Picture of William Cobbett

William Cobbett

places mentioned

Nov. 7th to 11th, 1825: Burghclere to Petersfield

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Monday, November 7, 1825.

WE came off from Burghclere yesterday afternoon, crossing Lord Caernarvon's park, going out of it on the west side of Beacon Hill, and sloping away to our right over the downs towards Woodcote. The afternoon was singularly beautiful. The downs (even the poorest of them) are perfectly green; the sheep on the downs look, this year, like fatting sheep: we came through a fine flock of ewes, and, looking round us, we saw, all at once, seven flocks, on different parts of the downs, each flock on an average containing at least 500 sheep. It is about six miles from Burghclere to this place; and we made it about twelve; not in order to avoid the turnpike-road; but because we do not ride about to see turnpike-roads; and, moreover, because I had seen this most monstrously hilly turnpike-road before. We came through a village called Woodcote, and another called Binley. I never saw any inhabited places more recluse than these. Yet into these the all-searching eye of the taxing Thing reaches. Its exciseman can tell it what is doing even in the little odd corner of Binley; for even there I saw, over the door of a place not half so good as the place in which my fowls roost, "Licensed to deal in tea and tobacco ." Poor, half-starved wretches of Binley! The hand of taxation, the collection for the sinecures and pensions, must fix its nails even in them, who really appeared too miserable to be called by the name of people . Yet there was one whom the taxing Thing had licensed (good God! licensed !) to serve out cat-lap to these wretched creatures! And our impudent and ignorant newspaper scribes talk of the degraded state of the people of Spain ! Impudent imposters! Can they show a group so wretched, so miserable, so truly enslaved as this, in all Spain? No: and those of them who are not sheer fools know it well. But there would have been misery equal to this in Spain if the Jews and jobbers could have carried the bond-scheme into effect. The people of Spain were, through the instrumentality of patriot-loan makers, within an inch of being made as "enlightened" as the poor, starving things of Binley. They would soon have had people "licensed" to make them pay the Jews for permission to chew tobacco, or to have a light in their dreary abodes. The people of Spain were preserved from this by the French army, for which the Jews cursed the French army; and the same army put an end to those "bonds," by means of which pious Protestants hoped to be able to get at the convents in Spain, and thereby put down "idolatry" in that country. These bonds seem now not to be worth a farthing; and so after all the Spanish people will have no one "licensed" by the Jews to make them pay for turning the fat of their sheep into candles and soap. These poor creatures that I behold here pass their lives amidst flocks of sheep ; but never does a morsel of mutton enter their lips. A labouring man told me, at Binley, that he had not tasted meat since harvest; and his looks vouched for the statement. Let the Spaniards come and look at this poor shotten-herring of a creature; and then let them estimate what is due to a set of "enlightening" and loan-making "patriots." Old Fortescue says that "the English are clothed in good woollens throughout," and that they have "plenty of flesh of all sorts to eat." Yes, but at this time the nation was not mortgaged. The "enlightening" patriots would have made Spain what England now is. The people must never more, after a few years, have tasted mutton, though living surrounded with flocks of sheep.

Wednesday Evening, Nov . 9.

I intended to go from Uphusband to Stonehenge, thence to Old Sarum, and thence through the New Forest, to Southampton and Botley, and thence across into Sussex, to see Up-Park, and Cowdry House. But, then, there must be no loss of time: I must adhere to a certain route as strictly as a regiment on a march. I had written the route: and Laverstock, after seeing Stonehenge and Old Sarum, was to be the resting-place of yesterday (Tuesday); but when it came, it brought rain with it after a white frost on Monday. It was likely to rain again to-day. It became necessary to change the route, as I must get to London by a certain day; and as the first day, on the new route, brought us here.

I had been three times at Uphusband before, and had, as my readers will, perhaps, recollect, described the bourn here, or the brook . It has, in general, no water at all in it from August to March. There is the bed of a little river; but no water. In March, or thereabouts, the water begins to boil up, in thousands upon thousands of places, in the little narrow meadows, just above the village; that is to say a little higher up the valley. When the chalk hills are full; when the chalk will hold no more water; then it comes out at the lowest spots near these immense hills and becomes a rivulet first, and then a river. But until this visit to Uphusband (or Hurstbourn Tarrant, as the map calls it), little did I imagine that this rivulet, dry half the year, was the head of the river Teste, which, after passing through Stockbridge and Rumsey, falls into the sea near Southampton.

We had to follow the bed of this river to Bourne; but there the water begins to appear; and it runs all the year long about a mile lower down. Here it crosses Lord Portsmouth 's out-park, and our road took us the same way to the village called Down Husband, the scene (as the broadsheet tells us) of so many of that noble lord's ringing and cart-driving exploits. Here we crossed the London and Andover road, and leaving Andover to our right and and Whitchurch to our left, we came on to Long Parish, where, crossing the water, we came up again on that high country which continues all across to Winchester. After passing Bullington, Sutton, and Wonston, we veered away from Stoke Charity, and came across the fields to the high down, whence you see Winchester, or rather the cathedral; for, at this distance, you can distinguish nothing else clearly.

