Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Biographical > Thomas Hardy's Dorset > CHAPTER X
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】 Add Bookmark  
 SWANAGE AND CORFE CASTLE Swanage is a well-known seaside resort, rapidly growing in favour. It nestles in the farther corner of a lovely little bay, and though in the rapid extension of rows of newly arisen houses, consequent upon the development of its fame as a watering-place, much of its old-time, half-sleepy, half-commercial aspect has passed away, Kingsley's still the best description of this spot—"well worth seeing, and when once seen not easily to be forgotten. A little semicircular bay, its northern horn formed by high cliffs of white chalk (Ballard Head), ending in white, stacks and peaks (The , Old and his Wife, etc.), round whose feet the blue sea for ever. In the centre of the bay the softer Wealden beds have been worn away, forming an amphitheatre of low sand and clay cliffs. The southern horn (Peveril Point) is formed by the dark beds of the Purbeck marble. A , old-world village slopes down to the water over green downs, , like some gigantic [Pg 169]rabbit-burrow, with the stone workings of seven hundred years. Land-locked from every breeze, huge elms flourish on the dry sea beach, and the gayest and tenderest garden flowers under the hot stone walls."
Tilly is one of the attractions here. A short walk by Peveril Point, Durlston Bay and Durlston Head leads to Tilly Whim, which is on the eastern side of oddly named , and is the first of a series of cliff opened in the Portland-Purbeck beds along the coast. The cliff has been tunnelled into a series of gigantic , supported by huge pillars of the living rock and opening on a platform in the face of the , beneath which the waters roar and rage almost unceasingly. The boldness of the headland, the sombre greys of the rocks, the rude, massive columns which support the roof of the huge cavity, the restless sea—all are elements that heighten the effect of a spot almost unique of its kind. Tilly Whim has been compared to a "huge rock temple"—like those of India.
Thomas has left us another interesting description of the Swanage of bygone days: "Knollsea was a seaside village, lying within two headlands, as between a finger and thumb. Everybody in the parish who was not a boatman was a quarrier, unless he were the gentleman who owned half the property and had been a quarryman, or the other gentleman who owned the other half and had been to sea."
At the time this was written the steamers were to a "row of rotten piles," but these have long passed away and their place has been taken by a substantial . But, let there be what changes there may, there will always be quarries in the town; it is one of those primeval which remain unchanged and unchangeable in the midst of our changing . The folk were an exceptionally reserved and isolated people, and the way their occupation has worked in the creation of a race is, while not at all surprising, yet very . The quarries have afforded a singular and most interesting instance of the survival, in full working order, of a mediæval trades of a somewhat type, and even in these days no stranger is permitted to share in their rights and privileges.
The right to become a quarryman is inherited from one family to another, and the admission into the guild is an important ceremony: "The quarries and merchants have from time immemorial formed a sort of guild or company, whose rules are still enforced, affecting not only the prices of work, but determining the whole social position and character of the people. The Society calls itself 'The Company of the Marblers and Stone-Cutters of the of Purbeck,' and its meetings are held on Shrove Tuesday in the Townhall of Corfe Castle. Here they choose and , settle bye-laws and other business, and determine any difference between members in relation to the trade, or punish any infractions of their regulations. At these meetings the , who can only be sons of quarrymen, are, when they have the age of twenty-one, made free members of this community, on presenting themselves in 'court' with a fee of six shillings and eightpence, a penny loaf in one hand and a pot of beer in the other. Another portion of the business consists in a visit to the old at Owre, and there renewing their ancient custom of presenting a pound of pepper to the landlord of the little inn there, receiving a cake from him, and having a game of foot-ball, which, in connection with this commemoration of the ancient acknowledgment for rent or use of wharfage, is called the 'Pepper Ball.' Seven years after taking up their freedom freemen may take apprentices. The widow of a freeman may take up her freedom on payment of one shilling, and then employ apprentices and carry on business. At the annual meeting the sons of freemen are registered, and are not allowed to work at any department of the business unless duly registered."
