Picture of William Cobbett

William Cobbett

places mentioned

Oct. 18th, 1826: Lyndhurst to Godalming

Next Selection Previous Selection


"But where is now the goodly audit ale?
The purse-proud tenant, never known to fail?
The farm which never yet was left on hand?
The marsh reclaim'd to most improving land?
The impatient hope of the expiring lease?
The doubling rental? What an evil's peace!
In vain the prize excites the ploughman's skill
In vain the Commons pass their patriot Bill;
The Landed Interest--(you may understand
The phrase much better leaving out the Land)--
The land self-interest groans from shore to shore,
for fear that plenty should attain the poor.
Up, up again, ye rents! exalt your notes,
Or else the ministry will lose their votes,
And patriotism, so delicately nice,
Her loaves will lower to the market price."
LORD BYRON, Age of Bronze .

Wednesday, Oct . 18 , 1826.

YESTERDAY, from Lyndhurst to this place was a ride, including our round-abouts, of more than forty miles; but the roads the best in the world, one half of the way green turf; and the day as fine an one as ever come out of the heavens. We took in a breakfast, calculated for a long day's work, and for no more eating till night. We had slept in a room, the access to which was only through another sleeping room, which was also occupied; and as I got up about two o'clock at Andover, we went to bed, at Lyndhurst, about half-past seven o'clock. I was, of course, awake by three or four; I had eaten little over night; so that here lay I, not liking (even after daylight began to glimmer) to go through a chamber, where, by possibility, there might be "a lady" actually in bed ; here lay I, my bones aching with lying in bed, my stomach growling for victuals, imprisoned by my modesty . But at last I grew impatient; for, modesty here or modesty there, I was not to be penned up and starved: so after having shaved and dressed and got ready to go down, I thrusted George out a little before me into the other room; and through we pushed, previously resolving, of course, not to look towards the bed that was there. But as the devil would have it, just as I was about the middle of the room, I, like Lot's wife, turned my head! All that I shall say is, first, that the consequences that befell her did not befall me, and, second, that I advise those who are likely to be hungry in the morning not to sleep in inner rooms ; or, if they do, to take some bread and cheese in their pockets. Having got safe down stairs, I lost no time in inquiring after the means of obtaining a breakfast to make up for the bad fare of the previous day; and finding my landlady rather tardy in the work, and not, seemingly, having a proper notion of the affair, I went myself, and having found a butcher's shop, bought a loin of small, fat, wether mutton, which I saw cut out of the sheep and cut into chops. These were brought to the inn; George and I ate about 2lb. out of the 5lb. and while I was writing a letter, and making up my packet, to be ready to send from Southampton, George went out and found a poor woman to come and take away the rest of the loin of mutton; for our fastings of the day before enabled us to do this; and though we had about forty miles to go to get to this place (through the route that we intended to take), I had resolved that we would go without any more purchase of victuals and drink this day also. I beg leave to suggest to my well-fed readers; I mean, those who have at their command more victuals and drink than they can possibly swallow; I beg to suggest to such, whether this would not be a good way for them all to find the means of bestowing charity? Some poet has said, that that which is given in charity gives a blessing on both sides; to the giver as well as the receiver. But I really think that if in general the food and drink given came out of food and drink deducted from the usual quantity swallowed by the giver, the blessing would be still greater, and much more certain. I can speak for myself, at any rate. I hardly ever eat more than twice a day; when at home, never; and I never, if I can well avoid it, eat any meat later than about one or two o'clock in the day. I drink a little tea or milk and water at the usual tea-time (about 7 o'clock); I go to bed at eight, if I can; I write or read from about four to about eight, and then hungry as a hunter I go to breakfast, eating as small a parcel of cold meat and bread as I can prevail upon my teeth to be satisfied with. I do just the same at dinner time. I very rarely taste garden-stuff of any sort. If any man can show me that he has done, or can do, more work , bodily and mentally united; I say nothing about good health, for of that the public can know nothing; but I refer to the work : the public know, they see what I can do, and what I actually have done, and what I do; and when any one has shown the public that he has done, or can do, more, then I will advise my readers attend to him on the subject of diet and not to me. As to drink , the less the better; and mine is milk and water, or not-sour small beer, if I can get the latter; for the former I always can. I like the milk and water best; but I do not like much water; if I drink much milk it loads and stupefies and makes me fat.

