serves to point to what depths the art 
of sculpture had descended in the early Sixties, 



A GROTESQUE STATUE 257 

when it was wrought. The inscription states 
that Lord Douglas Scott died in 1860, and that 
the statue " was erected by his tenantry in 
affectionate memory of him." The clothes worn 
at that period give, of course, their own element 
of grotesqueness to the statue; but the heavy 
mass of fringed drapery that Lord John is 
represented to he carrying under his arm has 




LORD JOHN SCOTT'S STATUE. 

occasioned the derisive query, "Who stole the 
altar-cloth ? " 

Dunchurch, besides being a sweetly pretty 
place, rejoices in a number of minor curiosities. 
The beautiful church has one, in the eccentric 
monument of Thomas Xewcombe, King's Printer 
in the reigns of Charles II., James II., and 
William III. It is in the shape of folding- 
doors of white marble. In the churchyard, too, 
he who searches in the right place will discover 
the epitaph of Daniel Goode, who died in 17">1, 
VOL. i. 17 



25 8 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

"A Ged year 25." The advice given is better 
than the jingle to which it is set : 

To all young men 

That me survive 
Who dyed at less 

Than twenty-five, 
I do this Good 

Advice declare : 
That they live in 

God's faith and fear. 

Other relics are grouped well in sight of one 
another. The battered village cross, for instance, 
with a little marble slab fixed on its shaft, bear- 
ing the arms of that Duchess of Buccleuch, who 
in 1810 restored it; and the village "cage," or 
lock-up, under a spreading elm, with the stocks 
close adjoining, for the accommodation or 
discomfort of two. The lock-up was for the 
detention of such malefactors as might trouble 
Dun church the stocks for misdemeanants only. 
An Act of 1606 imposed six hours of the stocks 
and a fine of five shillings for drunkenness ; and 
from that time forward and until the opening 
years of the nineteenth century this peculiar 
form of punishment was common throughout 
England. His personal popularity, or the want 
of it, made all the difference between misery 
and comparative comfort to the misdemeanant 
undergoing six hours in the stocks. The jolly 
toper, overcome in his cups and sent to penance 
by some Puritan maw-worm of a justice, had 
both the moral and bodily support of his boon 



DUNSMORE AVENUE 259 

companions, and left durance probably more 
drunken than he had been on the occasion that 
led to his conviction: the sturdy vagrant, smiter, 
rapscallion, or casual rogue who happened to be 
in ill-odour with the village endured bitter 
things. Jibes, stones, cabbage-stalks, ancient 
eggs, and dead dogs and cats, deceased weeks 
before, were hurled at the wretch, who was 
lucky if he had not received severe personal 
injuries before his time was up, and the beadle 
or the parish constable came to release him. 



XXXIX 

IT would be difficult nowadays to discover 
any one to agree with Pennant, the antiquary, 
who in 1782 could find it possible to write of 
the superbly wooded road across Dunsmore Heath 
as a "tedious avenue of elms and firs." The 
adjective is altogether indefensible. Six miles of 
smooth and level highway, bordered here by noble 
pines, and there by equally noble elms, invite the 
traveller to linger by the roadside from Dun- 
church to Hyton-on-Dunsmore. It is a stretch 
of country not only beautiful but interesting, 
alike for its history and traditions. The Heath, 
long since enclosed and under cultivation^ but 
once the haunt of fabled monsters, and, at a 
later period, of desperate highwaymen, is a level 



260 



THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 



tract of land dotted with villages that all add 
to their names the title of " upon-Dunsmore," 
as a kind of terrific dignity. Through the midst 
of this sometime wilderness goes the high-road, 
heautiful always, hut singularly lovely in the 
eyes of the traveller who, advancing in a north- 
westerly direction, sees the setting sun glaring 
redly between the wizard arms of the pines. 




DUNSMORE AVENUE. 



Many of those exquisite trees are of great age. 
The avenue, in fact the Ong Avenue, as it was 
originally called was planted in 1740, by John, 
second Duke of Montague. Some of the firs 
have decayed, but happily their places will be 
taken in due course by the saplings planted of 
late years. The elms are, most of them, in 
worse case, and are being generally cut down 



DUNSMORE 261 

to half their height hy cautious road surveyors. 
The elm, that, without warning, rots at the 
heart and collapses in a moment, is the most 
treacherous of trees ; and, some day, those that 
are left here will suddenly fall and be the 
death of the unhappy cyclist, farmer, or tramp 
who happens to be passing at the time. 

It was here, in 1686, that Jonathan Simpson 
robbed Lord Delamere of 350 guineas, and "in- 
numerable drovers, pedlars, and market-people," 
all the way to Barnet. Jonathan was executed 
the followed September, aged thirty-two. 

Two famous posting-houses once stood beside 
this lonely road : the " Blue Boar " and the 
" Black Dog." Both have retired into private 
life. The old "Blue Boar," still giving the 
name of " Blue Boar Corner " to the cross-roads, 
two miles out from Dunchurch, is a square 
building of white-painted brick, and stands on 
the left hand, with a garden where the coach- 
drive used to be. It must have been especially 
welcome to travellers in the dreadful snowstorm 
of December, 1836, when no fewer than seven- 
teen coaches were snowed up on the Heath, 
near a spot named, appropriately enough, " Cold 
Comfort." 

This also was the " lonely spot, with trees on 
either side for six miles," where the "Eclipse" 
coach, on its way from Birmingham to London, 
was overpowered by convicts on a day in Novem- 
ber, 1829. It seems that, on the day before this 
occurrence, the deputy-governor of Chester Gaol 



262 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

and two warders, in charge of twelve convicts, 
chained and locked together in twos by padlocks, 
had set out from Birkenhead for London by the 
" Albion " coach, and that during the confusion 
of an accident at Walsall, when the deputy- 
governor was killed and the coachman and one 
of the warders seriously injured, one of the 
prisoners, more enterprising than his fellows, 
managed to steal the master-key from the dead 
official's body, and, with his fellows, plotted an 
escape from the long journey to Botany Bay. 
Brought from Walsall to Birmingham by another 
coach, they were lodged for the night in Moor 
Street prison, and the following morning, still 
chained together, placed on the " Eclipse " coach 
for London, in charge of the remaining warder 
and another from Birmingham. This consign- 
ment of gaolbirds, together with their guardians, 
formed the sole passengers by the " Eclipse." In 
the " lonely spot " aforesaid four of the convicts, 
having unlocked their fetters, rose suddenly up, 
seized the coachman and guard, and stopped the 
coach, while others overpowered their custodians. 
They explained that they had no wish to harm 
any one, but were determined at all costs to 
make a dash for liberty ; and, securing coachman, 
guard, and the bewildered warders with ropes 
and straps, unharnessed the horses, and, mounting 
them, galloped across country. Coming upon a 
roadside blacksmith's forge, they compelled the 
smith to unloose the remaining portion of their 
fetters, and then disappeared. All are said to 






A COACHING]' TRAGEDY 263 

have afterwards been recaptured, with the excep- 
tion of two "gentlemen" forgers, who wciv 
never again heard of. 

.A grossly incorrect account of this happening 
is to he found in the pages of Colonel Birch- 
Eeynardson's Doicn the Road. The coachman 
and guard of the "Eclipse" were Robert Hassall 
and Peck. Hassall ended his days as a hopeless 
lunatic. His affliction was caused by witnessing 
the sudden death of his colleague and friend at 
Coventry. While the horses were being changed 
at that city, Peck busied himself on the roof of 
the coach, in unstrapping some luggage. The 
strap broke, and the unfortunate man fell back- 
wards on to the pavement, dashing his skull to 
pieces. Hassall, who was seated on the box, 
fainted, and, on regaining consciousness, became 
a raving lunatic. 

