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Title: County and Town in England

Date of first publication: 1901

Author: Allen, Grant

Date first posted: August 12, 2014

Date last updated: August 12, 2014

Faded Page eBook #20140820

This eBook was produced by: David Edwards, Ron Tolkien & the online Distributed Proofreaders Canada team at http://www.pgdpcanada.net





Works by Mr. Grant Allen.
 The Evolution or the Idea of
  God: An Inquiry into the
  Origins of Religions. Crown
  8vo. Cloth. 7s. 6d. net.
  (Third Edition.)
 The European Tour. Crown 8 vo.
  Cloth. 6s.
 Twelve Tales: With a Headpiece,
  a Tailpiece, and an
  Intermezzo. Select Stories.
  Crown 8vo. Cloth. 6s.
  (Second Edition.)
Linnet: A Romance. Crown
  8vo. Cloth. 6s.
  (Fifth Edition.)
Miss Cayley’s Adventures.
  Illustrated by Gordon Browne.
  Crown 8vo. Cloth. 6s.
  (Second Edition.)
Hilda Wade. Illustrated by
  Gordon Browne. Crown
  8vo. Cloth. 6s.
An African Millionaire.
  Illustrated by Gordon Browne.
  Crown 8vo. Cloth. 2s.
  (Fifth Edition.)
Tom Unlimited: A Story for
  Children. Illustrated by
  Gertrude M. Bradley. Crown
  8vo. Cloth. 5s.
Grant Allen’s Historical
I. Paris. (Second Edition.)
II. Florence. (Second Edition.)
III. Cities of Belgium.
IV. Venice. (Second Edition.)
  Fcap. 8vo. Cloth, Rounded
  Corners. 3s. 6d. net each.
  9 Henrietta Street, Covent

Stanford’s Geogl Estabt  












The map of England is an epitome of English history, but it wants reading. This little book is an attempt by a man who had studied it lovingly to help others to get in the way of understanding it for themselves. The local story of an English county or town shows one many things that the ordinary history-books do not and often cannot attempt to notice. It makes their dry bones live. It gives meaning to a number of isolated and unconsidered facts. It has a charm of its own that attracts many who have not the opportunity of doing good historical work on a larger scale.

Grant Allen had special gifts for writing such a guide to local English history as this book really is. He had a good eye for the “lie of the land”; he was a perpetual observer, and a born expositor and interpreter. He had a first-hand knowledge of many of the documents on which much of our early history rests. He wrote brightly and clearly without seeking to efface his own individuality. He loved his subject for itself, and had thought it over in his many journeys and resting-places all over England.

It was a pleasant thing to go a walk with him. The country was to him a living being, developing under his eyes, and the history of its past was to be discovered from the conditions of its present. He would put[vi] himself into this past, as an historian must do, and could recognise the lines along which the changes had gone and were going. He could read much of the palimpsest before him. He was keen to note the survivals that are the key to so much that has now disappeared but that once existed. He was persevering and would keep a problem before him for years, watching for fresh evidence or seeking for better explanation of the evidence he already possessed. He never forgot or allowed you to forget that there is a great mass of extant historic evidence not to be found in books or even in vellums or papers. The object-lesson was dear to him, and he could make it a real means of education. Plants, trees, birds, beasts, insects, rocks and rivers, braes and banks, moors and marshes, the sea-shore and the high fells, each and all had a tale to tell, and he could translate more of the tale than most men. He had also the charm of being singularly wide-minded in historical matters (for, after all, history is a science, though a science in a rather rudimentary stage), and he was ready to test his most cherished theories and reject them if he found they would not stand the trial. Like Freeman, he was always open to conviction, and grateful to any one who would give him fresh light.

None of his books can give the whole effect of his educative quality; for the good teacher must be face to face with his pupil if he would exert his full influence; but they give an idea of the pains he took to see things truly himself and make others see them for themselves. I know that I learnt much from him, and that I shall always regret that we had so few opportunities of late years of talking things over together. He was the first English historian to put forward in a convincing way the fact that the Teutonic element is not the only important[vii] element (perhaps not even the chief element) in the present population. He welcomed the arrival of the “præ-celtic theory,” which he had foreseen. He first showed his generation clearly that the results of archæology and anthropology must take their due place even in our English school histories and “popular” history books. He had nothing of the acute Teutonismus or Morbus Germanicus that came of the too absolute acceptance as oracles of certain anti-Gallic North German historians. He cared greatly about the economic and social conditions that have such immense weight as determinants in the progress of a nation. His strong political views and his Spencerian religion did not hamper him in historical matters, such as those with which this book is concerned, though they sometimes manifest themselves in a kind of appendicular form, as when he condemns his own college, Merton and Christchurch,—the college of many of his friends (on grounds I consider wholly mistaken), or when he eulogises the imaginary manufacturer at the expense of the equally imaginary landed proprietor, typifying one as a Nabal, the other as an Abigail (a conclusion to the making of which there has obviously gone much debatable matter). But those little “excursions and alarums,” idiosyncrasies which I have scrupulously left as they stood (though I daresay if Allen had edited his own book he would have left them out in his riper judgment), have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the chapters in which they occur, or with the investigations on which the whole work is based.

The first two parts of this book, Towns and Counties, are complete as far as they go, though the tale of a few counties and of many towns is not told, as I hoped while Allen lived that it might have been; but he never[viii] found time to write more, nor opportunity of making the needful personal acquaintance with the places he had determined to write upon. For he would not write of a place without having seen it, sharing in this the practice of Freeman, who once told me he had never written in detail of a place he had not seen save Arques, where, as he said, he accordingly made mistakes that five minutes’ eyesight would have saved him from. But the places Allen had seen were so varied, were, in fact, such “typical developments,” that it will be an easy task for those with the requisite local knowledge and trained enthusiasm to carry out his work on its present scale to the few remaining counties and the rest of the big and famous towns of England.

The Chronicles of Churnside, with which this volume ends, is a piece of reconstruction such as Viollet-le-duc once worked out for a typical North French stronghold, but it had never, I think, been attempted for an English district by an English historian. The sketch map will show the reader the particular district chosen by Allen, a district with which he was peculiarly well acquaint. The harmless device of fancy names was necessary to the plan he had formed; which was not to give a history of part of Dorset but to set forth a typical specimen of an English countryside in its gradual development from savage times to Victorian days. To do this in a series of short articles was not at all easy, but it seems to me that this Chronicle is a successful achievement of what it was meant to be—a piece of popular scientific exposition. It is the kind of work that a reader who cares at all about the past of his own country will certainly find stimulating; it should make him ask himself a lot of questions, it must show him gaps in his local knowledge and in the sources of knowledge he has at his com[ix]mand. It is intended, indeed, to make him think, and if it does this it will do what Allen wished it to do.

The teacher’s office is, as he conceived it, first to make his pupils see and then to make them think correctly on what they see and remember, and he was never weary of teaching. He had his message and he delivered it. He could not help it. Hence his scientific writing never sunk into the second-hand stale stuff that is so plentifully retailed: it was always based on personal convictions acquired by his own work or by his own testing of other men’s work, and he would not write in a way or on a thing he did not really care about. He preferred, if money had to be earned, to earn it by regular fiction rather than by second-hand or make-believe science. The ease with which his writing can be read is by no means an index of the amount of work on which these vivid chapters are founded. It cost their author thought and pains to make his readers’ task plain and pleasant, and he never grudged taking trouble. He was not a superficial man. Though this present book and his Anglo-Saxon Britain are alone left to attest his interest in the history of his country, one feels sure, that, had he possessed the necessary time and means, he would have materially advanced certain portions of this great and wide subject. I can remember long talks in which he was full of suggestions; lively discussions wherein difficulties were at least thoroughly faced; critical disquisitions, serious and subtle, upon the authorities; hard questions eagerly and honestly debated. The stealing hours of time slipped swiftly by with Allen when the talk was of history. He had the real worker’s sympathy with any one who was trying to push on his subject, and things often seemed clearer and more hopeful after an hour or two with him even when he[x] had been able to give no direct help to the solving of the problem on hand:—

My sorrow for the friend that is gone,
And there remains to me only his shadow, the memory of him!

The chapters that make up this book were first printed in the Pall Mall Gazette, 1881-82. I asked Grant Allen more than once to reprint them, and he would have done so had he lived to complete them. We must all regret that he has not been able even to prepare them for publication. It has been left to me to see them through the press, and I have done so without making any changes save those marked by brackets. These only touch points which, in my judgment, could not have been left in the text without stereotyping certain errors that the author would surely have corrected as a matter of course. Where theories merely are in question I have left the text as it stood, sometimes adding a bracketed query to warn the reader. I have not even removed a certain number of the repetitions made inevitable by the originally serial mode of production, for to do so would be to recast the work rather than edit it. Editing, like translation, must often be a compromise. I want my friend’s work to stand as he left it; but I also want it to stand as he would have left it had he been printing it now. Several sentences, I know, he meant to alter, as I have done, duly marking the change. History moves, hypotheses that hold the field to-day may be overthrown as fancies or established as verities to-morrow; new evidence crops up and compels attention, dim features in our reconstruction of the past become more clear, or fruitful relations between isolated facts are discovered. But “corrections” are few. I have not been able to identify every spot in the Chronicles, but the rough map will[xi] enable the reader to see the general lie of the land, the direction of the roads, and the old sites in the neighbourhood.

For an index there is no need, as the table of contents will in this case supply its place exactly enough. Notes I have not added, nor do I see that they are wanted. Allen was careful not to overload his explanations, he liked to make his points sharply and leave a definite impression in each paragraph and chapter. To try and do more than he saw fit to do would, it seems to me, alter the character of the book. He wrote these studies for the general reader, and he knew the general reader well, and esteemed him more than most writers do: and it is to the general reader that I confidently commend his book, which, for my own part, I have found both suggestive and interesting.

It is not needful that I should keep the reader, if indeed he be one of the courteous and wise minority that peruses prefaces, any longer from the book itself. I am glad to have done what very slight service I could for the work of a man whose generous, sincere, and unselfish qualities I admired, in whose friendship I delighted, and of whom I shall not cease to cherish the remembrance.

We Men who in our morn of youth defied
The elements, must vanish;—be it so!
Enough, if something from our hands have power
To live, and act, and serve the future hour.


Christchurch, Oxford,
March 29, 1901.



    Introduction. What is a County? 3
I.   South-East
    Sussex 8
    Kent and Surrey   13
II.   Wessex
    Hampshire 18
    Wilts and Berks   22
    Dorset   26
    The Isle of Portland 31
    Somerset 35
III   South-West
    Devon 41
    Cornwall 46
IV.   West Midlands
    Gloucestershire   51
    Herefordshire 56
    Shropshire   61
V.   North-West
    Cheshire  66
    Lancashire   70
[xiv]   Cumberland                                                      75
VI.   South Midlands
    Oxfordshire 81
    Bedfordshire   86
VII.   North Midlands
    Huntingdonshire and Northamptonshire   91
    Nottinghamshire 96
    Rutland   101
    Derbyshire 104
VIII.   North-East
    Lincolnshire   110
    Yorkshire 115
    Northumberland and Durham 120
IX.   East
    Norfolk and Suffolk   125
    Cambridgeshire and Ely 130
    Introduction. The Origin of English Towns 139
I.   East
    St. Albans 144
    Colchester  149
    Norwich   155
II.   North
    York    161
    Newcastle-on-Tyne 172
    Manchester and Salford 177
III.   South
    Salisbury 183
[xv]   Maiden Castle and Dorchester   188
IV.   South-East
    Hastings and St. Leonards 194
    Brighton   199
V.   South-West
    Bath   204
    Wells and Taunton 208
    Tavistock and Plymouth 213
    Exeter 217
I.   King’s Peddington 225
II.   Manbury Castle 230
III.   The Roman Road 235
IV.   The Roman Villa 239
V.   Peddington and Churney 244
VI.   Sherborne Lane 248
VII.   Danes’ Hill 253
VIII.   Domesday Book 257
IX.   The Stone Pier 261
X.   Churney Abbey 265
XI.   The Decline and Fall of King’s Peddington 270






Among the many curious fables which pass current for history, one of the most curious is that which attributes to Alfred the Great the division of England into counties. The truth is, however, that all the stories which make up the ordinary idea of his life are, without exception, either false or destitute of authority. Alfred did not win a prize for reading at twelve years old; he did not burn the cakes in the neatherd’s cottage; he did not found the University of Oxford; and he did not divide England into counties. The bare notion of such a division, indeed, is in itself ridiculous. If any one were to say that St. Louis partitioned France into provinces, we should at once see the absurdity of the statement; but when the corresponding absurdity is asserted about England, most Englishmen fail to recognise its impossibility. We know that the kingdom of France grew by the gradual absorption of Normandy and Brittany, of Guienne and Burgundy, of Provence and the Dauphine, because the absorption took place late in the Middle Ages; but we forget that the kingdom of England grew through the amalgamation of Kent and Sussex, Cornwall and Devon, Northumbria and Lindsey, because the amalgamation took place almost before the period when most of us begin to feel a living interest in history at all. But to speak of the counties being made is hardly less absurd than it would[4] be to say that Queen Anne separated Great Britain into England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. The real fact is that the counties were united, not that they were divided: they represent old independent communities, now merged into a larger whole, not parts artificially cut off from such a whole. They are like the Swiss cantons rather than like the French departments. Certainly, if any one had ever undertaken to map out England into administrative subdivisions, it could not have been Alfred; for Alfred was never King of more than Wessex and its dependencies south of Thames, with a small fragment of south-western Mercia. All England north of London and Oxford then belonged to the Dane; the whole west coast still belonged to the Welshman; and even Devon and Cornwall still remained independent under their own British chiefs. The counties are in part far earlier, and in a few cases a good deal later, than Alfred’s time.

The truth is that our shires have grown; and it is this natural growth which renders their history so interesting. Their boundaries generally represent the old boundaries of tribes or kingdoms; and even their irregularities often point back to historical or prehistoric conquests—to isolated colonies of one folk in the territory of another, or to intrusive wedges of invading people cutting off one little corner of a hostile tribe from the remainder of its lands. Some of them preserve for us the frontiers of early English kingdoms; some of them keep up the memory of Danish hosts, who settled down in some little principality as independent commonwealths; some of them even retain the names and limits of ancient British tribes; a few date far later, and recall only some administrative regulation of the Conqueror or his Angevin successors. In the south, many of the shires are coincident with the first Teutonic kingdoms, which were originally far more numerous than seven. Kent keeps the boundaries of two early Jutish principalities; Sussex is the land of the South Saxons, Middlesex of the Middle Saxons, Essex of the East Saxons. Norfolk and Suffolk are the[5] North and South Folks of the East English. Surrey, or Suthrige, is the South Kingdom beyond the Thames: often, but no doubt erroneously, supposed to have been a dependency of Sussex; for in that case we might surely expect it to be called Northrige or Norrey, in reference to the parent State—just as the north-western county of Scotland is called Sutherland, because it lay south from the earldom of Orkney, to which it belonged. Wessex, on the other hand, is portioned out into several shires, which mark the successive conquests of the West Saxon settlers. Hampshire, or the county of Southampton (containing the original capital of Winchester, long the royal city of England), coincides with the first principality of the Gewissas, the nucleus of the whole West Saxon State. Dorsetshire is the land of the Dorsæte, the settlers among the Durotriges, whose semi-Celtic descendants still occupy the whole county. Somerset and Devonshire are the territories of the Sumorsæte and Defnsæte, Saxon freebooters, who similarly won themselves dominion over the conquered and enslaved Damnonii. Each of these West Saxon counties long preserved its own ealdorman; and their complete union under a single overlord at Winchester was probably a comparatively late event. Even after Alfred’s time they kept up many traces of their original local independence.

In the midlands and the north, again, the counties are mostly of Danish or later origin. There the shires group themselves as a rule pretty evenly round their county towns, from which they take their names; while the town stands about the centre of the roughly circular county. Instead of a square Sussex with Chichester in one corner, instead of an irregular Devonshire with Exeter on its outer verge, instead of an angular Berkshire with Reading in a bend of its boundary, we get counties like Warwickshire, Derbyshire, and Nottinghamshire, lying around towns of the same names—Warwick, Derby, Nottingham. These shires represent the burgs of the Danes, small hosts of whom settled in the chief towns, and took the surrounding country for[6] their domain. Forming loose confederacies, as the Five Burgs and Seven Burgs, they long held out against the West Saxon conquerors; and when at last they submitted to Edward or Edgar, they retained their own lawmen and kept their own boundaries. Yorkshire is the kingdom of the great Danish host in York; while Northumberland, now so curiously misnamed, represents the last fragment of the old Christian Northumbrian realm which held out successfully under the Lords of Bamborough against the heathen intruders. Once, indeed, it also included the Lothians; but when that tract was ceded by Dunstan to Kenneth, King of the Gaelic Scots, the name of Northumberland, formerly given to the whole country between Humber and Forth, was restricted to the little central belt between Tyne and Tweed. Durham is even a later creation, the county palatine of the prince-bishop upon whom William bestowed the patrimony of St. Cuthbert. As to the western counties, from Cumberland to Cornwall, they have grown up from sundry conquests over the Welsh, and they mark on the whole the gradual extension of the direct English dominion over the formerly semi-independent chieftains of Cymric Britain.

It is curious, too, how irregularly the growth and recognition of the shires has taken place. Wight was long a separate Jutish kingdom, conquered at last by the West Saxons. Another Jutish kingdom, that of the Meon-waras, now forms part of Hampshire. Kent is in modern times a single county; but it once consisted of two independent principalities—those of the East and West Kentings—which still form two dioceses, with their cathedrals at Canterbury and Rochester respectively. The North and South Folk of the East English have obtained rank as separate shires; while the people of Lindsey, Holland, and Kesteven, together with the Gainas (who had their own ealdorman and their capital at Gainsborough) have all been rolled into the one modern county of Lincoln, probably because all were united under a single Danish host. Nobody knows when or how little Rutland became a county; while[7] Yorkshire, for all its size and its Ridings, and for all its older principalities, too, of Elmet, Craven, Cleveland, Holderness, and Hallamshire, remains a single shire to the present day. Westmorland still formed part of the same great county at the date of Domesday, and only gained its existing rank at a later period. As a rule, however, every shire represents an old independent commonwealth; and from the coalescence of these commonwealths we get first the kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia, and Northumbria, and afterwards the kingdom of England. Sometimes, indeed, the existing county itself results from the still earlier coalescence of still smaller and more shadowy principalities. Thus the evolution of each county—the steps by which it became a county and the causes which produced it—throws an immense amount of light upon our very earliest and most unwritten history. And as everybody has an interest in at least one county, such an inquiry is also full of personal elements, as helping us better to understand the origin and nature of the smaller communities whereof each of us is a product and an outcome. The history of our county is the ethnographical and genealogical formula for ourselves. It is a valuable fragment of our prehistoric and irrecoverable pedigree.





Of all the English counties Sussex is the most typical and the most natural perhaps. Its physical features mark it out at once as a distinct and separate whole; and its history shows it as always an independent kingdom or a well-demarcated shire, preserving the self-same essential boundaries throughout its entire existence. A great spur of chalk, forming the range of the South Downs, diverges from the main boss of Salisbury Plain near the western limits of the county, and runs through it like a backbone till it topples over at last into the sea at the sheer precipices of Beachy Head. Between the Downs and the coast a narrow line of lowland fringes the shore—a mere sloping belt between the foot of the main range and the sea, ending at Brighton—and this belt, small as it is, comprises the whole of the real historical Sussex: a long line or procession of seaport villages and open meadows or cornfields, jammed in between the ever-narrowing Downs and the ever-encroaching waters of the Channel. On their northern side, again, the Downs descend by a steep escarpment into the wide open valley of the Weald, familiar to most people in the broad view from the summit of the Devil’s Dyke. Between the North and South Downs, the chalk which once covered the valley has been worn away by denudation, and the[9] interval is occupied by the soft, muddy, weald clay, and the harder beds of Hastings sand. This wide tract of two wealden formations extends along the whole northern edge of the county from the Downs to the boundaries of Kent and Surrey, and from Petersfield, in Hants, till it slides under the sea at Pevensey, Hastings, and the Romney Marshes. For many ages the whole of the Sussex Weald was untilled and uncleared—a great stretch of forest, known to the Romans as the Silva Anderida and to the early English as the Andredesweald. Its cold clay can support little more than trees, and even in our own day it is scantily cultivated. In earlier times, however, the belt of forest which grew above it was dense and trackless; and it formed a complete barrier to intercourse with all other parts of the country, sweeping round in a great crescent, as it did, from the marshy region about Chichester and Hayling, along the whole northern face of the South Downs, till it met the sea again at Rye and Winchelsea. It is this isolation of Sussex by the Weald and the marshes which makes its history so peculiar and yet so typical.

Even the neolithic inhabitants of Sussex, who have left us their polished flint implements at Cissbury Hill, near Worthing, must have formed, one would suppose, a single united tribe. Their boundaries must almost necessarily have been determined for them by the Downs and the Weald in the rear, and by the marshy tracts about Chichester and Romney at either end. At any rate, those were the limits of the Celtic Regni at the Roman conquest; and their villages must have been confined to the coastwise slope between Chichester and Brighton, and to the rich little valley of the Ouse about Lewes. So completely isolated was this strip of shore, south of the Weald, that the Romans allowed the native chief to rule over his ancestral dominions, and thus left Sussex pretty much to its original independence. When the English pirates began to attack Britain, Sussex was one of their earliest settlements. Its isolation made it easy to conquer, just as the isolation of East Anglia, cut off from the rest of England by the then impassable[10] fens, made it, too, one of the first vanquished regions. The story of the conquest, told us in the myths of the English Chronicle, has yet a certain verisimilitude of its own which gains confidence in spite of critical doubts. Four Saxon chieftains landed from their keels at Keynor in the Bill of Selsea—just one of those peninsular spots (enclosed between Chichester and Pagham harbours) such as the sea-robbers always used for their first attacks—and thence they proceeded to storm and capture the Roman fortress of Regnum, on the site of Chichester. “Some of the Welsh they slew,” says the Chronicle, “and the rest they drave into the wood hight Andredeslea.” For seven years after their coming they kept to the western half of the county, probably to the immediate neighbourhood of their new capital, Chichester; but in the eighth year they again fought the Welsh, and took the coast-line, apparently, as far as Brighton and Lewes. Still the Roman fort of Anderida, or Pevensey, held out in the east, guarding the lowlands; till at last, fourteen years after the first landing, “Ælla and Cissa beset Anderida, and offslew all that were therein, nor was there after even one Briton left.” From that time forth, in all probability, the whole of Sussex became united under a single overlordship; and the overlords had their chief seat at Chichester.

So much the legend tells us: but the facts themselves, as enshrined in local nomenclature and in the blood of the people, tell us a great deal more. That the English invaders were Saxons, not Jutes or pure restricted English, is clear from the very name of Suth Seaxe, afterwards softened down into Suth Sexe and Sussex. Here, as elsewhere, too, the name is really the name of a people, not of a district. Suth Seaxe means “the South Saxons,” and Sussex is merely a corruption of that form. The name of the commonwealth is the name of the folk. That the Saxons settled pretty numerously in Sussex is quite clear from the large number of English clan-names preserved in the names of the modern towns or villages. The extreme eastern corner—practically an island, shut in by the sea, the[11] Romney marshes, the Pevensey marshes, and the Weald—was settled by the Hastingas, whose chief seat is still known as Hastings. No doubt this was at first a separate little principality, only slowly absorbed by the lords of Chichester; and it remains to this day a separate rape. In the western slope, between the downs and the sea, English clan-names are very common. We get them at Worthing, Lancing, Patching, Angmering, Goring, Tarring, and Climping, in the simple form. The tuns of the Rustingas and the Fortingas survive in Rustington and Fortington: the hams of other clans in Beddingham, Etchingham, and Pallingham. Among the deans and hoes of the downs, we still find Rottingdean, Ovingdean, and Piddinghoe. In the Selsea district and around Chichester, the clans clustered thickly: we get their memorials at East and West Wittering, Oving, Donnington, Funtington, and many others. The fertile valley of the Ouse, whose capital at Lewes was always of great importance throughout the Middle Ages, formed another great centre for Teutonic colonisation. There we find Bletchington, Tarring, Beddingham, Malling, Chillington, and several more of like sort: while the little dale just below Beachy Head contains no fewer than ten village names of the English clan type. Beyond the downs, in the forest of the Weald, the English settled but sparingly; though even here we get a fair sprinkling of such names as Billinghurst, Itchingfield, and Fletching. Their terminations in field, hurst, ley, and den generally show that these outlying settlements were not regular colonies, hams or tuns, but mere clearings for swineherds and hunters in the great sheet of forest. Taken as a whole, however, Sussex is one of the most purely Teutonic counties in England: though many traces of Celtic blood still survive among the labouring classes, particularly in the Weald. It is usual to look upon the destruction of Anderida as typical of the fate which fell upon all the Britons of Teutonic England; but even in this, the most Saxon shire of Britain, the dolichocephalic skulls, the dark hair, and the brunette complexions of a[12] few at least among the peasantry betoken the survival of some small remnant of the ancient race.

The consolidation of the Hastingas with the Chichester tribes is quite prehistoric. When first we hear of Sussex we hear of it as an independent and united kingdom. Separated as it was from the rest of Britain, it was the last of the English principalities to receive Christianity, nearly a hundred years after the conversion of Kent. And even when it was finally evangelised, the preachers came, not from the neighbouring Christian kingdoms of Kent or Wessex which hemmed it in on either side, but from over sea. The mark with which every English kingdom was accustomed to protect itself was, in the case of forest-girt and marsh-encircled Sussex, so effectual that the earliest missionaries came from Ireland, and established their monastery at Bosham, near Chichester. As usual, the king and queen were the first converts. Afterwards, Wilfred of York, wrecked upon the Bill of Selsea, completed the conversion of the people—or at least brought them into orthodox communion with Rome; and he placed the first Sussex cathedral at Selsea itself, now covered by the encroachment of the sea. After the Norman Conquest it was removed to Chichester, the capital town, in accordance with the Norman habit of combining the centres of ecclesiastical and political organisation. Sussex remained an independent principality till its conquest by Wessex; and even then it continued to have under-kings of its own, until its royal line became extinct. When the kingly House of Wessex raised itself to complete supremacy by its resistance to the Danes, it was still the custom for these smaller kingdoms to be bestowed as titular monarchies upon West Saxon princes, who governed them as vicegerents of the King at Winchester—just as the eldest son of our modern Sovereigns bears the title of Prince of Wales, and is actually Duke of Cornwall. So Sussex dropped gradually from the rank of a kingdom to that of a shire, and came to be amalgamated with the rest of England. Still, all through the Middle Ages the strip of coast was largely cut off[13] from the inland districts and the capital by the barrier of the Weald; and it was not till the reign of Elizabeth that that dividing belt began to be largely cleared for the iron-smelting. Thus it is quite clear why Sussex is a separate county, and why its boundaries should be what they are. It may be accepted as the best typical instance of the English shire, as the modern representative of an old independent Teutonic commonwealth, still possessing a certain local independence and integrity of its own.


The right of Kent to rank as a county is quite as clear as that of Sussex. Indeed, in some respects Kent has almost a higher claim. By common tradition it is the oldest Teutonic settlement in England. It consists not merely of an old kingdom, but of two old kingdoms united into one; and it contains the chief metropolitan see of all England—Canterbury. It differs from Sussex in one respect, however, that it is not so naturally demarcated in its physical features, so that its position is rather historical and artificial than essentially dependent upon its very form. Kent (like its sister county) consists of a great rudely-central chalk mass, the North Downs, a spur of the main lump which makes up Salisbury Plain; with a slope to seaward on one side, and a dip into the Weald valley on the other. But the seaward slope descends to the estuary of the Thames; and this, with the fan-shaped expansion of the chalk from Margate to Dover, makes up the greater part of the historical shire. The wild forest tract, from Tunbridge Wells to Cranbrooke and the Dungeness marshes, forming the old mark against Sussex, has never been thickly peopled, nor entered largely into the life of the county. Indeed, the very name of Kent is the Celtic Caint, the lowlands, and refers originally only to the open stretch of land along the river from Sheppey to London. The submerged bank off Sheerness is still[14] known to sailors as the Cant. This riverside belt alone was the district of the old Cantii, whose name now survives in that of the first Teutonic shire in England.

In the extreme east of the county the high chalk mass which culminates in the North Foreland is cut off from the rest of the range by the dip of Minster Level, through which the Stour runs lazily in an obstructed channel to the sea. But in older times the Level was a broad arm of the estuary, known as the Wansum, cutting off the Isle of Thanet (which the Celts called Ruim) from the mainland. In spots like these the Northern pirates always loved to land; and we know that long after, during the Danish invasions, the “heathen men first sat over winter on Thanet,” and then on Sheppey. Hence there is nothing improbable in the legend which makes the very mythical Hengest and Horsa land on this island, near Ruim’s-gate, the passage or opening through the cliffs into Ruim, at the place which we latter-day English now call Ramsgate. The story goes that the English were invited over as allies by a Romano-British Prince, and were first settled in Thanet. But, getting dissatisfied with their pay, they suddenly crossed to the mainland and drove the Welsh army over the Medway. In some such way, no doubt, the kingdom of East Kent was founded, with its capital at the old Roman station on the Stour, now renamed by the English as Cant-wara-byrig or Kent-men’s-bury, which we to-day call Canterbury. This earliest principality extended probably only from Rochester to Sandwich, between the river and the Downs; and it was some years before the Roman coast fortresses of Dover and Lymne made terms with the heathen invaders. According to the legend, West Kent must date a little later. Two years after the battle of Aylesford, which gave the English the eastern half of the shire, another horde of pirate Eotes or Jutes crossed the Medway, and drove the Welsh over the Cray. “The Britons then forlet Kentland,” says the English Chronicle, “and with mickle awe fled to Lunden-bury.” That is to say, they gave up the lowland strip along the river,[15] and took refuge in the walled Roman city on the Thames. But many of them must still have held out in the woodlands; while others became slaves of the English conquerors. It is significant that the Jutes who settled in this part of England never took their own name of Jute-kin, but adopted the title of the conquered race and became Kent-men. Their capital was the Kent-men’s bury; and their descendants yet possess many traces in their personal appearance of mixed Celtic blood. Nor must we forget that they received Christianity before any other English tribe, and that Augustine on his arrival found their King married to a Christian Frankish Princess, whose Bishop and chaplain performed service in the old Roman church of St. Martin at Canterbury. All these facts seem to show that the heathen English did not entirely kill out the native Christian Britons, as so many of our historians, with not wholly convincing force of reiteration, contend.

The East Kentings and the West Kentings are said to have formed separate communities till the days of Ethelbert, the first Christian English King, who united them into a single kingdom. In the eighth century, however, they broke up again into two principalities; and even during the earlier period the people of the several divisions must have considered themselves as distinct, since each had its separate bishopric, the one at Canterbury and the other at Rochester. Nay, within these petty principalities themselves we see traces of still earlier and smaller independent chieftainships, each no doubt representing the territory of an original colonising pirate-leader. About the end of the eighth century Kent became merged in Wessex; but it still retained its separate existence, and formed an appanage of the West Saxon kingdom, bestowed as a fief (to use the convenient terms of later feudalism) upon a son of the royal House of Winchester. Ealhmund, father of Egbert (so-called first king of all England) was thus under-king of Kent. For a time the principality passed beneath the Mercian supremacy, first under a native prince, and then under the Mercian Cynewulf himself;[16] but when Egbert made himself overlord of all Southumbrian England, he bestowed the titular sovereignty and real ealdormanship of Kent upon his own son Ethelwulf. During the Danish troubles the petty kingdoms forgot their differences in their common resistance to the heathen; and when Ethelbert, last titular king of the Kentings, was chosen to the kingship of the West Saxons, Kent itself became in reality a mere shire of Wessex. Even during the Danish wars, however, we hear of the East and West Kentings as distinct communities. Of course, the peculiar position of Canterbury as the ecclesiastical metropolis of England is due merely to the accident of Augustine’s mission. Gregory the Great originally intended that England should be divided into two archiepiscopal provinces, with their sees at London and York; but the comparative failure of Augustine’s efforts—only Kent itself and Essex were converted during his lifetime—prevented the carrying out of this comprehensive scheme; so that Augustine was necessarily consecrated to the see of Canterbury alone, which has ever since remained the metropolis of the English Church.

The way in which Surrey came to rank as a shire is far more obscure. We know so little about its first settlement, and it passed so early under the dominion of other principalities, that we can only guess at the mode of its original organisation. A wild hilly tract, for the most part composed of high chalk downs, heathy Bagshot beds, or low Weald clay, it offered few inducements to the English settlers, who generally took up their abode in the rich alluvial lowland pastures and cornfields of the river valleys. Accordingly, the marks of Teutonic colonisation in Surrey are few and far between. While Sussex has sixty-eight village names of the English clan-type, and while Kent has sixty, Surrey has only eighteen. The hundreds tell us much the same tale. Each of these originally represented the land occupied by one hundred [120] free English households: they were guilds of freeholders, for purposes of defence and mutual protection, numbering about one hundred [120] members[17] each. Now Sussex has 61 hundreds, and Kent has 62; but Surrey has only 13. The close coincidence of these two tests would seem to show that the English settled in Surrey but very sparsely. The few clan-villages are mostly in the immediate neighbourhood of London and the river—as at Newington and Kennington; while of those farther inland some bear the forest terminations ley and field. However, Surrey must have been originally an independent Teutonic principality, as its very name of Suthrige or Suthrege shows. Bede calls it Sudergeona terra; the Charters, Sudregona terra. Moreover, the name must have been given it with reference to the position of London, or at least of Middlesex, not to that of Sussex. Yet the folk, as a folk, have no name; it is not a community, but a district. We never hear distinctly of kings of Surrey; but it had subreguli, or ealdormen, in later times, one of whom signed the charter to Chertsey Abbey; and, if we may judge by the analogy of Kent and Sussex, these subreguli would be the successors of the native kings under a foreign overlordship. When we first hear of the shire, however, it was already ruled by Essex; and it passed at last, like all the rest of Southern England, under the sway of the West Saxon kings. Indeed, the silence about Surrey is always remarkable, as might be expected from its very wild and rough condition. It is only in quite modern times that proximity to London has made it one of the most populous and wealthy of English counties. As a whole, it still remains, so far as we can guess, an example of a shire having its origin in an early kingdom.





The county of Southampton, as legal phraseology still words it, represents to some extent a middle term between the natural shires which were old English kingdoms, like Kent or Sussex, and the artificial shires mapped out arbitrarily by the Danish conquerors round their military posts, like Nottinghamshire and Northamptonshire. In a certain sense, indeed, it may be said that Hampshire is the real original nucleus of the British Empire—the primitive State which has gradually expanded till it spread out from Hants into Wessex, from Wessex into England, from England into the United Kingdom, and from the United Kingdom into that great world-wide organisation, which includes India and South Africa on the one hand, with half North America on the other. For it was the princes of Winchester who grew into the Kings of the West Saxons, and these again who rose to be overlords of the whole Isle of Britain. As late as the days of William the Conqueror, Winchester still remained the royal city, the capital of all England. It is this continuity with the whole story of the past in England that gives Hampshire such a special interest as the real germ of the entire existing British monarchy.

Yet even Hampshire itself is a compound of three earlier and somewhat shadowy principalities, whose[19] very memory has now almost died out beyond the reach of antiquarian research. At the date of the English conquest, three separate bodies of Teutonic pirates settled down on this exposed stretch of southern coast. As the first English who colonised Kent seized upon insular Thanet for their earliest conquest, so the first English who colonised Wessex seem, naturally enough, to have begun by occupying the Isle of Wight. They were Jutes from Jutland, like the Kentish men, and they had their capital at Carisbrooke, whose old English name signifies the Bury of the Men of Wight. The great opposite inlet of Southampton Water forms just one of those long and tempting fiords, giving access into the heart of the country, which the northern corsairs loved to use for their landing-places; and here a second body of Jutes settled down in the forest region then known as Netley, and stretching from Christchurch to the tidal flats of Hayling Island. The county of the Isle of Wight still retains for some purposes the rank of a separate shire; but this second Jutish principality has now wholly lost every sign of its original independence, and has merged completely into the general mass of modern Hampshire. The name of its people, the Meon-waras, survives at present only in the parishes of East and West Meon and of Meon Stoke. But the third petty kingdom, that of the Gewissas, has had a very different fortune; for its chieftains have gradually risen, by successive stages, to be kings of all England and of the entire British Empire. The Gewissas were English of the Saxon tribe, and arriving in Britain probably at a later date than their Jutish brothers, they pushed inward to the corn-growing plain of the Test and Itchin, guarded by the great Roman city of Winchester, where Cerdic, their leader, if there ever was a Cerdic, fixed his home. The boundaries of these three little pirate tribes must have coincided in the main with those of the existing shire. By slow degrees, however, the princes of Winchester made themselves masters of the two lesser and neighbouring chieftainships. The Jutes of the mainland seem soon to have[20] coalesced with them; while Wight, which maintained its independence longer, was at last annexed after a bloody war. The kings of the West Saxons, as the Winchester princes now began to call themselves, were thus supreme masters of all Hampshire. The county, accordingly, owes its present shape to the conquest of the two minor chieftainships by the leader of the Gewissas. That is why there is now a Hampshire and no Meonshire or Meonfolk.

But how does it happen that the county as a whole is called Hampshire, and not Wessex? This is a real difficulty, and one not easily solved. It is curious that while the names of Sussex, of Essex, of Kent, and of Surrey have survived, the name of Wessex, the dominant State of all, should have passed completely out of sight. The reason may perhaps be found in the very supremacy which made Wessex the leading kingdom of all Britain. Originally, no doubt, as Mr. Freeman suggests, what we now call Hampshire must have been known merely as the West Saxon Land. Gradually, however, the West Saxons sent out colonies of their younger men to the north and west, who spread the English domination over Berkshire, Wilts, and Dorset, and who later still established a political supremacy over the Celts of Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall. All these conquered districts, though they each possessed an ealdorman of their own, were dependent from the first upon the princes of Winchester; and therefore they were all regarded as equally forming part of the West Saxon Land. Accordingly, it was necessary to invent some artificial name for the restricted territory under the immediate rule of the West Saxon Kings; and the name which people half-unconsciously fixed upon was Hampshire. It occurs for the first time in an entry in the West Saxon royal Chronicle concerning [an event of] the eighth century, when the Moot of the West Saxons deposed an unpopular King, and deprived him of all his dominions, “except Hamptonshire”—that is to say, they restricted him to his old ancestral principality, handing over Wilts, Dorset, Berks, and Somerset to another member of the royal[21] family. Even so, it is difficult to understand why the county should have been named after the smaller town of Southampton, rather than after the royal city of Winchester. Mr. Freeman can only suggest that some special prerogative of the capital may have excluded it from forming part of the general territory, much as Washington now forms no part of any American State. It may have been regarded as a liberty or county by itself. At any rate, the distinctive title of shire, which we usually give to Hants, shows at once that when the name arose it was looked upon as a division of a larger whole, not as a separate and integral entity. We never add the termination “shire” to the names of real old kingdoms or tribes, such as Kent or Surrey, Sussex or Essex, Norfolk or Cornwall; but we usually add it to the subdivisions of Wessex, such as Hampshire, Wiltshire, or Berkshire, with their alternatives of Hants, Wilts, and Berks; while we always add it to the purely artificial Danish divisions, such as Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, and Warwickshire, where such abbreviated forms are not permissible. So far down in the history of England do the commonest usages of everyday speech go for their origin.

How Wessex spread from this little nucleus of Hampshire till it included all the country from Hayling Island to the Land’s End is a matter to be treated of under the several counties thus included: how it gradually absorbed Surrey, Sussex, Kent, and Essex is a matter of ordinary English history with which everybody is familiar. During the great struggle with the Danes, the Kings of Wessex grew to be Kings of England; and, indeed, what we read in our ordinary histories as early English annals is really little more than the private chronicles of the West Saxon royal House. Every King or Queen who has ever sat upon the English throne, with the exception of the Danes and of [Harold Godwine’s son and of] William the Conqueror, has had the blood of Alfred the West Saxon in his veins. Winchester was the capital of England until some time after the Norman Conquest; and it was only slowly superseded by West[22]minster through the influence of Edward the Confessor’s great abbey, and of William Rufus’s palace, which has grown at last into the Houses of Parliament. As for London, of course that city never has been the real capital, nor was it even so considered until the growth of streets in the intermediate portion caused the distinction between Westminster and the merchant republic beside it to die out for almost all practical purposes. To this day the people of Winchester themselves have by no means forgotten that their city was once the metropolis of all England. Moreover, the county itself still shows some signs of having been the original nucleus of English colonisation in Wessex. Local names of the Teutonic clan type cluster thicker here than in any other part of the west country. Even now, thirty-three towns or villages in Hampshire bear titles of the old clans which first settled there—Wymerings, Lymings, Pennings, Haylings, Elings, Stubbings, or Bradings—and these clan-colonies would doubtless be somewhat more numerous were it not for the clearance of old villages effected at the time when the New Forest was laid out. On the other hand, Dorset has but twenty-one, Devon but twenty-four, and Cornwall only two. Nevertheless, if we compare these cases with those of Kent, Sussex, and the East Anglian counties, where Teutonic clan-names occur at every turn, we shall be forced to conclude that even in Hampshire itself the English colonisation was far less complete than on the exposed eastern coasts of England.


From some points of view there is hardly in all England a more curiously artificial county than Wiltshire. Taking them as a whole, most of our true old English shires are real geographical entities, cut off from one another, now or formerly, by mountains, rivers, forests, or morasses. Sussex is the coast strip between the Weald and the sea; Kent is the promontory between the[23] Thames and the Channel; Hampshire is the basin of the Test and the Itchin. But Wilts is a mere watershed—a central boss of chalk, forming the great upland mass of Salisbury Plain, and dipping down on every side into the richer basins of the two Avons, the Kennet, and the Thames, on the west, the south, the east, and the north severally. Geographically speaking, it has no raison d’être whatever: it is only when we come to look at its origin historically that we can see why this high central table-land of the western peninsula should ever have come to rank as a separate shire at all. Everywhere the early English pirates of the fifth century found their way up into the country by the river-mouths. Their very first settlements were on islands like Wight or Thanet; their next colonies were on practically isolated districts, like East Anglia, between the Fens and the Sea, or like Sussex, between the Weald, the Romney Marshes, and the Channel; their latest great conquests were up the rich river-valleys of the Thames and the Humber, the tributaries of the Wash, and the streams which unite to form Southampton Water. The watershed always barred for many years their progress towards the interior. It was easy for them to sail in their long-boats up the open streams into the rich corn-lands of the Hampshire valley or the vale of York; it was quite another thing for them to force their way over the downs and fells in the face of a steady and organised British resistance. Accordingly, the West Saxons who settled in Hampshire rested on their laurels long enough before they ventured to attack the independent Welsh who held out for themselves among the Roman hill-forts of Wiltshire.

Fifty years after the English had conquered the valleys of Hants, Old Sarum and Amesbury still remained in the hands of the British. The square fortress of Sorviodunum, with the great national monument of Stonehenge to its rear, must have been defended by its Welsh inhabitants with unusual vigour. Ambresbury, the longer form of Amesbury, even now in occasional use, recalls the name of Ambrosius[24] Aurelianus, the Romanised Briton who long kept off the attacks of the West Saxon intruders. All along the old frontier, as Dr. Guest has pointed out, village names like Sherfield English and Britford still point back to a time when English and Welsh met upon the marches of Wilts and Hants as enemies; and the great earthwork of Grimsdyke has been shown to be the barrier thrown up by the Britons to check the advance of the aggressive Teutons. The dyke has its vallum turned towards Wilts and its foss towards Hampshire; thus indicating that the defenders were the men of the inland shire and their presumed enemies the West Saxons of the coast. Half a century after the landing of the English, however, the invaders set out from their capital of Winchester, crossed the downs which divide the basins of the Test and the Avon, and descended upon the vale near where Salisbury now stands. They stormed Old Sarum, and no doubt put to death most of its garrison; but the town continued to be occupied till after the Norman Conquest, when Bishop Roger moved down the cathedral to New Sarum or Salisbury. About the same time with the capture of Sorviodunum, it seems probable that almost all Wilts passed into the hands of the English, as soon as the great border fortress had fallen; though the part of the country around Malmesbury remained under Welsh rule for a much longer period.

The English who came to occupy this newly conquered territory were known as the Wilsæte—that is to say, the settlers by the Wyly—much as Canadians now talk of the Red River Settlement. The name alone sufficiently shows that the colonists were at first confined to the southern slope of Salisbury Plain. The same termination reappears in the Dorsæte of Dorset, the Sumorsæte of Somerset, and the Defnsæte of Devon. We may infer from it, what seems also likely on other grounds, that the English came into these shires rather as lords of the soil among a body of British serfs than as exterminators and colonisers. To this day the peasantry of the western counties show all the[25] anatomical marks of Celtic or semi-Celtic descent. It is noticeable, however, that the modern name of the shire is not Wilset, as one might expect from the analogy of Dorset and Somerset, but Wilts. The change of form is due to the fact that the county had a name of its own, distinct from that of the people: it was called Wiltonshire, from Wilton, the capital of the Wilsæte; and this accounts for the apparently intrusive consonant in the existing word. The men of Wilts, though doubtless subject from the first to the overlordship of the West Saxon kings at Winchester, had originally a certain political autonomy of their own. They were governed by their local ealdorman, and they made war and peace on their own account. As late as the beginning of the ninth century the men of Worcestershire attacked the Wilsæte, and the Wilts men met them under their native ealdorman and put them to flight. At this time the form Wiltonshire was unknown: it was only at a later date, when the county had become thoroughly incorporated with the rest of the West Saxon dominions, that it began to be regarded not as an integral whole but as a shire or subdivision of the West Saxon realm. The existence of a separate bishopric of Salisbury similarly points back to the original independence of the Wilts men; for in early England the Bishop was always the ecclesiastical counterpart of the king or ealdorman; and the diocese was only the kingdom or principality viewed from the spiritual side.

The origin of Berkshire is not so clear or so certain. The county probably represents the first great northern extension of the West Saxon power, when the English colonists began to cross the ridge of the North Downs and descend into the valleys of the Kennet and the Thames. The white horse formed the standard of the invading Teutons, as it still does both of Hanover, whence they came, and of Kent, where, perhaps, they first landed in Britain; and a white horse cut into the green side of the chalk downs seems always to have marked the English advance to the north and west.[26] That of Westbury—the very name is significant—appears to point out the farthest outpost of the Wilsæte towards the still unconquered Damnonian Welsh of Somerset; that of the Berkshire hills appears similarly to bear witness to the frontier of the West Saxons towards the scattered Welsh principalities of the Midlands. Wallingford [whatever Walling means] may mark the spot, as Dr. Guest suggests, where the two races were once conterminous. However this may be, it is certain that Berks formed one of the earliest West Saxon conquests, and that it was very soon incorporated with the main principality in Hampshire. An ealdorman of Berks is mentioned in the ninth century, but he is mentioned as immediately dependent upon Winchester. There has never been a Bishop of Berkshire. The name of the county, originally Bearrucshire, is [said to be] derived from the forest of Bearruc, which once stretched from Chertsey to Reading; and the very title shows that the shire as a whole was then relatively unimportant. It was regarded, in fact, merely as the “back country” of Hampshire: people talked of the Bearruc-wood shire much as they talk now of the hills beyond the Limpopo, or the Australian bush. From the very first Berkshire must have been a mere subdivision of the West Saxon kingdom; and therefore it has no name of its own except as a shire. The towns and villages bearing English clan-names number only twenty-two, of which Reading and Sonning are the best known.


On the whole, Dorsetshire may claim to be considered as a fairly natural and well-defined shire. Its eastern limit is formed by the swampy region at the embouchure of the Stour and the Avon; its western boundary is now purely artificial, but must originally have coincided with the valley of the Axe; and its northern extension was long marked by the great forest region of Selwood, which once swept round in an irregular crescent from[27] Pillesdon Pen to the watershed of the Thames. Cranborne Chasse and many other patches of woodland still preserve the memory of its course; and Pen-Selwood even now keeps up the name of its “pen,” or highest point. Thus surrounded by sea, rivers, and primæval forest, the plain country of the Stour and the Frome must always have formed almost as natural a division of South Britain as Sussex itself. In the earliest historical times it made up the principality of the Celtic Durotriges, or men of the water-vale, who had their capital at Durnovaria, or Dorchester. Their great central stronghold was Maiden Castle, one of the finest ancient hill-forts in England; and the group of border fortresses which ringed round their exposed western frontier, towards the Damnonii of Devonshire, may yet be traced by the eye along all the principal heights overlooking the valley of the Axe. Beginning with the magnificent earthworks on Pillesdon Pen, this great system of tribal defences runs on by Lambert’s Castle and Coney Castle, till it reaches the sea at Musbury Castle and Hawksdown Hill, near Seaton. A similar group of Damnonian hill-forts answers to them from Membury to Beer on the opposite side of the valley. At the eastern end of the shire, again, another set of border earthworks, of which Badbury Ring, Hamilton Hill, and Hod Hill are the chief, guarded the open approaches to Dorset from Hampshire, the principality of the Belgæ, and in later days of the West Saxon intruders. But along the northern boundary we find no such line of primitive strongholds, because the wild forest region of Selwood itself afforded a sufficient protection. Few hostile tribesmen would have ventured to make their way on the war-trail through the trackless recesses of the great wood—Coit Mawr, the Welsh called it, while Silva Magna seems to have been its Latinised form; and, indeed, there is no record existing of any invasion of Dorsetshire from the north at any time.

Curiously enough, though Dorset was apparently one of the earliest conquests made by the West Saxons after their first settlement in Hampshire, we know little[28] or nothing about the precise time or manner of its subjugation. All that we know for certain is the fact, vouched for by Gildas, the contemporary Welsh author of a little Latin tract whose authenticity is accepted by Mr. Freeman and Dr. Guest, that in the year 520, some twenty-five years after the landing of the West Saxons, they were repelled with great loss from Badbury, the main key of the eastern frontier. Probably this victory of the Romanised Durotriges saved Dorset for more than a quarter of a century. But after the English captured Old Sarum, they must probably have poured down upon Dorsetshire across the high belt of hills in the rear, and established their power in Durnovaria, whose name they corrupted into Dorceceaster or Dorchester. Once within the ring of forts, the whole champaign country must easily have fallen into their hands; though in the western half of the county the little separate valleys of the Brit, the Char, and the Lym, divided from one another by high hills, may have required to be separately conquered. Whether the English succeeded at once in occupying the valley of the Axe is very doubtful: certainly, the modern limits of the shire are most capricious in this direction. Not only does the lower Axe now belong to Devon, but even the little basin of the Lym is divided between the two counties, Uplyme being within the Devonian border, while Lyme Regis is in Dorset. There must be some good reason for this singular division of a small glen between what were once two independent States; but what that reason might be it is now perhaps impossible even to guess.

The English lords who settled down among the Durotriges in the water vale were known as the Dornsæte or Dorsæte, and they are usually spoken of as a people, not as a shire. They had their own ealdorman or dux, as the “English Chronicle” once Latinised it; which shows that the community possessed a certain local independence of its own. But, so far as we know, they always owed allegiance to the West Saxon kings at Winchester; and from a very early period they were[29] included amongst the West Saxon folk. Originally, too, the Dorsæte had their own bishopric. In the first days of Christianity, we hear that Aldhelm was Bishop “west of Selwood,” with his see at Sherborne; and we know that he made vigorous efforts to convert the heretical British Christians of the west country to the orthodox faith of Rome. Among them, no doubt, were many Dorset and Somerset men; for we are told by Bede that he succeeded in persuading those Welshmen who were under English rule. But the independent Britons of Devon and Cornwall, the Damnonii under King Geraint, he could not succeed in converting. It seems almost like a bit of myth suddenly changed into sober history to read the surviving epistle of Aldhelm to Geraint—a name which most of us know only from Mr. Tennyson’s Idylls—addressed in due form “To the most glorious lord of the Western Kingdom, to King Gerontius, Aldhelm the Abbot sends greeting.” The name of the first Dorsetshire Bishop still clings in a corrupted form to the boldest headland of the county, St. Alban’s—or, as it should properly be, St. Aldhelm’s Head—where a ruined chapel commemorates him. Though the English doubtless settled numerously enough in Dorset—both their hundreds and their clan villages cluster thickly on the soil—yet it is probable that they spared a large proportion of the Christianised Welsh inhabitants; and both the appearance of the peasantry and the local nomenclature bear out this view. People of the dark, long-headed Celtic type abound in all the rural parts, while Pens and other British names are scattered up and down throughout the country.

