A Cotswold Village
J. Arthur Gibbs
Part 2 out of 7
As to the morals of the Gloucestershire peasants in general, and of our
village in particular, it may be said that they are on the whole
excellent; in one respect only they are rather casual, not to say
The following story gives one a very good idea of the casual nature of
A parson--I do not know of which village, but it was somewhere in this
neighbourhood--paid a visit to a newly married man, to speak seriously
about the exceptionally premature arrival of an heir. "This is a
terrible affair," said the parson on entering the cottage. "Yaas; 'twere
a bad job to be sure," replied the man. "And what will yer take
Let it in justice be said that such episodes are the exception and not
Among the characters to be met with in our Cotswold hamlet is the
village politician. Many a pleasant chat have we enjoyed in his snug
cottage, whilst the honest proprietor was having his cup of tea and
bread and butter after his work. Common sense he has to a remarkable
degree, and a good deal more knowledge than most people give him credit
for. He is a Radical of course; nine out of ten labourers are _at
heart_. And a very good case he makes out for his way of thinking, if
one can only put oneself in his place for a time. We have endeavoured to
convert him to our way of thinking, but the strong, reflective mind,
"Illi robur, et aes triplex
Circa pectus erat,"
is not to be persuaded. He will be true to "the colour"; this is his
final answer, even if your arguments overcome for the time being. And
you cannot help liking the man for his straightforward, self-reliant
nature; he is acting up to the standard he has set himself all
"This above all, to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man."
And how many there are in the byways of England acting up to this motto,
and leading the lives of heroes, though their reward is not to be
There is no nobler sight on this earth than to behold men of all ages
doing their duty to the best of their ability, in spite of manifold
hardships and many a bitter disappointment; cheerfully and manfully
confronting difficulties of all kinds, and training up children in the
fear and knowledge of God. If this is not nobleness, there is no such
thing on earth. And it is owing to the vast amount of real, genuine
Christianity that exists among these honest folk that life is rendered
on the whole so cheerful in these Cotswold villages. Many small faults
the peasants doubtless possess; such are inseparable from human nature.
The petty jealousies always to be found where men do congregate exist
here, and as long as the earth revolves they will continue to exist; but
underneath the rough, unpolished exterior there is a reef of gold, far
richer than the mines of South Africa will ever produce, and as immortal
as the souls in which it lies so deeply rooted and embedded.
For the best type of humanity we need not search in vain among the
humble cottages of the hamlets of England. There shall we find the
courageous, brave souls who "scorn delights and live laborious
days,"--men who estimate their fellows at their worth, and not according
to their social position. Blunt and difficult to lead, not out of
hardness of heart or obstinate pigheadedness, but as Burns has put it:
"For the glorious priviledge
Of being independant."
A few such are to be found in all our rural villages if one looks for
them; and if they are the exceptions to the general rule, it must also
be remembered that men with "character" are equally rare amongst the
upper and middle classes.
Talking of village politics, I shall never forget a meeting held at
Northleach a few years ago. It was at a time when the balance of parties
was so even that our Unionist member was returned by the bare majority
of three votes, only to be unseated a few weeks afterwards on a recount.
Northleach is a very Radical town, about six miles from my home; and
when I agreed to take the chair, I little knew what an unpleasant job I
had taken in hand. Our member for some reason or other was unable to
attend. I therefore found myself at 7.30 one evening facing two hundred
"red-hot" Radicals, with only one other speaker besides myself to keep
the ball a-rolling. My companion was one of those professional
politicians of the baser sort, who call themselves Unionists because it
pays better for the working-class politician--in just the same way as
ambitious young men among the upper classes sometimes become Radicals on
the strength of there being more opening for them on the "Liberal" side.
Well, this fellow bellowed away in the usual ranting style for about
three-quarters of an hour; his eloquence was great, but truth was "more
honoured in the breach than in the observance." So that when he sat
down, and my turn came, the audience, instead of being convinced, was
fairly rabid. I was very young at that time, and fearfully nervous;
added to which I was never much of a speaker, and, if interrupted at
all, usually lost the thread of my argument.
After a bit they began shouting, "Speak up." The more they shouted the
more mixed I got. When once the spirit of insubordination is roused in
these fellows, it spreads like wild-fire. The din became so great I
could not hear myself speak. In about five minutes there would have been
a row. Suddenly a bright idea occurred to me. "Listen to me," I shouted;
"as you won't hear me speak, perhaps you will allow me to sing you a
song." I had a fairly strong voice, and could go up a good height; so I
gave them "Tom Bowling." Directly I started you could have heard a pin
drop. They gave, me a fair hearing all through; and when, as a final
climax, I finished up with a prolonged B flat--a very loud and long
note, which sounded to me something between a "view holloa" and the
whistle of a penny steamboat, but which came in nicely as a sort of
_piece de resistance_, fairly astonishing "Hodge"--their enthusiasm knew
no bounds. They cheered and cheered again. Hand shaking went on all
round, whilst the biggest Radical of the lot stood up and shouted, "You
be a little Liberal, I know, and the other blokes 'ave 'ired [hired]
you." Whether we won any votes that evening I am doubtful, but certain I
am that this meeting, which started so inauspiciously, was more
successful than many others in which I have taken part in a Radical
place, in spite of the fact that we left it amid a shower of stones from
the boys outside.
I do not think there is anything I dislike more than standing up to
address a village audience on the politics of the day. Unless you happen
to be a very taking speaker--which his greatest friends could not accuse
the present writer of being--agricultural labourers are a most
unsympathetic audience. They will sit solemnly through a long speech
without even winking an eye, and your best "hits" are passed by in
solemn silence. To the nervous speaker a little applause occasionally is
doubtless encouraging; but if you want to get it, you must put somebody
down among the audience, and pay them half a crown to make a noise.
I suppose no better fellow or more suitable candidate for a Cotswold
constituency ever walked than Colonel Chester Master, of the Abbey; yet
his efforts to win the seat under the new ballot act were always
unavailing, saving the occasion on which he got in by three votes, and
then was turned out again within a month. An unknown candidate from
London--I will not say a carpet-bagger--was able to beat the local
squire, entirely owing to the very fact that he was a stranger.
There is a good deal of chopping and changing about among the
agricultural voters, in spite of a general determination to be true to
the "yaller" colour or the "blue," as the case may be. As I passed down
the village street on the day on which our last election took place, I
enthusiastically exclaimed to a passer-by in whom I thought I recognised
one of our erstwhile firmest supporters, "We shall have our man in for a
certainty this time." "What--in the brook!" replied the turncoat, with a
glance at the stream, and not without humour, his face purple with
emotion. This was somewhat damping; but the hold of the paid social
agitator is very great in these country places, and it is scarcely
credible what extraordinary stories are circulated on the eve of an
election to influence the voters. At such times even loyalty is at a
discount At a Tory meeting a lecturer was showing a picture of
Gibraltar, and expatiating on the English victory in 1704, when Sir
George Rooke won this important stronghold from the Spaniards. "How
would you like any one to come and take your land away?" exclaimed a
Radical, with a great show of righteous indignation. And his sentiments
received the applause of all his friends.
In these matters, and in the spirit of independence generally, country
folk have much altered. No longer can it be said; as Addison quaintly
puts it in the _Spectator_, that "they are so used to be dazzled with
riches that they pay as much deference to the understanding of a man of
estate as of a man of learning; and are very hardly brought to regard
any truth, how important soever it may be, that is preached to them,
when they know there are several men of five hundred a year who do not
In such-like matters the labourers now show a vast deal of common sense,
and the only wonder is that whilst paying but little deference either to
men of estate or men of learning, they yet allow themselves to be
"bamboozled" by the promises and claptrap of the paid agitator.
Narrow and ignorant as is the Toryism commonly displayed in country
districts, it is yet preferable, from the point of view of those whose
motto is _aequam memento_, etc., to the impossible Utopia which the
advanced Radicals invariably promise us and never effect.
A word now about the farmers of Gloucestershire.
It is often asked, How do the Cotswold farmers live in these bad times?
I suppose the only reply one can give is the old saw turned upside down:
They live as the fishes do in the sea; the great ones eat up the little
ones. The tendency, doubtless, in all kinds of trade is for the small
capitalists to go to the wall.
Some of the farmers in this district are yeoman princes, not only
possessing their own freeholds, but farming a thousand or fifteen
hundred acres in addition. Mr. Garne, of Aldsworth, is a fine specimen
of this class. He makes a speciality of the original pure-bred Cotswold
sheep, and his rams being famous, he is able to do very well, in spite
of the fact that there is little demand for the old breed of sheep, the
mutton being of poor quality and the wool coarse and rough. Mr. Garne
carries off all the prizes at "the Royal" and other shows with his
magnificent sheep. A cross between the Hampshire downs and the Cotswold
sheep has been found to give excellent mutton, as well as fine and silky
wool. The cross breed is gradually superseding the native sheep. Mr.
Hobbs, of Maiseyhampton, is famous for his Oxford downs. These sheep are
likewise superior to the Cotswold breed.
Barley does uncommonly well on the light limestone soil of these hills.
The brewers are glad to get Cotswold barley for malting purposes. Fine
sainfoin crops are grown, and black oats likewise do well. The shallow,
porous soil requires rain at least once a week throughout the spring and
summer. The better class of farmer on these hills does not have at all a
bad time even in these days. Very often they lead the lives of squires,
more especially in those hamlets where there is no landowner resident.
Hunting, shooting, coursing, and sometimes fishing are enjoyed by most
of these squireens, and they are a fine, independent class of
Englishman, who get more fun out of life than many richer men, They will
tell you with regard to the labourers that the following adage is still
to be depended upon:--
"Tis the same with common natures:
Use 'em kindly they rebel;
But be rough as nutmeg-graters,
And the rogues obey you well."
[Illustration: An Old Cottage. 087.png]
THE LANGUAGE OF THE COTSWOLDS, WITH SOME ANCIENT SONGS AND LEGENDS.
A very marked characteristic of the village peasant is his extraordinary
honesty. Not one in ten would knock a pheasant on the head with his
stick if he found one on his allotment among the cabbages. Rabbit
poachers there are, but even these are rare; and as for housebreaking
and robbery, it simply does not exist. The manor house has a tremendous
nail-studded oak door, which is barred at night by ponderous clamps of
iron and many other contrivances; but the old-fashioned windows could be
opened by any moderately skilful burglar in half a minute. There is
absolutely nothing to prevent access to the house at night, whilst in
the daytime the doors are open from "morn till dewy eve." Most of the
windows are innocent of shutters. When in Ireland recently, I noticed
that the gates in every field were immensely strong, generally of iron,
with massive pillars of stone on either side; but in spite of these
precautions there was usually a gap in the hedge close by, through which
one might safely have driven a waggon. This reminded one of the Cotswold
manor house and its strongly barricaded oak door, surrounded by windows,
which any burglar could open "as easy as a glove," as Tom Peregrine
A strange-looking traveller, with slouching gait and mouldy wideawake
hat, passes through the hamlet occasionally, leading a donkey in a cart.
This is one of the old-fashioned hawkers. These men are usually poachers
or receivers of poached goods. They are not averse to paying a small sum
for a basket of trout or a few partridges, pheasants, hares or rabbits
in the game season; whilst in spring they deal in a small way in the
eggs of game birds. As often as not this class of man is accompanied by
a couple of dogs, marvellously trained in the art of hunting the coverts
and "retrieving" a pheasant or a rabbit which may be crouching in the
underwood. Hares, too, are taken by dogs in the open fields. One never
finds out much about these gentry from the natives. Even the keeper is
reticent on the subject. "A sart of a harf-witted fellow" is Tom
Peregrine's description of this very suspicious-looking traveller.
