A Ramble to Kingsthorpe in 1863

Wednesday, 5 October 2011 04:59 PM BST

Contributed by: Jerry Green

 This essay is taken from "Rambles Roundabout and Poems" by the late George James de Wilde editor of the "Northampton Mercury" published in 1878.

 Thirty years ago somebody writing in Hone's Year Book pronounced Kingsthorpe one of the prettiest villages about Northampton, and he describes the way thither "by a rural route." Thirty years have wrought strange alteration, and it may be not unamusing to accompany that rural rambler of a remote period, and contrast the way to Kingsthorpe of 1831 with the way of 1863. The world has moved forward since then with mighty strides, and Northampton has moved with it, not pari passu perhaps, but still forward. It has put out a long arm northwards, and almost shakes hands with the pretty village beyond. In another thirty years it will probably have absorbed it. Thirty years ago Leicester Terrace (then unfinished) was the " ultima Thule " of Northampton. Beyond those three or four houses there was not a building, with the exception of the Roman Catholic Chapel and the Bishop's House, till just south of the toll-gate at Kingsthorpe ; and these were considered so remote from the town that there was considerable difficulty in getting them tenanted. Beyond " The Bull," indeed, at North End, you had bidden adieu to the town, and were fairly in the country. St. Andrew's Terrace was not built, nor the streets westward of it ; Royal Terrace was of nothing like its present extent, and there was a considerable interval between the last house and the Barracks. Beyond the Barracks again there was another interval of hedge and field before you came to Leicester Terrace. On the east side there were a few houses, and only a few, with like intervals of hedge-row and garden ground. On that side the last house northward was the pretty "Belle Alliance Cottage," at the corner of the Race-course, scarcely a cottage ornee, and conspicuous chiefly by its row of noble poplars. Just beyond the last house in Leicester Terrace there was a gate opening into a field, where the corn-crake might be heard on a summer's evening. Pushing open this gate, the rambler in Hone's book followed a path which took him into " Semilong " (he was out for a rural stroll, and so avoided the direct way along the road), which he describes as delightfully pleasant and picturesque. When he came again into the London road he probably met one of the Northern stage-coaches to London. Proceeding along the road only a few yards, he crossed a low stile on the left into a path running parallel with the road across a field. This path has been destroyed within the last twenty years ; not without a fight for it on the part of the pedestrian public, who regularly demolished the obstructions at the stiles. They were defeated at last when the field became a brickyard. You might still assert your right to get over the stile, but you did it at the risk of being drowned or smothered in a clay-pit. This path led to another stile, crossing which you entered the park of Kingsthorpe House, and kept a path close to the road, but separated from it by a row of noble trees, still the pride of the Kingsthorpe road. A relic of this path still exists, in a forlorn and dilapidated condition, at its northern extremity. Here our rambler emerged again into the high road by the toll-gate, which was new then, and disconcerted his eye. It sinned against the picturesque cluster of primitive-looking cottages of stone and thatch, probably, he says, constructed out of the ruins of an hospital founded there about 1200. His sense of the proprieties would receive a severer shock if he were to wander this way now, and see the row of modern brick houses which have pushed his rural cottages and the ruins from their stools. The toll-gate, with the roses climbing up it, is now the more picturesque object of the two.

