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 DORSET FOLK AND DORSET WAYS So to the land our hearts we give
Till the sure magic strike,
And Memory, Use, and Love make live
Us and our fields alike—
That deeper than our speech and thought
Beyond our reason's sway,
Clay of the pit whence we were
to its fellow-clay.
Rudyard Kipling.
To the traveller who takes an interest in the place he visits, Dorset will prove one of the most highly attractive counties in the kingdom. To the book-lover it is a land of grand adventure, for here is the centre of the Country, the home of the Wessex Novels. It is in Dorset that ancient and curious old customs yet linger, and strange beliefs from ages long ago still survive. It is good to find that the hospitality, the shrewd wisdom and dry wit, for which the peasantry in Thomas Hardy's novels are famous, have not been weakened by foolish folk who seek to be "up to date." Old drinks and dishes that represent those of our , and the sound of the speech that was so dear to Raleigh and Drake, are things that are now giving way to the new order of life, ! but they are dying hard, as behoves things which are immemorial and sacramental. The are perhaps not quite so as they are in Hardy's The Return of the Native and other novels, but they possess the forms and simple manners of a fine old agricultural people, while they show their spirit by the proverb, "I will not want when I have, nor, by Gor, when I ha'n't, too!"
Heavy of gait, of , and of indomitable courage, the true Wessex man is a staunch friend and a very mild enemy. He is a fellow and, like Danton, seems to find no use for hate. He knows that all things done in hate have to be done over again. to the last ditch, he is rarely shaken into any of surprise or . When he is, "Dang-my-ole-wig!" "Dallee!" with a strong accent on the "ee," or "Aw! dallybuttons!" are the kind of mild swear-words one hears. But when he gets into the towns he forgets these strange phrases and his dialect becomes less broad.
Heavy and stolid the Dorset may be, though there is no reason to suppose that he is slower than any other rustic, but one is inclined to think that the "stupidity" of the countryman covers a deep, if only half-realised, philosophy. Nevertheless we must admit that Hodge often wins through in his slow way. There is a good deal of humour in the Dorset rustic, but perhaps most of his wit is unconscious. That reminds me of the story of a Dorset crier who kept the officials of the Town Hall waiting for two hours on a certain morning. They were about to open the without him when a boy rushed in and handed the Mayor a message. He read the message and seemed deeply . Then he announced:
"I have just received a message from our crier, saying, 'Wife's mother passed away last night. Will not be able to cry to-day.'"
That story may be a very ancient "chestnut," but here is a true instance of Hodge's unconscious humour. The wife of a blacksmith at an forge in Dorset had died rather suddenly, and it happened that during one of my I to the forge for food and for the night. The old fellow opened the door to me, and I guessed that he was in trouble by the fresh crape band round his soft felt hat, which is weekday mourning of the rustic. However, the old fellow was quite pleased to have me for company, and I stayed at his forge for some days.
"Her was a clever woman; her kept my things straight," he said to me one night at supper, as he looked wistfully at his old jacket full of simple rents from hedgerow briars. "But it's no manner of use grumbling—I never was a bull-sowerlugs [a fellow]. And thank the Lord she was took quick. I went off for the doctor four miles away, and when I gets there he was gone off somewhere else; so I turned, and in tramping back along remembered I had a bottle of medicine which he did give me last year, so says I, 'That will do for the ol' woman'; so I gave it to her and she died."
The old blacksmith drank his beer and dealt with his ham and bread for ten minutes in silence. Then he looked into the depths of his ale and said: "Say, mister—wasn't it a good job I didn't take that bottle of physic myself?"
Dorset is only one of the several cider-making counties in Wessex. The good round cider is a warming and invigorating drink that is in every way equal to a good ale, and sometimes—especially if it has been doctored with a little spirit and kept in a spirit cask—is stronger, and is by no means to be consumed regardless of quantity. And one must be cautious in mixing drinks when taking cider. But the cider which is consumed by the Dorset rustic is, to use a local word, rather "ramy" or "ropy" to the palate of a person unaccustomed to it. That is to say that it is sour and often rather thick. Of course the rustic knows nothing, and would care nothing, for the so-called cider sold in London which resembles in the way it sparkles. Such stuff is only manufactured for folk out of Wessex.