The better sort of carrier, who calls daily at the great house with all
kinds of goods and parcels from the big town seven miles off, is
occasionally not averse to a little poaching in the roadside fields
among the hares. The carriers are a great feature of these rural
villages; they are generally good fellows, though some of them are a bit
too fond of the bottle on Saturday nights.
The dogs employed by poachers are taught to keep out of sight and avoid
keepers and such-like folk. They know as well as the poacher himself the
nature of their trade, and that the utmost secrecy must be observed. To
see them trotting demurely down the road you would never think them
capable of doing anything wrong. A wave of the hand and they are into
the covert in a second, ready to pounce like a cat on a sitting
pheasant. One short whistle and they are at their master's heels again.
If in carrying game in their mouths they spied or winded a keeper, they
would in all probability contrive to hide themselves or make tracks for
the high road as quickly as possible, leaving their spoil in the thick
underwood, "to be left till called for."
But to return once more to the honest Cotswold labourer. Occasionally a
notice is put up in the village as follows:--
"There will be a dinner in the manor grounds on July--. Please bring
knives and forks."
These are great occasions in a Cotswold village. Knives and forks mean
meat; and a joint of mutton is not seen by the peasants more than "once
in a month of Sundays." Needless to say, there is not much opportunity
of studying the language of the country as long as the feast is
progressing. "Silence is golden" is the motto here whilst the viands are
being discussed; but afterwards, when the Homeric desire of eating and
drinking has been expelled, an adjournment to the club may lead to a
smoking concert, and, once started, there are very few Cotswold men who
cannot sing a song of at least eighteen verses. For three hours an
uninterrupted stream of music flows forth, not only solos, but
occasionally duets, harmoniously chanted in parts, and rendered with the
utmost pathos. It cannot be said that Gloucestershire folk are endowed
with a large amount of musical talent; neither their "ears" nor their
vocal chords are ever anything great, but what they lack in quality they
make up in quantity, and I have listened to as many as forty songs
during one evening--some of them most entertaining, others extremely
dull. The songs the labourer most delights in are those which are
typical of the employment in which he happens to be engaged. Some of the
old ballads, handed down from father to son by oral tradition, are very
excellent. The following is a very good instance of this kind of song;
when sung by the carter to a good rollicking tune, it goes with a rare
ring, in spite of the fact that it lasts about a quarter of an hour.
There would be about a dozen verses, and the chorus is always sung twice
at the end of each verse, first by the carter and then by the
"Now then, gentlemen, don't delay harmony," Farmer Peregrine keeps
repeating in his old-fashioned, convivial way, and thus the ball is kept
a-rolling half the night.
JIM, THE CARTER LAD.
"My name is Jim, the carter lad--
A jolly cock am I;
I always am contented,
Be the weather wet or dry.
I snap my finger at the snow,
And whistle at the rain;
I've braved the storm for many a day,
And can do so again."
"Crack, crack, goes my whip,
I whistle and I sing,
I sits upon my waggon,
I'm as happy as a king.
My horse is always willing;
As for me, I'm never sad:
There's none can lead a jollier life
Than Jim, the carter lad."
"My father was a carrier
Many years ere I was born,
And used to rise at daybreak
And go his rounds each morn.
He often took me with him,
Especially in the spring.
I loved to sit upon the cart
And hear my father sing.
Crack, crack, etc."
"I never think of politics
Or anything so great;
I care not for their high-bred talk
About the Church and State.
I act aright to man and man,
And that's what makes me glad;
You'll find there beats an honest heart
In Jim, the carter lad.
Crack, crack, etc."
"The girls, they all smile on me
As I go driving past.
My horse is such a beauty,
And he jogs along so fast.
We've travelled many a weary mile,
And happy days have had;
For none can lead a jollier life
Than Jim, the carter lad.
Crack, crack, etc."
"So now I'll wish you all good night
It's time I was away;
For I know my horse will weary
If I much longer stay.
To see your smiling faces,
It makes my heart quite glad.
I hope you'll drink your kind applause
To Jim, the carter lad.
Crack, crack, etc."
The village choirs do very well as long as their organist or vicar is
not too ambitious in his choice of music. There is a fatal tendency in
many places to do away with the old hymns, which every one has known
from a boy, and substitute the very inferior modern ones now to be found
in our books. This is the greatest mistake, if I may say so. A man is
far more likely to sing, and feel deeply when he is singing, those
simple words and notes he learnt long ago in the nursery at home. And
there is nothing finer in the world than some of our old English hymns.
I appeal to any readers who have known what it is to feel deeply; and
few there are to whom this does not apply, if some of those moments of
their lives, when the thoughts have soared into the higher regions of
emotion, have not been those which followed the opening strain of the
organ as it quietly ushered in the old evening hymn, "Abide with me,
fast falls the eventide," or any other hymn of the same kind. It is the
same in the vast cathedral as in the little Norman village church. There
are fifty hymns in our book which would be sufficient to provide the
best possible music for our country churches. The best organists realise
this. Joseph Barnby always chose the old hymns; and you will hear them
at Westminster and St. Paul's. The country organist, however, imagines
that it is his duty to be always teaching his choir some new and
difficult tune; the result in nine cases out of ten being "murder" and a
rapid falling off in the congregation.
The Cotswold folk on the whole are fond of music, though they have not a
large amount of talent for it. The Chedworth band still goes the round
of the villages once or twice a year. These men are the descendants of
the "old village musicians," who, to quote from the _Strand Musical
Magazine_ for September 1897, "led the Psalmody in the village church
sixty years ago with stringed and wind instruments. Mr. Charles Smith,
of Chedworth, remembers playing the clarionet in Handel's _Zadok the
Priest_, performed there in 1838 in honour of the Queen's accession." He
talks of a band of twelve, made up of strings and _wood-wind_.
I am bound to say that the music produced by the Chedworth band at the
present day, though decidedly creditable in such an old-world village,
is rather like the Roman remains for which the district is so famous; it
savours somewhat of the prehistoric. But when the band comes round and
plays in the hall of our old house on Christmas Eve, I have many a
pleasant chat with the Chedworth musicians; they are so delightfully
enthusiastic, and so grateful for being allowed to play. When I gave
them a cup of tea they kept repeating, "A thousand thanks for all your
It is inevitable that men engaged day by day and year by year in such
monotonous employ as agricultural labour should be somewhat lacking in
acuteness and sensibility; in no class is the hereditary influence so
marked. Were it otherwise, matters would be in a sorry pass in country
places, for discontent would reign supreme; and once let "ambition mock
their useful toil," once their sober wishes learn to stray, how would
the necessary drudgery of agricultural work be accomplished at all? In
spite, however, of this marked characteristic of inertness--hereditary
in the first place, and fostered by the humdrum round of daily toil on
the farm--there is sometimes to be found a sense of humour and a love of
merriment that is quite astonishing. A good deal of what is called
knowledge of the world, which one would have thought was only to be
acquired in towns, nowadays penetrates into remote districts, so that
country folk often have a good idea of "what's what" I once overheard
the following conversation:
"Who's your new master, Dick? He's a bart., ain't he?"
"Oh no," was the reply; "he's only a _jumped-up jubilee knight_!"
Sense of humour of a kind the Cotswold labourer certainly has, even
though he is quite unable to see a large number of apparently simple
jokes. The diverting history of John Gilpin, for instance, read at a
smoking concert, was received with scarce a smile.
Old Mr. Peregrine lately told me an instance of the extraordinary
secretiveness of the labourer. Two of his men worked together in his
barn day after day for several weeks. During that time they never spoke
to each other, save that one of them would always say the last thing at
night, "Be sure to shut the door."
Oddly enough they thoroughly appreciate the humour of the wonderful
things that went on fifty and a hundred years ago. The old farmer I have
just mentioned told me that he remembers when he used to go to church
fifty years ago, how, after they had all been waiting half an hour, the
clerk would pin a notice in the porch, "No church to-day; Parson C----
got the gout."
As with history so also with geography, the Cotswold labourer sometimes
gets "a bit mixed."
"'Ow be they a-gettin' on in Durbysher?" lately enquired a man at
To him replied a righteously indignant native of the same village, "I've
'eard as 'ow the English army 'ave killed ten thousand Durvishers
"Bedad!" answered his friend, "there won't be many left in Durbysher if
they goes on a-killin' un much longer."
Another story lately told me in the same village was as follows:--
An old lady went to the stores to buy candles, and was astonished to
find that owing to the Spanish-American war "candles was riz."
"Get along!" she indignantly exclaimed. "_Don't tell me they fights by
One of the cheeriest fellows that ever worked for us was a carter called
Trinder. He was the father of _twenty-one children_--by the same wife.
He never seemed to be worried in the slightest degree by domestic
affairs, and was always happy and healthy and gay. This man's wages
would be about twelve shillings a week: not a very large sum for a man
with a score of children. Then it must be remembered that the boys would
go off to work in the fields at a very early age, and by the time they
were ten years old they would be keeping themselves. A large family like
this would not have the crushing effect on the labouring man that it has
on the poor curate or city clerk. Nevertheless, one cannot help looking
upon the man as a kind of hero, when one considers the enormous number
of grandchildren and descendants he will have. On being asked the other
day how he had contrived to maintain such a quiverful, he answered,
"I've always managed to get along all right so far; I never wanted for
vittals, sir, anyhow." This was all the information he would give.
Talking of "vittals," the only meat the labouring man usually indulges
in is bacon. His breakfast consists of bread and butter, and either tea
or cocoa. For his dinner he relies on bread and bacon, occasionally
only bread and cheese. In the winter he is home by five, and once more
has tea, or cocoa, or beer. Coffee is very seldom seen in the cottages.
During the short days there is nothing to do but go to bed in the
evening, unless a walk of over a mile to the village inn is considered
worth the trouble. But being tired and leg weary, a long walk does not
usually appeal to the men after their evening meal; so to bed is the
order of the day,--and, thank Heaven! "the sleep of a labouring man is
sweet." In the longer days of spring and summer there is plenty to do in
the allotments; and on the whole the allotments acts have been a great
blessing to the labourers.
It is during the three winter months that penny readings and smoking
concerts are so much appreciated in the country. Too much cannot be done
in this way to brighten the life of the village during the cold, dark
days of December and January, for the labouring man hates reading above
Perhaps the fact that these simple folk do not read the newspapers, or
only read those parts in which they have a direct interest--such as
paragraphs indulging in socialistic castles in the air--has its
advantages, inasmuch as it allows their common sense full play in all
other matters, unhampered as it is (except in this one weak point of
socialism) by the prejudices of the day. So that if one wanted to get an
unprejudiced opinion on some great question of right or wrong, in the
consideration of which common sense alone was required--such a question,
for instance, as is occasionally cropping up in these times in our
foreign policy--one would have to go to the very best men in the
country, namely, those amongst the educated classes who think for
themselves, or to men of the so-called lowest strata of society, such as
these honest Cotswold labourers; because there is scarcely one man in
ten among the reading public who is not biassed and confused by the
manifold contradictions and political claptrap of the daily papers, and
led away by side issues from a clear understanding of the rights of
every case. Our free press is doubtless a grand institution. As with
individuals, however, so ought it to be with nations. Let us, in our
criticisms of the policy of those who watch over the destinies of other
countries, whilst firmly upholding our rights, strictly adhere to the
principle of _noblesse oblige_. The press is every day becoming more and
more powerful for good or evil; its influence on men's minds has become
so marked that it may with truth be said that the press rules public
opinion rather than that public opinion rules the press. But the writers
of the day will only fulfil their destiny aright by approaching every
question in a broad and tolerant spirit, and by a firm reliance, in
spite of the prejudices of the moment, on the ancient faith of _noblesse
oblige_. However, the unanimity recently shown by the press in upholding
our rights at Fashoda was absolutely splendid.