 
Strange that our friend in the " Year Book" should have omitted all mention of the two attractive inns which at that time met his view when he got through the toll gate. That unfortunate structure appears to have so disconcerted him that he hastened out of its presence as quickly as possible, and, turning down the lane to the left, sought the village proper, clustering about the church out of the way of toll gates, and secluded from stage-coaches. We shall take leave, however, to pause here awhile and ask the reader to enjoy with us a pleasant prospect — pleasant still, though one of the inns (The White Horse) is an inn no longer. When the coaches went off the road, it died, we suppose, of insufficient patronage, though one might have thought that the increasing population of Northampton would have kept alive so agreeable a place of summer resort ; for it had very special attractions. Its situation in the wide open space facing the west, with a prospect of trees and undulating fields and rustic roofs in the distance ; its ample grounds fenced in with noble trees ; and its beautiful bowling-green ought, one would have thought, to have saved it. Then there was a porch, and the wide road, with the grassy plot between, made it possible and pleasant to have a cheesecake (it had a reputation for cheesecakes) and a glass of amber home-brewed,on a little round table outside, in the evening sunshine. It had had its day. Bowls was a courtly game once, and the White Horse was no doubt the aristocratic Inn, frequented by the rank, the fashion, and the beauty of the neighbourhood. For beauty in the gallant days of the second Charles played at bowls as well as the manly sex. Pepys, speaking of White-Hall Gardens, says — " Where lords and ladies are now at bowles, in brave condition." The White Horse is at least as old as the time of Charles II., and we may be sure that its Bowling Green presented a brilliant spectacle in the days when the dress of the gallants was as showy as the costume of the ladies. Silks, satins, ribbons of all gorgeous hues, feathers, flowing periwigs, glossy ringlets, bandeaux of pearls, all manner of " bravery," as it was called, must have gone nigh to put the very flowers out of countenance. Why ladies do not play at bowls now, when there is a disposition to revive old and graceful sports, we do not knovr. Bowls is a good and healthy game, and might supersede " Aunt Sally" to great advantage. " Aunt Sally," let Fashion patronize it as she will, is essentially a vulgar sport : how can there be anything graceful in a bevy of ladies shying sticks at a poor caricature of their own sex ?
 
Kingsthorpe, it is certain, was no ordinary village. At every turn of its windings you find traces of stately mansions no longer existing. Baker says it wasas " traditionally reported that three coaches and six were formerly kept here," a tradition which we have little doubt was well founded. Coaches and six were luxuries two centuries ago no doubt, but they were also luxurious necessities in days when wealthy people travelled in their own equipages, and roads at some seasons of the year were next to impassable. " The White Horse " is now the residence of W. Tomalin, Esq.,the Clerk to the County Magistrates, who has ornamented the front, covered it with clambering roses, and enclosed a piece of ground and planted it with evergreens. Very cheerful and agreeable it looks ; answering exactly to the poet's desire :
 
_______" dressed with blooms
 
Of honied green and quaint with straggling rooms," 
 
with rambling out-buildings about it, as if ground were " not an object."
 
But though " The White Horse " is out of commission, " The Cock " remains. " The Cock " is an Inn to glad the Rambler's eye ; its front overspread with the vine ; its ample bay windows with seats in them ; its old-fashioned door with a through passage that affords a glimpse of the back yard with its trees and flowers ; above all, its porch, with the seats and balcony over it, reminding one of the Inns in Hogarth's Pictures. We never see it without imagining a Captain Macheath exchanging courtesies with the landlady above as he takes his stirrup cup.
 
The lane down by " The Cock " is very tempting, shaded as it is by the noble trees in the Park of the Misses Boddington, and we are not surprised that our predecessor in the " Year Book " turned down the green and shadowy way. But we shall keep the high road a little further, and passing Mr. Tomalin's house go on to the Blacksmith's, which is worth looking at. A country Blacksmith's Shop is a pleasant place mostly :
 
"And children coming home from school 
Look in at the open door ;
They love to see the flaming forge 
And hear the bellows roar;
And catch the burning sparks that fly 
Like chaff from a thrashing Hoor."
 
And this one is specially pleasant. It has the counterpart of the tree which Longfellow has made immortal as an appanage to the craft, excepting that the tree is a sycamore instead of a chestnut :
 
" Under the spreading chestnut tree 
The village smithy stands." 
 
Nor will the archaeologist pass it heedlessly by. One large arch and two small Decorated niches, one blocked up, tell of an origin more stately than its present occupation would indicate. It is singular that Baker makes no allusion to it. Bridges evidently points to it as the remains of the Hospital of the Holy Trinity, or as it is called in some records, the Hospital of St. David or St. Dewes. Baker puts the Hospital at " the east side of the entrance into the village from Northampton, where several small arches are still remaining in the cottage walls." When the Rambler in the Year Book wrote his description, these arches were still existing, but of late years the ruins have been greatly diminished. Mr.
Pretty ("'Wetton's Guide") says "the Hospital was no doubt at the spot now occupied by the Blacksmith's shop," and he speaks of the ruins to which Baker alludes, as " probably a relic of one of the chapels attached to the Hospital. At that time (1849) they consisted of a doorway, partly hid, and a window above, blocked up, apparently of Decorated architecture. This conjecture is borne out by Bridges, who says, " The ruins of this hospital and of one of the chapels are still remaining."
 