Gradually, however, the Dorsæte sank to the position of a mere shire of Wessex. In the “English Chronicle,” indeed, their name is always given as that of a people, and it is not till after the Conquest that they come to be generally regarded merely as the inhabitants of Dorsetshire. But the resistance to the Danes broke down the wall of separation between the West Saxon counties; and when Devon was finally assimilated by the English in the reign of Athelstan, the importance[30] of Dorset waned entirely. For a while Alfred united the bishopric of East Devon (the western half still remaining independent) to the see of Sherborne, to which he appointed his Welsh chaplain, Asser [of St. Davids], a graceful concession to the newly conquered Damnonian Welshmen. But when Athelstan drove out the Welsh chiefs from Exeter, the bishopric of that county was removed to Crediton, and as the main western see of Wessex was fixed at Old Sarum, Sherborne afterwards fell to the position of a mere abbey. Dorset, however, seems always to have been a favourite district with the West Saxon kings, doubtless because of the hunting in Selwood; and many of the kingly family were buried at Axminster (just across the border in Devon) or at Wimborne Minster. A great agricultural county it has always been; but it has not, and never had, any other source of wealth. The original historical shire was of course confined to the valleys of the Stour and Frome, the Vale of Marshwood, and the western dales, which form the chief arable and grazing lands; and as the forest has been cleared away, the downs of the interior have become famous for their sheep-walks. Towns are still few and small: Dorchester, a mere local centre; Poole and Bridport, two struggling harbours; and Weymouth, a watering-place of the type beloved and invented by the Georges, in the midst of a chalk country exactly like that round Brighton—these almost complete the little list. Shaftesbury, perched on the hill-top, and Lyme Regis, a decaying port artificially manufactured by Edward I., are the only others with any vitality left in them. Indeed, it might almost be said that since the English conquest, the shire, as a shire, has had no history of its own at all. Events in the history of England have of course taken place within it; but the county as a whole has gone on always in its own quiet agricultural and pleasant way. Yorkshire and Lincolnshire have been divided and amalgamated a dozen times over; but Dorset has continued Dorset alone from time immemorial, with no greater variation in its limits than that implied by an[31] exchange with Devon of one isolated hundred or liberty for another.


A solitary fragment of the submerged tract which once occupied the entire dry bed of the English Channel still stretches in a long line due south of Weymouth to the Bill of Portland, and afterwards runs out for some distance under the sea as a submarine ridge, making for the opposite and corresponding French uplands of the Côtentin and the Cap la Hogue. Though now united to the mainland by a bold curve of accumulated shingle, the Chesil Bank, this solid mass of oolitic limestone nevertheless rightly deserves its ordinary popular name of “the Island”; for its three sides are all alike worn down into precipitous cliffs by the action of the waves; and the singular causeway which now joins its western face to the Dorsetshire coast some ten miles lower down, though itself of immemorial antiquity, does not date back by any means so far in geological time as the original isolation of the great triangular rock which forms its terminus. In other words, the modern peninsula was once a real island, and its reunion with the mainland is in fact a matter of comparatively recent physical rearrangement. Seen from the centre of the great West Bay, at Seaton or Lyme Regis, Portland even now resumes its insular appearance; for the Chesil Bank is there quite lost below the curve of the horizon, and the huge block of stone stands out against the sky-line in shape like a long wedge, with its high blunt end turned towards the mainland, and its sloping point running out seaward till it loses itself imperceptibly in the surging waters of the Race. From this point of view its outline suggests to fancy the notion of a gigantic basking whale, with his back just raised above the sea-level, but with his humped neck well elevated above the calm surface. Looked at from the Nothe directly opposite, however, the island recalls rather the rock of Monaco,[32] but on a far larger scale—projected farther afield into a much grimmer, grayer, and more stormy sea. Here the highest portion of the mass, nearly 500 feet above high-tide mark, exactly faces the spectator, who thus looks down on it at once in its biggest and at least characteristic aspect. The tapering shape, which slopes so paradoxically from the land side to seaward, instead of from the sea-cliff to landward, as in most other promontories, is indeed entirely lost in this, the most familiar view from the neighbourhood of Weymouth; it is only from the two comparatively unfrequented bays to east and west, towards Lulworth and Charmouth, that the real contour of the huge slanting rock is seen to anything like advantage.

The reason why this solitary block of solid stone has survived the whole of the neighbouring lowland is not far to seek, from the geological point of view. Portland consists of an outlying mass of harder oolitic strata, which have resisted the waves of the Channel, while the softer surrounding clays and greensands, whose relics form the cliffs and slopes of the two lateral bays, have all been gradually washed away on either side by the ceaseless action of the water. Moreover, the Portland beds themselves are tilted up in an inclined plane, from the sea landward, so that the surface follows the natural dip of the strata; and the same beds are found at pretty nearly the same depth below the soil in all parts of the island. Indeed the whole of this Dorsetshire country is everywhere seamed and traversed by numerous faults, which have thrown up the rocks in adjoining places at very different angles. The southern half of Portland still retains something of its primitive appearance: a poor, bleak, barren, wind-swept plateau, destitute of tree or hedge, and divided by bare stone walls into small rectangular fields, where the black-faced sheep which become famous as Portland mutton find a scanty herbage under the shelter of these frequent artificial barriers against the omnipresent wind. Each wall is built of thin slate-like layers of stone from the unmerchantable beds (to adopt the local language):[33] and instead of a gate, it is pierced by a broad gap filled in loosely with large round boulders, which can be easily removed by the hand to let in and out the flock or the farmer’s cart. Stone, in fact, forms the substratum and the whole raison d’être of Portland; it fulfils every function which would elsewhere be fulfilled by wood or any other possible material. Here and there one comes across a little hopeless-looking cultivation; but the mass of the plateau is down in rock, and the greater part of the population lives entirely by exporting the island piecemeal. The entire northern and higher half is a succession of quarries and stoneworks. The very summit of the slope is crowned by the ramparts of the Verne fortifications; and beyond this spot the convicts from Portland Prison are now busily engaged in levelling the surrounding inequalities, so as to give the guns of Fort Victoria a clean sweep across the entire peninsula. Farther on come the free-labour quarries, where acre after acre has been stripped of its useless surface-strata—the dirt-bed and the other Purbeck layers—in order to arrive at the good building-stone below. A large part of the island has already been shipped away to London and elsewhere: and innumerable tramways in a perplexing network are still employed in carrying off ship-loads of what yet remains. Even before the great excavations began to score its soil, Portland must have presented the dreariest and bleakest panorama in the British Isles. At the present day, when prison, military works, and quarries have done their worst, it is one of the most ugly sights to be seen in the world. Of course it attracts accordingly vast numbers of excursionists and sight-seers, who spend a happy day in toiling up to the summit of the highest hill in order to see the wretched prisoners working at their endless task under the charge of armed warders.

Repulsive as the island is, however, every part of it possesses a singular and melancholy interest of its own. To the south end, near the Bill and the lighthouses, where the ridge stretches seaward in the dangerous submerged bank known by the suggestive title of the[34] Shambles, no quarrying has yet marred the native grimness of its rugged and honeycombed cliffs. Here, too, the Portland spurge and other peculiar wild flowers which once covered the island still linger on scantily in a few sheltered or unnoticed crannies. On the east side, again, the ivy-covered pentagonal tower of Rufus’s Castle, a rude Norman keep, caps an isolated block of stone and overlooks a fine tumbled mass of broken undercliff, with a craggy shore on either side and a magnificent view across the Weymouth bay to the white chalk bluffs of Lulworth and the jutting promontory of St. Aldhelm’s Head. These undesecrated spots fortunately lie well away from the beaten track; and hither, accordingly, the happy-day order of excursionists seldom penetrates. Even the central plateau itself is not without a certain fascination of a dismal sort. On its unverdured summit stand half-a-dozen considerable hamlets (for the whole population numbers more than 10,000 persons), each grouped around its own spring of water, and completely regardless of shade or shelter. Water, indeed, is the great natural want of the island; and the very names of the hamlets, such as Fortune’s Well and Southwell, clearly show why the houses were first placed in their present very uncomfortable situations. To this day the precious springs are kept religiously under lock and key, while even the rain-water is carefully hoarded in rough reservoirs. The streets and cottages have a straggling gaunt stony appearance, and withal a certain lost colonial air: one feels as though one had strayed suddenly from an English town into the midst of some broken-down Colorado mining settlement. The queer unfinished parish church of St. George’s, built in an indescribable quasi-classical style of eighteenth-century architecture, midway between Wren and a Byzantine basilica, helps to keep up this colonial local tone. Its predecessor was destroyed by a landslip at the pretty chine which still bears the memorial name of Church Hope. Yet the island is no new settlement; it has an ancient history, too: besides its oolitic fossils and its petrified trees, it can boast a British fossway, a[35] Roman sarcophagus, and a fair display of [what used to be known as] “Samian” ware; while in purely English times it finds mention twice in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as a convenient landing-station for the northern pirates. Rufus’s Tower, whether rightly named or not, is at least as old as the days of Stephen; and Portland Castle dates from the reign of Henry VIII. In those times, however, the island was but a great lonely sheep-walk, held by under-tenants as a royal manor, and inhabited by a small race of peculiar people, who did not intermarry with the distant foreigners of the Dorset mainland. It was not till the seventeenth century that the Portland stone was brought into notice by Inigo Jones as the material for the Banqueting Hall at Whitehall; and since then it has been abundantly employed for St. Paul’s Cathedral and many other well-known buildings. Excavation has now apparently denuded more than half the surface [of the Isle]; while the heaps of useless upper stone with which it has littered the surrounding fields have made a naturally desolate piece of gray and dusty scenery more gray and more dusty in its outer aspect than ever.


No county in England has so much history of its own as Somerset. Perhaps the reason may be found in its complete want of natural boundaries. East Anglia and Sussex, like Spain and Italy, stand off as real physical individualities, which survive and subsist in spite of all ethnographical or political changes; but Somerset rather resembles the Low Countries and the Slavonian marches in being the natural battle-ground of hostile races and languages. For some centuries, the irregular bit of country between the Avon and the Exe formed the debateable border disputed by the English of Wessex and the Damnonian Welsh of Devon and Cornwall; and when at last the county assumed its present shape as an English shire, it would have been impossible to describe its limits except in the meaningless geographical fashion[36] as bounded on the east by Wilts, on the south by Dorset, and on the west by Devon. It shares the valley of the Avon with Wilts and Gloucester, the valley of the Parrett with Dorset, and the valley of the Axe with Devonshire; while its part of Exmoor, of the Black Downs, and of the Exe basin is cut off across country by a purely arbitrary line running at right angles to the hill-ranges and river-courses. Such an artificial division as this must clearly have been created by history, instead of creating history for itself.

Of Celtic Somerset we know very little. It seems to have been mainly included in the territory of the Damnonians; but since the greater part of the region then consisted of undrained fens and marshes—“moors,” as local phraseology still has it—there was little chance of its filling any large place in early annals. Only the vale of Avon, on its eastern border, afforded any favourable area for primitive agriculture; and there the hill-forts of the early inhabitants still cluster thickly above the rich lowlands at Caer Badon, Little Solisbury, Lansdown, Stantonbury, Maes Knoll, and many other isolated heights. Hither, in case of hostile invasion from the men of Dorset or of Gloucester, the Caer Badon people carried up their women and children, their sheep and cattle, and their household goods. The rest of the shire was almost wholly occupied by the unbroken forest of Selwood, the bare uplands of Mendip and Exmoor, and the immense marshy wastes around the sources of the Axe, the Parrett, and the Yeo. When the Romans came, Somerset fell into their hands with the first conquest of South Britain; and the dale of Avon remained the most important part of the shire as it now stands. The hot springs at Bath made the Romans fix their most fashionable station in the valley below Caer Badon; and to this new city they gave the name of Aquæ Sulis from the neighbouring hill-fort of [Sul] now Little Solisbury. From Bath, through the very heart of the marshland, they drove their great road, the Foss Way, to Exeter and onward, so as to connect the outlying and doubtfully loyal peninsula of[37] Devon and Cornwall with their main strategic centre at Cirencester. But the relics of their occupation remain most thickly only in the immediate vale of Avon, or along the line of the Foss itself; the wild marshy and hilly country behind probably received little attention from soldiers and administrators who regarded Britain chiefly as a feeder of the empire, and so confined their interests to its corn-growing portions. The rich oolitic dale round Aquæ Sulis doubtless stood out like a little oasis or island of Roman civilisation and agriculture, girt round on every side by forest, fen, or down, the wild hiding-places of half-tamed Celts.

When the Romans went away, Bath had its own petty British King, whose dominions were perhaps confined to the Avon valley; while other Romanised princes ruled independently at Gloucester and Cirencester—the Glevum and Corinium of the Italian settlers. For a while the English conquerors of the east and south coasts left the British kinglets of the western watershed unmolested in their little territories. But after the subjugation of Wilts and Dorset, the West Saxons began to turn towards the basins of the Atlantic slope. Near the close of the sixth century, about a hundred and thirty years after the first landing of the English in Britain, Cuthwine and Ceawlin, princes of the West Saxons, “fought against the Welsh,” says the English Chronicle, “and slew three Kings, Conmail and Condidan and Farinmail, at the place cleped Dyrham, and took three chesters from them, Gloucester, and Cirencester, and Bath.” In the general history of England this victory at Dyrham Park on the Cotswolds has an immense strategical importance, from the fact that it cut in two the British resistance, dividing the unconquered territory into Wales proper on the north and West Wales (that is, Devon and Cornwall) on the south; so that henceforth the West Saxons were able to advance steadily step by step against the Damnonian Welsh, whom they drove to the Axe, to the Parrett, to the Exe, to the Tamar, and at last to the sea; until in the end all Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall became[38] swallowed up in Wessex, without fear of interference from the Welsh proper on the north, who had themselves similarly to retreat before the steady onward advance of English Mercia. But as regards the restricted history of Somerset, the interest of the Battle of Dyrham lies in the fact that then for the first time did Englishmen begin to settle within the limits of the modern shire. As usual, the heathen invaders seized first on the richest and most agricultural portion of the district, the old Romanised lowlands around Bath. This little corner, the nucleus of modern Somerset, extended only from the Avon to the Axe. The English overlords who settled down among the deserted Roman villa homesteads, in the place of the Kings of Bath, called themselves the Sumorsæte—a word which is obviously analogous to Dorsæte and Defnsæte, though the meaning of the first element in the name possibly cannot now be recovered. Perhaps it was the old local Celtic title for the people of the valley; in which case the word would designate the English overlords as “settlers among the Sumor tribe.” Ethnographical researches leave very little doubt that the Romanised British people even of this earliest Somerset must have been largely spared as slaves by the Teutonic conquerors.

For many years the English continued to own the Avon dale, while the Welsh still held out for their Damnonian princes in the downs and marshes between the Axe and the Devonshire border. As Mr. Freeman puts it, Wells was then in Welshland, while Wookey, a mile or two off, was in England. The Wansdyke, or Woden’s dyke, marks the boundary between the two powers. Moreover, as Dr. Guest has shown, a long spur or wedge of Welsh territory also ran north-eastward along Frome and Avon into the English dominions, back of Bath, as far as Malmesbury—Braden and Selwood Forests forming the mark or border of waste between the two races. Gradually, however, the intrusive Teuton pushed his way westward, subduing or cutting off the conquered Welsh. Three-quarters of a century after the capture of Bath the West Saxons[39] advanced to Bradford-on-Avon, thus no doubt completing the conquest of the backward Welsh spur. A few years later a battle was fought at Pen Selwood, in which the Welsh were driven westward as far as the Parrett, so that all Selwood and the marshland fell into the hands of the English. The valley of the Tone was more slowly overrun; and at last, about the beginning of the eighth century, a hundred and twenty years after the capture of Bath and more than two hundred after the landing of the West Saxons in Britain, the English had pushed their frontier as far as the Exe—in other words, had taken all Somerset. But these later conquests were doubtless, as Mr. Freeman suggests, far less cruel than the earlier ones. In the interval between the capture of Bath and the battle at Bradford-on-Avon the West Saxons had been converted to Christianity, and the struggle was no longer one of creed and race, but simply of race alone. In the earlier wars the Christian Briton seems to have been enslaved and Teutonised by his heathen master; in the later wars he was allowed to retain possession of his land as a rent-paying churl, and for some generations he apparently kept up the use of the Welsh, or Cornish language, much as is the case with the people of Wales, Ireland, and the Scotch Highlands at the present day. In the laws of Ini the West Saxon, the conqueror of Taunton, the Welsh churl has a recognised place, and his life has its fixed price, though not so high as that of the English churl. Even the religious houses seem to have kept up a continuous existence from Welsh into English times. The Damnonian Kings (whose names and reigns Dr. Guest has traced, perhaps with more ingenuity than conclusiveness) had their Westminster Abbey at Glastonbury, a solitary tor which then rose like an island in the midst of the marshes of the Brue. Its Welsh name, preserved for us by William of Malmesbury, was Ynys Witrin, the Isle of Magic[?]; and it was the reputed burial-place of Arthur, the Island of Avilion made familiar to us by Mr. Tennyson. Ini re-endowed this old Welsh sanctuary; and even after the Norman[40] Conquest William of Malmesbury still saw there the monuments of the early British abbots. Such continuity with the British and Roman times meets us nowhere else in English history. The Somerset people, half English, half Teutonised Celts, had their own ealdorman to a late period; and they still have their own Bishop at Bath and Wells. It is more important to note, however, that the traditions of Roman days survived strongly in the county for ages after the English conquest. Edgar, first King of all England, was crowned at Bath; the Anglo-Saxon princes were buried beside their British predecessors at Glastonbury; and when Swegen the Dane failed to get himself crowned at London he went to Bath, where he received the submission of the ealdorman of Devon and thanes of the West, “and then all folk held him for full King.”





From the earliest times of which we have any historical record, a Celtic people, known as the Damnonii or Dumnonii, occupied the long hilly peninsula which stretches from the Avon to the Land’s End. Rising around three centres into three great barren bosses of igneous or primary rock—Exmoor, Dartmoor, and the Cornish heights—the peninsula subsides between them into fertile dales of red triassic soil, threaded by the rapid rivers which take their rise on the intervening ranges. Of these valleys, the widest and richest is that of the Exe; and in its centre, at the head of navigation for the tidal stream (afterwards fixed at Topsham), the Romans placed their station of Isca Damnoniorum—Englished into Exanceaster and Exeter—the one town in Britain which we know with certainty to have been continuously inhabited from the old provincial period to the present day. Their second chief post was Tamara on the Tamar, near the existing town of Plymouth. From Bath to Isca, the Foss Way ran through the outskirts of the county, and thence penetrated to Penzance, at once to protect the Cornish tin trade and to guard against insurrections of the Peninsular Britons. As usual, the main Roman station was planted in the midst of the chief corn-growing vale: just as York, the provincial capital, stood in the middle[42] of the Plain of Ouse, the largest agricultural level in our island; while the scarcely less important cities of London, Verulam, Lincoln, and Camalodunum lay in the other great corn-bearing tracts of the Thames valley, the Lincolnshire lowlands, and the flat tertiary levels of the Eastern Counties. Roman agriculture in Britain was wholly confined to alluvial bottoms, and never ventured to climb the high plateau of the Midlands or the upland slopes of Lothian and Lammermoor, which modern scientific tillage has turned into the richest soil of the entire island. Thus the Devonshire of the Romans was probably confined for the most part to the apple-orchards and cornfields of the immediate Exeter valley.

After the Romans left Britain, the tribe of the Damnonii appears as one of the most powerful among the petty principalities which rose at once out of the disorganised provincial people. Gildas, the Romano-British monk who alone preserves for us some dim [notices] of the first English settlements in Britain, mentions among the chief rulers of his time Constantine, “the accursed whelp of the Damnonian lioness.” Even after the West Saxons had conquered Dorset and the Bath valley, the Damnonian Welsh princes must have been scarcely, if at all, inferior in power to the lords of Winchester. [Long after Constantine] their King, Geraint, was master of Cornwall, Devon, and half Somerset; while the West Saxons still spread only from Southampton Water to the Bath Avon. Moreover, the Damnonian Welsh had only one enemy to oppose—the West Saxon—on their eastern frontier; while these West Saxons themselves were hemmed in between two Welsh States—the Damnonians on the west and the Welsh of the Midlands on their northern frontier. It might have seemed as though the Welsh were more likely to drive the English intruders into the sea, as the mythical Merlin prophesied, than to be themselves incorporated by them. But the Britons abandoned by the Romans were in much the same condition as the modern industrial Hindoos would be if deserted by the British[43] and left to defend themselves by their own devices against such untamed enemies as the Afghans and the Ghoorkhas. They had lost the power of organisation and of fighting [effectually], and allowed themselves to be quietly conquered piecemeal. For a while the West Saxons let their Damnonian neighbours alone, and contented themselves with securing their main northern frontier from the attacks of the Midland Welsh. At the close of the sixth century they had pushed their northern boundary to Wanborough, near Swindon; early in the seventh they were at Bampton, on the Upper Thames; and a few years later they joined hands at Cirencester with the other great aggressive English horde, the Mercians, who had been advancing to meet them from the north-east, across the face of the great central plateau. From that time forward the West Saxons were free to direct all their energies to the subjugation of the Damnonians or West Welsh (as they now began to call them) without fear of interference from their brethren on the north.

Thus for nearly a century the Damnonians appear to have been unmolested in their peninsular home, while the boundary between them and the West Saxons seems to have curved round (as Dr. Guest has shown) from Lyme Regis, in Dorsetshire, to Malmesbury, and from Malmesbury again to the mouth of the Somersetshire Axe. But after the West Saxons were left at liberty to push on their conquests towards the west, a new era of aggression set in. Moreover, they had now been converted to Christianity; and the community of religion doubtless made the resistance of the West Welsh far less severe than it had been during the heathen English times. No new Arthur could any longer represent himself as the champion of Christendom against the pagan: on the contrary, the English Bishops of Winchester and Sherborne were now the representatives of Roman orthodoxy, while the Damnonians of St. Petrocs were adherents of the isolated and schismatical Celtic church. They cut their tonsure in a crescent instead of a circle, and they celebrated Easter at the wrong[44] date. Against these dangerous heresies Aldhelm, first Bishop of Sherborne, wrote a controversial work, and succeeded in converting many of the West Welsh serfs and churls in the English territories from the error of their way; but the independent Damnonians of unconquered Devon and Cornwall remained incorrigible. The secular arm was more successful. In the seventh century the West Saxons overran the whole of Somerset, and by the first year of the eighth they had reached the Exe. Devonshire, or Dyfnaint, however, which they now began to annex piecemeal, was evidently far more slowly Anglicised than the more easterly districts. The name of the people continues in its English dress as Defnas, a slight variation of the native word, and they are almost always so described in the early English chronicles; though occasionally we get the more Teutonic form, Defnsæte. The fact remains that the Damnonii were Damnonii still: they were not expelled from their native land or “driven into Cornwall,” as the ordinary histories tell us; but they survived, with their nationality and their language intact, during many generations under English rule, exactly as the Welsh of Wales do to the present day.

Up to the beginning of the ninth century the English do not appear to have advanced farther than the Exe. The South Hams and the great wild of Dartmoor remained in the hands of the Welsh. In Egbert’s reign, however, the West Saxons “harried among the West Welsh from east to west.” Ten years later, it is clear that all Devonshire must have become English, or at least have been thoroughly subdued by the English overlords; for we learn that there was then a fight at Camelford, in Cornwall, “between the Defnas and the West Welsh”; so that the Defnas must now have ceased to be considered as Welshmen, and must have been acting in the English interest. This fight at Camelford accordingly marks the final subjugation of Devonshire up to its present boundary of the Tamar. Still, however, the Welsh blood remained, as it even now remains, in the ascendant; and during the Danish wars,[45] when it became important to conciliate the conquered people, Alfred appointed a Welsh-speaking Welshman, Asser of St. David’s, as Bishop of Exeter, his diocese to consist of a newly-conquered country, together with the charge of two small districts in Cornwall already annexed. At the same time, the distinction of Welshman and Englishman before the law, insisted upon in the code of Ini, has quite dropped out in Alfred’s Dooms. Under Athelstan Cornish-Welsh was still spoken in Exeter; and in remote country places it even lingered on till the reign of Queen Elizabeth. The physique of the ordinary Devonshire folk is now quite as markedly Celtic as that of the Cornish or the undoubted Welsh of Wales proper.

In one respect, however, the position of Devonshire differs widely from that of every other shire of Wessex. The Wilsæte, the Dorsæte, and the Sumorsæte were all once independent or semi-dependent tribes of English settlers, which only slowly sank into the condition of mere shires or divisions of the West Saxon kingdom. Probably each of them had once possessed a king of its own, who became in name or fact a simple ealdorman at the same time when his territory was merged as a simple shire into the West Saxon land. Indeed, on one occasion, long after the general consolidation of Wessex, these several principalities fell asunder again for a while, and reverted to their original independence under their separate under-kings. But the Defnas, though they had once formed a distinct Celtic kingdom, were treated from the first moment of their incorporation with the West Saxon realm as a shire alone. The name of Defnascir, or Devonshire, appears in the very earliest years after the English conquest. Yet the Defnas had always their own ealdorman, who is usually spoken of as a person of some importance; and we know that Edgar, King of all England, considered the daughter of an ealdorman of the Defnas a fitting queen for himself. As late as the year 1000, the Defnas assembled in their own army like a semi-independent people to oppose the Danes; and to this day there[46] is probably no shire in all England where county feeling is still so much of a reality, and where the tie of county kinship is so strongly felt. In a certain dim instinctive way, indeed, West-countrymen everywhere recognise themselves as differing in blood from other Englishmen: only 500 years since the difference was still known to be one of Celtic and Teutonic descent.


By strict analogy, the name of the extreme south-western county of England ought to be Cornwales rather than Cornwall; and, indeed, that regular form made a hard fight for life, though it has long since been finally beaten in the struggle for existence by the modern received name of Cornwall. From the very first period when the English landed in Britain, they knew the Celtic aborigines of the land as Wealas, or Welshmen. The word, indeed, originally means no more than foreigners, and was the universal term applied by all branches of the Teutonic race to the alien peoples with whom they met in the course of their wanderings. Wälschland, the German name for Italy, comes from the same root: the walnut is the Welsh or foreign nut, and the turkey and French bean are known in Germany as the Wälsche Hahn and the Wälsche Bohne. But all early ethnical names tend in time to become territorial; and just as Suth Seaxe and East Seaxe, which originally meant the South Saxons and the East Saxons, have now come to mean the land itself of Sussex and Essex, so the plural name Wealas, or the Welshmen, has come to be used in its modern shortened form of Wales not for the people, but for the land which they inhabit. Indeed, it is hardly too much to say that early history knows nothing of countries and districts, but only of tribes and kindreds. As in the older annals of Rome or Greece we meet merely with Samnites and Tyrrheni, with Achaians and Locrians, so in the most ancient[47] annals of England we meet, not with Mercia and Kent, but with the Myrce and the Kentings; not with Wiltshire and Derbyshire, but with the Wilsæte and the Pecsæte, the men of the Wyly and the men of the Peak. Place-names as such hardly exist at all in the first period of English history. Even such forms as Hastings and Worthing were originally true plurals—Hastingas and Weorthingas—applied to clans or families; and down to quite a late date we find the Hastingas spoken of as a tribe side by side with the Kentingas and the Suth Seaxe.

The modern change of such plural and tribal names into singulars of local meaning is very clearly seen in the case of Cornwall. The Wealas of the West Country, after their isolation from those of the Midlands by the English conquest of Bath, were known as the West Wealas, which we usually modernise as West Wales, but which really means rather the West Welshmen. For we are now in this curious philological predicament, that having come to use the ethnical plural Wealas, or Wales, as the name of a country, we have been obliged to adopt the adjective Wylisc or Welsh as the name of the people. Various kinds of Wealas were, however, recognised by our English ancestors. There were the Bret-Wealas or Britons, and the Gal-Wealas or Gaels, the two main divisions of the Celtic stock. And there were minor local subdivisions of both races. So long as Devonshire remained unconquered the term West Wealas was applied to all the Britons of the western peninsula; while the Britons of the Cymric mountain-land were known as North Wealas, a word used to embrace the people of both North and South Wales in the modern sense. But after the Damnonii, or Defnas, had been finally subdued, and the independent Britons restricted to the west of the Tamar, this last remnant of the West Welsh came gradually to be known as the Corn-Wealas, or Welsh of the Horn—that is to say, the peninsula. Cernyw is the true Celtic form of the word. Throughout the whole of the Anglo-Saxon period, the name Corn-Wealas was always used as an[48] ethnical plural—“this year the Danes harried the Corn-Wealas, and the North-Wealas, and the Defnas”; or “Lyfing held three bishoprics, one on Devonshire, and one on the Cornwealas, and one on Worcestershire.” But in later English times, the word got shortened into Cornwales; and then, losing its plural meaning, became finally singular in form as Cornwall. An exactly analogous case occurs in the peninsula of Wirral, in Cheshire, between Dee and Mersey. The original form here is Wirhealas, which is [possibly] a tribal name; but in later days it was shortened into Wirheale, and finally into Wirral.

The very name of Cornwall is, however, thoroughly significant of its real history. The people are to this day Cornwealas, Welshmen by blood and character, with an extremely slight Teutonic admixture. They were the last Britons of Wessex to be conquered, and they were far the longest in being assimilated by their English lords. Though Egbert “harried among them from east to west,” he did not succeed in subduing the people; and of the two solitary villages in the county bearing English clan titles, one, that of Callington, lies close to the site of his later victory at Hingston. Ten years after, the now Saxonised men of Devon fought against their old fellow-countrymen at Camelford, but with what success we are not told. When the Danish invasions set in, the Cornish joined even the heathen pirates against their West Saxon foe, and Egbert put them both to flight at Hengestesdun, now Hingston. About the same time with this defeat the schismatical Cornish Bishops made a profession of obedience to Canterbury. Under Athelstan, Howel, King of the West Welsh, finally acknowledged the English supremacy; as did also Constantine King of Scots, Owen King of Gwent, and Ealdred of Bamborough, lord of the Northumbrian English. Cornwall becomes thenceforward a mere English shire. Still, it was another quarter of a century before an Englishman was appointed as Bishop to the see of Cornwall. From that time forth English names began to be adopted by the[49] Cornish, though we still meet with plenty of true Celtic Griffiths, and Owens, and Riols among the serfs whose manumissions are recorded in the mass-book of St. Petrocs or Padstow. Even after the fashionable Norman Roberts and Henrys and Williams began to drive out the local Cymric Christian names, the Cornish of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries took to themselves those native surnames in Tre-, Pol-, and Pen- by which the true Cornu-Briton may still often be detected in Teutonic England. The Cymric language continued to be spoken over the whole county down to the time of Henry VIII. By Queen Anne’s reign it was confined to five or six villages in the western portion of the shire. Even now it is not wholly extinct. It is usual, indeed, to say that Dolly Pentreath was “the last that jabbered Cornish”; but in truth several phrases of the old tongue are still current at the present day in the mouths of a few aged country people near Penzance.

The Celtic imagination of the people lingers rather upon an earlier and less certain history. As miners and fishermen the Cornish are naturally prone to superstition and poetry. The long backbone of granite hills, the gray moors, the jagged and water-eaten crags of the Land’s End, the serpentine caves and rocky islets of the Lizard, the sheer cliffs of the north coast, inhabited by the cormorant and the sea-eagle, have all helped to mould the Cornish fancy into weird and curious shapes. The tin mines worked under the sea [gave to this island the name of] Cassiterides [a form used by] the old Greek chroniclers, the earliest part of Britain brought into connection with the Mediterranean culture by the Phœnician merchantmen. Ictis, whither the ingots of metal were conveyed at low water for shipment to the Continent, was not Vectis or Wight, the patriotic Cornish antiquarians tell us, but St. Michael’s Mount itself. Cornish tin undoubtedly went to make up the bronze of the great bronze age, and the armour of the Homeric Achæans. Marazion or Market Jew is a Phœnician name, say these bold philologists; and the modern Cornish sur[50]name of Honeyball is really a latter-day corruption of a long-surviving Hannibal. Such vitality is a little too much for the critical Teutonic mind. Then, coming down to a later though still mythical date, if there was ever an Arthur, it was here that he lived. He was (if anybody) a prince of the Damnonian Welsh, and he fought against the heathen West Saxons who invaded his lands. Cornwall, the last fragment of the old Damnonian realm, is full of his memory; his castle still stands on the cliffs of Tintagel, and his spirit still haunts Dozmary Pool. It is thus to Cornish fancy, handed down in part through Breton and Welsh sources, that we owe indirectly much of our most beautiful English poetry and romance—[Tristram and Isolt] Merlin and Arthur, Sir Lancelot and Sir Galahad, Guinevere and Elaine, the Round Table and the Holy Grail, Malory’s Mort Arthur and Shakespeare’s Lear, Spenser’s Faërie Queene and Tennyson’s Idylls. All these stories, now an integral part of English literature, are in their origin dim traditions or myths [circling about] the resistance offered by a Cornish or Damnonian prince to an English invader. Our national epic cycle is at bottom a Cornish legend. Arthur is the hero of the conquered race, adopted and naturalised by the conquerors. But it is to the Welshmen Geoffrey of Monmouth and Walter Map that we owe the introduction of these British tales into English literature; while Breton, Welsh, and Cornish alike are but different varieties of the same Cmyric Celtic stock.





Along the level lower reaches of the Severn, the great oolitic range of the Cotswolds subsides by a steep escarpment (well shown at Leckhampton Hill) into the broad cheese-growing vale of Gloucester and Cheltenham. On the western edge of this lias region, again, the river has cut its channel almost along the very line of junction with the red marl formations which compose the outlying portion of Gloucestershire on the opposite bank. Still farther to the west, however, in the Forest of Dean, we come upon a little island of the coal measures, surrounded by a considerable belt of other primary rocks. A good agricultural country, situated in a great river valley, is sure to be thickly peopled in a primitive civilisation; and so it is no wonder that the Roman station of Glevum should have been one of the most important in western Britain, and that Roman villas should have clustered thickly all along the edge of the Severn and Avon valleys. The main road ran from Corinium or Cirencester, the strategical centre of the west, to Glevum, and from Glevum on to the mines in the Forest of Dean; whose huge refuse-piles still mark at once the extensive scale and the insufficient smelting of the Roman works. The capital of the lower Severn was also the junction for the road leading to the Silurian country in South Wales, and for that[52] which ran northward by Uriconium or Wroxeter to Chester and York.

After the departure of the Romans, Glevum became apparently the capital of a little Welsh principality, which seems to have been leagued with Aquæ [Sulis] and Corinium (Bath and Cirencester) against the aggressive heathen West Saxons on the south. For nearly a century after the first West Saxon hordes landed in Britain they were engaged in slowly building up the nucleus of their power in Hampshire, and in worming their way up the river valleys into Wilts, Berks, and Dorset. But when at last, towards the close of the sixth century, the two filibustering Saxon princes Cuthwine and Ceawlin boldly marched over the downs at Chippenham, and met the British confederation at Dyrham Park, near Bristol, a king of Glevum was one among the three Welsh princes left dead upon the field of battle. Conmagil is the corrupt form of name given to him in the brief chronicle of the conquerors; and his town of Gleawanceaster, as the early English note calls it, fell at once, with Bath and Cirencester, into the hands of the West Saxons. The fall of Bath separated the Damnonian Welsh of Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall from their brethren in Wales proper: the fall of Gloucester, the great fortress of the lower Severn, left the whole basin of the main western river open to the English advance. The heathen invaders marched up the valley to Uriconium, which they utterly destroyed, so that it lies waste to this day; and having thus burned to the ground the other great key of Powysland, they settled quietly down as colonists and slaveholders in the conquered district. The West Saxons of this remote dependency, however, seem hardly to have done more than acknowledge the bare supremacy of the great overlord at Winchester. They were known by the name of Hwiccas (a name [thought by some to be] curiously preserved under a very clipped form in that of Wigra-ceastor or Worcester), and they were ruled by under-kings of their own who must have been practically almost[53] independent of the mother State. Only fourteen years after the settlement of the valley, indeed, we find its inhabitants conspiring with the Welsh to drive out the West Saxon king; and a few years later, when Augustine of Canterbury met the Welsh bishops in synod at Aust, that place is described by Bede as being “on the borders of the Hwiccas and the West Saxons,” so that the two powers must then have been regarded as distinct from one another. The country occupied by the Hwiccas did not yet extend to the west of the Severn; for half Worcestershire, half Gloucestershire, and all Herefordshire were still in the hands of the Welsh; while Monmouth, of course, is even now only an English county “by Act of Parliament.” Thus the primitive territory of the Hwiccas really consisted only of Gloucestershire and Worcestershire east of Severn, together with a small piece of Warwickshire.

The connection of Gloucestershire with the West Saxons, such as it was, did not last long. Early in the seventh century, and still during the heathen period, Penda of Mercia, the real founder of the Mercian kingdom, attacked “Ciren-ceaster,” and there decisively defeated the two West Saxon kings. The Chronicle tells us that they “came to terms” with him; and though we do not know exactly what the terms were, we know that from that moment the Hwiccas ceased to be counted as West Saxons and began to be considered as Mercians. When Mercia, last of all the English kingdoms save only Sussex, received the Christian religion, Oshere, the under-king of the Hwiccas, obtained leave from his suzerain, King Wulfhere of Mercia, to erect his own principality into a bishopric; and this bishopric had its see at Worcester, the ceaster of the Hwiccas, as its name is believed literally to mean; whence we may infer that that town, rather than Gloucester, was considered the capital of the entire tribe. For many ages afterwards the diocese of Worcester consisted of the original Hwiccan principality only—that is to say, of Worcestershire, Gloucestershire, and a bit of Warwickshire. Osric, king of the[54] Hwiccas, was also founder of Bath Abbey, which looks as though his power may even have extended into north Somerset. Under Offa, the greatest of all the Mercian kings, the English border was pushed forward from the Severn to the Wye, so as to include all the modern shires of Worcester, Gloucester, and Hereford; but the last-named territory was not incorporated with that of the Hwiccas, its own Anglicised Welsh inhabitants, the Hecanas, continuing to rank as a separate tribe and having their separate bishopric at Hereford. Down to the days of Egbert in Wessex the Hwiccas were still regarded as one undivided people, and no mention of Gloucestershire or Worcestershire as distinct Mercian counties yet occurs. Nevertheless, their king had sunk to the position of a mere ealdorman: for in the year of Egbert’s accession we read for the first time that “Athelmund, ealdorman of the Hwiccas, rode over at Kemsford; and there Weoxtan the ealdorman met him with the Wilsetan (or Wilts men), and there was a muckle fight.”

There is every reason to believe, therefore, that so long as Mercia remained independent the country of the Hwiccas was still one and indivisible, and Worcestershire or Gloucestershire had no separate existence. Under Egbert, however, the West Saxon overlordship was extended over all Mercia; and the Danish invasion soon came, utterly to disintegrate the whole native organisation of the north and the midlands. In the beginning of Alfred’s reign, Burgred, the under-king of Mercia, after a vain resistance, fled over sea to Rome; and the Danes, after making over the kingdom for a while to “an unwise thegn” as their ally, soon took the greater part of it back into their own hands. There are some grounds for supposing, however, that they never settled largely in the Severn valley, as they did in all the northern and eastern districts: certainly Gloucester and Worcester never were held, like Nottingham or Derby, by Danish “hosts”; and though we often hear of the Danes “sitting” at Cirencester, they seem seldom to have “sat” in the other[55] towns of the Hwiccas. Alfred’s treaty with Guthrum, by which the Danes gave up all Wessex, also stipulated that the West Saxon king was to hold half Mercia south-west of Watling Street, as the old English called the Roman road from London to Chester. By this arrangement, all the land of the Hwiccas, together with Oxfordshire, Bucks, and London itself, fell once more into Alfred’s hands. In fact, he now recovered as immediate king all that district which had originally been colonised by West Saxons, but had fallen later on into Mercian hands. It was now, probably, that “King Alfred divided England into counties”; at any rate, he seems to have led the way to the universal establishment of the shire system by cutting up this recovered strip of Mercia into shires on the familiar West Saxon model. What he really did was to divide half Mercia. Almost immediately after the recovery we read of “Oxford and all that depended on it”—that is to say, Oxfordshire: while, instead of meeting any longer with the Hwiccas as a tribal name, we hear in the reign of Alfred’s son, Edward, that a Danish host endeavoured to plunder Ircinga-feld (the forest of Dean), whereupon “the men of Hereford and of Gleaweceaster met them, and fought with them, and put them to flight.” This mode of speech is exactly analogous to what we find said elsewhere of the recognised counties: doubtless Alfred had put an ealdorman in each town to lead its local levy, as his son afterward did in the Danish burgs. The earliest definite mention of “Gleawe-ceaster-scir,” however, occurs a century later, during the wars of Cnut; while a few years after it is coupled with “Wigra-ceaster-scir” (Worcestershire) in a very unmistakable manner. There can be but little doubt that the county was really demarcated in pretty much its present form by Alfred; and, as might be naturally expected, it holds a middle place between the purely natural shires of Wessex and the purely artificial shires of north-eastern Mercia. Roughly speaking, it contains just one-half of the old Hwiccas territory—the southern half between the two Avons; and it extends westward so as to include the[56] Forest of Dean, up to the borders of Monmouth, then a part of the Welsh principality of Gwent, and up to the boundary of Herefordshire, then the region held by the Anglicised Welsh tribe of the Hecanas. Why it should cross the Cotswolds so as to include Cirencester and a part of the Thames Valley is more difficult to see; but perhaps this country may really have belonged from the first to the Hwiccas—the historical connection of Cirencester with the Severn vale is certainly strong—while even if it did not, Alfred may reasonably enough have chosen the existing boundary-line, running along the bleak region of the Wold, and about equidistant from his two selected centres at Oxford and Gloucester. It is important to notice, too, that these new shires, like those of Danish Mercia, show traces of their comparatively artificial origin in the fact that they are called after their capital towns, and not after the name of a tribe or kingdom.


The valley of the Wye and the beautiful broken hill-country west of the Malvern range have one of the most confused and uncertain histories among all the English shires. Naturally a district of Gwent, in South Wales, and still inhabited for the most part by a peasantry of Welsh descent, many of whom even now employ their ancestral Cymric tongue, it was yet early attached to the English interest, and has been counted, in its eastern half at least, as a part of England from the very first days of the Teutonic conquest. Long before that period Herefordshire, with several of the surrounding shires, formed the old principality of the Silures, the British race that held out with fiercest energy against the invading Roman legionaries. Modern anthropological investigations have tended to show that the Silurians were not a pure Celtic race, but a dark, long-skulled, non-Aryan people, allied to the primitive neolithic inhabitants of Britain, and perhaps also to the[57] modern Basques of the Pyrenean region. To this day the type of physique usually identified with the remnants of the prehistoric Euskarian stock is exceptionally common among the men of Hereford; and even the casual visitor can hardly fail to be struck by the dark complexions, oval heads, and prominent cheek-bones so frequently noticed in the country districts about Ross and Monmouth. Be this as it may, however, it is at least certain that the Silurians, even if originally Euskarian by race, must have adopted the Celtic tongue at a very early date, as their brethren the so-called Black Celts have long done in Ireland and Scotland. During the Roman invasion these Celticised aborigines offered a peculiarly sturdy resistance to the southern conquerors. Herefordshire, indeed, is the classic country of Caractacus, the land celebrated in the vigorous rhetoric of Tacitus as the last home of British freedom. The great range of late pre-Roman earthworks which caps the Malvern hills probably marks the first line of defence thrown up by the Silurian chief against the advance of Ostorius, who had crossed the Severn to attack him with all the troops collected from the numerous stations that dot the surface of the Cotswolds. The camps at Whitborne, Croft-Ambrey, Thornbury, and Wapley seem to belong to a later campaign, when the line of the Malverns was abandoned, and Caractacus was forced to fall back upon his secondary range of fortresses in the rear. Finally, Coxwall Knoll is held, with great probability, to be the scene of the last desperate defence, immortalised in the vague and rather theatrical description of Tacitus.

After Frontinus had at length pacified the whole district from the Forest of Dean to the banks of Usk, we hear for the first time the name around which the whole subsequent history of the county centres—that of Ariconium. The important station so styled lay either at Ross itself or at Weston-under-Penyard, two miles distant. Just as the root-syllable of Uriconium, variously disguised, crops up over and over again in the history of the Wrekin district, so the root-syllable of[58] the very similar Ariconium perpetually occurs in the history of ancient and mediæval Herefordshire. Long after the Romans had left the country, the dubious Welsh writer quoted as Nennius speaks of this region under the name of Ercing, a word whose connection with Ariconium is not particularly clear until we recollect that the first was pronounced hard like Erking, while the second was a Latinised variation of some crude form, Aricon or Arcon. Geoffrey of Monmouth, a writer of local knowledge, calls it Hergin; and indeed the lively and romantic Archdeacon is never very remarkable for correctness in the use of aspirates. In the English Chronicle and other Anglo-Saxon documents the name is converted into a typical Teutonic clan-title, as Ircinga-feld; and from that corrupt form it has been finally modernised into Archenfield, a clear product of sound local etymological instinct still preserving for us in a fairly recognisable shape the old root of Ariconium.

So much for the most primitive name of Herefordshire itself, regarded as a fixed unit of territory. The history of the folk who dwell in it is far more complicated. Very soon after the earliest West Saxon brigands had crossed the Cotswolds and settled down in the rich valley of the lower Severn around Gloucester and Worcester, a small outlying colony from this young parent state appears to have penetrated still farther westward and conquered for itself from the Welsh of Gwent a petty principality in the hither half of Herefordshire. The men of the Worcestershire kingdom were called Hwiccas: those of the region beyond the Malverns became known as Magesæte—a name of the same type as the Dorsæte, the Sumorsæte, the Wilsæte, and the Defnsæte of southern Wessex, or as the Wroken-sæte and Pec-sæte of Shropshire and Derbyshire. The termination seems usually to imply a settlement of a few English overlords among a large conquered and servile Celtic population; and such was certainly the case in Herefordshire, where the number of slaves recorded in Domesday is unusually high. Perhaps the first syllable of the name may be derived from the[59] Roman station of Magna—or the Cymric word which it represents—as that of the Dorsæte is cognate with Durnovaria, and that of the Wrokensæte with Uriconium. Another small English tribe of West Hecanas seems also to have inhabited old Herefordshire; yet Florence of Worcester, who is usually remarkable for his accuracy in dealing with his own district and its neighbourhood, apparently identifies them with the Magesæte. When the Mercian kings began to consolidate the petty principalities of the Midlands, and to drive the West Saxons across the Thames and the Avon, they united the lands of the Hwiccas and Magesæte to their own overlordship, but left the native princes in possession as subject kings or ealdormen. The town of Hereford, which had acquired its present name in the exact modern form as early as the days of Bede, was made into the see of the Bishop of the Magesæte shortly after the conversion of Mercia. But it must then have been a border fortress of the Teutonic colonists; for the Wye remained the boundary between Welsh and English long after the days of Offa, and the portion of Herefordshire beyond that river contains local names almost exclusively of the Welsh type to the present day.

At what precise date the whole of the existing shire became English it is perhaps now impossible to decide. Mr. Freeman, indeed, marks it all as Mercian territory in his map of England during the ninth century. But early in the tenth the Chronicle tells us that a Scandinavian “host,” on a piratical expedition up the Severn mouth, “harried among the Welsh, and captured Cameleac, the Bishop of Ircinga-feld, and led him with them to their ships.” The Bishop in question was the Welshman Cimeliauc of Llandaff; and it would seem as though some part at least of Archenfield was then still Welsh territory, and as such included within the limits of his diocese. On the other hand, Edward the West Saxon ransomed the captive churchman, as though he regarded him as a subject; but then all the Welsh at that time already acknowledged the suzerainty of the Winchester[60] princes. At the same date with this notice we meet for the first time with what seems at least a foreshadowing of the later division of the Hwiccan and Magesætan territory into the existing shires, already, perhaps, introduced by Alfred after his recovery of south-western Mercia. As in so many other cases, the Scandinavian invasion probably produced the new arrangement. The Northmen, we are told, wished still to harry in Ircinga-feld; but “the men of Hereford and Gloucester met them, and fought with them, and put them to flight.” From that time forth the Hwiccas disappear from history, and in their place we get Gloucestershire and Worcestershire; but the Magesæte seem to have had a somewhat greater tribal vitality. A century later, during the wars of Cnut and Edmund, the Magesæte still fight as a separate nation, with an identity of their own. It is during the reign of Edward the Confessor that Hereford-scir is first distinctly mentioned under that name. But perhaps the two forms lingered on for a while side by side, the people being described as Magesæte and their territory as Herefordshire. At any rate, the distinct mention of the men of Hereford and Gloucester shows, by analogy with other cases, that those two burgs were regarded as true shire-centres in the beginning of the tenth century. Perhaps, too, the peninsula beyond the Wye may have been retained by the Hereford folk after they had overrun it in this raid against the Danes: for the border war with the Welsh is one long record of successive annexations, a bit at a time, each conquered part becoming as a rule thoroughly Anglicised before the next was attacked. Thus at the date of Domesday Book Herefordshire included, not only all the existing county, but also the entire stretch of land between Wye and Usk, which by later arrangements was erected into Monmouthshire, with the addition of the still more recent acquisitions as far as the vale of Taff. At the period of the Norman Conquest, Archenfield was still inhabited by a semi-Celtic race, governed by their own laws and customs. From the very first, however, the proportion of English[61] blood throughout the whole county must have been extremely slight; and beyond the Lugg the population still remains fundamentally identical with the old Silurian liegemen of Caractacus. The name of Hereford itself, in spite of its temptingly English form, is really an Anglicised corruption of a Welsh original.


The people of “proud Salopia” are a proverbially clannish folk; and their famous toast of “All round the Wrekin” has long been the favourite symbol of local exclusiveness and county feeling throughout the whole shire. But few Shropshiremen probably know how intimately the name of the Wrekin has always been bound up with the tribal name of their ancestors for untold centuries. Long before they were Salopians they were men of the Wrekin; and to this day the sugar-loaf cone of the great hill remains the visible bond of union for the whole Salopian race. The word which we use in that Teutonic garb would be naturally used by the Roman and the Celt in a form something like Urecon; and Uriconium was the chief Roman station which collected the corn and country produce of the villa homesteads in the upper valley of the Severn. When the legions withdrew from Britain, the Wrekin district formed part of the Welsh principality of Powys, and Uriconium doubtless became the capital of the petty State thus composed. But the Severn valley offered a convenient highway for the aggressive English settlers; and shortly after the conquest of Bath and Gloucester the West Saxons poured up the old Roman road to Uriconium, slew “Kyndylan the Fair,” burned the town, and took up fresh farms in the surrounding country. The new colonists called themselves the Wroken-sæte, or settlers by the Wrekin; and a late charter in Mr. Kemble’s collection describes Plesc (now Plash, in Shropshire) as standing “in provincia Wrocensetna.” Uriconium itself was doubtless known[62] to its English masters as Wroken-ceaster. But, according to the common usage of the border counties, that inconvenient name has been worn down with time to Wroxeter: just as Exan-ceaster on the West Welsh border has become Exeter, and as Gleawan-ceaster and Wigra-ceaster, after declining into Gloucester and Worcester, have come to be pronounced as they now are. Perhaps the same root reappears in Wrexham, written Wricksam in Queen Elizabeth’s reign.

The West Saxons, however, only occupied a small strip of land along the Severn shore—the modern Coalbrookdale; and the greater part of what is now Shropshire, the undulating country about Church Stretton and Oswestry, the Longmynds and Caer Caradoc, still remained in the hands of the Welsh. The princes of Powys, after the fall of Uriconium, retreated to the forest region in the rear; and there, in a horse-shoe bend of the Severn, on the site of the existing Shrewsbury, they built their new capital of Pengwern, whose name is preserved for us both by the bard Llywarch Hen, and by the more trustworthy historian Giraldus Cambrensis, the liveliest and wittiest of mediæval travellers. Meanwhile, the English Mercians, or March-men, were slowly advancing from the other side along the valley of the Trent, and had fixed their chief seat around Lichfield and Tamworth in the neighbouring shire of Stafford. Under their great King Penda, the last champion of Teutonic heathendom in Britain, they succeeded in uniting all the scattered English chieftainships of the Midlands into a single kingdom; and after annexing the West Saxon territory along the Severn, they represented thenceforth the aggressive van of the English advance against the Welsh. Offa, the most famous of the Mercian kings, turned upon Powysland, drove the Welsh princes from Pengwern, conquered all modern Shropshire, and probably settled the newly-acquired territory with English military colonists. To protect or rather to demarcate his new dominions, he erected the vast earthwork known by the name of Offa’s Dyke, which runs[63] from Holywell in Flintshire to the Wye: its course in this district still roughly coincides with the western border of Shropshire, and it is well seen between Wynn-stay and Montgomery. At a later date, Harold, Godwin’s son, enacted that any independent Welshman found east of this line should have his right hand cut off. We must not suppose, however, that the native Welsh of the county were either exterminated or expatriated; indeed, they were not even enslaved. Offa’s code regulated the relations of the two races in the conquered territory. The Welsh remained on the soil as tributary proprietors under the English overlords, and they learned in time to speak the English language and to consider themselves as Englishmen, exactly as the Cornish did in the south at a much later period. In physique, and to a great extent in their surnames, the Shropshire peasantry still betray their almost unmixed Welsh descent. The Anglicisation of Wales now taking place is, in the same way, accompanied by hardly any infusion of Teutonic blood.