A curious feature of the milestones across 
Dunsmore, a feature not met with elsewhere, 
is their being cut into the shape of two or 
more steps, resembling " louping-on " stones, or 
" upping-blocks," for the convenience of horse- 
men. 



XL 

IT is here, five miles and a half from Dunchurch, 
that the famous " Knightlow Cross", stands. 
Just past a group of cottages, and an inn 



264 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

called Frog Hall, that mark the neighbourhood 
of Stretton-upon-Dunsmore, and where Knight- 
low Hill begins to tip downwards, this mysterious 
relic is found, in a meadow. The so-called 
" Knightlow Cross " is a square block of red 
sandstone, standing on the summit of a pre- 




KNIGHTLOW CROSS. 



historic grassy tumulus. It measures thirty 
inches square, and has a deep square cavity 
sunk in it. Prom its appearance, the stone 
may once have been the socket of a Avayside or 
boundary cross, possibly marking the limits of 
the parish of Ryton-upon-Dunsmore, extending 



" WROTH-MONEY 



265 



thus far. Here, from time immemorial, on the 
morning of St. Martin's Day, November llth, 
has heen collected the "wroth-money" annuallv 
due to the Lord of the Manor of Knightlow 
Hundred : a district comprising some twenty- 
eight villages. These tributary communities 
pay sums ranging from one penny to two 
shillings and threepence-halfpenny each, with 
the exception of Ryton, which pays nothing. 
The whole amounts to nine shillings and three- 
pence-halfpenny, the forfeit for non-payment in 
each case being either one pound for every penny 
not forthcoming, or " a white bull with pink nose 
and ears." This tribute is said to be paid for 
the privilege of using certain roads, but it 
probably was originally " rother money," or fees 
payable in very ancient days to the Lord of 
Manor for the privilege of grazing cattle and 
swine in the great forests that then overspread 
the district, and for having all such animals 
officially branded by the Lord's verderer ; strange 
and unmarked beasts being liable to confiscation. 
At the beginning of last century the "Wroth" 
Money " custom was discontinued, but revived 
after some years. The Duke of Buccleuch, the 
present Lord of the Manor, upholds what the 
villagers call " the old charter " ; and still with 
every recurring Martinmas, at the shivery hour 
of sunrise, the Steward of the Manor attends 
and duly checks the coins thrown into the 
hollow by the representatives of the subject 
parishes. The tribute, and perhaps a good deal 



2 66 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

more, is expended in drinks of rum and milk 
for the party, and breakfast at the " Oak," at 
Stretton. The " initiation of the colts " is a 
humorous contribution levied upon those who 
have never before been present. 

Of the four fir-trees that once guarded the 
tumulus, locally supposed to mark the spot 
where four knights were buried, only one now 
remains ; sycamore saplings have taken the 
places of the others. 

Through R/yton-upon-Dunsmore, and past 
pretty Willenhall, with the Warwickshire Avon 
crossing under the road and seven tall poplars 
fringing it, Coventry is reached, over Whitley 
Common, once a lonely spot, horrific by reason 
of being Coventry's place of execution. Old 
maps give the picture of a structure like a 
football goal at this point, ominously permanent, 
and labelled " Gallows." It was not until shortly 
after 1831, when Mary Anne Higgins was 
hanged here for poisoning her uncle, that 
Whitley Common lost its old notoriety. Even 
so, the present directions to the stranger enquiring 
the way into Coventry are scarcely cheerful, the 
cemetery being the guiding landmark. Beyond 
that evidence of the populous nature of Coventry, 
commence the outskirts of that city; the road 
still with a kind of a furtive back door approach, 
with many twists and turns and narrow passes 
through picturesque slums as far as the very 
centre of the place. The entrance from London, 
in fact, remains the most difficult and crooked 






COVENTRY'S LANES 267 



of any town all the way to Holy head, and this 
although it stands as an improvement upon 
what had heen before 1827, when Telford cut 
a new length of road here. The only good 
entrance to Coventry is from the railway station 
and along Hertford Street, an improvement 
made in 1812 in place of Greyfriars Lane ; 
a steep, narrow, and cobhle-stoned way that was 
once the only road in that direction. 

Coventry's lanes possessing every possible 
disability and inconvenience from the coach- 
man's point of view, it was, when the question 
of reforming the Holyhead Road was being 
debated, seriously proposed that a new route 
should be adopted, avoiding the city altogether. 
The proposition failed, and resulted in a com- 
promise that did little real good, even though 
it cost 11,000. As an indignant writer of 
that period remarks: "Individual interest was 
allowed to have its weight, and the traveller is 
still jolted through the long and narrow streets, 
uttering imprecations at every yard of his 
progress." It is a thrilling picture thus pre- 
sented to the imagination, the traveller cursing 
as he goes, and recalls Swift's proposition for a 
Swearers' Bank, enriched by funded damns. If 
he could have estimated a good income from 
the number of good, hearty oaths uttered in one 
day at a little Connaught fair, riches surely 
beyond the dreams of avarice would have 
accrued to a branch of the Bank at Coventry. 

These "private interests" were, of course, 



268 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

those of the innkeepers and the tradesmen, and 
they secured the continuance of the old route 
into the city, while permitting the not so urgent 
alteration of the exit toward Birmingham, where 
no trade would be disturbed by making what 
is now the so-called " Holy head Road," and 
deserting the " Old Allesley Road." 

The maze of Much Park Street, Earl Street, 
and High Street, brings one to the centre of 
Coventry at the intersection of that last-named 
thoroughfare with Hertford Street, Broadgate, 
and Smithford Street, and directly opposite the 
" King's Head," once a famous old coaching 
inn, but rebuilt these later years. The great 
Duke of Wellington breakfasted in the old 
house, November 28th, 1823, on returning from 
a shooting party at Beaudesert, the Stafford- 
shire seat of the Marquis of Anglesey, with 
whom he had been at shooting parties of a 
very different character, in the Peninsula and 
at Waterloo. 



XLI 

ONE sees the city perhaps to best advantage 
from the Warwick road, or from the rising 
ground at Stivichall, close by. There below 
lies Coventry, the famous trinity whence comes 
the familiar name of the City of the Three 



COVENTRY SPIRES 



269 



Spires, silhouetted against the calm evening 
sky. The view recalls that eloquent passage 
where Ruskin, speaking with enthusiasm of 
the old coaching age that he had known, paints 
the joy of the traveller " who from the long- 
hoped-for turn in the dusty perspective of the 
causeway, saw for the first time the towers of 







THE THREE SPIRES. 



some famed city, faint in the rays of sunset, 
and came to his appointed inn after " hours of 
peaceful and thoughtful pleasure, for which 
the rush of the arrival in the railway station 
is perhaps not always, or to all men, an 
equivalent." 

Those three spires still advise the stranger, 
to whose ears bv some strange chance the fame 



2 7 o THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

of ancient Coventry has not come, that ho is 
indeed about to enter, not merely the great 
home of the cycle-making industry, hut a city 
that has for centuries been famous for its 
religious houses, and was indeed a place notable 
in this wise before ever the Battle of Hastings 
was fought, to bring England under a Norman 
domination. Its very name, whence the present 
form has been evolved, is held by some to 
have been originally " Conventre," or Convent 
Town, and it came in after years to own, not 
three, but seven spires. The other four went 
down in the days of spoliation that came in 
with Harry VIII. 

