Tuesday, 27 March 2018
Old Thanet Postcards and a first hand account of Ramsgate in the 1720s
Work wise click here for the pictures of the books we put out today
"Ocean, if to the south, the Chanel, as 'tis call'd, that is the
narrow seas between England and France; and all the towns
or harbours before we come this length, whether on the Kentish
or Essex shoar, are call'd members of the Port of London.
From this point westward, the first town of note is Ramsgate,
a small port, the inhabitants are mighty fond of having us call
it Roman's-Gate; pretending that the Romans under Julius
Caesar made their first attempt to land here, when he was
driven back by a storm; but soon returned, and coming on
shore, with a good body of troops beat back the Britains, and
fortify'd his camp, just at the entrance of the creek, where the
town now stands; all which may be true for ought any one
knows, but is not to be prov'd, either by them or any one else;
and is of so little concern to us, that it matters nothing whether
here or at Deal, where others pretend it was.
It was from this town of Ramsgate, that a fellow of gigantick
strength, tho' not of extraordinary stature, came abroad in the
world, and was call'd the English Sampson, and who suffer'd
men to fasten the strongest horse they could find to a rope,
and the rope round his loins, sitting on the ground, with his
feet strait out against a post, and no horse could stir him;
several other proofs of an incredible strength he gave before
the king, and abundance of the nobility at Kensington, which
no other man could equal; but his history was very short, for
in about a year he disappear'd, and we heard no more of him
Putting on my local historian hat and making sure that you understand that local history is a fairly new area for me meaning I am inclined to make mistakes, I find it interesting that there is very little written down about Thanet before about 1720. So Defoe’s observations are a rare glimpse this far back into our history.
For the keen reader here is the whole of the chapter from Danel Defoe's book, A tour thro' the whole island of Great Britain first published in three volumes between 1724 and 1727.
Canterbury and Sussex
In prosecution of my journey east, I went from hence to Canterbury; of which town and its antiquities so much has been said, and so accurately, that I need do no more than mention it by recapitulation; for, as I have said, the antiquities, and histories of particular places is not my business here, so much as the present state of them. However I observe here.
That the first Christian bishop, if not the first Christian preacher, that ever came to England, (for I know not what to say to the story of Joseph of Arimathea, and his holy thorn at Glassenbury) landed in this country, and settled in this place; I mean St. Augustin, sent over by Gregory, Bishop of Rome. This Gregory it seems was a true primitive Christian Bishop of Rome; not such as since are called so; long before they assum’d the title of popes, or that usurp’d honour of Universal Bishop.
That, seven Bishops of Canterbury, from St. Augustine, inclusive of himself, lye bury’d here in one vault.
That Thomas Becket, or Thomas a Becket, as some call him, arch-bishop of this see, and several arch-bishops before him, plagued, insulted, and tyranniz’d over the Kings of England, their soveraigns, in an unsufferable manner.
That the first of these, having made himself intolerable to King Henry II, by his obstinacy, pride and rebellion, was here murther’d by the connivance, and as some say, by the express order of the king, and that they shew his blood upon the pavement to this day.
That he was afterwards canoniz’d, and his shrine made the greatest idol of the world; and they show the stone-steps ascending to his shrine, worn away to a slope, by the knees of the pilgrims, and ignorant people who came thither to pray to him, and to desire him to pray for them.
That the bodies of King Henry IV and of Edward the Black Prince are buried here, and the magnificent effigies of the latter very curiously carv’d and engrav’d, lyes on his tomb, or monument; also that King Stephen should have lain here, but on some scruple of the monks, the corpse was stopt short on the road, and was afterwards buried at Feversham, about seven miles off. What the monks objected, or whether they had no money offered them, is not recorded with the rest of the story.
That the immense wealth offer’d by votaries, and pilgrims, for several ages to the altar, or shrine of this mock saint, Thomas Becket, was such, that Erasmus Roterdamus, who was in the repository and saw it, relates of it, That the whole place glitter’d and shone with gold and diamonds.
That all this immense treasure, with the lands and revenues of the whole monastery were seiz’d upon, and taken away by King Henry VIII, at the general suppression of religious houses, except such as are annex’d to the Dean and Chapter, and to the revenue of the arch-bishoprick, which are not large.
The church is a noble pile of building indeed, and looks venerable and majestick at a distance, as well as when we come nearer to it. The old monastery of all, with the church there, dedicated to St. Augustine, and in the porch of which St. Augustine himself, with the six bishops above mention’d lye buried, stands at, or rather stood at a distance, and the ruins of it shew the place sufficiently; what remains of the old buildings about Christ-Church, or the cathedral, are principally the cloyster, and the bishop’s palace, which however is rather to be call’d a building raised from the old house, than a part of it.
Under the church is a large Protestant French church, given first by Queen Elizabeth to the Walloons, who fled hither from the persecution of the Duke D’Alva, and the King of France; and whose number has been since very much encreased by the particular cruelty of Louis XIV.