The greater part of Shropshire was still covered with woodland; and so the new conquest came to be known by the English as the Scrob—that is to say, the Scrub, or as modern Australians would call it, the Bush. The inhabitants were known as Scrob-sæte, the Scrub-settlers: though the older name Wroken-sæte is sometimes found, perhaps as descriptive of a special sub-district; for here, as elsewhere, nothing is known with certainty as to the organisation of the shire under the Mercian kingdom. Pengwern at the same time acquired its English name of Scrobbes-byrig (or more correctly Scrobbes-burh), the town or bury in the Scrub. The shire as a shire first comes distinctly into notice after the recovery of south-western Mercia by the West Saxons from the Danes, who had built a fort on the Severn, below Bridgnorth. It formed part of the territory assigned to Alfred by the treaty of Wedmore, and it was doubtless definitely erected into a shire at the same time as Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire. The earliest mention of the county, however, as an[64] administrative unit, in our existing documents, seems to occur during the wars of Cnut and Edmund. “They fared into Stæfford-scir,” says the Laudian Chronicle, “and into Scrobbes-byrig, and to Legeceaster,” the last-named being the old name of Chester; and the collocation seems to show that Staffordshire, Shropshire, and Cheshire were then, as now, three separate counties, especially as the list goes on to mention several other acknowledged shires. Moreover, the Abingdon manuscript has the interesting variant, “Stæfford-scir, and Scrob-sætas, and Legceaster,” which still more clearly indicates the tribal meaning of the words. Perhaps the distinct form Scrob-scir, or Shropshire, is not to be found before the Norman Conquest. It is observable that the county lay partly in the diocese of Hereford and partly in that of Chester: may not this arrangement coincide with the old division into the Wroken-sæte and the Scrobsete? Ecclesiastical boundaries often preserve old lines which the lay organisation has otherwise obliterated.

Long after the Norman Conquest, the men of Shropshire seem to have remembered that they were Welsh by origin, and to have made common cause with their Welsh brethren, as the equally Celtic men of Hereford on the south also did. In 1087, “the chief people of Hereford and all the shire with them, and the men of Scrob-scyr, and a muckle folk of Bryt-land (Wales), came and harried and burned on Wigra-ceaster-scir (Worcestershire) forth until they came to the port itself (Worcester).” But under the Norman earls of Shrewsbury of the Montgomery family this feeling gradually died out; and the people of Salop took to harrying the Welsh instead. Perhaps we may trace to this period the origin of the marked county feeling which still distinguishes Shropshire. The folk must have stood quite alone: on the one hand were the Welsh, whom they had learnt to look upon as enemies; on the other hand were the men of English Staffordshire, who must still have looked upon them as little other than Welshmen. So Salop, like the equally clannish shire[65] of Devon in the south, would necessarily have been thrown a great deal upon her own resources. The abbreviated form of the name itself deserves a passing notice. It is a Norman corruption of the native English Scrob-. The Normans could not always pronounce the uncouth Teutonic names: they turned Lincoln into Le Nicole, and Sarum or Sares-byrig they dissimilated, as the philologists say, into Salis-bury. On the same analogy, Domesday Book gives Scrob-scir as Salopes-sire, though it gives Scrobbes-byrig as Sciropes-berie. Shropshire and Shrewsbury are now the accepted popular forms. But the contraction Salop, as a name for town and shire alike, has lingered on through the influence of certain legal usages for a few colloquial purposes. Our ordinary speech still bears traces of the distinction of tongues; for when we use the English form “shire” we say “Shropshire,” but when we use the Norman-French word “county” we say “the county of Salop.” Like most other Mercian shires, Shropshire lies in a rude circle around its county town. It differs, however, from all the others (except Rutland) in the fact that its name is not derived directly from that of the town, but merely from a cognate form. The only exact analogue elsewhere is that of Kent and Canterbury; though Somerset and Somerton, Wilts and Wilton, Dorset and Dorchester, all present remotely analogous cases in Wessex.





The County Palatine of Chester can boast of a history hardly inferior in interest to any among the whole roll of English shires. The “holy Dee” has always been the most sacred river in Britain; and its port at Chester has been a place of commercial and strategical importance ever since the earliest beginnings of our national life. A tribe of Cornavi held the region of the salt wyches at the date of the Roman conquest, and doubtless had their chief village by the flats of the Roodee, on the site of the modern county-town. Agricola first placed a Roman station on the spot at the point where the newly-made road from Uriconium diverged into the North Welsh district on its way to Segontium, now Caer Seiont near Caernarvon. Ancient walls, inscriptions, hypocausts, and coins still occur abundantly wherever excavations are made in the neighbourhood of the town. Diva (not Deva, as commonly written) was the authorised Roman name, and a coin of Geta even gives it the dignity of Colonia Divana. But its after-history clearly shows that it must have been better known to the native Welsh population around as Castra Legionis, from the Twentieth Legion, which lay in garrison here for many years.

During the brief period of British independence, after the withdrawal of the Roman forces from the[67] island, Cheshire formed part of the native Welsh kingdom of Powys. It held out against the English invaders long enough for its final subjugation to be recorded for us in the historical narrative of Bede: so that, instead of trusting as elsewhere to analogy and conjecture, we stand here upon the sure ground of almost contemporary evidence. A century and a half after the first landing of the English in Britain, Athelfrith, the powerful heathen king of Northumbria, rounded the Peakland of Derbyshire with a large army, and began the long conflict for the possession of the western slopes of England which smouldered on for many hundreds of years as the war of the Welsh marches. Already the West Saxons had penetrated into the lower Severn valley; but with that exception the whole of Britain beyond the central watershed still remained in the hands of the native Christian Celts, while the heathen Teuton occupied only a long strip of lowland along the eastern and southern coast. Athelfrith laid siege to the City of the Legions, as Bede calls it—Cair Legion is the form assumed by the name in the brief Celtic annals—and the inhabitants ventured to risk a battle with the invader on the open field. Brocmail, king of Powys, had brought a body of monks from the neighbouring Welsh monastery of Bangor Iscoed—a different place, of course, from the modern cathedral-town of the same name—to pray for the success of the Christian army against the pagan Englishmen. Athelfrith turned first upon the defenceless monks and massacred all but fifty in cold blood, after which he captured the town and perhaps burned it to the ground. Centuries later, a mass of ruined walls and cloisters, with two gates a mile apart, bearing even then their Welsh names of Porth Kleis and Porth Wagan, still marked the site of Bangor Iscoed. From that time forth, Cheshire remained in the hands of the English, and was reckoned for a while as a portion of the Northumbrian territory. Athelfrith’s victory, apart from its local interest, was memorable even from the point of view of general English history, because it broke the British resistance[68] in the west into two sections, by dividing the Welsh of Wales proper from co-operation with their northern brethren in Strathclyde and Cumbria.

At some unknown period, but probably during the vigorous reign of the great Mercian chief Penda, the district which was afterwards to grow into Cheshire passed over from the Northumbrian to the Mercian kings. With it went the part of modern Lancashire between Ribble and Mersey, which had apparently been conquered by Athelfrith about the same time. At any rate, shortly after the conversion of the midlands, a Mercian princess named Werburh or [in its Latinised form] Werburga, a directress of nunneries in her native country, was buried at the City of Legions; and round her shrine grew up the minster of Chester—at first a Welsh monastery of St. Peter and St. Paul, but afterwards appropriated to the English lady. The existing cathedral is still dedicated in the name of St. Werburga. Legaceaster is the common old English form of the town name, slightly altered from Legionis Castra; so that it might easily have assumed a modern English guise as Leicester, like its near namesake [Legraceaster] in the eastern midlands. Circumstances, however, have carried the name in another direction. Offa’s Dyke, the old Mercian boundary against the Welsh, nearly coincides with the western limit of the modern shire. During the early Danish wars the town of Chester, which must have been revived by Werburga, seems to have been once more destroyed; for we read in the Winchester Chronicle, during Alfred’s reign, that a “host” coming from East Anglia “fared until they arrived at a waste ceaster in the Wirhealas; it is hight Legaceaster.” At this time, therefore, the town must have been lying in ruins; and, indeed, the district of the Wirhealas—now the Wirral peninsula, between Dee and Mersey—was one always much exposed to the attacks of the Northmen, owing to the tempting open mouths of its two large navigable rivers. The Danes probably continued to hold the future Cheshire till the reign of Edward the Elder. But when that able West Saxon king had completed the reconquest of the east[69] midlands, he obtained the submission of the entire west as well; and a year later he founded a fortress at Thelwall, as his Amazonian sister Athelfled had already done at Eddisbury Hill, in Delamere Forest.

It was probably either Edward or Athelfled, the Lady of the Mercians, who erected the country round Chester into a shire on the West Saxon model. As in the case of the other recovered Mercian counties, Cheshire takes its name from its chief town, thus showing itself to be an artificial territorial division, mapped out around a military post, the residence of its ealdorman and scir-gerefa, rather than the dominions of an old independent tribe gradually amalgamated with the Mercian State. Still, the county is [only once, 980] distinctly mentioned as such till after the Norman Conquest. Edgar, the first real king of all England, held at “Lægeceaster” his famous imperial pageant, when eight subject Celtic and Danish princes rowed him in his royal barge on the Dee—a fact which marks the importance attached to the old Welsh and Roman town; while tradition asserts that the King had the headquarters of his fleet for the defence of the Irish Sea at the same place. Athelred made it the rendezvous for the ships to be employed in harrying still Celtic Cumberland and the Isle of Man. But even so, the only definite notice pointing to the existence of Cheshire as a county under the West Saxon kings is a short entry in the Chronicle in the days of Cnut, when we read that Edmund “fared into Stæfford-scir, and into Scrobbesburh, and into Legeceaster.” Here there can be little doubt from the collocation of words that the counties, not the towns alone, are intended, especially as one manuscript reads “into Scrob-sæton,” or Shropshire men, instead of “into Scrobbesbyrig,” or Shrewsbury. Florence of Worcester and Henry of Huntingdon, Latin transcribers of the Chronicle, both translate the words by Shropshire and Cheshire. From the time of the Norman Conquest, Legeceaster came to be spoken of as Ceaster alone, and the county appears at the close of the Conqueror’s reign as Ceaster-scir.[70] Thence to Cestreshire, Chestreshire, and Cheshire is an easy transition.

In the Domesday survey the county has a much larger area than at the present time. On the north it includes the district of modern Lancashire between Ribble and Mersey, with Manchester, Liverpool, and the cotton country: on the west it extends over the greater part of modern Flintshire. The Conqueror, in fact, had made over these dangerous northern Welsh marches to Hugh Lupus, for whom he erected Ceaster-scir into a county palatine, with leave to add to his palatinate as much land as he could conquer from the Welsh. Hugh made the best of this concession by overrunning and annexing the northern shore as far as Rhuddlan Castle; and the region thus demarcated is accordingly the only part of Wales described and assessed in Domesday. When the County Palatine of Lancaster was afterwards created for Edmund Crouchback, son of Henry III., the land between Ribble and Mersey was separated from Cheshire and added to the Honour of Lancaster in order to form the new shire. And when the whole of Wales was finally subdued, and divided into artificial counties on the later Norman-English plan, Flintshire was also cut off from the palatinate, and the boundary fell back approximately to the old line of Offa’s Dyke. Under Henry III. the family of the Earls Palatine of Chester became extinct, and the earldom was immediately annexed to the Crown. By an Act of Richard II. it was made into a principality, limited to the eldest son of the Sovereign; and, though this Act was annulled under Henry IV., the earldom has ever since been granted in connection with the principality of Wales.


The irregular and heterogeneous county which stretches from the Lake District to the estuary of the Mersey is one among the few English shires that date[71] from a period far subsequent to the Norman Conquest. Geographically speaking, of course, nothing could be more artificial than its existing boundaries. Lancashire consists, in fact, of three distinct and wholly dissimilar portions: first, the mountain region of Furness, completely isolated from the rest of the county by the great bight of Morecambe Bay, and naturally a mere indistinguishable fraction of the Cumberland hills; secondly, the belt of forest, moor, and lowland between Morecambe and Ribble, anciently known as Amunderness; and, thirdly, the undulating country which slopes slowly down in cloughs and dales from the Pennine chain to the bulging shore from Liverpool to Southport, formerly described by the clumsy official title “Between Ribble and Mersey.” So indefinite a territorial unit as this could only arise by subdivision from a larger and united whole, not by organic growth from smaller individual principalities; and we might therefore almost conclude a priori that Lancashire was due to some artificial arrangement made by an English king, rather than to a process of amalgamation among earlier territories. As a matter of fact, such is really the case. Furness originally formed part of the Strathclyde Welsh kingdom in Cumberland; Amunderness was long counted as an outlying district of Yorkshire; and the region between Ribble and Mersey was reckoned, under the old names of Blackburnshire and Salfordshire, as a component portion of the county palatine of Chester. It was not until the Plantagenet period that these three incoherent blocks of territory were bound together by a purely administrative unity, and erected into a county for a member of the reigning family.

About the primitive history of Lancashire little or nothing can now be recovered. Presumably at the date of the Roman occupation, the shire [wholly or in part] was in the hands of the Brigantes, the powerful tribe who held the Yorkshire plain; and a few Roman stations have been identified more or less certainly along the line of the Roman roads. Mamucium, or, as it is oftener but less correctly spelt, Mancunium, was the chief of[72] these, and undoubtedly occupied the site of Manchester. After the breakdown of the imperial power in Britain, the country fell asunder for a while into numerous little native principalities; and one of the most important among these seems to have spread its supremacy over the whole western coast of mid-Britain, from Alcluyd or Dumbarton to the mouth of the Mersey. The long heather-clad waste of the Pennine range, then known as the Wilderness, formed for a century and a half the boundary between these Welsh of Strathclyde on the one hand, and the English of Bernicia and Deira—our Lothians, Northumberland, and Yorkshire—on the other. But when, early in the seventh century, Athelfrith of Northumbria pushed his way round the little Welsh principality of Elmet, near the modern Leeds, and divided the Cymri of the north from their brethren of Wales by his victory at Chester, he retained in his own hands the tract between Ribble and Mersey—then for the most part a vast forest waste, probably considered as closely dependent upon the City of Legions itself. Here for the first time the Northumbrian English found themselves face to face with the Irish Sea. Cheshire and South Lancashire, as yet undivided, thus formed for a while part of Northumbria; while North Lancashire beyond the Ribble remained in the hands of the Cumbrian Britons. How or when the district between Ribble and Mersey became Mercian territory we do not exactly know: perhaps it was during the reign of Penda, perhaps it was not till a much later time. But certainly in the English history of the Norman period it appears as a part of Cheshire, though as late as the days of Edward the Elder Manchester is described as “Mameceaster of the Northumbrians,” i.e. in Northumbria.

Meanwhile, if the Mercians were pushing hard the Northumbrians upon the south, the Northumbrians themselves were pushing hard the Cumbrian Welsh upon the north. By the middle of the seventh century, they had conquered mid-Lancashire—that is to say, the district between Morecambe and Ribble—and had[73] cooped up the independent Britons of the hill country in Cumberland and Westmoreland. In neither of these two early conquered regions, however, did the English themselves settle in any numbers. The clan-villages are few and far between; the hundreds are large and straggling; the physique of the people is, for the most part, purely Celtic; and the popular dialect still contains a great many Cymric words. Indeed, we know from the statement of Bede that in these western tracts the Britons were allowed to survive in large numbers as serfs or tributaries: and even the most thorough-going Teutonic advocates admit that here the aboriginal inhabitants substantially occupy the soil to the present day. Perhaps, too, the Furness district, stretching just opposite the outlying Northumbrian possessions in mid-Lancashire, may have been overrun and Anglicised about the same time, which would account for its later inclusion in the artificial county. Its lower extremity, about Barrow and the Isle of Walney, consists of a low cultivable shore, which might easily have been seized by the holders of the old Roman fortified post at Lancaster; and the county border still runs just along the line where the hills begin to be inaccessible, and where the native Welsh may long have succeeded in defending the fastnesses of the Lake District from their English assailants. At any rate, we know that the mountain block of Cumberland did so hold out as an independent or semi-dependent Welsh State down to the days of Edmund the West Saxon: who harried the country in return for a rebellion, and handed it over as a fief (if the language of later feudalism may be used thus early) to the safe keeping of Malcolm, King of Scots. Thus, bit by bit, the northern Welsh kingdom fell to pieces; and that fraction of it which was destined to compose the future Lancashire was parted out between the Mercians on the south, the Northumbrians in the middle, and possibly the King of Scots on the north. But it is perhaps most likely that Furness was still considered as forming an integral part of the Northumbrian realm.


The Danish and Norwegian invasions seem to have left little mark territorially upon the map of Lancashire. There was a strong Norwegian colony in the Wirral peninsula of Cheshire, and Norwegian names are not uncommon between Ribble and Mersey; while farther north the still wilder Norse pirates have left many memorials of their presence. But when the cloud of renewed Scandinavian darkness clears away, the country reappears much the same as ever in organisation. At the date of Domesday there is still no Lancashire, and the future county is still split up into three distinct parts. The southern or Mercian region, between Ribble and Mersey—Inter Ripam et Mersha, as King William’s Norman commissioners phrase it—is included in Cheshire, and consisted mainly of the great wooded Hundred of West Derby, with Manchester and Salford for its only towns. The middle portion, Amunderness, formerly belonging to Northumbria, is naturally reckoned as part of Yorkshire, which thus stretched uninterruptedly from sea to sea. The north-western and isolated tract, like the rest of the Cumbrian peninsula, forming a disputed march or neutral frontier against the Scots, is not included in Domesday at all: indeed, an independent Norse adventurer seems to have ruled in merry Carlisle as late as the days of William Rufus. Under the Conqueror, Roger de Poictou, son of Roger Montgomery, owned most of the wild region between Ribble and Mersey. He built Lancaster Castle, and held court there in a semi-regal fashion. After various changes, during the stormy period of early feudalism, Henry III. at length resumed all the lands of Lancashire, owing to the participation of Robert de Ferrars in Simon de Montfort’s rebellion; and then for the first time uniting the three divisions into a single county, he made them over to his son, Edmond Crouchback, whom he created Earl of Lancaster. The choice of the title is significant as showing the comparatively slight importance of the southern district, now the most densely peopled part of England except Middlesex. Manchester was still a small country[75] village; Liverpool is not even mentioned in Domesday as a rural manor; and the other great Lancashire towns were mere hamlets in little clearings among the scrub or woodland. But the Roman fort and Norman castle had made Lancaster the most important place in the wide stretch of barren coast now erected into a county; and from it the new shire took its name. The corruption from Lancastershire into Lancashire is exactly analogous to that of Ceastershire into Cheshire, and marks a dialectical peculiarity of the Celtic borderlands; but the hard sound of Lancaster is Northumbrian English, while the softened initial of Chester [has been thought to] owe its origin to the Mercian dialect, which shows its influence again in the name of Manchester, once a Mercian town. The later Duchy of Lancaster, held by John of Gaunt, has brought about no direct alteration in the limits or nature of the shire, and the intricacies of the County Palatine and the Duchy of Lancaster are of a sort only to be fairly faced by the industrious local antiquarian.


The land of the Cymry, as we still call the north-western county of England, has had in some respects a more curiously eventful history than almost any other English shire. For, while its very name shows us that it started by being a Welsh territory, there are probably few people even in Cumberland itself who know that it formed for a whole century an integral part of the kingdom of Scotland. Indeed, its early annals are, to say the truth, a little confused, and it is only by piecing together stray bits of evidence from many various sources that we can succeed in producing a fairly consistent mosaic or cento, which must be taken in part at least as only conjectural. From the Roman days onward, an important town has always existed at Carlisle, the natural capital of the mountainous peninsula between the Solway Frith and Morecambe Bay.[76] After the Romans left the island, we know that during the period of the early English settlements a great Celtic kingdom, known as Reged, occupied the whole western coast from the Clyde to the Mersey; and in this kingdom Cumberland was of course included. The struggle with the heathen Teutonic invaders, everywhere far fiercer than most people suppose, burnt fiercest and smouldered longest here in the mountain fastnesses of the north. Urien of Reged besieged Theodric (son and successor of Ida, the first Northumbrian king) in his own royal wooden fort of Bamborough; and long after, Cadwallan, a later Cumbrian prince, bore rule for a year in York city—the only Welshman, so far as we know, who ever subdued an English kingdom even temporarily beneath his sway. Indeed, for the first two centuries of English colonisation in Britain it was still doubtful whether the Englishman or the Briton was finally to secure the political supremacy over the whole island.

In the end, however, the aggressive Teuton slowly made his way westward. Even before the conversion of Northumbria, its pagan king Athelfrith had rounded the Peakland of Derbyshire, and by his victory at Chester had cut off the Welsh of Cumbria from their brethren of Cambria—the two words are but mispelled variants of the same Cymric root—thus breaking the British power into two weakened and divided halves. South Lancashire henceforth passed as part of the Yorkshire principality, and Manchester was counted a Northumbrian town down to the days of Edward the Elder. From the time of Athelfrith onward, the Britons of Reged were known to their English neighbours as the Stræcled Wealas, or Welsh of Strathclyde; and their whole kingdom thus took its later name from the strath or valley of the Clyde, which formed its northern and richest portion, though it extended southward over the wild moorlands at least as far as Morecambe Bay, and possibly even to the mouth of the Ribble. Gradually, however, Amunderness and Westmoringaland fell into the hands of the English, while[77] the Welsh were confined to the larger Cumberland—that is to say, the modern county so called, together with Strathclyde proper and Ayrshire. The outlying peninsula of Galloway still remained in the hands of its old Gaelic [or præ-Gaelic] inhabitants, the Niduari Picts.

In the best days of the Northumbrian kingdom, the Welsh of Strathclyde and Cumbria were forced to acknowledge the supremacy of their English neighbours under Egfrith. Carlisle was erected into an English bishopric, and bestowed upon the holy St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, the English apostle of the Lothians. At the same time, another Northumbrian Bishop was placed over the See of the Southern Picts at Whithern, in Galloway. But shortly after, Egfrith died in battle against the Northern Picts of the Highlands, and Northumbria sank into its long decadence of internal anarchy. Both its Celtic dependencies, Gaelic Galloway and Cymric Cumberland, threw off the dominion of the foreign overlords, and once more asserted their precarious autonomy. Till the date of the Danish invasions, we hardly hear again of Strathclyde, even by way of incidental mention. But during the course of that great heathen cataclysm, all the hostile principalities of Britain, divided from one another by blood and language, began to feel that the tie of their common Christianity, the necessities of their common civilisation, and the need for a common system of defence overrode all their minor differences before the face of the desolating pagan pirates. The overlordship of the ambitious West Saxon kings became a bond of union between the whole Christian population of the island. We hear in the first days of the regular Scandinavian incursions that Halfdan’s Danish host in Northumbria “oft harried among the Picts and the Strathclyde Welsh.” When Edward the Elder, Alfred’s son, began his systematic recovery of the north he took especial pains everywhere to conciliate the Welsh race; and when once the pirates carried off a Bishop of Llandaff, the politic West Saxon ransomed the Celtic prelate out of his own royal bounty. This imperial[78] policy produced its due result. Howel and Idwal, kings of Wales proper, first “sought Edward for lord,” or acknowledged his suzerainty as we should now say; and a little later, after his advance on Bakewell, the king of the Strathclyde Welsh followed their example. For some time from this period onward, Strathclyde and Cumbria became tributary principalities of the growing West Saxon empire.

And now we come to the difficult portion of Cumbrian history—the portion most beset by those questions of nationality which have always kept alive a smouldering antiquarian feud between Scotch and English historical writers. What becomes of the native Strathclyde Welsh it is hard to say; but certainly at some time during the Scandinavian invasions, possibly in the reign of Athelstan, a large body of Norwegians (not Danes) settled down in the whole of the Lake District. Perhaps they enslaved the native Welsh; perhaps they killed them off: at any rate, the local nomenclature of the county, as Mr. Isaac Taylor has pointed out, is now almost more largely Norse than it is Celtic. Thwaites, fells, forces, [waters], and thorpes everywhere abound; while the memory of Ketyll, Hall, Ormr, and Gils are preserved by Kettlewell, Hallthwaite, Ormathwaite, and Gellstone. At what exact time this colonisation took place we do not know for certain; but under Edmund, the successor of Athelstan, we may take it for granted that the Lake District had already become a hostile country; since Edmund “harried all Cumberland and let it all to Malcolm, King of Scots, on the rede that he became his fellow-worker either by sea or by land.” Even before, Cumberland in the wide sense had been dependent on the kings of the Scots, and from this time forth it remained an appanage of the heir to the Scottish throne, as Wales still does in modern England. But it is certain that in Strathclyde proper the Welsh population survived unchanged; while even in the restricted Cumberland south of Solway the Norse element of the statesmen or dalesmen was not strong enough to prevent the country[79] as a whole from retaining the name of the Cymry, its aboriginal inhabitants.

From the time of Edmund till the time of William Rufus, Carlisle and the surrounding district at least formed part of this Scotch principality of Strathclyde. It is possible, however, that the southern part of the county, known as Copeland, may have been reckoned as English territory; though all this border region was always in a most disturbed state, so much so that even Lancashire was not yet a shire at the date of Domesday, and “the land between Ribble and Mersey” was not reckoned as part of any county as late as the time of Henry II. Be this as it may, Carlisle and the vale of Eden at any rate—the only large and fertile lowland district in the county—continued to form part of Scotland till the reign of William Rufus. Perhaps as an outlying Scandinavian dependency it may have had a sort of independence of its own; certainly it seems to have been practically ruled by a Scandinavian earl. But when William had enlarged the New Forest around the old nucleus of Netley, he was anxious to get rid of the villagers whom he had dispossessed, and at the same time to strengthen his frontier against the Scotch subjects in Strathclyde. So “he fared north with a mickle host to Carleol,” and took the town and wrought a castle; and at the same time “he drove out Dolfin, who ere that had wealded the land there.” It has been ingeniously conjectured that the mysterious name Dolfin, which belongs to no known system of nomenclature, Celtic or Teutonic, is a wild shot of the chronicler for Thorfinn, which might very well have been the name of the Scandinavian earl. In his place King William manned the town with the dispossessed Hampshire folk, whom he removed, families and all. From that day to this Cumberland has remained a component part of the English realm, with its local capital at King William’s castle-town of Carlisle. But both shire and capital still keep their Celtic names, only slightly disguised under English spelling. When Lancashire was finally erected into a regular county[80] palatine, Cumberland lost its extreme southern portion, the peninsula of Furness, which was handed over to the new and heterogeneous shire; but with that exception, its boundaries seem to have varied very little since its first organisation as a Norman-English county.





No other county named after its chief town stands so curiously on one side of it as Oxfordshire. Leicester, Warwick, Worcester, Huntingdon, Stafford, and most others of their sort, occupy the very centre of their respective shires; and though Hertford, Northampton, and Nottingham are slightly eccentric (in the geometrical sense), yet they stand well within the county border, which spreads for the most part in a rude circle around them, while the few outlying spurs are all easily explained by their former condition as forest or fen-land. But Oxford lies so very one-sidedly with reference to its shire that one need only cross Folly Bridge to find oneself in Berks; and the new suburb which is growing up along the Abingdon road actually belongs to the latter county. So strange an arrangement must obviously have some sufficient reason in the growth and development of the original shire.

From a geographical point of view Oxfordshire has no separate existence at all. It has been called into being by circumstances alone. After the Romans left Britain, the upper valley of the Thames seems for a century and a half to have remained in the hands of independent Welsh tribes, who had towns at Cirencester, Eynsham, Aylesbury, and Bensington. South of them, the intrusive English colony of the West Saxons had[82] settled in Hampshire and Berks, which they occupied, apparently, up to the southern bank of the Thames itself. Wealinga-ford or Wallingford, the ford of the Wealas or Welshmen, seems to mark the primitive boundary of the two races, as Dr. Guest has pointed out. It is the lowest spot at which the Thames is fordable, and therefore the little town was always of great importance in early English history. For eighty years after their first arrival at Southampton Water, the West Saxons appear never to have ventured northward beyond the bounds of their original principality; and, indeed, the Welsh of Old Sarum gave them enough to do nearer home during the first half-century of their settlement in Britain. So far, the Saxon emblem of the White Horse cut in the Berkshire hills, and still reverently scoured by the descendants of these early English colonists, overlooked the farthest northerly limit of the West Saxon advance. But at the end of eighty years, an atheling of the Winchester kingly house, by name Cuthwulf, marched northward to conquer the upper valley of the Thames, previously blocked to the English from eastward by the Roman fortress of London. No doubt he crossed the river at Wallingford, as William the Conqueror did just five centuries later; and he then turned north-eastward as far as Bedford, so as to cut off London in the rear. There, says the brief Chronicle of the Winchester Kings, “Cuthwell fought with the Bret-Welsh, and took four towns, Lygean-burh, and Aegeles-burh, and Benesing-tun, and Egones-ham.” The first is now Lenbury, near Buckingham; the second is Aylesbury; the third is Bensington (locally pronounced Benson), not far from Wallingford; and the fourth is Eynsham, a well-known picnic excursion a few miles up the river from Oxford. As yet, however, Oxford itself was not. Thus the English first established themselves in what is now Oxfordshire; but for six years more the Welsh kept possession of Cirencester and the extreme upper valley of the Thames.

The newly-conquered territory became a favourite seat of the West Saxon kings. The lower Severn vale,[83] which they subdued six years later, grew into the independent principality of the Hwiccas in Gloucestershire and Worcestershire; but the future Oxfordshire itself remained closely connected with the Winchester family. They made their chief home at Dorchester-on-Thames, a little town now remarkable principally for its splendid and disproportionately large abbey church, but which once stood a fair chance of growing into the capital of all England. Caer Dauri, as the Welsh [are said to have] called it, had been a place of importance in ancient Britain: above it rises the great prehistoric hill-fortress of Sinodun, and around it still stretch the immense native embankments of the Dykes. Under the Romans, Dorocina had been almost the only important station in Oxfordshire; and the rough West Saxon princes, who rather affected the traditions of Roman culture, turned Dorcic-ceaster, Dorces-ceaster as they called it, into an alternative capital with Winchester, their other Roman seat. Indeed, all the early history of the county is entirely bound up with this Dorchester-on-Thames. Even then, however, all Oxfordshire was not yet subdued, for, forty years later, Cynegils and Cwichelm fought with the Britons at Bampton, “and offslew two thousand Welsh.” It is only by carefully following up such scattered entries in the old Chronicle that we can rightly appreciate the extreme slowness of the English conquest of Britain; for we thus find that there were still independent Welshmen as far east as Oxfordshire more than a century and a half after Hengest and Horsa had conquered Kent. The Cynegils of this war became the first Christian king of the West Saxons; and he was baptized by Birinus, a Roman missionary, in the Thames at Dorchester, St. Oswald of Northumbria standing as his sponsor. Dorchester itself was immediately made the first seat of the West Saxon bishopric; and, indeed, the quiet little riverside village has three times grown into the episcopal capital of three separate dioceses, while from it the three modern sees of Lincoln, Winchester, and Oxford have taken their rise. All the succeeding West Saxon kings and princes seem to have been[84] baptized at the same place as long as Oxfordshire remained in their hands: among them Cwichelm himself, whose barrow or tomb at Cwichelm’s-law still preserves his memory in the modern Cuckhamsley [or Scutchamsley], one of the tallest among the opposite Berkshire downs.

How the country around Dorchester passed from the hands of the West Saxons into those of the Mercians is not exactly known. But before the end of the seventh century, it seems clear that the great aggressive midland kingdom had begun to encroach on the dominions of Wessex. One Mercian king, Penda, conquered the land of the Hwiccas along the Severn; his son Wulfhere harried Wessex as far as Ashdown in Berks. About the same time, the first minster at Winchester was built; and the third West Saxon bishop certainly removed his see from Dorchester to that town. Still, this step may merely have been necessitated because Oxfordshire was now too near the debateable border. But we are also told that a new Mercian bishopric was set up at Dorchester, with a diocese extending over the country of the South English—that is to say, the modern counties of Bedford, Buckingham, Herts, and Oxford. At any rate, part of Oxfordshire was still West Saxon a century later, when “Cynewulf and Offa fought about Bensington, and Offa took the town.” Thenceforth Oxfordshire was always accounted a part of Mercia, and so remained till the Danish invasions. Ecclesiastically, it then formed part of the great Mercian diocese of Lincoln, which stretched from the Humber to the Thames. Politically, it may even then have formed a separate shire; but if so, the shire must have centred round Dorchester, not round Oxford which had as yet no existence.

It was the Danish invasion which gave the city of Oxford its importance and the shire of Oxford its present shape. During the ninth century the Thames was the boundary between Mercia and Wessex, and Berks was regularly constituted as a West Saxon shire. For this reason the river forms the limit between neighbouring[85] counties along its whole course. But the Danes never fully succeeded in conquering the south-western half of Mercia; and the Bishops of Lincoln, driven by the heathen from their own cathedral town, took refuge at Dorchester, close to the border of still Christian Wessex. About the same time Oxford began to grow into importance. The Oxena-ford [oxen-ford, a cattle-] drovers’ ford over the river Thames, [was formerly supposed to] derive its name from the same root as Osen-ey; and the old Welsh word Usk, Ux, Exe, or Ax, which appears in so many other of our rivers. After the first brunt of the attack, when the Danes had driven Burgred of Mercia over sea, and Alfred of Wessex into the Somerset marshes, the West Saxons began their manly attempt to recover the soil of England; and Alfred not only chased the heathen out of Wessex, but also by his treaty with Guthrum regained all the Mercian country south-west of Watling Street, including the modern Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, and Shropshire, together with London. He seems at once to have mapped out this new acquisition—now first added to the West Saxon realm since its conquest by Mercia—into regular shires on the West Saxon model, each dependent on a chief town or fort. Berks was already a recognised shire, bounded by the Thames; and the opposite country had to be erected into a new county round some burg or other. It was made dependent on Oxford, probably because that rising town had now grown into an important strategical point as commanding the chief Danish land road into Wessex. Certainly, in all the later Danish wars Oxnaford appears as one of the chief English fortresses. Doubtless, Alfred (though he did not found the university) [planned or] erected a rough fort on the site of Oxford Castle. Still, during Alfred’s own time we have no distinct mention of Oxfordshire as such, nor was the new territory yet fully incorporated with the West Saxon dominions. The King still left the fragmentary Christian Mercia in the hands of a separate ealdorman, to whom he gave his daughter Athelfled in marriage. But on the death of[86] this ealdorman, shortly after Alfred’s own death, King Edward at once resumed “Lunden-bury, and Oxnaford, and all the lands that thereto belonged,” leaving his sister Athelfled, the Lady of the Mercians, only the northern midlands for her share of the kingdom. Oxfordshire thus practically represents all the English territory between the Chilterns (which seem to have depended on London), the land of the heathen Danish host in Northampton, and the Lady’s real Mercian dominions in Warwickshire and Gloucestershire. It consists, so to speak, of the leavings between the symmetrical Danish shires and the old tribal West Saxon or Hwiccian shires. This it is, no doubt, that accounts for its odd and irregular configuration. The first distinct mention of “Oxnaford-scir” occurs during the reign of Ethelred the Unready.


The history of the shires which lie between the Humber and the Thames is far more complicated than the history of the shires which lie north and south respectively of those two main boundary rivers. For the district thus roughly demarcated answers on the whole to the old English Kingdom of Mercia; and the annals of Mercia are the most confused and fluctuating of any in all Britain. The counties of the Midlands, indeed, owe their origin, not to primitive Anglo-Saxon divisions, but to mere accidents of conquest or reconquest from the Danish intruders. In Wessex and the south our shires are still original English principalities, like Sussex, Kent, and Surrey, or early semi-independent colonies from such, like Wilts, Dorset, and Devon. Here, the shire is the once autonomous tribe, the ealdorman is the old tribal chieftain, and the sheriff is the reeve or steward of the central authority at Winchester, representing either the mother State or the conquering overlord, as the case may be. But in Mercia the old divisions were so utterly swept away by the Danes that it is almost[87] impossible to restore their boundaries, even conjecturally, at the present day. Mr. Kemble prints an extremely ancient list of Mercian shires, filled with such unfamiliar names as Westerna, East and West Wixna, Wigesta, Witheringa, and so forth, whose very memory has now wholly died away. The Wilsæte, the Dorsæte, and the Defnsæte of Wessex, are all easily recognisable in their ancient dress; but our best antiquarians [have as yet made] little of such forgotten Mercian divisions as Sweordora and Ohta-ga. The Danish invasion, in fact, has obliterated for us in all smaller matters the map of the early Midlands; and only the old dioceses of Leicester, Lichfield, and Worcester still preserve some memory of the larger amalgamated principalities of the Middle English, the Mercians proper, and the Hwiccas. Thus the existing Midland shires as we now know them date only from the reconquest of Mercia from the Danes by the West Saxons; and in this reconquest Bedford was the scene of the earliest English triumph, and therefore the capital of the first reconstituted Mercian shire.

Though Bedfordshire as a county, however, only traces back its history to the tenth century, yet it had passed through many vicissitudes as part of earlier territories in remoter times. Even before the English settlement in South Britain, Bedford had apparently been a Welsh town; and late in the sixth century Cuthwulf the West Saxon, then king of a petty principality in Hants and Berks, marched north of the Thames at Wallingford, and took four towns in a battle at “Bedcanforda.” But though the West Saxons held the country which now makes up the shires of Oxford and Buckingham for a considerable time after this victory, they do not appear to have made any permanent settlement in Bedfordshire itself. This flat and fenny district was first really occupied by the Middle English—a tribe of Teutonic colonists who effected their entry into Britain by the Wash, and advanced towards the interior by the marshy basins of the Nene and the Ouse. Coalescing a little later with the Southumbrians of the Trent, these Middle English settlers had their capital[88] and afterwards their bishopric at the old Roman city of Leicester. In time, however, they were absorbed by the more warlike and aggressive Mercians of Lichfield and Tamworth, who finally became the lords of all the Midlands, from the Humber and the Ribble on the north to the Thames and the Avon on the south. Of the original native organisation of this great stretch of country we can now recover few if any particulars. The Danish invasion swept away all the old annals of Mercia; and we have to rely entirely for our knowledge of its constitution upon the scanty side-allusions of ill-informed West Saxon or Northumbrian writers.

When the great flood of Scandinavian wickings poured over England in the ninth century they first overran Northumbria and East Anglia, and then turned to the conquest of Mercia. In each large town of the conquered districts a Danish earl took up his residence, with a “host” or organised body of military followers; and these hosts seem to have divided between them the cultivable territory which surrounded their town. One such host was settled at Bedford, where the Danes built a fort; and the neighbouring country in a rough circle around this centre was appropriated by the Danish freemen. To the north similar hosts had possession of “Hamptun” or Northampton, of Huntingdon, and of Cambridge: to the south, a debateable border against the English of London and Wessex occupied the modern counties of Buckingham and Hertford. This state of things existed throughout the time of Alfred in Wessex, and continued into the first half of his son Edward’s reign. Heathen Scandinavians held all the towns, with their great confederacy of the Five Burghs in Lincoln, Leicester, Nottingham, Stamford, and Derby, supplemented by these smaller southern chieftainships at Bedford and elsewhere; the Christian Bishopric of the Middle English was driven from Leicester to Dorchester on Thames, within the boundaries of Alfred’s diminished realm; and the Danes made a vigorous attempt to subjugate even Wessex itself, the last stronghold of the English race, and so to turn all[89] England into a Daneland or Denalagu, as they had already turned the North and the Midlands.

Alfred’s reign, however, formed the turning-point in the history of the wicking movement. Under that capable though half-barbarian leader, the English began to make a successful resistance to the heathen invader, and to save Wessex at least from the fate of the northern principalities. Under his son Edward the work of reconquest began. Early in the tenth century Edward took in hand a series of systematic efforts for the recovery of the Midlands. He began by occupying the debateable border and “timbering forts” at Hertford and Maldon. The Danish “hosts” in Northampton and Leicester distrusted this serious beginning, and made a raid against the country about Buckingham—it would be an anachronism as yet to speak of Buckinghamshire—but they were severely defeated, and repulsed with great loss. Shortly after, Edward himself went to Buckingham with his army, or rather his military levy, and there “wrought a fort.” Thereupon, the Danes of Bedford, alarmed at being thus half-surrounded, gave in without a blow. “Thurkytel earl sought him for lord, and all the holds likewise, and almost all the worthiest men who owed fealty to Bedford, and eke many of those who owed it to Hamtun.” This, however, was a mere semi-feudal recognition of the overlordship of the West Saxon king; and the English did not at once proceed to reoccupy the town. But in the succeeding year, “King Edward fared with his levy to Bedford, before Martinmass, and gained the burgh; and almost all the burghers who ere dwelt there turned to him: and he sat there four weeks, and bade timber the fort on the south half of the river.” One year later, the Danish earl Thurkytel apparently grew tired of an idle and civilised life under a Christian overlord, with nobody to plunder and nowhere to burn; so “he went over sea to Frankland, with such men as would last by him, with King Edward’s peace and aid.” No doubt the West Saxon king was glad enough to be rid of such a doubtful and dangerous subject, without being too[90] particular as to what his intentions might be beyond the Channel. But in the history of the shire system, this reconquest of Bedford and all the territory dependent upon it is of great importance as a critical turning-point. The newly conquered districts were naturally remodelled on the analogy of the West Saxon under-kingdoms. An ealdorman was placed as military commander of the levy in Buckingham, in Hertford, and in Bedford; the people were increased by the new military colonies in the forts, who were assigned lands in the surrounding country, and in return were bound to protect the cities from the Danes; and a shire-reeve, or sheriff, was set up by the side of the ealdorman as civil and fiscal representative of the West Saxon king. As the Five Burghs and the other Danish towns were one by one recovered, the country around each of them was similarly erected into a new shire; so that these shires really represent the territory which each conquering Danish host took for itself, and which fell again into the hands of the English with the recovery of each Danish stronghold. Thus Bedford may be regarded as the most typical of the Mercian or Midland shires, which are recaptured Scandinavian chieftainships; just as Sussex is the most typical of the southern shires, which are old English kingdoms; or as Devon is the most typical of the western shires, which are the result of successive conquests from the Damnonian Welsh.





In prehistoric and early historical times the great central table-land of England possessed far less importance than the valleys of the three chief rivers—the Thames, the Severn, and the Humber. Few barrows or forts of the old Celtic and Euskarian inhabitants stud the plateau of the Midlands as they stud the hill-sides which border the great agricultural vales. No important Roman station rose anywhere in this main central upland—no town at all comparable to York or London, to Lincoln or Colchester, to Bath, Gloucester, or Cirencester, to Winchester or Verulam. When the early English pirates began to occupy the deserted land, their settlements coincided for the most part with the most thickly peopled districts of the Roman province. So much was this the case, indeed, that the West Saxons had pushed their way in an intrusive wedge up the valley of the Severn almost to the Dee, while the central plateau as far south as Oxfordshire and Bedfordshire still remained in the hands of the British or Welsh. And when the English at last slowly worked their way over the Midlands, the petty kingdoms which they formed in the upper valleys of the rivers were divided from one another by the waste moorland of the watersheds, and were too unimportant for any but the[92] scantiest records to have been preserved of their existence. How or by whom they were founded we do not know: we can only say that more than 200 years after the first English colonisation of the east coast we find the heart of England occupied by at least four scantily-peopled principalities—those, namely, of the Mercians, with their capital at Tamworth or at Lichfield; of the Southumbrians, with their capital at Nottingham; of the Gyrwas or Fenmen, with their capital at Stamford; and of the Middle English, with their capital at Leicester. An outlying dependency of the latter chieftainship seems to have occupied the modern shires of Huntingdon, Northampton, and Bedford; and the scattered folk who lived in this flat and then unproductive region bore the name of the South English.

Gradually, under the strong old heathen, Penda, and his later Christian inheritors, Ethelbald and Offa, the power of the Mercians overshadowed that of the other midland principalities: till at last, just before the Danish incursions, all England from Manchester to London and from Lincoln to Bristol—including the whole irregular parallelogram enclosed by the Mersey, the Humber, the Thames, and the Severn—became part of the Mercian realm. Of the internal administration and territorial divisions of the kingdom thus united under Offa we know nothing [but a bare list of districts, and the names of the dioceses]. But when, in the ninth century, the Danes overran the whole of Mercia, they seem to have parcelled out the country among themselves exactly on the lines of the original English colonies. Such a course appears quite natural when we remember that each little kingdom probably represented a valley of soil fitted for tillage, cut off from its neighbours by forest, fen, or wild upland moor: just as any hypothetical conqueror of Australia at the present day would necessarily regard our colonies of Victoria, New South Wales, and West Australia as natural divisions, because they are similarly cut off from one another by large tracts of unsettled or half-settled country. In the north, the Danish confederacy[93] of the Five Burgs exactly answered to the above-mentioned colonies, with the addition of Lincolnshire, the land of the Lindiswaras; the Burgs in question being Lincoln itself together with Derby, as representative of the older Mercia, and Nottingham, Leicester, and Stamford, in the territory of the Southumbrians, the Middle English, and the Gyrwas severally. Closer to the hostile West Saxon border, the land of the South English was rudely divided out with a rope, after the Danish fashion, between three heathen “hosts,” having their fortified seats at the three towns of Bedford, Northampton, and Huntingdon. Each host was led by its own earl; and within each Burg twelve Danish lawmen duly administered the Scandinavian law. Even in these southern and earliest recovered districts, the heathen Northmen thus held undisputed sway for forty years.

We have already seen how, in the first attempt of the West Saxon overlords to recover the supremacy of the north, Edward the Elder drove out the Danish earl from Bedford, and annexed the surrounding country to his own immediate dominions as Bedfordshire. Immediately after this first great success, the West Saxon king began to advance still farther to the north. The western half of Mercia he left for his sister Athelfled, the Lady of the Mercians, to reconquer; while he himself undertook the work of reducing the east. In the very next year after that in which Thurkytel, the conquered Danish earl of Bedford, “fared over sea to Frankland,” Edward himself took the field before Easter, and “bade timber the fort at Towcester.” Thereupon, the Danes of the five Burghs and the two yet unconquered South English towns began to fear mischief. “The host of Hamton and eke of Leicester brake the peace, and thence northward, and fared to Towcester, and fought against the fort all day, and thought that they could break it.” However, the English repulsed them; and the pagans in revenge broke into Buckinghamshire (now for the first time mentioned) and killed many men “betwixt Birnwood[94] and Aylesbury.” At the same time, the Huntingdon host, alarmed at the renewed English attacks, altogether abandoned Huntingdon, and took up a new position at “Thamesford,” or Tempsford, where they built a fort. They also made an attack upon Bedford, now the chief English outpost; but the men within the Burgh there fought with them and put them to flight. Shortly after, Edward gathered together a raw levy, according to the fashion of those times, and proceeded to attack the new Danish fort at Tempsford. In a hard fight the English were successful, “and offslew the king, and Toglos earl, and Mannan earl, his son and his brother”; the king in question being [a successor of Guthrum and Toglos earl] of the Huntingdon men and [leader] of the Danish confederacy in the south. Thence, after a few operations in Essex, Edward went once more to Towcester, which he had already “timbered,” and now surrounded it with a stone wall—the first fortification of the sort mentioned in English history. The Danes of Northampton at once submitted to him. “Then Thurferth earl turned to him,” says the Chronicle, “and the holds, and all the host that belonged to Hamton, northward to Welland, and sought him for lord and for guardian.” From Northampton the English army proceeded to Huntingdon, and “bettered and renewed the fort,” which the Danes had abandoned; “and all the folk that there was left of the land-people”—probably native English—“bowed to Edward king, and sought his peace and his protection.” By this decisive campaign, the West Saxons recovered all the original South English territory.

The districts thus conquered by the West Saxons were doubtless at once reorganised upon the usual West Saxon model, as the earlier conquests in Bedfordshire had been reorganised the year before. At Huntingdon, where the Danish earl had been slain, together with his nearest kin, an English ealdorman was probably set as military commander; while a scirgerefa, or sheriff, would naturally be appointed to represent the interest of the king himself. At North[95]ampton, where Earl Thurferth had made voluntary submission, or “commended himself,” he would most likely be permitted to remain as Edward’s vicegerent; for so large a latitude was allowed to the Scandinavian towns as regards internal affairs that even as late as the days of the Doomsday survey many of them still retained their twelve Danish lawmen. The fact that the Welland was already regarded as the northern limit of Northamptonshire seems to show that the two new counties were fairly conterminous from the first with our modern shires: certainly, they have not varied in any noteworthy particular since the time of William the Conqueror. Of course, like the other artificial Mercian shires thus rudely demarcated round a Danish fortified post, the two counties have no real natural boundaries, and answer to no real geographical division: they are merely the country about Huntingdon and the country about Northampton. The first of the pair, indeed, is peculiarly typical of these rough-hewn Danish territories; for it is grouped almost symmetrically in a rude circle around the town of Huntingdon as a centre. The comparatively elongated form of Northamptonshire, with its outlying northern spur between the Welland and the Nen, is no doubt due to the fact that this flat fen-land belt was then almost entirely covered by the great wood of which Rockingham and Whittlebury forests were later on the small remains. Professor Pearson, indeed, marks the entire county, with a few exceptions, as woodland, even after the Norman Conquest. The towns round which the two shires were cut off appear to have been of little or no importance before the Danish occupation. “Huntandun,” the hunter’s hill—afterwards corrupted into Huntingdon, as Abbandun has been corrupted into Abingdon, by confusion with the familiar clan forms like Birmingham and Kensington—shows by its very name that it was originally a mere outlying forest-clearing; and the only early mention of the place is in a forged charter of Peterborough Minster. The full county title, “Huntandun-scir,” first occurs in the reign[96] of Athelred the Unready, nearly a century after the reorganisation. “Hamtun” was probably a larger place; but it also makes no appearance until it became the headquarters of a Danish host. The distinctive name of North-Hampton does not seem to have been employed before the Norman period.


Between the hills and dales of Derbyshire and the low-lying belt of land whose undrained morasses once made Lindsey practically an island, stretches a broad tract of triassic country which corresponds almost completely in outline with the modern county of Nottingham. One could almost believe at first sight that the rough English or Danish pirates of the fifth and tenth centuries were good geologists, who marked out the limits of their principalities on advanced scientific principles. It is only when we come to reconstruct the primitive characteristics of the landscape as they once were that we can see the real and natural reason for this coincidence. The lower valleys of the Trent, the Idle, the Don, and the other southern tributaries of the Humber, consist of a level alluvial stretch, from which the Isle of Axholm, now administratively united to Lincolnshire, stands up as a solitary outlier of the triassic system. At the time when the English colonised Britain, and for ages after, this wide alluvial plain formed a vast fen-land, through whose stagnant flats the rivers wandered in zigzag courses to the sea. Navigable streams formed always the highways along which the Teutonic pirates made their way into the heart of the Roman provinces in Western Europe; and the Trent must thus have served as the main channel by which the English settlers penetrated into the midland plateau of Britain. Though modern historians are not aided in the north, as they are in the south and west, by the dubious assistance of mythical legends from which to reconstruct the lost annals of the conquest, it is not difficult to guess[97] what must have been the general drift of affairs in this particular district at least. The first English who settled in the north of Britain about the Humber were clearly the two hordes who turned severally northwards to York and southwards to Nottingham; and for this reason they were always known by the significant names of Northumbrians and Southumbrians, constantly employed by Bede, our earliest English historical authority. The pirates of the fleet which entered the Trent must have rowed on in their long-ships through the fen district of Axholm, and past the wooded region known later on as Sherwood Forest and the Dukeries, to the point where the valley widens out to a cultivable alluvial vale, according to the ideas of those times, at Nottingham. There these Southumbrian adventurers settled down, no doubt after massacring the adult male Welsh population, in the narrow strip of rich soil which borders the Trent from Burton to Newark. At a later time, other offshoot colonies spread farther along the course of the chief surrounding rivers; those who went up the Soar to Leicester being known as Middle English, and those youngest settlers of all who followed the Tame and the Trent itself to their head-waters at Tamworth, Lichfield, and Stafford, being known as the Mercians or March-men, since they formed the advanced English outpost against the Welsh. But the colonists of Nottinghamshire itself, as being the original horde, retained the distinctive name of Southumbrians, and spread on every side up to the fens on the north, the Isle of Lindsey on the east, and the unpeopled primary hills of Derbyshire on the western border.