Earl Leofric, the pious founder of the original 
Greyfriars monastery around whose religious 
buildings secular Coventry first arose, must 
have been a hard man, if legends tell truth, 
for his grinding taxation aroused the pity of 
his Countess, the immortal Godiva. Those must 
have been no slight hardships that could have 
earned the compassion of a Saxon gentlewoman, 
whose times and training alike could only 
have made her look upon the miseries of the 
lower orders as incidental to their lot. They 
were chiefly churls ; men and women of 
bondage, and mere chattels, who had, it is true 
the accidental advantages of speech and a 
modicum of understanding; but, for the rest, 
were of no account. 

Tennyson has " shaped the city's ancient 
legend " into verse, and reveals the circum- 



TENNYSON'S " GODIVA " 271 

stances that led to his doing so, in the opening 
lines : 

I waited for the train at Coventry ; 

I hung with grooms and porters on the bridge. 

Waiting for a railway train is so unpromising 
a prelude to a mediaeval legend that at the 
first blush a processional " train " is understood, 
and certainly a practical man would wait on 
the platform, rather than the bridge, for the 
train to London or Birmingham But Tennyson 
actually did allude to the railway, and if he 
shaped the legend while he waited, the train 
must have been very late, for the poem is a 
long one. These unpromising circumstances 
perhaps account for its unequal merit, and for 
the figure of fun that Leofric, "the grim Earl," 
is unintentionally made to represent, with " his 
beard a foot before him and his hair a yard 
behind." It is a tripping music-hall line, and 
the words those of a comic song. Not even a 
Duke nay, nor a King in these days of vulgar 
boys and popular songs, could dare defy 
the current prejudice in favour of a close 
crop, and so the Tennysonian Leofric suHVrs 
accordingly. 

Leofric, so says the ancient legend, consented 
to remove the tax if his Countess would ride 
unclothed through the streets of Coventry. 
This, as he thought it a thing impossible for 
her to do, was his grimly humorous way of 
refusing to satisfy her compassionate pleadings. 



272 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

But she took him at his word, and thus, 
"clothed on with chastity/' rode the length 
of the toivn, her hair, we are told, in compe- 
tition with Leofric's own yard -length, falling 
ahout her in golden masses, shielding her 
person from the shameless sun. 

Coventry that day was a city of the dead. 
None stirred, or might stir, out of doors while 
the pious Godiva rode her enfranchising pilgrim- 
age, and all faces were turned from curtained 
and shuttered windows. All, that is to say, 
save one. A graceless tailor, whose name has 
been handed down to us as "Peeping Tom," 
looked out from a hole he had bored in a 
shutter, and we are asked to believe that he 
was blinded by the wrath of Heaven for his 
presumption. "The story of Peeping Tom is 
well known," says Wigstead, writing in 1797 ; 
adding, " This effigy is now to be seen next door 
to the ' King's Head ' inn, said to be the very 
house from whence he attempted to gratify his 
curiosity." Peeping Tom, in fact, is a personage 
whom Coventry will not willingly resign to 
oblivion. Representations of that " low churl, 
compact of thankless earth," have been numerous 
in the city. Not so long since there were three, 
all spying from their several positions down 
upon the streets, and certainly the one Wigstead 
mentions is still in evidence, not now " next 
door" to the "King's Head," but built into a 
blank window of that rebuilt hostelry. If 
tailors dressed thus in Saxon days, they must 



PEEPING TOM 273 

have been gorgeous persons. But the effigy, 
looking like that of an Admiral from some 
comic opera, is not older than a century and 
a half, and is perhaps a portion of a figure 
carried in the Godiva processions that at intervals 




PEEPING TOM. 



have paraded Coventry's streets for many 
years past. They do so now, but whether the 
obvious wig and the pink silk tights of the 
music-hall woman, representing Godiva, commend 
themselves as realising the old legend, is a 
matter of individual taste. 

VOL. i. 18 



2 74 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

To tell Coventry's long story is not the pur- 
port of these pages. Much of it is inseparable 
from the history of England. History in that 
more spacious sort was making when, in the 
reign of Richard II., the Dukes of Hereford 
and Norfolk fought their duel on Gosford 
Green, in 1398. Richard banished both: Norfolk 
for life and Hereford for ten years ; but Hereford 
was back within a year and proclaimed King, 
and Richard deposed and murdered in the 
dungeons of Pontefract. 

A hundred years later, Coventry's beautiful 
hospitals and the noble St. Mary's Hall, the 
home of the great trading guilds, began to rise. 
They remain, in greater or less preservation, 
until the present time ; and perhaps there is 
nothing in the kingdom to surpass the exquisite 
beauty of Ford's Hospital an almshouse built 
in 1529, whose tiny courtyard of traceried wood- 
work should for its delicacy be under the 
protection of a glass case. Six years after Ford's 
beautiful almshouse was built, the dissolution of 
the monasteries took place throughout the land ; 
and Coventry, fostered by the great religious 
houses of the Whitefriars and the Greyfriars in 
its midst, shared in the ruin that befel them. 
Its population fell from 15,000 to 3,000 in a 
few years. Yet it was in this melancholy period 
that the great " Coventry Cross " arose. It was, 
however, not a building erected by the city, but 
the gift of one of its sons, who could find no 
other way of employing his superfluous wealth. 




FORD'S HOSPITAL. 



"SENT TO COVENTRY" 277 

It rose in all the majesty of carved pinnacles, 
tabernacled statuary, and gilded bannerets, in 
the market-place of Cross Cheaping : a sight to 
dazzle the eyes of all who beheld it. The Cross 
was repaired and re-gilded in 1669; but from 
that time, although the city was prosperous 
again, it fell into decay and was removed in 1771. 
Coventry is a city by ancient right of the 
time when there were Bishops of Coventry and 
Lichfield. The style of the See was afterwards 
reversed, and the scanty ruins of Coventry's 
Abbey Church or Cathedral alone tell of that 
ancient dignity. The encircling walls, too, of 
Coventry are gone. They kept out many unwel- 
come visitors in their existence of three hundred 
years, and behind them the citizens withstood 
the Royalists of 1642 with such effect that the 
memory of it rankled twenty years later, when 
the Restoration brought the Stuarts back again, 
and Charles II. ordered the fortifications to 
be destroyed. It was to the Civil War that 
the expression of " sending to Coventry " any 
objectionable person owes its origin. Every one 
knows that this means the social ostracism 
the " cutting " of those thus punished ; but its 
original meaning is not so commonly understood. 
It derives from Birmingham, where the towns- 
people took up a hostile attitude towards the 
Royalists, overwhelming scattered parties and 
sending them prisoners to Coventry. A very 
excellent reason for not keeping them at Bir- 
mingham was that the town had no defences 



2? 8 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

and no prisons, while Coventry was a fortress-city 
and had both. 

" True as Coventry blue " would, in view of 
this old attitude, seem a saying ill-applied to 
a place of Puritan politics ; but it referred to a 
dye then used here. When Ogilby came to 
Coventry in the compilation of his great road- 
book, he noted its position " on the little river 
Sherborne, whose water is peculiar for the Blue 
Dye." Even then, it will be seen, the city was 
beginning to recover from the decay of a hundred 
vears before. 



XLII 

ROMANCE did not leave Coventry with the passing 
of mediaeval days. It merely changed its aspect; 
doffed the " armour bright " the romancists love 
to tell of, and went clad instead in russet ; put 
away helm and pike and broadsword, and sat 
the livelong day at the loom ; changed indeed 
the Romance of Warfare for that of Industry, 
so that it was possible for old travellers to 
remark " the noise of the looms assails the 
passengers' ears in every direction." Coming in 
later years upon its discarded old warlike panoply 
of steel, Coventry has fashioned it anew, in the 
form of bicycles, for the needs of a peaceful age. 