Having made all preparations for a day's ride, we set off as our first point, for a station in the Forest called New Park, there to see something about plantations and other matters connected with the affairs of our prime cocks, the surveyors of woods and forests and crown lands and estates. But before I go forward any further, I must just step back again to Rumsey, which we passed rather too hastily through on the 16th, as noticed in the Ride that was published last week. This town was, in ancient times, a very grand place, though it is now nothing more than a decent market-town, without anything to entitle it to particular notice, except its church, which was the church of an abbey nunnery (founded more, I think, than a thousand years ago), and which church was the burial place of several of the Saxon kings, and of "Lady Palmerstone," who a few years ago "died in child-birth! What a mixture!

To come back now to Lyndhurst, we had to go about three miles to New Park, which is a farm in the New Forest, and nearly in the centre of it. We got to this place about nine o'clock. There is a good and large mansion-house here, in which the "commissioners" of woods and forests reside when they come into the forest. There is a garden, a farm-yard, a farm, and a nursery. The place looks like a considerable gentleman's seat; the house stands in a sort of park , and you can see that a great deal of expense has been incurred in levelling the ground and making it pleasing to the eye of my lords "the commissioners." My business here was to see whether any thing had been done towards the making of locust plantations . I went first to Lyndhurst to make inquiries; but I was there told that New Park was the place, and the only place, at which to get information on the subject; and I was told, further, that the commissioners were now at New Park; that is to say those experienced tree-planters, Messrs. Arbuthnot, Dawkins, and Company. Gad! thought I, I am here coming in close contact with a branch, or at least a twig, of the great THING itself! When I heard this, I was at breakfast, and of course dressed for the day. I could not, out of my extremely limited wardrobe, afford a clean shirt for the occasion; and so off we set, just as we were, hoping that their worships, the nation's tree-planters, would, if they met with us, excuse our dress, when they considered the nature of our circumstances. When we came to the house we were stopped by a little fence and fastened gate. I got off my horse, gave him to George to hold, went up to the door, and rang the bell. Having told my business to a person, who appeared to be a foreman or bailiff, he, with great civility, took me into a nursery which is at the back of the house; and I soon drew from him the disappointing fact that my lords, the tree-planters, had departed the day before! I found, as to locusts , that a patch were sowed last spring, which I saw, which are from one foot to four feet high, and very fine and strong, and are, in number, about enough to plant two acres of ground, the plants at four feet apart each way. I found that last fall some few locusts had been put out into plantations of other trees already made; but that they had not thriven , and had been barked by the hares! But a little bunch of these trees (same age), which were planted in the nursery, ought to convince my lords, the tree-planters, that if they were to do what they ought to do, the public would very soon be owners of fine plantations of locusts for the use of the navy. And what are the hares kept for here? Who eats them? What right have these commissioners to keep hares to eat up the trees? Lord Folkestone killed his hares before he made his plantation of locusts; and why not kill the hares in the people's forest; for the people's it is, and that these commissioners ought always to remember. And then again, why this farm? What is it for? Why, the pretence for it is this: that it is necessary to give the deer hay , in winter, because the lopping down of limbs of trees for them to browse (as used to be the practice) is injurious to the growth of timber. That will be a very good reason for having a hay-farm when my lords shall have proved two things; first, that hay, in quantity equal to what is raised here, could not be bought for a twentieth part of the money that this farm and all its trappings cost; and, second, that there ought to be any deer kept! What are these deer for? Who are to eat them? Are they for the royal family? Why, there are more deer bred in Richmond Park alone to say nothing of Bushy Park, Hyde Park, and Windsor Park; there are more deer bred in Richmond Park alone than would feed all the branches of the royal family and all their households all the year round, if every soul of them ate as hearty as ploughmen, and if they never touched a morsel of any kind of meat but venison! For what, and for whom , then, are deer kept in the New Forest; and why an expense of hay-farm, of sheds, of racks, of keepers, of lodges, and other things attending the deer and the game; an expense amounting to more money annually than would have given relief to all the starving manufacturers in the north! And, again I say, who is all this venison and game for? There is more game even in Kew Gardens than the royal family can want! And, in short, do they ever taste, or even hear of, any game, or any venison, from the New Forest?

