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A well-preserved relic—An old English home-Authorities differ —
Rooms on the top of a church tower--A medieval-looking town
-A Saxon tower—Bedford—Bunyan's birthplace—LutonThe end of the journey.
LEAVING Kirby we soon reached the very pretty village of Deene, on passing through which we noticed a picturesque creeper-covered little hostel with the sign of “The Sea-horse,” though it was so far inland. Then our road led us round Deene Park, shady with branching beeches and leafy elms, just giving us a glance of the interesting old Tudor mansion peeping through the woods, and so by the side of a little lake to another picturesque village called Great Weldon, some of the houses wherein are quaintly built and worthy of study. A stone district seems to breed good architecture, even in cottages. After this we had an open stretch of country on to Geddington where we found, to our delight, a Queen Eleanor Cross, little damaged, either by the hand of man, or time. It was a pleasure to come unexpectedly upon this wellpreserved relic of the vanished long ago.
Shortly after this our road brought us to Boughton Park, a fine demesne with a large and rather ugly mansion set therein. What interested
us here was the arrangement of wide avenues of elms, extending from the house in every direction, rising and falling with the varying undulations of the ground. The effect, though formal, is fine in the sense that it gives a feeling of great expanse by leading the eye far away into the distant country on all sides. It is magnificent, but it is too apparently artificial to be commended; a formal garden is all very well, and very charming; a' garden is confessedly Nature tamed, to a greater or less extent, but one does not desire a whole country-side tamed ! These stately avenues, we learnt afterwards, were planted by the second Duke of Montague, from which grand hobby he justly earned the title of “the planter Duke.” Soon after this we entered the busy and thriving town of Kettering, where we fortunately discovered a very comfortable hotel with a most obliging landlord.
We resumed our journey early the next morning; we left our hotel and worthy landlord with regret, and the busy town with pleasure; and glad we were to get into the quiet country again. We had a rather hilly road at first, with charming woodland prospects opening out ever and again; in about two miles we reached the small hamlet of Barton Seagrave,-here we noticed more avenues of elms radiating from the ancient church, possibly part of the scheme of "the planter Duke.” Then driving on we came to the large village of Burton Latimer, where to the left of our road we espied a lovely old English home of many gables, great chimney stacks and mullioned windows, with a gray-green slab
stone roof broken above by dormers. On one chimney was a sun-dial, and on one gable we noticed a very quaint weather-vane, whilst in the forecourt stood an ancient pigeon-cote. A charming home of past days, that with its old-fashioned gardens looked as though it had stepped out of some picture, an artist's ideal realised. You do not frequently set your eyes upon such a delightful actuality in this commonplace age!
The next village on our way was Finedon, a straggling place; here by the roadside we noticed a monument gray with years, and without any inscription that we could find. So we asked a man the meaning of it; he replied that it was erected by a gentleman whose horse had fallen dead on the spot after being driven hard by his master to catch the mail-coach. Another man who was listening to the conversation declared positively that our informant was all wrong, and that it was put up as a memorial of somebody who was drowned at sea. So hard is it to arrive at facts in this world! Then the first man got in a rage with the second man and called him bad names, and said he knew “nought about it," and as the argument was already heated and promised to be prolonged, we politely thanked both parties for their trustworthy information and departed. As we drove away each man shouted after us that he was right; and we shouted back pleasantly we were quite sure of it!
The next point of interest on our way was the long-named little town of Irthlingborough, with its ancient market-cross and fine old church. The
church tower, detached from the main building, is surmounted by a tall and quaint octagonal structure that gives it a strangely unecclesiastical appearance, and a very original one too. Well, originality that escapes eccentricity is pleasing. Our church towers and spires, however architecturally good in themselves, too often lack individuality, in that they resemble one another over much; even a beautiful form by too frequent repetition may become monotonous. For a wonder we found the clerk in the church; he told us that the tower had been rebuilt, as we could see, but it was, externally, an exact reproduction of the old one. The interior was not quite the same, as there was a stone staircase up the tower, whilst in the old one you had to get up by ladders. The octagonal structure at the top, now mere enclosed space, used to consist, we were told, of three stories, with a room in each provided with a fireplace, but what the use of these rooms was, the clerk did not know. The fireplaces showed that they were intended to be lived in, yet dwelling-rooms right on the top of a tall church tower seemed singular; at any rate the chambers must have had a plentiful supply of fresh air! We wondered if they could have been intended for a priest's home. But whatever their purpose, dwelling rooms in such a position are surely unique.
A little farther on we crossed the silvery winding river Nene by a gray and ancient bridge, and had before us, set pleasantly on the top of a hill the picturesque old town of Higham Ferrers looking quite romantic with its old-time irregular-roofed houses, and grand church spire, strongly silhouetted against the bright blue sky. Higham Ferrers struck us as a most interesting little town, with its fine old fane, around which are clustered gray crumbling buildings of the medieval age, in the shape of a bede-house, a school, a vicarage, and a Decorated stone cross; all in the Gothic style, with many traceried windows, and supporting buttresses to the walls. We owe this effective group of buildings to the good Archbishop Chicheley, who was born in the town, and when he became great and famous raised them in honour of his birthplace. He also erected a college here, of which only a great archway remains, and some decayed walls with broken mullioned windows; this faces the main street of the town, and when we were there simply enclosed a dirty farmyard. Within, the church is most interesting, and possesses some exceedingly fine old brasses, many of the fifteenth century; amongst the number a brass to a priest is noteworthy, as are also the royal arms of England sculptured in relief, on the side panels of a very beautiful altar-tomb placed under a stone canopy, suggesting the possibility of its having been prepared for royalty, though probably never used; the place where the recumbent effigy should be is now taken up by a brass that manifestly was intended for the floor. There are also some quaint medieval tiles before the altar, ornamented with curiously figured animals in yellow on a red ground. Altogether the interior of this splendid and ancient church affords a mine of good things for the antiquary or ecclesiologist.