The origin of the names of the fields in this district is difficult to
trace. Many a farm has its "barrow ground," called after some old burial
mound situated there; and many names like Ladbarrow, Cocklebarrow, etc.,
have the same derivation. "Buryclose," too, is a name often to be found
in the villages; and skeletons are sometimes dug up in meadows so
called. A copse, called Deadman's Acre, is supposed to have received its
name from the fact that a man died there, having sworn that he would
reap an acre of corn with a sickle in a day or perish in the attempt. It
is more likely, however, to be connected with the barrows, which are
Oliver Cromwell's memory is still very much respected among the
labouring folk. Every possible work is attributed to his hand, and even
the names of places are set down to his inventive genius. Thus they tell
you that when he passed through Aldsworth he did not think very much of
the village (it is certainly a very dull little place), so he snapped
his fingers and exclaimed, "That's all 'e's worth!" On arriving at Ready
Token, where was an ancient inn, he found it full of guests; he
therefore exclaimed, "It's already taken!" Was ever such nonsense heard?
Yet these good folk believe every tradition of this kind, and delight in
telling you such stories. Ready Token is a bleak spot, standing very
high, and having a clump of trees on it; it is therefore conspicuous for
miles; so that when this country was an open moor, Ready Token was very
useful as a landmark to travellers. Mr. Sawyer thinks the name is a
corruption from the Celtic word "rhydd" and the Saxon "tacen," meaning
"the way to the ford," the place being on the road to Fairford, where
the Coln is crossed.
One of the chief traditions of this locality, and one that doubtless has
more truth in it than most of the stories the natives tell you, relates
that two hundred years ago people were frequently murdered at Ready
Token inn when returning with their pockets full of money from the big
fairs at Gloucester or Oxford. A labouring friend of mine was telling me
the other day of the wonderful disappearance of a packman and a
"jewelrer," as he called him. For very many years nothing was heard of
them, but about twenty years ago some "skellingtons" were dug up on the
exact spot where the inn stood, so their disappearance was
This same man told me the following story about the origin of Hangman's
Stone, near Northleach:--
"A man stole a 'ship' [sheep], and carried it tied to his neck and
shoulders by a rope. Feeling rather tired, he put the 'ship' down on top
of the 'stwun' [stone] to rest a bit; but suddenly it rolled off the
other side, and hung him--broke his neck."
Hangman's Stone may be seen to this day. The real origin of the name may
be found in Fozbrooke's History of Gloucestershire. It was the place of
execution in Roman times.
"As illuminations in cases of joy, dismissal from the house in quarrels,
wishing joy on New Year's Day, king and queen on twelfth day (from the
Saturnalia), holding up the hand in sign of assent, shaking hands, etc.,
are Roman customs, so were executions just out of the town, where also
the executioner resided. In Anglo-Saxon times this officer was a man of
A very common name in Gloucestershire for a field or wood is "conyger"
or "conygre." It means the abode of conies or rabbits.
Some farms have their "camp ground"; and there, sure enough, if one
examines it carefully, will be found traces of some ancient British
camp, with its old rampart running round it. But what can be the
derivation of such names as Horsecollar Bush Furlong, Smoke Acre
Furlong, West Chester Hull, Cracklands, Crane Furlong, Sunday's Hill,
Latheram, Stoopstone Furlong, Pig Bush Furlong, and Barelegged Bush?
Names like Pitchwells, where there is a spring; Breakfast Bush Ground,
where no doubt Hodge has had his breakfast for centuries under shelter
of a certain bush; Rickbushes, and Longlands are all more or less easy
to trace. Furzey Leaze, Furzey Ground, Moor Hill, Ridged Lands, and the
Pikes are all names connected with the nature of the fields or
Leaze is the provincial name for a pasture, and Furzey Leaze would be a
rough "ground," where gorse was sprinkled about. The Pikes would be a
field abutting on an old turnpike gate. The word "turnpike" is never
used in Gloucestershire; it is always "the pike." A field is a "ground,"
and a fence or stone wall is a "mound." The Cotswold folk do not talk
about houses; they stick to the old Saxon termination, and call their
dwellings "housen"; they also use the Anglo-Saxon "hire" for hear. The
word "bowssen," too, is very frequently heard in these parts; it is a
provincialism for a stall or shed where oxen are kept. "Boose" is the
word from which it originally sprang. A very expressive phrase in common
use is to "quad" or "quat"; it is equivalent to the word "squat." Other
words in this dialect are "sprack," an adjective meaning quick or
lively; and "frem" or "frum," a word derived from the Anglo-Saxon
"fram," meaning fresh or flourishing. The latter word is also used in
Leicestershire. Drayton, who knew the Cotswolds, and wrote poetry about
the district, uses the expression "frim pastures." "Plym" is the
swelling of wood when it is immersed in water; and "thilk," another
Anglo-Saxon word, means thus or the same.
A mole in the Gloucestershire dialect is an "oont" or "woont." A barrow
or mound of any kind is a "tump." Anything slippery is described as
"slick"; and a slice is a "sliver." "Breeds" denotes the brim of a hat,
and a deaf man is said to be "dunch" or "dunny." To "glowr" is to
stare--possibly connected with the word "glare."
Two red-coated sportsmen, while hunting close to our village the other
day, got into a small but deep pond. They were said to have fallen into
the "stank," and got "zogged" through: for a small pond is a "stank,"
and to be "zogged" is equivalent to being soaked.
"Hark at that dog 'yoppeting' in the covert! I'll give him a nation good
'larroping' when I catch him!" This is the sort of sentence a
Gloucestershire keeper makes use of. To "larrop" is to beat. Oatmeal or
porridge is always called "grouts"; and the Cotswold native does not
talk of hoisting a ladder, but "highsting" is the term he uses. The
steps of the ladder are the "rongs." Luncheon is "nuncheon." Other words
in the dialect are "caddie" = to humbug; "cham" = to chew; "barken" = a
homestead; and "bittle" = a mallet.
Fozbrooke says that the term "hopping mad" is applied to people who are
very angry; but we do not happen to have heard it in Gloucestershire.
Two proverbs that are in constant use amongst all classes are, "As sure
as God's in Gloucestershire," and, "'Tis as long in coming as Cotswold
'berle'" (barley). The former has reference to the number of churches
and religious houses the county used to possess, the latter to the
backward state of the crops on the exposed Cotswold Hills. To meet a man
and say, "Good-morning, nice day," is to "pass the time of day with
him." Anything queer or mysterious is described as "unkard" or "unket";
perhaps this word is a provincialism for "uncouth." A narrow lane or
path between two walls is a "tuer" in Gloucestershire vernacular.
Another local word I have not heard elsewhere is "eckle," meaning a
green woodpecker or yaffel. The original spelling of the word was
"hic-wall." In these days of education the real old-fashioned dialect is
seldom heard; among the older peasants a few are to be found who speak
it, but in twenty years' time it will be a thing of the past.
The incessant use of "do" and "did," and the changing of _o_'s into
_a_'s are two great characteristics of the Gloucestershire talk. Being
anxious to be initiated into the mysteries of the dialect, I buttonholed
a labouring friend of mine the other day, and asked him to try to teach
it to me. He is a great exponent of the language of the country, and,
like a good many others of his type, he is as well satisfied with his
pronunciation as he is with his other accomplishments. The fact is that
"His favourite sin
Is pride that apes humility."
It is _your_ grammar, not his, which is at fault. In the following
verses will be found the gist of what he told me:--
"If thee true 'Glarcestershire' would know,
I'll tell thee how us always zays un;
Put 'I' for 'me,' and 'a' for 'o'.
On every possible occasion.
When in doubt squeeze in a 'w'--
'Stwuns,' not 'stones.' And don't forget, zur,
That 'thee' must stand for 'thou' and 'you';
'Her' for 'she,' and _vice versa_.
Put 'v' for 'f'; for 's' put 'z';
'Th' and 't' we change to 'd,'--
So dry an' kip this in thine yead,
An' thou wills't talk as plain as we."
The student in the language of the Cotswolds should study a very ancient
song entitled "George Ridler's Oven." Strange to say, there is little or
nothing in it about the oven, but a good deal of the old Gloucestershire
talk may be gleaned from it. It begins like this:
GEORGE RIDLER'S OVEN.
A RIGHT FAMOUS OLD GLOUCESTERSHIRE BALLAD.
"The stwuns, the stwuns, the stwuns, the stwuns,
The stwuns, the stwuns, the stwuns, _the stwuns_."
This is sung like the prelude to a grand orchestral performance.
Beginning somewhat softly, Hodge fires away with a gravity and emotion
which do him infinite credit, each succeeding repetition of the word
"stwuns" being rendered with ever-increasing pathos and emphasis, until,
like the final burst of an orchestral prelude, with drums, trumpets,
fiddles, etc, all going at the same time, are at length ushered in the
opening lines of the ballad.
"The stwuns that built Gaarge Ridler's oven,
And thauy qeum from the Bleakeney's Quaar;
And Gaarge he wur a jolly ould mon,
And his yead it graw'd above his yare.
"One thing of Gaarge Ridler's I must commend.
And that wur vor a notable theng;
He mead his braags avoore he died,
Wi' any dree brothers his zons zshou'd zeng.
"There's Dick the treble and John the mean
(Let every mon zing in his auwn pleace);
And Gaarge he wur the elder brother,
And therevoore he would zing the beass.
"Mine hostess's moid (and her neaum 'twur Nell)
A pretty wench, and I lov'd her well;
I lov'd her well--good reauzon why,
Because zshe lov'd my dog and I.
"My dog has gotten zitch a trick
To visit moids when thauy be zick;
When thauy be zick and like to die,
Oh, thether gwoes my dog and I.
"My dog is good to catch a hen,--
A duck and goose is vood vor men;
And where good company I spy,
Oh, thether gwoes my dog and I.
"Droo aal the world, owld Gaarge would bwoast,
Commend me to merry owld England mwoast;
While vools gwoes scramblin' vur and nigh,
We bides at whoam, my dog and I.
"Ov their furrin tongues let travellers brag,
Wi' their vifteen neames vor a puddin' bag;
Two tongues I knows ne'er towld a lie,
And their wearers be my dog and I.
"My mwother told I when I wur young,
If I did vollow the strong beer pwoot,
That drenk would pruv my auverdrow,
And meauk me wear a thzreadbare cwoat.
"When I hev dree zixpences under my thumb,
Oh, then I be welcome wherever I qeum;
But when I hev none, oh, then I pass by,--
'Tis poverty pearts good company.
"When I gwoes dead, as it may hap,
My greauve shall be under the good yeal tap
In vouled earms there wool us lie,
Cheek by jowl, my dog and I."
_stwuns_ = stones.
_quaar_ = quarry.