The same person (a very civil and intelligent man) that showed me the nursery, took me, in my way back, through some plantations of oaks , which have been made amongst fir-trees. It was, indeed, a plantation of Scotch firs, about twelve years old, in rows, at six feet apart. Every third row of firs was left, and oaks were (about six years ago) planted instead of the firs that were grubbed up; and the winter shelter that the oaks have received from the remaining firs has made them grow very finely, though the land is poor. Other oaks planted in the open, twenty years ago, and in land deemed better, are not nearly so good. However, these oaks, between the firs, will take fifty or sixty good years to make them timber, and until they be timber , they are of very little use; whereas the same ground planted with locusts (and the hares of "my lords" kept down) would, at this moment, have been worth fifty pounds an acre. What do "my lords" care about this? For them , for "my lords," the New Forest would be no better than it is now; no, nor so good as it is now; for there would be no hares for them.

From New Park, I was bound to Beaulieu Abbey, and I ought to have gone in a south-easterly direction, instead of going back to Lyndhurst, which lay in precisely the opposite direction. My guide through the plantation was not apprised of my intended route, and, therefore, did not instruct me. Just before we parted, he asked me my name : I thought it lucky that he had not asked it before! When we got nearly back to Lyndhurst, we found that we had come three miles out of our way; indeed, it made six miles altogether; for we were, when we got to Lyndhurst, three miles further from Beaulieu Abbey than we were when we were at New Park. We wanted, very much, to go to the site of this ancient and famous abbey, of which the people of the New Forest seemed to know very little. They call the place Bewley , and even in the maps it is called Bauley. Ley , in the Saxon language, means place , or rather open place : so that they put ley in place of lieu , thus beating the Normans out of some part of the name at any rate. I wished, besides, to see a good deal of this New Forest. I had been, before, from Southampton to Lyndhurst, from Lyndhurst to Lymington, from Lymington to Sway. I had now come in on the north of Minstead from Romsey, so that I had seen the north of the forest and all the west side of it down to the sea. I had now been to New Park and had got back to Lyndhurst; so that, if I rode across the forest down to Beaulieu, I went right across the middle of it, from north-west to south-east. Then if I turned towards Southampton, and went to Dipten and on to Eling, I should see, in fact, the whole of this forest, or nearly the whole of it.

