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Amongst these, one of the edifices that must have been best worth preserving, and is even now most interesting to see, is the grand old castellated mansion, which in the reign of Elizabeth belonged to one of her favourite courtiers, and was known as Master Comptroller's House, at Grays.
The very road to it is singularly interesting. Passing through the town, which increases in growth every day, until one wonders when and where it will stop, and looking with ever-fresh admiration at the beautiful lace-work window of the old Friary, which I long to see preserved in the fitliest manner, by forming again the chief ornament of a church, and then driving under the arch of the Great Western Railway, and feeling the strange vibration of some monster train passing over our heads—a proceeding which never fails to make my pony show off his choicest airs and graces, pricking up his pretty ears, tossing his slender head, dancing upon four feet, and sometimes rearing upon two-we arrive at the long, low, picturesque old bridge, the oldest of all the bridges that cross the Thames, so narrow that no two vehicles can pass at once, and that over every pier triangular spaces have been devised for the safety of foot-passengers.
On the centre arch is a fisherman's hut, occupying the place once filled by a friar's cell, and covering a still existing chapel, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, now put to secular uses-a dairy or a cellar.
A little way down the river is one of the beautiful islands of the Thames, now a smooth and verdant meadow, edged round with old willow pollards calmly reflected in the bright, clear waters, but giving back in the twelfth century a far different
Here was fought a wager of battle between Robert de Montford, appellant, and Henry de Essex, hereditary Standard-bearer of the Kings of England, defendant, by command, and in the presence of Henry the Second. The story is told
The story is told very minutely and graphically by Stowe. Robert de Montford at length struck down his adversary, “who fell,” says the old historian, “after receiving many wounds ; and the King, at the request of several noblemen, his relations, gave permission to the monks to inter the body, commanding that no further violence should be offered to it. The monks took up the vanquished knight, and carried him into the abbey, where he revived. When he recovered from his wounds, he was received into the community, and assumed the habit of the order, his lands being forfeited to the King.” I have always thought that this story would afford excellent scope to some great novelist, who might give a fair and accurate picture of monastic life, and, indeed, of the monastic orders, as landlords, neighbours, teachers, priests, without any mixture of controversial theology, or inventing any predecessors of Luther or Wicliffe. How we should have liked to have heard all about
“ The Monastery,” about the “ Abbot,” and Father Eustace, untroubled by Henry Warden or John Knox! From the moment that they appear, our comfort in the book vanishes, just as completely as that of the good easy Abbot Boniface himself. There we are in the middle of vexed questions, with the beautiful pile of Melrose threatening every moment to fall about our ears !
Our business now, however, is to get over the bridge, which after the excitement of one dispute with a pugnacious carrier, and another with a saucy groom, whose caracoling horse had well nigh leaped over the parapets on either side; after some backing of other carriages, and some danger of being forced to back our own, we at last achieve, and enter unscathed, the pleasant village of Caversham.
To the left, through a highly ornamented lodge, lies the road to the ancient seat of the Blounts, a house made famous by Pope, where the fair ladies of his love, the sisters Martha and Teresa, lived and died. A fine old place it is; and a picturesque road leads to it, winding through a tract called the Warren, between the high chalk-cliffs, clothed with trees of all varieties, that for so many miles fence in the northern side of the Thames, and the lordly river itself, now concealed by tall elms, now open and shining in the full light of the
There is not such a flower-bank in Oxfordshire as Caversham Warren.
Our way, however, leads straight on. A few miles farther, and a turn to the right conducts us to one of the grand old village churches, which give so much of character to English landscape. A large and beautiful pile it is. The tower half-clothed with ivy, standing with its charming vicarage and its pretty vicarage-garden on a high eminence, overhanging one of the finest bends of the great river. A woody lane leads from the church to the bottom of the chalk-cliff, one side of which stands out from the road below, like a promontory, surmounted by the laurel hedges and flowery arbours of the vicarage-garden, and crested by a noble cedar of Lebanon. This is Shiplake church, famed far and near for its magnificent oak carving, and the rich painted glass of its windows, collected, long before such adornments were fashionable, by the fine taste of the late vicar, and therefore filled with the very choicest specimens of mediæval art, chiefly obtained from the remains of the celebrated Abbey of St. Bertin, near St. Omers, sacked during the first French Revolution. In this church Alfred Tennyson was married. Blessings be upon him !
I never saw the great Poet in my life, but thousands who
have seen him either, but who owe to his poetry the purest and richest intellectual enjoyment, will echo and re-echo the benison.
A little way farther, and a turn to the left leads
to another spot consecrated by genius—Woodcot, where Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton passed the earlier years of his married life, and wrote several of his most powerful novels. I have always thought that the scenery of Paul Clifford caught some of its tone from that wild and beautiful country, for wild and beautiful it is. The terrace in the grounds commands a most extensive prospect; and beneath a clump of trees on the common behind the house, is the only spot where on a clear day Windsor may
be seen on one side, and Oxford on the other—looking almost like the domes and towers and pinnacles that sometimes appear in the clouds—a fairy picture that the next breeze may waft away! This beautiful residence stands so high, that one of its former possessors, Admiral Fraser (grandfather to that dear friend of mine who is the present owner) could discover Woodcot Clump from the mast of his own ship at Spithead, a distance of sixty miles.
Wyfold's Court, another pretty place a little farther on, which also belonged once to a most dear friend, possesses the finest Wych-elms in England. Artists come from far and near to paint these stately trees, whose down-dropping branches and magnificent height are at once so graceful and so rich. They are said always to indicate ecclesiastical possession, but no trace of such dependency is to be found in the title-deeds, or in the tenure by which