The close or circumvallation, where the houses of the prebendaries, and other persons belonging to the cathedral stand, is very spacious and fair, and a great many very good houses are built in it, and some with good gardens; where those gentlemen live at large, and among whom a very good neighbourhood is kept up; as for the town, its antiquity seems to be its greatest beauty: The houses are truly antient, and the many ruins of churches, chapels, oratories, and smaller cells of religious people, makes the place look like a general ruin a little recovered.
The city will scarce bear being call’d populous, were it not for two or three thousand French Protestants, which, including men, women and children, they say there are in it, and yet they tell me the number of these decreases daily.
The employment of those refugees was chiefly broad silk weaving; but that trade was so decay’d before the first Act for Prohibiting the Wearing of East India Silks pass’d, that there were not twenty broad looms left in the city, of near three hundred, that had formerly been there; upon the passing that Act, the trade reviv’d again and the number of master workmen encreased, and the masters encreased; and the masters which were there before, encreasing their works also, the town fill’d again, and a great many looms were employ’d; but after this by the encroaching of the printed callicoes, chints, &c. and the prevailing of the smuggling trade as above, the silk trade decay’d a second time. But now the use and wear of printed callicoes and chints, being by Act of Parliament severely prohibited, ’tis expected the silk trade at Canterbury will revive a third time, and the inhabitants promise themselves much from it.
But the great wealth and encrease of the city of Canterbury, is from the surprizing encrease of the hop-grounds all round the place; it is within the memory of many of the inhabitants now living, and that none of the oldest neither, that there was not an acre of ground planted with hops in the whole neighbourhood, or so few as not to be worth naming; whereas I was assured that there are at this time near six thousand acres of ground so planted, within a very few miles of the city; I do not vouch the number, and I confess it seems incredible, but I deliver it as I received it.
It is observed that the ground round this city proves more particularly fruitful for the growth of hops than of any other production, which was not at first known; but which, upon its being discover’d, set all the world, speaking in the language of a neighbourhood, a digging up their grounds and planting; so that now they may say without boasting, there is at Canterbury the greatest plantation of hops in the whole island.
The river Stour was made navigable to this city, by virtue of an Act of Parliament in the reign of King Henry VIII, but the person who undertook it, not meeting with encouragement, and failing in the carrying it on, the locks and sluices are all run to decay, and the citizens are oblig’d to fetch all their heavy goods, either from Fordwich, three miles off, or from Whitstable seven miles off; the latter they chuse for such heavy goods as come from London; as oyl, wine, grocery, &c. because ’tis the less hazard by sea; but as for coals, deals, &c. they come by way of Sandwich, and are brought up the river to Fordwich, as above.
In the neighbourhood of this city are some antient families, as Sir Tho. Hales, the Lord Strangford, Sir Henry Oxenden, and several others, the two former Roman; also Sir George Rook, famous for his services at sea against the French; the last of which was in the Streights, where the French fleet was commanded by the Count de Tourville, Admiral of France; where both sides fought with such equal gallantry, and resolution, and the strength of the fleets were so equal, tho’ the French the most in number of the two, that neither seem’d to seek a second engagement; and of which the following lines were made by some of the merry wits of that time.
The great Tourville Sir George did beat,
The great Sir George beat him;
But if they chance again to meet,
George will his jacket trim:
They both did fight, they both did beat,
They both did run away;
They both did strive again to meet,
The clean contrary way.
The shore from Whitstable, and the East-Swale, affords nothing remarkable but sea-marks, and small towns on the coast, till we come to Margate and the North Foreland; the town of Margate is eminent for nothing that I know of, but for King William’s frequently landing here in his returns from Holland, and for shipping a vast quantity of corn for London Market, most, if not all of it, the product of the Isle of Thanet, in which it stands.
On the north-east point of this land, is the promontory, or head-land which I have often mentioned, call’d the North Foreland; which, by a line drawn due north to the Nase in Essex, about six miles short of Harwich, makes the mouth of the river of Thames, and the Port of London: As soon as any vessels pass this Foreland from London, they are properly said to be in the open sea; if to the north, they enter the German Ocean, if to the south, the Chanel, as ’tis call’d, that is the narrow seas between England and France; and all the towns or harbours before we come this length, whether on the Kentish or Essex shoar, are call’d members of the Port of London.
From this point westward, the first town of note is Ramsgate, a small port, the inhabitants are mighty fond of having us call it Roman’s -Gate; pretending that the Romans under Julius Caesar made their first attempt to land here, when he was driven back by a storm; but soon returned, and coming on shore, with a good body of troops beat back the Britains, and fortify’d his camp, just at the entrance of the creek, where the town now stands; all which may be true for ought any one knows, but is not to be prov’d, either by them or any one else; and is of so little concern to us, that it matters nothing whether here or at Deal, where others pretend it was.
It was from this town of Ramsgate, that a fellow of gigantick strength, tho’ not of extraordinary stature, came abroad in the world, and was call’d the English Sampson, and who suffer’d men to fasten the strongest horse they could find to a rope, and the rope round his loins, sitting on the ground, with his feet strait out against a post, and no horse could stir him; several other proofs of an incredible strength he gave before the king, and abundance of the nobility at Kensington, which no other man could equal; but his history was very short, for in about a year he disappear’d, and we heard no more of him since.