A Dorset rustic, on being reproved by a for being drunk and disorderly, explained that his sad was the result of taking his liquor the wrong way up; for, said he,
"Cyder upon beer is very good cheer,
Beer 'pon cyder is a dalled bad rider!"
The magistrate, not to be by the tippler, told him to remember—
"When the cyder's in the can
The sense is in the man!
When the cyder's in the man
The sense is in the can."
"I wish," said an old shepherd to me, with regret in his voice, "that you might taste such beer as my mother when I was a boy. Bread, cheese and ingyens [onions] with a drop of beer was parfuse [ample] for a meal in those days, 'ess fay! But this beer they sell now is drefful wishee-washee stuff. I'll be dalled if I'll drink it; 'tez water bewitched and malt begridged [begrudged]." In Hodge's speech are found many words and usages of the Anglo-Saxon tongue, though it is not now by fastidious palates. William Barnes, the Dorset poet, the chief of the Dorset dialect in his books on speech . He loved the odd phrases of children, and it is easy to see why. For a child, not knowing the correct method of describing a thing and seeking to express its meaning, will often go back to the strong old Anglo-Saxon definitions. The child can often coin very apt phrases. As, for instance, the Dorset child who of honey as "bee-jam." Barnes was delighted, too, with the boy "who scrope out the 'p' in '' 'cose it didn't spell nothen."
Many of the humours of Arcady have been moulded into enigmatical sayings and which may still be heard on the lips of the Dorset rustic:
Tea with a dash of rum is called "milk from the brown cow"; the dead are "put to bed with a shovel"; a noisy old man is a "blaze wig"; a fat and fellow is a "blow-poke"; the thoughts of the flighty girl go a-"bell-wavering"; the is the "black horse foaled by an ." The Dorset rustic has devised many names for the dullard: "billy-buttons," "billy-whiffler," "lablolly," "ninnyhammer," and "bluffle-head" are some of them. The very sound of such names suggests .
"Leer" is a curious word still heard in Dorset and Devon. It is used to express the sense of produced by weakness and long fasting. Perhaps Shakespeare used Lear in a sense. I remember once hearing a Sussex labourer speak of taking his "coager" (cold cheer?), a meal of cold taken at noon, but I am told the mouthful of bread and cheese taken at starting in the morning by the Dorset rustic rejoices in the still more name of "dew-bit."
"Crowder" (a fiddler) is a genuine British word, used up to a few years ago, but I was unable to trace anyone using it in Dorset this year. In Cornwall the proverb, "If I can't crowdy, they won't dance" (meaning, "They will pass me by when I have no money to feast and entertain my friends"), was commonly quoted fifty years ago.
Another tale regarding unconscious humour is told of by a Dorset rector who was holding a class. He was one of the old-fashioned parsons and made it his solemn duty to call at the village inn and drink a of ale with his flock every evening. One of the candidates for Confirmation was the daughter of the innkeeper, and when he came to ask her the usual question, "What is your name?" the girl, holding her head on one side, glanced at him roguishly, and said:
"Now dawntee tell me you don't know. As if you diddent come into our place every night and say, 'Now, Rubina, my dear, give me a half-pint of your best ale in a pint pewter!'"
The story of village sports and the way in which the rustic was to enjoy himself is always interesting. One of the most singular forms of contest once in common practice in the west of England was whiplegs. The procedure of this pastime consisted of the men a yard or so apart and each other's legs with long cart whips till one cried "Holt!" The one who begged for quarter of course paid for the ale. The rude leather gaiters worn by tranters or carters fifty years ago would, of course, take much of the sting out of the whip cuts.
survives in nearly every village, and one of the favoured building materials is stone from the Dorset . At Corfe the houses are built of stone from foundation to roof, and stone of immense size are made to take the place of tiles and . We find "cob" cottages here and there, and this perhaps is the most ancient of all materials, being a mixture of clay or mud and chopped straw. It is piled into walls of immense thickness and strength, and then plastered and white-washed. The natives in Egypt and Palestine construct their village homes with the same materials, and the result is not only wonderfully , but satisfactory in the more important respect of utility. But now the Dorset people seldom build their walls of "cob" as of yore, and yet such work is very enduring. As an old Devonshire proverb has it: "Good cob, a good hat, and a good heart last for ever."