THE BICYCLE 2?9 

Tennyson, in Godiva, writing 

We, the latest seed of Time, 
New men, that in the flying of a wheel 
Cry down the past, 

seems to foreshadow the bicycle, but the early 
period at which that poem was produced forbids 
any such allusion. We must needs, therefore, 
look upon those lines as prophetic, especially 
since, regarded in any other way, the phrase 
" the flying of a wheel " appears meaningless. 
But, even in the light of a prophetic inspiration, 
is not the cut at the "new .men" who "cry 
down the past " an ill description of the typical 
cyclist, who uses his flying wheel as a means of 
communing with Nature and antiquity P 

Coventry became earnestly industrial when 
jousts ceased; and its industries, in their rise 
and fall, have had their own romance. There 
were, of course, Coventry makers of woollens ; 
pinners and needlers ; girdlers, loriners, and 
many other tradespeople in the days of chivalry ; 
but it was only in modern times that the in- 
dustries of silk-weaving and dyeing, ribbon- 
making and watch-making arose, to give a 
fugitive prosperity to the place before the cycle 
industry came to confer upon it a greater boon. 
Those trades have gone elsewhere ; but ask even 
the most ignorant for what Coventry is famous 
nowadays, and you get for answer " cycle 
manufacturing." Yet before 18G9 that industry 
was unborn, and the trade of Coventry at the 



280 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

lowest ebb. Silk-weaving and ribbon-making 
had then been dealt a deadly blow by the removal 
of the duty from foreign goods of that nature, 
and French ribbons and silks of new designs, and 
at low prices, poured in. Coventry weavers and 
dyers were ruined. At the same time, cheap 
Swiss watches had cut out the local watch-, 
making trade, so that work grew scarce and 
starvation presently began to stalk the streets. 
That was a dark hour in Coventry's modern 
chapter of romance, an hour brightened by the 
efforts of one man in particular James Marriott 
to establish a new industry. Those were the 
first days of a new invention the sewing machine 
and Marriott thought he saw means of setting 
afoot a great manufacture of that labour-saving 
device. He contributed 500 to the formation of 
a business, and was joined by others, and together 
they establised the Coventry Sewing Machine 
Company, an enterprise that failed to realise 
the hopes centred in it. But in that failure, 
unknown to those gallant pioneers, lay the seed 
of success. Their plant was lying idle, and 
might have been dispersed but for a happy 
providence : the appearance in Prance of the 
velocipede. 

The velocipede was by no means the first 
attempt of the kind to aid locomotion on high- 
ways. Indeed, in Boswell's Life of Johnson 
there may be found a reference, under date of 
1769, to a " new-invented machine " that went 
without horses. A man sat in it and turned a 



THE "HOBBY HORSE" 281 

handle, which worked a spring, which drove 
the machine forward. The criticism Johnson 
levelled against this device was one that 
will prohahly appeal powerfully to all cyclists 
who have stored up in their memories horrid 
experiences of hill-climbing and head -winds. 
" What is gained," said the learned Doctor, " is 
the man has the choice whether he Avill move 
himself alone, or himself and the machine too." 
Nothing came of that invention, and it was not 
until 1816 that the " Hohhy Horse," as it after- 
wards became known, was devised in Paris by a 
M. Niepce He named it a " Celeripede." This 
machine, improved by a Baron von Drais, of 
Mannheim, does not appear to have found its 
way to England until the autumn of 1818, when 
a coach-maker of Long Acre, one Dennis Johnson 
by name, introduced it as a "Pedestrian Curricle." 
From 1819 to 1830 this machine -the popularly- 
named "Hobby Horse" enjoyed a certain favour, 
although on country roads it could but seldom 
have been seen, for no one could ride it twenty 
miles and remain in an able-bodied condition. 
Its mere weight was appalling, constructed as it 
was of two heavy wooden wheels shod witli iron, 
and held together by a stout bar of timber. 
For saddle, the rider had a cushion, and leant 
his chest against another cushion, supported by 
ironwork. Bestriding this fearsome contrivance. 
the adventurous rider's feet easily reached the 
ground. As the Hobby Horse had no cranks 
or pedals, the method of propulsion was that 



2 g 2 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

of running in this straddling position until a 
sufficient impetus had been gained, when the 
lumbering machine would carry its owner a 
short distance on the flat. It was, of course, 
impossible to ride up even the slightest rise; 
but, considering the momentum likely to be 
accumulated by a mass of iron and wood, 
scaling considerably over a hundredweight, the 
pace down hill must have been furious enough. 

By 1830 the Hobby Horse had disappeared, 
and it was not until 1839-40 that the first 
machine with cranks was invented by a Scots 
blacksmith, Kirkpatrick Macmillan, who produced 
a rear-driving dwarf bicycle that foreshadowed 
the type now popular. Several machines of this 
kind were made and sold by Macmillan, but 
they did not attain a lasting vogue ; and it was 
not until a French mechanic one Pierre Lalle- 
mont in 1865 or 1866 designed the front-driving 
velocipede in the workshops of Michaux & Cie, 
of Paris, that the second era of cycling began. 
It was this machine that Michaux exhibited at 
the Paris Exhibition of 1867. It was seen either 
then or the following year in Paris by Mr. 
R. B. Turner, agent in that city for the Coventry 
Sewing Machine Company. He, together with 
Charles Spencer and John May all, junior, became 
a pioneer of cycling in this country. In the 
pages of the BRIGHTON Bo AD, details of their 
first long-distance ride, February 17th, 1869, 
may be found. 

But Turner not only became an enthusiastic 



THE "BONESHAKER" 2 & 3 

cyclist: he drew the attention of his firm to 
what at once proved to be a profitable manu- 
facture, supplementing, and eventually taking the 
place of, the declining sewing-machine business. 
The style of the firm was altered to the 
"Coventry Machinists Company," and "bone- 
shakers," as Velocipedes were speedily nicknamed, 
began to be turned out in considerable numbers. 
The " boneshaker " was well named. It had a 
solid iron frame, and wooden wheels with iron 
tyres, and was only a degree less weighty than the 
Hobby Horse itself, of ponderous memory. Its 
front wheel was the larger, and was the driving- 
wheel, fitted with "treadles," as pedals were then 
named. The machine turned the scale at 93 Ib. 

Thus, in 1869, the pastime of cycling and the 
industry of cycle manufacture found a beginning 
on these shores. In that year the actual word 
" bicycle " was first introduced, to eventually 
render " Velocipede " obsolete. When the first 
syllable of " bicycle " and " bicycling " was 
dropped is a more difficult matter to determine. 
The present use grew gradually, as one by 
one the different bicycling and tricycling clubs 
sloughed off those cumbrous prefatory distinc- 
tions, as unnecessary and unwieldy ; but certainly 
the modern use was known by 1879, when the 
'Cyclist was established, with the half -apologetic ' 
that may even yet be seen on its engraved title- 
page. Two years earlier, when the l*/V//r////// 
News was founded, the elision of the distinguish- 
in^ syllable was evidently not foreseen. 



2 8 4 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

In the years following the introduction of 
the " honeshaker," this new industry prospered 
and increased in an eminently solid way. Bone- 
shaking was not a pastime for the many, and 
it was not until the old " ordinary," as it is 
still called, was introduced that the youth of 
that period went bicycling in any great numbers. 
The "ordinary," or high bicycle, long since 
become extraordinary by supersession in favour of 
the dwarf "safety," was gradually evolved through 
the middle Seventies to 1880. It was probably 
an early example of this build that so terribly 
frightened the rustic in Punch, who, going home 
in the dark, was scared by an " awful summat " 
he declared to be "a man a-ridin' on nawthin'." 