Sandwich is the next town, lying in the bottom of a bay, at the mouth of the river Stour, an old, decay’d, poor, miserable town, of which when I have said that it is an antient town, one of the Cinque Ports, and sends two members to Parliament; I have said all that I think can be worth any bodies reading of the town of Sandwich.
From hence to Deal is about —— miles. This place is famous for the road for shipping, so well known all over the trading world, by the name of the Downs, and where almost all ships which arrive from foreign parts for London, or go from London to foreign parts, and who pass the Channel, generally stop; the homeward-bound to dispatch letters, send their merchants and owners the good news of their arrival, and set their passengers on shoar, and the like; and the outward-bound to receive their last orders, letters, and farewells from owners, and friends, take in fresh provisions, &c.
Sometimes, and when the wind presents fair, ships do come in here, and pass thro’ at once, without coming to an anchor; for they are not oblig’d to stop, but for their own convenience: This place would be a very wild and dangerous road for ships, were it nor for the South Foreland, a head of land, forming the east point of the Kentish shoar; and is called, the South, as its situation respects the North Foreland; and which breaks the sea off, which would otherwise come rowling up from the west, this and a flat, or the bank of sands, which for three leagues together, and at about a league, or league and half distance run parallel with the shore, and are dry at low water, these two I say, break all the force of the sea, on the east and south, and south-west; so that the Downs is counted a very good road-
And yet on some particular winds, and especially, if they over-blow, the Downs proves a very wild road; ships are driven from their anchors, and often run on shoar, or are forced on the said sands, or into Sandwich-Bay, or Ramsgate-Peer, as above, in great distress; this is particularly when the wind blows hard at S.E. or at E. by N. or E.N.E. and some other points; and terrible havock has been made in the Downs at such times.
But the most unhappy account that can be given of any disaster in the Downs, is in the time of that terrible tempest, which we call by way of distinction, the Great Storm, being on 27th of November 1703, unhappy in particular; for that there chanced just at that time to be a great part of the royal navy under Sir Cloudesly Shovel, just come into the Downs, in their way to Chatham, to be laid up.
Five of the biggest ships had the good hap to push thro’ the Downs the day before, finding the wind then blow very hard, and were come to an anchor at the Gunfleet; and had they had but one fair day more, they had been all safe at the Nore, or in the river Medway at Blackstakes.
There remained in the Downs about twelve sail when this terrible blast began, at which time England may be said to have received the greatest loss that ever happen’d to the royal navy at one time; either by weather, by enemies, or by any accident whatsoever; the short account of it, as they shewed it me in the town, I mean of what happened in the Downs, is as follows.
The Northumberland, a third rate, carrying 70 guns, and 353 men; the Restoration, a second rate, carrying 76 guns, and 386 men; the Sterling-Castle, a second rate, carrying 80 guns, and 400 men, but had but 349 men on board; and the Mary, a third rate, of 64 guns, having 273 men on board; these were all lost, with all their men, high and low; except only one man out of the Mary, and 70 men out of the Sterling-Castle, who were taken up by boats from Deal.
All this was besides the loss of merchants ships, which was exceeding great, not here only, but in almost all the ports in the south, and west of England; and also in Ireland, which I shall have occasion to mention again in another place.
From hence we pass over a pleasant champain country, with the sea, and the coast of France, clear in your view; and by the very gates of the antient castle (to the town) of Dover: As we go, we pass by Deal Castle, and Sandown Castle, two small works, of no strength by land, and not of much use by sea; but however maintained by the government for the ordinary services of salutes, and protecting small vessels, which can lye safe under their cannon from picaroons, privateers, &c. in time of war.
Neither Dover nor its castle has any thing of note to be said of them, but what is in common with their neighbours; the castle is old, useless, decay’d, and serves for little; but to give the title and honour of government to men of quality, with a salary, and sometimes to those that want one.
The town is one of the Cinque Ports, sends members to Parliament, who are call’d barons, and has it self an ill repaired, dangerous, and good for little harbour and peir, very chargeable and little worth: The packets for France go off here, as also those for Nieuport, with the mails for Flanders, and all those ships which carry freights from New-York to Holland, and from Virginia to Holland, come generally hither, and unlade their goods, enter them with, and show them to the custom-house officers, pay the duties, and then enter them again by certificate, reload them, and draw back the duty by debenture, and so they go away for Holland.
In the time of the late war with France, here was a large victualling-office kept for the use of the navy, and a commissioner appointed to manage it, as there was also at Chatham, Portsmouth, and other places; but this is now unemploy’d: The Duke of Queensberry in Scotland, who was lord commissioner to the Parliament there, at the time of making the Union, was after the said Union created Duke of Dover, which title is possessed now by his son.
From this place the coast affords nothing of note; but some other small Cinque-Ports, such as Hith and Rumney, and Rye; and as we pass to them Folkstone, eminent chiefly for a multitude of fishing-boats belonging to it, which are one part of the year employ’d in catching mackarel for the city of London: The Folkstone men catch them, and the London and Barking mackarel-smacks, of which I have spoken at large in Essex, come down and buy them, and fly up to market with them, with such a cloud of canvas, and up so high that one would wonder their small boats cou’d bear it and should not overset: About Michaelmas these Folkstone barks, among others from Shoreham, Brighthelmston and Rye, go away to Yarmouth, and Leostoff, on the coast of Suffolk and Norfolk, to the fishing-fair, and catch herrings for the merchants there, of which I have spoken at large in my discourse on that subject.
