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A long discourse—The origin of a coat-of-arms—An English serf
A witch-stone-Lincolnshire folk-lore—A collar for lunatics— St. Mary's thistle—A notable robbery-An architectural gemConingsby — Tattershall church and castle — Lowland and upland—“ Beckingham-behind-the-Times”—Old Lincolnshire folk.
FROM Poolham Hall we drove on through a lovely country, remote from railways, and pervaded by a peaceful, mellow, homelike look ; bound for the out-of-the-world hamlet of Wispington. On the way our antiquarian friend began a long discourse; I write long advisedly because it lasted for nearly, if not quite, four miles, and how much longer it would have lasted I cannot say, for on arriving at a junction of roads, we broke the thread of the discourse by inquiring which road we should take. “Why, bless my soul,” exclaimed he, “we've driven two miles out of our way, I quite forgot all about where we were going! This comes of our very interesting conversation.” We thought “our very interesting conversation" was an excellent conceit, considering that we had been merely patient listeners all the time: however, we jokingly remarked that the talk was worth the added miles, and after all we arrived at Wispington with the best of the
day still before us; there we drove up to the rectory and fortunately found the rector, an enthusiastic antiquary like our companion, at home.
First, we were taken to see the church, a modern one decorated within with carvings in Caen stone representing the animals and birds of the Old Testament done by a former incumbent, and containing some tombstone slabs and brasses preserved from the ancient church it had supplanted. In the pavement of the vestry we had pointed out to us an ancient incised slab (broken) to the memory of John Hetsete, a priest ; this was dated 1394. The slab is of much interest as showing the priest in vestments holding a chalice in gloved hands, tightly buttoned. I cannot remember ever having come upon a priest represented thus with gloved hands. I am not sufficient of an antiquary to say whether this feature is unique, it certainly is very uncommon.
A brass, now on the south wall of the church near the porch, is inscribed to the memory of Robert Tyrwhitt; here on a shield is shown the coat-of-arms of the family “ three pewits d'or proper on a field gules,” if that be the correct heraldic way of putting it. To this coat-of-arms belongs a little history. We were informed that one of the ancestors of the family after a gallant fight in battle with the Scots (name and date unremembered) fell on the field seriously wounded. After long search, he was found by his relations, hidden from view in a bed of reeds, their attention having been attracted to the spot by three pewits hovering over it, uttering
plaintive cries the while. From this circumstance, the family adopted three pewits as their coat-ofarms, likewise taking the name of Tyrwhitt, the latter being supposed to represent the cry of that bird. Thereupon—in the spirit of inquiry that ever besets us—we wanted to know what the name of the family was before that eventful occasion, but could obtain no information on the point. One really should not be so exacting about pretty traditions ; it is an artistic sin for the commission of which I now, too late, repent.
Then we returned to the rectory, where the rector most kindly showed us some of his valued antiquarian treasures. One of these consisted of an old parchment document written in Latin, and very beautifully written too, the lettering being as black and as clear as when first done long changeful centuries ago, for the deed bears the date of 1282. The document, which was presumably drafted in the Abbey of Bardney, and was signed in the chapter house thereof, gives particulars of the sale of a serf with his family. A circumstance that throws a startling sidelight on the condition of England at the time. Curiously enough, in a further document, the same serf appears as rector of a neighbouring parish, and even purchases land there in 1285. The true inwardness of all this it would be interesting to discover.
Then the rector brought out a “witch-stone" from his treasure store to show us ; this he found hanging on a cottage door and serving as a charm against all evil. It is merely a small flint with a
hole in the centre, through which hole was strung a piece of cord to hang it up with. A “witch-stone” hung up on, or over, the entrance door of a house is supposed to protect the inhabitants from all harm; in the same way do not some enlightened people nail a horse-shoe over their door "for good luck"? To ensure this "good-luck” I understand you must find a horse-shoe “accidentally on the road” without looking for it; to procure a “witch-stone” you must in like manner come upon a stone (of any kind) with a hole through the centre when you are not thinking about any such thing.
Then our host related to us a curious story that had been told to him as true history. According to this, a certain Lincolnshire miser died (I withhold, name, date, and place), and was duly placed in his coffin overnight; but then a strange thing happened, next morning the body had disappeared and its place was taken up with stones; it being presumed that the Devil had made off with his body and had placed the stones in the coffin in exchange. But one would have imagined that it was the man's spirit not his body that his Satanic Majesty desired
-but there I am always over-critical and too exacting about details. By the way this reminds me we were told, that the Lincolnshire folk never call the Devil openly by that familiar designation, but speak of him in an undertone, as either “Samuel,” “Old Lad,” or “Bargus.”
Then we gleaned some particulars of old Lincolnshire folk-lore. Here, for example, is an infallible charm to get power over the Devil, I mean “Samuel.”
On St. Mark's Eve, precisely at twelve o'clock, hold two pewter platters one over the other, take these to where bracken grows, hold the platters under the plants for the seeds to drop in, then you will find that the seeds will go right through the top platter and be caught in the one below; upon this “Samuel” will appear riding on a pig and tell you anything you want to know. Here is another charm. Kill a hedge-hog and smear two thorn-sticks with his blood, place these in a hedge-bottom and leave them there for fourteen days, if not moved meanwhile you will have your wish. I give these two charms as a fair sample of others, and I think they will well suffice!
Leaving Wispington, we came in about half a mile to a spot where four roads meet, a burialplace for suicides in times past, and reputed to be the centre of Lincolnshire. Then driving on we reached Horsington. In the register of burials here is a notice of “Bridget Hall buried in her own garden A.D. 16 ." She lived at Hail Farm near by, our friend told us, and directed in her will that she should be buried in her own garden, and that her body should be laid north and south, as she considered it “too Popish to be buried east and west in a churchyard !” Some years ago the then occupier of that farm, we further learnt, on digging a drain in the same garden came upon a skeleton lying north and south; presumably that of Bridget Hall.
In the vestry of the church here, according to our informant, used to be preserved in a box a