The beautiful of coast-line between Seaton on the west and West Bay on the east is a region of great charm; for here will be found all the most pleasing features of the sister counties, Dorset and Devon. The gracious greenery and combes of Devon over the border at Lyme Regis and so on this nook the wooded charm of the true West Country, which is lacking on the chalky grass hills of other parts of Dorset. If the coast is followed from Lyme Regis we soon thread our way into the wild of Devon. Things have changed somewhat in these days, but still the true son of Devon carries his country with him wherever he goes; he does not forget that every little boy and girl born in the West is breathed over by the "piskies." But modern education has just about killed the "piskies," and there are no more ghosts in the old churchyards. There is a reason for the non-appearance of spirits at the present day. They have ceased to come out of their graves, said an old rustic, "ever since there was some made in the burial service." A firm belief in "the very old 'un" is still, however, a most article of the rustic . "There was never a good hand at cards if the four of clubs was in it," said a rooted son of the soil to me. "Why?" I asked. "Because it's an unlucky card; it's the devil's own card." "In what way?" I urged. "It's the old 'un's four-post bedstead," was the reply.
Another rustic remarked in all seriousness that he did think wizards "ought to be encouraged, for they could tell a man many things he didn't know as would be useful to 'un." The belief in is almost dead, but it is not so many years ago that it was firmly held. Thomas Hardy's tale, The Arm, it will be recalled, is a story of witchcraft. Farmer brought home a young wife, Gertrude. A woman who worked on Lodge's farm, Rhoda by name, had a son of which the farmer was the father. Rhoda naturally resented the marriage, and had a dream in which Gertrude, wrinkled and old, had sat on her chest and mocked her. She seized the by the left arm and it away from her. So life-like was the of her brain that it was difficult for her to believe that she had not actually struggled with Gertrude Lodge in the flesh. Some time afterwards the farmer's wife complained that her left arm pained her, and the doctors were unable to give her any relief. In the end someone suggested that she had been "overlooked," and that it was the result of a witch's evil influence. She was told to ask the advice of a wise man named Conjurer Trendle who lived on Egdon Heath. In the days of our forefathers the conjurer was an important character in the village. He was resorted to by despairing lovers; he helped those who were under the evil eye to throw off the curse, and disclosed the whereabouts of stolen goods. His answers, too, were given with a somewhat mystic . "Own horn eat own corn" would be the kind of reply a person would receive on consulting him about the of, say, a few little household articles. Well, to continue the story, Rhoda Brook accompanied Gertrude to the hut of Conjurer Trendle, who informed the farmer's wife that Rhoda had "overlooked" her. Trendle told her that the evil spell might be dissolved and a cure effected by laying the diseased arm on the neck of a newly hanged man. During the absence of her husband she arranged with the Casterbridge hangman to try this remedy. On the appointed day she arrived at the , and the hangman placed her hand upon the neck of the body after the execution, and she drew away half fainting with the shock. As she turned she saw her husband and Rhoda Brook. The dead man was their son, who had been hanged for stealing sheep, and they harshly accused her of coming to gloat over their misfortune. At this the farmer's wife , and only lived for a week or so after.