As I rode along this coast, I perceiv’d several dragoons riding, officers, and others arm’d and on horseback, riding always about as if they were huntsmen beating up their game; upon inquiry I found their diligence was employ’d in quest of the owlers, as they call them, and sometimes they catch some of them; but when I came to enquire farther, I found too, that often times these are attack’d in the night, with such numbers, that they dare not resist, or if they do, they are wounded and beaten, and sometimes kill’d; and at other times are oblig’d, as it were, to stand still, and see the wool carry’d off before their faces, not daring to meddle; and the boats taking it in from the very horses backs, go immediately off, and are on the coast of France, before any notice can be given of them, while the other are as nimble to return with their horses to their haunts and retreats, where they are not easily found out.
But I find so many of these desperate fellows are of late taken up, by the courage and vigilance of the soldiers, that the knots are very much broken, and the owling-trade much abated, at least on that side; the French also finding means to be supply’d from Ireland with much less hazard, and at very little more expence.
From Rumney-Marsh the shoar extends it self a great way into the sea, and makes that point of land, call’d Dengey-Ness; between this point of land and Beachy, it was that the French in the height of their naval glory took the English and Dutch fleets at some disadvantage, offering them battle, when the French were so superior in number, that it was not consistent with humane prudence to venture an engagement, the French being ninety two ships of the line of battle, and the English and Dutch, put together, not sixty sail; the French ships also generally bigger: yet such was the eagerness of both the English and Dutch seamen, and commanders, that it was not without infinite murmurings, that Admiral Herbert stood away, and call’d off the Dutch, who had the van, from engaging; the English it seems believ’d themselves so superior to the French when they came to lye broad-side and broad-side, yard-arm and yard-arm, as the seamen call it in an engagement, that they would admit of no excuse for not fighting; tho’ according to all the rules of war, no admiral could justify hazarding the royal navy on such terms; and especially the circumstances of the time then considered, for the king was in Ireland, and King James ready in France, if the English and Dutch fleets had received a blow, to have embark’d with an army for England, which perhaps would have hazarded the whole Revolution; so that wise men afterwards, and as I have been told the king himself upon a full hearing justify’d the conduct of Admiral Herbert, and afterwards created him Earl of Torrington.
Here, or rather a little farther, we saw the bones of one of the Dutch men of war, which was burnt and stranded by the French in that action; the towns of Rye, Winchelsea, and Hastings, have little in them to deserve more than a bare mention; Rye would flourish again, if her harbour, which was once able to receive the royal navy, cou’d be restor’d; but as it is, the bar is so loaded with sand cast up by the sea, that ships of 200 tun chuse to ride it out under Dengey or Beachy, tho’ with the greatest danger, rather than to run the hazard of going into Rye for shelter: It is true there is now an Act of Parliament pass’d for the restoring this port to its former state, when a man of war of 70 guns might have safely gone in; but ’tis very doubtful, whether it will be effectual to the main end or no, after so long a time.
Indeed our merchants ships are often put to great extremity hereabout, for there is not one safe place for them to run into, between Portsmouth and the Downs; whereas in former days, Rye-Bay was an asylum, a safe harbour, where they could go boldly in, and ride safe in all weathers, and then go to sea again at pleasure.
From a little beyond Hastings to Bourn, we ride upon the sands in a straight line for eighteen miles, all upon the coast of Sussex, passing by Pemsey, or Pevensey Haven, and the mouth of the river, which cometh from Battle, without so much as knowing that there was a river, the tide being out, and all the water of the ordinary chanel of the river sinking away in the sands: This is that famous strand where William the Norman landed with his whole army; and near to which, namely, at the town of Battle abovenamed, which is about nine miles off, he fought that memorable fight with Harold, then King of England; in which the fate of this nation was determined, and where victory gave the crown to the Conqueror and his race, of the particulars of all which, our histories are full; this town of Battle is remarkable for little now, but for making the finest gun-powder, and the best perhaps in Europe. Near this town of Battle, they show us a hill with a beacon upon it, which since the beacon was set up, indeed has been call’d Beacon Hill, as is usual in such cases; but was before that call’d Standard-Hill, being the place where William the Conqueror set up his great standard of defiance, the day before the great battle with Harold and the English.
From the beginning of Rumney Marsh, that is to say, at Sandgate, or Sandfoot Castle near Hith, to this place, the country is a rich fertile soil, full of feeding grounds, and where an infinite number of large sheep are fed every year, and sent up to London market; these Rumney Marsh sheep, are counted rather larger than the Leicester-shire and Lincolnshire sheep, of which so much is said elsewhere.
Besides the vast quantity of sheep as above, abundance of large bullocks are fed in this part of the country; and especially those they call stall’d oxen, that is, house fed, and kept within the farmers sheds or yards, all the latter season, where they are fed for the winter market. This I noted, because these oxen are generally the largest beef in England.