There was an old British town on the spot where Nottingham now stands even before the English arrived; and its native name of Caer Tigguocobauc was remembered by Welshmen as late as the days of Asser, King Alfred’s Welsh secretary and Bishop of Sherborne in the West Welsh country beyond Selwood, who explains it as meaning “the House of Caves.” But, as in some few other cases, the English here entirely changed the original name. The chief clan of the Southumbrians[98] was that of the Snotingas, and from them the town took its new title of Snotinga-ham: just as Ynys Witrin became Glæstinga-byrig or Glastonbury, and as Pengwern became Scrobbesburh or Shrewsbury. Traces of Roman occupation have also been unearthed at Nottingham itself by local antiquaries. For nearly two hundred years after the first English settlement of Britain the Southumbrians retained their independence; but at the end of that time Penda of Tamworth, the successful leader of the Mercians, united them to his own people, as he also united the Middle English of Leicester and the Lindis-waras of Lincolnshire. Penda was a heathen; but even before his time Paullinus of York had preached Christianity among the Southumbrians, and had baptized many people in the Trent at a clan village called Tiwulfinga-ceaster—an old Roman station then occupied by the Tiwulfing clan, and identified by Canon Bright with Southwell, where St. Mary’s Minster, for ages connected with the see of York, has always claimed St. Paullinus for its founder. Penda’s own son Peada, whom the Mercian king had made ealdorman of the Southumbrians and Middle English, became a Christian: and when his brother Wulfhere succeeded him as king of all the Mercians, the distinction between the three tribes seems almost to have died away. The see was originally fixed at Leicester, but was afterwards removed to Lichfield: and at a later date Archbishop Theodore divided the diocese into five, one of which had its bishop-stool again placed at Leicester, the four others being at Lichfield, Worcester, Sidnacester, and Dorchester-on-Thames.

With the Scandinavian invasions the town of Nottingham itself first comes prominently into notice. When the Danes under Ingwar and Ubba had settled down in Northumbria and divided its lands among themselves, they began to turn towards the Mercian territories beyond the Humber; and Nottingham lay naturally right in their path as they pushed south-westward along the Trent water-way. “That ilk host,” says the English Chronicle, “fared into Mercia to[99] Snotinga-ham, and there took its winter seat. And Burhred, King of Mercians, and his witan begged Athelred, King of West Saxons, and Alfred his brother, that they should succour them to fight against the host. And there they fared with a West Saxon levy into Mercia to Snotinga-ham, and met the host at the work.” For a time the Danes made peace with the Mercians; but some years later they returned once more from Tureces-ey (Torksey) in Lindsey to Repton, a Mercian royal ham, and “drove King Burhred over sea, and won all that land.” In the division of spoils which followed, Nottingham and the Southumbrian country fell to the lot of a separate “host” under some nameless Danish earl, and became thenceforward one of the most powerful States in the Danish confederacy of the Five Burghs. For nearly fifty years the Danes held undisputed possession of the town and district; till Edward the Elder, in his victorious northern advance, had won back the whole of Danish Mercia as far as Stamford, Leicester, Derby, and Tamworth. At that point the Scandinavian host in Nottingham thought it wiser to give in, completely isolated as they were in England south of Humber. Thereupon the West Saxon king “fared thence to Snotinga-ham, and entered the burg, and bade better it, and set it both with English men and eke with Danish.” Two years later he returned again and “bade work the burgh on the south half the river, over against the other, and the bridge over Trent betwixt the two burghs.” This move put all the north at his feet; and immediately after we read accordingly that the Danes in Northumbria, the Welsh of Strathclyde, and even the kings of Scots, at once chose Edward “for father and for lord.” The occupation of Nottingham really settled the position of the princes of Winchester as central kings of all Britain.

Of course, in the fluctuations which followed, “Snotingaham” fell over and over again into the hands of the Danes; and we read of it as a Danish burgh in the fragmentary later ballad of Edmund’s northern victories. But it is probable from the analogy of the other Mercian[100] counties that the shire was at this time first definitely organised as such on the ordinary West Saxon model. The earliest distinct mention of the county occurs ninety years after its recovery by the English, at the time when Cnut was overrunning all the midlands. “He wended out through Buccinga-ham-scir,” says the Chronicle, “into Bedan-ford-scir, and thence to Huntandun-scir, so into Hamtun-scir, along the fen to Stanford”—then apparently a county in itself, the old territory of the Gyrwas,—“and then into Lindcolne-scir, thence on to Snotingaham-scir, and so to Northumbria to Eoforwic-ward,” or York-ward. At the time of Domesday the boundaries of the shire stood approximately as at the present day. On the whole, we may believe that Nottinghamshire (the initial letter dropped out soon after the Norman Conquest) is somewhat less artificial than the other Mercian shires, and fairly represents the original dominions of the Southumbrians, as well as the territories of the later Danish host. Its boundaries are certainly quite natural, with an old mark of forest, fen, or river. In shape, it lies centrally round the town of Nottingham, as regards the cultivable land during early English times; but it also includes a great northward extension along the crest of the triassic region, and this district was long covered by Sherwood Forest, and is even now very largely wooded from place to place. In fact, the common forestine termination field, in old English feld, meaning a place where the trees have been felled—or, as we now say, a “clearing”—runs through most of the names of old towns in all this district, from Wakefield, Huddersfield, and Sheffield, by Chesterfield and Mansfield, to Duffield in Derbyshire, and recalls the time when only a few Roman roads penetrated the timbered uplands, and only a few outlying hamlets interrupted the deer-frith around. The valley of the Trent was the one really settled part of the whole county, with Nottingham itself, the Old Wark, or fort, in its centre, and New-Wark defending its key a little farther down. Throughout the north and the Dukeries, almost all the local names are of mediæval types: only[101] around Nottingham itself do Danish and Anglo-Saxon villages cluster in any numbers.


Near the heart of England, among the lowlands which slope slowly downward to the fen country, lies a little unnoticed agricultural county, whose existence as a separate shire even Mr. Freeman pronounces an insoluble problem. Its name of Rutland has generally been explained as meaning the Red Land. But, setting aside the philological doubtfulness of such an explanation, it may be fairly objected that the soil of the county is not particularly ruddy, except in a single small corner; while the analogy of other shires looks unfavourable to the theory in question, since the rest all bear territorial rather than descriptive names. On the other hand, it is observable that the Romans had a station of Ratæ somewhere in these eastern midlands of England—most probably at Leicester; and the mere plural form of the word marks it out at once as a tribal title, like so many of the Roman town-names in Northern Gaul. If these Ratæ were the inhabitants of the country between Leicester and Oakham, it would not be surprising that their name should afterwards be confined to a part only of their original territory in the form of Roteland, exactly as the name of Devon was at last confined to the eastern portion of Damnonia, or as the name of Cumberland was at last confined to a mere fragment of the old Cumbrian kingdom of Strathclyde. At first sight, no doubt, modern inquirers are prone to reject cavalierly all etymologies which imply unbroken historical connection with Celtic times. But, after all, it is just as likely that Rutland should bear the name of the Ratæ as that Kent should be called from the Cantii, or that London and Lincoln should retain their Roman names to the present day. Eighteen out of the forty English counties are acknowledged still to bear designations compounded with Celtic or Roman[102] roots; and the addition of a nineteenth need not disturb the equanimity of the fiercest Teutonist among us all. The suggestion is of course merely conjectural: still it is at least more likely to be true than the astonishing theory that Rutland may be so called from its circular shape, quasi Rotundalandia, as though our ancestors usually spoke bad mediæval Latin; or from roet, the old Romance word for a wheel, as though they spoke Norman French in the days of Alfred and Athelstan.

However this may be, thus much at any rate is certain—that the name of “Roteland” is earlier than the Norman Conquest; and that the district so called was not yet a shire at the date of Domesday. It was settled, in all probability, at the English colonisation of Britain, not by the Lindisware of Lincoln, not by the Gyrwas of the Fens, but by the same Middle English tribe which colonised Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, and Northamptonshire. For before it became a county in itself it was generally reckoned as a part of those shires, while it never seems to have had any connection with Lincolnshire. Only four town or village names of the English clan type, however, occur in the entire district, of which Uppingham and Empingham alone are known outside their own neighbourhood: so that the English colonisation in this outlying corner would seem to have been scanty. It is known that the fen-land long held out as a stronghold of the Welsh against the Teutonic pirates, just as it afterwards held out as the refuge of the last independent English against the Norman conquerors; and it is possible that “Roteland” may similarly have been the retreat of the Leicestershire Ratæ, which would account for the restriction of the name to the eastern portion of their original dominions. A mark of woodland long formed the western boundary of the shire towards Leicester. Except the fertile Vale of Catmoss, indeed, in which Oakham stands, a great part of the shire was long covered with such woods as Leafield Forest and Beaumont Chase; while even now Burley, Exton, and Normanton Parks occupy a considerable fraction of its little surface. Probably the name,[103] as well as the district, is far older than the division of Mercia into shires by Edward the Elder; for it belongs to a class common in the north and the midlands—like Holland, Cleveland, Copeland, Westmoreland, and Cumberland—representing the old native division of the soil prior to the Danish conquest or the West Saxon recovery of the Denalagu. None of these was a shire at the time of Domesday but Westmoreland, Cumberland, and Rutland became so later on, while Cleveland and Holland remain mere popular names to the present day.

Perhaps the earliest mention of Rutland by name occurs in the will of King Edward the Confessor. He there bequeaths “Roteland” to his Queen Edith for her life, with remainder to his new abbey at Westminster. The village of Edith-Weston, near Normanton, still preserves “the Lady’s” name. The district thus bequeathed certainly included Oakham at least, and the surrounding parishes. In Domesday, it appears as “the King’s soc of Roteland”; but the manors now comprised in the county are partly entered under Northamptonshire and partly under Nottinghamshire, which is actually separated from Rutland, as it now stands, by a large arm of Leicestershire, including all the country round Melton Mowbray. To complicate the difficulty, it is quite clear from the English Chronicle that Stamford, which now lies on the very verge of modern Rutland, was the capital of a county in Cnut’s time, as it had before been one of the Danish Five Burgs; and this older Stamfordshire, the original territory of the Scandinavian host, must almost certainly have comprised the eastern and flatter portion of Rutland. After the Conquest the district remained closely connected with the royal demesnes, and it was probably this fact which caused it at last to be erected into a separate county. The first mention of it as such occurs in the reign of King John, when “the county of Roteland and town of Rockingham” were assigned as a dowry to his Queen Isabella. Even after this time, however, the difficulties which beset the local historian are[104] by no means exhausted; for Mr. Hartshorne points out that the expenses of the shrievalty, instead of being entered in the Pipe Rolls on a separate rotulet by themselves, like those of other shires, are usually appended to the rotulet for the counties of Northampton, Nottingham, Leicester, or even Derby. All this uncertainty, however, as to the neighbouring county with which Rutland should be associated, in itself perhaps marks out its position as an old independent community, now annexed to this artificial division and now to that, but always retaining an underlying sense of its own separateness, just as Cleveland and Pickering do in Yorkshire, or as the little district of the Rodings still does in Essex. Of course nobody in the county ever says Rutlandshire, any more than they say Cumberlandshire or Westmorelandshire. Everything, indeed, seems to show that the district, as a popular division, goes back to a far earlier time than the artificial arrangement which made it into a recognised administrative unit. One mark of its real origin may, perhaps, be seen in the fact that alone among Mercian shires it is not named after its county town. Apparently it remains a solitary example of an old native Mercian division which has outlived the West Saxon redistribution of the country into shires on the southern model, rudely mapped out around the chief Danish burghs. In this connection it is interesting to note that Danish local names are unknown in the county, and that the subdivisions of the soil, though sometimes described by their Scandinavian appellation of wapentakes, are far oftener designated in the true old English style as hundreds. Oakham Castle, the real metropolis round which the little shire has always centred, still encloses the mound of an old Roman or British fortress.


From the summit of the Cheviots on the Scotch border, a long range of broken primary hills, with no other common title than the purely artificial and geographical[105] one of the Pennine chain, runs down due southward into the heart of England, and finally reaches its last dying undulation in the beautiful wooded uplands of the Peak. On either side, this central boss of millstone grit or carboniferous strata subsides gently into the fertile triassic vales of York and the Humber tributaries to eastward, and the similar, though smaller, valleys of the Eden, the Ribble, and the Mersey on the west. In our own time the thickest seats of population in all England have gathered over the coal-bearing outskirts of this rugged primary tract, from Newcastle and Durham, through Burnley, Blackburn, Bolton, Wigan, Oldham, and Manchester, to Leeds, Bradford, Barnsley, Sheffield, and Nottingham. But before the immense modern employment of coal and iron for manufacturing purposes, the relative importance of the primary and secondary regions was exactly the converse of their importance at the present day. While the broad agricultural valleys of the Ouse and the Trent were the home of a comparatively dense population, the wooded dales of the upper tributaries were still given over to the wild boar and the red deer. If in the primitive period before the Roman occupation any scattered British tribe held any part of the modern Derbyshire, it could only have been in the very lowest portion of the watershed, the glen of the Derwent, Dovedale, and the Trent basin, forming a small circle around the then non-existent town of Derby itself; while the Peak and the slopes which lead down from its summit toward the plain must still have been covered, as they were covered long after, by an unbroken growth of primæval forest. But it is far more probable that Derbyshire was almost uninhabited until long after the English settlement of Britain, with the solitary exception of a few isolated Roman stations on the network of roads which kept up communications through the southern fringe of that trackless wild.

When the heathen English settled in Northumbria, a new element contributed to prevent the reclamation of the Pennine range. It became a border district[106] between two hostile races, differing in habits, tongue, and creed; and no paths traversed its winding glens save, perhaps, the few war-trails through the passes, when the Welsh descended on a raid to plunder the English villages in the vales of Ouse and Trent. East of the central range lived the Northumbrians of Deira and Bernicia; west of it lived the Britons of Strathclyde and Cumbria; and the whole intermediate dividing ridge, from the Forth to the Peak, was known for many centuries as the Desert or the Wilderness. For a century and a half after the English occupation, however, the Welsh still retained not only Derbyshire, but also the districts of Elmet and Loidis around the modern town of Leeds. At the end of that time, Athelfrith, the last heathen King of Northumbria, rounded the Peakland, as men then called it, and by a great victory at Chester (rendered memorable by the massacre of the Welsh monks of Bangor-ys-coed) extended the English dominions to the Mersey and the Dee. Even so, Elmet, and no doubt Derbyshire as well, retained their independence for another twenty years. The little northern Welsh principality succumbed at last to Edwin of York; but of the conquest of this unimportant forest region, the Peakland, no distinct notice has come down to our days. Probably it was never actually overrun by force of arms at all: as in the case of the other Welsh refugees in the Fens and the Weald, the scanty aboriginal inhabitants were doubtless slowly and insensibly amalgamated with the surrounding English population. The local nomenclature of the county is still strongly Celtic: tors are nearly as frequent as in Devon or Cornwall, and every river or hill in Derbyshire still bears a Welsh name. Even now, the popular dialect of the upper dales abounds in curious words of Cymric origin.

Under the early English, the settlement of Derbyshire must have proceeded but very slowly. The Hundred is supposed everywhere to represent the original holding of one hundred [120] free English families among the servile Welsh population; and in[107] Derbyshire (as Mr. Isaac Taylor notes) each Hundred contains an average of 162 square miles, against an average of 23 in Sussex, 24 in Kent, and 30 in Dorset. Clan villages of the English type are also extremely rare. The scattered colonists in this desolate region were Mercians by race, and they bore the local name of Pecsæte or Peak-settlers; so that the county has narrowly escaped being called Pecsetshire in our own time, on the analogy of Dorsetshire and Somersetshire. Indeed, any name might once have seemed more probable than the one it actually bears; for while the inhabitants were known as Pecsæte, the district was known as Peac-lond or Peakland, which would have been quite analogous to Cumberland and Rutland. Failing either of these, the natural title would be Norworthyshire; for the old English name of the present county town was Northweorthig, which on the usual analogies would be modernised into Norworthy or Norworth. The very word is significant: it means the homestead on the island in the north; and it probably marks the farthest northerly settlement of the Mercian colonists towards the Peak Forest, inhabited only by wild beasts and fugitive Britons, like the Maroons of Jamaica in a later day. Here, no doubt, a solitary English family had taken up their abode on a marshy islet formed by a bend of the Derwent, while all around them spread the pathless woods which stretched away in unbroken succession to the distant valleys of the Clyde and the Forth.

It is to the Danes that Derby owes its modern name, as well as its importance, and Derbyshire its assured existence as an English shire. When the Scandinavian hordes first overran Northumbria and Mercia, they divided out the soil among themselves in their frankly piratical fashion “with a rope,” and a separate “host” under its own earl took up its abode in all the chief towns. North-eastern Mercia fell into the hands of five such hosts, who settled down in the Five Burghs, and formed a sort of rude confederacy for offence and defence. The other four Danish cities of the league—[108] Lincoln, Leicester, Stamford, and Nottingham—had all been important places long before the arrival of the Danes; but, for some unknown reason, the host which occupied the country in the Trent valley did not settle down in Tamworth, the old royal town of the Mercian kings, but in the outlying hamlet of Northweorthig instead. As in many other cases, they changed the name of the village, which was henceforth known by the Danish title of Deora-by. The last syllable always marks Scandinavian occupation, as at Whitby, Grimsby, and Appleby: the first element is the same as the English word deer, which, however, was then applied to all wild animals, and was only later restricted to its narrower modern meaning. The name is thus equivalent to “Deer-town,” or still more strictly to “the hunting quarters” [?]; and it sufficiently shows how wild must have been the state of the surrounding country at the period when it was first applied. The Danes built a fort at Derby, as it may now be called; and the post soon became their chief station in the northern midlands. Meanwhile, Alfred’s daughter Athelfled, the Lady of the Mercians, was recovering her dominions from the heathen invaders, and had built border fortresses at Stafford and Tamworth. A few years later she stormed Derby, “though four of her best thanes were slain fighting at the city gate”; and, says Florence of Worcester, “she became mistress of that province”—in other words, of the district which comprised the territory of the Derby host. The allusion to the gate shows that under its Danish masters the town had grown into considerable importance, and the invaders had doubtless cleared and tilled all the cultivable land in the Trent basin. As yet, however, it would seem that only the southern part of the shire was recovered by the English; for some years later, when Athelfled was dead, we read in the Chronicle that her brother Edward the Elder, the West Saxon King, who had annexed her dominions, “fared into Peac-lond to Badecan-wyll (Bakewell) and bade work a burgh there.” No doubt the county was[109] organised as a Mercian shire on its first occupation by Athelfled, who had already demarcated the neighbouring territories of Staffordshire and Warwickshire; and when it passed into Edward’s hands it would probably become one of the West Saxon shires without further alteration, the King merely putting his own ealdorman and sheriff in the place of the Danish earl, but allowing the twelve Danish lawmen to manage internal affairs on their own system. Like all the other Mercian shires in the Scandinavian region, Derbyshire takes its name from its chief town. It does not lie so evenly around it, however, as in most other cases; but the want of symmetry is, in fact, more apparent than real, historically speaking. The town stands in the exact centre of the plain portion of the county: the Forest of the Peak, stretching away to the north, was long regarded as a mere wild outlying appendage, a “deer-frith” or preserve of wild beasts, whose memory is still perpetuated by such names as Chapel-en-le-Frith. Though in the later Danish difficulties Derby often rebelled from its West Saxon masters and called in the aid of some wicking prince, there is no reason to suppose that the boundaries of the county ever varied much. Still, no quite distinct mention of “Deorbiscir” occurs till two years before the Norman Conquest.





Almost as naturally isolated from the rest of Britain as East Anglia, Sussex, or Cornwall, the practical peninsula of Lincolnshire has nearly always formed a separate and easily recognised division of the land, throughout all historical or prehistoric time. It is true, in its present form, now that drainage and reclamation have so largely obliterated the native marches of fen or forest, it seems an unjustifiable stretch of language to speak of Lincolnshire as a peninsula. But while the soil of England still retained its primitive natural features, the case was far otherwise. The great outward bulge of the Wolds was then everywhere cut off from the remainder of the central secondary plateau by a continuous border of swampy lowland. To the north, the long estuary of Humber separated it from Holderness and the rest of Yorkshire; while westward the whole lower basin of the Trent and the Don was occupied by the wide fens from which the Isle of Axholme rose as a solitary habitable oasis in the midst of a vast and desolate mere. Near where Newark now stands, the Trent valley almost interosculates with that of the Witham, whose tributaries again take their rise in the same boggy morass as those of the Welland. Finally, on the south, the great Fen District and the Wash completed the isolation of Lincolnshire from the outer[111] world. In the few spots where the mark of swamps was partially interrupted (if such there were) the wooded region, afterwards known as Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, must have acted practically just as well, so as to afford the primitive inhabitants of Lincolnshire perfect immunity from the attacks of enemies on the land side. Accordingly, it is not strange that the district of the Wolds should in early times have been regarded as a separate island; and its old Celtic name of Lindis (which appears once more in Lindisfarna-ee or Lindisfarne [the Isle of the Lindis-dwellers], now Holy Island, the chief of the Farne archipelago off the coast of Northumberland) probably contains the Welsh root Ynys, an island, in its terminal syllable [?]. The first half of the word, reappearing [as it seems] in the Roman Lindum, is of uncertain signification.

Under the Romans the peninsula or island naturally became a great corn-growing region; and its capital, Lindum, grew into an important commercial and strategical centre. From the modern name, Lincoln, which is apparently a corruption of Lindum Colonia (mentioned by the Ravenna geographer), it has been supposed that the town even attained the dignity of a colony. But the only colony in Britain distinctly alluded to by Roman writers was Camulodunum; and Bede’s intermediate form Lindocolina, seems to point to some confusion of sound or sense. At any rate, in accordance with the ordinary Roman policy of breaking down local isolation in the provinces, Lincoln was linked to the outer world by four great roads, which must have crossed the intervening fens on laboriously constructed causeways. Even the main north road, from London and Verulam to York, passed through Lincoln, avoiding as it did both the fen regions and the wooded midland plateau, and so sweeping round, in two bold curves through the most settled tracts, from London to Lincoln and from Lincoln to York. The station of Ad Pontem marks the point where it crossed the boundary-line of swamp and river. The Roman remains in Lincoln city—[among] the most extensive and best preserved in all[112] England—though very interesting in themselves, have little connection with the question how Lincolnshire ultimately grew into a separate English shire.

When the Teutonic pirates descended upon the deserted province in the middle of the fifth century, it would seem natural that the isle of Lindiss should be one of their earliest conquests. Isolated peninsular districts like Kent, Sussex, and East Anglia were most easily overrun and defended from recapture; and Lincolnshire in particular lay right in the route of a pirate fleet sailing down with a favouring north-easter from the wicks of Sleswick. Hence we may conclude that it was very early occupied; the more so as we hear no details of the English colonisation either from Bede or from the West Saxon Chronicle. Here, as in many other places, however, it does not seem likely that the English absolutely “exterminated” the British inhabitants. Doubtless they spared the lives of many as slaves. Professor Phillipps long ago pointed out the common occurrence of the Celtic type, with all its marked anatomical peculiarities, among the supposed pure Anglians of the modern county; and later anthropologists have fully confirmed both his facts and his inferences. Lincoln city was undoubtedly spared, like York and London; and to this day it still preserves in part its Roman walls. Where the cities were left standing, as Canon Stubbs observes, a portion at least of the city population would likewise be allowed to remain; and this was probably the case at Lincoln. Both town and district retained their old Celtic Romanised titles, the one being known as Lindocolina and later Lindcylene, and the other as Lindisse, or Lindesse, in the “Anglo-Saxon” period.

But Lincolnshire was not at first occupied as a whole by a single English tribe. Though here, as elsewhere, the Danish inundation swept away all the old English landmarks, we can still partially recover the names and boundaries of the different tribes which colonised the conquered country. The northern half of the modern shire, including probably the whole basin of the Trent,[113] was held by the Gegnas or Gainas, who had their capital at Gegnesburh, now Gainsborough. The middle district, including Lincoln itself and the basin of the Witham, was settled by a folk who called themselves after the region Lindis-ware, or men of Lindisse. The flat southern district of Holland, the hollow land, was scantily peopled by the Gyrwas, or fenmen, among whom the Celtic blood was probably strong; for we know that “Welsh robbers” held out in the Fens to a very late period. Their chief clan, the Spaldingas, have given their own name to the town of Spalding. Holland still survives as a recognised popular division of the modern county; Lindisse has taken the old English termination, ig, an island, and so has declined from the pure form into Lindesig, which occurs in the Chronicle, to its existing shape of Lindsey (analogous to Sheppey, Anglesey, and the other coast islands), under which it too lives on as a substantive sub-shire; while as to the third recognised division, Kesteven—whose name has a [curious antique look]—it is difficult to give any satisfactory account of its origin and meaning. Slowly, however, all the little principalities seem to have partially coalesced with that of the Lindisware; though even as late as the days of Alfred the Gegnas were still so powerful that a daughter of their ealdorman was considered no unworthy match for the great West Saxon king himself. The people remained heathen till after the conversion of Northumbria, when Paullinus preached in Lindsey, where the first convert was “a certain great man hight Blecca, with all his clan”—no doubt some of the same Bleccingas who gave their name to Bletchington. The earliest Lincoln minster was built of stone by this Blecca, and was dedicated to Paullinus himself; but its modern representative—a small church on the cathedral platform—is now corruptly known as St. Paul’s. Mr. Venables suggests that the number of churches in Lincolnshire dedicated to St. Michael, that favourite Celtic saint, may not improbably betoken some survival of British Christianity through the stormy period of English heathendom.


It is to the Scandinavian conquest that we owe our modern Lincolnshire in its present form, apparently. The Danes who overran Northumbria in the middle of the ninth century speedily proceeded to annex Mercia; and with it they also annexed Lindsey, which had acknowledged the Mercian supremacy ever since the days of the great heathen king Penda, two hundred years before. Lincoln became one of the Five Burghs of the Danes, and the bishops of the Lindisware fled before the renewed heathen outburst to Dorchester-on-Thames, near Oxford. Lincoln grew strongly Danish, and ranked next to York as a Scandinavian stronghold. Even as late as the time of Edward the Confessor it retained its twelve Danish lawmen. On it, apparently, all Lincolnshire depended, except the south of Holland, which formed part of the territory belonging to Stamford, another one of the Five Burghs. For forty years the heathen held undisputed possession of Lincoln, till Edward the Elder undertook his great campaigns for the recovery of the midlands and the north. After his conquest of Huntingdon, Northampton, and Cambridge, the vigorous West Saxon king pushed on to Stamford and to Nottingham, where he built forts and manned them with English and submissive Danes. “Then all the folk that sat in Mercia-land turned to him,” says the Chronicle; and though Lincoln is not mentioned by name, we may take it for granted that it was included in the general submission of the Five Burghs. Probably the shire was at once reorganised on the ordinary West Saxon model; but the earliest distinct mention of “Lindcolne-scir” seems to be during the wars of Edmund and Cnut, three-quarters of a century later. It is difficult to see why the whole modern county should have been made to depend on Lincoln alone; especially when Stamford, the old capital of the Gyrwas, had been one of the Five Burghs, each of which, in every other instance, was accepted as the nucleus of a new shire. We might naturally have expected the whole Fen country to have been erected into a county as Stamfordshire. Still more difficult is it to discover why Lindsey, Kesteven, and[115] Holland were all rolled together into a single shire, when the smaller and less important district of Rutland obtained rank as a distinct county. Probably the geographical unity of Lincolnshire overbore its territorial separation. The Isle of Axholme, however, now a singularly outlying part of the county beyond the natural boundary of the Trent, was not incorporated with the rest of the shire till the reign of Henry II., when the Lincolnshire men attacked it in boats, and forcibly added it to their own territory. By position it belongs rather to Yorkshire; and all its commercial relations have always been with Doncaster and York.


It is not unnatural that the largest county in England should also possess the most intricate history; and this is certainly the case with Yorkshire. There could never have been a time when the valley of the Ouse and its tributaries was not the seat of a large agricultural population—at least, since man first took to agriculture, and left off subsisting by the chase alone. The plain of York is, in fact, the richest cultivable lowland in all Britain; and even before the Romans came it formed the territory of the Brigantes, the most powerful and wealthy among the old Celtic tribes. When Britain became for some centuries a mere granary for the crowded cities of Southern Gaul and Italy, it was natural that the prefect of the province should fix his quarters in the centre of the most fertile cornfield region under his command. And when the purely agricultural English colonists began to change their piratical expeditions for organised settlements in Britain, it was equally natural that they should early turn to plunder the Roman capital, and to allot themselves manors in the prædial lowlands of the Ouse. Of their first settlement, indeed, we have absolutely no record; we do not know when or how they came, or where they effected their earliest landing. But when we catch a glimpse of the[116] country again in the pages of Bede, we learn that the lower basin of the Humber had then long been consolidated into a single English kingdom, and that the independent Britons had been driven away into the wooded upper valleys around Leeds and Wharfedale. That the city of York itself had a continuous existence from Roman into Anglo-Saxon times is admitted on all hands. It was not razed to the ground like Anderida, nor burnt down like Uriconium; but, as Canon Stubbs remarks, it preserved its continuity from one domination to the other, just as London, the mart of the merchants, did in the south, and as Lincoln, the metropolis of the midlands, did in the east. As in those cases, too, it still preserves its ancient name; for York, or Yorick, is only a corruption of Eurerwic, which itself is short for Eoforwic, which, again, is a queer Anglicised form of Eboracum, which, finally, is the Roman pronunciation of what became later the native Ebrauc.

The valley of the Ouse proper, and the coast from Tees to Humber, formed the kingdom of an early English tribe, the Dere, whose territory we know best under Bede’s Latinised name of Deira. It forms one of the most natural divisions of England as it now stands, being exactly coincident with the great northern watershed of the Humber; but at this early period the whole of the district thus circumscribed was not yet conquered by the English, two British principalities of Elmet and Loidis still holding out on their own account in the upper valleys. Before the end of the heathen period, however, King Ælle of the Dere annexed the Beornice of modern Northumberland and the Lothians; and the united people were thenceforth known under the common name of Northumbrians, though they often split up again into the two original tribes under separate kings. Edwin of York, the first Christian king of the Northumbrians, and founder of the original York Minster, completed the conquest of all modern Yorkshire by annexing Elmet and expelling Cerdic, its British king. Even so, however, the native resistance to the English invaders was by no means dead; for[117] Edwin himself was afterwards killed in battle by Cadwallan, king of the Strathclyde Welsh, who still owned all the western coast from Glasgow to Lancaster. For a year Cadwallan ruled over Northumbria, and the Briton was once more master in York city. At the end of that time, however, Oswald, a native Northumbrian English atheling, afterwards canonised, recovered the independence of his country. From Oswald’s days onward till the Danish conquest, Deira, or Yorkshire, remained under its native princes, either in conjunction with the northern province of Bernicia or as a separate principality.

When the Scandinavian pirates came, however, the open mouth of Humber formed, as it were, a predestined port of entry for their predatory long-ships. They fell upon York and the surrounding plain in their earliest expeditions, and overran the whole country at once. Northumbria, indeed, had been weakened both by constant warfare with the Picts of Scotland and the Welsh of Cumberland, and by the attacks of the encroaching West Saxon overlords, as well as by continual internal anarchy. For nine years the Danes “rode over Deira,” which they treated simply as a conquered land, and made York the headquarters of their plundering expeditions into Mercia and the south. During all that period, the only settled rule seems to have been that exercised by the English Archbishop. But at the close of this anarchic epoch, the Danish kings Halfdene and Eowils established a regular monarchy at York, which became thenceforth the great centre of the Scandinavian interest in England. For half a century Yorkshire was as much a Scandinavian province as Scania or Zealand. We are too apt to forget this Danish kingdom of the north in our exclusive devotion to the history of Wessex. A regular succession of Scandinavian princes, with such unfamiliar names as Ragnald and Sihtric, can be traced throughout the whole of the Scandinavian domination in Yorkshire, as well by means of their coins as from the scanty existing entries in our own chronicles or the Icelandic sagas. Bernicia, on the other hand (that is[118] to say, Northumberland and the Lothians) was left in the hands of a puppet prince belonging to the native dynasty, because its coast is singularly deficient in harbours, and therefore useless for the purposes of a piratical horde. The Danes found it easier to make over this northern district to a tributary king on payment of a sufficient Danegeld, than to collect its revenues themselves or to plunder its wild upland moors on separate expeditions which would have drawn them away from Mercia and Wessex.

The fifty years of Danish rule in York form almost a complete blank in the annals of the county. We can only piece out the list of kings from a few meagre hints. With the English reconquest, Yorkshire once more emerges into the full light of history. After Edward the Elder had successfully recovered the whole of Mercia, he went northward to Bakewell in Peakland, the English Chronicle tells us, “and there bade a burgh be wrought, and manned it with the folk thereabout.” All the north at once acknowledged his overlordship. Ragnald, the Danish King of York, “bowed to him,” as did also “the sons of Eadwulf,” English lords of Bamborough and Bernicia, as well as the King of the Strathclyde Welshmen, who still maintained their separate independence in Cumberland. As yet, however, the Danish princes kept up their state in Yorkshire as subject rulers under the West Saxon overlord; and when Athelstan succeeded his father Edward, he even acknowledged the high royal rank of Sihtric, the young King of York, by meeting him in state at Tamworth (the old royal town of Mercia) and giving him his own sister in marriage. But a year later Sihtric died, and Athelstan thereupon expelled his successor Guthfrith, uniting all Northumbria, Danish or English, to his own immediate dominions. Yet it was long before the Scandinavian north was thoroughly incorporated with the Saxon south. Again and again the Yorkshire men rebelled, now calling over Anlaf, King of the Dublin Danes, now choosing Ragnald, son of Guthfrith, and now once more setting up a prince of their own, Eric[119] Harold’s son. Even later, the north elected the West Saxon Edgar, while the south was still under his brother Edwy. In fact, it was only the strong hand of the Norman and Angevin kings which finally consolidated the two great divisions of England; and the abortive attempt of Cnut against William the Conqueror was really the last final effort of Northumbrian independence.

It was under Edgar, first genuine King of all England, that Yorkshire makes its earliest appearance as a single county. Edgar, or to speak more correctly, his great Minister Dunstan, broke up the old Northumbrian realm into three divisions, of which the southern, comprising Danish Yorkshire, was made over to Earl Oslac; the central, consisting of English Durham and Northumberland, was left in the hands of its native ruler, Oswulf; while the northern, the Lothians, was entrusted to the care of the King of Scots. The earliest mention of “Eoforwicscir” occurs in the reign of Edward the Confessor, where it is coupled with “North-hymbra-land” in nearly the modern sense, as including the whole of old Northumbria then left in English hands. In the Domesday Survey, Yorkshire (even now the largest county in England) was still larger than it is at the present day, the West Riding then including all Amunderness Hundred in North Lancashire. The first recorded division of the counties into circuits for Justices in Eyre under Henry II., on the other hand, distributes the north into Yorkshire, Richmondshire, Copeland, Westmoreland, Northumberland, and Cumberland. The slow change by which the neighbouring counties were definitely demarcated from Yorkshire belongs rather to the separate history of those shires themselves. To the present day, however, besides the recognised division into Ridings, there are several popular sub-shires of Yorkshire, such as Cleveland, Richmondshire, Hallamshire, and Holderness, which survive in colloquial use long after they have ceased to have any official existence. These probably represent old tribal shires of Deira, as Wilts and Dorset represent old tribal shires of Wessex. But while in the south the subdivisions have lived on[120] unchanged, in the north they have almost died out, because of the relatively slight importance of Northumbria under the Norman kings, after the terrible harrying of the Conqueror. As a whole, therefore, Yorkshire still represents an old English kingdom, erected afterwards into a Scandinavian principality, and finally shaped into a Norman county.


Probably many people remember the surprise they felt when they first learned that the county called Northumberland lay north of the Tyne, not of the Humber; and though the glib explanation usually given—that the name had once a wider signification, but was afterwards restricted to its present meaning—might quash all the critical doubts of childhood, it cannot certainly be considered a wholly adequate or satisfactory answer for grown-up intelligence. As a matter of fact, the history of Northumberland, either as a name or as a county, cannot be got rid of in quite so summary a manner. The tale that hangs thereby is both long and interesting. The earliest English settlement on the Northumbrian coast seems to have been made in the neighbourhood of Bamborough, at some unknown date and by some unknown leader. It is usual to assume, indeed, from a single meagre entry in the English Chronicle, that one Ida was the first king, about a century after the English colonisation of Kent; but in reality the Chronicle merely tells us that at that time “Ida came to the Kingdom,” or, as we should now say, ascended the throne; while the assumption that he was the first English conqueror of Northumbria is only a bit of that uncritical guesswork which often passes for superior historical knowledge. It is highly improbable, indeed, that the English pirates would take the trouble to round the Forelands and settle in distant Hampshire before they had attempted a landing on the nearest and least protected shore of Britain in the Lothians and[121] Northumberland. What is certain amounts to no more than this: that in the middle of the sixth century an English prince named Ida ruled over a petty principality among the rocky braes of the Northumbrian coast; that he “timbered Bamborough that was first betyned with a hedge, and thereafter with a wall”; and gave it its name, Bebbanburh, in honour of Bebba, his Christian Welsh wife. That is the first fixed starting-point in the history of the modern county of Northumberland.

As yet, however, the name of Northumberland was quite unknown. The English people of this northern principality, which spread in time from the Tyne through what are now the Scotch Lowlands to the Forth, called themselves the Beornice; and the native title for their country is most familiar to us in Bede’s Latinised form of Bernicia. South of it, from Tyne to Humber, stretched a second considerable principality—that of the Dere, also Latinised as Deira, and comprising the modern counties of Durham and Yorks, though the first-named seems to have fluctuated between the two tribes. Both principalities were themselves doubtless built up by the coalescence of several earlier and minor chieftainships, whose names have in some cases been preserved to us: and under Edwin, the first Christian King at York, if not also under his heathen predecessor, Athelfrith, the two larger principalities were in turn united into a single powerful kingdom, which stretched uninterruptedly from the Humber to the Forth. To this new and important State the name of Northan-hymbra-land came to be applied—meaning quite strictly, not the land north of the Humber, but the land of the Northan-hymbras or Northumbrians. It is an ethnical, not a territorial title. Similarly, the people beyond the Humber, afterwards known as Myrce or Mercians, were commonly described in early times as Suthan-hymbre, or South-humbrians. But though the two northern principalities were thus politically united, they did not socially coalesce; and from time to time we hear for a while of separate kings reigning once more in Deira and Bernicia respectively. The old Roman[122] provincial capital of York continued to be the metropolis of Deira, while Bernicia had as its chief city Ida’s royal stronghold itself. So, too, after the universal introduction of Christianity the northern Archbishop had his see fixed at York, the capital of Edwin; while the suffragan Bishop of the Beornicas took up his abode at Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, not far from the Bernician capital of Bamborough.

Up to the period of the Danish invasions Northumbria, as a whole, remained the most flourishing and civilised part of Britain. It had been the seat of the Roman prefecture; it had kept up the traditions of Roman culture; and the struggle of the English with the natives had not apparently been so severe or so crushing as in Wessex and the south. In the pages of Bede we see Northumbria, including what are now the Lothians, described as the centre of light and learning for the whole island, and the special seat of monasteries and convents. Bede himself was a monk of Jarrow; Cædmon, the great epic poet, was a lay brother at Whitby; and Cynewulf, the sweetest early English lyrical writer, was a member of some other, though doubtful, Northumbrian religious house. But even before the Danish troubles the position of Northumbria had begun to decline; and the native kings were at last obliged by force of arms to recognise the supremacy of Egbert of Wessex. Nevertheless, they continued to rule as under-kings in York for a couple of generations longer. When the northern pirates, however, began to fall upon Britain in full force they naturally directed their first attacks against Northumbria, as the English themselves had probably done four centuries before them. Deira fell almost without a blow at the very earliest invasion, and York became the capital of the first Danish kingdom in Britain. Thus Yorkshire was merged for a time in the Denalagu or Danish territory. But the northern part of Northumbria, stretching from the Tees to the Forth, and including the modern counties of Durham and Northumberland, as well as the Lothians, did not fall into the hands of the Danes. A branch of the[123] native royal house continued to rule at Bamborough; and the northern pirates, in their eagerness to attack the rich plains of Mercia, East Anglia, and Wessex, did not trouble themselves about the rocky upland kingdom of the braes. Hence this northern fragment of the old Northumbrian realm, alone remaining in the hands of its English natives, kept the style and title of Northumberland, while the Danish kingdom to the south began a little later to be known as Yorkshire.

As yet, however, the name Northumberland, even in this restricted sense, applied to a far wider district than the modern county. When King Edward of Wessex recovered the overlordship of the north, Ragnald, Danish King of York, did homage (to use the familiar term of later feudalism) for Yorkshire; while Ealdred, English lord of Bamborough, appeared as the under-king of all the rest of old Northumbria. In the reign of Edgar, when the whole of England was first thoroughly united, Northumberland once more underwent a serious clipping. Deira was finally handed over to Earl Oslac: Oswulf, the representative of the native dynasty, was also compelled to accept the title of earl, and was recognised as ruler of the central portion between Tees and Tweed; while the whole of the northern portion, from Tweed to Forth, was granted as a fief to Kenneth, King of Scots, and has ever since remained an integral portion of the Scottish realm. Such at least is the statement given by the English historians, and accepted by the great authority of Dr. Freeman; and though the Scotch have a more patriotic version of the affair on their own account, the question is rather one connected with the annals of the Lothians than with the annals of Northumberland. Edinburgh, originally an English border fortress, built by Edwin of Deira, whose name it bears, thus became the capital of the Celtic Scotch kings; and English Lothian became the richest and most important portion of the later historical Scotland.

For another century Northumberland was held to include the whole district between the Tees and the[124] Tweed; till after the Norman Conquest it received yet a further mutilation in the loss of its southern half. The See of St. Cuthbert and of the Beornice, driven for a while by the Danes from Lindisfarne to Melrose, had been restored to Durham. The country between the Tees and the Tyne, the old debateable border of Deira and Bernicia, was now separated as the county palatine of Durham, and the prince-bishop himself was regarded as the guardian of the frontier against the Scottish kings: for the Lothians, once an integral part of the Bernician realm, had now become the hostile march of an unfriendly power. Durham still retains one noteworthy mark of its post-Norman origin in the fact that it is always spoken of as the county of Durham, and never as Durhamshire. At the date of its creation as a county the French word had officially superseded the native English term.

As for Northumberland itself, it was first finally reduced to its modern limits; and as it was cruelly harried by William, partly in retribution for revolt, and partly as a convenient means of creating a waste between himself and his troublesome vassal, the King of Scots, it almost disappears for a while from English history. It was many ages, indeed, before it fully recovered from the blow; and its comparatively modern rise in its present form is attested by the curiously latter-day tone of the name borne by its county town, Newcastle. The existing shire thus lineally represents the old Northumbrian kingdom of which it forms the last central fragment; while, strangely enough, it also contains the original nucleus of Ida’s ancient principality, and the primitive Northumbrian capital of Bamborough.





East Anglia stands alone among the territorial divisions of England in the completeness and the naturalness of its local boundaries. Even popular language clearly testifies to its real isolation; for in no other case has the old historical name of an early province survived in common use to the present day, in spite of adverse administrative changes, with the vitality only ensured by natural causes. We still speak of Kent and Sussex, it is true, because Kent and Sussex, though originally separate kingdoms, are still English counties in our own time; but nobody thinks of talking in everyday life about Wessex or Mercia or Northumbria. The North, the West Country, and the Midlands have superseded the old names for every practical purpose. It is not so, however, with East Anglia. Though the kingdom of the Eastern English has long since been divided into the two shires of Norfolk and Suffolk, the original name continues to be employed in ordinary speech as a convenient common designation for the united district. It answers to a real geographical entity, while the two shires answer only to comparatively artificial administrative subdivisions; and so it has survived to modern times, long after accidental kingdoms like Strathclyde or Wessex have wholly dropped out of popular recollection.

The Isle of the Icenians originally formed in fact as[126] isolated a district as Anglesey or Man at the present day. Before the fens were drained, it lay completely ringed round by a continuous border of sea, marsh, or river on every side, and it was regarded to some extent as a separate little England by itself. From the central morass of the fen-land, south of Ely, the Ouse ran northward between swampy levels to the great flats of the Wash; while the Stour flowed eastward through flooded meadow-land to the vast muddy tidal wastes about Harwich and the Naze. Between the fens and the sea, threaded only by the narrow backbone of cretaceous hills which terminates in the interrupted range of low bluffs from Hunstanton to Cromer, a broad level corn-growing plain covers the whole intermediate slope of East Anglia. From the earliest times this fertile plain must have composed the principality of a separate tribe or confederation, practically inaccessible from any side save the seaward, and thus safe from hostile attacks before the age of extended navigation. When the Romans came the island belonged to the tribe of Icenians; and in the centre of the Gwent or agricultural champaign [?], close to where Norwich now stands, lay their chief town, Latinised into the familiar form of Venta Icenorum. As usual in the non-manufacturing shires, modern changes have left the main features of this primitive arrangement untouched. The boundaries of the counties are still roughly the boundaries of the Icenian Isle, while Norwich still forms the natural capital of the whole region and the cathedral town of the existing diocese. The names, indeed, change; but the things and even the people still remain.

Naturally, an isolated district like the Icenian country was one of those least ready to submit to Roman rule; and the insurrection of the islanders under Boadicea is the most familiar incident of early British history. But when the native resistance was crushed the Romans set to work at their ordinary task of breaking down the local isolation and binding the fen-girt peninsula to their central organisation by roads and military works. A great causeway bridged over the gap between Colchester[127] and the Icenian stations; while two of the coast fortresses for the protection of the provincials from the Saxon and English pirates were established at Brancaster and Burgh Castle. Norfolk and Suffolk formed part of the country under the care of that equivocal officer, the Count of the Saxon Shore; and as they lay right in the track of long-boats sailing before a fair north-easter from Sleswick and Friesland, we may be reasonably sure that they were more often exposed than any other section of the coast to the incursions of the little pirate fleets. But as to how or when the English actually settled in this the first insular England we have not even a hint. The country disappears from view in Roman writings as the land of the Iceni; it reappears three centuries later (in Bede) as the land of the East English; and of the process which turned it from a British into an English land we hear not a word. Henry of Huntingdon, indeed, five or six hundred years afterwards, tells us that many separate chieftains came from “Germany,” by which he means Sleswick, and occupied bits of East Anglia on their own account. But Henry of Huntingdon had no better means of information than we have ourselves. At any rate, when the Eastern Counties emerge again upon the historical stage, they emerge as a thoroughly Teutonised kingdom. Mr. Freeman calls them “perhaps the most thoroughly Teutonic realm in Britain”; and certainly the number of villages bearing English clan-names is far greater there than in any other part of England; whence we may fairly conclude that the English settled in the Eastern Counties more thickly than anywhere else. The very name of East Anglia points to a thoroughly Teutonic region. On the other hand, Dr. Rolleston, who united in a singular degree the culture and knowledge of a classically educated archæologist and historian with the physical training of an anatomist and anthropologist, always lays great stress upon the fact that skulls of the long Celtic type are now very common in Norfolk and Suffolk, where, as he remarks, we do not hear that Teuton and Briton ever met as enemies when East Anglia became a kingdom.[128] Moreover, Sir Francis Palgrave has collected a number of facts which tend to show that separate bodies of Britons long held out as independent tribes or outlaws among the islands of the fen-land. On the whole, it seems not improbable that East Anglia, from its exposed and isolated position, was one of the parts of Britain earliest peopled by the English; that it was thickly settled by the invaders, whose barrows still cover the ground, while their clan-villages still occur abundantly in the local nomenclature; but that large numbers of the Romanised Britons, or at least of their women and children, were spared as serfs, and so became the ancestors of the existing East Anglian peasantry. Here, as in so many other places, the Celtic blood still seems to mingle unmistakably with the dominant Teutonic element.

Under the heathen East English the Icenian Isle once more relapsed into its primitive isolation. A mark or border of waste was indispensable to every Teutonic kingdom; and the East English, not content with the rivers and the fen-land, filled up the breaks in the natural line of meres and cranberry marshes with the great earthwork known as the Giant’s or the Devil’s Dyke, which turns its outer face towards the fen-land. It protected the dry plain at first, no doubt, from the “Welsh robbers” of Ely and the islands, and later still from the Middle English and the Mercians of the interior kingdoms. Whether the division of the people into North Folk and South Folk belongs to this early period or to the later Danish principality may perhaps be doubted. Certainly, we hear only of a single king for the whole of East Anglia during all the purely Anglian era. The heathen English of the principality were converted by Bishop Felix, a Burgundian missionary, and the see for the little kingdom was originally fixed at Sidnacester. When Mercia rose to be the leading state in Britain, the East Anglian kings became subject to the Mercian rulers; and when Wessex, in turn, worked its way to the English hegemony, they acknowledged the supremacy of Winchester. But to[129] the end the native princes remained as immediate governors of their own country. It was not until the Danish invasion that the last East Anglian under-king, Edmund, died a martyr in defence of his dominions; and his tomb at Bury St. Edmunds became in after-days the holiest shrine of England after that of St. Thomas at Canterbury. Under the Danes, East Anglia was the territory of Guthrum, King Alfred’s enemy; and there can be little doubt that a large Scandinavian element was then introduced into the population of the district. Till the recovery of the Danish country by Edmund of Wessex, East Anglia remained the domain of an independent Scandinavian “host,” and even afterwards it was always a stronghold of Danish feeling. Perhaps it was at the reconquest that the divisions for the North and South Folk were first recognised administratively, like the neighbouring shires of Bedford and Huntingdon, then recovered from their Danish earls. But in any case they must even earlier have been in use as a convenient practical subdivision of the kingdom; for the boundaries are formed by two rivers which almost cut asunder the northern and southern halves of the Icenian plain—the Waveney, flowing eastward to the sea at Yarmouth, and a tributary of the Ouse running westward past Thetford to join the main stream below Ely. As to the outlying bit of Norfolk beyond the Ouse, that merely represents the East Anglian half of the debateable mark of fen-land, now drained and reclaimed; the portion as far as the Nen being assigned to Norfolk and the remainder to Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire. The origin and growth of the latter county, originally a mere strip of the East Anglian marches, and the last refuge of the independent Britons, demand separate consideration. The history of East Anglia as two modern English shires—the rise of Norwich, with its cathedral and castle; the agricultural and commercial importance of the counties in mediæval times; the export trade in wool from Ipswich and the Orwell to Flanders; the establishment of the Flemish and Huguenot colonies; the ecclesiastical annals of the[130] diocese in exile from the Danes at Dorchester-on-Thames, or restored to Elmham and Norwich; the fishing trade of Yarmouth; the Abbey and the miracles at Bury—these, though all deeply interesting in themselves, must necessarily be left out of consideration in the attempt merely to account for the origin of the two counties as collective administrative units. From this narrower point of view the interest of East Anglia consists in the fact that it lies intermediate between the shires which are old kingdoms, like Kent or Essex, and the shires which are artificial Danish creations, like Derby and Nottingham. Though the principality was conquered by the Danes, its natural geographical unity still preserved its integrity; and when it became once more an integral part of the English kingdom it only suffered subdivision into the two perfectly natural halves of Norfolk and Suffolk, instead of being split up into irregular circles round central fortresses. In the neighbouring Lincolnshire the old lines are so thoroughly swept away that we can now hardly distinguish the original Lindsey, and have wholly lost all knowledge of the Gegnas. In Mercia, too, they are so irretrievably destroyed that we cannot recover a single one of the primitive tribal States. But in East Anglia they still remain plainly fixed by the hand of nature, and even in places clearly demarcated by definite visible human boundaries.


The great undrained fen region of eastern England, a mere desolate waste of water-logged marsh, interspersed by a few low islets of glacial boulder clay, must long have been one of the least habitable districts in all Great Britain. Nevertheless, its outskirts still contain many important traces of early occupation and of considerable primæval monuments. The tract which now composes Cambridgeshire evidently belongs by historical connection to the East Anglian island, as a western[131] march or borderland of that insulated kingdom. As early as the Celtic times, the dry land of the county—that is to say, the low chalk-hill district in the south—was almost certainly included in the territory of the Iceni. The Devil’s Ditch, which crosses Newmarket Racecourse, and three other prehistoric earthworks in the south-west of the county, all have their ramparts turned towards the Icenian territory, while their fosse lies on the outer or western side: thus showing that they were erected to protect the region from the attacks of a nation living farther westward in the interior of England. The old British track known as the Icenhild or Icknield Way [whether or not its name means as has been guessed], the “war-path of the Iceni,” also crosses the shire from end to end, and its course is marked throughout by the tumuli and pit-dwellings of the primitive inhabitants. Many local names still preserve the memory of these earliest historical Cambridge men.

The town of Cambridge itself more probably owes its origin to the Romans, though the great British camp or refuge at Wandlebury, on the summit of the stunted Gogmagogs, no doubt implies the existence of an Icenian village in the valley beneath. Whether Cambridge itself or Grantchester, close by, represents the Roman Camboritum, it is at least certain that Roman stations once occupied both the neighbouring sites. When the English pirates overran Norfolk and Suffolk, they must, in all probability, have conquered the dry southern portion of Cambridgeshire as well, including the two Roman posts, which long after lay waste and uninhabited. But in the northern fen-land it seems likely that numbers of Britons held out for a while against the heathen invaders, among the islets and morasses of Ely or Thorney, as the native English six centuries later held out in the self-same fastnesses against the Norman conqueror. Sir Francis Palgrave has collected a number of interesting passages which imply the existence of isolated independent Celtic bands in the fen country to a comparatively late period; and even Mr. Freeman[132] admits, in an unobtrusive footnote, the probability of his conclusion. Indeed, the rules of the thanes’ guild at Cambridge itself, an Anglo-Saxon document of the eleventh century, make mention of a distinct penalty even then for killing a “Welshman,” whose life was held cheaper than that of an English churl. It seems probable that the dry land in the south formed an integral part of the East Anglian kingdom from the time of its first formation; while the northern islets were more slowly subdued by a separate English tribe, the South Gyrwas—so called in contradistinction to the North Gyrwas of the Lincolnshire fens; and these settlers in the marshes retained their own petty kinglets at least till after the period of the conversion to Christianity.