The story of the Hospital is well told by Baker. It was founded, he says, " in 1200 (2 John), by the prior and convent of St. Andrew's, Northampton, who, on the petition of Peter, the son of Adam de Northampton, and Henry, his son, gave a certain house near St. David's Chapel, within the limits of their parish of Thorpe, for the reception of travellers and poor persons, under the following conditions and regulations : that there should not for the future be any college of monks, canons, templars, hospitallers, or nuns in the place, or the said house be changed into a church ; that Divine Service might be performed therein, but that there should be two altars only, one in the chapel of the holy Trinity, the other in the chapel of St. David, and one bell only should be allowed ; that a burial ground should be provided for travellers, poor people, and others dwelling there, and that any of the parishioners might be buried there on proof of their having requested it in their life time, or expressed it in their will, but not otherwise ; that in the body of the house adjoining the chapel of the holy Trinity there should be three rows of beds joined together in length, in which the poor and strangers and invalids may lie for the purpose of hearing mass, and attending to the prayers more easily and conveniently ; that there should be provided one procurator, chaplain, or clerk or layman of good character, with the consent of the said prior and convent, or of the abbot of Sulby, and all irregularities to be corrected by them or the abbot, and any dispute arising between them as to the appointment of a procurator, to be settled by arbitration; the procurator to be elected by them and the abbot at the house in Thorp, and to take a prescribed oath ; that there should be only two chaplains besides the procurator, who are to take the same oath ; that there might be six novices to wait upon the poor, so that the whole number of officers in the house should not exceed nine ; that the procurator and chaplains should have decent habits, becoming their stations, and the novices should have habits all alike, viz., capes and hoods and cloaks of black, without any mark or ornament ; that it should not be united to any other house, nor to any private person, contrary to the said statutes ; that the rents and profits should not be converted to any other uses, or diminished, but wholly applied to its benefit ; and in augmentation thereof the said prior and convent grant all the land in Thorpe which Helias held of their fee of the church of Thorpe, viz., two virgates, a messuage and croft, and common of pasture, with consent of Henry, son of Peter (rector of St. Peter's), who now
holds of us the church of Thorpe, free from tithe ; but if the said house obtain any other land in Thorpe, or any other parish, where the said prior and convent are entitled to tithes, by gift, purchase, or otherwise, all tithes arising therefrom shall be paid to the church to which they are due, notwithstanding the aforesaid exemption."
 
The expressions, "near St. David's chapel," and " in the body of the house adjoining the chapel of the Holy Trinity," seem quite to confirm Mr. Pretty's view, that the ruins in the cottages near the toll gate belonged to St. David's chapel. In the list of persons presented as masters occurs the name of one William Richardson, who, on the 25th February, 1570, was presented, but not instituted, because he could not translate into English the two first lines of the 2nd Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians. In the fourth of Philip and Mary the hospital, with all its lands and other appurtenances, was granted by the King and Queen to Hugh Zulley, clerk. They were afterwards held in lease from the Crown by the family of the Morgans. In the State Paper Office is a grant (1616) to Erancis Morgan, Francis Barnard, and others, of the fee farm of the town of Kingsthorpe, at suit of the tenants of Kingsthorpe, who were heretofore obliged to renew their lease every forty years on payment of ncreased rent.
 
Pursuing the road to its bifurcation, and taking the left or Welford road, we come at the extremity of the buildings to the " Court Farm." It asserts its title to this lordly appellation by an entrance gateway of stone and a side doorway of the transition period between the Gothic and the Renaissance. There used to be a ball of stone on each of the piers, but they have now fallen from their high estate. The farm buildings within have traces of the same period ; but of the history of the place, so far as we are aware, there is no record.
 