From hence it was that, turning north, and traversing the deep, dirty, but rich part of these two counties, I had the curiosity to see the great foundaries, or iron-works, which are in this county, and where they are carry’d on at such a prodigious expence of wood, that even in a country almost all over-run with timber, they begin to complain of the consuming it for those furnaces, and leaving the next age to want timber for building their navies: I must own however, that I found that complaint perfectly groundless, the three counties of Kent, Sussex, and Hampshire, (all which lye contiguous to one another) being one inexhaustible store-house of timber never to be destroyed, but by a general conflagration, and able at this time to supply timber to rebuild all the royal navies in Europe, if they were all to be destroy’d, and set about the building them together.
After I had fatigued my self in passing this deep and heavy part of the country, I thought it would not be foreign to my design, if I refreshed my self with a view of Tunbridge-Wells, which were not then above twelve miles out of my way.
When I came to the wells, which were five miles nearer to me than the town, supposing me then at Battle to the southward of them; I found a great deal of good company there, and that which was more particular, was, that it happened to be at the time when his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales was there with abundance of the nobility, and gentry of the country, who to honour the prince’s coming, or satisfy their own curiosity, throng’d to that place; so that at first I found it very difficult to get a lodging.
The prince appeared upon the walks, went into the raffling shops, and to every publick place, saw every thing, and let every body see him, and went away, with the Duke of Dorset, and other of his attendance for Portsmouth; so in two or three days, things return’d all to their antient chanel, and Tunbridge was just what it used to be.
The ladies that appear here, are indeed the glory of the place; the coming to the Wells to drink the water is a meer matter of custom; some drink, more do not, and few drink physically: But company and diversion is in short the main business of the place; and those people who have nothing to do any where else, seem to be the only people who have any thing to do at Tunbridge.
After the appearance is over at the Wells, (where the ladies axe all undress’d) and at the chapel, the company go home; and as if it was another species of people, or a collection from another place, you are surpriz’d to see the walks covered with ladies compleatly dress’d and gay to profusion; where rich cloths, jewels, and beauty not to be set out by (but infinitely above) ornament, dazzles the eyes from one end of the range to the other.
Here you have all the liberty of conversation in the world, and any thing that looks like a gentleman, has an address agreeable, and behaves with decency and good manners, may single out whom he pleases, that does not appear engag’d, and may talk, rally, be merry, and say any decent thing to them; but all this makes no acquaintance, nor is it taken so, or understood to mean so; if a gentleman desires to be more intimate, and enter into any acquaintance particular, he must do it by proper application, not by ordinary meeting on the walks, for the ladies will ask no gentleman there, to go off the walk, or invite any one to their lodgings, except it be a sort of ladies of whom I am not now speaking.
As for gaming, sharping, intrieguing; as also fops, fools, beaus, and the like, Tunbridge is as full of these, as can be desired, and it takes off much of the diversion of those persons of honour and virtue, who go there to be innocently recreated: However a man of character, and good behaviour cannot be there any time, but he may single out such company as may be suitable to him, and with whom he may be as merry as heart can wish.
The air here is excellent good, the country healthful, and the provisions of all sorts very reasonable: Particularly, they are supply’d with excellent fish, and that of almost all sorts, from Rye, and other towns on the sea-coast; and I saw a turbut of near 20l. weight sold there for 3s.: In the season of mackarel, they have them here from Hastings, within three hours of their being taken out of the sea, and the difference which that makes in their goodness, I need not mention.
They have likewise here abundance of wild-fowl, of the best sorts; such as pheasant, partridge, woodcock, snipe, quails, also duck, mallard, teal, &c. particularly they have from the South-Downs, the bird call’d a wheat ear, or as we may call them, the English ortolans, the most delicious taste for a creature of one mouthful, for ’tis little more, that can be imagined; but these are very dear at Tunbridge, they are much cheaper at Seaford, Lewis, and that side of the country.
In a word, Tunbridge wants nothing that can add to the felicities of life, or that can make a man or woman compleatly happy, always provided they have money; for without money a man is no-body at Tunbridge, any more than at any other place; and when any man finds his pockets low, he has nothing left to think of, but to be gone, for he will have no diversion in staying there any longer.
And yet Tunbridge also is a place in which a lady however virtuous, yet for want of good conduct may as soon shipwreck her character as in any part of England; and where, when she has once injur’d her reputation, ’tis as hard to restore it; nay, some say no lady ever recovered her character at Tunbridge, if she first wounded it there: But this is to be added too, that a lady very seldom suffers that way at Tunbridge, without some apparent folly of her own; for that they do not seem so apt to make havock of one another’s reputation here, by tattle and slander, as I think they do in some other places in the world; particularly at Epsome, Hampstead, and such like places; which I take to be, because the company who frequent Tunbridge, seem to be a degree or two above the society of those other places, and therefore are not so very apt, either to meddle with other peoples affairs, or to censure if they do; both which are the properties of that more gossiping part of the world.