The great majority of the old quarry-owners were members of a dozen families only, there being just a score of ; Collinses, Harrises, Haysomes, Normans, Phippards and Tomeses averaging half-a-dozen each; with Coopers, Corbens, Landers, Stricklands and Bonfields not far behind.
New-comers were much disliked by the quarrymen, and the custom of "marrying the land" was observed in former days and, for aught I know, may be observed now. However, we do know that "foreigners" were not allowed to hold land in the Isle of Portland a hundred years ago, and the inhabitants, who claimed to be true descendants of the Phœnicians who traded with Cornwall and Devonshire for tin, kept themselves a distinct people. In "marrying the land" the contracting parties met at church, and joining hands the one who handed over the property simply said: "I, Uncle Tom" (the surname was never used by the quarry folk), "give to thee, Cousin Antony, such-and-such land." The clergyman then placed his hands over the others, and the contract was concluded.
As I have said, the old-world village of Swanage has altered much, and has become a town, and since the opening of the branch railway from Wareham in the latter end of the eighties of the nineteenth century the ancient customs and characters of those unhurried, simpler, happier days have been swept away. The calming quietude of the quaint old stone houses is now disturbed by ugly, modern erections of red brick. But the quaint cottages, solid in great stone and stone tiles, still breathe the true artlessness of the quarry folk. They are an instance of care and sound workmanship defying the neglect of a hundred successive . The High Street of Old Swanage, which rises uphill from the Ship Hotel towards the church, traversing the centre of the town from east to west, seems with human influence and has a flavour all its own. Half-way up the street on the right is the Town Hall, with an ornate façade which once formed part of the Mercers' Hall in London, designed by Sir Christopher . A few yards down the side-turning by the hall can be seen, on the left, an even greater curiosity, the Old Lock-Up, of stone, "," as an records, "for the prevention of wickedness and by friends of religion and good order, A.D. 1803."
On the left is Purbeck House, a low, private residence, built by a "local Mæcenas," the late Mr Burt, the , in 1876. The fish vane, of , Billingsgate Market, and the wall fronting the street is faced with chips from the Albert Memorial, Hyde Park.
When we reach the highest point of the main street the hill pitches down to the right, and we look upon a of the town with a character of its own, not unworthy of observation, in which the sturdy, square-towered church is a striking feature. To the left is a mill-pond, which begins to wear the airs of history and reflects in the unruffled of its waters the images of some very quaint houses built of grey stone and almost overspread with and . The lower walls of stone are black and polished with the leaning of innumerable shoulders, and the steps of the external stone stairways are worn into gullies by the tread of generations. The extraordinary "yards" and byways are also of attention. A few downward steps will bring the pilgrim to St Mary's Church, which was rebuilt in 1859. The parish registers date back to 1567, and the tower is thought to be Saxon. At this church Ethelberta Petherwin, in The Hand of Ethelberta, is secretly married to Lord Mountclere, and her father and brother arrive too late to with the ceremony.
A walk along the Herston Road brings us to Newton , one of the old Dorset manor-houses. The only of the ancient building are an Elizabethan stone fireplace in the kitchen and the barn of the old homestead, with an open timber roof, which has been converted into a dining-hall. In the latter is a fine carved stone chimneypiece brought from a Florentine palace.
A favourite excursion from Swanage is a trip to Studland. Any native will direct the pilgrim to the way to the "Rest and be Thankful" seat at the top of Ballard Down, where one can take a well-beaten track to the entrance of the village. At the remains of an old cross bear to the right and follow a "water lane" to the shore. Studland is one of the most charming villages in England, and the church is one of the most notable in Dorset. It is an admirable example of intact Norman work, and its chief details are perfect—including a quaint corbel table in the , font, and moulded arches with carved capitals.