We therefore started, or rather turned away from Lyndhurst, as soon as we got back to it, and went about six miles over a heath, even worse than Bagshot Heath; as barren as it is possible for land to be. A little before we came to the village of Beaulieu (which, observe, the people call Beuley) , we went through a wood, chiefly of beech, and that beech seemingly destined to grow food for pigs, of which we saw, during this day, many, many thousands. I should think that we saw at least a hundred hogs to one deer. I stopped, at one time, and counted the hogs and pigs just round about me, and they amounted to 140, all within 50 or 60 yards of my horse. After a very pleasant ride on land without a stone in it, we came down to the Beaulieu river, the highest branch of which rises at the foot of a hill about a mile and a half to the north-east of Lyndhurst. For a great part of the way down to Beaulieu it is a very insignificant stream. At last, however, augmented by springs from the different sand-hills, it becomes a little river, and has, on the sides of it, lands which were, formerly, very beautiful meadows. When it comes to the village of Beaulieu, it forms a large pond of a great many acres; and on the east side of this pond is the spot where this famous abbey formerly stood, and where the external walls of which, or a large part of them, are now actually standing. We went down on the western side of the river. The abbey stood, and the ruins stand, on the eastern side. Happening to meet a man before I got into the village I, pointing with my whip across towards the abbey, said to the man, "I suppose there is a bridge down here to get across to the abbey." "That's not the abbey, sir," says he: "the abbey is about four miles further on." I was astonished to hear this; but he was very positive; said that some people called it the abbey; but that the abbey was further on; and was at a farm occupied by farmer John Biel. Having chapter and verse for it, as the saying is, I believed the man; and pushed on towards farmer John Biel's, which I found, as he had told me, at the end of about four miles. When I got there (not having, observe, gone over the water to ascertain that the other was the spot where the abbey stood), I really thought, at first, that this must have been the site of the Abbey of Beaulieu; because, the name meaning fine place , this was a thousand times finer place than that where the abbey, as I afterwards found, really stood. After looking about it for some time, I was satisfied that it had not been an abbey; but the place is one of the finest that ever was seen in this world. It stands at about half a mile's distance from the water's edge at high-water mark, and at about the middle of the space along the coast from Calshot Castle to Lymington haven. It stands, of course, upon a rising ground; it has a gentle slope down to the water. To the right, you see Hurst Castle, and that narrow passage called the Needles, I believe; and, to the left, you see Spithead, and all the ships that are sailing or lie anywhere opposite Portsmouth. The Isle of Wight is right before you, and you have in view, at one and the same time, the towns of Yarmouth, Newton, Cowes, and Newport, with all the beautiful fields of the island, lying upon the side of a great bank before, and going up the ridge of hills in the middle of the island. Here are two little streams, nearly close to the ruin, which filled ponds for fresh-water fish; while there was the Beaulieu river at about half a mile or three-quarters of a mile to the left, to bring up the salt-water fish. The ruins consist of part of the walls of a building about 200 feet long and about 40 feet wide. It has been turned into a barn, in part, and the rest into cattle-sheds, cow-pens, and inclosures and walls to inclose a small yard. But there is another ruin which was a church or chapel, and which stands now very near to the farm-house of Mr. John Biel, who rents the farm of the Duchess of Buccleugh, who is now the owner of the abbey-lands and the lands belonging to this place. The little church or chapel, of which I have just been speaking, appears to have been a very beautiful building. A part only of its walls are standing; but you see, by what remains of the arches, that it was finished in a manner the most elegant and expensive of the day in which it was built. Part of the outside of the building is now surrounded by the farmer's garden; the interior is partly a pig-stye and partly a goose-pen. Under that arch which had once seen so many rich men bow their heads, we entered into the goose-pen, which is by no means one of the nicest concerns in the world. Beyond the goose-pen was the pig-stye, and in it a hog which, when fat, will weight about 30 score, actually rubbing his shoulders against a little sort of column which had supported the font and its holy water. The farmer told us that there was a hole, which, indeed, we saw, going down into the wall, or rather into the column where the font had stood. And he told us that many attempts had been made to bring water to fill that hole, but that it never had been done.

Mr. Biel was very civil to us. As far as related to us, he performed the office of hospitality, which was the main business of those who formerly inhabited the spot. He asked us to dine with him, which we declined, for want of time; but being exceedingly hungry, we had some bread and cheese and some very good beer. The farmer told me that a great number of gentlemen had come there to look at that place; but that he never could find out what the place had been, or what the place at Beuley had been. I told him that I would, when I got to London, give him an account of it; that I would write the account down, and send it down to him. He seemed surprised that I should make such a promise, and expressed his wish not to give me so much trouble. I told him not to say a word about the matter, for that his bread and cheese and beer were so good that they deserved a full history to be written of the place where they had been eaten and drunk. "God bless me, sir, no, no!" I said I will, upon my soul, farmer. I now left him, very grateful on our part for his hospitable reception, and he, I dare say, hardly being able to believe his own ears at the generous promise that I had made him, which promise, however, I am now about to fulfil. I told the farmer a little, upon the spot, to begin with. I told him that the name was all wrong: that it was not Beuley but Beaulieu ; and that Beaulieu meant fine place ; and I proved this to him in this manner. You know, said I, farmer, that when a girl has a sweetheart, people call him her beau ? Yes, said he, so they do. Very well. You know also that we say, sometimes, you shall have this in lieu of that; and that when we say lieu , we mean in place of that. Now the beau means fine , as applied to the young man, and the lieu means place ; and thus it is, that the name of this place is Beaulieu , as it is so fine as you see it is. He seemed to be wonderfully pleased with the discovery; and we parted, I believe, with hearty good wishes on his part, and I am sure with very sincere thanks on my part.