_yare_ = hair.
_avoor_ = before.
_auwn_ = own.
_furrin_ = foreign.
_greauve_ = grave.
_thauy_ = they.
_yead_ = head.
_mead_ = made.
_dree_ = three.
_pleace_ = place.
_pwoot_ = pewter.
_yeal_ = ale.
_qeum_ = come.
_graw'd_ = grew.
_braags_ = brag.
_zshou'd_ = should.
_beass_ = bass.
_auverdrow_ = overthrow.
_vouled earms_ = folded arms.
_zitch_ = such.
The song itself is as old as the hills, but I have taken the liberty of
appending a glossary, in order that my readers may be spared the
trouble of making out the meaning of some of the words. It was a long
time before it dawned upon me that "vouled earms" meant "folded arms ";
"auverdrow" likewise was very perplexing. Like many of the old ballads,
it sounds like a rigmarole from beginning to end; but there is really a
great deal more in it than meets the eye. George Ridler is no less a
personage than King Charles I., and the oven represents the cavalier
party. (See Appendix.)
Such songs as these are deeply interesting from the fact that they are
handed down by oral tradition from father to son, and written copies are
never seen in the villages. The same applies to the play the mummers act
at Christmas-time; all has to be learnt from the preceding generation of
country folk. But the great feature of our smoking concerts and village
entertainments has always been the reading of Tom Peregrine. This noted
sportsman, who writes one of the best hands I ever saw, has kindly
copied out a recitation he lately gave us. It relates to the adventures
of one Roger Plowman, a Cotswold man who went to London, and is taken
from a book, compiled some years ago by some Ciceter men, entitled
"Roger Plowman's Excursion to London." It was read at a harvest home
given by old Mr. Peregrine in his huge barn, an entertainment which
lasted from six o'clock till twelve. I trust none of my readers will be
any the worse for reading it. Tom Peregrine declares that when he first
gave it at a penny reading some years ago, one or two of the audience
had to be carried out in hysterics--they laughed so much; and another
man fell backwards off his chair, owing to the extreme comicality of it.
The truth is, our versatile keeper is a wonderful reader, and speaking
as he does the true Gloucestershire accent, in the same way as some of
the squires spoke it a century or more ago, it is extremely amusing to
hear him copying the still broader dialect of the labouring class. He
has a tremendous sense of humour, and his epithet for anything amusing
is "Foolish." "'Tis a splendid tale; 'tis so desperate foolish," he
would often say.
ROGER PLOWMAN'S JOURNEY TO LONDON.
Monday marnin' I wur to start early. Aal the village know'd I wur
a-gwain, an' sum sed as how I shood be murthur'd avoor I cum back. On
Sunday I called at the manur 'ouse an' asked cook if she hed any message
vor Sairy Jane. She sed:
"Tell Sairy Jane to look well arter 'e, Roger, vor you'll get lost, tuck
in, an' done vor."
"Rest easy in yer mind, cook," I zed; "Roger is toughish, an' he'll see
thet the honour o' the old county is well show'd out and kep' up."
Cook wished me a pleasant holiday.
I started early on Monday marnin', 'tarmined to see as much as possible.
I wur to walk into Cizzeter, an' vram thur goo by train to Lunnon.
I wur delighted wi' Cizzeter. The shops an' buildin's round the
market-pleace wur vine; an' the church wur grand; didn't look as how he
wur built by the same sort of peeple as put the shops up.
When the Roomans an' anshunt Britons went to church arm-in-arm it wur
always Whitsuntide, an' arter church vetched their banners out wi' brass
eagles on, an' hed a morris dance in the market-pleace. The anshunt
Britons never hed any tailory done, but thay wur all artists wi' the
paint pot. The Consarvatives painted thurselves bloo, and the Radicals
yaller, an' thay as danced the longest, the Roomans sent to Parlyment to
rool the roost.
I wur show'd the pleace wur the peeple started vor Lunnon. I walked in,
an' thur wur a hole in the purtition, an' I seed the peeple a-payin'
thur money vor bits o' pasteboord. I axed the mon if he could take I
He sed, "Fust, second, or thurd?"
I sed, "Fust o' course, not arter; vor Sairy Jane ull be waitin'."
He sed 'twer moor ner a pound to pay.
I sed the paason sed 'twer about eight shillin'.
"That's thurd class," he sed; an' that thay ud aal be in Lunnon at the
So I paid thurd class, an' he shuved out sum pasteboord, an' I put it in
my pocket, an' walked out; an' thur wur a row o' carridges waitin' vor
Lunnon; an' off we went as fast as a racehoss.
I heerd sum say thay wur off to Cheltenham, Gloucester, Tewkesbury,
North Wales; an' I sed to meself, "I be on the rong road. Dang the
buttons o' that little pasteboord seller! he warn't a 'safe mon' to hev
to do wi'."
I enquired if the peeple hed much washin' to do for the railway about
here, an' thay wanted to know what I required to know vor.
I sed because thur war such a long clothesline put up aal the way
along. An' thay aal bust out a-larfin,' an' sed 'twur the tallergraph;
an' one sed as how if the Girt Western thought as how 'twould pay
better, thay ud soon shet up shop, an' take in washin'.
Never in aal me life did I go at such a rate under and awver bridges an
droo holes in the 'ills. We wur soon at Swindon, wur a lot wur at work
as black as tinkers. We aal hed to get out, an' a chap in green clothes
sed we shood hev to wait ten minits.
Thur wur a lot gwain into a room, an' I seed they wur eatin' and
drinkin'; so I ses to meself, "I be rayther peckish, I'll go in an' see
if I can get summut." So in I goes; an' 'twer a vine pleace, wi' sum
nation good-looking gurls a-waitin'.
"I'll hev a half-quartern loaf," I sed.
"We doan't kip a baker's shop," she sed. "Thur's cakes, an' biskits, an'
"Hev 'e got sum good bacon, raythur vattish?" I sed.
"No, sur; but thur's sum good poork sausingers at sixpence."
"Hand awver the pleat, young 'ooman," I sed, "an' I'll trubble you vor
the mustard, an' salt, an' that pleat o' bread an' butter, an' I'll set
down an' hev a bit of a snack."
The sausingers wur very good, an' teasted moorish aal the time; but the
bread an' butter wur so nation thin that I had to clap dree or vour
pieces together to get a mouthful. I didn't seem to want a knife or
vork, but the young 'ooman put a white-handled knife an' silver
vork avoor me.
The pleat o' bread an' butter didn't hold out vor the sausingers, so I
hed another pleat o' bread an' butter, an' wur getting on vine. I seem'd
to want summut to wet me whistle, an' wur gwain to order a quart o' ale,
when I heers a whistle an' a grunt vram a steamer, an' out I goos; an',
begum! he wur off.
I beckuned to the chap to stop the train, wi' me vork as I hed jest
stuck into the last sausinger. I hed clapt a good mouthful in, or I
could hev hollur'd loud enough vor him to heer. The train didn't stop,
an' the vellers in green laughed to see I wur left in the lurch, as I
tell'd them that Sairy Jane would be sure to meet the Lunnon train. Thay
sed I could go in an' vinish the sausingers now, an' that wur what I
intended to do.
I asked the young 'ooman for a bottle o' ale, when she put a tallish
bottle down wi' a beg head; an' as I wur dry I knocked the neck off, an'
the ale kum a-fizzing out like ginger pop,--an' 'twer no use to try to
stop the fizzle. I had aal I could get in a glass, an' it zeemed
goodish. She soon run back wi' another bottle in her hand, an' I tell'd
her 'twer pop she hed put down.
"What hev you bin an' dun, sur?" she sed; "that wur a bottle o' Moses's
shampane, at seven shillin's an' sixpence a bottle."
I tell'd her I know'd 'twer nothin' but pop, as it fizzled so. Thur wur
two or dree gentlemen in, an' thay larfed at the fizzle an' I. It seemed
to meak me veel merryish, an' I zed, "What's to pay, young 'ooman?"
She sed, "Thirteen shillin's, sur."
"Thirteen scaramouches!" I sed. "What vor?"
"Seven sausingers, dree and sixpence; twenty-vour slices o' bread an'
butter, two shillin's; an' a bottle of shampane, seven and
sixpence;--kums to thirteen shillin's," she sed.
"Yer tell'd me as how the sausingers wur sixpence," I sed; "an' the
slices o' bread ud cut off a tuppeny loaf."
She sed the sausingers wur sixpence each, an' twenty-vour slices o'
bread an' butter wur a penny each--two shillin's.
I sed, "Do 'e call that reysonable, young 'ooman? 'cause I bain't
a-gwain to pay thirteen shillin's vor't, an' lose me train, an'
disappoint Sairy Jane. Thirteen shillin's vor two or dree sausingers, a
few slices o' bread an' butter, an' a bottle o' pop--not vor Roger, if
he knows it"
Up kums a chap an' ses, "Be you gwain to pay vor wat you hev hed?"
"To be sure I be. Thur's sixpence vor the sausingers, tuppence vor bread
an' butter, an' dreppence the pop,--that meaks 'levenpence"; an' I drows
down a shillin', and ses, "Thur's the odd penny vor the young 'ooman as
waited upon me."
"You hed thirteen shillin's worth o' grub an' shampane, an' you'll hev
to pay twelve shillin's moor or I shall take 'e away an' lock 'e up vor
the night," he sed.
"Do 'e thenk as how you could do aal that, young man?" I sed. "No
disrespect to 'e though, vor that don't argify; but I could ketch hold
on 'e by the scroff o' yer neck an' the seat o' yer breeches, an' pitch
'e slick into the roadway among the iron."
"Look heer, Meyster Turmot, you'll hev to pay twelve shillin' moor avoor
you gwoes out o' heer, or Lunnon won't hold 'e to-night."
I know'd Sairy Jane ud be a-waitin', an' as he sed the train were moast
ready, I drows down a suverin', an' hed the change, an' as I wur a-gwain
out I hollurs out as how I shood remember Swindleum stashun. I heer'd
the lot a-larfin, an' hed moast a mind to go in an' twirl me ground ash
among um vor thur edification.
I wur soon on the road agen, a-gwain like a house a-vire, an' thur wur
more clotheslines aal the way along on pwosts.
W'en we got nearish to Lunnon I seed sum girt beg round barrels painted
black. I axed a chap what thay wur, an' he sed that thay wur beg
barrels o' stingo, an' thur wur pipes laid on to the peeple's housen vor
thay to draw vram.
[Footnote 3: Gasometers.]
I sed that wur very good accommodashun to hev XXX laid on vor use.
We soon druv into the beggest pleace I wur ever in since I wur born'd.
Thay sed 'twer Paddington, an' that I wur to get out, vor they wurn't
a-gwain to drive no furder. I hed paid to go to Lunnon, an' thay shood
drive all the way when thay wur paid avoor'and.
I wur tell'd Paddington wur the Lunnon stashun by a porter, an' I look'd
round vor Sairy Jane, as she sed as how her ud be heer at one o'clock;
and porter sed 'twer then dree o'clock, an' likely Sairy Jane had gone
away. Drat thay sausingers as mead I too late vor the train!
I set down to wait for Sairy Jane, as I didn't know her directions, an'
hed left the letter she sent at whoam. Arter waitin' for a long while I
started out, an' 'oped to see her in sum part o' Lunnon.
* * * * *
Another story Tom Peregrine is fond of reading to us relates how a
labouring man was recommended to get some oxtail soup to strengthen him.