The early history of the district, not yet a single complete shire, centres rather round the shrine of Ely than round the then ruined Roman station of Cambridge. The great monastery owed its foundation to one Ethelthryth, an old English queen whose name has been conveniently simplified by our Latin chroniclers into Etheldreda, or more colloquially still into Awdrey. She was daughter of Anna, king of the East Anglians, and she was given in marriage to his subject prince, Tondberht, king of the South Gyrwas. After her husband’s death she raised a little mixed house for monks and nuns, almost on the very site now occupied by the cathedral; and from this beginning the wealthy Benedictine establishment of later days took its rise. Etheldreda herself was buried within the church in a marble sarcophagus discovered among the ruins of the Roman station, then a “waste chester” on the banks of Cam. We hear nothing more of the Gyrwas or their kings after the death of Bede, dependent as we are for the subsequent period on the scanty annals of the Winchester Chronicle: but there is no reason to doubt that the district was still ruled by its own petty princes, as vassals of the East Anglian overlord, till the date of the Danish irruption. The Scandinavians seized early upon the almost insular region of Norfolk, Suffolk, and[133] Cambridgeshire, and fell with special fury upon the rich religious houses of the Fens. The monks, protected by custom during internal wars, had turned the islets into the best-tilled land in England; and the Danes found more booty in these remote shrines than even in royal towns like York and Tamworth. Not Ely alone, but Peterborough, Thorney, Crowland, and Soham as well, were all destroyed in the first onslaught of the heathen; and their sites lay desolate for many years, till the monasteries were refounded by West Saxon kings or bishops after the English recovery of East Anglia and the Mercian shires.

It was the Danes, apparently, who resuscitated the importance of Cambridge town, so long neglected, and who gave approximately to Cambridgeshire its present artificial boundaries. Perhaps the earliest mention in an English document of “Grantanbrycge” occurs in the Winchester Chronicle during the reign of Alfred; when three Danish kings, Guthrum, Oscytel, and Anwend, came southward from Repton with “a mickle host,” and “sat there one year.” After the Danes had “horsed themselves” and settled down quietly on the soil, such a host, distinct from that which held East Anglia, though doubtless in dependent alliance with it, took up its permanent quarters in the town of Cambridge. The post was a convenient one for making raids into English Hertfordshire, on the direct line for the rich monastery of St. Albans and the merchant commonwealth of London itself: in fact, it was just the sort of place the Danes loved, and it became accordingly the temporary metropolis of one among the many rude little Scandinavian States which then occupied the whole of the north and the midlands. To judge by analogies elsewhere, we may conclude that the Danes divided out the land among themselves as lords of the manors, and that the territory dependent upon Cambridge was roughly coincident in boundary with the modern shire. For half a century the heathen held sway in Cambridge, and over the patrimony of St. Etheldreda; but when Edward the Elder engaged[134] in his gallant campaign for the recovery of the conquered districts, Cambridgeshire only held out for a very short time. A single victory secured Essex and East Anglia, in both of which the Danish garrison accepted Edward’s supremacy; and then, says the English Chronicle, “the host that belonged to Grantanbrycge chose him separately for lord and protector, and fastened it with oaths.” Seeing that Edward erected the other petty Danish States into shires as soon as they were recovered, we may be pretty sure that he did the same with the territory of the Cambridge host; and indeed as early as the time of Athelred we find “Grantabrycg-scir” distinctly mentioned by name in the Chronicle as a county. The river has always had a double alternative title—either as Cam or Granta—and both forms must be very ancient, since the one is enshrined in Camboritum and the other in Grantchester; but the precise date of the substitution of Cambridge for Grantabrycg, or Grantebridge, is not known with certainty.

The Isle of Ely has a peculiar later county history of its own. The monastery was refounded by Bishop Ethelwold, of Winchester, under King Edgar, and was then endowed afresh with large landed property. Its abbots became chiefs of the King’s Court up to the time of the Norman Conquest, alternately with those of Glastonbury and St. Augustine’s. But after the resistance offered to William by the last English patriots in the Isle, traditionally associated with the exploits of Hereward, though really headed by Edwin and Morkere, the monastery fell into royal disfavour, as a hotbed of anti-Norman insurrectionary feeling. To weaken its influence a new bishopric was erected at Ely, early in the twelfth century, its territory being carved out of the immense diocese of Lincoln, which then stretched from the Humber to the Thames, and the revenues of the see were provided for from those of the monastery. The isle itself became a royal franchise, known as the Liberty of the Bishop of Ely, and was in fact, though not in name, a county palatine.[135] The Bishops ruled as really in this little district as the successors of St. Cuthbert ruled in their larger principality of Durham. The episcopal power was largely curtailed under Henry VIII., but the temporal jurisdiction of the Bishop was not wholly abolished until the year 1837.






In a new country like America or Australia everybody recognises at once that each town owes its existence at the precise and particular point it occupies to some perfectly definite and obvious causes. New York stands at the land-locked mouth of the Hudson, on one of the finest harbours the world can show. Philadelphia commands the open traffic of Delaware Bay. Chicago collects the wheat of the great lake basin. Buffalo has grown up around the elevators which tranship western grain from the lake-going bottoms of Huron and Michigan into the flat barges of the Erie Canal. Montreal represents the spot where the navigation of the St. Lawrence begins to be difficult for ocean-going craft on account of the lowest range of rapids. New Orleans gathers on its quays and levees the cotton of all the lower Mississippi flats. In every case, we can point immediately to the exact advantage of situation which has caused great masses of men to aggregate so rapidly around these special centres. The conditions which gave rise to the towns still subsist in full working order, and for the most part continue to operate as attractors of yet larger population. Even when we meet with a purely artificial town, like Washington or Ottawa, we can nevertheless easily understand the motives which led to its being placed in its present odd situation. The American capital represents a compromise between the[140] North and the South; the Canadian capital represents a compromise between the French and the English province. Everywhere the social, political, or commercial causes which brought the towns into existence either remain unaltered or are matters of such recent date that their memory is still fresh in the minds of the people.

In England, on the other hand, it is not by any means always so. To be sure we have towns, like Liverpool, Glasgow, Hull, and Bristol, whose origin and cause is as clear as that of any bran-new American “city.” Nay, we have even a few towns, like Preston, Bolton, Wigan, Bury, and Oldham, which have sprung up almost as rapidly as any mushroom mining centre among the Colorado Pikes. But many of our oldest and most famous places have now so little apparent vitality, and stand apart so thoroughly from the course of modern English industrial life, that we almost forget to think they had once a real and obvious raison d’être, a necessary origin in the fitness of things. The causes which gave them birth have long since passed away, and they now survive in many cases by dint of our pure national conservatism: the town continuing where it is merely because it is a town and has habitable houses which people can occupy. So much is this the case, indeed, and so largely have the conditions altered, that we often look upon the town as existing for the sake of some ancient accessory; whereas at first, of course, the accessory was placed there because of the town. Chichester, and Canterbury, and Lichfield, for example, are now almost purely cathedral cities; and we usually quite forget that the city was there before the cathedral—that each of them was first the capital of a heathen English principality, and only afterwards the bishop-stool of a Christian diocese. Oxford and Cambridge are older than their universities; Lincoln than its minster; Warwick than its castle; Salisbury than its very site. Yet if we inquire into the origin of our oldest towns, we can always discover some real reason why they were first put in the places they occupy; and these reasons generally[141] cast a good deal of interesting side-light on the ancient social history of the country. Some of them took their origin from old agricultural conditions of British and Roman times: they occupied the centre of some wide natural clearing in the forest or they lay at the river-edge of some broad alluvial champaign. Others had their first use in the internal wars of early English times: they were strongholds of the Teuton against the Welshman, or border fortresses of the West Saxon against his Mercian foe. Yet others date from the rise of the earliest English commerce, the export wool trade, and represent the old staples of the Plantagenets, among the sheep-feeding chalk downs of the south coast and the eastern shore from Yorkshire to Norfolk. Our oldest ports all looked southward or eastward toward the Continent; our later ones look westward toward the open Atlantic. Another large class of ancient towns, again, grew up around such monasteries as Bury, Ely, and Peterborough, or around Norman castles like Montgomery, Beaumaris, and Alnwick. In every instance the town had once a real meaning and purpose, though it has often gone on existing by mere force of inertia long after the original purpose has utterly died away.

It is this continuity with the past that gives so great and inexhaustible an interest to an old civilisation like that of England: it is this that Americans and other strangers from new countries often fail to appreciate in the soil and sentiments of Britain. Every inch of ground has here its story, and rouses an intelligent curiosity in the minds of all its inhabitants. England is an endless and delightful puzzle: she offers us a riddle to solve, a queer custom to account for, a name or a relic to explain, at every turn. Why is Maidstone the county-town of Kent, and Chelmsford that of Essex? Why does Oxfordshire lie so one-sidedly to its capital, and Leicester stand so centrally to its shire? Why may we say Wiltshire and Dorsetshire, but not Sussexshire, Cornwallshire, or Cumberlandshire? Why is Old Sarum now desolate, while Shaftesbury still caps its waterless hill? Why is there a Winchester on the site of Venta Belgarum, while[142] Venta Icenorum has died down to a mere provincial Caistor, and Venta Silurum to a forgotten Caer Went? Why is Anderida still utterly uninhabited, while York and London stand on the sites of Eburacum and Londinium? These are the questions which naturally present themselves on every hand in looking at any English shire or any English town. At the same time, the problems about a town are always somewhat different from those about a county; because a territorial division once set up may outlive immense changes in its component parts, and may even become a mere traditional administrative entity, without real organic unity or genuine separation from its neighbours; whereas a town must always go on attracting and retaining its population, or else it ceases altogether to exist, at least as a corporate and collective whole. Once begun, it may go on by means of very different causes from those which determined its first attractiveness; but some kind of sufficient ground for its existence it must always be able to show throughout all its history. Sometimes it begins by being a manufacturing place, and ends by being an agricultural centre; sometimes it owes its earliest impulse to its position as the head of navigation on a river, and traces its later importance to a railway or a coal-mine; sometimes even it sets out as a fortress or a royal residence, and sinks at last into a mere group of pleasant villas, depending for support upon pretty scenery or sunny climate. Manchester is now a great emporium of piece-goods; but its very name shows its alien origin, for it could never have owed its Roman termination chester to the cotton of South Carolina and Bombay. Canterbury now exists mainly as the metropolitan city of the English Church; but the Roman Durovernum certainly did not depend for its foundation upon the future minster of Ethelbert and Augustine, or upon the mediæval shrine of St. Thomas à Becket. Hastings and Brighton were large fishing stations long before they became fashionable watering-places; Cheltenham was a market town and capital of the Cotswold wool trade long before the discovery of the mineral waters led to the building of the Promenade[143] and the Spa Houses. Reading was once the clan-centre of the Readingas; now it is a junction on the Great Western, and does an active business in Huntley and Palmer’s biscuits. Tamworth once stood a good chance of being the capital of all England; Dorchester-on-Thames and Winchester each in turn ran London close for the same honour; and Westminster has actually carried off the prize, though the outgrowth of the metropolis has now practically merged it into a single town with the City. On the other hand, a few places here and there have never swerved from their first love. London has always mainly depended upon the traffic of the Thames; Bristol has always been the port of the Avon; Bath has owed its existence throughout to its hot springs, Yarmouth to its fisheries, Wells to its abbey or cathedral. To unravel in each case the efficient causes at work in producing and maintaining any particular town is a task full of interest and instruction, and one for which English history affords exceptionally abundant materials.





Among the undulating low tertiary hills which bound the alluvial London basin to northward, the great mediæval Abbey Church of St. Albans overlooks the winding little valley of the Ver from a faintly-marked ledge or step hanging midway between the river and the plateau above. As one gazes across the narrow dell from the site of Verulamium to the square and massive tower of the minster on the opposite slope, it is a curious thought that this small forgotten Hertfordshire town is the mother-city of London, and was already the recognised capital of the lower Thames region before London itself yet existed. A large fosse and earthwork, starting from and returning to the stream of the Ver—these Celtic river names have a wonderful vitality—and encircling on its way the existing town, together with a space of some four square miles, probably marks the site of the old straggling British metropolis: a mere stockaded village, into whose wide area all the women and cattle of the tribe could be huddled hastily for defence in time of war. Here doubtless stood the oppidum of the Cassii, and of their chieftain Cassivellaunus, as Cæsar Latinises the name; and here the Romans gained their first fruitless victory over the British prince. Certainly Verulamium, the village on the Ver, was the capital of his successor Tasciovanus,[145] and remained the chief town of the Thames estuary till Cunobelinus removed his residence to Camalodunum, or Colchester. In those days the site of London still presented a long succession of marshy morasses, stretching from the flooded meadows at Battersea to the tidal flats of the Lea River estuary, now known as the Isle of Dogs; and from this vast lagoon, dotted with rising eyots and hithes, the Tower Hill and the height now crowned by St. Paul’s Cathedral stood out alone as two solitary and wooded tors. Indeed, all Middlesex was then apparently a trackless mark of forest, crossed only by a single aboriginal British war-trail. It was natural, therefore, that the native centre of the Thames basin should be pitched farther northward, among the drier and smaller valleys of the tributary streams. Verulamium was the spot on which the chieftains of the Cassii fixed their choice.

When Aulus Plautius conquered the south-eastern region of Britain he made two notable changes in the arrangements of the Lea basin. The two have had singularly different fates. In the first place, he founded the new port and city of [Augusta], on the dun where the Hampstead heights abutted upon the joint estuary of the Thames and Lea; and this new city has slowly grown into the metropolis of the British Empire. In the second place, he set up a Roman station of Verulamium on the opposite side of the Ver from the British oppidum; and this station now forms the deserted ruin of Old Verulam, while the still more ancient site over against it is once more occupied in part by the modern town of St. Albans. It was the earliest Roman municipium raised in Britain; a few massive fragments of its flint-built wall, with bonding courses of tile, still remain; elsewhere a faint line of tree-covered mounds irregularly marks its oval circuit. Traces of an amphitheatre also exist. In Boadicea’s insurrection, both London and Verulam were completely destroyed, and all the Italian inhabitants massacred. But after the defeat of the Iceni by Paulinus, the city soon rose again, and became for a time the greatest Roman town in Britain. As[146] Mr. Green, however, observes, the importance of towns in the Roman province was purely military. While the conquerors were mainly engaged in reducing the districts nearest to Gaul, Colchester, Verulam, and London were the greatest of Roman stations; as the tide of war rolled away northward and westward, Chester and Cærleon became the seats of the legions, and York the capital of the entire province. Even in the south itself, Verulam must slowly but surely have dwindled before the rising importance of London, the port on the greatest eastward river and the fortress that blocked the passage of the Thames to the Teutonic pirates. Nevertheless, it was during these later Roman days that the event occurred which has given the town its mediæval importance and its modern name. During the persecution of Diocletian, according to the well-known legend told us by Bede, one Albanus, a Roman resident, gave shelter to a hunted Christian clerk. Converted by his guest, he assumed the clerical cloak and gave himself up in his stead to his pursuers. He was led out from the municipium across the Ver to a hillock on the opposite slope, and there, with the usual miraculous accompaniments, was beheaded for the faith. When Germanus of Auxerre came to Britain to put down the Pelagian heresy, he raised a wooden chapel over the martyr’s remains; and his own name is still commemorated in that of St. German’s Farm. Such is the one legend of the older British Christianity which has come down to us across the blank abyss of early English heathendom. Its mere survival is a point full of historical significance. The tale was already current at Verulamium in the early part of the fifth century, a hundred years after the event it describes; and it was handed down in part to Bede by the British monk Gildas, who himself saw the full brunt of the heathen Saxon invasion in the Midlands.

When the East Saxon pirates swarmed across the low hills north of still unconquered London to Verulam they fell upon the Roman station and the church of the protomartyr, a little time before the period when Gildas[147] wrote his despairing jeremiad over the destruction of Britain. The rough sea-wolves from the pathless cranberry marshes of Sleswick were astonished at the massive walls and paved roads of the Roman city. Such works must needs have been the handicraft of the Watlings, those Teutonic giants who laid the glittering track of the Milky Way across the vault of heaven. So they called the city Watlinga-ceaster, the castrum of the Watlings; and that is one of the names which it bears in Bede’s history, though the older name survived side by side with the barbaric innovation under the slightly altered guise of Verlama-ceaster. So, too, they knew the paved road which led them on to blockade the doomed city of London by the name of the Watling Street; and that name the Roman causeway still preserves throughout its whole course across the Midlands of England. Whether Verulam then lay waste, and if so how long, we cannot tell with certainty. But there is no good reason to suppose that it was ever deserted during the early English period. It is clear that the memory of St. Alban never died out at Verulam. For two centuries we know nothing of the place; and then, long after the conversion of the English, during the last days of the independent petty kingdoms, we hear that Offa of Mercia determined to build an abbey at the spot where Alban was beheaded, on the knoll of Holmhurst, in honour of the old British martyr. Place and person were both significant. Mercia was the most Welsh of all the English principalities: Offa himself had just conquered Powysland, and incorporated a large fresh body of Welsh tributaries; his ancestors had been in close alliance with native Welsh princes; and it was probably to mark the sense of unity between his Welsh and English subjects that he determined to raise a great minster in place of the little church which covered the remains of the most famous martyr of the older race. On the other hand, he had lately annexed London and Kent to his dominions; and it was a wise piece of policy to place a body of hospitable Mercian monks on the connecting line of Watling Street, near[148] the point where the old East Saxon and Mercian territories marched together. Offa’s church and Benedictine monastery, richly endowed with neighbouring land, soon grew into great importance. The people of Verulam gradually deserted their Roman walls, and came to live under the protection of St. Alban and his great minster. Shortly before the Norman Conquest, Abbot Eadmer collected materials for rebuilding the minster on a larger scale. But the troubles of Harold’s time put a stop to the project; and when William crossed the Thames at Wallingford, and marched upon London by the Watling Street, the monks bravely attempted to stop him, almost single-handed, by erecting wooden barricades upon the road.

The first Norman abbots carried out the scheme of rebuilding the minster; and a large part of the existing abbey, including the tower and transepts, belongs to this great architectural period. The materials were largely derived from the ruins of Verulam. Strangely enough, the shrine of the British saint became one of the most popular in all England, and rich pilgrims from London brought it an abundance of gifts. The town which grew up around the abbey was a typical instance of the monastic burgh. Indeed, throughout all its history St. Albans (as distinguished from old Verulam) has been wholly dependent upon ecclesiastical arrangements. The soil was the abbot’s; the burgesses were his men; the town was entirely at his mercy, as the barons’ towns were at the mercy of their lords. Endless disputes arose about the abbot’s monopoly of grinding corn; about his penny for hunting, fishing, wood-cutting, and pasturage. In Wat Tyler’s rebellion the peasants and craftsmen of St. Albans rose against the monastery; and one William Grindecobbe wrung a charter from Richard II., with which he burst at the head of his followers into the abbey cloisters, and summoned the abbot to deliver up the papers which kept the townsmen in servitude. The mob broke the millstones, which visibly symbolised the hateful monopoly, and divided them into little pieces as souvenirs of[149] the revolt. But in the reaction which followed Wat Tyler’s death, William Grindecobbe was hanged, with many of his followers, and the hastily granted charter was at once rescinded. Here, as elsewhere in England, the freedom of the serf was won slowly and imperceptibly—not by any single administrative measure. In later days, as wealth increased and the value of land rose, the minster became immensely rich, and counted Wolsey himself among its abbots. The great church bore its own varied architectural history on its face till its recent restoration, beginning with the Norman tower built by Paul of Caen from Roman bricks, and ending with the perpendicular portions erected just before the dissolution. At that barbarous period, all the conventual buildings except the abbey church and gateway were destroyed; and even the great minster itself would have been pulled down had not the burgesses purchased it from the grantee for their own parish church. Like all purely monastic towns, St. Albans declined after the dissolution; and to this day it centres entirely round the now restored abbey. Lord Bacon, who took his two titles from St. Albans and Verulam, had his seat at Gorhambury, close by. To-day the town lives on mainly by pure vis inertiæ, and by the nearness to London which may yet make it into a considerable place. The two names of Verulam and St. Albans are in themselves, perhaps, fuller of historical suggestiveness than any others in the whole expanse of modern England.


On the northward slope of a gentle valley between two lines of Eocene hills, not far from the flat eastern coast of Essex, lies a small, square, sleepy town, girt round even now by Roman walls—a town which may lay claim to be, with one exception probably, the oldest in all England. St. Albans can alone boast a greater antiquity than Colchester; and even at St. Albans there is not the same pervading sense of continuity with the remote[150] past as in the quiet Essex market-town which still bears the Roman title of the colony as an integral part of its modern name. No other inhabited place nearer to us than the mouldering white Provençal cities that cap the dry hills of the Rhone valley has preserved throughout so much of its ancient Roman aspect as Colchester. You drive up from the Mile End Railway Station through a straggling modern suburb—that inevitable outgrowth of the railway system—and enter North Hill by a gap which represents the original gate in the walls of Suetonius Paulinus. Thence, as you go through the town, you pass stage by stage upward through all the centuries of English history. The High Street leads you to the Norman castle keep, ruined in the civil wars of the Commonwealth; and without the walls on the other side lie the mediæval remains of St. Botolph’s Priory and the scanty relics of St. John’s Abbey. The Botanic Gardens bear to this day the name of the Crutched Friars; while a long straight street beyond the east boundary leads over a small hill to the old port of Hythe, once, as its name implies, the busy haven for the woollen manufactures of Colchester, and still the head of navigation for a few coal-boats on the lazy oyster-fishing estuary of the Colne.

Even the town of Suetonius, however, was not the earliest Colchester of all. The site has been one of strategical importance in all times, from those of the flint-weaponed men who raised the Grimes Dyke beyond Lexden, to those of the modern camp and the cavalry barracks which now cover the high ground south of the borough. Colchester forms the natural centre of the Essex coast-land. It stands in the corner of a peninsula, enclosed on the north by the River Colne, flowing originally through a swampy bottom, and on the south by a smaller stream which still bears the strange and suggestive title of the Roman River. The neck of this peninsula, between the flanking swamps, was guarded from primitive times by a long line of rude earthworks, usually attributed to the Britons of Cæsar’s age, but really shown to be of neolithic origin by the character[151] of the flint implements and other associated remains. Over the wide space between these limits—adopted no doubt by later races—stretched perhaps the British camp of refuge, known from its chief height as Camalodunum. But whether that original British fortress occupied the same site as the Roman colony of like name may be reasonably doubted. A good local archæologist has placed it at Lexden; and the claims of Maldon to be the primitive Camalodunum must not be overlooked. The Celtic word so Latinised by our authorities must have sounded really something like Cmaldun [?], and Mældun is the earliest English form of Maldon in the Chronicle. [The god Camalos is anyhow the patron deity of this fort.] When Cæsar visited Britain the leading native tribe [in the south-east] was that of the Trinobantes [or Trinovantes], or men of modern Essex (including Middlesex and Hertfordshire); and their king, Tasciovanus, shortly afterwards fixed his chief camp at Verulam, or St. Albans. His son, Cunobelinus—Shakspeare’s Cymbeline—removed the clan capital to the first Camalodunum, wherever that may have been—certainly a dun or irregular stockaded hill fortress of the common early Celtic type. Coins bearing his name and that of the town are not uncommon. After the great campaign of Aulus Plautius, the Trinovantes were subdued, and Camalodunum was immediately occupied by the Romans. If Maldon, however, was really the British capital, then the Roman colony, founded sixteen years later, though it bore the same name, must have been erected on a site thirteen miles distant as the crow flies—a case which may be paralleled with that of old and new Sarum, or old and new Carthage. No other supposition equally harmonises the conflicting claims of Maldon and Colchester; for though the latter is undoubtedly Colonia by material continuity, the former is almost as clearly [?] Camalodunum by etymological identity.

The first Roman Colonia, Camalodunum, though an unwalled town, seems to have been a place of some dignity as “an image of Roman civilisation.” It had a[152] temple of Claudius, statues of Victory and of Nero, and even a theatre, probably on the site of the semicircular excavation near the Grimes Dyke, west of Lexden, now popularly known as King Coel’s Kitchen. But when the Iceni of Norfolk and Suffolk began their great insurrection under Boadicea, they poured down upon the defenceless Roman colony and completely blotted out the new Camalodunum with all its Italian [and Italianate] inhabitants, estimated at 70,000 [?] persons. The victory of Suetonius restored the Roman authority; and the conqueror rebuilt Camalodunum as a fortified post on its present site, a little to the east of the first city. The rectangular walls which Suetonius then laid out still enclose the modern Colchester on almost every side. They consist of alternate courses of brick and cut stone, and may be admirably seen at the Crutched Friars and all along the west boundary of the town. Two main roads crossed each other with military precision near the centre, one of which even yet forms the quiet High Street; but the houses along its course now swerve a little from the original line between All Saints’ and St. Runwald’s, so that the street is no longer flush with the old Prætorian gate at the western outlet, though it still preserves its original exit at the east end. It requires only a slight stretch of imagination even now, as one looks down upon the square Roman town from the top of St. John’s Green, to restore mentally the baths, the temples, and the villas, or to re-people the High Street with a provincial crowd in white togas and a company of legionaries in the full uniform of the Antonine age. Colonia was always one of the great fortresses for the defence of the Thames entrance from the Saxon pirates, and it shared with Othonæ [Ythanceaster] and Rutupiæ [Richborough] the task of guarding the approaches of the great river and the rising commercial post of London. Its general importance was greatest, however, while the Romans still held only the south-eastern portion of the island, and it decidedly declined as the military centres moved away to York and Chester.

When the unwieldy empire began to fall asunder of[153] internal decay, and Britain was abandoned to the advancing wave of Teutonic barbarism, the country of the Trinovantes must have been one of the first to fall into the hands of the heathen invaders. We have no record of the struggle here, not even the scanty glimmer of a legend to light us as in Kent. But the plain facts speak out eloquently for themselves in the very forms of local nomenclature. The East Saxons who gave their name to Essex must almost necessarily have begun by the capture of Colonia. But here, as elsewhere, the invaders do not seem to have altogether destroyed the British inhabitants, and there are many distinct marks of continuity from Roman into English times. The town itself retained its old name as Colne-ceaster—that is to say, the castrum [of the Colonia],—gradually softened into Colchester; and even the stream was known as the Colne—in other words, the Colony River. Headgate Street preserves to this day its quaint translation of the Porta Capitalis; and the dark, long-headed British physique has survived all the Saxon and Danish conquests in many quarters of the ancient borough. Indeed, curious legends of their former greatness seem to have long survived among the Anglicised Celtic serfs, who attributed all the chief Roman works to a British prince Coel, the “old King Cole” of our nursery legends. This Coel may possibly have been a real personage, but is much more probably derived by popular etymology from the first syllable of Colchester itself. In later mediæval romance he appears as Coel, Duke of Caercolvin: and his name is attached both to King Coel’s kitchen and to the chief bastion of the Roman wall, known as Colking’s Castle. The position of the title after instead of before the name in this last form belongs to the early or Anglo-Saxon stage of the language [?], and [has been held to prove] the antiquity of the semi-Celtic legend; so that here, as in many other places, Geoffrey of Monmouth was probably a mere adapter of pre-existing popular material, rather than a fabricator of purely original romance. The town no doubt fell somewhat into decay during the early English period; and when[154] the East Saxons were converted to Christianity, their bishop-stool was placed not here, but in the great East Saxon dependency of London. Colchester slowly grew up again, however, during the age of peace, and was occupied by the Danes when they conquered Essex. Edward the Elder recovered it in his great campaign against the Scandinavians of Mercia; but he built no fortifications, as the town still retained its Roman walls in a serviceable state.

After the Norman conquest Eudo, the Dapifer of the Conqueror, obtained possession of Colchester, and [a royal castle was] built on a rising ground in the centre of the town, the site no doubt of the original dun. Its low, square, ivy-clad keep alone now remains, constructed in part of Roman tiles, and double the size of the White Tower in London. The museum within contains many relics of Colonia, vases of red ware from Caistor, amphoræ, queer little tutelary gods, and other scanty remnants of the old city. A Norman moot-hall of the same date was barbarously destroyed some forty years ago. It was Eudo, too, who founded St. John’s Abbey, a great Benedictine house, whose chief was one of the mitred abbots of England. This splendid building was destroyed during the siege by the Parliamentarians, and the only remaining relic is the great gateway of the fifteenth century, which stands outside the walls, near the Walton Station. Another important religious house of nearly the same period was St. Botolph’s Priory, an Augustinian foundation, going back to the days of Henry I., and dedicated to that Botulf or Botwulf who founded Boston or Botulfstun—a saint of the first English period, once very popular throughout all eastern England. Its Norman church now stands in stately ruins; the priory buildings have wholly disappeared. These religious houses doubtless helped to keep the town alive during the Middle Ages; but as a whole it seems to have existed chiefly as an agricultural centre for eastern Essex, aided perhaps by the usual barbaric convenience of the Roman building material. When the export trade in wool with the Low Countries arose,[155] Colchester and Hythe apparently gained in importance; and during the reign of Elizabeth, when the woollen manufacture began to shift from Flanders to the east of England, a body of Walloons settled here and introduced the local trade in “bays and says.” Till the middle of the eighteenth century the town flourished and increased on this great national industry; but then the employment of water-power, and later on of coal, transferred it slowly to the power-looms of the north of England. The siege under Fairfax had largely destroyed the best buildings; and Colchester has since languished on agriculture, silk, soldiers, and above all, oysters. It is now a quiet military centre, with a pleasant old-world air, living mainly on its traditions, and fuller of interest for the antiquary than for other people.


The capital of the East Anglian plain may fairly claim to be reckoned among the most venerable of English cities; certainly there have been few others whose prosperity has been so continuous and so little chequered. Standing as it does in the centre of a great architectural champaign, its site has been marked out for many centuries as the natural trading centre for a large and populous surrounding district. Even before the days of the Roman conquest, the most powerful of British tribes, the Iceni, inhabiting the widest agricultural stretch in England, had fixed their chief town on the banks of the Wensum, at the spot where Norwich now stands; and the artificial mound at present capped by the restored keep of the Norman castle was originally piled up as the rampart of a stockaded village by the hands of Icenian labourers. Fosse and earthworks are almost the sole relics, however, here left behind by the aboriginal Celt, save only the great war-track of the Icknield Way or Icenian road [?], which ran from Norwich far into the heart of the island, and still preserves in its name the memory of the old supremacy wielded over[156] the midland tribes by the powerful masters of East Anglia. The [capital of the] fertile plain around was known to its Celtic inhabitants as the Gwent—a word also applied to the [capitals of] similar stretches of alluvial soil about Winchester and on the Monmouth coast. When the Romans conquered the eastern counties they do not seem to have fixed their chief station of Gwent—their Venta Icenorum—on the exact site of the older British capital; at least, no traces of their occupation have occurred in modern Norwich; and the true position of Venta was almost certainly at Caistor, three miles south of the city, where the great square Italian ramparts, now overgrown with ancient elms, have yielded many interesting remains in bronze and terra-cotta. As often elsewhere, the Roman camp probably stood a little apart from the British village—much as our own cantonments and civil stations in India still stand somewhat apart from the crowded bazaar and the tortuous alleys of the native town. Perhaps, indeed, a camp existed at Caistor even before the rebellion of Boadicea; and if so, the Icenian capital may then have remained wholly in the hands of its original possessors. However that may be, it may be taken for granted that in later provincial times the true centre of the East Anglian plain was at Venta, and that the primitive village on the exact site of Norwich was for the time partially deserted.

After the departure of the Romans, the exposed Icenian country was one of the first parts of Britain to be occupied by the English invaders. The mouth of the Yare—at that time, as Lyell has shown, an open estuary—gave the pirates a free water-way into the heart of the fertile [plain]. They had first to storm the guardian fortress of Gariononum, now Burgh Castle, which defended the mouth of the estuary; and their vessels could then sail straight up the tidal expanse as far as Venta itself. Doubtless they destroyed the Roman town more or less completely; its very name being afterwards forgotten in the general descriptive title of Caistor, an easy corruption of Ceaster or[157] Castrum. But the place must, nevertheless, almost necessarily have remained inhabited, as the natural centre of the new East Anglian kingdom, which soon grew up from the coalescence of the English clan villages. At any rate, when first East Anglia distinctly reappears in history, we find the city on the Wensum its recognised capital. As the river silted up around Caistor, the older site seems to have been resumed; and it was now known as North-wic, the northern port or harbour—a name whose analogy in sound and sense to that of Norfolk, the North Folk, is probably quite accidental. Doubtless both St. Edmund of East Anglia and the Scandinavian conqueror Guthrum had their chief seat at Norwich. When the Danes under Swegen attacked East Anglia, they captured Norwich and Thetford, then evidently its two most important towns: for the pirates always made first for the largest booty. At the date of the Norman conquest, Norwich, with its twelve Danish lawmen, was manifestly the capital of Danicised East Anglia. Shortly after, a castle, to overawe the English burghers, was built on the summit of the old Icenian mound: the great arch of the bridge, the buttressed and arcaded keep, and the scanty ruins of the towers, though barbarously restored to enclose the modern gaol, are still all of the original Norman design. Here Ralph Wader kept his Court; and here was planned “that bride ale, many men’s bale,” which was the prelude to the last rebellion of the native English against William’s power. The earldom and castle were afterwards granted to the Bigods, who held them with some intermission till the days of Edward I.

As yet, however, Norwich was merely the temporal capital of East Anglia; the great cathedral was still unbuilt, and the bishop-stool had still its place, after the old English fashion, in a lesser country town of the diocese. The primitive see of the independent East Anglian kingdom had been fixed at the first conversion by Bishop Felix at Dunwich, in Suffolk. Archbishop Theodore divided the diocese into two—one for the North Folk, with its see at Elmham, and the other[158] for the South Folk at the original see of Dunwich. The first Norman bishop [of the North Folk] removed his residence from Elmham to Thetford; and towards the close of the eleventh century Bishop Herbert Losinga, following the usual Norman custom, again removed it to Norwich, where he began the erection of the existing cathedral. In spite of many later additions and alterations, the building has preserved its Norman plan far more fully than almost any other English minster. The importance of Norwich must have been greatly increased by this concentration of the earldom and the bishopric within its walls. Castle, cathedral, and Benedictine monastery form thenceforth the central pivots of its written history. But Norwich is also remarkable as being perhaps the very oldest manufacturing town in all England, the Manchester or Bradford of the early Middle Ages. While the relations of England were all with the continent of Europe it was inevitable that her chief towns should all point eastward; and many other causes conspired to make Norwich naturally one of the earliest seats of English manufacture. It lay on a secure estuary, facing the young commercial cities of the Low Countries, and it occupied the centre of the richest sheep-feeding district in all civilised south-eastern England. As early as the reign of Henry I., a body of Flemings, exiled by an irruption of the sea, settled down in the little isolated village of Worstead, near North Walsham, and introduced the trade in what was thenceforth known as worsteds. Norwich speedily grew into the chief centre of the new industry. It was at this time that the labyrinth of narrow and shapeless lanes around the market-place first grew up, bearing testimony to the crowded population then densely packed within the old city walls. Under Edward I. the burgh returned two burgesses to Parliament, as it has ever since continued to do. Edward III. made it into one of his privileged staples for the woollen trade, of which it had a monopoly in all Norfolk and Suffolk. The immense relative importance of the town during the Middle Ages[159] is shown by its possession of no fewer than thirty-five mediæval churches at the present day, besides the cathedral, though [as] many were destroyed at the Reformation. Most of them are perpendicular, ranging from 1350 to 1500, the Augustan age of the eastern woollen manufacture; two, St. Peter’s Mancroft and St. Andrew’s, possess great architectural interest of their own. Like other factory districts of the period, Norwich was particularly exposed to risings of the artisan class against the dominant feudalism. In Wat Tyler’s rebellion it was the centre of John Littester’s operations; and nearly two centuries later it formed the scene of Kett’s insurrection on Mousehold Heath. In fact, Norfolk and Kent answered then to Lancashire or the Black Country in our own time; and the Peterloos of the Middle Ages usually took place at Norwich or at Rochester.

After the Reformation, Norwich lost a little in relative importance by the dissolution of its great monastery; but it still remained the acknowledged capital of perhaps the largest and most prosperous province in all England. Elizabeth established many Dutch refugees in the town. Macaulay has drawn a well-known and striking picture of its importance under the Stuarts as the chief seat of the chief manufacture of the realm, the residence of a bishop and chapter, and the home of a duke who kept an almost regal court in the old brick-built palace of his ancestors on the banks of the Wensum. Evelyn describes it as, “after London, one of the noblest cities of England.” Its population in 1693 was found by actual enumeration to be nearly 30,000—an immense number for the seventeenth century. Unlike most other southern manufacturing towns, it has gone on steadily increasing in size and importance to the present day. Even the gradual shifting of the silk and woollen trade to the coal districts of the north has not interfered with its continuous prosperity. It stands, indeed, too centrally to a very isolated and peninsular region ever to be greatly affected by such commercial changes; by its very situation it is pre[160]destined probably throughout all time for the nucleus of all East Anglian enterprise. Beginning as a port, its harbour has been slowly silted up almost without attracting attention; and its chief trade has drifted away from it to better positions without checking at all the growth of its population. There is still much miscellaneous manufacturing industry, in crapes, mohairs, shoes, and so forth [besides the great mustard factory]; and the large surrounding district upon which Norwich can always draw for a supply of hands will probably enable it permanently to maintain its position so far as regards those minor trades in which great mechanical power is a secondary consideration. Norwich is now, however, the only great southern town save Reading, which owes its importance to manufactures alone. All the others are either military or naval, like Chatham, Portsmouth, and Plymouth; seaport towns, like Southampton and Bristol; or pleasure resorts, like Brighton and Bath. Alone among the trading staples of the Plantagenets, it has resisted the great contemporary movement which has carried almost all our industrial population northward towards the coal and iron districts, and has directed all our exports westward towards America and the colonies, or towards the Atlantic highway for India, China, and the East. Old England looked south-eastward to the Continent; modern England looks north-westward to the open sea. Norwich still remains fresh and vigorous in our midst as a solitary living monument of the earlier order.





Even at the present day, when York is known mainly as the great dining-station on the way to Scotland, none of us have wholly forgotten its immense historical importance as the capital of the North, and the immemorial seat of the northern archbishopric. But few people, probably, remember that York was once the chief city of all Britain, and that long afterwards it held for ages the second place among English towns without dispute. We have grown so accustomed to look upon Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, and Sheffield as standing next to London in population and political importance, that we hardly realise the time when the name of York aroused in every mind the picture of a great and opulent city, the metropolis of all England beyond the Trent. Indeed, in the most primitive agricultural days its very site naturally marked it out as the chief town of Britain: for the triassic basin of the Ouse and its tributaries forms the largest and richest agricultural plain in the island, and before the Roman invasion the Brigantes who tilled it ranked as foremost among the native Celtic tribes. In the very centre of this fertile champaign country, on a spot where the marshy stream of the Foss flows at an acute angle into the Ouse, the Brigantes had their dun or fort—the artificial mound now covered by the massive keep[162] of Clifford’s tower and the modern buildings of the Castle. It was just such a triangular tongue of land as the Celtic engineers always preferred—naturally defended on two sides by the rivers, and closed on the third by a transverse stretch of swampy ground. The town stands, too, close to the head of navigation on the Ouse; and, relatively unimportant as this fact now appears, since Hull has usurped all the sea-going trade of the Humber, it is really the key to much of the early history of York. When the Romans first conquered south-eastern Britain their main towns were Colchester, Verulam, and London, in the basin of the Thames and its tributaries, the only other agricultural valley in England at all comparable to that of the rivers which drain into the Humber; and at that early stage of tillage only the river valleys and the downs were ever occupied. Indeed, it was almost a foregone necessity that while Britain remained an agricultural country, having relations with the European continent alone, its civilisation should cluster round the two great eastward estuarine rivers, the Humber and the Thames. It was not till trade began to spread across the open Atlantic that the two main westward outlets of the Mersey and the Severn began to rise into anything like equal importance. Thus, the earliest Roman cities were naturally placed in the Thames region: but after Agricola finally overran the rich plain of York the conquerors wisely chose the British fortress of Eburacum (at least from the days of Severus) as the seat of their provincial capital. Not only was it the centre of supplies, the middle point of the chief corn-exporting district, and the royal village of the leading native tribe, but it was also a main strategical key of the northern marches now that the principal seat of military operations lay along the Pictish border. Eburacum, in fact, became at once the Calcutta and the Allahabad, the Lahore and the Peshawur, of the Roman province.

For three centuries Eburacum, not Londinium, was the real centre of all Britain, and the residence of the Emperor on his provincial tours. Severus died here;[163] so did Constantius Chlorus; and here, too, Constantine took the purple. Vessels from Gaul brought dainty Samian ware and choice Italian wines to the port of the Ouse for the wealthy residents, relics of whose luxury are still picked up among the rubbish-heaps of the city. Roman pavements, tombs, coins, and pottery are dug up in making repairs or laying down railways to the present day. The legionaries also surrounded the town with massive walls, fragments of which may still be detected in an ashlar bastion at St. Leonards: doubtless their main object was the defence of the post from the English pirates, who had even then begun their attacks upon the eastern coast. Eburacum already covered the whole area of modern York; while suburban villas lined the great roads on either side towards Calcaria, Deva, or Isurium. The colony had its bishops, too, after the days of Constantine; and the name of one appears in the record of the Council of Arles. But when the Romans withdrew their troops from Britain it seems probable that Eburacum must have been exposed to attack at once from the Picts on the north and the English pirates from Sleswick, who would approach it by the Humber and the Ouse on the south. The first English colony in Yorkshire seems to have been settled in Holderness. It was at this time, apparently, that the deserted citizens surrounded their town with the earthen mound afterwards capped by the existing mediæval walls, and enclosing a wider space than the fortifications of Trajan’s day. But in the end the English pirates, advancing up the river, conquered in some nameless victory; and Eburacum is lost to sight for a while in the general mist of the renewed heathen period. That the new settlers did not utterly destroy the Romanised town and people, however, is clear both from the evidence of Alcuin, Charlemagne’s Northumbrian English secretary, who speaks long after with respect of its lofty Roman walls and towers, and still later from William of Malmesbury’s allusion to its “Roman refinement.” The date of the conquest may be roughly fixed as the end of the fifth century.[164] Gradually the separate English clans who overran the vale of York coalesced into a single tribe of Deirans (the word is Celtic in origin) and grew obedient to the chief who ruled in Eburacum—the name of which, by a strange piece of popular etymology, they had Anglicised as Eofor-wic, the boar’s town. Thence, through the successive forms of Evrewic, Eurewic, Yorick, and York comes the modern title. Eofor-wic was the capital of Edwin, king of the Deirans and Bernicians, and the first of Northumbrian princes to accept Christianity. He was converted by the Roman missionary Paulinus, who had been sent from Kent with a Kentish Princess; and the story of his life as related by Bede has been familiarised to us by all English histories. From that time on, with a slight break of renewed heathendom, York became the site first of the bishopric and then of the archbishopric for all northern England.

Under Edwin and his successors Northumbria still remained, as in Roman times, the chief province of Britain, and York probably ranked as the principal town of the whole island. Retaining its Roman towers and fortifications, standing in the midst of a great agricultural district, and placed on a large navigable river, it might perhaps have run London close for the final position of capital of England had it not been for the untoward accident of the Danish invasions. The events of that lawless period threw back the north for a while into primitive barbarism, and perhaps established the political and social supremacy of the south for nearly ten centuries. Up to the date of the renewed northern incursions York had been slowly emerging from the early Northumbrian rudeness. Paulinus had built the first new minster, doubtless on the site of an older Roman basilica; and part of its ground-plan was discovered under the existing cathedral during the repairs rendered necessary by the incendiary Martin in the present century. Edwin had so far kept up the imperial traditions of the place as to appear in public with the Roman tufa [the feather fans of high official rank, and to wear the belt and diadem of a great[165] official]: and indeed the continuity with Roman civilisation and Roman Christianity was doubtless nowhere more complete than in the city of Constantine and of Eborius. Wilfrith introduced glass for the minster windows, and covered its roof with lead; both acts implying a continued or renewed connection with the continent, doubtless by the mouth of the Ouse. For several generations the town formed the capital of the leading English kings: and even after Mercia had risen to the hegemony in Britain under Offa, it must still have ranked as the largest and most civilised city in the island. But when the heathen pirates from Denmark swooped down upon defenceless Christian England, as the heathen English themselves had swooped down earlier upon defenceless Christian Britain, York again lay right in the way of their sea-snakes, swarming up the open Humber mouth to sack the wealthy shrines of [the district]. After a few preliminary harryings of Wearmouth and other monasteries, an organised Danish host fell at last, during the disastrous reign of the first Athelred in Wessex, upon York itself. [Three] sea-kings, [Halfdene], Ingwar, and Ubba, led the host up the Humber stream; and they found a pair of rival Northumbrian princes at that moment engaged in fighting for the throne of York. The burghers, making terms with the heathen, admitted them within the Roman walls. The rival kings fell upon the town, and were defeated by the Danes with great slaughter. Halfdene, Ingwar, and Ubba at once proceeded to [“rope out”] the lands of [the northern kingdom] among their followers, and York city [lay] for at least 60 years in the hands of the Danes. A second period of darkness supervenes, during which we are left to decipher the local history from the scanty allusions of Norse sagas and the rude coins of the Danish kings. A regular Scandinavian dynasty ruled in the city during all that time, though the archbishops continued their succession undisturbed side by side with the heathen kings, and apparently exercised some sort of independent jurisdiction over the Christian English burghers. When Edward the Elder reached York in[166] his great campaigns for the recovery of the north, Ragnald, the local Danish king, acknowledged his supremacy and did homage to him (if we may thus early employ the language of feudalism); but Danish under-kings still reigned at York as vassals of the West Saxon overlord, till on the death of Sihtric, a little later, Athelstan annexed Northumbria to his own immediate dominions. Even so, the Danish element remained very powerful throughout the north: the wicking ships made the Humber their chief port of entry; and under Edmund the rebellious men of York once more chose Anlaf of Ireland, one of the Dublin Northmen, for their king. Indeed, the renewed barbarism of Yorkshire throughout all this period is very conspicuous: the Danish colonisation had been powerful in effect, if not in numbers, and York remained thoroughly Danish in spirit up to the date of the Norman conquest—a trusty Scandinavian outpost in the very heart of Britain. The Northmen had completely undone the work of the Romans. After the English reaction under Dunstan broke down, the Danes once more began their ceaseless incursions. In the reign of Athelred the Redeless they stormed Bamborough, and sailed again up Humber mouth. There, in the midst of the old Danish kingdom, they found Earl Uhtred and the men of York ready to fraternise with them. The north, indeed, preferred the kindred Scandinavian to the West Saxon stranger. Swegen Forkbeard and Cnut his son, starting from this secure and friendly basis, soon completed the conquest of all England. Even after the Scandinavians were fairly expelled, a generation later, York kept up its old position as the natural headquarters of their race. The town was thronged with Danish merchants; and Earl Siward himself was a Dane at heart as by birth. When Harold Hardrada of Norway came to attack Harold son of Godwin, just before William’s invasion, he landed in the old Scandinavian stronghold of Northumbria, and was defeated at Stamford Bridge, not far from York. After the Norman conquest itself, indeed, before the nation had yet learned that its relations must hence[167]forth lie with Normandy and the Romance civilisation of the south, not with Denmark and the Scandinavian barbarism of the north, Swegen the Dane brought his fleet into the Humber mouth, and roused all England as one man in the last great unsuccessful struggle against the Norman rule. With the Norman conquest, however, the fate of York as an independent capital was sealed, and it sank of necessity into the second place, as local metropolis of the north; while Winchester, London, and Westminster became the acknowledged royal cities of the new dynasty. Its later history deserves and requires separate treatment; but the victory of Hastings naturally closes the first great chapter in the annals of York.

The flagged footway leading round the modern promenade of the city walls marks the inhabited area of York at the date of the Norman conquest, and shows that the town must even then have been almost as large as it is at the present day. But, judging from the number of houses returned in Domesday, its population may not have exceeded seven thousand persons. Of course, William’s victory in Sussex by no means necessarily implied the immediate submission of the lands beyond the Humber; for England was yet far from being consolidated into a single firmly-united whole. The possession of London and Winchester secured, indeed, the obedience of the Saxon south; but York might still hope to become the separate capital of an independent Danish north. The supremacy of the old Roman city died hard. It was not until a year after his victory at Hastings that the Conqueror marched against the organised English and Danish resistance in York. Edgar Atheling was there to represent the kingly line of Wessex, with the Mercian princes of the house of Leofric, earls severally of the Midlands and the North; backed up by Gospatric, the native lord of English Bernicia. As usual, however, the resistance crumbled away before William’s approach, and he occupied the city without serious difficulty. It was then that he raised the first Norman castle on the[168] site of the British dun and the Roman fortress, though hardly any trace now remains of this earliest mediæval stronghold. Shortly afterwards, on a slight insurrection, he built a second castle on Baile Hill, beyond the Ouse, near the modern House of Correction. Still, it must never be forgotten that Yorkshire even at that date remained essentially Danish in blood and feeling; and when in the succeeding year Swegen of Denmark led his fleet into the Humber and up to the gates of York, the whole North rose to welcome him. Three thousand Normans who formed the garrison of the two castles were attacked and slaughtered; and in their frantic attempts to fire the neighbouring buildings in self-defence they set the city in flames, which swept away most of its wooden houses, as well as the old minster, erected during the earlier days of Offa. It is to this fire, doubtless, that we must set down for the most part the destruction of the Roman walls and of that “Roman magnificence” which Alcuin saw still surviving in the York of his own time. William swore revenge, per splendorem Dei, and went northward forthwith on his mission of vengeance. He bought off Swegen by a bribe; and then, after securing his rear, proceeded to that memorable harrying of Northumbria, which left the north, from Humber to Tweed, a waste for centuries to come. York was effectually subdued: the Danes never again appeared as a factor in English politics; and the relative position of north and south was reversed till the great industrial revolution of the present century once more turned the tide of wealth and population towards the coalfields of the West Riding and the Lancashire cotton country.

Mediæval York consisted of a pentagon lying within the existing walls, which surround it on every side, save where the marshes of what is now Foss Island (still liable to floods) proved a sufficient natural defence for the long gap between St. Cuthbert’s and the Red Tower. Although most of the present masonry is Edwardian, fragments of Norman and even of Roman work occur abundantly in places. The Castle and[169] Baile Hill guarded the entrance by the Ouse, and effectually prevented the further interference of the northern invaders. Thomas of Bayeux, the first Norman archbishop, rebuilt his burnt cathedral from the ground; but little now remains of his great work. The existing minster was erected at different times, piecemeal, by partial demolitions and rebuildings of the Norman cathedral between that time and the fifteenth century. On the whole, in spite of the slow recovery of the north from William’s desolation, York still maintained its lessened dignity as the second capital of England; and the proud Leonine inscription on the chapter-house,—

Ut rosa flos florum, sic est domus ista domorum,—

shows the exalted notions which its citizens continued to entertain of their own importance. The existence of a Jewry is always a clear proof of considerable commercial activity during the Middle Ages; and the King’s Jews had, as everybody knows, their own quarter in York, long designated by the name of Jubbergate; that is to say, the gate or street of the Jew-bar—a title now superseded by that of Market Street. Here the Jewish merchants and bankers lived in a degree of prosperity which scandalised the monks of St. Mary’s Abbey and the soldiers of the castle; and when during the first frenzy of the Crusades an English mob began the suicidal work of exterminating the only capitalists and financiers whom the country then possessed, the Jewry of York met with the most terrible fate of any in England. In that strange siege, too familiar to need description, the Conqueror’s castle was almost entirely destroyed; and the present massive keep, known as Clifford’s Tower, dates accordingly only from the days of Edward I. In the same reign the Jews were finally expelled from England, and with them went a large part of the trade of York. Meanwhile, events had been gradually lessening the commercial importance of the city on the Ouse. It had from the beginning two main reasons for its existence:[170] its situation in the very heart of the Plain of York, which ensured its position as an agricultural centre; and its command of a navigable river, the chief inland port of the Humber mouth. The first of these advantages it can never lose; the second it was fast losing by the combined influence of social and natural causes. Originally it had stood to the Humber as London stood to the Thames; but while the north was ruined by war and given over to anarchy, especially during the Wars of the Roses, the Ouse was slowly silting up, and at the same time ships were coming daily to demand a greater draught of water. Thus the port of the Humber shifted imperceptibly—first to Ravenspur in Holderness, a famous mediæval harbour; and after Ravenspur was swallowed up by the sea, to the place which mariners then knew by the old-fashioned name of Kingston-upon-Hull. Nevertheless, York continued to possess great administrative and military importance as the capital of the north; while it never ceased to rank as the chief agricultural centre of the largest fertile plain in the island. There can be very little doubt that down to the days of Charles I., at least, it might fairly claim to be considered the second city of England.