It was a graceful, albeit exceedingly dangerous 
type, and from its height of fifty-eight inches 
a rider surveyed the world as he went at a 
lordly altitude. The reverse of that commanding 
eminence was found when he was thrown : a 
happening that recurred with remarkable fre- 
quency and a nerve-shaking unexpectedness. 
Little in the shape of ruts or stones was required 
to upset the "ordinary," and few long rides were 
ever made without a "spill." To be shot off 
suddenly in mid-air was in fact so to be looked 
for, that riders studied how to fall, and prac- 
tised the art so well that, although involuntary 
flights were many, serious injuries were few. 
The height of this art or science was to fall 
clear of the machine an object attained, down 
hill, by riding with the legs over the handle- 



THE "OLD ORDINARY 



285 



bars, when, in the event of an accident, one fell 
a greater or shorter distance, according to the 
speed or the force of the shock. 

The "ordinary" was at its height, in 
measurement and popularity, in 1880, a year 
that also marked the palmiest period of cycling 




THE "OLD ORDINARY." 



clubs. The cyclist of that era. made a brave 
show. Arrayed in a tight-fitting uniform, that 
in its frogged patrol- jacket and gauntlet gloves 
aped military costume, and in its tight breeches 
made the sudden strain of a fall the utter dis- 
solution of those garments, his was a wonderful 
figure as he wended his uncertain way, ga/iny; 
from his point of vantage over the countryside. 



2 86 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

But as his first youth waned, and his agility 
with it, rendering the exercise of vaulting into 
the saddle increasingly more of an enterprise, 
the cyclist yearned for a less giddy height 
than that of the " ordinary," and his growing 
infirmities, more than any other consideration, 
eventually brought about the modern geared-up, 
rear-driving, dwarf bicycle the " safety " ; but 
Time, the cynic, that has robbed the term 
"ordinary" of its meaning, has brought about 
many more fatal cycling accidents in these 
" safety " days than occurred in the era of the 
high bicycle. 



XLIII 

IT was the late J. K. Starley's "Rover" of 
1885 that opened the way for cycling's modern 
development. It was a design rightly claimed 
to have " set the fashion to the world," and the 
difference between it and patterns of the current 
season is only in detail. Already, before Starley, 
attempts had been made to produce a " safety," 
as shown by Lawson's patent of 1876 and his 
" bicyclette " of 1880, together with the designs 
by Shergold and Bate in 1876 and later, in 
which 26- to 30-inch wheels, provided with gear, 
were to do the work of the 56- and 58-inch 



THE "SAFETY" 287 

ungeared wheel. But none of these designs 
attained any commercial success. 

The " Rover " brought many thousands more 
into the ranks of cyclists, and gave an added 
prosperity to Coventry, but what has been called 
the " great boom " was yet to come. A con- 
tributory cause of that event, although ante- 
dating it by some six years, was the introduction 
of the pneumatic tyre. So long ago as 1845 a 
pneumatic rubber tyre for carriages had been 
invented by Thompson, and forgotten, and it was 
not until 1888 that Mr. J. B. Dunlop designed 
the first pattern of the tyre bearing his name. 
Like many another epoch-making invention, its 
importance was originally not so much as 
guessed at, and it was only as a home-made 
device for securing the easy running of his 
children's cycles that it first came into being. 
It began to be manufactured in 1889, and 
certainly since 1891 pneumatic tyres for cycles 
have been universal. They practically first 
rendered it possible for ladies to adopt the 
pastime, and first made cycling luxurious, rather 
than necessarily an athletic exercise. The result 
was the "boom" that began in the early 
summer of 1895. 

Suddenly, from being looked down upon by 
all who pretended to any culture or social con- 
sideration, cycling became fashionable. Cyclists, 
who had cycled ever since the days when 
Edmund Yates in the World, speaking for 
Society, had bitterly called them "cads on 



2 88 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

castors," smiled sardonically when they saw all 
Mayt'air and St. James's cycling in Hyde or 
Battersea Parks, and submitted to be knocked 
down by wobbling novices Earls and Countesses 
upon the road with an ill grace. It is a mad 
world, and time brings strange revenges in it. 

No one, least of all the cycle manufacturers 
of Coventry, had any prevision of the great 
" boom." In former years business had eased 
off with the coming of summer. " Previously to 
1895," said a representative of the trade, " business 
was sound, and all the best houses did well, 
but were more or less subject to a very dull 
period, lasting from the beginning of August 
until the end of November. This period began 
slowly, and, reaching its dullest point about the 
end of October, caused much distress among the 
more improvident workers. There Avas no slack 
time in 1895, and you know what '96 was" 

Toil how they might through the twenty-four 
hours, the factories of Coventry could not keep 
pace with the demand. Orders came in quicker 
than cycles were despatched, and every little 
metal- working firm went into cycle-making, 
while thousands upon thousands of mechanics 
flocked into the " city of the boom." Any one 
could find work and good wages in Coventry, 
but the rush was so great that many could find 
no lodgings, and payment was frequently offered 
for shelter in the local workhouse, offers that, of 
course, could not be entertained. In some cases 
cycle manufacturers provided their new hands 



THE "BOOM" AND Till- CRASH 2 ! 

with temporary accommodation in their works. 
The population, numbering in 1SD1 58,50:5, rose 
at once hy 10,000. To meet this influx, building 
operations were feverishly begun, and street 
upon street of entirely new suburbs began to 
rise. 

And for a time the "boom" continued. 
Newer and immensely large factories were built, 
on the strength of it, and during 1897 the 
output of cycles rose to an extraordinary height. 

It was the Company Promoter who killed 
all this prosperity. Unscrupulous men, versed 
in all the dark ways of the financial world, 
found their opportunity in those palmy days, 
and, purchasing and amalgamating, converted 
prosperous private firms into unwieldy and over- 
capitalised public companies. In the thick of 
all this juggling with millions, and snatching of 
commissions and vendors' profits, the bubble 
burst, and an honourable and highly prosperous 
industry was wrecked, and became a bye- word 
and a reproach all the world over. The events 
of 1898 make a painful retrospect. Noblemen 
who bore ancient and honourable titles were 
publicly accused as common touts and commission 
agents engaged in hoodwinking the public, and 
even ready, when opportunity ottered, to cheat 
one another. The scandal struck the heaviest 
blow to the House of Lords and hereditary 
legislation that that House and that principle 
of government have ever suffered. 

The professional Company Promoter we have 
VOL. i. 19 



29 o THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

had with us ever since Limited Liability 
brought him into being, and bitter experience 
during a generation and a half has enabled the 
public to at last gain a just view of him and 
his methods ; but the public, at that time, still 
looked upon a nobleman as, almost of necessity, 
a man of honour. The revelations that followed 
this sudden crash dispelled that fond belief, 
and poisoned confidence at its very spring-head. 
The Society "boom" had already ended, and 
the bursting of the financial bubble left the 
once flourishing industry disorganised. Ever 
since that unhappy year of 1898 Coventry has 
witnessed a melancholy succession of failures, 
and has seen factory after factory closed. Only 
recently has cycle manufacturing begun to 
recover from that staggering blow. Yet, apart 
from such considerations as the waxing and 
waning fortunes of financiers, or of manu- 
facturers and their hirelings among professional 
racing cyclists, cycling as a pastime has been 
steadily progressive. Where one person rode a 
" bone-shaker," twenty bestrode the high bicycle ; 
and, nowadays, for every twenty who perched on 
the perilous eminence of the old " ordinary," 
two hundred are found upon the modern cycle. 
The industry is thus endowed with elasticity and 
strong recuperative powers, so that in this saner 
period Coventry is doing a great deal more than 
merely holding its own, even though many other 
towns have secured a share in the business of 
cycle production. 