He goes into the town and sees "Oxikali Soap" written up on a shop
window. He buys a cake of it, makes his wife boil it up in the pot, and
then proceeds to drink it for his health. When he has taken a spoonful
or two and found it very unpleasant, his wife makes him finish it up,
saying it is sure to do him good; and she consoles him with the
assurance that all medicine is nasty.
At the harvest home in the big barn, after the applause which followed
Tom Peregrine's recitation had died away, a sturdy carter stood up and
sang a very old Gloucestershire song, which runs as follows:--
THE TURMUT HOWER.
"I be a turmut hower,
Vram Gloucestershire I came;
My parents be hard-working folk,
Giles Wapshaw be my name.
The vly, the vly,
The vly be on the turmut,
An' it be aal me eye, and no use to try
To keep um off the turmut.
"Zum be vond o' haymakin',
An' zum be vond o' mowin',
But of aal the trades thet I likes best
Gie I the turmut howin'.
The vly, etc.
"'Twas on a summer mornin',
Aal at the brake o' day,
When I tuck up my turmut hower,
An' trudged it far away.
The vly, etc.
"The vust pleace I got work at,
It wus by the job,
But if I hed my chance agen,
I'd rayther go to quod.
The vly, etc.
"The next pleace I got work at,
'Twer by the day,
Vor one old Varmer Vlower,
Who sed I wur a rippin' turmut hower.
The vly, etc.
"Sumtimes I be a-mowin',
Sumtimes I be a-plowin',
Gettin' the vurrows aal bright an' clear
Aal ready vor turmut sowin'.
The vly, etc.
"An' now my song be ended
I 'ope you won't call encore;
But if you'll kum here another night,
I'll seng it ye once more.
The vly, etc."
[Illustration: On the Wolds. 116.png]
ON THE WOLDS.
Time passes quickly for the sportsman who has the good fortune to dwell
in the merry Cotswolds. Spring gives place to summer and autumn to
winter with a rapidity which astonishes us as the years roll on.
So diversified are the amusements that each season brings round that no
time of year lacks its own characteristic sport. In the spring, ere red
coats and "leathers" are laid aside by the fox-hunting squire, there is
the best of trout-fishing to be enjoyed in the Coln and
Windrush--streams dear to the heart of the accomplished expert with the
"dry" fly. In spring, too, are the local hunt races at Oaksey and
Sherston, at Moreton-in-the-Marsh and Andoversford. Pleasant little
country gatherings are these race meetings, albeit the _bona-fide_
hunter has little chance of distinguishing himself between the flags in
any part of England nowadays. The Lechlade Horse Show, too, is a great
institution in the V.W.H. country at the close of the hunting season.
Annually at Whitsuntide for very many centuries "sports" have been held
in all parts of the country. It is said that they are the _floralia_ of
the Romans. Included in these sports are many of those amusements of the
middle ages of which Ben Jonson sang:
"The Cotswold with the Olympic vies
In manly games and goodly exercise."
Horse-racing is a great feature in the programme of these Whitsuntide
The "may-fly" carnival among the trout, together with lots of cricket
matches, make the time pass all too quickly for those who spend the
glorious summer months in the Cotswolds. By the time the Cirencester
Horse Show is over, the cubs are getting strong and mischievous.
Directly the corn is cut the hounds are out again in the lovely
September mornings. By this time partridges are plentiful, and must be
shot ere they get too wild. So year by year the ball is kept rolling in
the quiet Cotswold Hills; the days go by, yet content reigns amongst
"Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife
Their sober wishes never learned to stray;
Along the cool, sequestered vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way."
Then there is so much to do indirectly connected with sport of all
kinds, if you live in a Cotswold village. Woods and fox coverts must be
kept in good order, so that there may always be cover to shelter game
and foxes. Cricket grounds afford unlimited scope for labour and
If you either own or rent a trout stream there is no end to the
improvements that can be made with a little time and labour. Deep holes
or even lakes may be dug, great stones and fir poles may be utilised, to
form eddies and waterfalls and homes for the trout. By means of a little
stocking with fresh blood a stream may often be turned from a worthless
piece of water into a splendid fishery. There is no limit to the
articles of food which can be imported. Gammari, or fresh-water shrimps,
caddis and larvae, and various species of weeds which nourish insects
and snails--notably the _chara flexilis_ from Loch Leven--may all be
procured and transplanted to your water. The beautiful springs which
feed the Coln at various intervals, where the watercress grows freely,
would be of great service in forming lakes; there is so much poor marshy
land even in the fertile valleys that might be utilised, with advantage
and profit for the purpose of trout preserving.
Talking of watercress, this is a branch of farming which appears to be
somewhat neglected on the banks of the Coln. The villagers tell you that
watercress, like the oyster, is good in every month with an "r" in it:
so that all through the year, save in May, June, July, and August,
watercress may be picked and sent to market. But the proprietor of
watercress beds attaches little importance to the fact that he possesses
large beds of this wholesome and reproductive plant, and you will not
see it on his table once in a month of Sundays. In London one eats
watercress all the year round, more especially in the months without an
"r," but it does not come from the Cotswolds.
There is not much covert shooting on these hills. The country is so open
and the coverts so small and deficient in underwood that pheasant
preserving on a large scale is not practicable; for this reason the
preservation of foxes is the first consideration. At Stowell, Sherborne,
Rendcombe, Barnsley, and Cirencester, as well as on a few other large
estates, a large head of game is reared; while foxes are plentiful too.
But the owners and occupiers of most of the manors are content to rely
on nature to supply them with game in due season.
However, for those gunners who, like the writer, are both unskilful and
unambitious, the shooting obtained on the Cotswold Hills is very
enjoyable. In September from ten to twenty brace of partridges are to be
picked up, together with what hares a man cares to shoot, and a few
rabbits. Then landrails or corncrakes, and last, but not least, an
occasional quail, are usually included in the bag. Quails are rather
partial to this district; during the first fortnight of September a few
are generally shot on the manor we frequent. On August 17th this year we
found a nest containing five young quails about half-grown.
But the real pleasure connected with this kind of sport lies in the
sense of wildness. The air is almost as good a tonic as that of the
Scotch moors, whilst there is the additional satisfaction of being at
home in September instead of flying away to the North, and having to put
up with all the discomfort of a long railway journey each way.
There is no time of year one would sooner spend at home on Cotswold than
the month of September. Nature is then at her best: the cold, bleak
hills are clothed with the warmth of golden stubble; the autumnal haze
now softens the landscape with those lights and shades which add so much
of loveliness and sense of mystery to a hill country; the rich aftermath
is full of animal life; birds of all descriptions are less wild and more
easily observed than is the case later on, when the pastures and downs
have been thinned by frost and there is no shelter left. Now you may see
the kestrels hovering in mid air, and the great sluggish heron wending
his ethereal way to the upper waters of the trout stream. You watch him
till he drops suddenly from the heavens, to alight in the little valley
which lies a short mile away, invisible amid the far-stretching
tablelands. Occasionally, too, a marsh-harrier may be met with, but this
is a _rara avis_ even in these outlandish parts. Peregrine falcons are
uncommon too, though one may yet see a pair of them now and then if one
keeps a sharp look-out at all times and seasons. There are wimbrels and
curlews that have been shot here during recent years stuffed and hung up
in glass cases in old Mr. Peregrine's house.
Of other birds which are becoming scarcer year by year in England, the
kingfishers are not uncommon in these parts; you will often see the
brilliant little fellow dart past you as you walk by the stream in
summer. Water-ousels or dippers are scarce; we have seen but one
specimen in the last three years.
In September, as you walk over the fields, the Cotswolds are seen at
their best. Somehow or other a country never looks so well from the
roads as it appears when you are in the fields. The man who prefers the
high road had better not live in the Cotswolds; for these roads, mended
as they are with limestone in the more remote parts of the district,
become terribly sticky in winter, while the grass fields and stubbles
are generally as dry as a bone. There is but a small percentage of clay
in the soil, but a good deal of lime, and five inches down is the hard
rock; therefore this light, stony soil never holds the rain, but allows
it to percolate rapidly through, even as a sieve. When the sun is hot
after a frost the ploughs "carry" certainly, but this is because they
dry so quickly; they seldom remain thoroughly wet for any length of
time. Consequently, in hunting, the feet of hounds, horses, and even of
foxes pick up the sticky, arable soil, instead of splashing through it,
and scent is spoiled thereby. Doubtless the lime in the soil adds to its
stickiness. It is amusing to watch a fox "break" covert and make his way
over a plough which "carries": he travels very badly; we have seen him
fail to jump a sheep hurdle at the first attempt. Fortunately for the
fox, the hounds are also handicapped by these conditions, and scent is
wretched. This might appear at first sight to show that the scent of
foxes is chiefly given off from their feet. We can recall few occasions
on which a plough that "carried" held a "burning scent." But little
though we know of the mysteries of "scent," it is generally agreed that
the "steaming trail" emanates chiefly from the body and breath of a fox,
even though on certain days there is no evidence of any scent, save on
the ground. It is probable, however, that on light ploughlands
evaporation is so great when the sun is shining (unless the wind is
sufficiently cold to counteract the heat of the sun and prevent rapid
evaporation) that all scent from the body and breath of the fox, save
that which happens to cling to the ground, is borne upwards and lost in
the upper air. _The hounds therefore have to fall back on whatever scent
may remain clinging to the soil_, those occasions of course excepted
when the great density or gravity of the air prevents scent from rising
and dispersing, and causes it to hang _breast high_.
After some years of careful experiment with the hygrometer and
barometer, and after an intricate investigation of scent (that
mysterious matter which is given off from the skin and breath of foxes),
I have come to the conclusion that if we could get an Isaac Newton to
"whip in" to a Tom Firr for about a twelvemonth, we might very likely
come to know all about it. In standing on ground whereon "angels fear to
tread," I am fully aware that I speak as a fool. But let me state that
it is on the barometer that I now place my somewhat limited reliance on
a hunting morning, and not on the hygrometer, on the weight of the
column of air on a given point of the surface of the earth, rather than
on the state of the evaporations, the relative humidity, and the dew
point. And I have noticed that the best scenting days have been those
when the thermometer has given readings from 38 up to 46 Fahrenheit in
the shade. A high and steady glass, an almost imperceptible east or
north-east wind, with the ground soaked with moisture and no frost
during the previous night, is the only combination of conditions under
which scent on the grass is a moral certainty. On the other hand, a low
and unsteady glass, a warm, gusty south or west wind, with a hot sun,
following a frost, or a day with cold showers, with bright, sunny
intervals, or during the afternoon (but not always the morning) before a
storm of wind or rain,--such are the conditions which make so many of
our attempts to hunt the fox by scent a miserable farce; yet even on
these days hounds may run during some part of the day. When the
barometer is thoroughly unsettled there may be light local currents,
perfectly imperceptible to man, yet felt by cows and sheep--currents
created like winds by a variation of temperature in different parts of
any given field, and which will scatter the scent and spoil the sport.
These currents, rapid evaporation combined with a lack of steady
atmospheric pressure, and that sticky state of soil which on ploughed
land invariably follows a frost, and in a lesser degree affects grass,
causing a fox to take his pad scent on with him (all the particles that
do not cling to the ground having been diffused and lost in the
air),--these are the curses of modern hunting fields and the chief
causes of bad scenting days.