Thomas Q. Couch, writing in Notes and , 26th May 1855, gives a pleasant and light-hearted article on the belief in the existence of the piskies in the West Country:
"Our piskies are little beings standing midway between the spiritual, and the material, suffering a few at least of the ills incident to humanity. They have the power of making themselves seen, heard, and felt. They interest themselves in man's affairs, now doing him a good turn, and anon taking offence at a trifle, and leading him into all manner of . The rude of the husbandman is into an insult, and the capricious sprites mislead him on the first opportunity, and laugh at his misadventures. They are great enemies of sluttery, and great encouragers of good husbandry. When not singing and dancing, their chief nightly amusement is in riding the colts, and plaiting their manes, or them with the seed-vessels of the burdock. Of a particular field in this neighbourhood it is reported that the farmer never puts his horses in it but he finds them in the morning in a state of great terror, panting, and covered with . Their form of government is , as frequent mention is made of the 'king of the piskies.' We have a few stories of pisky changelings, the only proof of whose parentage was that 'they didn't goody' [thrive]. It would seem that fairy children of some growth are occasionally to human care for a time, and recalled; and that mortals are now and then kidnapped, and carried off to fairyland; such, according to the nursery rhyme, was the end of Margery Daw:
"'See-saw, Margery Daw
Sold her bed, and lay upon straw;
She sold her straw, and lay upon hay,
Piskies came and carri'd her away.'
"A to laughter is a striking trait in their character. I have been able to gather little about the of these creatures. My old friend before mentioned used to describe them as about the height of a span, clad in green, and having straw hats or little red caps on their heads. Two only are known by name, and I have heard them addressed in the following rhyme:—
"' o' the lantern! Joan the wad!
Who the maid and made her mad,
Light me home, the weather's bad.'
"But times have greatly changed. The old-world stories in which our forefathers believed will not stand the light of modern education. The pixies have been from the West, and since their departure the wayward farmer can no longer plead being 'pisky-led' on market nights.
"'Pisky-led!' exclaimed an old Devon lady to her husband, who had returned home very late, pleading he had been led astray by the piskies. 'Now, dawntee say nort more about it'—and with a solemn voice and a shake of her bony finger she added: 'Pisky-led is whisky-led. That's how it is with you!'"
May with its wealth of resurrecting life, its birds' songs, its flowers uplifting glad heads, is a beautiful month in Dorset; but cider-making time, when the trees put on a blaze of yellow and red and the spirit of and peace broods over everything, is the period that the true son of Dorset loves best. Cider-makin' time—what a phrase! What memories! Why, then, time does indeed and the golden days of youth! I had almost forgotten the sweet smell of pomace and the cider mill—things which large in the days when I was a boy down Devon way. It is middle age, which Stevenson likened to the "bear's hug of custom squeezing the life out of a man's soul," that has robbed me of the power to up those happy days from the depths of my consciousness. Certainly some within me has departed—what? Well, I do not know, but I cannot recapture the joy of the apple harvest in the West. It is only a memory. Perhaps it is one of those things which will return unexpectedly, and by which I shall remember the world at the last.
Well, then, when I was a boy, cider in Hovey's barn was one of the joys of life. A steam-engine on four wheels arrived from Exeter, and pulleys and beltings were fixed up to work the old-fashioned press. Within the barn a machine crushed the apples (which had been growing mellow in the for a fortnight), and the press noisily on the racks of and sent the liquid into the tubs with a swish like the fall of tropical rain. Outside the still October air was broken only by the chug—chug—chug of the engine and the mellow voices and laughter of the farmers who delivered their apples and received in exchange barrels of cider. The marc from the cider-press was sometimes fed to cattle combined with bran, hay and . But I suppose that was an old-fashioned idea, and farmers to-day would such a thing. But Farmer Hovey was a keen-eyed man of business—a man who could farm his acres successfully in the face of any disaster. How I wish that, now grown up, I could re-open those records, the book of his memory! But it has long been closed, laid away in the tree-shaded churchyard in Street, near a flat stone John Starre:
Starre on Hie
Where should a Starre be
But on Hie?
He now doth lie
Sleeping in Dust
Yet shall he rise
More glorious than
The Starres in skies.