In this I shall be much misunderstood, if it is thought I mean the ladies only, for I must own I look just the other way; and if I may be allow’d to use my own sex so coursly, it is really among them that the ladies characters first, and oftnest receive unjust wounds; and I must confess the malice, the reflections, the busy meddling, the censuring, the tatling from place to place, and the making havock of the characters of innocent women, is found among the men gossips more than among their own sex, and at the coffee-houses more than at the tea-table; then among the women themselves, what is to be found of it there, is more among the chamber-maids, than among their mistresses; slander is a meanness below persons of honour and quality, and to do injustice to the ladies, especially, is a degree below those who have any share of breeding and sense: On this account you may observe, ’tis more practis’d among the citizens than among the gentry, and in country towns and villages, more than in the city, and so on, till you come to the meer canail, the common mobb of the street, and there, no reputation, no character can shine without having dirt thrown upon it every day: But this is a digression.
I left Tunbridge, for the same reason that I give, why others should leave it, when they are in my condition; namely, that I found my money almost gone; and tho’ I had bills of credit to supply my self in the course of my intended journey; yet I had none there; so I came away, or as they call it there, I retir’d; and came to Lewes, through the deepest, dirtiest, but many ways the richest, and most profitable country in all that part of England.
The timber I saw here was prodigious, as well in quantity as in bigness, and seem’d in some places to be suffered to grow, only because it was so far off of any navigation, that it was not worth cutting down and carrying away; in dry summers, indeed, a great deal is carry’d away to Maidstone, and other places on the Medway; and sometimes I have seen one tree on a carriage, which they call there a tug, drawn by two and twenty oxen, and even then, ’tis carry’d so little a way, and then thrown down, and left for other tugs to take up and carry on, that sometimes ’tis two or three year before it gets to Chatham; for if once the rains come in, it stirs no more that year, and sometimes a whole summer is not dry enough to make the roads passable: Here I had a sight, which indeed I never saw in any other part of England: Namely, that going to church at a country village, not far from Lewis, I saw an ancient lady, and a lady of very good quality, I assure you, drawn to church in her coach with six oxen; nor was it done in frolic or humour, but meer necessity, the way being so stiff and deep, that no horses could go in it.
Lewis is a fine pleasant town, well built, agreeably scituated in the middle of an open champaign country, and on the edge of the South Downs, the pleasantest, and most delightful of their kind in the nation; it lies on the bank of a little wholsome fresh river, within twelve miles of the sea; but that which adds to the character of this town, is, that both the town and the country adjacent, is full of gentlemen of good families and fortunes, of which the Pelhams may be named with the first, whose chief was by King William made a baron, and whose eldest son succeeding to the greatest part of the estate of that English Crassus, the late Duke of Newcastle, has since brought the title and honour of Newcastle to the house of Pelham. Here are also the antient families of Gage, Shelly, &c. formerly Roman, but now Protestant, with many others.
From this town, following still the range of the South Downs, west; we ride in view of the sea, and on a fine carpet ground, for about twelve miles to Bright Helmston, commonly call’d Bredhemston, a poor fishing town, old built, and on the very-edge of the sea: Here again, as I mentioned at Folkstone and Dover, the fisher-men having large barks go away to Yarmouth, on the coast of Norfolk, to the fishing fair there, and hire themselves for the season to catch herrings for the merchants; and they tell us, that these make a very good business of it.
The sea is very unkind to this town, and has by its continual encroachments, so gained upon them, that in a little time more they might reasonably expect it would eat up the whole town, above 100 houses having been devoured by the water in a few years past; they are now obliged to get a brief granted them, to beg money all over England, to raise banks against the water; the expence of which, the brief expresly says, will be eight thousand pounds; which if one were to look on the town, would seem to be more than all the houses in it are worth.
From hence, still keeping the coast close on the left, we come to Shoreham, a sea-faring town, and chiefly inhabited by ship-carpenters, ship-chandlers, and all the several trades depending upon the building and fitting up of ships, which is their chief business; and they are fam’d for neat building, and for building good sea-boats; that is to say, ships that are wholesome in the sea, and good sailors; but for strong building, they do not come up to Yarmouth, Ipswich, and the north.
The builders of ships seemed to plant here, chiefly because of the exceeding quantity and cheapness of timber in the country behind them; being the same wooded country I mentioned above, which still continues thro’ this county and the next also: The river this town stands upon, tho’ not navigable for large vessels, yet serves them to bring down this large timber in floats from Bramber, Stenning, and the country adjacent; which is as it were all covered with timber.
Here in the compass of about six miles are three burrough towns, sending members to Parliament, (viz.) Shoreham, Bramber, and Stenning: and Shoreham, Stenning are tolerable little market-towns; but Bramber (a little ruin of an old castle excepted) hardly deserves the name of a town, having not above fifteen or sixteen families in it, and of them not many above asking you an alms as you ride by; the chiefest house in the town is a tavern, and here, as I have been told, the vintner, or ale-house-keeper rather, for he hardly deserv’d the name of a vintner, boasted, that upon an election, just then over, he had made 300l. of one pipe of canary.