The Reformation somewhat diminished the relative importance of all ecclesiastical towns; and York was not only the metropolis of the northern archiepiscopal province, but also the seat of St. Mary’s Abbey and of several smaller conventual establishments. Nowhere was discontent at the changes imposed by royal authority greater than in Yorkshire, where the trading element was still very weak, and the territorial and monastic element exceedingly strong. The Parliament of the North, which met at Pontefract and decreed the Pilgrimage of Grace, was backed by all the nobles of Yorkshire, as well as by the great abbots of Kirkstead, of Fountains, and of Jervaulx. After its suppression, the semi-independence of the country beyond the Trent was admitted in the institution of President of the Great Council of the North, who had his residence in the picturesque building still known as the King’s[171] Manor, and standing on the site formerly occupied by the Abbot’s House of St. Mary’s. Later still, when Charles I. fled from London, he went at once to York as the second capital of his dominions. Meanwhile, the tide of affairs was already beginning slowly to turn, and the north was putting itself in readiness to recover its lost commercial and political supremacy. The industrial stagnation and social anarchy, which had long paralysed its energies, were gradually passing away before the peaceable and anti-feudal régime of the business-like Tudors. Even in Elizabeth’s time, Manchester was manufacturing friezes; Halifax was the seat of a rising cloth trade; and York had become the nascent centre of a considerable woollen industry. In the days of the Stuarts, Hull was a great port and the second arsenal of the kingdom. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the north continued step by step to overtake the south; and with the nineteenth century steam and coal completed the industrial revolution. Yet York failed to keep up with the rest of the shire in its onward march. In the days of the Georges it sank into a quiet and respectable archiepiscopal town, a county centre, and a little local metropolis in its way, where the neighbouring squires often spent the winter; but trade drifted to the coal country or the water-powers; and Sheffield, Leeds, Bradford, Halifax, Wakefield, Huddersfield, and Barnsley—once, as their very names declare, mere clearings in the wealds of Hallamshire or the West Riding—rose to supersede their old Roman and British mother-city. With the growth of the railway system things have changed again a little for the better. York has grown into a great modern junction-station; while still more recent alterations have turned it once more into a military centre for the north. But its [proud] position is now perhaps irrevocably lost. Hull has carried away its shipping trade, and coal has shifted the heart of Yorkshire from the lowland agricultural plain to the dales and uplands of the West Riding. Yet no town of England, not even London itself, still contains so much[172] of historical interest as ancient Eburacum and modern York. From the Celtic dun beneath Clifford’s Keep, through the Roman interior of the multangular Tower, the Norman work of the walls, and the mediæval turrets of Micklegate Bar (where once mouldered the head of the last native Prince of Wales), down to the perpendicular Lady Chapel, the Elizabethan Manor, the Georgian street architecture, and the modern railway station, every stage of British history finds abundant representatives within its limits. Even now, popular saws have not wholly forgotten its former greatness; for, says the rhyming proverb—

York was, London is, and Lincoln will be
The greatest city of the three.


The youngest among English cities may also claim to rank as one of the oldest among English towns. Whether a Celtic stockaded stronghold ever occupied the site of the Norman keep at Newcastle is still a moot point; but at least from Roman days downward the deep gorge at the tidal head of the Tyne has almost uninterruptedly afforded the site for a military station or a trading burgh of considerable importance. It was not coals that first made Newcastle. When the Romans spread their conquests in Britain as far north as the narrow neck of land between the Forth and the Clyde, they ran a great causeway northward between York and the Caledonian wall; and at the point where Hadrian’s road crossed the Tyne, the tête-du-pont of the Pons Ælii (so-called from the Emperor’s gentile name) must naturally have formed the nucleus for a town, which rapidly rose to be the earliest capital of all Tynedale. Its alternative title of Ad Murum was due to its position at the point where the north road intersected the lower wall between Carlisle and Wall’s End. Relics of the Roman town are now scanty; and the silence of[173] later Northumbrian historians as to its occupation by the English would lead to the belief that it scarcely reached anything more than local and military importance. When the first English pirates bore down upon the exposed provincial coast before a favouring north-east wind from Sleswick, and founded their colony of Bryneich or Bernicia, the Land of the Braes, between Tyne and Forth, the new chieftains did not fix their principal capital at Newcastle, but on Ida’s craggy promontory of Bamborough, about the centre of the little principality. As the Tyne now formed their boundary against the Deirans of Yorkshire and Durham to the south, the lords of Bamborough could hardly be anxious for the maintenance of the Roman road; and though we cannot know with certainty whether they actually broke down the bridge, in pursuance of that policy of isolation which made every early English principality surround itself with a mark of waste borderland, or whether they merely allowed it to fall out of repair, it is at least undeniable that the communication was long interrupted, and that the road or “gate,” as our ancestors called it, came to a dead halt by the banks of Tyne, at the spot which still bears the significant name of Gateshead—that is to say, the road’s end. During this intermediate period of heathen anarchy, it is very probable that the station of Ad Murum became quite depopulated, or that it was reduced to a few huts of fishermen and crofters, who must often have been exposed to border raids from the men of the debateable district south of the river.

With the introduction of Christianity into the country of the braes, the deserted site by the Tyne began once more a fresh career as a habitation of civilised men. It was at first a royal vill of the Northumbrian princes; but the Church in the north laid special claim to all the remains of Roman buildings; and a body of monks was granted the old station of Ad Murum, which now took from them the newer title of Muneca-ceaster or Monkchester—a form that would, doubtless, have been modernised, on the usual local[174] analogies, as Muncaster. The older name survived as an alternative in that of At Wall, once given to the existing suburb of Pandon. Still, the monastery seems to have been a small one, for it is seldom mentioned in the northern annals, and its border position must have made it very insecure, except during the times when Bernicia and Deira were temporarily united under a single ruler. When the heathen Danes once more descended upon Christian Northumbria, in the eighth century, Tynemouth was one of the first spots to bear the brunt of their attack; while Jarrow and Lindisfarne, the great ecclesiastical centres of early Bernicia, were both sacked and demolished after the merciless Scandinavian fashion. Monkchester could hardly fail in those evil days to meet with the same fate as its sister-monasteries. For the most part, however, the Danes spread but little in the harbourless country between Tyne and Forth, which continued to acknowledge the sway of Christian English masters in Bamborough, even while heathen Scandinavians bore rule in the archiepiscopal city of York itself. The Dane, in fact, cared little for a country with no fiords or tidal inlets. Yet even so, Monkchester must have stood so close to the Scandinavian border that it could hardly have been a safe dwelling-place for Englishmen, exposed as it was to constant eruptions by the open navigable waters of the Tyne.

By the days of the Norman conquest, Monkchester still remained apparently a mere village of monks and fishermen. When William returned from his terrible harrying of Northumbria—a harrying so complete that manor after manor is entered in Domesday with the laconic description, “waste,” “waste,” “waste”—he was stopped for a while by a flood on the Tyne, at the place where Hadrian’s bridge had once made the transit so easy, and where Stephenson’s vast structure now carries the railway trains hung high in air above the grimy and smoky abyss below. But after the harrying there was little material for the natural growth of a town left in Northumbria, and Monkchester might have[175] shared the fate of Porchester or of Uriconium had not Robert Curthose, on his way back from an expedition against the Scotch, decided to guard the passage of the river by a castle, and, if one may judge from the cursory expression of a later chronicler, to secure communications by a bridge as well. The castle was hastily reared above the steep side of the gorge, and from it the trading town, which soon grew up clinging to the slope under its walls, received its modern-sounding name of Newcastle; for the older station rather occupied the site of Pandon. No part of this earliest building is now discoverable; the existing remains belong to the later Norman castle erected under Henry II. It was always the fate of Newcastle to be a border town, and this fact alone checked the development of its natural resources and the utilisation of its splendid position throughout the Middle Ages. The castle became the principal border fortress against the Scotch during those troublous times when every farmhouse in Northumberland was a fortified peel-tower and every farmer a raiding moss-trooper. After the revolt of Mowbray under William Rufus, the earldom of Northumberland merged in the Crown; but it was again granted out by Henry I. to David of Scotland, and for a whole century the county passed in a perpetual see-saw from the real or nominal sway of one king to that of the other. Throughout the Scotch wars of the Edwards, Newcastle was a constant rendezvous and base of operations for the English army; and, on the other hand, the neighbouring population were often compelled to take refuge within the walls of the castle from the forays of the Scotch freebooters. Even as late as the great Civil War, the Scotch army became masters of Newcastle, where they kept King Charles a prisoner until they sold him to the English Parliament. The curiously one-sided position of the county town, [barely] paralleled in any other shire, is doubtless due to the natural choice of the safest and most strongly fortified post in the whole county as the local metropolis.

Nevertheless, in spite of border warfare and constant[176] insecurity for life and property, the value of the Tyne with its navigable water-way made the town struggle on as a commercial centre all through the long centuries of raids and moss-trooping. The company of merchant adventurers of Newcastle early began to trade on their own account with the great staple at Antwerp, chiefly in fells and country produce. Their houses were for the most part built in the old Cloth Market; but at a later date they began to straggle down the slope towards the water’s edge in the steep street still known as the Side; and the narrow chares, or alleys of steps which climb the dirty but picturesque flank of the hill, prove how anxious were the burgesses and goodmen to keep their wares well within the protection of the castle garrison. The grand tower of St. Nicholas’s church shows the increasing wealth of the town in the fourteenth century. Under the Lancastrian kings trade began to take a wider sweep, and Sir Robert Umfreville did so much for the commerce of Newcastle that he gained the name of Robin Mendmarket; while Roger Thornton, the local Whittington of the same period, is still gratefully remembered in many a pithy Tyneside proverb. How early coal began to be mined in the neighbourhood it is impossible to say exactly, but the industry was already well established in the fifteenth century. From that time Newcastle has continuously grown in wealth and population with the general growth of English manufactures. The lead mines, the great coal-field, the iron-works, the ship-building trade, and the navigable river now form, of course, its true raisons d’être. The coal extends over eight hundred square miles, and a large part of the output finds an exit by the railways and collier ships of Newcastle. Before the days of steam this port was almost its sole means of egress, and the old name of sea-coal bears witness to the only way in which it long arrived at the London market. Until the present century, however, the town still continued to consist mainly of the narrow chares along the gorge of the Tyne, and little was done in the way of improving its comfort or sightliness. The intro[177]duction of railways gave it its most striking feature at the present day, the immense high-level bridge which hangs so lightly across the gorge; while about the same time Grainger’s cold but handsome buildings in the new town metamorphosed the appearance of Newcastle as it is now to be seen; though even to this day the visitor can still find himself suddenly transported to the Middle Ages if he chooses to explore the close wynds and narrow staircases about the Side and Sandhill. It brings the two extremes of English history into yet more incongruous juxtaposition when we remember that our modern best Wallsend derives its name from the terminal station on the great Roman wall at Segedunum, and that the large sister-town of Gateshead is still called after the gap in the north road at the broken bridge of Hadrian.


Between the dense forest or wilderness of the Pen region and the sea, a wooded tract of undulating red land once subsided slowly into the alluvial flats of the low-lying district which long bore the strange descriptive title Between Mersey and Ribble. This wild western slope of Lancashire was until yesterday the most desolate and desert country in all Britain. From time immemorial woodland spread over its whole expanse, and a few clearings here and there in the thick scrub alone gave tokens of occupation by early man. One of the most ancient among these backwood settlements was the primitive British hamlet of Manchester, which stood in a corner where the limpid forest-brook of the Medlock—now black as ink with the refuse of suburban dye-works—fell unpolluted into the lonely water of Irwell, not far below the modern bridge at Knott Mill. The site still bears its very antique title of Castlefield, far away at the opposite end of Deansgate from the cathedral and Market Street, which formed the busy centre of the later mediæval town. A rude stockaded[178] fort enclosed the village, triangularly guarded after the fashion of early Celtic strongholds by the confluent streams on two sides, and by a belt of primæval forest on the third. For some time after the Roman conquest of south-eastern Britain, these wild northern woods were left unmolested; but when at last Agricola broke the power of the Brigantians in the fertile vale of York, he annexed all the surrounding country from sea to sea as part of his new province of Maxima Cæsariensis. Then with characteristic Roman boldness he drove a great causeway through the very heart of the Pen mountains, from his main strategic centre at Diva, our Chester—the City of Legions, as the Britons called it—across the moors by Rochdale, to join the main north road from London and Lincoln at the important station of Isurium (Aldborough) [or Calcaria], not far from the new provincial capital at York. The route passed by the native village on Castlefield, and the Roman engineers, as usual, took advantage of the site to strengthen the shapeless and irregular Celtic fortress into a rectangular military station on their own model. Parts of the wall with which they enclosed their fort were visible as late as the first half of the present century; while Roman remains and coins have at various times been plentifully disinterred in the neighbourhood of Castle Quay. Mancunium is the form of the name handed down on doubtful authority, and usually followed in modern times. But no student of local etymology can doubt for a moment that the variant Mamucium given in the Antonine Itinerary is really the correct native word, as shown by the intermediate early English forms. The coins [found here] date from Nero to Constantine; and the Roman occupation must here have lasted for about four hundred years.

After the withdrawal of the legions, Mamucium suffers the usual eclipse for a couple of centuries, during which we know absolutely nothing of its local history. But as the surrounding country formed part of the native Welsh kingdom of Strathclyde and Cumbria, which was not conquered until a very late period, long[179] after the conversion of the Northumbrian English to Christianity, it is not probable that it was ever sacked or burnt like so many other Roman towns. In all likelihood, modern Manchester descends with unbroken continuity from Roman and Celtic times. If we may trust to Mr. Green, however, who modifies his conjecture with a “perhaps,” the southern portion of Cumbria, as far north as the Ribble, fell into the hands of the Northumbrian invaders as early as the conquest of Chester by Athelfrith; although Professor Earle, on the contrary, believes that it was still in native Welsh hands as late as the beginning of the tenth century. Be this as it may—and we can but trust at best to guesswork or analogy—Mamucium, Englished as Mamuc-ceaster or Mame-ceaster, first definitely reappears by name in history during the Danish wars of Edward the Elder, who occupied the town with a Mercian garrison, and renewed its Roman fortifications as a stronghold against the Danes. The abiding Mercian influence is shown in the soft form assumed by the name as Manchester, when compared with the hard Northumbrian analogues, Lancaster, Doncaster, Tadcaster, and so forth [?]. The new town which grew up around the burgh of the West Saxon kings and the lord’s mill seems to have spread rather towards the cathedral and Victoria Station than over the area of Castlefield. At the same time, Salford rose apparently to be even more important than Manchester itself, and gave its name to the little local division of Salfordshire. Down to the days of Edward III. the town of Manchester consisted of two separate villages—Aldport, the old port on the Irwell, occupying the site of Mamucium, and New Manchester, the parish near the confluence of the Irk, whose centre is now marked by the Exchange building. It was said that nowhere else in Lancashire did two churches lie so close at hand as these. Gradually, as the country settled down under the early Plantagenets, the woods of Salfordshire began to be felled, and Manchester became the centre of a considerable rural district. Yet most of the land still remained as weald[180] or warren. Early in the fifteenth century the collegiate church (now the cathedral) was founded by one of the De la Warre family; and its massive perpendicular tower, rising finely from the open paved square in the very heart of the city, forms almost the sole relic of old Manchester now preserved for our times. At the time of the Reformation Salfordshire was still considered one of the wildest and most uncivilised parts of England; and its capital could have been little more than a rough north-country market-town. “It stondith on south side of the Irwell River, in Salfordshire,” says Leland, in the reign of Henry VIII., “and is the fairest, best builded, quickliest, and most populous townne of al Lancestreshire, yet is in hit but one paroch chirch.” Lancashire seemed to the men of the Tudor period much as Mayo or Kerry might have seemed to Arthur Young.

The trade that was to raise the village on the Irwell to the second place among English cities came to it from Flanders and the Low Countries. Even as early as the days of Edward VI. an Act provides for the regulation of the cottons called Manchester, Lancashire, and Cheshire cottons. But these were really woollen fabrics, sold originally under that curious name. A little later, religious refugees from Ghent and Antwerp brought the true cotton manufacture to Bolton and Manchester. Already the trade of the town looked westward; for the merchants bought linen yarn from Ireland, “at Lyrpole,” wove it, and returned the finished goods for sale in the country of their origin. In Elizabeth’s time cotton came from Smyrna and Cyprus; and by the days of the Restoration the population of the town had risen to 6000 souls—a very large number, as towns then went. Early in the eighteenth century the Manchester trade in fustians, tuckings, and tapes exceeded that of any other town in the kingdom. As yet, however, there was no reason to suspect the immense development of the cotton industry for which the district was predestined by its position and its underlying mineral wealth. Liverpool was only just[181] beginning to be a port for the rising Atlantic traffic, the silting of the Dee at Chester having turned the shipping interest of the estuary into the mouth of the Mersey. Cotton was only just beginning to come over from his Majesty’s plantations in America, and it would then have been hard to predict in what part of the kingdom its manufacture would finally be naturalised. But Manchester lay on the verge of the largest and richest coal-field in England, within easy reach of our best and safest westerly harbour. It was a foregone conclusion that the unsuspected mineral wealth beneath the dales of the Pen country would shortly turn the moors of the West Riding and the slopes of Salfordshire into the wealthiest and most populous district of provincial England, as soon as steam began to revolutionise every department of our manufacturing industry. Meanwhile events were slowly leading up to the future growth of Manchester. It is significant of that westward twist on her pivot performed by England during the eighteenth century that the most important of the Duke of Bridgewater’s canals was constructed to put Manchester into easy communication with its port at Liverpool. Arkwright, a Preston barber, invented his drawing-rollers, and Hargreaves perfected the model of the spinning-jenny, which between them practically introduced the modern factory system as against the old method of handicraft. Next came Crompton’s mule, which further increased the power of output, and gave an immense impetus to the manufacture. None of these inventions in themselves, however, had any necessary tendency to keep the trade fixed at Manchester; and while the mills were still turned entirely by water-power it might have seemed doubtful whether it would not ultimately establish itself by preference among the hill-streams of Derbyshire and the West Riding. Indeed, Arkwright’s own factory stood on a little brook at Cromford, in the Peak district. But towards the end of the last century the first steam-mills were erected in Manchester; and from that moment the future development of the town was secured. No other place could claim equal advan[182]tages in both essentials of the trade: the combination of the coal-field at its doors and the short water-way to Liverpool for its exports and imports enabled Manchester easily to distance all its competitors. At the same time, other large and thriving secondary towns sprang up above the coal in every direction, from Preston to Stockport and from Warrington to Burnley. The desert hundred of West Derby—“a waste of forest, moor, and heather”—grew into the cotton country, and Manchester grew into the capital of a vast manufacturing region. Still, the means of communication were deficient; the canal was choked with trade; and some new outlet and inlet became imperatively necessary for the raw material and the finished product. When railways at length took shape in the mind of Stephenson, the first important line opened was that which connected Manchester with Liverpool. The spread of the system has only increased the importance of the town, although it has also distributed the mills more widely over the surrounding country wherever water is easily obtainable from rivers. Manchester is now rather the central mart of cotton than actually the main seat of its manufacture; it has grown into a community of brokers and a great warehouse for goods supplied to it from an ever-widening ring of sister towns. At the present day the capital of desert Salfordshire ranks as a cathedral city, a municipality, and an important parliamentary borough; while with its suburbs (not included in the official figures of the census) it really contains a larger population than any other town in England, London only excepted.





As one stands on the brow of Harnham Hill, near the great white rent of the deep-hewn chalk-pit that forms a well-known landmark in the country for miles around, the eye ranges over a wide and varied prospect which includes all that is vital in the past or present history of the city of Sarum. In the foreground lies the valley of the Avon, winding tortuously through the gate in the chalk-downs towards the sea, with the modern town nestling closely in its lap, all its lesser towers and steeples dominated by the tall and graceful centre spire of the most perfect cathedral in England. Beyond, again, the open undulating uplands of Salisbury Plain stretch away towards the primæval trilithons of Stonehenge: while in the middle distance a curious conical knoll, bearing even now its artificial origin on its face, marks the deserted site of Old Sarum. That great isolated dun formed, of course, the earliest Salisbury of all, the first town to which the existing name was applied. It is a natural position for a stronghold, and probably a hill-fort has crowned its summit from the days of the stone age onward: for neolithic implements of polished flint are common in the neighbourhood, and many fine specimens from local pit-dwellings are preserved in the Blackmore Museum at Salisbury. It was the neolithic men of this ancient city, in all likelihood,[184] who raised the vast monument of Stonehenge, for its great rough-hewn sarsens are quite untouched by marks of metal tools; and the long barrows, with stone implements and long-headed skulls, which cap the downs around the primitive temple, no doubt cover the relics of the neolithic chieftains of Old Sarum. The round barrows, with bronze weapons and round skulls, belong apparently to the later Celtic princes of the same fortress, who thus placed their own tumuli beside the time-honoured standing stones of the earlier race.

Old Sarum hill, however, owes its present shape mainly to the Romans, with some later additions of West Saxon date. When the Italian engineers had wrested this key of the Wily valley from its nameless British defenders, they seem to have quite disregarded the original earthworks, whose very existence is now vouched for only by a few scanty finds of bronze-age weapons, and to have defended the position by a simple escarpment, which still forms the main face of the knoll as we now see it. The surface consists of an elongated oval platform, containing some twenty-seven acres; and in its centre rises a circular earthwork, the bramble-covered site of the inner citadel. Our Celtic predecessors called the dun by some such name as [was little changed when] Latinised by the conquerors into Sorbiodunum or Sorviodunum. It became in their hands one of the great fortresses of the province, with military roads radiating in every direction to the other important forts at Silchester, Winchester, Dorchester, Bath, and Marlborough: for it must not be forgotten that the Roman occupation of Britain was always purely military, and that strategical reasons alone dictated the position of all the chief towns of the invaders. After the legions were withdrawn from Britain, Old Sarum fell into the hands of some native prince, whom Dr. Guest (with characteristic boldness), identifies with that doubtful Aurelius Ambrosius, mentioned by the Welsh monk Gildas, and still perhaps commemorated in the name of Ambresbury or Amesbury. But the same name crops up too universally in[185] connection with so-called Druidical remains (from Ambresbury Banks in Epping Forest, to Dinas Emrys near Beddgelert) for the cautious antiquarian to accept its bearer as anything more than a possible eponymous myth. It is certain, however, that long after the heathen West Saxons had conquered Hampshire, and fixed their seat at Winchester, a Christian Welsh prince still bore rule at Sorviodunum, and the Britons still fought fiercely for the valley of the Avon around their ancestral sanctuary of Stonehenge. According to the Winchester chronicler, Cerdices-ford (now Chardford, near Downton, on the Avon, some six miles south of Salisbury) marked the limits of the principality seized by the real or mythical ealdorman Cerdic; while Britford, about a mile from the city, is supposed by Dr. Guest to represent the first ford in the country of the Britons [?]. Grimsdyke, which runs along the top of the downs by Cleabury, is considered as a boundary earthwork thrown up by the Welsh of Sorviodunum to check the advance of their West Saxon foes. Certainly it has its fosse turned towards Winchester and the heathen territory, while its defensive vallum faces Old Sarum and Christian Wilts.

More than half a century after the fall of Venta Belgarum—our Winchester—a West Saxon ætheling of the house of Cerdic, Cynric by name, marched at last by the Roman road across the downs to the dale of Avon and stormed or starved out Sorviodunum, which thenceforth became an integral part of the English dominions. A body of Saxon Wilsæte settled at once in the valley of the Wily. The Saxons, however, do not seem to have immediately occupied the fortress itself; their chief town was rather at Wilton in the flat alluvial stretch below, from which the county took its later name of Wiltunscir or Wiltshire. Already the Britons seem to have shortened the cumbrous name of Sorviodunum into something like Sarum; and from this abbreviated form the first English name of Searo-burh (or, as we [might] say, [the fort of Sarum]) was compounded. That is the name under which its capture is recorded[186] in the English Chronicle, under date A.D. 552. Later on, however, by the irresistible popular tendency to invent an eponymous founder, the word took a genitive form as Searesburh, as though the meaning were the burgh of Sear. It is this form, in the oblique case Searesbyrig, that was afterwards corrupted on Norman lips to Sealisbury or Salisbury, which was the real colloquial name of Old Sarum while that town was still inhabited. Some time during the West Saxon occupation, perhaps while Alfred was struggling with the Danes for the possession of Wessex, Old Sarum was once more employed as a fortress, and the great earthen rampart and ditch which now scar the face of the glacis were then probably first thrown up. Under Edgar the Pacific it was clearly an important town, for that King held a witena-gemót here; and in the days of the Confessor it must have been one of the largest places in Wilts. Ages before, as we learn from Bede, the West Saxon diocese, owing to its unwieldy size, had been split up into two sees: one at Winchester for the pure English of Hants, and one at Sherborne for the Welsh-kin of the country beyond Selwood. Some time later a third bishop-stool was erected at Ramsbury for the eastern Welsh-kin of Wilts. Shortly after the Norman conquest, however, Bishop Herman reunited these two west-country sees, and transferred his residence to Old Sarum, in accordance with the usual Norman practice of removing bishoprics from villages to larger towns. A new cathedral was soon built, and its cruciform ground-plan can still be traced on the bare mound of the ancient city. It was for this first Salisbury Cathedral that the famous “Sarum use” was originally compiled.

But Old Sarum was too narrow a site for the growing requirements of an English town under the new régime. A cathedral, an episcopal palace, two churches, a castle with a military garrison must have occupied nearly all the available space on the little platform, leaving small room for merchants and their houses. Moreover, when the castle was handed over to a lay castellan the monks and[187] soldiers could not agree, while the want of water was severely felt. At length, in the reign of Henry III., Bishop Richard Poore obtained leave to remove the cathedral to a new position in the valley, between the villages of Harnham and Fisherton, now regarded as suburbs of Salisbury, but then little independent rural hamlets. Around the chosen site of his rising minster, Bishop Poore laid out the ground-plan of a fresh city with American regularity; and the result may be seen on the modern map of Salisbury, which is partitioned out into chequers, or square blocks, intersected at right angles by broad and open streets—a strange contrast to the winding lanes which have grown up irregularly in all directions in most of our old English towns. Already the merchants of Old Sarum had begun to build on the plain, and as the great cathedral rose on the level close of Miryfield a new city sprang up around it with astonishing rapidity. Henry III. granted it a charter, without which trade would have been impossible; and shortly after Bishop Bingham diverted the Icknield Street, or great western road, from Old Sarum to the new town by building a bridge across the Avon at Harnham. Roman roads were still the main highways of traffic in England, and the diversion completed the ruin of the hill city. Under Edward III. the old cathedral was taken down to build the spire and close of the new one; while the walls of the castle were used, with the ordinary mediæval vandalism, as a common quarry. Nevertheless, as everybody knows, Old Sarum, decaying away till not a single farmhouse was left, retained its parliamentary privileges down to the days of the first Reform Act. Meanwhile, the wool-stapling trade was making new Salisbury into an important commercial centre. Chalk downs form the great sheep-walks of England; and during the later Plantagenet period, when England, like Australia at the present day, lived on the wool export, we naturally find a large mercantile town in the centre of every valley in the chalk districts. Never before or after, probably, was the relative importance of Salisbury so great. The[188] wealth of her merchants is shown in such buildings as the hall of John Halle, one of her chief wool-staplers during the reign of Henry VI. Its splendid banqueting-room has been well restored by Pugin, and now forms one of the sights in the modern city. The guild-halls of the joiners and of the tailors, the numerous carved gables to the old houses, and the existence of four handsome mediæval churches besides the cathedral, sufficiently attest the size and riches of the town during the wool-stapling period. At a somewhat later date Salisbury acquired a reputation for clothing and cutlery, both of which manufactures are now extinct. Since the Restoration, in fact, the town has chiefly lived upon its cathedral, its position as an agricultural centre, and its trade with the surrounding country. Nevertheless, it still continues to grow with the general growth of England, and its suburbs are even now extending on every side. Its situation as an important railway centre has had much influence upon its modern development.


A pleasant walk, at first along the Roman road with its overhanging avenue of sycamores or chestnuts, and then across an open sweep of English chalk down, leads from the square ramparts which still gird round modern Dorchester to the vast prehistoric earthworks of Maiden Castle. Nowhere else in Britain have the ancient inhabitants left so gigantic a relic of their forgotten enmities: Maiden Castle holds among British strongholds the same place that Stonehenge holds among megalithic monuments. In both cases it is significant that the great work stands among the bare undulations of the chalk country, and overhangs the utmost border of a rich alluvial lowland. The Mai-Dun, to give it its proper title [?], is the most stupendous of all the Celtic duns that cluster thickly in all similar sites over the length and breadth of Britain. Its open central platform occupies the summit of a jutting down, abutting[189] on the Ridgeway, about two miles south of Dorchester. Before getting to this central area, however, the visitor must climb to the top of three several steep ramparts, and descend again into the ditch-like bottom of three several deep fosses. Each time he fancies he has reached the goal of his day’s expedition, and each time he is obliged to descend once more into a great ravine which divides him from the next ridge or from the final rampart. Near the west end alone a zigzag gateway, defended by over-lapping ends, which enclose a sort of insulated mound and other outworks, admits him through a comparatively level road to the interior of the great earthwork. At the present moment, however, this one practicable entrance is sufficiently defended for all practical purposes against the solitary tourist by a long-horned white bull, who might almost represent to fancy the cattle of the old Durotriges themselves, and who seems by no means disposed to admit the hostile Saxon into the safe retreat of his Celtic ancestors. There is nothing for it, therefore, but to climb over the three almost perpendicular ridges and fosses as best one may, among the hare-bells, the devil’s bits, and the clustered campanulas which make the steep slopes blue even now with their nodding blossoms. It is a hard pull, but a quarter of an hour takes one over it; and then the view opens over a wide uneven area, where the herd of the white bull raise their heads from their grazing to stare the solitary intruder in the face.

The inner area alone covers an irregular surface of forty-five acres, roughly oval, or, rather, hour-glass-like in form; the entire fortification, including the ramparts, covering a gross extent of 115 acres. Merely to walk once round the circuit of the inner defences makes in itself a fair constitutional, for the distance is scarcely less than two miles and a quarter. The fosses have been excavated out of the solid chalk, and the material so removed has been heaped up to form the intervening ramparts. No broad flat implements like our own spades were used in their construction: to a military eye the work bears abundant evidence of having been performed[190] by the aid of narrow bronze celts alone, with which a small quantity of the subsoil was removed at a time. The view from the top of the inner ridge, shifting at each curve, sufficiently explains the nature and origin of this stupendous prehistoric fortification. The castle looks on every side save one over bare and bleak chalk down, crested here and there by the dark patches of heath which mark the undenuded tertiary strata. On the tallest of these, known as Black Down, rises the octagonal tower of Hardy’s Monument: scattered over the lower crests are innumerable barrows, which sometimes similarly preserve in their corrupted names some faint memories of earlier heroes. They are all of the round or true Celtic type, and they belong therefore to the same race as the builders of Maiden Castle. But on the one remaining side, towards Dorchester, the castle looks down upon perhaps the widest and longest strip of alluvial lowland in all England; and this strip gives us the true raison d’être of earthworks and of barrows alike. Such a position formed the absolute ideal of a Celtic principality. Cultivation was then confined to the flat river valleys; grazing was then confined to the open treeless downs. Man had not yet begun to hew his way through the natural forests that covered all the secondary plateau and primary hills of England, where now we find the richest corn-land of the whole country. Hence the primitive Celt required most of all an alluvial stretch for his rude tilth and an open chalk tract for his sheep and cattle. In the valley of the Wily and the Avon near Salisbury, and in the valley of the Var or Frome near Dorchester, he found these advantages combined, perhaps, to a greater degree than in any other district of Britain. It is not without reason, then, that in the one country we find the vast hill-fort of Old Sarum, the prehistoric circle of Stonehenge, and an endless surrounding array of ancient tumuli, while in the other we find the immense fortress of Maiden Castle, the long terraces of the Dorset downs, and the innumerable barrows that stud the sky-line of all the boundary hills. There can be very little doubt that, though[191] mountains and passes made some other tribes more difficult for the Romans to subdue, the Belgæ of the Avon and the Durotriges of the Frome were intrinsically the most powerful as well as the most numerous of southern British tribes, and inferior only to the great horde of the Brigantes who held the still broader and more fertile plain of York.

As British Caer Badon looks down from its hill-perch on Roman Aquæ and English Bath, so the British Mai-Dun looks down from its terraced steep on Roman Durnovaria and English Dorchester. But there is little reason to suppose in either case that the town properly so-called ever occupied the summit of the isolated neighbouring hill. Both were probably mere high-places of refuge for the women and the other cattle in time of war. The people of the Frome valley were emphatically the Durotriges, the dwellers by the water-side; and their native capital was Durnovaria, the water of Var, an alternative title of the river which still survives in the later West-Saxon town of Wareham. That the main body of the folk lived in time of peace on the site of Dorchester is clear enough, both from the existence of a smaller local camp at Poundbury, hard by the town, and from the survival of their rude agora at Maumbury, near the railway station, now commonly called the Roman Amphitheatre, but too suspiciously like a Cornish “round” in its constructive features to bear out its reputed Italian pedigree. The southern invaders, in all probability, only adopted the native British village by the water-side, and replaced its irregular stockade by the square vallum and fosse, which, now planted with trees like the boulevards of so many French cities, form such a conspicuous and un-English feature in the view from the castle. They also ran through its centre two intersecting roads at right angles, which still make up the main streets of modern Dorchester, though their point of junction has been sadly narrowed by the building of the old English church on the site of St. Peter’s. From that time forth, no doubt, the Mai-Dun of the Celt, the Dunium of Ptolemy, has lain waste as a pasture[192] for cattle; though, perhaps, it may again have been occupied for a while by the provincials when the heathen West Saxons swarmed up the Frome from Poole Harbour to the conquest of eastern and central Dorset. On the lips of the new-comers the dun became Maiden, as again at Maiden Newton; and later on it took the Norman termination Castle, like most other prehistoric earthworks in the semi-Celtic west country. At the same time the Durotriges became Dornsæte, or Dorset folk; while Durnovaria became Dornwaraceaster, or, more shortly, Dornceaster, a word which has slowly worn down on local lips into Dorchester. Such fossilised names as Durngate Lane, within the city, still faintly preserve the memory of the older tongue. The fate of the great earthwork contrasts strangely with those of its various compeers elsewhere. Thus Sorviodunum, or Old Sarum, another similar dun, was actually occupied and altered by the Romans: it became the site of a mediæval cathedral town, and it was only slowly abandoned in favour of modern Salisbury, which stands to its deserted platform much as Dorchester now stands to Maiden Castle. On the other hand, the dun by the Exe has continued its life to the present day, and has largely got rid of its entrenchments on either side, so as to coalesce with the surrounding heights in the modern city of Exeter. But Maiden Castle, like its numerous neighbours to the west, the boundary group [of hill-forts] which secured the Durotriges from the Dumnonians of Devon, has remained utterly unoccupied ever since the defeat of its Celtic founders. It is this accident of fate that has preserved it for us to our own time in such singular perfection. Had it been held in a military sense by the Romans, it might have been altered to a Roman shape, like Lincoln and Sarum: had it passed through both the Roman and the mediæval stages it might have been as hopelessly distorted as the Castle mounds at York and Exeter, or as that ancient dun which gives its name to London, and which we now call Tower Hill. But its fortunate desertion in favour of the site by the river-side has kept unaltered for us to[193] this day the features of what was probably from the very beginning the finest Celtic hill-fortress in all Britain. Its very vastness made it impossible to defend from the point of view of scientific engineering; and the Romans left it alone as a witness to modern times of what the unaided Britain could do in the simplest arts of warfare.





Whoever wishes to reconstruct the original Hastings in his mind’s eye must climb the gorse-covered slopes of the East Cliff on some clear sunny morning, and sit down upon the little broken scarp of crumbling sandstone that overhangs the square old tower of All Saints’ Church. He must mentally abolish the pier, the Parade, and the long line of houses that form the modern suburb of Halton, and must restrict his attention entirely to the deep little glen, thickly crowded with red-roofed houses, that lies directly beneath his feet. That one narrow hollow combe, worn out of the soft sandy strata by the tiny stream known as the Bourne, represents the site of the primitive clan-village of the Hæstingas. Behind his back, on the summit of the cliffs, stands an earthwork of yet earlier date—probably Roman, but perhaps the relic of some aboriginal Celtic or pre-Celtic race. In the days when that earthwork was thrown up, however, the valley of the Bourne was doubtless still in much the same wild condition as Ecclesbourne Glen, just beyond the flagstaff on the hill, at the present day. It was not till the period of the South Saxon invasion, in all probability, that any rude fishing village first occupied the site of Hastings old town. When the invaders came, they came apparently in separate clan bands,[195] each clan having its own little fleet of keels, and conquering a small isolated district on its own account. The existing Rape of Hastings, consisting of the high sandstone belt that here runs northward to meet the Forest Ridge, seems to have formed for a while just such a separate principality for the petty tribe of the Hæstingas. It was ringed round by a very distinct mark of swamp and woodland, which naturally fitted it to become the seat of a single chieftainship among the jealous little Teutonic communities. On the east, the estuary of the Rother, debouching into the great tidal expanse of Romney Marsh, as yet undrained and unreclaimed, altogether cut it off from the Jutish conquerors of Kent. On the west, the smaller fen-land of Pevensey Level, now carefully guarded by drains and sluices, but then a vast stretch of boggy quagmire, divided it equally from the main South Saxon kingdom in the chalk-down country. In the rear, the pathless forest of the Weald, long an absolute barrier to roads and settlements, completed the girdling line of natural defences. The practical peninsula thus formed, all of whose boundaries may still be marked from the wooden watch-tower in the new cemetery, lay open in fact to the sea alone. By sea, then, the Hæstingas probably attacked it; and having overrun it, they held out for ages in their all but island territory as a separate community, only slowly amalgamated with the general dominions of the West Saxon kings. Before the Norman Conquest, indeed, the tract now included in Hastings Rape is never described as a part of Sussex; and as late as the days of Cnut the Dane, the English Chronicle speaks of the Kentings, and the South Saxon, and the Hæstingas, and the Surreys, as though each division were equally important and equally recognised for an independent folk.

During all these early times, the name of Hæstingas belonged not to the place but to the people, and was hardly perhaps more distinctive of the one narrow combe where Hastings arose later on than of any other clustering hamlet in the peninsular district. Even[196] then, however, a small fishing village had evidently gathered in the valley of the Bourne; and as it possessed the only harbour in the whole territory of the tribe—for elsewhere the shore was either cliff or swamp—it came to be known as Hæstinga-port, or the haven of the Hæstingas. Up to the period of the Conquest, we may picture this little group of rough wooden houses as filling the very lower end of the Bourne glen, for the land then ran farther out to sea than at present; while on either hand the Castle Hill and the East Cliff rose sheer above their roofs as open downs, the White Rock (now demolished) closing the view to westward with its weather-beaten mass. The great impetus to the port of the tribesmen, as to all the other towns of Sussex, arrived with the advent of William the Conqueror. “In this year,” says the English Chronicle, under the date of the Conquest, “came Wyllelm earl out of Normandy into Pevensey, on St. Michael’s Mass even, and wrought a castle at Hæstinga-port.” This castle was a mere rough and hasty stockade [as we are told], for temporary defence; but it probably occupied the crest of the present Castle Hill, to the west of the fishing village, on the spot where the stone fortress afterwards arose. From that point William marched, as everybody knows, to the heights of Telham, near Battle, and there fought with Harold the decisive engagement which settled the fate of England. In the history of Hastings town, however, the battle which takes its name from the tribal district is a mere alien episode: and, indeed, it is the common error of local historians to concentrate themselves too closely upon those events in the general annals of England which have happened to occur in their neighbourhood, and to neglect overmuch the organic development and individual continuity of their own town or country. Still, the results of the battle were full of immediate importance to the fishing village itself. Of all parts of England, Sussex, the first conquered, suffered most from the conquest. Its nearness to Normandy made its obedience of the first moment, for[197] it formed the open gate for reinforcements from the Continent. William divided it out into six rapes or divisions, each of which was handed over to a Norman castellan, and each guarded by a great fortress. The country of the Hæstingas fell to the share of the Counts of Eu, who built the first Norman Castle on the West Hill. Hastings, as the town now began to be familiarly called, rose rapidly into importance under the new régime. Its port was one of the chief outlets to Normandy; and while the Norman connection lasted, Sussex, previously one of the most isolated districts in South Britain, formed the king’s main highway from England to his continental provinces. The old church of the fisher town was given to the monks of Fécamp; and ships from St. Valery-sur-Somme, whose houses are visible from the East Cliff in clear weather, resorted with merchandise to the little harbour. The castle, the neighbourhood of so wealthy a monastery as Battle Abbey, and the ship-building trade induced by the nearness to the timber of the Weald, must all have contributed to make Hastings a comparatively large and notable place under the first line of our foreign kings.

In the later Plantagenet period, our relations with France became reversed, though not apparently to the detriment of Hastings. As premier Cinque Port, it still maintained its own among the coastwise towns of England; but a wall now protected it on the sea half from marauding Frenchmen, running across the gap in the downs from the Castle Hill to the East Cliff, and still partly visible in the little alley called Bourne Street. The ship-building trade continued to flourish; the fishing-trade is always perennial; and the rise of the iron-smelting industry in the Weald probably made Hastings into a considerable port. Hither, too, the monks of Battle must have imported all their wine and merchandise from the Continent. The proofs of the increasing wealth in the place at this time are seen in the two large and picturesque churches of the old town—All Saints’ and St. Clement’s—both of the[198] perpendicular period, though the oldest and largest of all was long ago swept away by encroachment of the sea. Until the days of Elizabeth, Hastings held its own manfully; but during that queen’s reign a great storm—the same that threw up the shingle-bank which turned aside the mouth of the Ouse from Seaford to Newhaven—destroyed the old wooden pier, washed away the lower part of the town, obliterated the harbour, and ruined the trade of Hastings. For two centuries the decaying port became a poor struggling fishing village once more, with a broken castle crowning a picturesque cliff on its western side. Even the fishing-vessels could only be beached with danger and difficulty. At last, about a hundred years ago, a fashionable London doctor began to send his consumptive patients for the winter months to Hastings. The pretty old-world quarter known as the Croft, under shelter of the Castle Hill, dates in part from this renaissance. From that time forward the town has steadily increased as a watering-place. Lying so near London, it flourished even in the coaching days; but railways soon achieved its fortune. It began to grow westward from the Croft, and first rounded the edge of the cliff in the West Hill by a barbarous excavation in the native sandstone rock, beneath the castle, hollowed out to receive Pelham Crescent, and the Arcade. Thence it spread, in the early years of the century, past Wellington Square, into the valley of a second bourne, which flows through St. Andrew’s Gardens, and now falls into the sea ingloriously by iron pipes near the Queen’s Hotel. A little later, the invalid district about Robertson Terrace was built, and by a horrid act of vandalism the White Rock was blown away, so as to let the rising Parade extend onward even beyond the limits of the western valley. Meanwhile, early in the second quarter of the century, the Burtons had begun their fashionable watering-place of St. Leonards, at first a totally distinct town, separated from Hastings by a wide open stretch of close-cropped down. It consisted of several terraces[199] fronting the sea, all built upon a regular and similar plan, with the club, the baths, the hotel, and the Assembly Rooms in the centre. Gradually, however, the Hastings Parade spread westward, and the St. Leonards Marina spread eastward, till they met at last in the middle, at Warrior Square. Seen from a height, indeed, the place still naturally divides itself into three distinct portions, each occupying a valley of its own—Old Hastings, New Hastings, and St. Leonards; for the buildings zigzag in and out through the hollows, leaving the intervening hills for the most part quite unoccupied. The dates of the various churches accurately mark the general growth of the population at each period.


It is a popular error to suppose that Brighton owes its existence entirely to a caprice of George IV., or even to believe with Macaulay that it remained only an unfrequented fishing-village down to a very recent period. Though the history of the largest English watering-place is certainly not so eventful as that of many smaller and now less famous towns, it yet throws back its roots into a remote and respectable past, for the borough still bears in its very name the best evidence of its antiquity. The Brighthelmstone of the last century is lineally descended from the Brihthelmes Stán of the early South Saxon settlers; and that primitive form of the word again enshrines for us the half-obliterated memory of an ancient and universal custom. The open space between the Pavilion and the Aquarium is now known as the Steyne. Most people who have been familiar with its name from childhood upward have probably associated it only with local traditions of the Prince Regent or recollections of Thackeray’s wicked marquis in “Vanity Fair.” As a matter of historical fact, however, the Steyne carries on its face far more remarkable implications than that. It is indeed the site of the original Stán, the holy stone or monumental monolith[200] round which the later town has slowly gathered. Such holy stones have often formed the nucleus for an English or British settlement, and in many cases the word still survives as part of the modern town name. Brixton in the Isle of Wight was once Ecgbrihtes Stán, the stone of Egbert; and another Ecgbrihtes Stán, the judgment-seat of its shire or hundred, which formed the rendezvous of Alfred’s army during the Danish invasion, is now identified as Brixton Deverill, near Warminster. Folkstone, too, is Folces Stán, the Folk Stone of the Kentish men, the Lapis Tituli of the conquered Romano-Britains. All over England such prehistoric stones still survive in numbers, in many places as sites of the local courts; and the court of the Hundred of Stone is always opened, to the present day, by pouring a bottle of port as a libation over the sacred relic from which the district takes its name. The Brihthelm after whom this particular stone on the site of the Steyne was originally called, ranks as an early Bishop of Selsey [?]; though in all probability he was not himself buried there, but merely gave a Christian character to some old local heathen monument, perhaps of pre-Roman or pre-Celtic date. So St. Patrick, finding three pillar stones connected with Irish paganism, instead of destroying them, inscribed them with holy names; while one, which he used as a place of baptism, was ever afterwards known as Patrick’s Stone. Indeed, many mediæval crosses are firmly mortised into bases composed of such hallowed megalithic structures belonging originally to the older creed. The obviously pagan clan-name of the Staningas, or sons of the stone, at Steyning, close by, may possibly have reference to this primæval monument.

No English clan seems to have settled beside the Stone of Brihthelm itself; but the site lay right on the line of the old British coast-road from Anderida or Pevensey to Regnum or Chichester; and the prehistoric fort of Whitehawk Hill overhung the little combe from behind; so that it must always have stood in the very thick of the local civilisation for the time being.[201] Indeed, English clan villages cluster closely all around it; and we may be sure that a few fishermen settled in the seaward combe from the very earliest date when the South Saxons took to sea-fishing, which could hardly have been as late as the days of Wilfrith, in spite of the miraculous story retailed for us by Bede. The look of the hollow by the Steyne must then have been something like that of Rottingdean, without the houses: a mere gap or gate in the chalk downs, opening to the sea in front by a small fringe of lowland, where the Madeira Walk now runs beneath the buttressed cliffs. Until the Norman conquest we hear nothing definitely about the condition of Brihthelmes Stán. After that event the manor was granted to the Earls de Warrenne, castellans of Lewes, and a large number of Flemish fishermen from the opposite coast were induced to fix their homes on the ledge below the cliff. Another small village of landsmen crowned the white chalk heights above. The old church, dedicated to St. Nicholas, was placed quite apart from either hamlet, on high open ground between the Steyne and the modern railway station, where it served at the same time for a landmark to the fishermen out at sea. Of the primitive Norman or South Saxon building no relic now remains, except the font; but all visitors to Brighton before the last twenty-five years can remember the old long low decorated parish church of the fourteenth century, built, like so many antiquated Brighton houses, of that curious flint patchwork, the use of which was forced upon the inhabitants by the want of good building-stone. The base of the broken churchyard cross stands even now on the little plot without, upon the desecrated hill-side. In spite of French descents and occasional internal feuds, Brighthelmstone must have presented much the same picture all through the mediæval period: a green valley in the downs, along the hollow of the London road; a small fishing-village under the cliff; a little agricultural and trading hamlet above it; a solitary church among fields and pastures on the hill-side; and a few white windmills crowning the conical bosses of[202] the chalk heights that bounded the view to northward behind the town.

Shortly after the Reformation, however, the days of old Brighthelmstone began to be numbered. The sea encroached gradually upon the lowland beneath the cliff, and at last the fishing-village was entirely swept away. For more than a hundred years the name was only remembered as that of a country rectory, on the coast near Shoreham, which had once been a flourishing fisher town, but was now reduced to a small group of agricultural cottages. Three old lanes, East Street, West Street, and North Street, forming with the sea-front a little square district near the market-hall, still preserve for us the boundaries of all that then remained of Brighthelmstone. Charles II. hid here for a while on his way to France by Shoreham. About the middle of the eighteenth century the doctors had just begun to discover the seaside; and when that discovery was once made, the little valley in the Sussex downs was one of the most natural places in the world to which the invalids of London could be sent for change and fresh air. It was a certain Dr. Russell in the bustling and busy county town of Lewes, hard by, who has the credit of first casting an appreciative eye upon the quiet and unvisited nook by the sea at Brighthelmstone. At that time the Steyne was an open common, and sojourners put up at the old King’s Head in West Street. Lodgings soon began to be in demand. The houses of this transitional period can still be easily recognised in the district just ringing round the old square village, as well as in many of the streets lying within that ancient boundary. Towards the close of the eighteenth century the Prince of Wales took a fancy to Brighton, as the name had now for some time been abbreviated, and began to build the mongrel domes and minarets of the Pavilion. Under such patronage the new town grew rapidly. The chain-pier was thrown out into the sea at the point where the cliff subsides, and houses spread quickly up the hill towards St. Nicholas Church, as well as in the other direction towards the New Steyne[203] and the Marine Parade on the cliff-top. The Old Steyne was also enclosed and cut up by roads; though what became of the stone from which it takes its name, and on which tradition asserts that the old fishermen used to dry their nets, cannot now be discovered. Shortly after, the big pseudo-Gothic church of St. Peter, at the end of the Steyne, was built by Barry—a singular monument of the first attempts in the direction of mediæval revival in England. Even during the coaching days Brighton grew with astonishing rapidity: it had as many as 7000 inhabitants in 1801, and by 1830 it was already a large town, with more than thirty coaches running daily to London. The square and crescent at Kemp Town had been built before that period; while the names of the streets and districts elsewhere generally give one a shrewd idea in passing of their probable date. The Reform Act made Brighton into a parliamentary borough with two members; and the railway of course turned it practically into a seaside suburb of London. Since then almost all that was old in the town has disappeared: the great line of marine terraces has covered the whole sea-front, from Kemp Town to Hove and Cliftonville; the ugly West Pier has been put into unhappy competition with its graceful but neglected eastern neighbour; the Aquarium has been stuck down on a reclaimed corner near the Pavilion; the old church has been rebuilt and modernised out of recognition; and the houses have spread inland over all the hills, or along the original valley far beyond the once beautiful viaduct on the London road, now choked and obscured by endless rows of modern brick-built cottages. Nothing remains to-day of the primitive Brighton except a forgotten philological fossil in the name of the Steyne and the queer old legal form of Brighthelmstone still employed in public documents for certain official purposes.





As everybody knows, during the first half of the eighteenth century Beau Nash was King of Bath. But most people probably imagine that the title was a purely fanciful one, invented on purpose for that fantastic potentate, and confined in its application to him alone. This, however, is not the case. Beau Nash only added fresh importance to an old traditional phantom office. From time immemorial, and certainly from the tenth century onward, the citizens of Bath were annually accustomed to elect a king; and it is even possible that the mock ceremony dates from a still more remote period, as a last nominal survival from the days of British independence in the west. Instead of Beau Nash being the first King of Bath, he was really the last king; and his predecessors went back in an unbroken line at least to Edgar the West Saxon, and perhaps to some far earlier local prince, whose reign preceded the English occupation, or even the Roman Conquest. Like the Rex in republican Rome, or the Basileus in democratic Athens, the shadowy king may have been the representative of some more ancient real sovereign. Indeed, the royal reminiscences which have always lingered about Bath are so numerous and so curious that the history of its kings deserves something more than a passing mention from county annalists.