THE MOTOR-CAR 291 

Here, then, for the present, ends Coventry's 
romance. There be those who look fonvard to 
a new and stirring chapter of it, in a wished- 
for manufacture of motor-cars ; but the future 
lies on the knees of the gods, to order as they 
will. 



XLIV 

COACHING history at Coventry begins in 
1658, with the establishment of a stage-coach 
between London, Lichfield, and Chester. This 
pioneer, starting from the " George " Inn, 
Holborn Bridge, reached Coventry in three 
days, or professed to do so. Suspicions that 
this was only a profession, not often put into 
practice, are aroused by the title of a new 
coach, put on the road in 1739. This was the 
"London, Birmingham, and Lichfield Flying 
Coach," that took just the same time to reach 
Coventry, and yet arrogated the term " flying " 
to itself, as a superior recommendation above 
all earlier conveyances. The fare between 
London and Coventry was 25s. In 1773 a 
wonderful thing happened, for in that year the 
"Coventry Flying Machine" winged its way in 
one day. Later coaches belong to the road in 
general, and Coventry Avas but an incident 
on the Avay ; but there Avere many short 



292 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

distances covered by local coaches, such as the 
"Peeping Tom" and the "Manchester Hero," 
between this and Manchester, and numerous 
others to Birmingham, Lichfield, WarAvick, 
Leamington, Cheltenham, and Stratford-on-Avon. 
A " Little Wonder " Coventry and Birmingham 
stage ran in the last years of coaching. Tom 
Pinner, its driver, was an expert with the whip, 
and could snatch the pipe out of a wayfarer's 
mouth with it, and not touch him, as he drove 
along. One quite expects, in reading Tom 
Pinner's career, to light upon the record of one 
of the victims of these little pleasantries waiting 
for their author and pounding him into a jelly ; 
but no one ever seems to have had sufficient 
spirit. 

Besides the " King's Arms," there were the 
"Queen's Head," the "Bull," and the "White 
Bear " prominent among Coventry inns. The 
" Bull " stood where the Barracks are now 
situated, in Smithford Street, The "White 
Bear," in High Street, changed its sign in 1811 
to the " Craven Arms " ; a name it still retains. 
r lhe change was made out of compliment to the 
third Earl of Craven, who had then returned 
to live at Combe Abbey, a family seat near 
Coventry that had long been closed. His 
residence there brought much custom to the 
city and to the house. 

The old inn remains just as it was in coach- 
ing days. There are the long yard, with stables 
of Elizabethan date, and the solid red-brick 



THE "LAST POSTBOY 



293 



portions of the house, rebuilt in the time 
when George III. was King, facing the 
narrow passage. Fronting on the street, the 
building is of old white-painted plaster. It 
was in front of the " Craven Arms " that the 
fatal accident, already recounted, to Tom Peck, 
the guard of the " Eclipse " coach, happened. 
Opposite was one of the many coach offices ; 
the scene, perhaps, of that story of the little 
girl being booked over-night at half-price, as 
the custom was. Her elder sister took the seat 
in the morning, when the book-keeper remarked 
to her mother, "Your little girl has grown 
in the night." 

One of the last relics of old times went, 
unhonoured, in 1872, when the turnpike-gates 
on either side of Coventry were abolished ; and 
a long-enduring link was broken when Thomas 
Clarke died, in Coventry Hospital, April, 1899. 
Clarke was, according to the newspapers 
chronicling the event, the " oldest postboy in 
England." Not a few, also, proclaimed him to 
be "the last"; but last postboys have been 
dying in considerable numbers since then, and 
modest paragraphs in the daily papers still 
appear, now and again, recording the passing 
of another. The Last Postboy, indeed, is not 
yet, and those paragraphs are not uncommonly 
followed by letters from survivors, who are 
always found to write and claim the honour for 
themselves. They are as inexhaustible as the 
widoAv's cruise of oil, pieces of the True Cross, 



294 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

or relics of the saints in Roman Catholic 
churches. When the traveller of experience 
has seen the skull of St. Jerome in one place, 
he is not surprised to be shown another some- 
where else, for he has already seen five thigh 
bones of some other saint at different shrines, 
and knows that, if he perseveres, he will 
probably find some more. Just in the same 
way, there is always another postboy when the 
last has died. They were or are, we must 
perhaps say a long-lived race, all bone and 
gristle ; without a spare ounce of flesh for 
disease to fasten upon, and, inured for long 
years to hard work in all weathers, little affected 
in old age by the chills and bitter winds that 
carry off the less hardy among elderly folks. 
The coachman was of another kind. He sat on 
his box all the time, and grew fat in fingering 
the ribbons ; while the postboy bumped his 
flesh away on horseback. Did any one ever see 
a fat postboy? And was it not the exception 
for a coachman to be lean? His fatness long 
since carried off the last coachman of the old 
days, but the 

Three jolly postboys, drinking at the Dragon, 

who, in the words of the old chorus, " determined 
to finish off the flagon," are probably still 
living, in a hale and lean old age, although 
coaches, and chaises, and all the old life of the 
road have gone, and the " Dragon " itself no 
longer looks down the dusty highway. 



MR. PICKWICK AT COVENTRY 297 

Sixty years before, Clarke liad seen the 
railway come to Coventry, and bring many 
changes in its wake, among them the rebuilding- 
of the comfortable old inns. He was old enough 
to have driven Mr. Pickwick, or Mr. Pickwick's 
originator, on that remarkably wet journey from 
Birmingham to Towcester. It was probably at 
the old " King's Head " that the postchaise 
team was changed that night. When they 
stopped, the steam ascended from the horses in 
such clouds as wholly to obscure the ostler, 
whose A*oice was, however, heard to declare 
from the mist that he expected the first Gold 
Medal from the Humane Society, on their next 
distribution of awards, for taking the postboy's 
hat off; the water descending from the brim 
of which, the invisible gentleman declared, must 
inevitably have drowned him (the postboy) but 
for his great presence of mind in tearing- 
it promptly from his head, and drying the 
gasping man's countenance with a wisp of 
straw. 

Here it was that Sam Weller, "lowering 
his voice to a mysterious whisper," asked Bob 
Sawyer if he had ever " know'd a churchyard 
where there was a postboy's tombstone," or 
had ever seen a dead postboy." 

"No!" rejoined Bob, "I never did." 

"No!" rejoined Sam, triumphantly, "nor 
never will ; and there's another thing that 
no man never see, and that's a dead donkey. 
No man never see a dead donkey " ; adding 



29 8 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

that, " without goin' so far as to as-sert, as 
some wery sensible people do, that postboys 
and donkeys is both immortal, wot I say is 
this ; that wenever they feels theirselves gettin' 
stiff and past their work, they just rides off 
together, wun postboy to a pair in the usual 
way; wot becomes on 'em nobody knows, but 
its werry probable as they starts away to take 
their pleasure in some other vorld, for there 
ain't a man alive as ever see either a donkey 
or a postboy a-taking his pleasure in this ! " 

The " King's Head," as already hinted, 
has been rebuilt in the stained glass and glitter 
style, and is quite uninteresting, save for the 
effigy of " Peeping Tom," moved from the 
frontage of a neighbouring old house, peering 
curiously from an upper storey. 