This is the second town in this county, where the elections have been so scandalously mercenary; and of whom it is said, there was in one king’s reign more money spent at elections, than all the lands in the parishes were worth, at twenty years purchase; the other town I mean is Winchelsea, a town, if it deserves the name of a town, which is rather the skeleton of an ancient city than a real town, where the antient gates stand near three miles from one another over the fields, and where the ruins are so bury’d, that they have made good corn fields of the streets, and the plow goes over the foundations, nay, over the first floors of the houses, and where nothing of a town but the destruction of it seems to remain; yet at one election for this town the strife was such between Sir John Banks, father-in-law to the Earl of Aylesford, and Colonel Draper, a neighbouring gentleman, that I was told in the country the latter spent 11000l . at one election, and yet lost it too; what the other spent who opposed him, may be guest at, seeing he that spent most was always sure to carry it in those days.
Bramber is the very exemplification of this, with this difference only, namely, that at the former they have given it over, at the latter it seems to be rather worse than ever.
Near Stenning, the famous Sir John Fagg had a noble antient seat, now possessed with a vast estate by his grandson, Sir Robert Fagg; but I mention the antient gentleman on this occasion, that being entertained at his house, in the year 1697, he show’d me in his park four bullocks of his own breeding, and of his own feeding, of so prodigious a size, and so excessively overgrown by fat, that I never saw any thing like them; and the bullock which Sir Edward Blacket, in Yorkshire, near Rippon, fed, and caused to be shew’d about for a sight at Newcastle upon Tyne, was not any way equal to the least of them, nor had it so much flesh on it by near twenty stone a quarter.
While I continued at Sir John’s, some London butchers came down to see them, and in my hearing offered Sir John six and twenty pound a head for them, but he refused it; and when I mov’d him afterward to take the money, he said No, he was resolv’d to have them to Smithfield himself, that he might say he had the four biggest bullocks in England at market.
He continued positive, and did go up to Smithfield-Market with them; but whether it was that they sunk a little hi the driving, or that the butchers play’d a little upon him, I cannot tell; but he was obliged to sell them for twenty five pound a head when he came there: I knew one of the butchers that bought them, and on a particular occasion enquir’d of him what they weighed when kill’d, and he assur’d me that they weigh’d eighty stone a quarter, when kill’d and cut-out; which is so incredible, that if I had not been well assur’d of the truth of it, I should not have ventur’d thus to have recorded it: But by this may be judg’d something of the largeness of the cattle in the Wild of Kent and Sussex, for it is all the same, of which I mention’d something before, and for this reason I tell the story.
From hence we come to Arundel, a decayed town also; but standing near the mouth of a good river, call’d Arun, which signifies, says Mr, Cambden, the swift, tho’ the river it self is not such a rapid current as merits that name; at least it did not seem to be so to me.
The principal advantage to the country from this river, is the shipping of great quantities of large timber here; which is carry’d up the Thames to Woolwich and Deptford, and up the Medway to Chatham; as also westward to Portsmouth, and even to Plymouth, to the new dock there, that is to say, it goes to all the king’s yards, where the business of the navy is carry’d on: The timber shipped off here is esteemed the best, as it is also the largest that is brought by sea from any part of England; also great quantities of knee timber is had here, which is valuable in its kind above the strait timber, being not only necessary, but scarce, I mean that which is very large.
This river, and the old decay’d, once famous castle at Arundel, which are still belonging to the family of Howards, Earls of Arundel, a branch of the Norfolk family, is all that is remarkable here; except it be that in this river are catch’d the best mullets, and the largest in England, a fish very good in it self, and much valued by the gentry round, and often sent up to London.
From hence to the city of Chichester are twelve miles, and the most pleasant beautiful country in England, whether we go by the hill, that is the Downs, or by the plain, (viz.) the enclosed country. To the north of Arundel, and at the bottom of the hills, and consequently in the Wild, is the town of Petworth, a large handsome country market-town, and very populous, and as it stands upon an ascent, and is dry and healthy, it is full of gentlemens families, and good well built houses both in the town and neighbourhood; but the beauty of Petworth, is the antient seat of the old family of Peircy, Earls of Northumberland, now extinct; whose daughter, the sole heiress of all his vast estates, marry’d the present Duke of Somerset; of the noble and antient family of Seymour, and among other noble seats brought his grace this of Petworth.
The duke pull’d down the antient house, and on the same spot has built from the ground, one of the finest piles of building, and the best model’d houses then in Britain: It has had the misfortune to be once almost demolish’d by fire, but the damage is fully repaired; but another disaster to the family can never be repaired, which has happen’d to it, even while these sheets were writing; namely, the death of the dutchess, who dy’d in November 1722, and lies buried in the burying place of the family of Seymor, Dukes of Somerset, in the cathedral church of Salisbury.
Her Grace was happy in a numerous issue, as well as in a noble estate; and besides two sons and one daughter, which lye bury’d with her, has left one son and ——— daughters still living. I shall have occasion to mention the Northumberland estates again, when I come to speak of the other fine seats, which the duke enjoys in right of his late dutchess, and the many old castles which were formerly part of that Northumberland estate.
The duke’s house at Petworth, is certainly a compleat building in it self, and the apartments are very noble, well contriv’d, and richly furnish’d; but it cannot be said, that the situation of the house is equally designed, or with equal judgment as the rest; the avenues to the front want space, the house stands as it were with its elbow to the town, its front has no visto answerable, and the west front look’d not to the parks or fine gardens, but to the old stables.