Whether Bath and the surrounding country had any separate princes of their own at the time of the Roman invasion is not certain. But it is, at any rate, clear that two very large and important hill stations flanked the valley of the Avon—one of them on Little Solisbury and the other on Hampton Down, both overlooking the modern city. Such great hill-forts usually mark the capital of a little British chieftainship; and near them gather the big round barrows which cover the cromlech-tombs of the dead chieftains. The Bury or fort of Sul gave the later town, which gathered round the hot springs in the valley, its Roman name of Aquæ Sulis; but the old British title of Caer Badon has lingered on into modern Welsh as the ordinary form for the city of Bath; and to read in a Welsh newspaper of the present day of a “Caer Badon” carries one back in imagination over twenty centuries. At Bath itself, however, the name of Caer Badon now belongs only to the earthwork on Hampton Down. Tradition, too, gives us some warrant for believing that there may have been Kings of Bath even before the Roman conquest; for the story of Bladud, though it rests on no better authority than that of Geoffrey of Monmouth, an unblushing romancer, is probably based upon some real old British legend. Geoffrey was a Welshman with a considerable knowledge of Cymric folk-lore; and, like most other historical romancers, he often builds his romance upon facts or traditions of genuine illustrative value. His story of Bladud shows at least that Welshmen in his day connected Bath very closely with the old British princes; and it probably shows also that tales to that effect were then current at Bath itself. If there were local princes in the Avon vale before the Romans came, it is likely enough that they continued to retain a titular sovereignty under the Roman rule, as we know was the case in Sussex, where one Cogidumnus called himself King of the Regni, apparently in the same sense as our own titular feudatories in India call themselves the Nawab Nazim of Bengal or the Guicowar of Baroda. It is clear from the account given by Tacitus that Agricola found[206] Britain still occupied by its native chiefs as persons of importance, and that he endeavoured to Romanise them without depriving them of their tribal authority, much as we ourselves Anglicised the Irish chieftains or the heads of Scotch clans by making them into earls and barons on the English pattern. At any rate, as soon as the Romans left, the tribes seem each to have reverted to their own recognised chieftains—exactly as during the Indian Mutiny the people of Banda rallied round their Ranee, or the Mahrattas round the adopted heir of the Peshwas.

For nearly two centuries after the departure of the legions, native Welsh kings ruled in Bath; and these are the only real historical kings of Bath of whose existence we can be sure. Towards the close of the sixth century, however, the West Saxons fought against Farinmail King of Bath, at Dyrham Park, and slew him, together with his two allies, Conmail of Gloucester and Condidan of Cirencester, petty Welsh princes like those of Powys and Gwent, or like the Lords of Snowdon in later days. The Dumnonian kings of Somerset were then driven farther west beyond the marshes of the Parret, and Bath fell into the hands of the English heathen. It is just possible that even after the English occupation the native Welsh of Bath, in their servile condition, may have still chosen themselves a titular king from year to year, if only for form’s sake; and, indeed, a curious document, noted by Sir Francis Palgrave, shows that in Devonshire at least a Welsh [community] long continued to be ruled by [its] own Council of Elders, who made regular agreements with the English witan, just as in India the headman of the village and the local council are recognised even now by the British authorities. In any case, it seems clear that memories of the old Welsh royal house in Bath remained strongly fixed in the minds of the people, and that the city was especially connected with legends of the supposed but fabulous imperial British line. When all Britain was finally for the first time united under Edgar, the coronation of that king, “chosen by the Anglo-Britons,” as Florence of Worcester[207] significantly remarks, took place at Bath; and the ballad in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle commemorating this great event carefully mentions “the ancient burgh” both under its English and its British name. From Bath, Edgar went direct to Chester, and there eight subject Welsh or other Celtic princes rowed him in state on the sacred Dee, the holiest of all the rivers of ancient Britain. We see the full significance of these steps when we remember that the minister who built up Edgar’s power was a Somerset man, Dunstan, born beside the old Welsh monastery of Glastonbury or Ynys Witrin, of which he was afterwards abbot—a monastery founded by the Welsh Dumnonian kings of Somerset and still retaining the original Welsh charters as late as the days of William of Malmesbury. Dunstan must have well known all the local importance of Bath, and the traditions of its connection with the old imperial British line; and it was not without reason that he selected this place for Edgar’s coronation fourteen years after his accession. No doubt to be crowned at Bath made a man not merely king of the English but emperor of Britain. Long after, when Swegen the Dane could not get into London, he went to Bath and obtained the allegiance of the West Welsh shires, and then “all folk held him for full king.” This traditional habit of regarding Bath as specially fitted for coronations is not more curious in its way than the connection of Rheims with the French kings, or the connection of Scone with the kings of Scots.

It is from Edgar’s time that the institution of the mock King of Bath [may be] dated. The coronation of the first king of all England and overlord of Britain—Edgar himself even used the style of Imperator—was an event not likely to be forgotten in the little town. From that time forth the citizens of Bath annually elected one of themselves to be King of Bath in a mock-solemn assembly, held on the same date as Edgar’s coronation, “the Day of Pentecost.” Whether Edgar’s visit really gave origin to the custom, or whether it was one handed down from an earlier time, it would be[208] difficult to decide; at any rate, the memory of Edgar blotted out the older memories, if such there were; and the annual feast was thenceforth said to owe its institution to the West Saxon king. All the old local histories give this as the reason—“that the citizens might hold in remembrance the name of Edgar, who was crowned at Bath Abbey in the year of our Lord 973.” If the King of Bath ever had any real duties, they were soon forgotten; and the office became something like that held by the Queen of the May or the Pape [or Evesque] des Fous. Still, it was kept up all through the Middle Ages, and on to the beginning of the eighteenth century, the day of election always remaining the same; which is hardly more surprising than the vitality of Guy Fawkes’ or of All Fools’ Day, and far less surprising than the still existent celebration of Marius’s victory over the Teutones at Mont Ste. Victoire, near Aix, on the anniversary of that distant event after nearly two thousand years. Until Beau Nash’s time, the honour seems to have been tenable for one year only, like the mayoralty in English towns; but Beau Nash, being always re-elected, held the crown for fifty years, so that it came at last to be regarded as a personal attribute. At his death, the memory of the annual ceremony appears to have died out, and there was never, apparently, another King of Bath. It is interesting to note in this connection that the last king was himself a Welshman; so that the royal line ended, as it began, with British blood. A mock mayor is still in the same way elected yearly at Colyford in Devon, and in several other small towns.


The two chief towns of West Somerset have so much of their history in common that it is natural in dealing with the one to deal also at the same time with the other. Both appear to be comparatively recent in their origin—recent, that is to say, when considered side by side with such very ancient British fortresses as St.[209] Albans, Colchester, or Norwich. The spot now occupied by Wells was probably a mere grassy basin, nestling among the craggy outliers of the forest-clad Mendips, long after the days of the Roman conquest or the first landing of the later English colonists. It lay for a hundred years upon the very mark or woodland border which separated the West Saxon realm from the dominions of the native Dumnonian princes. The West Saxons, after their capture of Bath, seem to have overrun the whole eastern portion of modern Somerset, including the Mendips, till they were checked by the dreary stretch of marshes, through whose reclaimed expanse the Axe now runs down between artificial embankments to the Bristol Channel. For a century the little river formed the recognised boundary of the two races; so that, as Mr. Freeman puts it, the unoccupied site of Wells was still in Welshland, while Wookey, a few miles off, was already in England. But shortly after the conversion of the West Saxons to Christianity, their king Cenwealh turned against the yet unconquered Welsh of Dyvnaint or Dumnonia. By two battles fought, one at Bradford and another at Pen, Cenwealh made himself master of central Somerset as far as the Parret. The new territory thus acquired of course included the site of Wells, but not that of Taunton. Mr. Freeman himself admits that west of the Axe the Welsh were not exterminated, or even enslaved, but merely reduced to the condition of tributaries; and it seems clear that most of the existing peasantry in the great peninsula which stretches from the Avon to the Land’s End are still, in his own phrase, “only naturalised Englishmen.” As yet, however, there was no Wells. Sixty years after Cenwealh’s conquests, a later West Saxon prince, Ini, turned once more upon the West Welsh of Dumnonia, and drove their king Geraint from the wide valley between the Quantocks and the Black Down, through whose midst the Tone flows placidly to join the marshy levels of the Parret near Bridgewater. In the very centre of the valley Ini built a great border-fortress against his Dumnonian[210] enemies, and called it after the river, Taunton, or the town on the Tone.

The West Saxon kings seem to have pursued from the first a policy of conciliation towards the Welshmen of this newly-acquired territory; and West Somerset certainly became their favourite residence and their safest retreat. Ini took over the great Welsh sanctuary at Glastonbury—that Celtic Westminster where Arthur lay buried—and built a new church and monastery of his own beside the ancient wattled chapel of the Dumnonian kings, founded, as tradition asserted, by St. Joseph of Arimathea. But he wished, perhaps, to set an English abbey by the side of this old Welsh foundation; and, casting about for a spot on which to build it, his choice fell at last upon the site of Wells, a few miles north-east of Glastonbury. Nowhere could one find a better situation for an ecclesiastical town. Wood and water, the two great monastic needs, were there in abundance. The little grassy basin lay in the centre of a ring of limestone hillocks; and from the summit of the wooded Mendips came down the numerous springs, which gushed forth abundantly at the outcrop, and gave the spot its name of Wells. Around, beyond the hills, stretched a great morass, which the canons might reclaim with profit to themselves and the community at large. Here, then, Ini founded his wooden abbey, and settled his English brothers. From beginning to end, the town was thus a purely artificial one; it has had no trade and no manufactures; it has not even been to any great extent an agricultural centre; but it has depended entirely in all stages of its existence upon its ecclesiastical position. Ealdhelm, a kinsman of Ini, was appointed bishop of the new Welsh-kind diocese; and the West Saxon kings themselves had a manor and hall hard by at Wedmore, where, long afterwards, Alfred [made] his treaty with Guthrum and the Danes. The seat of the bishopric, however, was not yet at Wells: Ealdhelm’s bishop-stool was placed rather at Sherborne, in older-conquered Dorset. Meanwhile, Devonshire was being slowly overrun by the West[211] Saxons; and after the Danish invasion was over, Edward the Elder thought it well to establish a separate diocese for the Somerset folk, now fully Anglicised; whereas his father Alfred had appointed a Welshman, Asser, bishop of the still Celtic-speaking Devonians in the west. The new see was fixed at Wells, and an abbot of Glastonbury was its first occupant. Of this earliest cathedral nothing, of course, now remains. The Norman conquest left Wells where it was; but in the reign of Henry I. John de Villula, following the usual concentrating tendency of the time, attempted to remove the see to Bath. Wells must still have been a mere straggling village, grown up irregularly around the [minster]; while Bath had never ceased to be a walled town of importance since the Roman times. But the canons clamoured to have their bishop-stool restored to them; and a little later it was arranged that the bishop should in future be elected by the regulars of Bath and the seculars of Wells conjointly, and should take his style from both [minsters]. The old church was at the same time rebuilt; but early in the thirteenth century it was pulled down, and the present cathedral begun. Its architecture covers all the periods from Early English to Perpendicular. Throughout the mediæval era a small ecclesiastical town gathered around the cathedral; but its existing relics are almost entirely ecclesiastical—consisting of the walled and moated episcopal palace, the deanery, the vicar’s close [and St. Cuthbert’s Church]. The nature of the foundation saved it during the wreck of the monasteries; and the town is now no doubt larger than at any earlier period, though of course far less relatively important than formerly. It had once some petty textile manufactures; but it now subsists entirely on the cathedral and the small surrounding agricultural district.

Taunton, though so closely connected with Wells in origin, owes its continued existence to very different causes. The splendid vale in which it stands, thickly dotted with rich apple orchards, known as Taunton Dean, must always have been one of the most fruitful[212] triassic reaches in all Britain. Indeed, the coins found on the spot seem to indicate that long before Ini’s time a station stood here on the Roman road from Bath to Exeter; while the great British camp at Norton, close by, justifies the local rhyme,

Norton was a wallèd town
When Taunton was a fuzzy down.

It was to Ini, however, that the modern town owed its foundation; and his border fortress, a stockaded burg, placed at the point where Taunton Dean narrows to a neck of land along the river, occupied the site of the later castle. It was thus a military post in its beginnings; but it was meant to guard the rich farms of the newly-conquered region whose centre it occupied. A little farther on, the name of Wellington, the town of the Wealings or Welshmen, sufficiently marks the old limits of the Dumnonian kingdom. At a later period, when the capture of Exeter rendered the fortress unnecessary, Queen Fritheswyth granted Taunton to the see of Winchester, in whose possession it long after remained. The bishops built the castle on the site of Ini’s earthwork, the building being erected under Henry I. But its site made the town into the natural agricultural centre of Taunton Dean—the mart for all its cider, grain, and cheese; for, like all triassic districts, the Tone valley is largely given over to orchards and grazing. Of history in the ordinary acceptation Taunton has little; its growth has been slow and imperceptible. During the Middle Ages it rose to be the real capital of West Somerset; and its importance is attested by its magnificent churches, one of which, St. Mary Magdalene, has probably the finest and richest perpendicular tower in all England. When the woollen trade was naturalised in this country, the manufacture of serges found a home for a while in Taunton; and silk is still made there in a humble way. The sieges during the civil wars of the Commonwealth, and the events connected with Monmouth’s rebellion, belong to the political history of England, not to the local history[213] of Taunton. The draining and cultivation of the moors—in Somerset the word is applied rather to a fen than to a down—of course increased the importance of the town; and when at last the railway from Exeter to Bristol swept through the centre of the picturesque valley, Taunton became an important junction, with branch lines diverging from it through the neighbouring dales in all directions. It has now some few manufactures, notably that of gloves; but as a whole it represents the purely natural agricultural town, as Wells represents the purely artificial cathedral city. From beginning to end it has been the centre of a fertile valley and nothing more. Communications have widened its district and increased its importance; but it contrasts at once with those towns which, like Salisbury and Colchester, have obtained an administrative impulse from ecclesiastical or military reasons, and those which, like Manchester or Sheffield, have been revolutionised by their position near the great coal-beds. Taking them as a whole, indeed, the central towns of the rich triassic vales remain the most thriving purely agricultural centres of England; and Taunton may perhaps be regarded as the best example of the class.


On the farther side of Dartmoor, among the richly wooded dales that converge to form the valley and estuary of the Tamar at Plymouth, the long silver thread of the Tavy meanders in ceaseless windings through a deep glen, till at length it opens on the main stream of the united rivers near Tamerton. As in most other parts of Devonshire, the stream has given its own name to all the villages and parishes along its banks. Its upper portion is known as Tavy Cleave; next come two villages with churches dedicated severally to St. Mary and St. Peter, and known accordingly as Marytavy and Petertavy; then, a little lower down the bank stands Mount Tavy; while in the very midst of the fertile[214] little valley, at the point naturally best adapted for an agricultural centre, rises the picturesque market-town of Tavistock. Its very name marks it out as the oldest and most important place in the whole glen of Tavy; for the termination “stock” or “stoke” is old English for a [stockaded place or a staked ford], and it [sometimes] denotes the primitive local centre of the districts in which it occurs. In the Saxon Chronicle, however, this obvious derivation of the name from the river at its foot is curiously distorted by the writer, who gives it the form of Tæfingstoc, as though the town were really an early clan-settlement of Teutonic Tavings. So Torridgeton on the Torridge close by has been corrupted into Torrington, and Oakhampton on the Okement, which should be called Okement-ton, has assumed on provincial lips the current form of Ockington. In like manner, on the Erme and the Dart we get delusive Ermingtons and Dartingtons, which oddly simulate the true clan-settlements, the Paddingtons, Kensingtons, and Basingstokes of the more thoroughly Teutonic east. In the west country, in fact, where (as in Ireland to-day) the Celtic inhabitants were rather Anglicised than exterminated or even absorbed, such false analogies are very common. As the people of the Llans and the Abers began to use the English language, they twisted their own local names into very curious translated or corrupted forms; just as the modern Cornish have twisted their old Cymric Bryn Huel into Brown Willy, have altered Maen-eglos into the Manacles, and have distorted Braddoc into a seemingly English Broadoak. It is thus that the twelfth century [east country scribe] changed the unfamiliar Tæfistoc into Tæfingstoc; and it is only the survival of the river name Tavy, like its Welsh sisters the Teify and the Taff, that has preserved for us the true old Anglicised form of Tavistock.

What may have been the original West Welsh or Cornish name of the town on the Tavy it would now probably be impossible to discover. Everywhere in Britain the English conquest makes a complete blank[215] of the previous history after the Roman occupation; and the later that conquest was anywhere delayed, the longer is the intervening blank in the local annals. Now, western Devon was only really subdued in the reign of Athelstan, and it was not thoroughly Anglicised until a far later period. As there is no reason to suspect the former existence of any Roman station on the site, we may take it for granted that the vale of Tavy remained in the possession of a mere scattered Celtic population down to the period of the English conquest, and that its chief hamlet always occupied the place where Tavistock now stands. But as the English language slowly spread over the newly annexed districts, the native Welsh names were rudely translated—Lanpetroc, or the church of St. Petroc, becoming Petrocstow, afterwards corrupted into Padstow; while a line of similar saintly names marks the debatable borderland of the two tongues at Morwenstow, Davidstow, Jacobstow, Virginstow, and Bridestow. All these parishes, though mostly on the Devonian side of the boundary, retain their Celtic dedications, and clearly represent primitive Cornish-Welsh Llans. By much the same process some old Cymric Caer or Dinas became roughly Anglicised as Tavistock. Up to the days of Edgar the West Saxon, the Celtic Defnas of Devonshire still apparently retained a great deal of local feeling under their own ealdorman Ordgar, whose daughter was considered a fitting bride for the great overlord at Winchester himself. It was Ordgar who began the foundation of the famous minster at Tavistock, on the extreme western limit of his earldom; and the joint dedication of his abbey to Our Lady and the Cornish St. Rumon sufficiently attests the surviving strength of Celtic sentiment in the west country down to that comparatively late period. The relics of St. Rumon formed the great treasure of the place. The monastery was finally completed and endowed by Ordgar’s son Ordwulf. Around the new shrine all the later history of Tavistock naturally clusters. Athelred granted it numerous privileges; but during his disastrous reign, a body of[216] Danes sailed up the Tavy—there was as yet no Plymouth to sack at the mouth of the estuary—and “burned up Ordwulf’s minster at Tæfingstoc, and bore unnumbered booty with them to their ships.” Nevertheless the abbey was soon rebuilt and ranked as of such importance that it gave an archbishop to the province of York before the conquest. As the shrine of a local Cornu-British saint it enjoyed the greatest popularity in the two counties. The Cornish language, indeed, did not become wholly extinct in this part of Devonshire until the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

Throughout the Middle Ages, Tavistock remained ecclesiastically and commercially the centre of the whole Tamar basin. The site of Plymouth was then occupied only by three little fishing hamlets known as the three Suttons; and in his own secluded valley, cut off from all the rest of England by the intervening block of Dartmoor, the Benedictine abbot of Tavistock reigned practically supreme over his little territories for five hundred years. Within the borough and hundred he possessed sole jurisdiction; and his house was considered the wealthiest in the West Welsh counties, save only the Augustinian monastery at Plymton. The neighbouring borough of Lidford was also the stannary capital of the Dartmoor mines, and doubtless contributed by its proximity to the local importance of Tavistock. The great minster church almost equalled in size and importance the two western cathedrals of Wells and Exeter. Under Henry VIII., just before the suppression of the monasteries, the head of this house was raised to the dignity of a mitred abbot, and at the same time made independent of episcopal control by a special bull of Leo X. Shortly after, the storm broke; and the [dismantled] abbey, with most of its manors, was bestowed by Henry on the founder of the house of Russell, still so intimately connected with the borough of Tavistock. Thomas Cromwell had already pulled down a large part of the buildings, and the few fragments that now remain are but of slight interest. Even the abbey church was destroyed; the existing parish church [St[217] Eustace] is a minor building of the perpendicular period. Meanwhile the trade of Tavistock had been gradually developing, especially its woollen manufacture, and the local kerseys were favourably known in the sixteenth century throughout the whole of England. At the same time its copper and tin mines were more fully explored; and during the seventeenth century it still remained the undoubted capital of the extreme west. Pym sat for the borough in the Long Parliament; and, like most other industrial centres, it declared against the king in the Civil War. But with the eighteenth century the supremacy of Tavistock in the Tamar basin began to be rudely shaken by the rise of Plymouth. The village of King’s Sutton, or Sutton-juxta-Plym-mouth, had been slowly growing up to the reign of Henry VI., when it was first incorporated by Act of Parliament: and from that time onward it rose rapidly to the rank of a great commercial port. The westward twist given to trade and adventure in the reign of Elizabeth immensely increased its importance; and from the days of the Stuarts it manifestly superseded Tavistock entirely as the local metropolis of the west. At present, the little borough has dropped quietly into the position of a small country mining town and agricultural centre; now being gradually revivified by its position on a through line of railway between Plymouth and Exeter. It only deserves attention from the historical inquirer in our own time as the real original native centre of the debatable Tamar district, a place now occupied by Plymouth, which may fairly be regarded at the present day as the true capital of the Cornu-British race in both counties.


A defensible hill overlooking the head of navigation on an estuarine river—such is the common situation of all old British or early English commercial towns; and Exeter forms no exception to the rule. Its primitive[218] nucleus consists of the isolated red igneous rock which forms the mound now capped by the scanty relics of Rougemont Castle; and the original Celtic earthworks may still be traced in the vallum on two sides of the castle yard; for here, as elsewhere, the site of the stronghold has no doubt been successively occupied by Euskarian, Dumnonian, Roman, Saxon, and Norman masters. The river which it commands bore originally the common Celtic name of Isca, [a form] which reappears in the Axe, the Esk, and the Usk, besides affording the first syllable to Uxbridge and Axminster. That British Exeter early formed the chief emporium for the Cornish tin trade is sufficiently vouched by the numerous discoveries of Greek coins belonging to the Syrian and Egyptian dynasties; while, indeed, its connection with the stannaries has throughout its history been very close. When the Romans penetrated into the western peninsula they made the stockaded fort on the River Isca into their principal Dumnonian station; and with them its name took the form of Isca Dumnoniorum, to distinguish it from that other Isca in the Silurian territory which has been so differently modernised as Caerlon upon Usk. Villas, tessellated pavements, and other remains still attest the commercial and administrative greatness of Exeter under its Roman lords. After the withdrawal of the legions cast the semi-Romanised provincials upon their own resources, Isca appears to have remained for some centuries the capital of the revived Dumnonian principality, which long held out against the aggressive clansmen of Wessex. Here a Christian Dumnonian prince undoubtedly held his court, while heathen Saxons ruled in Winchester, during those shadowy days which Lord Tennyson has chosen for the scene of his Arthurian Idylls; and hither a little later, when Wessex had made its peace with the Roman Church, Abbot Aldhelm of Malmesbury dispatched his epistle on the Celtic heresies “to the most glorious lord of the western kingdom, Geraint.” In truth, nowhere in all Britain is the continuity between Roman and modern times so marked as at[219] Exeter; and that fact forms the master-key to all the subsequent history of the city—from the political point of view at least.

Even before Egbert’s time, however, the West Saxon kings had reduced the district of Dyfnaint or Devon to tributary submission; and already we hear of fights between the Defnas and the men of Cornwall, where the Defnas clearly appear to be acting in the interest of the West Saxon overlords. Mr. Davidson has shown that the Saxons had certainly settled in the eastern part of the shire as early as the middle of the eighth century; and on the lips of these Teutonic colonists the Isca became Exe, and the town of Isca became Exan-ceaster—a name gradually softened, after the usual border fashion, into Execestre and Exeter. Till the reign of Athelstan, English and Welsh dwelt together independently in the city; but when that vigorous West Saxon king began his wars against Howell of Cornwall, he reduced the Welsh burghers of Exeter to subjection before passing on to subdue their independent brethren in the west. To this day, as Mr. Green points out, the dedications of churches in the northern and southern halves of the city bear witness to the original division of races within the burgh; for those in the northern part commemorate such local Celtic devotees as St. Petroc, while those in the southern quarter are hallowed in the familiar names of orthodox Roman saints. Athelstan restored the old city walls, and fortified the angles with stone-built towers. Down to the date of the Norman conquest, Exeter lay of course wholly within the ancient walls, whose boundaries can still be easily traced along the edge of the escarpment. It occupied the summit of a low hill, defended on one side by the Exe, and on two others by the long ravines of Northernhay and Southernhay; while it lay exposed to the east alone, where a sort of high isthmus, now traversed by St. Sidwell Street (the old Icknild Way), connected this outlying spur with the main uplands in the rear. The extreme limits extended from the castle to the old Snail Tower near All Hallows Church, and from Bedford Circus to the[220] corner of Coombe Street. The four main roads (in reality two) intersecting one another nearly at right angles—North Street, South Street, Fore Street, and High Street—still represent the original ground-plan of the square Roman Isca. East Gate, West Gate, North Gate, and South Gate, where they passed through the wall, have long ago ceased to be practically recognisable. Quay Gate, at the corner of Coombe Street, led down obliquely to the wharves at the river-side which gave the city its commercial importance. Here alone the wall stretched down to the banks of the Exe; elsewhere it faithfully followed the commanding crest of the triangular hill-slope.

Like other trading towns, Exeter suffered during the Danish invasions, though the burghers more than once compelled the discomfited pirates to fly to their ships. The royal rights in the city were made over to Emma, wife successively of Athelred and Cnut, as part of her morning gift; and in Cnut’s reign the strength of the Danish seafaring element in Exeter is sufficiently shown by the foundation of St. Olave’s Church, dedicated to the canonised Scandinavian king Olave. It was under Emma’s son the Confessor, however, that the ecclesiastical history of Exeter began in earnest. The joint West Welsh bishop-stool of Devon and Cornwall was then removed from Crediton to its present seat, in order that it might enjoy the needful protection of a walled burgh. Thus, before the conquest, Exeter had already become the acknowledged capital of the semi-Celtic west, standing to the Dumnonian Welsh-kin as London stood to the dominant West Saxons, and as York stood to the colonising Danes of the North. After the Conqueror’s victory at Hastings, the little local metropolis ventured to stand out on its own account against the Normans, and offered to admit the new king only on the terms of a free civic republic receiving its emperor. But William would brook no Florence or Venice in his conquered realm, and he besieged and took Exeter by means of a mine. He then erected a new castle, which he called Rougemont, on the site of the Dumnonian dun and the[221] Roman fortress. The old cathedral of Leofric, the first bishop, stood on the site of the existing Lady Chapel probably; but Warelwast, the Conqueror’s nephew, began the Norman minster, which was much injured by fire during the troubles of Stephen’s reign. To this building belong the unique, and it must be confessed uncouth transeptal towers, which form the most striking feature of the cathedral in a distant view. The larger part of the existing minster, however, consists of decorated work, and was erected by successive bishops between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

With the growth of the mediæval export trade in wool, the city advanced rapidly in size and importance. But at the close of the thirteenth century it received a serious check to its commercial prosperity, which for a while threatened to prove as disastrous as the rise of Liverpool has proved to Chester, or as the rise of Hull has proved to York. Isabella de Redvers, to revenge herself upon the citizens, built the obstruction at Topsham, still known as Countess Weir, so as completely to cut off the city from its navigable water-way. Under Hugh Courtenay, Topsham became commercially all that Exeter had once been. The burghers, however, did not lose heart; and after two centuries of lawsuits and fruitless endeavour, they at last cut the ship canal from Topsham to Exeter, in the reign of Henry VIII.—a work of remarkable spirit and enterprise for such an age. The cathedral city speedily regained its former greatness, and was erected into a royal port by Charles II. It resumed its position as the chief mart for woollen goods and serges in the West of England, being described by Defoe as second only to the Brigg Market at Leeds. The handsome Elizabethan Guildhall bears witness to this revived prosperity. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when the country gentry were acquiring the habit of keeping up a town-house but had not yet centralised themselves on London, Exeter became the fashionable centre of the west, where many county families passed the winter. But at the same time, its trade began to decline, partly from the slight[222] draught of water at the quay and partly from the northward determination of all commercial enterprise towards the coal and cotton country. Woollen fabrics no longer went away from the basin “in whole fleets.” Still, Exeter has survived the change far better than most other practically disused ports; its position makes it the natural receiving and distributing centre for the two main fertile districts of Devon, and it is the only large town between Bristol and Plymouth, so that it necessarily attracts to itself the mercantile interests of a wide intervening tract. The extension of the railway system, on which it is an important junction, and the growth of considerable watering-places or health resorts at Torquay, Exmouth, Dawlish, Teignmouth, Newton, and Ilfracombe, as well as the large tourist traffic to Dartmoor and the North Devon coast, have each tended to advance its fortunes; and at the present day Exeter has still all the appearance of a prosperous and rapidly growing city.




The ancient borough and decayed seaport of King’s Peddington lies in a sunny corner of a southern shire whose exact position its present historian has no intention whatsoever of disclosing, seeing that he himself has taken up his abode there because of its total retirement from the pressing cares and noisy turmoils of a too civilised world. It possesses its first name in contradistinction to the neighbouring village of High Peddington, which stands a couple of miles farther up the river Churn; and it owns its distinctive prefix to the fact that it was a royal manor in the days of Richard II., when its upper namesake was still a dependency of the Cistercian monks of Churney Abbey. King’s Peddington stretches over the alluvial flat where the little river bursts through a shingle bank into the sea; and its old stone pier is still frequented by a few fair-weather fishing vessels—trawlers of small burden and less draught, which suffice to supply the local demand for soles and lobsters in the neighbouring country. At a distance of a mile or so on either side the red sandstone cliffs rise boldly above the valley to a considerable height, but between them a rich and alluvial plain fills up the whole hollow cut through the hills by the Churn and its tributaries, and stretches backward for some ten or fifteen miles into the agricultural parishes at the rear. These low-lying fields form a splendid[226] pasture for sheep and neat-kind, while the slopes of the marly hills are covered in summer by heavy crops of corn, shading into barley as we reach the uplands above.

Alluvial levels of this sort are predestined, as it were, for human occupation; and it is not surprising, therefore, that from the earliest age of mankind the Churn valley around King’s Peddington should have formed a natural centre for the homes of men. Even during those very ancient times when naked black savages, with prominent muzzles and shaggy eyebrows, alone inhabited the earth, such primeval hunters in person snared the mammoth and chased the reindeer over the lowlands of the Churn, and their [rough] hatchets may yet be occasionally picked up in the drift which covers the whole plain to a depth of many feet. They found their game most abundantly in the glades and thickets by the riverside. At a far later date, the brown Euskarians formed a village and a stockade beside the water’s bank, and a long barrow covering the remains of one of their chieftains stands out even now as a prominent landmark against the sky-line of Churnside Hill. The Euskarians were an agricultural and pastoral people, who had learned to polish their stone implements, to make pottery and cloth, to domesticate dogs, kine, and sheep, and to cultivate wheat, barley, and mullet. The long barrow was once opened by the Peddington Archæological Association, and in it was found the entire skeleton of the chieftain himself, together with the cleft skulls and scattered bones of the human victims sacrificed at his tomb—the wives and slaves whose ghosts were to serve him in the other world as they had already served him here on earth. With them lay mingled and huddled the horns of oxen and deer consumed at the funeral feast, together with the pieces of charred wood employed in cooking them. The long skull of the chieftain himself and of his murdered slaves sufficiently stamped the race to which they belonged; the polished greenstone axes, the amber beads, and the rude drinking-cups gave a clear idea of[227] their civilisation. The country people point out the barrow as an “ancient British tomb” and connect it with some schoolboy nonsense about Druids and misletoe. But in reality the tumulus of Churnside Hill has nothing at all to do with the ancient Britons, if by that expression we mean the old Celtic inhabitants of the island, who spoke a language akin to modern Welsh. The men who raised it were short, swarthy, black-haired people, speaking a non-Aryan tongue, and sharply marked off by the form of their heads from their later conquerors, the Celtic Britons. If they have any unmixed representatives in modern Europe those representatives are to be found in the stunted folk of the Basque country, in the short dark race of Brittany, and in the “black Celts” of Connemara.

The little Euskarian colony which occupied the lower Churn Valley entered Britain, like the rest of their race, by a broad bridge of land which still connected the modern island with the mainland of France and Belgium. One small group, pushing westward as far as this spot, settled in the alluvial level by the seashore, while two other petty communities have left their traces higher up the dale at Churney and Brookford Bridge. On either hand the hills were thickly covered with dense forests, where lurked the great game which formed no inconsiderable share of their food supply; but in the centre of the valley itself a little clearing, laboriously hewn out by the polished stone axes, with the occasional aid of fire, made a platform, as it were, for the village and stockade, with its close rows of neatly thatched square and circular huts. For each colony stood apart from all others, as they do even now in New Guinea or the Central Indian hills; and between them stretched a mark or girdle of forest, at once the hunting ground and the sacred frontier of the tribe. The tribesman who returned through it from a fowling expedition announced his coming by loud coo-eys, lest he should be mistaken for a scout from some hostile village; the stranger who was found stealing through secretly was hacked in pieces on the spot[228] with tomahawks and flint knives. Between the ring of virgin woodland and the group of huts lay the tilled clearing—a small plot of ground rudely sown with wheat; while just beyond, on the outskirt of the forest, the dogs watched over the flocks, and gave warning of approaching or hostile tribesmen. Yet these Euskarian savages had a certain settled polity of their own: a chief whose barrow rose after his death on the highest hill in the neighbourhood, and a strict subordination of inferiors implied by the massacre of slaves at the chieftain’s tomb. They had insignia of rank in the amber necklets and carved wooden clubs; and no doubt the village head-man lived in a larger hut than his fellows, placed in the very centre of the circular stockade. They had religious ideas, too, as one sees from the evident traces of belief in another life, though their religion had hardly got farther as yet than the practice of a sort of Dahomey custom over the grave of their dead chieftains. Their culture was fairly advanced, when we judge by a neolithic standard. They span wool and flax with spindle and whorl, and they wove it in a rude loom. The stone whorls may be picked up still on the site of the old village, in a field about half a mile from King’s Peddington, and the children keep them to the present day as charms against the evil eye. They mined for flints in the chalk which caps the highest cliff along the coast; and they used grindstones to give their weapons a proper polish. They fashioned hand-made pottery, and ornamented it with rows of dots. And they dug out canoes from logs of wood, which they rowed with flat paddles, exactly like those of the New Zealanders in our own time.

The Churnside Hill barrow and the circular depressions where the huts once stood are not the only relics of the Euskarians which occur in the Peddington district. On the top of the opposite hill an old earthwork, now half eaten through by the sea, hangs on the very edge of the mouldering cliff, and gives us a further glimpse of Euskarian manners. Its irregular outline and workmanship, as well as the implements picked up[229] in it, sufficiently vouch for its origin. This earthwork, universally known hereabouts as the British Camp, formed the place of refuge in time of invasion for the population and cattle of the villages below. Probably it was the common property of the three little colonies which occupied together the Churn Valley. So long as none of their neighbours came on the war trail against their herds and their homes, the three little tribes lived comfortably in the rich bottoms, where they could obtain abundant water and fuel and cultivate the deep alluvial soil in their simple fashion. They quarrelled among themselves, no doubt, at such times, especially over their respective rights of hunting in the common mark. But when a stronger tribe from the larger valley of the Eden, just behind, crossed the watershed and descended upon their lesser dale, they hastened to make friends again and to oppose a united front to the invader. Every man took his own family and his own cattle up to the camp, each carrying with him his separate store of water and provisions. There they stayed while the invaders burned their huts, reaped their corn, carried off their movables, and enslaved the old men and the superfluous women whom they had left as useless mouths in the village below. But if the enemy tried to storm their fort, the Churnside men defended their stronghold with energy and resolution. They kept up a fire of arrows and sling stones against their assailants, and cracked the heads of the bolder among them with club and tomahawk as they endeavoured to cross the fosse and scale the rampart with its tall crest of wooden palisades. The round pebbles used for slinging, the carefully chipped arrowheads, and the polished axes have all been discovered among the rubbish which forms the earthwork. Something of this sort, then, was probably the first page in the long annals of King’s Peddington. Yet perhaps the most curious fact about it all is this, that mixed descendants of those self-same swarthy Euskarians are undoubtedly living on at King’s Peddington to the present day, in spite of Celtic, Roman, and Teutonic[230] conquests; and the eye of an ethnologist can pick out the Euskarian features at once, in more or less diluted forms, among a good quarter of the children who now attend the Board School in the Vicarage Road.


Above the left bank of the Churn, beyond Churnside Hill, rises a higher and much more conical knoll or beacon, known to all the country side as Manbury Castle. Throughout the whole south-western district of England, a prehistoric earthwork is universally called a castle; and Manbury Castle is such an earthwork, of a far more pretentious character than the rude and shapeless Euskarian stronghold on the broken edge of the mouldering cliff. Its name alone sufficiently proclaims its Celtic origin [?]; for though bury is good English for a hill-fort, man is a common Celtic word for a stone—the Welsh mæn, whose debased form is familiar to us all in such compounds as the Old Man of Coniston. This regular oval rampart, with its labyrinthine entrance defended by special outworks, marks a great advance in the art of warfare upon the simple irregular Euskarian palisade; while the bronze hatchets and spearheads, rarely found among its fosses, mark an equally great advance in culture upon the rude Euskarian clubs and stone axes. At some unknown period, after Britain had become severed from the Continent by the breaking down of the isthmus which once joined Kent to Flanders and Picardy, a branch of the tall white Aryan race made its way into the island in open canoes, and began with fire and sword the subjugation of the short and swarthy Euskarians. These Aryans were Celts by family, and they brought with them, of course, the distinctive Celtic culture, such as it was. They had learned on the Continent the method of making and casting bronze, and the bronze weapons with which they were armed made them easily superior to the small dark indigenous race, with their stone hatchets[231] and wooden clubs. In a very short time, no doubt, the Celtic chieftains and their long-haired followers had walked over the greater part of Britain, and everywhere subdued or slaughtered the helpless natives. Ireland, it is true, they only colonised in small numbers; and even in Great Britain they left a branch of the dark race, afterwards known as the Silures, in possession of the wild Welsh hills, while another body held out bravely in the most rugged part of the Scotch Highlands. But throughout the greater portion of the English lowlands and river-valleys the Celtic chieftains established their rule almost without opposition, spreading over the self-same rich and cultivable districts which were afterwards occupied in like manner by the Teutonic conquerors, and leaving the wildest mountain regions to the Euskarians, as the Teutons afterwards left them to the Celts themselves. For, in the matter of ruthless and selfish aggression at least, history does truly repeat itself; and the successive stories of Celt, Englishman, Scandinavian, and Norman—of Ireland, South Africa, and Polynesia—are only the same old tale repeated again and again under slightly different disguises.

In Churnside, however, as in the rest of England, the Celts did not wholly exterminate the native dark race. Doubtless, when the advanced guard of the bronze-weaponed men poured over the downs that bound the little valley and burst upon the astonished aborigines, who could have expected nothing worse than a scalping and harrying inroad of their old familiar foes in the vale of Eden, they murdered the Euskarian chieftain in his stockade, and killed such of his warriors as offered them any definite resistance. But they probably settled down quietly afterwards in the ready-made village, and appropriated to themselves the women and children, and the remnant of the men, as slaves, just as they appropriated the land, the huts, the cattle, and the sheep. Doubtless they brought few of their own wives with them; and so, to some extent, the fair-haired Celt and dark-haired native slowly coalesced. Certainly at a later date we find the two races amalgamated; though[232] the long skulls of the Euskarian serfs may often be found side by side with the broad Aryan skulls of their Celtic masters in positions where the nature of the interments shows the respective status of the two races. One can trace to-day the Euskarian characteristics in many of the Churnside peasantry, especially in the upper part of the valley; while at King’s Peddington itself the fair and round-headed English type is now far more common. Still, the fact remains indubitable that in Churnside, as in Yorkshire, in East Anglia, and in so many other places, fragments of the Euskarian population still survive into our own times, more or less mixed with the later Celtic and Teutonic blood. Yet the Euskarian tongue died out so utterly, as the slaves were quickly Celticised, that not a single word, not a single local name even, [seems to have] lived on into modern Welsh and English.

The Celtic invaders largely changed the aspect of the Churn Valley. Their bronze axes enabled them to cut down the forest far more thoroughly than their swarthy predecessors had been able to do with their quartzite hatchets. Thus, instead of clearing a few isolated patches only, they cleared the larger part of the dale along the course of the river, and planted it with grain, or laid it down in grazing enclosures, which of course soon supported a considerably larger population than that of the three original colonies. Accordingly, the round enclosure or dun of Manbury Castle is calculated for holding many more families and cattle than the primitive earthwork on Churnside Hill. Nor is this the only mark of higher development to be found at Manbury Castle. Though it stands in the same relation to the valley of the Churn as did the earlier work, it stands in a very different relation to the valley of the Eden beyond. Under the Celtic rule these two little neighbouring dales were no longer hostile to one another; they formed parts of the territory belonging to a single tribe, a tribe far larger than any of which the narrower Euskarian mind could ever have dreamed. Looking northward and eastward from the summit of[233] the rampart, you can see five high downs, crowned by five other “castles,” ringing round the whole horizon, each of them bearing a name of equally indubitable Celtic etymology. These five earthworks form part of a great semi-circle of defences running across the downs for seventy miles, from the sea on the west to the sea on the east, and guarding the frontier of the Katuriges—as we call them in our Latinised Welsh—the Celtic tribe who occupied the valleys of the Churn, the Eden, and half a dozen other considerable streams. The narrow valley of Churnside required but one such hill-fort, or dun; but the larger vales to eastward are often supplied with six or seven, where the inhabitants might retire with their cattle on the approach of the hostile Burdonians beyond the highest range of downs. The Burdonians on their part had a similar system of frontier forts, which show in like manner an immense advance in political integration. In every case the valleys of half a dozen hostile Euskarian tribes became under the more warlike and more civilised Celts the principality of a single central chieftain.

Each little dale, however, still retained its own separate and subordinate chief. The great unhewn stone which stands on the summit of Manbury Castle, and gives its name to the hill, probably marks the grave of one such village potentate. Megalithic structures of this sort, often—though without any sufficient authority—described as “Druidical,” are common monuments of the bronze age of early Celtic culture. In almost every case, where they have been sufficiently explored, they are found to be nothing more than tombs, though doubtless quasi-religious services were performed in them, such as offerings to the ghost of the buried chieftain. The great “altar-stone” usually covers the actual remains, and is scored with little hollows or cups, in which food and drink were placed as gifts to the dead; while the surrounding trilithons only served, apparently, to add dignity and ornament to the site. Unexplored great circles, like Stonehenge, would probably yield the same results if they could be opened. But the Celtic[234] interments usually display a further advance in the evolution of religious ideas above those of the Euskarian savages. The long barrows of the brown men contain in the centre a stone chamber, in which the dead man was buried with his arms and utensils, his wives and slaves; the barrow was the home of the dead man himself, just as the hut had been his home during life. The round barrows of the lighter-skinned Celts, however, usually contain no such chamber, and instead of a body we find in their centre one or more urns enclosing the ashes of the deceased. The body and all its belongings—clothes, implements, weapons, and insignia—were burned instead of being merely buried, because the idea was now prevalent that the ghost not the body survived, and that nothing could be of any use to the ghost unless its ghost also was set free by burning. On the highest summit of the whole range of downs enclosing the territory of the Katuriges stands Colbury Castle, the principal fortress of the entire tribe; and close by rises a large round tumulus of Celtic date, doubtless enclosing the remains of a great chief who at some time or other ruled over the little group of valleys beneath, including Churnside. The Peddington archæologists have opened this barrow also, and found in it two interments. The lowest, at the very bottom of the mound, contained a skeleton in a grave dug down below the natural surface and surrounded by pottery, together with a few bronze and stone weapons of a very rude Celtic type. But at a later period the mound had been reopened from above, and two funeral urns, with ashes and charred clothing, had been buried about half way down in its midst. Thus we have evidence of a progress in the Celtic period from the practice of inhumation to that of cremation, the latter marking a further development of the belief in immortality than the former. In the same way, it is possible that a political progress also occurred during the Celtic régime, and that the union of all the neighbouring valleys under a single dynasty at Colbury only took place in the later portion of that period.



The King’s highway from the county town to King’s Peddington, and thence westward to the next large city in the opposite direction, leads up hill and down dale in a surprising and rather annoying fashion. The coast thereabouts rises into a succession of tall cliffs, and subsides again into alluvial hollows at the mouth of each little river; but the road, instead of trying to skirt round the shoulders and edge its way through the lateral valleys, keeps straight on its course, regardless of these minor diversities in level, and mounts every hill up a steep ascent, unbroken by the ordinary zigzags or gradients of modern engineering science. It is a hard pull for the horses which draw the Peddington omnibus; but the view from each summit is very fine, and the long straight stretch of white road, running down the valley on one side and up again on the other, produces a pretty enough effect in its own curious way. You have only to look at it once to feel sure that it is a Roman road; indeed, as a matter of fact, the local antiquarians are satisfied that it is almost the only direct relic of the Roman civilisation now remaining in the immediate Churnside district. All roads lead to Rome; and the great Italian race has left no more typical symbol of its organising work in the world than these long straight military highways, intersecting so many parts of England, which they placed in direct communication with the capital of the empire. They mark a most noteworthy step in advance. The Roman road is to-day just as much the type of Roman civilisation as a thousand years hence the ruins of our English railways will be the type of the civilisation in whose midst we ourselves are living.

Long before the first Italian legion marched over the edge of Manbury Hill into Churnside, the Celtic inhabitants had paths and war-trails of their own. They had now passed beyond their bronze age, and had learned to manufacture weapons and implements of[236] iron, and even to employ some imported coins. They knew how to make rude two-wheeled battle-cars, and they worked up artistic ornaments with jet and amber. Traces of this later and more advanced Celtic period have been found in the barrows at Colbury, belonging to the iron age; and in some cases even gold ornaments of delicate Etruscan workmanship have been distinguished in the midst of the rough-and-ready products of native handicraft. Indeed, before the Roman conquest, the Katuriges themselves had already their track-ways for purposes of trade, connecting them with their neighbours on either side, and ultimately with the great tidal port of Caer Lundin on the Thames, where, even at that early date, merchants from Gaul were in the habit of bringing Greek and Etruscan goods, much as Arab merchants now carry English cloth and Venetian beads to the natives of Central Africa. The tortuous British track from London to Colbury, and onwards to King’s Peddington, still exists as a modern cart-road, and still bears its old Celtic name of the Colway. But it is much narrower and more serpentine than the great Roman military work, for it meanders round the hill sides and goes at all sorts of oblique angles through the uplands, which were then covered with dense forest. It is, in fact, the old war-trail, maintained by each tribe for purposes of that rude kind of commerce which consists in passing foreign goods from hand to hand by means of barter; and it shows by its sinuous course that it was never planned at all—it grew up just as paths grow up across our own meadows or through the bush around Australian and Canadian clearings. The Colway enters the district of the Katuriges close beside the great hill-fort of Colbury Castle, the central stronghold of the entire league, so that no enemy could use it without a fierce struggle; and it passes thence from “castle” to “castle” till it reaches the Burdonian border at the fortified ford over the Esk, the next river along the coast from Churnside westward.

But while the Katuriges were chaffering with their Burdonian foes and customers over the proper price in[237] bullocks for a string of glass ornaments from Massilia, or holding palavers at the ford about a question of tribal blood-feud, a new element had been introduced into the history of Britain in the eastern corner. Already the Churnside men knew the name of the Romans well enough by report; some of the old men had even heard of them from those who met them during the great war beyond the sea. For the Katuriges were accustomed to take their coracles on trading expeditions over to the coast of Brittany, as the people of the Malay archipelago now cross to Australia and the Asiatic mainland; and some of them had gone over to help the Veneti in their famous struggle with Caius Julius Cæsar himself. The merchants from Caer Lundin had reported, too, how the great Roman imperator had landed on the coast of Kentland, how the Kentish men had routed him with their war-cars, how he had returned again with more legions from Gaul, had crossed Thames at the Stepping Stones, and had defeated the whole Celtic host at Verulam. But all this was a hundred years ago, and most of the Churnside Celts had long forgotten all about it. One day, however, strange news must have reached the village which occupied the site of King’s Peddington. A scout from Colbury brought word that the ironclad people from the south had landed in the Thanet Strait under their great chief, had crossed Medway, and had captured the famous Trinovantian fortress of Camelodun, the stronghold of the leading tribe of Britain. It was, in fact, Claudius Cæsar who had arrived in the island. The Churnside warriors were told to hold themselves in readiness, to put on their war-paint, and to keep their cars in order for a tribal gathering at Colbury, if the ironclad people marched that way.

Claudius himself never came so far westward; he was sufficiently occupied with the conquest of the south-eastern corner. But before very long a [few hundred men] detached by [his general Aulus] Plautius made its way from London along the downs, and pushed the road on as they advanced to the border[238] of the Katuriges at Colbury. Before attacking the castle, the legionaries secured the way in their rear, and then proceeded to make an onslaught on Colbury itself. Nowadays, Christian ideas have so profoundly modified our conduct that we always invent a pretext when we are going to annex a savage territory: the Romans, with their frank pagan brutality, made no pretexts, but simply annexed in exactly the same way as we do ourselves, only without that preceding formality. When they were ready, they stormed Colbury Castle, where they probably met with the same sort of reception as Englishmen have met with in Maori pahs and Zulu kraals; and in the end they cut to pieces every one of the Katuriges whom they found in the stockade. Then they proceeded to annex the five valleys; they took all the remaining Churnside men and pressed them for road-makers, they planted a staff on the top of each hill, and they put the gangs of terrified Celts to work under Roman supervision at building a long causeway from point to point, of a width and solidity which fairly astonished the poor Churnside folk. Each valley was used as a separate centre, and the gangs worked up the hill on either side to the selected point of junction at the summit; indeed, sometimes the unskilful workmen met at an angle, and one gang was found to have slightly overshot the mark, obvious traces of such a mistake being visible near Peddington windmill at the present day. That is how the King’s highway to Churnside first came into existence.

A magnificent work it is, this Portway Street, made and kept in order by forced labour, but bearing the impress of those grand, cruel, old task-masters of civilisation in every mile of its course. It is engineered much like our own railways, and is sixty feet in width. Near the large towns it rests on a thick bed of paved stone or concrete, and needs but little metalling even in our own macadamising age. In the valleys it is raised on an embankment against floods, and where it crosses the fen by the Churn—long since drained by the monks,[239] but once a dangerous morass—it is laid down on a regular substratum of sound oaken piles. The poor tattooed barbarians of King’s Peddington could hardly fancy at first what its use could be; but the Romans went to work systematically, and began by securing their military connection with headquarters. In time, as the country was slowly Romanised in that long process of slaughter and annexation whereby “Ostorius Scapula, inch by inch, reduced Hither Britain to the form of a province”—pregnant words, covering a multitude of crimes—trading towns sprang up along the line, and the great road grew from a curse into a modified blessing. For eight hundred years it remained the only highway in all Churnside; and it is universally known even now as The Street. For the Celt learned its Latin name, the strata via, from the Roman legionaries; and the West Saxon pirate learned it again from his conquered and semi-civilised Celtic serfs four centuries afterwards. He had never seen a [paved] road in his own wild moorland by the Sleswick marshes, and he took the word from his Romanised slaves, as he took the Roman or Welsh name of every other adjunct of the higher civilisation which he had ruthlessly stamped out with fire and sword.


One other relic of the Roman dominion besides the great causeway survives in Churnside at the present day. High up the valley, on a low slope which overhangs the ruins of Churney Abbey, a ploughman happened one autumn morning some forty years since to drive his coulter somewhat deeper than usual into the soil and blunted its edge against a hard object in the ground beneath. In a spirit of pure opposition to obstacles he drove the point of his plough once more against the stone, as he supposed it to be, and found that he could neither root it up nor circumvent it by a side twist. Scraping away the earth he came to his astonishment[240] upon a regular cemented floor, made up of little bits of stone fastened together in a pretty pattern by concrete. His first impulse was to cover up the uncanny thing at once and say nothing about it to anybody; for fairy superstitions were not yet quite dead in Churnside, and the country people even then attributed all objects found under ground to the agency of the elves, and considered that the less said about them the better. The good folks are a jealous little people, who don’t care to have their secrets discovered by prying mortals, and actually to see one is certain death in the remote corners of the West country even at our own day. On second thoughts, however, the ploughman told the farmer of his find, and the farmer in turn told the rector and the squire. When our Peddington Society came to clear away the rubbish which covered it, they lighted upon a well-preserved tesselated pavement and other relics of a Roman villa, whose style showed it to date from the middle of the third century. It is one of the finest specimens in the south or west of England, where such remains are far rarer than in the great northern corn-lands which surround the military stations along the wall and the provincial capital of York.

This luxurious villa betokens a marvellous change in the life and industry of Churnside after the Roman conquest. For the Roman occupation of Britain altered greatly in its later days. At first, while Aulus Plautius and Ostorius Scapula were engaged in overrunning the island, it was a good deal like our own rough military occupation of South-Eastern Afghanistan at the present moment; but, after the national uprising under Boudicea, and Agricola’s subsequent consolidation and organisation of the new provinces, Britain grew more into the condition of an Indian kingdom under direct English government. The native chief of the Katuriges was permitted to retain his position as a Roman vassal, and even the petty headman of the Churn valley was recognised to some extent by the Roman officials. The chief village of the tribe was made the site of a Roman military town, and a principal posting station on the Portway Street.[241] It appears in the itineraries as Caturidunum; but the Celtic name was probably Caer Catur, and the later Anglo-Saxon title was certainly Caturceaster, a form still preserved in the modern county-town of Carchester. For it is a significant fact that most of these old British villages and Roman strongholds remain even to this day the administrative capitals of English shires; and that, in spite of the supposed “extermination” of the Welsh population by the Jute, the Englishman, and the Saxon, we find York, Lincoln, London, Manchester, Rochester, Leicester, Gloucester, Worcester, Exeter, and all the other chesters keeping up their importance through all the vicissitudes of fifteen hundred years. The Teutonic pirates, as we know so well, massacred every living soul within them; yet oddly enough in every case they made a correct guess at their Roman names notwithstanding, and continued to call them by those names ever afterwards.