After September is past the shooting man will not get very much sport on
the Cotswolds, as far as the partridges are concerned, for they are not
numerous enough to be worth driving; they soon become as wild as they
can possibly be. On Hatherop and some other estates good partridge
driving is enjoyed. The farmers are very fond of shooting them under a
"kite,"--this, as it is hardly necessary to explain, is an artificial
representation of the hawk. It is flown high up in the air at some
distance ahead of the guns. The birds, seeing what they take to be a
very large and savage-looking hawk hovering above them, ready to pounce
down at a moment's notice, become frightened, and lie crouching in the
hedges and turnips, until they almost have to be kicked up by the
sportsmen. But when once they do get up they fly straight away, nor do
they come back for a long time. This mode of shooting is all very well
once in a way, but if indulged in habitually it scares the birds,
driving them on to other manors. Not having seen it successfully carried
out, we are not fond of the method, but there are good sportsmen in
these parts who advocate it. Some maintain that this cannot be called a
really sportsmanlike way of shooting partridges, though there is
doubtless room for two opinions on the question.
Later on in the autumn, when November frosts begin to attract snipes to
the withybeds and water meadows by the Coln, the unambitious gunner may
often enjoy the charm of a small and select mixed bag.
Two of us went out for an hour last winter before breakfast, having been
informed that a woodcock was lying in an ash copse by the river. We got
the woodcock--a somewhat _rara avis_ in small, isolated coverts on the
hills; in addition, the bag contained one snipe, one wild duck, two
pheasants, six rabbits, a pigeon, a heron, and some moorhens. Now this
was very good sport, because it was totally unexpected. The majority of
shooting people might not think much of so small a bag, but it must be
remembered that the charm of this kind of shooting is its wildness. It
seems rather hard to kill herons, but anybody who has tried to preserve
trout will agree that herons are the greatest enemies with which the
trout-fisher has to contend. One heron will clear a shallow stream in a
very short time. When the floods are out, trout fall a ready prey to
these rapacious birds. The kingfishers likewise have a very good time.
The fish will gorge themselves with worms picked up on the inundated
meadows, until they are so full that the worms actually begin falling
out of their mouths. I picked several up last autumn which had been
stabbed, I suppose, by a heron. They were unharmed, save for a small
round hole, as if made by a bullet; there was no other mark on them. But
when taken up, the worms came out of their mouths by the score!
Kingfishers are carefully preserved, in spite of their destructiveness,
but one must draw the line at herons.
Waiting for wild duck coming into the "spring" on a frosty night is
cold work, but very good fun. They breed here in fair numbers, and fly
away in August. But when the ground becomes "scrumpety," as the natives
say, with the first severe frost, back they come from the frozen meres
to their old home; and if one can keep out of sight (and this is no easy
matter in December) many a shot can be obtained in the withybeds by the
river. Teal and widgeon may be shot occasionally in the same manner.
Sometimes, when you are upon the hills with Tom Peregrine, the keeper,
trying to pick up a brace or two of partridges for the house, he will
suddenly say, "_Quad down!_" then, throwing himself on to his hands and
knees in breathless anxiety, he will begin whistling for "all he knows."
You imitate him to the best of your ability, and soon, if you are lucky,
an enormous flock of golden plover flash over you. Four barrels are
fired almost instantaneously, and the deadly "twelve-bore" of your
companion is seldom fired in vain.
Green plover, or lapwings, are numerous enough on the Cotswolds. They
are wonderfully difficult to circumvent, nevertheless. You crouch down
under a wall, while your men go ever so far round to drive them to you;
but it is the rarest thing in the world to bag one. Their eggs are very
difficult to find in the breeding season. It is the male bird that, like
a terrified and anxious mother, flies round and round you with piteous
cries; the female bird, when disturbed, flies straight away.
Pigeon-shooting with decoys is a very favourite amusement among the
Cotswold farmers. They manage to bag an enormous quantity in a hard
winter, sometimes getting over a hundred in a day. Wood-pigeons come in
thousands to the stubble fields when the beech nuts have come to an end.
Large flocks of them annually migrate to England from Northern Europe.
Crouching in a hedge or under a wall, you may enjoy as pretty a day's
sport as ever fell to the lot of mortal man. A few dead birds are placed
on the stubble to attract the flocks, and a grand variety of flying
shots may be obtained as the wood-pigeons fly over. The year 1897 was
remarkable for this shooting. Between November 20th and 30th two of our
farmers killed close on a thousand of these birds. Some of them
doubtless were potted on the ground. Tom Peregrine remarked that "he
never saw such a sight of dead pigeons. The cheese-room up at the farm
was full of them." The vast flocks that blacken the skies for a few
short weeks in November disappear as suddenly as they come. After
November they are no more seen.
There would be many more partridges were it not for the rooks and
magpies. Hedges wherein the birds can hide their nests are few and far
between in the wall country, so the keen-eyed rook spies out many a nest
in the spring of the year. For this reason and because they eat the
corn, the farmers hate them. We cannot share their feelings. We should
be sorry to see the old rookery in the garden diminished in the
slightest degree. Jays and magpies are terribly numerous; they are rare
egg-stealers. We have seen as many as twelve of the latter lately
flying all together. Magpies are difficult to get at; they will sit
perched upon the topmost twigs of the trees, but will invariably fly
away before you get within shot.
It is interesting to rear a few pheasants annually. There is no bird
which gives more delight, even if fairly tame; their beautiful colouring
and cheerful crowing are always pleasant in the garden and woods around
your house. If you feed them every day, they will come regularly up to
the very door; and with them come the swans, waddling up from the water,
looking very much out of their element. Sometimes, too, a moorhen will
join the party; whilst two little wild ducks, the sole survivors of a
brood of sixteen, which were attacked and killed by a stoat, will take
food right out of the mouths of the good-natured old swans. Peacocks I
would not care to have round the house; but there is nothing more in
touch with English country life than the glorious red, green, and brown
colouring of a "fine" cock pheasant strutting proudly across the lawn on
his way to his roosting-place in the firs, contrasting as he does with
the majestic form and snowy plumage of the stately swans, which glide
about the silent Coln at the bottom of the garden--the incarnation of
grace and symmetry. Truly some of the most common of animals are also
the most beautiful.
Besides the rooks, there is another bird which the farmers love to wage
incessant war upon. The other day I received the following message
printed on the back of a postcard:--
"A meeting will be held at the Swan Hotel, Bibury, on Friday, November
13th, at 6.30 p.m., to arrange about starting a _Sparrow Club_ for the
* * * * *
"_What is a Sparrow Club?_" I anxiously enquired the other day of a
labouring man, a particular friend of mine, whom I happened to fall in
with on his way to chapel. He answered that it was a club for killing
sparrows when they get too numerous--paying boys a farthing a head for
every bird they catch, and giving prizes for the greatest number killed.
Boys may often be seen out at night, with long poles and nets attached
to them, catching sparrows in the trees. But my friend tells me that the
way he likes to catch them is to go into a barn at night with a lantern.
"You must hold the lantern under your coat so as to half screen the
light, and the birds will fly at the light and settle on your
shoulders." He tells me you can pick them off your clothes by the dozen.
I have never tried it, certainly, as, personally, I have no quarrel with
the sparrows. I was disappointed that the "Sparrow Club," for which a
great public meeting had to be convened, was not of a more exciting
nature. One was led to believe by the importance of the printed postcard
that some good old English custom was about to be revived.
A farmer has just brought me in a peregrine falcon that he shot this
morning. He is of course very proud of the achievement. It is useless to
argue with him on the question of preserving birds that are becoming
scarce in England. He considers that a _rara avis_ such as this, which
is "here to-day and gone to-morrow," is a prize which does not often
fall to the lot of the gunner; it must be bagged at all hazards. Nor is
it easy to answer the argument which he seldom fails to put forth, that
if he doesn't shoot it, somebody else will.
Talking of rare birds, I shall never forget seeing a wild swan come
sailing up the Coln during a very hard frost two years ago. Two of us
were out after wild duck, and it was a grand sight to watch this
magnificent bird winging his way rapidly up stream at a height of about
fifty yards. It is rare indeed to see them in these parts, though the
vicar of Bibury tells me that seven wild swans were once seen on the
Coln near that village; but this was some years ago. On the same
authority I learn that a Solan goose, or gannet, has been known to visit
this stream. Tom Peregrine shot one a few years back; also a puffin, a
bird with a parrot-like beak and of the auk tribe. Wild geese frequently
pass over us, following the course of the stream.
On a bright, warm day in October, such a day as we usually have a score
or more of in the course of our much-abused English autumn, it is
pleasant to take one's gun and, leaving behind the quiet, peaceful
valley and the old-world houses of the Cotswold hamlet, to ascend the
hill and seek the great, rolling downs, a couple of miles away from any
sign of human habitation. You may get a shot at a partridge or a
wood-pigeon as you go. Hares you might shoot, if you cared to, in every
field. But on the other hand you will be equally well pleased if your
gun is not fired off, for it is peace and quiet that you are really in
search of,--the noise of a shot and the jar of a gun do not suit your
After walking for half an hour you come to a bit of high ground, where
you have often stood before, and, resting your gun against a wall, you
gaze at the view beyond.
"Quocunque adspicias, nihil est nisi gramen et aer."
Nothing particularly striking, perhaps, is visible to the eye, yet to my
mind there is a charm about it which the pen is quite unable to
describe. Below is a wide expanse of undulating downland, divided into
fifty-acre fields by means of loose, uncemented walls of grey stone. The
grass is green for the time of year, and scattered about are horses,
cattle, and sheep, contentedly nibbling the short fine turf. In the
midst of mile upon mile of rolling downs stands forth prominently one
field of plough, of the richest brown hue; whilst six miles away a long
belt of tall trees, half hidden by haze, marks the outline of Stowell
Park. Save for one ivy-covered homestead, miles away on the right,
nothing else is in sight.
It is past five o'clock, and the sun, which has been shining brightly
all day, with that genial warmth which one only fully appreciates as the
winter approaches, is beginning to descend. It is the lights and shades
which play over this wide stretch of open country which makes the
landscape look so beautiful. And when the wreaths of white, woolly
clouds begin to glow round their furthermost edges like coals of fire on
a frosty night, with all the promise of a brilliant sunset, this stretch
of hill and plain wears an aspect which, once seen, you will never
forget. It takes your thoughts away into the great unknown--the
infinite,--that mysterious world which is ever around us, and which
seems nearer when we are looking at a beautiful sunset or a beautiful
view than at any other time in this life, save, for ought we know,
during the last few moments of our earthly existence. And although no
human habitation is anywhere to be seen, the air is full of the spirits
of bygone generations and of bygone _races_ of men. There are traces of
humanity in all directions, wherever your eye may gaze, but they are the
traces of a forgotten people.
Yonder semicircular ridge was once the rampart of an ancient British
town; though, save in the tangled copse hard by, where the plough has
never been at work, it is fast disappearing. Many a stone lying about
the camp bears unmistakable marks of fire.
A glance of the eye westwards, and your thoughts are carried back to the
Roman invasion; for scarce five miles off lies the ancient Roman villa
of Chedworth. Then, again, tradition has it that a mile away from this
spot, and close to the old manor house, skirmishes were fought in later
days, at the time the Civil Wars were raging, when many a chivalrous
cavalier and many a stern, unbending Puritan lay dead on yonder field,
or, maybe, was carried into the old house to linger and to die in the
very room in which you slept last night. Everywhere in England are
battlefields; but they are, in the words of De Quincey, "battlefields
that nature has long ago reconciled to herself with the sweet oblivion
This very mound on which you are standing, is it not the burying-place
of a race which dwelt on the Cotswolds full three thousand years ago?