You get into the heart of the village by many ways — by streets, so called, full of quaint cottages half lost in greenery, and old stone houses, that seem to tell of more prosperous times ; by old, old walls, rich in ferns and lichens ; by narrow lanes, running between low stone fences, which enclose gardens and orchards. When you emerge into the wide space occupied by the village Green, the scene is eminently rural, and when the writer in the Year Book visited it it was still more so. Bright, sparkling springs glittered in the sun ; ducks paddled in the clear, cress-lined brook ; a noble tree overspread the Green, and the " King's Well," never known to freeze or to fail, bubbled up its abundant waters ; south-westward, on a rising ground, is the Church, which used to be neighboured by majestic elms. The tree on the Green is still there, but it has not its old amplitude, and the springs are less copious. One of them is but a mud pudding, and the brook is but a remembrance of its former self. On the Green, so lately as 1722, a Quintain was erected, on the marriage of two servants at Brington. The Quintain was originally a Roman exercise, and it became a popular sport in this country. On a high, upright post, Avas a cross piece or a swivel, broad at one end and pierced full of holes, and a bag of sand suspended at the other. A horseman, armed with a blunted spear, ran a-tilt at this board ; he won the prize if he split the board with the sharpness and dexterity of his blow ; if he struck it merely with sufficient force to swing the cross piece round, he stood a chance of being unhorsed with a heavy blow from the sand-bag swinging round upon his neck. On the occasion in question the reward of the victor was announced in the Mercury thus : — " A fine garland is a crown of victory, which is to be borne before him to the wedding house, and another to be put round the neck of his steed : the victor is also to have the honour of dancing with the bride, and to sit on her right hand at supper." In Bridges' time there was a town house, consisting of one long room, neatly built of stone, for the meeting of the feoffees, who had a common seal, inscribed, " Sigillum Commune de Kingsthorp," round a crowned head between two fleurs de lis. It was afterwards converted into a workhouse. A bailiff used formerly to be chosen by the freeholders, and he in Court used to appoint a Lord and Lady of the May-games on Easter Day after evensong. The custom had long been in disuse even in Bridges' time :
 
" No, those days are gone away, 
And their hours are old and grey, 
And their minutes buried all 
Under the down-trodden pall 
Of the leaves of many years," 
 
But it must have been a merry time once in Kingsthorpe, with their May-games, and quintains, and bowling-greens, and coaches and-six.
 
In the Kingsthorpe Church there are traces of an earlier church (Saxon probably) than the oldest of the Norman work visible. It is the old old story of all our old churches most of which go back to a very early time, and record every stage of their transition. The Saxon rubble work in the head of the window over the chancel arcade is very distinguishable from the work which superseded it ; it is of the character of herring-
bone work, small stones set in mortar, a sort of conglomerate, stones and mortar of equal hardness ; the latter work is in a great measure set with no better stuff than mere road scrapings. These windows were very deeply splayed, leaving an opening of but four inches, and bearing no traces of having been glazed. The crypt beneath the chancel has long been used as a charnel-house, and, until recently, was filled with ghastly evidences of the contempt which familiarity breeds for matters the most solemn. It was a mound of bones of all sorts. You slipped yourself in at a recently-opened doorway, and found yourself upon a heap of crunching skulls, and bones in various stages of decay, and miniature coffins of " chrysoms." You instinctively thought of Hamlet : —
 
" Hamlet : Has this fellow no feeling of his business ? He sings at grave-making. 
Horatio: Custom hath made it in him a property of easiness.
Hamlet : That skull had a tongue in it, and could sing once. How the knave jowls it to the ground, as if it were Cain's jawbone, that did the first murder. * * * Here's fine revolution, an we had the trick to see it. Did these bones cost no more the breeding but to play at loggats with them ? Mine ache to think on't. * * ¦* Why may not that be the skull of a lawyer ? Where be his quiddits now, his quillets, his cases, his tenures, and  his tricks ? Why does he suffer this rude knave now to knock him about the sconce with a dirty shovel, and will not tell him of his action of battery ? "
 
These dealings with the relics of mortality are not commendable.
 