To rectify this, when it was too late to order it any other way, the duke was oblig’d to pull down those noble buildings; I mean the mews, or stables, the finest of their kind in all the south of England, and equal to some noblemens whole houses, and yet even the demolishing the pile has done no more than open’d a prospect over the country, whereas had the house been set on the rising ground, on the side of the park, over against the north wing of the house, and a little more to the westward, the front had been south to the town, the back front to the parks, which were capable of fountains, canals, vistos, and all the most exquisite pieces of art, that sets out the finest gardens, whereas all now lyes on one angle, or opposite to one wing of the house. But with all these disadvantages, the house it self is a noble pile of building, and by far the finest in all this part of Britain.
From Petworth west, the country is a little less woody than the Wild, and there begin to show their heads above the trees, a great many fine seats of the nobility and gentlemen of the country, as the Duke of Richmond’s seat at Goodwood, near Chichester. (This family also is in tears, at the writing these sheets, for the death of her grace the dutchess, who dyed the beginning of the month of December, and is bury’d in Westminster Abbey; and here the year closing, I think ’tis very-remarkable, that this year 1722, no less than five dukes and two dutchesses are dead (viz.) the Dukes of Bucks, Bolton, Rutland, Manchester, and Marlborough, and the Dutchesses of Somerset and Richmond; besides earls (viz.) the Earl of Sunderland, of Stamford, Exeter, and others; and since the above was written, and sent to the press, the Duke of Richmond himself is also dead.) The seats of the late Earl of Tankerville, and the Earl of Scarborough, the antient house of the Lord Montacute at Midhurst, an antient family of the sirname of Brown, the eldest branch of the house: These and a great many more lying so near together, make the country hereabout much more sociable and pleasant than the rest of the woody country, call’d The Wild, of which I have made mention so often; and yet I cannot say much for the city of Chichester, in which, if six or seven good families were removed, there would not be much conversation, except what is to be found among the canons, and dignitaries of the cathedral.
The cathedral here is not the finest in England, but is far from being the most ordinary: The spire is a piece of excellent workmanship, but it received such a shock about ——— years ago, that it was next to miraculous, that the whole steeple did not fall down; which in short, if it had, would almost have demolished the whole church.
It was a fire-ball, if we take it from the inhabitants, or, to speak in the language of nature, the lightning broke upon the steeple, and such was the irresistible force of it, that it drove several great stones out of the steeple, and carry’d them clear off, not from the roof of the church only, but of the adjacent houses also, and they were found at a prodigious distance from the steeple, so that they must have been shot out of the places where they stood in the steeple, as if they had been shot out of a cannon, or blown out of a mine: One of these stones of at least a ton weight, by estimation, was blown over the south side, or row of houses in the West-Street, and fell on the ground in the street at a gentleman’s door, on the other side of the way; and another of them almost as big was blown over both sides of the said West-Street, into the same gentleman’s garden, at whose door the other stone lay, and no hurt was done by either of them; whereas if either of those stones had fallen upon the strongest built house in the street, it would have dash’d it all to pieces, even to the foundation: This account of the two stones, I relate from a person of undoubted credit, who was an eye-witness, and saw them, but had not the curiosity to measure them, which he was very sorry for. The breach it made in the spire, tho’ within about forty five foot of the top, was so large, that as the workmen said to me, a coach and six horses might have driven through it, and yet the steeple stood fast, and is now very substantially repaired; withal, showing that it was before, an admirable sound and well finished piece of workmanship.
They have a story in this city, that when ever a bishop of that diocess is to dye, a heron comes and sits upon the pinnacle of the spire of the cathedral: This accordingly happen’d, about ——— when Dr. ——— Williams was bishop: A butcher Standing at his shop-door, in the South-Street, saw it, and ran in for his gun, and being a good marks-man shot the heron, and kill’d it, at which his mother was very angry with him, and said he had kill’d the bishop, and the next day news came to the town that Dr. Williams, the last bishop was dead; this is affirm’d by many people inhabitants of the place.
This city is not a place of much trade, nor is it very populous; but they are lately fallen into a very particular way of managing the corn trade here, which it is said turns very well to account; the country round it is very fruitful, and particularly in good wheat, and the farmers generally speaking, carry’d all their wheat to Farnham, to market, which is very near forty miles by land-carriage, and from some parts of the country more than forty miles.
But some money’d men of Chichester, Emsworth, and other places adjacent, have join’d their stocks together, built large granaries near the Crook, where the vessels come up, and here they buy and lay up all the corn which the country on that side can spare; and having good mills in the neighbourhood, they grind and dress the corn, and send it to London in the meal about by Long Sea, as they call it; nor now the war is over do they make the voyage so tedious as to do the meal any hurt, as at first in the time of war was sometimes the case for want of convoys.
It is true, this is a great lessening to Farnham Market, but that is of no consideration in the case; for, if the market at London is supply’d, the coming by sea from Chichester is every jot as much a publick good, as the encouraging of Farnham Market, which is of it self the greatest corn-market in England, London excepted. Notwithstanding all the decrease from this side of the country, this carrying of meal by sea met with so just an encouragement from hence, that it is now practised from several other places on this coast, even as far as Shampton.