XLV 

CROSSING the intersection of Hertford Street 
and Broad Gate at this point, the Holyhead 
Road leads out of Coventry by way of Smithford 
Street and Fleet Street. Before the revolution- 
ary time of Telford, it continued through Spoil 
End and Spon Gate and reached Allesley along 
the winding route now known as the " Old 
Allesley Road, passing two toll-gates on the 
way. The "new" road branches off to the 



TURNER'S COVENTRY >?0 i 

right immediately after passing St. John's 
church and, passing a long factory-like* row of 
old weavers' houses, and climbing uphill at 
first, goes afterwards flat and straight to 
Allesley, in two miles. "Windmill Hill," as 
it was called, was not a very exalted height, 
but from it in the old days a quite panoramic 
view of Coventry was obtainable. It is the 
view, now blotted out by intervening houses, 
seen in Turner's noble picture of the city. In 
it you see the hollow road, with St. John's 
tower at the bottom, and coaches toiling up, 
on the way to Birmingham ; in the distance the 
neighbouring spires of Trinity and St. Michael's, 
with Christ Church aloof, on the right. Turner 
took his stand on the hill-crest, where Meriden 
Street branches off to the right; but where 
the grassy banks then sloped steeply to the 
road, and the sheep roamed free, suburban 
villas now cover the hillside, the retaining walls 
of their gardens masking the rugged old earth - 
banks. 

A red-brick toll-gate marks the junction of 
old and new roads at the entrance of Allesley, 
a pretty roadside village on a hillside. There 
were at one time two very large and busy 
coaching inns here, the " Windmill " and the 
" White Lion," and here they stand even now ; 
not as inns, it is true, but structurally unaltered. 
Very handsome red-brick buildings they are. 
belonging to the Georgian and Queen Anne 
periods: the "White Lion," once famed for its 



3 o2 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

cheesecakes and home-brewed ale, prominent 
as the largest building in the village street, 
and now divided into two houses; the "Wind- 
mill" half a mile away, standing back in a 
meadow and used as a farmhouse. 

Meriden, the next item upon the way, is 
heralded by a steeply descending hill ; the 
village below, the church solitary upon the 
hill -top. Meriden church is quite a little 
museum of antiquities, and a well-kept one, 
with everything carefully labelled for the infor- 
mation of the chance visitor and the door 
unlocked. Here one finds the effigies of two 
worthy Warwickshire knights of the fifteenth 
century, a chained Prayer Book, and the pro- 
cessional staves of a bygone village club, 
together with a curious old oak alms-chest, 
dated 1627 and inscribed : 

This chest is God's exchequer, paye in then 
Your almes accepted both of God and men. 

" Mireden," as it was invariably called by old- 
time travellers, is situated on an " uncommonly 
deep " bed of clay in the hole at the foot of 
this hill. Pennant, the antiquary, is respon- 
sible for the statement that the village was 
named Alspath until the time of Henry VI., 
" about which time, becoming a great thorough- 
fare, it got the name of Myreden ' den ' 
signifying a bottom, and ' myre ' dirt ; and 
I can well vouch for the propriety of the 
appellation before the institution of turnpikes." 



MERIDEN ,03 

In his time, between 1739 and 1782, the 
road at Meriden had been so far improved that 
travellers no longer stuck in the clay. It had 
become a turnpike, and, on the testimony of 
Pennant, " excellent." But the crest of the hill 
had still to be climbed, and the depth of the 
valley to be descended into, before the advent 
of Telford, some forty years later, when the 
cutting on the hill-top and the embankment in 
the hollow were made. The old road a steep 
and narrow track is seen down below, on the 
right hand, in descending Meriden Hill, and 
beside it the old " Queen's Head," with frontage 
rebuilt in recent years. Meriden village lies in 
the succeeding level, with rural cottages on one 
side of the road, and the ponds and lilied water- 
courses of Meriden Park on the other; a village 
green beyond. The houses are still, as in 
Pennant's day " pretty " ; but in the course of 
a hundred and twenty years the " magnificent 
inn, famed from time immemorial for its ex- 
cellent malt liquor," has retired into private 
occupation, and the " various embellishments 
made by the old innkeeper, Reynolds little 
ponds, statues, and other whims," that used to 
enliven the spot, have been swept away by 
Time, like old Reynolds himself. 

There were in coaching days no fewer than 
eight inns and posting-houses of different degrees in 
Meriden. There are now but two inns : the " Bu 1 1's 
Head," formerly a farm-house, and the "Queen's 
Head," already mentioned. Among the vanished 



34 



THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 



signs are the "Nag's Head," -Malt Shovel," 
"Crown," and "Swan" (now a butcher's shop). 
The magnificent inn spoken of by Pennant was 
the old " Bull's Head '' ; whence the licence 
was transferred to the smaller house, now so 
named, at the time when coaching ceased to be. 
The old house is seen on the right hand, a very 
large, white-plastered building of good architec- 
tural character, now secluded from the road bv 




THE OLD "BULL'S HEAD," MEKIDEX. 

a wall and iron palisade, standing where the 
drive up to the inn was formerly placed. One 
of the entrances to and exits from the house in 
coaching and posting times was by the first-floor 
window, above where the portico, a later addition, 
is seen. The " Bull's Head " was an exclusive 
and aristocratic house, and preferred the top- 
saAvyers, who posted in their own " chariots," to 
those who travelled in hired chaises ; while for 
the mere passengers by mail or stage-coach it 



MKRIDEN CROSS 305 

had, at the hest, but a contemptuous tolerance. 
And, indeed, it must have been a lordly place, 
and, with its surrounding gardens, stables, and 
picturesque turretted clock-tower, more like a 
private mansion than a place of public resort. 
There is still in the turret a dilapidated set of 
chimes that can, with care and patience, be 
induced to hammer out a few scattered notes 
of a tune alleged to be that of " God Save the 
King," or Queen, as the case may be. 



XLVI 

MERIDEN is one of the many reputed " centres 
of England." Measure a straight line from the 
North Foreland to Holy head, and another from 
the Lizard to the mouth of the Humber, and 
their intersection will be at Meriden. With an 
irregularly shaped country like England, this is 
a somewhat empirical method, and the other 
reputed centres are evidently obtained by measur- 
ing from various places dictated by individual 
taste and fancy. 

The very hub of the country is held to be 
the ancient cross standing upon the village 
green shattered now, and bound together by 
iron bands. A modern legend that it was 
originally placed here to mark the centre has 
VOL. i. 20 



306 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

grown up, and by consequence it is sketched and 
photographed times without number throughout 
the year. 

The " Forest of Arden Archers," or the 
"Woodmen of Arden," as they sometimes style 
themselves, an ancient guild revived in 1785, 
and holding meetings at Forest Hall, near by, 
remind the forgetful traveller that, like Touch- 




MERIDEN CROSS. 



stone, he is in Arden, or, at any rate, on the 
outskirts of it, in passing through Meriden. 
Henley-in-Arden lies to the left, served by a 
station, bald of any poetic or romantic suggestion 
in the title of " Henley Junction." 

There remained, not so many years ago, an 
old inn called the " Up and Down Post," on the 
road between Meriden and Stonebridge. Its 
picture-sign, showing two posts, one standing, 



STONEBRIDGE 307 

the other fallen, quite misrepresented the true 
meaning of the name, which referred to the old 
system of posting along the roads. Probably the 
original sign was a picture showing the up and 
the down postboys meeting. 