The Agglestone is about a mile away on Studland Common. It is a huge fragment of the iron-cemented sandstone of the locality, raised on a above the heath. It has been regarded as a Druidical memorial, but though that idea may now be considered exploded, associations still attach to it, since we are told "the name Agglestone (Saxon, halig-stan=holy stone) certainly seems to show that it was erected for some purpose." The country people call it the Devil's Nightcap, and there is a tradition that his Satanic threw it from the Isle of Wight, with an intent to Corfe Castle, but that it dropped short here! How it comes to be here has puzzled the archæologist, but it has been explained as being simply a block that has been insulated by process of nature, the result of its protecting from the rigours of wind and rain the little which it caps.
Corfe is six miles by road from Swanage by way of Langton Matravers, a village of sombre stone houses, which is occupied by workers in the neighbouring stone quarries. The place-name "Matravers" is identified with the family of Maltravers, one of whom was the unworthy instrument employed by Mortimer and Queen Isabella in the murder of Edward II. This member of the family having turned out to be such a particularly "bad Travers," his descendants sought to hide their evil reputation by dropping the "l" out of their name.
The "Old Malt House," which is now a school, is a fine of the old-time stone building, and one can still trace bricked-in windows, where the sacks were in to the malt floors. Passing Gallow's Cottages we come to Kingston, which is two miles from Corfe Castle, and is pleasantly on an eminence which commands a good view of the surrounding country. Encombe, the seat of the Eldons, is about two miles to the south-west and is the Enckworth Court (Lychworth Court in early editions) of The Hand of Ethelberta. The house lies deep down in the beautiful valley of Encombe, which opens out to the sea, with fine views in almost every direction. This valley is known as the Golden Bowl, by reason of the fertility of the soil. A short distance from Kingston may be seen the remains of the old manor-house of Scowles.
On the morrow, when I stepped out under the famous porch of the Greyhound Hotel, Corfe wore her bright morning smile. The air was soft, warm and redolent with the of good blue wood smoke. Corfe is one of the pleasantest villages in Dorset and has a wonderfully effect upon the visitor. I should recommend this old-world retreat for those who are weary of the traffic and of the city market-place. The colour of the old houses makes the place ever cool-looking and lends the village an air of extreme restfulness. From the humblest cottage to the Town House opposite the village cross the buildings are of weather-beaten stone, and are a delicate symphony in the colour grey, the proportions also being exactly satisfying to the eye. Stone slabs of immense size form the roofs themselves. Look at the roof of the Greyhound Inn! When these roof stones were put down the builder did not put them there for his own day, selfishly, but for . This, as Hilaire Belloc would say, is a of a roof, a roof that shelters and spiritually sustains, a roof , a roof eternal. A walk through the town will reveal Tudor windows, quaint and several eighteenth-century porches, of which that at the Greyhound is the best example. The market-place, with the Bankes Arms Hotel at one end, the Greyhound backing on to the castle and the castle and hills peering over the roof tops of the town, gives one a pleasure of reminiscence and discovery. back a little from the Swanage road is the small Elizabethan manor-house of Dackhams or Dacombs, now called Morton House, and one of the best manor-houses in the country. The ground plan forms the letter E, and it has a perfect little paved courtyard full of flowers.
Corfe Church was rebuilt in 1860, but it preserves some historic continuity in its tower, which dates from the end of the fourteenth century. The churchwardens' chest in the porch was made in the year 1672, and Hy Paulett, who made it, was paid the magnificent sum of eight shillings. And did Hy Paulett go often to the Greyhound and his thirst in the making of it? A man would require good ale to make such a "brave good" chest as this. And can they make such chests in these days? Lord knows!... Anyhow, there is something in such a piece of work which appeals to me—something which seems to satisfy the memories in my blood. The clock dates from 1539. Curfew is in Corfe daily, from October to March, at 6 A.M. and 8 P.M. Hutchins, writing at the end of the eighteenth century, tells us that the people of Corfe were ............
Join or Log In! You need to log in to continue reading

Login into Your Account

  Remember me on this computer.

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2018, All Rights Reserved