From the former station of the Templars, from real Beaulieu of the New Forest, we came back to the village of Beaulieu, and there crossed the water to come on towards Southampton. Here we passed close along under the old abbey walls, a great part of which are still standing. There is a mill here which appears to be turned by the fresh water, but the fresh water falls, here, into the salt water, as at the village of Botley. We did not stop to go about the ruins of the abbey; for you seldom make much out by minute inquiry. It is the political history of these places, or, at least, their connection with political events, that is interesting. Just about the banks of this little river there are some woods and coppices and some corn-land; but at the distance of half a mile from the water-side we came out again upon the intolerable heath, and went on for seven or eight miles over that heath, from the village of Beaulieu to that of Marchwood, having a list of trees and enclosed lands away to our right all the way along, which list of trees from the south-west side of that arm of the sea which goes from Calshot Castle to Redbridge, passing by Southampton, which lies on the north-east side. Never was a more barren tract of land than these seven or eight miles. We had come seven miles across the forest in another direction in the morning; so that a poorer spot than this New Forest there is not in all England; nor, I believe, in the whole world. It is more barren and miserable than Bagshot Heath. There are less fertile spots in it in proportion to the extent of each. Still it is so large, it is of such great extent, being, if moulded into a circle, not so little, I believe, as 60 or 70 miles in circumference, that it must contain some good spots of land, and if properly and honestly managed those spots must produce a prodigious quantity of timber. It is a pretty curious thing that while the admirers of the paper-system are boasting of our "waust improvements , ma'am," there should have been such a visible and such an enormous dilapidation in all the solid things of the country. I have, in former parts of this ride, stated that in some counties, while the parsons have been pocketing the amount of the tithes and of the glebe, they have suffered the parsonage-houses either to fall down and to be lost, brick by brick and stone by stone, or to become such miserable places as to be unfit for anything bearing the name of a gentlemen to live in; I have stated, and I am at any time ready to prove, that in some counties this is the case in more than one half of the parishes!

And now, amidst all these "waust improvements ," let us see how the account of timber stands in the New Forest! In the year 1608, a survey of the timber in the New Forest was made, when there were loads of oak timber fit for the navy, 315,477. Mark that, reader. Another survey was taken in the year 1783; that is to say, in the glorious jubilee reign. And when there were, in this same New Forests, loads of oak timber fit for the navy, 20,830. "Waust improvement, ma'am," under "the pilot that weathered the storm," and in the reign of jubilee! What the devil, some one would say, could have become of all this timber? Does the reader observe, that there were 315,477 loads , and does he observe that a load is fifty-two cubic feet? Does the reader know what is the price of this load of timber? I suppose it is now, taking in lop, top and bark, and bought upon the spot (timber fit for the navy, mind!), ten pounds a load at the least. But let us suppose that it has been, upon an average, since the year 1608, just the time that the Stuarts were mounting the throne; let us suppose that it has been, on an average, four pounds a load. Here is a pretty tough sum of money. This must have gone into the pockets of somebody. At any rate, if we had the same quantity of timber now that we had when the Protestant Reformation took place, or even when old Betsy turned up her toes, we should be now three millions of money richer than we are; not in bills ; not in notes payable to bearer on demand; not in Scotch "cash credits"; not, in short, in lies, falseness, impudence, downright blackguard cheatery and mining shares and "Greek cause" and the devil knows what. I shall have occasion to return to this New Forest, which is, in reality, though, in general, a very barren district, a much more interesting object to Englishmen than are the services of my Lord Palmerston, and the warlike undertakings of Burdett, Galloway and Company; but I cannot quit this spot, even for the present, without asking the Scotch population-mongers and Malthus and his crew, and especially George Chalmers, if he should yet be creeping about upon the face of the earth, what becomes of all their notions of the scantiness of the ancient population of England; what becomes of all these notions, of all their bundles of ridiculous lies about the fewness of the people in former times; what becomes of them all, if historians have told us one word of truth with regard to the formation of the New Forest by William the Conqueror. All the historians say, every one of them says, that this king destroyed several populous towns and villages in order to make this New Forest.

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

Next Selection Previous Selection