And were not human remains found here a few years back, when this, in
common with many other barrows hard by, was opened, and an underground
chamber discovered therein--the earthly resting-place of the bones of
the unknown dead?
"The silence of deep eternities, of worlds from beyond the morning
stars--does it not speak to thee? The unborn ages,--the old graves, with
their long-mouldering dust,--the very tears that wetted it, now all
dry,--do not these speak to thee what ear hath not heard?"
"Solemn before us
Veiled the dark Portal--
Goal of all mortal.
Stars silent rest o'er us,
Graves under us silent."
Well has Carlyle translated the great German poet. And the old barrows
that lie scattered over these wide-stretching downs are not dumb; they
are continually speaking to us of those things "which ear hath not
heard"; and at no time have they more to tell than at the close of a
mild, peaceful day in October, when all else, save for the faint
tinkling of the distant sheep-bells, is silent as death, and the sun,
ere once more disappearing, is shedding a solemn glow over the deserted,
mysterious uplands of the Cotswold Hills.
But the partridges are "calling" all around, and a covey actually
passes over your head. Your sporting instincts begin to revive, and you
take up your gun and proceed to stalk that covey, stealing round under a
wall. Then you suddenly remember that the V.W.H. hounds meet in your
village to-morrow, and you begin wondering whether they will once again
find the great dog fox that several times last season led you over the
wide, open country that now lies mapped out before you. _Your_ fox, too,
one of a litter you came upon two springs ago, in a little spinney not
half a mile from where you are standing now, stub-bred and of the
greyhound stamp, fleet of foot and lithe of limb. Each time the hounds
had come to draw he was at home in the covert on the brow of the hill
which shelters the old manor house you inhabit from the cold blast of
winter. Here he loved to dwell, and hunt moorhens and dabchicks and
water-rats all night long by the banks of silvery Coln. But on three
occasions within six weeks, no sooner did the hounds enter the wood than
a shrill scream proclaimed him away on the far side. You were mounted on
a good horse, and were away as soon as the pack. And then for thirty
minutes the "old customer" cantered away over those broad pastures,
hounds and horses tearing after him on a breast-high scent, but never
gaining an inch of ground. Two leagues were quickly traversed ere yonder
distant belt of trees was reached, where the dry leaves lay rotting on
the ground, and there was not an atom of scent. So he saved his life,
and the tired, mud-bespattered sportsmen vow that there never was such
a run seen before, so thrilling is the ecstasy of "pace" and so
enchanting the stride of a well-bred horse.
'Tis a wild, deserted tract of country that stretches from Cirencester
right away to the north of Warwickshire. For fifty miles you might
gallop on across those undulating fields, and meet no human being on
your way. We have ridden forty miles on end along the Fosseway, and,
save in the curious half-forsaken old towns of Moreton-in-the-Marsh and
Stow-on-the-Wold, we scarcely met a soul on the journey. What a
marvellous work was that old Roman Fosseway! Raised high above the level
of the adjoining fields, it runs literally "as straight as an arrow"
through the heart of the grassy Midlands. And what a rare hunting
country it passes through! We saw but one short piece of barbed wire in
our journey of over forty miles. Now that farming is no longer
remunerative, the whole country seems to be given up to hunting. Depend
upon it, it is this sport alone that circulates money through this
Time was when the uplands of Gloucestershire were almost entirely under
the plough, when good scenting days seldom gladdened the heart of the
hunting man, and when, in a ride over the Cotswold tableland, the
excitement of a fast gallop on grass was an impossibility. Those were
the days when land at thirty shillings an acre was eagerly sought after
and the wheat crop amply repaid those who cultivated it. Now, alas!
farms are to be had for the asking, rent free; but nobody will take
them, and the country is rapidly going back to its original
uncultivated state. The farmer, nevertheless, does not lose heart.
To lay down such light land into permanent pasture does not pay; it is
therefore left to its own devices, with the result that in a short time
weeds and moss and rough grasses spring up--less unprofitable than
ploughed fields, and almost as favourable for hunting the fox as the
fair pastures of the Vale of Aylesbury. However,
"Nihil est ab omni
There are other things to be done in this life besides riding across
country in the wake of the flying pack, glorious and exhilarating though
the pastime be; and the sooner these great wastes of unprolific land are
once more transformed into wheat-growing plough, the better will it be
for all of us.
So you stroll dreamily homewards, musing on these things, and wondering
whether you will have another glorious gallop to-morrow. You will just
go round by that spinney to see if the earth you gave orders to be
stopped up is properly closed. But stop! What is that lying curled up
under the wall not ten yards off? See, he stirs! he rises lazily and
looks round! 'Tis the very fox! Long and lean and wiry is he, fine drawn
and sleek as a trained racehorse, with a brush nearly two feet long!
Brown as the ploughed field you were looking at just now, save for the
tip of his brush, which is white as snow. He trots off along the wall,
offering the easiest of broadside shots if you were villain enough to
take advantage of it. He does not hurry; he stops and looks round after
a bit, as much as to say, "I trust you." But when you steal cautiously
towards him he once more lollops along. You follow, to see where he goes
to when he has jumped over the high wall into the next field. But he
does not jump over, but _on to_ the wall, and there he sits looking at
you until you are once more nearly up to him; then he disappears the
other side, and you run up and peep over. He is nowhere to be seen! You
look along the wall for a hole into which he could have popped, but in
vain. You stoop down and try to track him by scent and the mark of his
pad, but all to no purpose; and from that day to this you have never
discovered what became of him.
[Illustration: "THE OLD CUSTOMER." 138.png]
A GALLOP OVER THE WALLS.
"Waken, lords and ladies gay,
To the greenwood haste away;
We can show you where he lies,
Fleet of foot and tall of size."
SIR WALTER SCOTT.
The next morning you are up betimes, for the hounds meet at the house at
nine o'clock. You are not sorry on looking out of your window to see
that a thick mist at present envelopes the country. With the ground in
the dry state it is in, this mist, accompanied as it is by a heavy dew,
is your only chance of a scent. How else could they hunt the jackal in
India if it was not for this dew? Thus reflecting, you recall pleasant
recollections of gallops over hard ground with the Bombay hounds, and
comfort yourself with the thought that the ground here to-day cannot be
as hard as that Indian soil. You are soon into your breeches and boots
and down to breakfast. In the dining-room a large party is already
assembled, for there are five men and two ladies turning out from the
house, whilst one or two keen sportsmen have already put in an
appearance from afar.
The hounds turn up punctual to the appointed time. How beautiful and
majestic they look as they suddenly come into sight amid beech and ash
and walnut, whilst the bright pageant advances leisurely and in order
over the ancient ivy-covered bridge which spans the silent river, where
the morning mist still hangs, and the grass shines white with silvery
dew. In good condition they look, too--a credit to their huntsman, who
evidently has not neglected giving them plenty of exercise on the roads
during the summer. You greet the genial master; then in answer to his
enquiry as to where you would like him to draw, you point to the hanging
wood on the brow of the hill, and tell him that as you heard them
barking there this very morning it is a certain find. No sooner are the
words out of your mouth than a holloa breaks the silence of the early
morn: the gardener has "viewed" a cub within a hundred yards of the
house. Desperately bold are the cubs at this time of year, before they
have been hunted. Their first experience of being "stopped out" for the
night does not seem to have frightened them at all. They have been
kicking up a rare shindy most of the night in the covert close to
"Alas I regardless of their doom,
The little victims play."
By to-night they will have become sadder and wiser beings. Several
people will be glad of this, the keeper included: for the fowls have
suffered lately; there have also been one or two well-planned and
carefully thought out sallies on the young pheasants--without much
damage, however. Not long ago a bold young cub spent some time in
breaking open the lid of one of the coops, in which were some late
pheasants. He actually forced the wire netting from the roof of the
coop, although it was firmly nailed to the woodwork. But he could not
quite get his head in, for when the keeper arrived on the scene at five
o'clock a.m., there he was, clawing and scratching at the birds. His
efforts met with no success, however, for not a single bird was badly
injured, though some damage might have been done if Master Reynard had
not been interrupted at this critical moment. Young cubs are like
puppies, very mischievous. There are plenty of rabbits about, and they
are the food foxes like best; poultry and pheasants are pursued and
killed out of pure love of mischief.
We must return to the hounds. Our huntsman wisely determines not to go
to the holloa, for he prefers to let the young entry draw for their
game. Besides which, if this cub has gone away, he is one of the right
sort, and does not require schooling. For as we all know, one of the
objects of cub-hunting is to teach the young foxes that if they don't
leave the covert when the hounds are thrown in, they will get a rare
dusting. So, the hounds having been taken to the "up-wind" end of the
wood, the huntsman begins drawing steadily "down wind." Let them have
every chance now; it will be quite early enough to begin drawing up wind
when the leaf is off and Reynard has got a bit shy. Blood is an
excellent thing for young hounds, nay, for all hounds, early in the
season; but we don't want to chop any cubs before they know where they
are or what it all means.
And soon the whole valley re-echoes with hound music, as the pack come
crashing towards us through the thick underwood. We get a splendid view
of the proceedings--for the covert is a long, narrow strip of about ten
acres, running in the shape of a bow round the hill immediately above
the place where we are stationed. There is another small wood of about
the same size on the other side of the little valley. For this our fox
makes, the hounds dashing close after him through the brook. Round and
round they go, and it is evident that this cub (unlike several of his
brethren who have taken their departure, viewed by the whole field, but
_not_ holloaed at) does not intend to face the open country. Scent is
good in covert, perhaps because there are at present few of those dry
leaves on the ground that spoil scent after the "fall of the leaf"; the
result is, we kill a cub. This will be a lesson to the rest of the
family when they return to-night and discover the fearful end that
befalls foxes that "hang in covert." Another cub having gone to ground
in a rabbit-hole, the keeper is given injunctions to have this hole,
together with any other large ones he can find, stopped up, after
allowing a day or two to pass, especially making sure, by the use of
terriers and also by the tracks, that he does not stop any cubs in.
We now leave the home coverts and start away for a withybed about a mile
up the river, where we are told there is a litter. Here, however, we do
not find, though it is the likeliest place in the world for a fox. As
the hounds dash into the withybed a whole string of wild ducks get up,
circle round us, and then fly straight away up stream in the shape of
the letter V--a sight unsurpassed if you happen to be a lover of nature.
Our next draw is an isolated artificial gorse of about six acres. If we
find here, we must have a gallop, for there is no covert of any size
within a four-mile radius; a fine open country lies all around; walls to
jump and large fields of fifty acres apiece to gallop over. There is
some light plough, but each year the plough gets scarcer, for the
Cotswolds are rapidly being allowed to tumble back into grass or,
rather, into _weeds_.