Making "marc bricks" at Farmer Hovey's was the highest of my desire. It was one of those peculiarly "plashy" jobs in which any child would delight. One could get coated from head to foot with the apple pulp in about half-an-hour. The "marc" was made into bricks (about a pound in weight) to preserve it. It was first pressed as dry as possible, made into cubes with wooden moulds, and stacked in an airy place to dry. Hovey liked these bricks for fuel in the winter months, and I remember they made a wonderfully clear fire. It was while making up the apple pulp into bricks that my brothers and their friends caught the idea of the game of "hunting." The apple pulp was first made up into a score of heavy, wet balls. Having lots as to who should be the hunter, the winner would take charge of the and retire to the barn, which was known as the "hunters' ," while the other boys would shin up the trees, or themselves behind walls, ricks and bushes. A short start was allowed, and then the hunter sallied with unrestricted powers to bombard with shot and shell anyone within sight. The first one who made his way home to the "shack" became the next hunter. Many a satisfying flap on the back of the neck have I "got home" with those balls of apple pulp. It was a very game, sometimes a very painful one, and not infrequently it ended in a general hand-to-hand fight. The game was certainly an excellent exercise in the art of encountering the hard knocks of life with a sunny . In 1916 it was my fortune to suffer rather a sharp period of shell-fire in Palestine with one of the players of this game. My old playmate turned to me and yelled: "Hi, there, Bob! Look out! These coming over are not made of apple pulp!"
Then the smell of the cider-press came full and strong on the night air of the desert, and England and the West Country came back to me in the foolishness of dreams, as the Garden of Hesperides or any other Valley of my feet had trodden in heedless mood.
There is a story of a Dorset vicar who was explaining to his flock the meaning of miracles. He saw that his hearers were dull and inattentive, and did not seem to grasp what he was saying, so he to an old of a villager who always lived yet never , and said in a loud voice: "I will tell you what a miracle is. Look at old Jan Domeny, he hasn't an apple-tree in his garden, and yet he made a barrelful of cider this October. There's a miracle for you."
While cycling out of Swanage to Corfe—a backbreaking and succession of hills—I had the misfortune to meet a at full speed and receive a nasty sting. I asked a little girl if her mother lived near, as I wished to get some ammonia for it, and was delighted to hear the child call to her mother through an open window: "Lukee, mother, a wapsy 'ath a stinged this maister 'pon 'is feace." Which reminded me of a story in Akerman's Wiltshire of a woman who wished to show off her lubberly boy to some old , and accordingly called him to say his alphabet. She pointed to the letter "A" and asked Tommy to name it. "Dang-my-ole-hat, I dwon't know 'un," said the child, scratching his head. His mother passed this letter by and moved the point of her scissors to the next letter. "What be thuck one, Tommy?" "I knows 'un by zite, but I can't call 'un by's neame," replied the boy. "What is that thing as goes buzzing about the gearden, Tommy?" The boy put his head on one side and considered a moment, then replied, with a sly grin: "Wapsy!"
William Barnes told a good tale of a West Country parson who preached in the rudest . A rich and selfish dairyman of his flock died, and in place of the customary at the graveside, he said: "Here lies old ——. He never did no good to nobody, and nobody spake no good o' he; put him to bed and let's prache to the living."
And here is a good story related to me by a West Country vicar. A lively old lady in his parish was very ill, and likely, as it seemed, to die. The vicar called on her and talked with professional of the splendours and joys of heaven. But the bright old creature had no fears for the future, and indeed was not so ill as they supposed. "Yes, sir," she said, "what you say may be very true, and heaven may be a ]bobby-dazzling place; but I never was one to go a-bell-wavering—old Dorset's good enough for me!"
Inside the old Dorset farm-houses there is much that belongs to other days than these. Many old homes have deep porches, with stone seats on each side, which lead to the large kitchen. It is large because it was built in the days when the farmer had labourers to help in the fields, and the mistress of the house had women servants to help with the spinning and the , and all who lived under the same roof had their meals together in this room.
Many of the doors are as large and solid as church doors, and one that I saw was studded with nails and secured by a great rough wooden bar drawn right across it into an iron loop on the opposite side at night, and in the day-time thrust back into a hole in the thickness of the wall. But the majority are more than this and have only a inside raised from outside by a leather , or by "tirling at the pin," as in the old .

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