" Blest be the man that spares these stones.
And curst be he that moves my bones," 
 
says Shakespeare's epitaph, and our instinct agrees with the anathema. Let these elements of our humanity mingle with the mother earth and perform their appointed part ; there is nothing revolting or ungraceful in all that is mortal in our nature being reproduced in herb and plant, but this heaping together of multitudinous bones and skulls, some of them with the scalp and the hair scarcely gone from them, gives one an involuntary shudder. It was the custom, when a grave was opened, to shovel the bones of its previous occupier into this charnel house, through
the window at the east end ; and children used to peep in, " snatching a fearful joy," at the jumble of grim relics. Very grateful we are to those sanitary reformers who shut up the overgorged churchyards, and put an end to these desecrations. The crypt is now cleared, and the bones have been buried in a pit at the north-east end of the churchyard. The crypt is in excellent preservation, and is of the Decorated period. From a central pillar spring vaultings which rest upon eight responds in the wall. There is no trace of an entrance from the interior of the church, yet the work is certainly too good to have been originally intended for a charnel-house.
 
Our friend in the " Year-Book," having got down to the Green, set about sketching it and the church, and forgot to pursue his enquiries any further. So he says nothing about the Lanes, and the Morgans and the Barnards, and the Cookes, the local aristocracy of the traditionary coaches -and-six. Some of their residences are easily traceable. The mansion of the Morgans was situated east of the church where the stone casing of a door-way, with the pediment above, and an alcove on either side, may still be seen. It is described in an advertisement in the Northampton
Mercury of 1731, as " a very handsome, large, pleasant house, with a very good close, gardens, stables, coach-house, dove-house, brew-house, and other outhouses and conveniences thereunto adjoining, being late the dwelling house of John Morgan, Esq., deceased." This John Morgan was the last of the name. He left a daughter, who was married to Sir John Robinson, of Cranford. She died at the early age of 24, in 1734. We first meet with the Morgans in the person of Judge Morgan, who died in 1558. There are remains of the residence of the Lanes in the close at the back of the Cock Inn. Sir Richard Lane was Lord Keeper of the Great Seal in the reign of Charles I. The Cookes had a mansion not far from the present residence of the Misses Boddiugton. On the right of the lane leading to the mill, the dove house and other buildings, indicative of an important structure, still remain. There is also an avenue of elms, leading direct to the Green, which no doubt was appurtenant to the mansion. The mansion of the Misses Boddington was built by James Fremeaux, Esq., who took the estates by his marriage with Margaret Cooke, and whose grand-
daughter and heir was mamed to the late T. R. Thornton, Esq., of Brockhall. Mr. Freraeaux died in 1799, aged 95, his his wife in 1801, aged 82. The beautiful grounds of the Misses Boddington are well known to the many who avail themselves of the privilege of visiting them during the annual show of tin-
Kingsthorpe Horticultural Society.
 
" The lane leading to the mill" — the words recall a truly beautiful lane, overarched with lofty elms, and leading to a mill which has often arrested the attention of the artist. The path continues over pleasant fields to Dallington.
 
We need not return to Northampton by the high road. There are other tracks ; one across fields nearly the whole way. But we shall go by the beaten, yet pleasant, road, eastward, by Mr. Tomalin's grounds, and debouching into the Ketteiing-road or over he Race-course. This lane is very rural, bordered with untrimmed hedges, bright with marsh mallows, and overhung with trees, between which on either side are " long fields of barley and of rye ;" and it is undulating and deviating enough to gladden the sketcher's heart with its frequent pictures. Down in its deepest
dell a brook crosses it, and there is a foot-bridge by the side. We dare say the Rambler in the " Year Book" did not miss it, though he has said nothing about it. Rural as it now is, it was more rural then, being scarcely a bridle way. You might sit there a long summer's day with the birds alone for company. It is not greatly frequented now, but there are indications of building, and other tokens
 
" That dreadful guests will come and spoil the solitude." 
 
Meanwhile we commend it to our brother ramblers. 

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