A great proportion of the stone-wall country hereabouts consists of
downs divided into large enclosures; when the walls are low there is no
reason why the pace should not be almost as good as it is in an
unenclosed country. Happily to-day we seem to be in for a quick thing,
for before the whip has had time to get to the end of the covert, hounds
are away, without a sound, and we start off fully two hundred yards
The old fox, for a fiver! But there is no stopping them; so, knowing the
country and the earth he is making for, you make tracks, as hard as
your horse can pelt, in the direction in which the hounds are going, and
very soon they turn to you, and you find yourself almost alongside of
them. They are running "mute," with their noses several inches off the
ground; it almost looks as if they had "got a view" of him. But this is
not the case. Scent is "breast high." Two old hounds that you know
well--Crusty and Governor--are leading, though you are glad that one or
two you do not know (evidently some of this year's entry) are not
The country, which has so far been rather hilly, now opens out into a
flat tableland. You fly on, thankful that you are on a thoroughbred, and
that he is in good condition. It pays well to keep a horse "up" all the
summer in this country, for some of the quickest things of the season
take place in October. Scent is often good at this time of the year,
because the fields are full of keep: there is plenty of rough grass
about. Later on they will be pared down by sheep, and the frost will
make them as bare as a turnpike road. Then again that abomination, a
"carrying" plough, is not so likely to be met with in October; the white
frosts are not severe enough. Later on they are a constant source of
annoyance to a huntsman, and invariably cause a check.
But your horse, well bred and fit though he be, is doing all he can to
live with the hounds. Fortunately, you know that he is too good to
chance a wall, even when blown. At the pace hounds are going you have
not much time to trot slowly at the walls in the orthodox fashion; you
must take them as they come, high and low alike, at a fair pace, taking
a pull a few strides before your mount takes off. Oh, how exhilarating
is a gallop in this fine Cotswold air in the cool autumnal morning! and
what a splendid view you get of hounds! Here are no tall fences to hide
them from your sight and to tempt a fox to run the hedgerows, no boggy
woodlands where your horse flounders up to his girths in yellow clay, no
ridge and furrow, and no deep ploughed fields.
What is the charm which belongs so exclusively to a fast and _straight_
"run" over this wild, uncultivated region? It does not lie in the
successful negotiation of Leicestershire "oxers," Aylesbury "doubles,"
or Warwickshire "stake-and-bound" fences, for there need be no obstacle
greater than an occasional four-foot stone wall. Perhaps it lies partly
in the fact that in a run over a level stone-wall country, where the
enclosures are large and the turf sound, given a good fox and a "burning
scent," hounds and horses travel at as great a pace as they attain in
any country in England. Here, moreover, if anywhere, is to be found the
"greatest happiness for the greatest number," the maximum of sport with
the minimum of danger; the fine, free air of the high-lying Cotswold
plains; the good fellowship engendered when all can ride abreast; the
very muteness of the flying pack; the onslaught of a light brigade, or
of "a flying squadron under the Admiral of the Red" sailing away over a
sea of grass towards a region almost untrodden by man; the long sweeping
stride of a well-bred horse; the unceasing twang of the horn to
encourage flagging hounds beaten off by the pace and those which got
left behind at the start; lastly, the _glorious uncertainty_! Can it
last? Where will it all end? Shall we run "bang into him" in the open,
or will he beat us in yonder cold scenting woodland standing boldly
forth on the skyline miles ahead? All these things add a peculiar
fascination to a fast run over this wild country.
Sooner or later there is a sudden check, a couple of sharp turns, and
the spell is gone. Hounds may run back ever so well, to the very covert
whence an hour ago they forced him. The pleasure of watching them work
out a scent, growing rapidly colder, may indeed be left to us; but the
glorious possibilities, which lasted as long as a gallant though
invisible "quarry" was leading us _straight away_ from home into
unfamiliar regions, have passed away; the record run, which we thought
had really commenced at last, far, far into the unknown land, into the
country leading to nowhere, is not yet attained,--probably it never will
be, for it existed in the human imagination alone during that thrilling
thirty-minutes' burst, and was beyond the compass of foxes, horses,
As a set off to this it must be admitted that fast runs do not take
place every day on these hills. Perhaps there will not be more than half
a dozen "clinkers" in a season with a "two-day-a-week" pack. For this
reason, as regards all-round sport, the wall country cannot compare with
a vale: a stranger might hunt there for three weeks in March, and at the
end of that time take himself off in disappointment and disgust,
declaring these fast-flying runs he had heard so much about to be an
invention and a myth, and the wall country only fit for fools and
funkers. For good scenting days in this hill country are few and far
between, and a bad day in the wall district is the poorest fun
imaginable. For this the field have generally themselves to thank, since
they will not give the hounds a chance.
But there is a burning scent this morning, as there generally is when
the dew is just going off. For twenty-five minutes hounds do not check
once. The earth our fox has been making for is fortunately closed. This
causes a moment's uncertainty among the hounds, but not a check, for
they drive straight onwards, and it is evident that he is making for
some earths five miles away in a neighbouring hunt's territory, which
instinct tells him will be open.
There they go, old T.K. and J.A., and several ladies, past masters in
the craft of crossing a country with the maximum of elegance and skill
and the minimum of risk to their horses, themselves, or their friends.
Though the hounds are travelling at their greatest possible pace, they
ride alongside them, looking as cool as cucumbers (too cool, I think,
for their own enjoyment; for the more excitable though less experienced
rider probably enjoys himself more). Note how each wall, varying in
height from three to four and a half feet, is taken at a steady pace by
those well-schooled horses; even a five-foot wall, coped with sharp,
jagged stones pointing straight upwards, does not turn them one hair's
breadth from the line. And please note also that each has two hands on
the reins, and no whip hand flung high in the air, or elbows thrust
outwards, you gentlemen who are fond of painting pictures of hunting
scenes for the press!
A good rider sitting at his ease on horseback,
"As if an angel dropped down from the clouds
To turn and wind a fiery Pegasus,
And witch the world with noble horsemanship,"
resembles a skilful musician seated at a piano or an organ. There is the
same kind of communication between the man and the instrument, whereby
the stricken chords respond to the lightest touch of the master, who
guides as with a silken thread the keys that set the trembling strings
in motion. For the rider's keys are curb and snaffle, and his hands, by
means of the bridle, control the sensitive bars of his horse's
mouth--the most harmonious, delicate organ yet discovered on earth, but
too often, alas! thumped and banged on to such an awful extent by
unsympathetic, heavy hands, as to become considerably out of tune,
whereby discord occasionally reigns supreme instead of sweet
Goodness gracious! what's up? Our horse, which has never refused before,
has stopped dead at a wall. We stand up in the stirrups and peep over,
and there below us is a narrow but deep quarry, a veritable death trap
for the unwary sportsman. This is indeed a merciful escape; and how can
we be too thankful that a horse--wise, sagacious animal that he is--has
been endowed with an extraordinary instinct whereby he can _smell_
danger, even though he cannot see it. Writing of this--one of the
numerous escapes a merciful dispensation of Providence has granted us in
the hunting field--we are reminded that no less than five good men and
true have been killed suddenly with the V.W.H. hounds during the last
eighteen years. The list commences with George Whyte Melville, prince of
hunting men, who broke his neck in a ploughed field in 1878. And it is a
very remarkable fact that Mr. Noel Smith was killed in 1896, on
precisely the same day--viz., the first Thursday of December--as that on
which Whyte Melville lost his life eighteen years before.
But soon after crossing a road, hounds suddenly check. After casting
themselves beautifully forward right-and left-handed until they have
completed a half circle, they throw up their heads and look round for
the huntsman. By a sort of instinct, the result of previous observation,
the foremost riders anticipated that check, and did not follow hounds
over the road, though one or two later arrivals press forward rather too
eagerly. The huntsman, who is not far off, seeing at a glance that there
is no other cause for checking, as the hounds are in the middle of a
large grass field, immediately decides that the fox has turned sharp
down wind (he has been running up wind all the way), and casts his
hounds left-handed and back towards the lane without much delay.
"And now," to quote from Mr. Madden's "Diary of Master William Silence,"
"may be seen the advantage of a good character honestly won." Crusty is
busy "feathering" down the road, and as he is an absolutely reliable
hound, the rest of the pack are not long in coming back to him, and
soon, cheered by their huntsman, they are in full cry again.
Our fox has run the road for a quarter of a mile. This manoeuvre has
probably saved his life, for it has given him time to get his breath
back. In addition to this, the instant Reynard turned down wind the
scent changed from a very good one to a most indifferent one. How often
this happens in a run! And it is one of the fox-hunter's chief
consolations that there is scarcely a day throughout the season on which
a run is impossible, if only a fox will set his head resolutely _up
wind_, just as in a ringing run there is a certain amount of consolation
in the thought that a fox _must travel up wind part of the way_.
It is evident that, being beaten, Reynard has given up all idea of going
for the earths three miles away. He is beginning, like all tired foxes,
to twist and turn. There is no scent on the road; the hounds are
therefore laid on in a grass field, and feather across it in an
uncertain sort of way. This gives an opportunity to a sportsman who has
just arrived by the road to proclaim that "as usual they are hunting
hares." However, there is some pretty hunting done by the pack up a
hedgerow and across a ploughed field; but with scent growing less and
less, as is always the case with a tired, twisting fox, we do not get
along very fast. Hares are jumping up in all directions, and a terrible
nuisance they are on this sort of occasion! That hounds will stick to
their fox, twist and turn though he may, in spite of hares, is a fact
that is often proved in this country, when a lucky view has once more
put them on good terms with the hunted fox, at a time when half the
field have been crying "hare." But when a fox's scent has gradually
diminished until it tends to vanishing point, it is useless to attempt
to hunt him. This appears to be the case this morning, for the sun has
scattered the mists, and has been shining the last ten minutes with
tremendous vigour. We are glad when the master decides to give it up,
for we hope to have some more runs with this old fox later on in the
season. Hounds and horses have had enough for the time of year. So we
turn our horses' heads to the cool breeze that is ever present on the
Cotswolds, making the climate there one of the most delightful in the
world in summer and autumn. And as we ride slowly homeward over the
hill, past golden stubble fields, there is much that is picturesque to
be seen on all sides: for some late barley is not yet gathered in;
horses, drawing great yellow waggons, and old-fashioned Cotswold
labourers are busy amongst the sheaves; and there is an air of activity
and animation in the fields that is absent a month or two later. Bleak
and desolate does this country sometimes look in winter, though when the
sun shines it is fair enough. And suddenly, as we ride along, a lovely
valley is seen below: old-world farmhouses and gabled cottages come into
view, nestling amid stately elms and beech trees already touched by
autumn's hand. As we gradually descend the hill, everything looks more
beautiful than ever this morning; for we have had a gallop. For to-day
at least we shall be in a thoroughly good temper. Whatever the morrow
may bring forth, everything will appear to-day in the best possible
light. Such an excellent tonic is a fast gallop over the walls for
banishing dull care away.
[Illustration: The Old Mill, Ablington. 152.png]
A COTSWOLD TROUT STREAM.
"We may say of angling as Dr. Boteler said of strawberries: Doubtless
God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did; and so,
if I might be judge, God never did make a more calm, quiet, innocent
recreation than angling.'"--_The Compleat Angler_.
Very few trout we have caught this season ('98) are pink-fleshed when
cooked. Last year there were a good number. The reason probably is that
they have not been feeding on the fresh-water shrimps or crustaceans,
owing to the abundance of olive duns and other flies that have been on
the water. Last winter, being so mild, was very favourable for the
hatching out of fly in the spring. A hard winter doubtless commits sad
havoc among the caddis and larvae at the bottom of the river; the
trout, not being able to get much fly, are then compelled to fall back
on the crustaceans. The food in these limestone rivers is so plentiful
that the fish are able to pick and choose from a very varied bill of
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