The road now grows to a noble width ; a 
quiet road too, at any time but Saturdays and 
Sundays, when Birmingham and Coventry's all 
sorts of the cycling kind are let loose upon their 
eighteen miles between the two cities, and motor 
cars from afar whiten the hedgerows with dust. 
The old " Stonebridge " inn, at the crossing o! 
the Lichfielel and Leamington roads, has been 
gorgeously rebuilt, chiefly to meet the require- 
ments of these, and is now the " Stonebriduv 
Hotel." The "stone bridge" itself carries the 
road across a little stream called the Tame. 
Another inn, the "Malt Shovel," stands with its 
old stables in refreshing contrast with that 
ornate modern hostelry. 

A very little exertion will suffice to put the 
quiet man out of sight and hearing of the crowd. 
He has only to turn up the lane by the " Clock " 
inn and make for Eickenhill spire, less than a 
quarter of a mile away, and he will have the 
surroundings entirely to himself. 

Bickenhill church is very beautiful, but 
perhaps the most memorable thing connected 
with it is the notice exposed in the porch : 

It having been decided by the Court of 
Queen's Bench, and by the Court of Appeal, 
that artificial wreaths and glass cases placed 



3 o8 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

upon graves without sanction is an illegal act ; 
notice is hereby given that such must not be 
placed upon graves without first obtaining 
permission, and such will be regarded as 
Memorial Tablets, and the customary fees will 
be charged. 

The vicar's grammar would not have found 
favour with Lindley Murray; but speculations 
as to how an artificial wreath or a glass case 
can be made an act, illegal or otherwise, do not 
form the real interest of this notice. That is 
discovered in the spectacle of two judicial 
tribunals assuming the role of arbiters of taste, 
and elevating the placing of jampots, enamelled 
tin wreaths, and the like abominations on graves 
to illegality. No one can, without mingled feel- 
ings of disgust and pity, see the marmalade jars 
that have held water for flowers, or any artificial 
things displayed in places with such sacred and 
melancholy associations, but this would seem to 
be a question of taste, or the want of it, alone. 
It would not be a much greater stride for courts 
of law to determine in what kind of clothes 
parishioners should attend service. And- 
another matter. Without defending artificial 
flowers, are the decayed natural blossoms, 
shrivelled with heat, and soddened into an 
obscene and hideous pulp by rains, a pleasing 
sight? Is it not possible, after all, that the 
sense of permanency in a glass case or a glass 
chaplet is a soothing feeling to many a poor 
mourner who lacks "culture," but whose instincts 



THE SQUIRE OF PACKINGTON 311 

revolt from the rotting lilies and stephanotis 
of the hereaved rich ? 

Returning to Stonehri<l-e. the road to Coles- 
hill, and to Castle Bromwich and Lichneld will 
he seen branching off from the Holyhead Road. 
Here, until the middle of the eighteenth century, 
the traffic for Shrewsbury and Chester commonly 
turned off. After that date, not only Avere the 
roads through Birmingham and \VoIverlmmpton 
improved, but the places themselves grew into 
greater importance, and the old Chester Road, 
by consequence, decayed. By 1802 all the 
Chester coaches had deserted it, but the Liver- 
pool Mail came this way until the last, l.'p to 
1761 this was not the way to Coleshill at all. 
Until that year the road branched off at a point 
half a mile from Meriden, and lay through 
Packington Park. It was a straight and Hat 
road, and convenient for Coleshill, but offensive 
to Sir Clement Fisher, who then was the squire 
at Packington Hall. It passed within si^ht of 
his windows, and he relaxed no effort until an 
Act of Parliament was passed, stopping it up, 
and making the present hilly and eireuitons 
road in its stead. The preamble of the Act, 
stating that the old road was inconvenient and 
dangerous, is one of the most audacious false- 
hoods ever publicly stated. The old road ean 
still be traced in the Park, and standing beside 
it is an old tombstone, recording the fate ol' a 
London tailor struck by liglitninir when travelling 
this way. 



3 i2 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 



XLVII 

BUT enough of Packington. Let us on to 
Birmingham, now but nine miles distant, by 
Elmdon, Wells Green, and Yardley. 

Elmdon, were it not for that pretty roadside 
timber-framed inn, the ' Cock,' would be but 
a name and nothing else, so far as the road 
could show. Passing it, bid a long farewell, 
O traveller along the Holyhead Road, to the 
country, for in less than another two miles 
Wells Green is reached and Birmingham within 
hail. Thereafter, in nothing less than eighteen 
miles shall you see the hedgerows, the fields, 
and the quiet road again. Birmingham and the 
Black Country intervene, and not until, having 
gained and overpassed Wolverhampton, you 
ascend the heights of Tettenhall, will the sun 
be seen shining in a clear sky once more. 
Meanwhile, here is Wells Green, the last 
approach to the likeness of the country on this 
side of Birmingham, and by consequence a 
place of great half -holiday and Sunday resort. 
Midland cyclists are its chief patrons. Eor 
them the "Old Original" tea-house caters, for 
their custom also the "Ship," the "Lighthouse," 
and many more compete frantically among each 
other, attracting attention by large and elaborate 
models of ships, lighthouses, and other objects 
displayed beside the road. The two old roadside 
inns the "Wheatsheaf" and the "Crown" 






TO BIRMINGHAM 3,3 

have been ornately rebuilt; the "Crown" 
vulgarly. 

Beyond Wells Green the road enters an 
outlying portion of Worcestershire and comes 
to Yardley, a new-built Birmingham suburb, 
whose shops, dotted here and there by the 
wayside, alternate with barns, cow-houses and 
hedges, presently to give place to suburban 
streets and so provide those shops with customers. 
In the hollow succeeding Yardley, at Hay 
Mills, where a little stream runs, not yet 
completely polluted and decently buried from 
sight in a drain pipe, the mile's length of 
Worcestershire ends. Hay Mills now belies 
its idyllic name, for it is here that modern 
Birmingham definitely begins, and the smoke- 
cloud and traffic of that great city grow in 
density. 

Small Heath, Bordesley, Deritend, and Dig- 
beth, that are all comprised in the next two and 
a half miles, are now but the various names 
distinguishing what would otherwise be one 
long street, growing gradually more grimy and 
crowded : a hilly street, where hideous steam tram- 
ways, belching smoke and smuts, run noisily, like 
armoured trains, and where the few old gabled 
cottages that are left, to tell of times when 
this was a country road, are closely beset by 
modern houses, already hung with soot, like 
the cobwebs on bottles of old port. A dramatic 
change indeed from what Leland saw. when 

O 

he journeyed to Birmingham in 1538, and came 



3 i 4 THE HOLYHEAD ROAD 

"through as pretty a street as ever I en t red, 
into Bermingham towne. This street, as I 
remember, is called Dirtey." He meant Derit- 
end, which, if called " Dirtey " to-day would 
by no means be libelled. " Dirty End " would 
l)e an easy change from the real name of the 
squalid street, and equally descriptive of it. 

Wigstead in 1797 tells a tale very different 
from that of Leland. Instead of a " pretty 
street," he found an entrance "by no means 
prepossessing the traveller in its favour a 
confused mass of brick and tile rubbish piled 
together." Birmingham he thought to be an 
objectionable place. " Enveloped in an almost 
impenetrable smoky atmosphere," he says, " it 
is by no means an agreeable object to a 
picturesque eye." 



END OF VOL. I. 



Printed by HnxU, H'utton & Vincy, Ld., Londo.i and Aylr*l,vr,i. 




Harper, Charles George 
The Holyhead Road 



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