Friday Evening, November 11.

We lost another day at Easton; the whole of yesterday it having rained the whole day; so that we could not have come an inch but in the wet. We started, therefore, this morning, coming through the Duke of Buckingham's park, at Avington, which is close by Easton, and on the same side of the Itchen. This is a very beautiful place. The house is close down at the edge of the meadow land; there is a lawn before it, and a pond supplied by the Itchen, at the end of the lawn, and bounded by the park on the other side. The high road, through the park, goes very near to this water; and we saw thousands of wild-ducks in the pond, or sitting round on the green edges of it, while, on one side of the pond, the hares and pheasants were moving about upon a gravel walk on the side of a very fine plantation. We looked down upon all this from a rising ground, and the water, like a looking-glass, showed us the trees, and even the animals. This is certainly one of the very prettiest spots in the world. The wild water-fowl seem to take particular delight in this place. There are a great many at Lord Caernarvon's; but there the water is much larger, and the ground and wood about it comparatively rude and coarse. Here, at Avington, everything is in such beautiful order; the lawn before the house is of the finest green, and most neatly kept; and the edge of the pond (which is of several acres) is as smooth as if it formed part of a bowling-green. To see so many wild-fowl, in a situation where everything is in the parterre-order , has a most pleasant effect on the mind; and Richard and I, like I Pope's cock in the farm-yard, could not help thanking the duke and duchess for having generously made such ample provision for our pleasure, and that, too, merely to please us as we were passing along. Now this is the advantage of going about on horseback . On foot, the fatigue is too great and you go too slowly. In any sort of carriage, you cannot get into the real country places . To travel in stage coaches is to be hurried along by force, in a box, with an air-hole in it, and constantly exposed to broken limbs, the danger being much greater than that of ship-board, and the noise much more disagreeable, while the company is frequently not a great deal more to one's liking.

From this beautiful spot we had to mount gradually the downs to the southward; but it is impossible to quit the vale of the Itchen without one more look back at it. To form a just estimate of its real value, and that of the lands near it, it is only necessary to know that, from its source, at Bishop's Sutton, this river has, on its two banks, in the distance of nine miles (before it reaches Winchester) thirteen parish churches. There must have been some people to erect these churches. It is not true, then, that Pitt and George III created the English nation , notwithstanding all that the Scotch feelosofers are ready to swear about the matter. In short, there can be no doubt in the mind of any rational man that in the time of the Plantagents England was more populous than it is now.

When we began to get up towards the downs we, to our great surprise, saw them covered with snow . "Sad times coming on for poor Sir Glory," said I to Richard. "Why?" said Dick. It was too cold to talk much; and, besides, a great sluggishness in his horse made us both rather serious. The horse had been too hard ridden at Burghclere, and had got cold. This made us change out route again, and instead of going over the downs towards Hambledon, in our way to see the park and the innumerable hares and pheasants of Sir Harry Featherstone, we pulled away more to the left, to go through Bramdean, and so on to Petersfield, contracting greatly our intended circuit. And besides, I had never seen Bramdean, the spot on which, it is said, Alfred fought his last great and glorious battle with the Danes. A fine country for a battle, sure enough!

A little to our right, as we came along, we left the village of Kimston, where Squire Graeme once lived, as was before related. Here, too, lived a Squire Ridge, a famous fox-hunter, at a great mansion, now used as a farm-house; and it is curious enough that this squire's son-in-law, one Gunner, an attorney at Bishop's Waltham, is steward to the man who now owns the estate.

Before we got to Petersfield, we called at an old friend's and got some bread and cheese and small beer, which we preferred to strong. In approaching Petersfield we began to descend from the high chalk-country, which (with the exception of the valleys of the Itchen and the Teste) had lasted us from Uphusband (almost the north-west point of the county) to this place, which is not far from the south-east point of it. Here we quit flint and chalk and downs, and take to sand, clay, hedges, and coppices; and here, on the verge of Hampshire, we begin again to see those endless little bubble-formed hills that we before saw round the foot of Hindhead. We have got in in very good time, and got, at the Dolphin, good stabling for our horses. The waiters and people at inns look so hard at us to see us so liberal as to horse-feed, fire, candle, beds, and room, while we are so very very sparing in the article of drink ! They seem to pity our taste. I hear people complain of the "exorbitant charges" at inns; but my wonder always is how the people can live with charging so little. Except in one single instance, I have uniformly, since I have been from home, thought the charges too low for people to live by.

William Cobbett, Rural Rides (Letchworth: Temple Press, 1932)

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