King’s Peddington itself bore no special Latin title of its own; it is only entered in the Roman route-books as ad Cernuam or ad Decimum—the Station “at the Churn” or “at the tenth milestone” from Carchester. But it must necessarily have continued still the metropolis and commercial centre of the Churnside valley. Its natural position on the sea at the mouth of the river would by itself have given the site so much local importance; while the fact that the great Roman highway ran through its midst further marked it out, of course, as the place where the taxes of the valley were gathered in kind, to be transmitted viâ Carchester and Portsmouth to Gaul and Italy. These taxes appear to have been collected almost entirely in the shape of corn; for the Churnside valley was now tilled throughout, from the downs to the sea, and even the lower slopes of the upland were covered in part with patches of bearded wheat. All Britain, in fact, had become a great grain-growing and grain-exporting country, a supplementary feeder for Rome herself and for the crowded cities of southern Gaul. Her corn went to swell the stock received from the Nile and the Euxine, and she herself stood to Italy[242] in somewhat the same economical relation as Egypt, Canada, and the Western States now stand to modern England. Only at Rome the reciprocity was really “all on one side.” In the vast ledger of the empire, Britain was entered solely on the debtor account. “Recruits, corn, tribute, slaves, mortgages”: these were the heads of the receipts from the British provinces; but the return items consisted only of prefects, legionaries, and a few trifling commercial articles of southern manufacture. We ourselves drain India heavily, but we pay her back something at least in European goods; the Romans drained Britain with tenfold rigour, and gave her back almost nothing, except a strong Government maintained by pitiless exactions.

At first it does not seem probable that the Celtic peasants of Churnside were actually deprived of their lands, which they held as the Celts of Ireland and Scotland held them long ages afterward, by tribal not by personal tenure. The head-man of the Churn valley villagers was entrusted with the task of collecting the revenue and handing it over to the Imperial officials at Carchester. He was responsible for so much corn to the authorities, and he distributed the incidence of the impost upon the villagers according to his own discretion. But in time the Roman legal system began to tell sadly against the native cultivators, as civilised legal systems always tell against barbaric or semi-barbaric tribes, upon which they are imposed from above. Little by little the Celts got into debt with Roman usurers, mortgaged their lands to cancel the debt, and finally lost them through inability to pay. So, as time went on, the position of the Churnside people became more and more degraded. At last, the whole valley fell into the hands of a single successful money-lender, a Roman adventurer, perhaps, from Bath or Colchester; and the Celtic cultivators sank into the position of serfs, as wretched as the Connemara peasants [before the Land Bills]. They tilled the soil for their Italian master, and shared their miserable cabins, which clustered round the villa on the hill-side, with the pigs and cattle, their fellow-slaves.


Nevertheless, wealth had necessarily grown with the spread of cultivation, the opening of roads, the digging of mines, and the rise of an industrial class in considerable towns like Lincoln, York, and London. Much of it was carried away to Rome, but some little portion at least was left in the tills of the merchants and usurers of the large towns. This remaining fraction was all concentrated, however, in the hands of a very small class. The landowner, whose villa occupied the brow of the hill at Churney Abbey, was obviously a wealthy man, even when judged by the standard of modern England. He planted his home on the sunniest slope of the valley, near the very spot afterwards chosen by those Cistercian monks who had always so keen an eye for a good building site, and he decorated it like the home of a Roman magnate at Tibur or Baiæ. His mosaic floors, his porphyry columns, his marble baths and fountains, his well-planned hypocaust, his frescoed walls, all indicate his wealth and taste, and have all left some relic of their former existence which can at once be recognised by the antiquarian eye. From his pillared portico he could look down over the whole cultivated valley, every acre of which was his own property and tilled by his own British serfs; and at the end of the vista he could catch a glimpse of the Channel, where the station at King’s Peddington put him in direct communication with the Portway Street and the rest of the Roman world at Carchester. One of the Peddington archæologists even fancies that he can detect across Champernhay farm some traces of the vicinal way, which led from the villa to the main road at the tenth milestone; but this is probably a piece of over-zealous historical and local enthusiasm. To the last, however, the Roman held himself apart from the native Celt, exactly as the Englishman holds himself apart from the native Hindoo. He added no new element to the population. There was no connubium even between them; and if a few half-castes grew up in the towns, their place was with the provincials, not with the Romans. The people remained as before, a mixed race of Celts and Euskarians,[244] speaking the Celtic dialects, and preserving in many cases the Euskarian features. They never even learned, [at least out here in the south-west of Britain], as in Gaul, to use familiarly the Latin tongue. When the Romans left they were still speaking unmixed Welsh. To this day one may pick out Celtic words in the common speech of the Churnside people; but the name of Portway Street and the word castle applied to the hill-forts are almost the only Latin forms which have filtered through uninterruptedly from Roman times into the modern dialect of King’s Peddington.


There are few more interesting remains of our forefathers to be found in the land than the local names of all our towns and villages. They often bear witness to historical facts, of which the memory is otherwise wholly lost. This is conspicuously the case in Churnside, where the English conquest has left no permanent record in the way of buildings, monuments, or written annals; but where the nomenclature of the valley alone recalls the history of the early English colonists who settled here about the close of the sixth century. We are thus enabled even to know with accuracy and certainty the very family to which these original colonists belonged. The Roman name of King’s Peddington was “ad Decimum”; the Welsh name has hopelessly perished; but the English name has nothing to do with either, and was in its first form Peadingatun; that is to say, the tun or enclosure of the Peadingas, or the Paddings, as we should now call them. These Peadingas were an English family of the West Saxon tribe; but they have left memorials of their presence in one other place at least, and that is at Paddington, in the territory of the Middle Saxons, where the Great Western terminus now stands. I suspect, too, that their name is but a dialectical variation on that of the Pidingas who settled at Piddington in Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire;[245] while the Pydingas of Puddington in Bedfordshire, Cheshire, and Devonshire were perhaps other representatives of the same old English stock [?].

The particular body of Peadings who have imprinted their name on King’s Peddington to the present day were a family of Saxon pirates from the old Saxon land at the mouth of the Elbe. Though English in the general sense that they were members of the [race we call] English, they did not come from the specially English tribe which colonised East Anglia and the north. Their name, which they had in common with other Saxon, English, and Jutish families, is a patronymic of the ordinary Teutonic type, and means the sons of Peada, just as the Karlings are the sons of Karl, and the Wodenings the sons of Woden. They are mentioned in an early charter to Glastonbury Abbey, in common with the Leamingas who have left their name at Leamington, and the Earmingas of Earmington in Devon. Local settlements of this sort bristle over the map of England, and are specially common in the thoroughly Teutonic counties of the east and south-east. In Sussex alone one can pick them out by dozens—Aldings at Aldingbourn, Aldrings at Aldrington, Billings at Billingshurst, Donings at Donnington, Folcings at Folkington, and so on through a long and curious list. In that old kingdom of the South Saxons alone there are no less than sixty-eight town or village names of this type, each of them marking the settlement of a primitive English clan. For Sussex lay right in the path of the English pirates, and its Welsh inhabitants were almost “exterminated” during the contest with them, as one may see by noting the small proportion of long skulls and dark faces among the people of the modern shire, in its country districts at least. But here, in the farthest ends of Wessex, things went far otherwise. King’s Peddington is one out of two solitary names formed on the English patronymic principle in the whole county. Evidently the West Saxons settled around Churnside as lords of the soil only, not as colonisers of the entire district. Every indication[246] goes strongly to prove that their arrival must have been somewhat after this fashion.

When the Romans withdrew from Britain, the artificial unity which they had introduced fell with them. For it was not the organic unity of a really national league; it was a mere military subjection like our own subjection of India. Everybody knows that if we were to withdraw from India to-morrow, Sikh, Mahratta, and Mahommedan would begin all their old fights afresh; and when Rome withdrew from Britain, Gael and Cymry, Brigantian and Silurian once more fell apart into petty principalities of half-Romanised type. The Katuriges of Churnside and Carchester formed part of such a principality, ruled over by a king of Burdonian origin, about whom we certainly know worse than nothing. It is even doubtful whether the Churnside people had ever been christianised like the inhabitants of the Roman towns, Lincoln, York, and London; or whether they did not remain Pagans—mere rustic idolators—to the very last. Certainly no Christian Roman relic has ever been discovered in Churnside. But when the West Saxons landed in Southampton Water, at the end of the fifth century, they rapidly conquered the Winchester Valley, and began a series of colonising raids into the country westward and northward. Tribe by tribe the Welsh serfs made a desperate resistance under their native princes; but they had been wholly crushed and demoralised by the Roman rule, and they were forced to succumb, valley after valley, to the fresh and vigorous onslaught of the foreign pirates. The farther the West Saxons went from their first colony, however, and from their base at Winchester, the more sparsely did they people the country, being satisfied on the outskirts with a mere military occupation, and with the enslavement rather than the extermination of the Romanised Celtic and Euskarian population. Three distinct marks of this mode of colonisation remain to our own day. In the first place, the local names of the English patronymic type are commonest around the original nucleus of each[247] colony, but decrease in frequency as we move inland and outward. In the second place, the hundreds, each of which at first represented a mutual guarantee society of a hundred free English families, are small in the neighbourhood of the nucleus, but very large on the outskirts and the marches, showing that the English families were there thinly scattered over wide districts. And in the third place, the traces of the old dark, long-headed, servile population are common everywhere in the outlying regions, and comparatively wanting in the oldest settled parts, though many of the dark people are also to be found in the prædial lowlands which probably formed the domains of the early English kings, and were tilled by their Welsh serfs.

In Churnside we see every sign that the English conquest was only such an occupation by the Peadingas of the lower end of the dale. King’s Peddington is the one solitary local name of purely Teutonic origin in the whole valley. The Churn itself retains its Celtic name; the Portway Street still bears its Latin title; and though Churney has an English termination in its last syllable, meaning island, this Teutonic suffix is grafted on to the old Welsh word for the river. Moreover, as we have seen, though at King’s Peddington the majority of the people have heads of the broad English type, often with light hair and eyes, at Churney almost the whole population is of the long-skulled Celtic, or rather Euskarian, type, with dark hair and eyes, only slightly intermixed with Teutonic traits. Indeed, even in the lower part of the dale, there is a fair sprinkling of brunette complexions; and as these people cannot have descended wholly from the very blonde English conquerors, they must be the half-caste Anglicised descendants of their Celtic and Euskarian serfs. In fact, looking at the question from the standpoint of the history of Churnside, and not of the history of England, there can be very little doubt that the West Saxon invasion of this valley was merely a substitution of the Peadingas as lords of the little dale in the place of a Welsh chieftain. Perhaps, if we were mentally to split[248] England up a little oftener, and to picture to ourselves the history of each part separately, we might find that our common notions as to violent displacements of whole races were generally too sweeping. The more we try to fathom the real story of a single district, the more do we see that everywhere relics of the very earliest times are surviving to this day in our midst. Even the county town of Carchester still proclaims itself in its name as the capital of the Katuriges; and the neighbouring shires of Dorset and Devon, which as late as Alfred’s time were counted as being inhabited by Welsh-kind, are still called by the names of the Durotriges and the Dumnonii. To the historian of Churnside the great questions are not how Celtic blood got mixed with English in Britain generally, but whence came the Celtic elements in the speech of the Churney villagers, and what mean the dark hair and eyes of so many Peddington lasses. And since all England is made up of many such places put together, these questions may ultimately help us to understand the general problem better than any lengthy disputations over the vague traditions of the English Chronicle as to the dubious Ida of Bernicia and the half-mythical Ælle of Sussex.


The winding highway which threads its course along the banks of the Churn from King’s Peddington to Churney, though now known popularly as the London Road, still bears in legal documents its more correct and ancient name of Sherborne Lane. Few people, however, are aware that Sherborne Lane is so called from the former connection of the little borough with Sherborne Abbey. In our own time we give new streets mere fancy names without any particular reference to the fitness of things: we call a row of suburban houses Bedford Road or Alexandra Terrace, not because the one leads to Bedford and the other belongs to the Princess of Wales, but because these titles are the[249] only ones which happen to occur to the poverty-stricken imagination of the contractor who laid them out. In earlier times it was not so: the Harrow Road was the road to Harrow, and the Bishopgate or the Queengate was the gate or street belonging to the bishop or the queen. Civilisation had not reached the high pitch at which we dignify a level row of cottages as a terrace, or a short cul-de-sac as a road. Sherborne Lane is thus another one of those precious philological fossils which preserve for us so much of local history, hardly to be gathered as a rule from any written documents, but full of interest for the scientific antiquary.

A charter of Cynewulf, king of the West Saxons, still exists in a Yorkshire manor-house, having been bought as a curiosity by an ancestor of the north-country squire from the proprietor of the Sherborne Abbey lands, shortly after the dissolution of the monasteries. This charter recites in mediæval Latin that King Cynewulf, by and with the consent of his wise men, grants to the Church of St. Mary at Sherborne, for the boiling of salt, sundry lands at Peddington, of which the boundaries are added in old English of the earliest West Saxon type. These boundaries—“from the sea to the east brook; thence up on stream to the salt-ford; then by the stone-barrow to cliff: from cliff west to the haw-thorn tree; thence to Churn head; and so by the hazel water to the Woden stone”—are still identifiable as the modern boundaries of High Peddington parish. The charter is dated from the king’s ham at Carchester, A.D. 763. From that day to this, therefore, the limits of High Peddington must have remained the same, being annually assured by the old ceremony of beating the boundaries. Nay, the very names of the landmarks are still all but unchanged, for the salt-ford is now Salford Parva; the haw-thorn tree has long disappeared, but its memory is preserved in the hamlet of Thorn; and the Woden stone, a solitary monolith on the crest of Churnside Hill, is known as Wanston Pillar to the present day.[250] Cliff, Stonebarrow, Churnhead, and Hazelwater brook are marked by those very names on the Ordnance Survey Map of modern England. Indeed, if you take the country up and down, you will find it is but a mushroom title which does not date back at least a few centuries before the Norman Conquest. Every field in England had a name long before Domesday-book was compiled; and most of those names are quite unchanged down to our own times. Sherborne Lane thus points back to the days when the monks of St. Mary’s Church boiled their salt in a wych at High Peddington—Peddington Abbas, as it used to be called, to distinguish it from the Royal manor of King’s Peddington—and carted it along the road which now leads up the valley to join the great London highway from the west, but which then ran straight across country to Sherborne direct.

This charter of the eighth century, however, shows us a Wessex and a Churnside very different from the Wessex and the Churnside of the early Peading colonists. The Peadingas were heathen worshippers of Woden and Thunor, who gave the names of their gods to termini like Wanston: the charter of Cynewulf makes over a large stretch of land to the church of St. Mary at Sherborne, in a simple matter-of-course way which clearly bespeaks a long-settled Christianity. The original colony of the Peadingas was apparently the domain of an isolated and independent clan: the charter of Cynewulf betokens a regular central government, with a king who has power to book land to persons or corporations with the advice of his duly constituted Meeting of Wise Men. Evidently we have passed from a period of wild Teutonic heathendom and local independence to a period of comparatively settled royal rule constituted on a partly Roman model, under the guidance of Romanised Christian priests, who use the Latin tongue as an official language. Yet of this momentous change we have few and very indirect memorials in Churnside itself. We are left almost entirely to inference and analogy for the details which[251] must enable us to bridge over the vast gap thus disclosed in our annals.

It is not probable that the Peadingas could have settled down at Peddington much before the end of the sixth century. The first West Saxon invaders only reached Britain at the very close of the fifth, and conquered Winchester some twenty years later. It was more than half a century before they had got as far as Old Sarum, and after eighty years they had only just advanced to Bath and Cirencester. Hence it is not likely that their farthest outposts could have occupied the Churnside district till the closing years of the sixth century. The Peadingas, who were the pioneers of English conquest in the Valley of the Churn, must long have remained almost independent marchers on the outlying West Welsh frontier of the West Saxon realm. Beyond them stretched the still unconquered Celtic kingdom, which shrank at last to the narrow limits of Cornwall, but which remained a powerful principality even in the later days of Ini and Cuthred. The evidence of names and features clearly shows us that the Peadingas did not exterminate the Welsh inhabitants of the valley; but the evidence of language, religion, and customs also shows us that they completely Anglicised them. For at least a hundred years the Peadingas and their Celtic serfs continued to worship the old Teutonic gods. Names of places referring to Woden, to Frea, and to Hel, or compounded with the sacred trees and animals of the Saxon race—the oak, the ash, the thorn, the horse, the raven, and the wolf—abound in Churnside and the neighbourhood generally, and attest the ancient reverence paid to the Teutonic mythology. Black-haired and dark-eyed children of true Euskarian type will still tell you folk-lore and fairy tales of the conquering race—myths which had their origin in the Thuringian forests or by the marshes of Old England on the Sleswick coast. But the Peadings owed to the distant king at Winchester their military service in time of war, though perhaps at first the canton was really independent even[252] in this matter, and was only later subdued or amalgamated by some warrior prince of the house of Woden and Cerdic. At any rate, when the authentic history of Wessex opens, we find it a real though loosely organised kingdom, with a king who could collect a considerable army of Saxons to waste the yet unconquered Welsh, or make raids upon the English Mercians beyond the forest belt of Cotteswold. More than this it could hardly have been in the old heathen days at least.

But in the beginning of the seventh century a West Saxon king, Cynegils, listened to the missionaries who had been sent over to Kent a generation earlier, and was baptized at Dorchester-on-Thames by a Gaulish bishop. Christianity must have spread downward, however, very slowly, for the kings and chiefs were always the first converts in England; and it probably did not reach remote corners like King’s Peddington for many years. Long after Cynegils and his two Christian successors, we find a pagan West Saxon king; and outlying places, such as Wight, remained wholly heathen till considerably later. But the old minster at Winchester was founded as early as 648; Glastonbury was set up under English rule (for there had been a Welsh monastery there before) some forty years later; and Wimborne dates from the first years of the eighth century. A bishop of Wessex, “west of Selwood,” was appointed about the same time. So, long before Cynewulf gave the manor of High Peddington to the monks of Sherborne, the Churnside people must certainly have been at least imperfectly Christianised. How imperfectly we can see from the still surviving folk-lore and the long lingering belief in witchcraft, which was but the secret worshipping of the proscribed gods. The change of faith on the part of their chief at Winchester made little difference to the descendants of the Peadingas at Peddington, still less to the dark and long-headed serfs of Churney and Upchurn. As late as the days of Cnut they still practised open heathendom, which brought down upon them the anger[253] of the Danish king. The reports of witch trials under James I., and even under Charles II., sufficiently show that they still practised it in secret down to the seventeenth century, if not even to the reign of George III.


Westward of King’s Peddington a pretty path leads through the warren—that beautiful broken undercliff of chert and greensand, brought down by almost yearly landslips, and thickly overgrown with bracken and clematis; while beyond it the tall chalk cliffs hem in a very small seaward combe, through which a mere thread of water worms its way between the hills to a tiny shingle beach, fronted by the half-dozen tar-plastered houses that form the fishing hamlet of Gamelby. Antiquarian visitors prick up their ears in a moment at the very mention of the name. A Gamelby in Wessex, a Gamelby within three statute miles of King’s Peddington—it seems altogether too strange, too delightfully romantic, to be really true. Yet there the fact remains, and the reasons for it are clear enough to any one who has once seen that retired little combe, hemmed in by high defensible hills on every side, and opening only to the sea in front. But why not a Gamelby here as well as elsewhere? asks the unantiquarian mind. What is there about the name to make it such a curiosity in Wessex or in any other part of the United Kingdom? Simply this. The word is purely and wholly Danish. In the Scandinavian North we expect to find Whitbys, and Derbys, and Kirbys, and Harrowbys; and we do find them all through the Danish and Norse parts of England from Cumberland to Suffolk: but in purely English Wessex they are naturally almost unknown. The termination common to them all was introduced into Britain by the Northern wickings; and no place-names of this type are to be found in documents earlier than the Danish conquest of half England. The old name of Derby, as we get it in Beda, is Northweorthig,[254] or, as we should now spell it, Norworthy; the old name of Whitby was Streoneshalh, or, as we should now spell it, Strenshal. Wherever we meet with towns or villages of this type, we may be quite sure that there has once been a Scandinavian colony upon the spot.

Yet so rare is a Scandinavian colony in Wessex that here at Gamelby one might be inclined to doubt the unsupported testimony of the “by” were it not the incontestable evidence offered us by the “Gamel.” There is no getting rid of “Gamel” in any way. It is a most indubitable Danish name, of excellent pedigree; and Orm, the son of Gamel, is a famous person in late Northumbrian history. Moreover, the chalk down just above the hamlet is known to this day as Danes’ Hill, and the manor is entered under that title, in very choice Norman Latin, by King William’s commissioners in the Exeter Domesday. On the summit of the down, half obliterated by time and hedges, one may still trace the lines of some ancient earthworks; and these earthworks were almost indubitably raised by the Danes, from whom the hill derives its title, for they exactly accord with similar Danish works in the Cheshire Wirral and on the low peninsular nesses of East Anglia. Most curious of all, on the reach of the Churn which bends rounds the ridge of downs to the north of this isolated combe, stands a village called Beckford-in-England; and the strangeness of the name has given rise to a foolish piece of folk-lore among the gossips of the place. A tramp, it is said, once fell asleep in the spring time on top of a haystack. During the night the floods rose, and the haystack, with the sleeper upon it, was carried away by the river to this spot. When the tramp awoke, he fancied he must be sailing over to France; and after the stack grounded on the shallows of the ford, he called out to some bystanders to know the name of the place. Being told that it was Beckford, he exclaimed in surprise, “What! Beckford in England?”—and Beckford-in-England has therefore been the name of the village ever since. As a witness to the truth of this story, the little inn bears for its sign a[255] man floating in a river on a haystack. This is the sort of nonsense which is offered to the inquiring stranger as the result of local antiquarian research. But the inquiring stranger easily reflects for himself that “beck” is a Scandinavian word; and that when the Danes owned a petty domain of their own at Gamelby, the far side of the ford over the beck was naturally spoken of by them as being in England, whereas the near side was in Daneland. Long after the very existence of the Danes had been utterly forgotten, the silly myth was no doubt invented to explain the curious fact that a village in the heart of an English shire should bear so queer a name as Beckford-in-England.

When and how the Danes got to the Churnside district it is not difficult to guess. From the days of Ecgberht in Wessex onward, Scandinavian pirates in their lightly-built long ships were always hovering around the coast of England, doing a little plundering and robbing as occasion offered; and there were few better places for them to land in than the fiords of the west country, from Cornwall to Dorsetshire. The peninsula of Cornwall itself was still inhabited by free West Welsh, always ready to make a raid against their English neighbours—as, indeed, their English neighbours always richly deserved. In Devonshire the Welsh had not yet forgotten their fellowship with their Cornish brothers nor given up their native Celtic speech; and even in the days of Æthelstan they remained as a distinct nationality in Exeter itself. Here, then, and in the largely Celtic lands to the east, the Danes could always count upon finding allies; and so from the beginning of the struggle this south-western corner of Wessex was the favourite point from which to attack the West Saxon kings. Even before Ecgberht’s time the wickings had made descents upon Dorsetshire, where they came like thunderbolts upon the poor peaceable Christian people. The West Saxon peasants of the coast, good simple souls, had long since settled down into quiet and honest tillers of the soil, having no particular quarrel with anybody, and protected from[256] war by their insular position. Now and then the Churnside folk were called, it is true, by their overlord at Winchester, to resist an attack of the Mercians, or to aid him in subjugating recalcitrant Sussex; but as a rule they lived peacefully on their own farms at Peddington, defending their corn-plots from the crows, and seeing that the wolves did no harm to their pigs in Churnhead forest. When first a few ship-loads of heathen pirates landed in Wessex, the simple people did not know what an invasion meant. They were as astonished as the West-countrymen of our own day would be by a raid of the Kurds or the Dyaks on Torquay or Weymouth. “The King’s reeve rode to them,” says the English Chronicle in its naïf way, “and would drive them to the king’s ham, for he knew not what they were.” The Danes had small regard for reeves, however, and slew the good, honest steward on the spot. But before long the West-countrymen learned, only too well, what the wickings really were. Towards the close of Ecgberht’s reign the king himself had to come down and fight thirty-five ship-loads at Charmouth, on the borders of Dorset and Devon, “and there was great slaughter made, and the Danes kept the battle-field.” There, too, you may see their fortified camp still crowning the top of Coney Castle hill. Two years after, another fleet of pirates landed in Cornwall, stirred up the West Welsh, and marched with them to Hengston, where the West Saxon king put both hosts to flight. Years later, when the Danes held half England, a third host landed at King’s Peddington, and burned the church, besides plundering the lands of Sherborne Abbey. The ealdorman of the shire came against them, and the bishops of Sherborne and Carchester came too; for when the heathen were burning God’s churches even good churchmen felt they might take mace in hand to defend their homes. There was no such thing possible, however, as a united resistance: that implies organisation, communications, commissariat, and many other civilised devices whereof the West Saxons knew nothing; but each shire fought as best it might for itself, and was[257] satisfied if it could only drive away the wickings to the next shire on either side. The wickings had to fight hard; they said themselves, with their own fierce and candid humour, that they had never met with harder hand-play in England than the two bishops gave them; but in the end the ealdorman and one of the bishops were among the killed, and the Danes once more kept possession of the field. It was then, doubtless, that the unknown Gamel settled down in this isolated and protected little cove, and, with the sea before him and the hills behind him, fortified himself in his petty principality till the peace under Alfred enabled him to become a quiet English landholder. There are traces of many such little Danish settlements on rocky islets or peninsular promontories of the west country; but not many of them occur in such land-bound positions as that overshadowed by the mouldering earthworks of Danes’ Hill.


From the days when Gamel the Dane settled in the little seaward combe of Gamelby to the days when William the Norman “held deep speech with his witan about this land, how it was peopled,” our Churnside history is almost an absolute blank. True, some time between those two dates—most probably in the reign of Edward the Confessor—the round-arched doorway in the Peddington Church was set up; for even our most iconoclastic architectural expert and archæologist allows that the door in question, now built round by the present late decorative tower, is a genuine pre-Norman relic, “and one of the finest specimens of early Romanesque architecture in all England.” But, with this trifling exception, there is no direct evidence, documentary or otherwise, as to the state of Churnside between the Danish inroad and the Norman conquest. Domesday, however, comes in upon us as usual with a whole flood of light. It tells us all about King’s Peddington (not yet a Royal manor), from the abbot[258] and the staller down to the very number of cows and pigs in the parish. “King Wilhelm caused to be written,” says the grave Peterborough Chronicler, with his delightful barbaric simplicity, “what or how much each man had who was a holder of estate in England, in land, or in cattle, and how much money it might be worth. So very narrowly he bade it be sought out that there was not one single acre, nor one yard of land, nor even—shame it is to tell, but him it shamed not to do it—an ox, nor a cow, nor a swine that was not set down in his writ.” We can almost fancy we are listening to a modern Hindu complaining against the monstrous indelicacy of the Indian census.

“Walter the son of Ivo,” says the great Survey, “holds Pedingatune. Edric the Staller held it in King Edward’s time. Before King Wilhelm came into England”—that is Domesday’s exquisitely official manner of alluding to the wholly unrecognisable reign of Harold—“Edric died.” Then it goes on to describe the part of the manor belonging to Walter, now King’s Peddington; and the part belonging to Sherborne Abbey, now Peddington Abbas or High Peddington. Disentangling the living facts from all this dry mediæval Latin—this hash of bad English, misspelt by Norman pens, this jargon of soc and demesne, of carucates and bordars, of harsh contractions and crabbed syntax—we can still perhaps picture to ourselves the Churnside which King William’s commissioners came down to see. There was as yet no considerable village on the sea front; perhaps there was even less of a village than in the old Euskarian and Celtic times, or in the days of the first Peadingas. The Parish itself was now in the main a pure agricultural manor, owned by a lord who was the feudal superior of all the churls within its boundaries. This change had been taking place even “before King William came into England”; for ever since the English had been exposed to the raids of the wickings it had become almost a matter of necessity for the poorer freeman of the old constitution to seek himself a lord, under whose protection he might place himself,[259] and to whom he must owe in return certain customary dues of labour. It was the fear of the Gamelby Danes which drove the men of Churney and Peddington to commend themselves to the chief landholders of their districts, and which thus set up the feudal system in Churnside. For, like all other phases of the English Constitution, the feudal system was not made but grew. To suppose, as most old-fashioned school-books used to suppose, that it was all settled in a day by a Royal proclamation, an Act of Parliament, or a decree of the Witena-gemót, is much on a par with that other supposition, not wholly unknown to American tourists, that you may buy a printed copy of the British Constitution, neatly and explicitly set forth in appropriate if somewhat high-flown phraseology, just like the Constitution of the United States.

The people whom William’s delegates found in Churnside were still essentially the same people as ever. There was the substratum of dark Celts and Euskarians; there was the small body of free English churls; and there was one new element in the person of Walter son of Ivo, a Breton from the neighbourhood of Dinan. For here, as elsewhere, the close study of local history shows us—what it is sometimes hard to see on a larger scale—that at bottom population changes but very little. New factors are superadded from time to time; but the old factors still remain; and so all our history is one and continuous—the ancient is always reappearing in the modern. But the arrangement of the population was undergoing great changes. The old customary village life had broken down; the land that once belonged to the community was now the property of a single owner; and the English churls, lately bound down by feudal ties to their English lord, were now still more tightly bound down to their French master. Edric the Staller himself had joined Harold’s army, but fell at Stamford Bridge. William forgave his son, and permitted him to hold Peddington till the great English rebellion, when the young man joined the Exeter insurgents. Then William put out his eyes, cut off his[260] feet, and gave the lands to Walter the Breton. From that day to this the descendants or representatives of Walter, or those who purchased from him, have owned the soil of King’s Peddington. So we rightly speak of their occupation as feudal in origin, because it has supplanted the old communal land tenure of the inhabitants: and though the relation of the tenants to the lord has passed from one of labour-rents to one of money-rents, it is still essentially a feudal relation all the same. No such system has ever existed at King’s Peddington or elsewhere in the world, except as the result of a military régime supplanting the common holding of the land by all the community.

The details of the great Survey suffice to give us a very graphic picture of the general aspect of Churnside during the early Norman time. All the valley was now cultivated by the churls and serfs of the various owners—Walter himself, Sherborne Abbey, the Danish proprietor who still held Gamelby, and so forth—but the hill-sides were even yet covered with dense forest, which ran inland till it joined the vast belt of Selwood, the great woodland barrier that cut off all the half-Celtic western peninsula of England from the more purely Teutonic shires on the east. The villages seem to have been a good deal broken up; for population is always thicker and more concentrated round little nuclei when the people till their own plots than when they cultivate the soil as serfs for their lords. The old Romanesque church, the wooden hall of the manor house, the huts of the churls who shoed the lord’s horses and ploughed the carucates in the dale, still marked the site of the old Celtic, Roman, and English settlement at King’s Peddington; but the mass of the people were scattered among little hovels in the outlying leys, hursts, and dens, where they cut their lord’s wood, burnt his charcoal, looked after his game, fed his pigs on acorns and beechmast, or tended his sheep, his horses, and his cattle in the clearings still exposed to the attacks of straggling wolves. The range of the forest, and the position of the clearings, can even now be traced by the[261] names of the upland farms which embody the leys, hursts, and dens of the early feudal period. A belt of Brockleys, Wadhursts, Everdens, and the like girds round the old arable tract for miles and miles continuously, preserving the memory of the badgers, the wild boars, the beavers, and the deer, whose very names have long since ceased to have any significance in our modern speech. The entire constitution of society was wholly altered. In the place of the old free, self-supporting community, we get a community labouring entirely for the advantage of a single lord. His artisans and cultivators lived in immediate dependence in his own hall; his serfs worked for him in the outskirts. From the point of view of King’s Peddington, that is what we mean by feudalism. The glitter was seen at Winchester and London; the squalid reality in Churnside. And though the seeds of this feudalism had been sown long before, it was William’s Survey that fixed it firmly on the soil for ever.


Our ordinary evening promenade at King’s Peddington is on the old and curiously curved stone pier. This pier is half a breakwater and half a quay: it forms and protects the little artificial harbour, round three of whose sides it bends quaintly in an irregular semicircle. The top of the outer barrier (on which we walk) is not flat, but slopes gradually downward and outward, so as to throw off the breakers in heavy weather; and when the stones are wet with clammy spray it is by no means easy always to keep one’s footing without sliding quietly off into the sea on the outer side. To say the truth, the pier was never meant for a promenade: this high external barrier was intended merely to break the force of the waves; while the quay itself runs round the inside of the protecting semicircle at a lower level, so as entirely to cut off all view of the sea, restricting one’s prospect to the tiny harbour and the three or four[262] coasting colliers which happen to be unloading there. But when King’s Peddington pier was first designed, the notion of promenading had never entered into anybody’s head: for it was originally built in the reign of Edward I.; and though it has since been remodelled many times over, it still preserves the main features of its primitive construction. So the old pier is really a memorial of the greatest revolution which ever affected the fate of Churnside and of England generally.

One is often tempted to wonder why historians who are so minute and explicit about the changes in the mere external form of our social structure—who tell us so much and at such length about the glorious Reformation and the glorious Revolution and the signing of Magna Charta—should have usually passed over almost in silence the vast and all-affecting changes which at various times have come across the whole inner nature of the social structure itself. To a simple-minded Churnside antiquary, living remote from Courts and Parliaments, and wholly without curiosity as to Queen Elizabeth’s ruffs or King George’s periwigs, it would seem that the history of King’s Peddington and of Britain since the English settlement fell naturally into three great epochs of paramount importance. The first is the epoch when the whole country was entirely agricultural, and when every manor or every village was self-contained and self-supporting; and during this period there was no trade worth speaking of. The second is the epoch when the country began to export raw material to the more civilised Continent, and to receive in exchange Southern products and manufactured goods; and during this period England was in a position analogous to that of Australia or of the Western States, and local collecting and distributing centres or commercial towns sprang up at wide intervals among the agricultural tracts. The third is the epoch when England began to manufacture and export finished goods instead of raw material, and to import raw material instead of finished goods; and during this period the towns rise into prominence, the industrial[263] class become the most important element of the population, and the whole social life of the community is utterly reversed. Compared with these momentous revolutions, a mere change of abstract religious opinions or of central administrative system sinks for the mind of the Churnside antiquary into complete insignificance. For that reason, the old stone pier, which marks and dates the beginning of the great industrial movement, must always be to every enlightened historian of King’s Peddington a critical turning-point in the long annals of the parish.

The pier, in fact, shows us at once that by Edward’s time Churnside had cast off its old local isolation, and had begun to enter into the general current of European life. There was growing up a need for foreign products. The Norman gentlemen who owned the manors required tapestry, and Oriental steel, and better wine than that of the Gloucestershire vineyards; their wives needed velvets, and silk robes, and Rouen fashions, and Southern headgear. The churches and abbeys wanted glass, and incense, and vestments, and paintings, and Italian carvings. Ever since the Norman Conquest had dissevered England from the barbaric Scandinavian North, and bound it up with the civilised Romance South, trade in such articles had been going on to some extent; and though it was still carried on solely for the benefit of the governing few, political or ecclesiastical—for the Court, the knightly class, and the clergy—yet it had already begun to produce some little increase in the mercantile element of towns like London, Winchester, Exeter, and Norwich—where, indeed, large numbers of Norman artisans and traders had settled down after the conquest as a sort of commercial aristocracy. When Peddington pier was built, however, things had got a little beyond this first stage; and one can see easily enough why Edward’s reign should have been a natural time for the further development of the nascent industrial and commercial spirit. Of course the history books, with their ordinary love of personalities, have an easy ready-made personal explanation[264] to offer:—“King Edward greatly encouraged trade, and induced Flemish weavers to settle in England.” But behind King Edward and his Flemings lay the nation, and the reason why the nation was now prepared to enter upon a commercial life is pretty clear. The Norman peace, the strong hands of William and Henry had put a stop to the old Danish plundering and the old English local anarchy. At the same time, the final separation from Normandy had turned the Norman and Angevin aristocracy into settled English landed proprietors, living on their own estates, and no longer engaged as of old in constant Continental warfare. Thus on the one hand population and wealth had increased during the long period of comparative peace; while, on the other hand, the class in whose hands wealth was entirely concentrated were left at home, and so compelled to spend their wealth where they gathered it. Here, then, we come upon the true mediæval England, the England of great castles and splendid abbeys, of merchant republics and special privileges, of a tinsel feudal chivalry and of abject peasant degradation. This was the England which first largely needed a foreign trade to supply those Southern luxuries and artistic products never dreamt of by the ruder old English thanes or Danish earls under Cnut or Edward the Confessor. And in this way it became practicable to ship bales of wool and tallow and hides from King’s Peddington for Flanders, France, and Italy; and to import in return wine from Bordeaux, silk mercery from Rouen, and textile fabrics from the rising cities of the Flemish industrial belt.

The way in which King’s Peddington came to be selected as a port for the new traffic is in itself sufficiently significant. For it was in the fourth of Edward I. that Peddington became a Royal manor. It had been sold by the descendants of Walter the Breton to the Bishop of Sarum, who exchanged it with the King for Walbury Eccles, Wilts. Ever since that period the town has borne its present title of King’s Peddington. But the change of master did much more than merely[265] alter the name of the place: it changed the little village at the mouth of the Churn from a group of huts round the manor and the church into a Royal borough. Edward determined to make his new possession a port. He planned the original stone pier, and enclosed with it a harbour of the first class, as harbours then went, capable of holding a couple of dozen coasting vessels for the Rouen and Bordeaux trade. The town must clearly have been built at once on a fixed administrative pattern, and peopled with merchants, chapmen, sailors, and craftsmen by a regularly planned migration; for its walls are mentioned in the town charter, as are also its four chief streets, and its merchant guild and its craftsmen. Two burgesses were summoned to Parliament to the King at Westminster, and were fined for non-attendance under Edward’s son. The borough was also held answerable for four ships for the king’s wars; and it had to pay a pretty heavy tax for its privileges. This high-handed, regal way of manufacturing a commercial centre is thoroughly indicative of the first stage of industrialism, before it has yet begun to emancipate itself from rigid governmental control.


Among all the visible historical memorials of Churnside, none occupies a larger place in the public estimation than the stately ruins of the great Cistercian Abbey which stood in the centre of the little valley at its widest point, just below the old Roman villa homestead at Churney. Indeed, to most casual thinkers, the abbey seems to form the one salient historical feature of the whole Peddington district. Talk to them about the numerous associations of the past which cluster so thickly around our beautiful dale, and they answer at once with a complacent smile: “Ah, yes, to be sure; immensely interesting place, isn’t it? Why, there’s Churney Abbey there, of course.” A monastic building always has an immense hold upon the romantic side[266] of the public fancy. Half-educated minds, especially, are fond of peopling it with the few vague and essentially incorrect figures which make up their theatrical picture of mediæval life. The “olden time,” as they call it with a delicious indefiniteness, seems to their eyes a compound of mailed knights, cowled monks, and beautiful ladies (they prefer to spell it “ladyes”) in peaked head-dresses of the most impossible sort. To such minds, the notion that men, women, and children have gone on living, and working, and eating, and drinking, and suffering (especially the last) continuously here in Churnside for ten thousand years past, is something wholly alien and inconceivable. The olden time and the present, a brilliant phantasmagoria and an actual reality, make up their sole historical conception of the life of their own district. How much the history books have to answer for! and how long will it be before the children at the board school in the Vicarage Road are taught a little about the real past of England, instead of being crammed with facts and dates as to the murderous doings of Henry and Richard?

The existing ruins of Churney Abbey belong to the last building raised by Thomas Peddington just before the dissolution—a tall, grand, but wholly chilly specimen of pure late Perpendicular architecture. Long before Abbot Thomas Peddington, however, the Cistercian monks had been settled at Churney; and long before the Cistercians a Benedictine community had raised a rude monastery on the same spot. Cynewulf the West Saxon in the early Christian days granted the land of Churney, with the manentes, being two hundred persons—Welsh serfs, no doubt, bound to the soil—as a gift to one Eadfrith, the mass-priest, to erect a minster at that spot, for love of God and St. Peter. Eadfrith made the men-serfs work at building his wooden church and the rough barracks where he and his monks lived; while he shipped many of the women and children as slaves over sea to Italy, by the hands of a Frisian skipper and monger at the port of Bristol, getting a return cargo for the value in pictures, incense, and the finger bones of St.[267] Euphemia. In spite of these undoubted relics, however, the little minster seems never to have prospered. Even the elevation of Ælfric, a shepherd’s son in the monastery, to be Bishop of Sherborne, did it little good; for Ælfric was killed by the Danish invaders before he had time to carry out his pet design of enlarging the monastery as a rival to Glastonbury, in the neighbouring and therefore hostile diocese of Wells. Still, Churney Old Minster, as aftertimes called it, did no small amount of good work in the dale, in spite of its evil beginning; and among other things it gave the poorest Churnside lad a chance which he never had before, and has never had since, of rising by talent and merit to the highest position in the State. In all that rough predatory and aristocratic community it formed one among a great network of real democratic centres; and it worked honestly and hard, so far as its lights went, to promote culture, freedom, right, and industrialism, in a jarring and discordant world. That, perhaps, is a more important fact about Churney Old Minster than the fact that the foundations of its later stone church exhibit some traces of early Romanesque workmanship, and possibly even of very incipient dog-tooth ornamentation.

Churney New Minster, the Cistercian Abbey, was founded by a great-granddaughter of Walter the Breton, who had an idea that the prayers of English monks could not be of much efficacy for the salvation of a Norman lady. So she bought out the rights of the old monastery, and packed off the brethren to Wallow Monachorum, where St. Euphemia’s fingers afterwards became the nucleus of a flourishing pilgrim trade under the more commercial abbots of the fourteenth century. In their place, a body of Cistercian monks was brought over from Fécamp, and settled in the Churney valley. The brethren of the old minster had long since drained the morass which spread around the eyot, and the Fécamp abbot came at once into possession of a considerable and fertile estate. For thirty or forty years the French element predominated in the monastery, as it predominated in the towns and the country at large;[268] but as the effects of the two French immigrations—the Norman and the Angevin—gradually passed away after the loss of Normandy, English monks once more filled the chapel and the refectory, and the Churnside lads had again a chance of rising to high distinction by means of the education they received in the minster school. Culture, in fact, was then a special prerogative of the Church, and a certain ostentatious lack of it marked the military class. In time, however, Churney Abbey grew so rich, through the numerous donations made by various pious benefactors, that it became worth while to put boys of gentle birth as monks, in order to give them the chance of finally rising to be abbot. At the same time, under the later Plantagenets and the early Tudors, society had so far progressed and education had been so far popularised, that the special function of the monasteries seemed to be gone. The brothers became a mere close corporation of well-to-do old gentlemen, living easily off their lands, obstructive in politics and religion, and wholly opposed to the great movement of enlightenment which was beginning to spread from Italy and France to the Teutonic north. They had outlived their work and had grown in course of time to be an abuse—a greater abuse than even our own Merton or Christ Church, perhaps nearly as great as All Souls’ or the City companies at the present day. When the crash came, they suffered not undeservedly; though the revolution which put an end to their corporate existence was one of the most disgraceful in its motives and disastrous in its results that has ever been known in England.

Abbot Thomas Peddington had just completed the magnificent Perpendicular structure on whose battlements you may still read his name [in a rebus cut in stone], when King Henry’s Commissioners came down to inquire into the revenues and management of the Abbey. Their report was decidedly unfavourable, and was couched in terms which in our own days would unquestionably be held as unnecessarily strong language for an official document. Its details,[269] indeed, contain some of the foulest and most palpable slanders ever committed to paper by party spite. But King Henry was prepared to fabricate or accept any evidence, however disgraceful, that helped him to carry out his intended measure of spoliation. Abbot Thomas Peddington and his monks were pensioned off on a pittance—lucky to have escaped with their heads; and the abbey lands and buildings were sold for a nominal price to Lord Clairvaux, whose aid Henry needed in securing the loyalty of the west-country gentlemen. The havoc that followed was too hideous a piece of vandalism to detail at full. Lord Clairvaux’s agent writes to his master, “The workmen have fully carried out your Lordship’s commands in the pulling off the roof of the church and selling the lead thereof; also in taking out the glass windows [and the brazenwork], and in stripping the high altar and the Lady Chapel; and they now humbly await your lordship’s good pleasure that they may know whether they shall further break down the walls, whose fair stone is much commended for the repairing of the pier at Peddington.” His lordship’s pleasure was fortunately to leave us the bare shell of the church and refectory, as he had thoughts of utilising them hereafter for his projected country seat. Thus the people of Churnside lost their last hold upon some small fragment of their native soil. Even the Conqueror had spared the lands of the monasteries; and though he put Norman monks in many of them, that was an evil which soon cured itself. Ever since the time of the Conquest, more and more land, in spite of hostile statutes, had continuously been given back to the Church, and so indirectly to the people; but with Henry’s spoliation the one remaining democratic element in our landowning system was swept away at once. The present earl lives in the abbey, is feudal lord of the whole valley, and generously permits the public to look at the outside of his house, under guidance of his gardener, on every second Tuesday. The historian of Churnside, with the rest of the Peddington Archæological Association, has more than[270] once asked in vain for permission to examine the ground-plan on the spot. His lordship’s convenience did not permit of it. Sir John Lubbock long sought ineffectually for an Act which may barely prevent the earl from pulling down or defacing the historical monument of which he has thus become the legal possessor; in how many centuries may we hope for an Act which will allow the people free access once a week to this building, which the earl’s ancestors did not raise, and for which the earl has done nothing, except to spoil the west wing with an absurd restoration? Of course, Mr. Williams, the Bradford cloth-weaver, who has built a fine modern house on the opposite hill, throws open his picture gallery and ethnological collection, after the industrial fashion, every Wednesday. “It’s the way of these nouveaux riches,” says the earl, with a superior smile of condescending exclusiveness.


Just above the point where the Churn falls into the sea, its pretty grassy valley narrows to a small gorge, through whose midst the river, here known as the Buddle, winds its way among the back slums of the village to the little bar, where its polluted stream finally slinks, as if ashamed of itself, into the purer waters of the bay. For on the banks of the gorge the oldest houses of King’s Peddington are built; and their backyards open out upon the Buddle, into which all their drainage still flows, in the good old fashion, poisoning the fish outright and giving rise to an epidemic of scarlet fever once every five years or so among the human inhabitants. Conspicuous among these lower quarters of the little town are four large gaunt buildings, overhanging the very edge of the stream, each with three tiers of paneless windows, and each with a disused water-wheel rotting by its side. They are the outward and visible signs of the decline and fall of[271] King’s Peddington; and their present condition largely accounts for the startling decrease in the population which local curiosity has already deduced from the unofficial gossip of the census enumerators. For the empty mills are all that now remains to us of the west country cloth trade, gone northward to the coal regions, leaving King’s Peddington in these its latter days wholly dependent upon its fishermen and its summer visitors.

All through the later Plantagenet period King’s Peddington kept up its position as a Continental port. Under the Tudors it seems to have been really one of the most important harbours upon the whole south coast of England. When the discovery of America and of the new route to India revolutionised English trade, by turning it westward towards the young plantations and the Cape, instead of eastward or southward towards Flanders and France, King’s Peddington still found itself in the full tide of rising commerce. More than one vessel left the old stone pier for Virginia and Barbadoes; and Churnside lads sailed with Raleigh to Guiana, and with Drake or Frobisher on their glorious foolhardy expeditions to round the world by the south and north passages. Indeed, the period included between the reigns of Edward IV. and Charles II. was the golden age of King’s Peddington. Absolutely speaking, the town must have been even smaller then than it is at the present day; for the plan preserved in the British Museum, among papers relating to the great Civil War, and representing the circuit of the walls during the siege, when the citizens held out stoutly against Prince Rupert for God and the Parliament, clearly indicates that only the quarter immediately surrounding the Buddle was then inhabited, while the modern main street and the Rectory road were still open fields, without even a cottage. Indeed, all the houses at that date lay within the walls; and the walls, which can even now be traced with the aid of the parish survey, enclosed a space not more than sufficient for a closely crowded population of 1500 or 1800 souls.[272] But that was a large number as towns then went; and the relative importance of King’s Peddington was really far greater than it has ever since been. When railways, and even canals, were unthought of, small local seaports were of immense value as places of distribution for imported goods, and imported goods were gradually becoming more and more important throughout all this period to the average Churnside folks. Already sugar, rum, and tobacco were beginning to flow in from the New World; and the old records of the Peddington Custom-house, happily still to be seen in the loft of that delicious anachronism—the nation now spends £300 yearly here to collect £90—show that the trade with the Mediterranean and the French coast was very considerable. The principal street lay along the Buddle under James II., where tradition still points out the house of a wealthy Peddington merchant occupied by Jeffreys during the Bloody Assize; and the trade of all Churnside and of many neighbouring districts must have centred for a couple of hundred years in that narrow, dingy, and malodorous alley.

With the eighteenth century, however, the star of King’s Peddington began to set. Our little harbour was well enough adapted for mediæval and Elizabethan craft, but it has not depth enough for bottoms drawing as many feet of water as did the larger vessels of the Georgian epoch. From the very beginning of the century all the smaller ports began to decay, while the larger ones, such as London, Bristol, Liverpool, Southampton, Plymouth, and Glasgow began to attract to themselves the whole external carrying trade of the country. It paid better to bring over cargo in bulk and distribute it overland or coastwise, by road or by small craft. So long as goods continued to be forwarded from Southampton—our nearest great port—mainly by means of pack-horses or waggons, a good many little coasting vessels used still to frequent King’s Peddington harbour, and the town still remained to some extent a distributing centre for the dale and the back country. But when, towards the end of the cen[273]tury, the canal was run through the heart of the county, and the new village of Harborne Port (as its founders ambitiously called it) was thus put in direct water communication with Bristol and London, the commercial importance of King’s Peddington rapidly decayed away to nothing. Harborne Port commanded a whole circle of trade in every direction, while Peddington commanded only a semicircle, the sea occupying the other half of its circuit. Thus the younger town quickly supplanted its elder rival. Of course, when the railway again cut through the same district, halfway between the old port and the new, leaving each of them seven miles off on either side, the sleepy market town of Churminster, formerly a mere agricultural centre, now becoming an important station, superseded them both as the export-collecting and import-distributing capital of the entire district. Nowadays, a stray collier puts in at the Peddington harbour about once in every six weeks with coal for the consumption of the town itself, and a few stone-boats carry away to London and elsewhere blue lias for making cement; but with these petty exceptions, the busy little harbour of Plantagenet times is to-day almost wholly given over to some half-dozen clumsy fishing smacks, with picturesque russet-brown sails of a sort to delight a painter’s heart.

Even after the commercial importance of the town had greatly passed away, it yet retained a certain amount of industrial importance through its thriving cloth works. The water-power on the Buddle gave it an advantage over many other places; and the presence of fullers’ earth in the oolitic deposits of the upper valley was, in those days of difficult carriage, a decided point in its favour. The introduction of steam, however, and, still more, the growth of the railway system, left poor Peddington out in the cold. The West-country cloth trade was quickly ruined by the competition of Bradford and the other Yorkshire towns. Stroud and Bradford-on-Avon, indeed, managed to keep up their position somehow—perhaps through their situation on considerable rivers with a splendid head of water;[274] but little outlying towns like Peddington, away from the main lines of traffic, fell back hopelessly into agricultural obscurity. Coal and cotton, America and India, had revolutionised England. The north had outstripped the south, and everything tended northward accordingly. One by one the mills on the Buddle were closed: the owners were ruined, and the hands followed the stream to Saltaire, where hundreds of them found employment in a body. The last mill struggled on till 1870; the owner, a man with a conscience, went on working at a slight loss for many years, rather than turn adrift his people; but at last the responsibility of fifty mouths to feed daily wore him out, and at his death the only remaining factory was closed for ever. Since that date, the town has stagnated quietly as a fishing village and petty watering-place. Several pretty villas have been built upon the hill-side looking across the valley to the beautiful bay; and several half-pay colonels or retired Anglo-Indians have taken up their abode within them; but unless some new and unforeseen revolution should again fundamentally alter the relations of the country as coal and railways altered them fifty years since, the days of King’s Peddington as an independent centre of human life and activity have passed away. Henceforth it must only survive as a retreat for those workers whose own work (such as it is) has been done elsewhere.


Printed by R. & R. Clark, Limited, Edinburgh.

Transcriber’s Notes:

Hyphenation has been standardised.

scir and scír variously spelt throughout; all instances of scír changed to read scir.

[The end of County and Town by Grant Allen]