Picture of William Cobbett

William Cobbett

places mentioned

Aug. 5th to 10th, 1823: Hampshire and Surrey

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August 5, 1823.

I GOT to Fareham on Saturday night, after having got a soaking on the South Downs on the morning of that day. On the Sunday morning, intending to go and spend the day at Titchfield (about three miles and a half from Fareham), and perceiving, upon looking out of the window, about 5 o'clock in the morning, that it was likely to rain, I got up, struck a bustle, got up the ostler, set off and got to my destined point before 7 o'clock in the morning. And here I experienced the benefits of early rising ; for I had scarcely got well and safely under cover, when St. Swithin began to pour down again, and he continued to pour during the whole of the day. From Fareham to Titchfield village a large part of the ground is a common enclosed some years ago. It is therefore amongst the worst of the land in the country. Yet, I did not see a bad field of corn along here, and the swedish turnips were, I think, full as fine as any that I saw upon the South Downs. But it is to be observed that this land is in the hands of dead-weight people, and is conveniently situated for the receiving of manure from Portsmouth. Before I got to my friend's house, I passed by a farm where I expected to find a wheat-rick standing. I did not, however ; and this is the strongest possible proof that the stock of corn is gone out of the hands of the farmers. I set out from Titchfield at 7 o'clock in the evening, and had seven miles to go to reach Botley. It rained, but I got myself well furnished forth as a defence against the rain. I had not gone two hundred yards before the rain ceased; so that I was singularly fortunate as to rain this day; and I had now to congratulate myself on the success of the remedy for the hooping-cough which I used the day before on the South Downs; for really, though I had a spell or two of coughing on Saturday morning when I set out from Petworth, I have not had, up to this hour, any spell at all since I got wet upon the South Downs. I got to Botley about nine o'clock, having stopped two or three times to look about me as I went along; for I had, in the first place, to ride, for about three miles on my road, upon a turnpike road of which I was the projector, and, indeed, the maker. In the next place I had to ride, for something better than half a mile of my way, along between fields and coppices that were mine until they came into the hands of the mortgagee, and by the side of cottages of my own building. The only matter of much interest with me was the state of the inhabitants of those cottages. I stopped at two or three places, and made some little inquiries; I rode up to two or three houses in the village of Botley, which I had to pass through, and, just before it was dark, I got to a farm-house close by the church, and what was more, not a great many yards from the dwelling of that delectable creature, the Botley parson, whom, however, I have not seen during my stay at this place.

Botley lies in a valley, the soil of which is a deep and stiff clay. Oak-trees grow well; and this year the wheat grows well, as it does upon all the clays that I have seen. I have never seen the wheat better in general, in this part of the country, than it is now. I have, I think, seen it heavier; but never clearer from blight. It is backward compared to the wheat in many other parts; some of it is quite green; but none of it has any appearance of blight. This is not much of a barley country. The oats are good. The beans that I have seen, very indifferent.

The best news that I have learnt here is, that the Botley parson is become quite a gentle creature, compared to what he used to be. The people in the village have told me some most ridiculous stories about his having been hoaxed in London! It seems that somebody danced him up from Botley to London, by telling him that a legacy had been left him, or some such story. Up went the parson on horseback, being in too great a hurry to run the risk of coach. The hoaxers, it appears, got him to some hotel, and there set upon him a whole tribe of applicants, wet-nurses, dry-nurses, lawyers with deeds of conveyance for borrowed money, curates in want of churches, coffin-makers, travelling companions, ladies' maids, dealers in Yorkshire hams, Newcastlecoals, and dealers in dried night-soil at Islington. In short, if I am rightly informed, they kept the parson in town for several days, bothered him three parts out of his senses, compelled him to escape, as it were, from a fire; and then, when he got home, he found the village posted all over with handbills giving an account of his adventure, under the pretence of offering ?500 reward for a discovery of the hoaxers! The good of it was the parson ascribed his disgrace to me , and they say that he perseveres to this hour in accusing me of it. Upon my word, I had nothing to do with the matter, and this affair only shows that I am not the only friend that the parson has in the world. Though this may have had a tendency to produce in the parson that amelioration of deportment which is said to become him so well, there is something else that has taken place, which has, in all probability, had a more powerful influence in this way; namely, a great reduction in the value of the parson's living, which was at one time little short of five hundred pounds a year, and which, I believe, is now not half of that sum! This, to be sure, is not only a natural but a necessary consequence of the change in the value of money. The parsons are neither more nor less than another sort of landlords. They must fall, of course, in their demands, or their demands will not be paid. They may take in kind, but that will answer them no purpose at all. They will be less people than they have been, and will continue to grow less and less, until the day when the whole of the tithes and other church property, as it is called, shall be applied to public purposes.

Wednesday Evening, August 6.

This village of Easton lies at a few miles towards the north-east from Winchester. It is distant from Botley, by the way which I came, about fifteen or sixteen miles. I came through Durley, where I went to the house of farmer Mears. I was very much pleased with what I saw at Durley, which is about two miles from Botley, and is certainly one of the most obscure villages in this whole kingdom. Mrs. Mears, the farmer's wife, had made, of the crested dog's-tail grass, a bonnet which she wears herself. I there saw girls platting the straw. They had made plat of several degrees of firmness; and they sell it to some person or persons at Fareham, who, I suppose, makes it into bonnets. Mrs. Mears, who is a very intelligent and clever woman, has two girls at work, each of whom earns per week as much (within a shilling) as her father, who is a labouring man, earns per week. The father has at this time only 7s. per week. These two girls (and not very stout girls) earn six shillings a week each: thus the income of this family is, from seven shillings a week, raised to nineteen shillings a week. I shall suppose that this may in some measure be owing to the generosity of ladies in the neighbourhood, and to their desire to promote this domestic manufacture; but if I suppose that these girls receive double compared to what they will receive for the same quantity of labour when the manufacture becomes more general, is it not a great thing to make the income of the family thirteen shillings a week instead of seven ? Very little, indeed, could these poor things have done in the field during the last forty days. And, besides, how clean; how healthful; how everything that one could wish, is this sort of employment! The farmer, who is also a very intelligent person, told me that he should endeavour to introduce the manufacture as a thing to assist the obtaining of employment, in order to lessen the amount of the poor-rates. I think it very likely that this will be done in the parish of Durley. A most important matter it is, to put paupers in the way of ceasing to be paupers . I could not help admiring the zeal as well as the intelligence of the farmer's wife, who expressed her readiness to teach the girls and women of the parish, in order to enable them to assist themselves. I shall hear, in all probability, of their proceedings at Durley, and if I do, I shall make a point of communicating to the public an account of those interesting proceedings. From the very first; from the first moment of my thinking about this straw affair, I regarded it as likely to assist in bettering the lot of the labouring people. If it has not this effect, I value it not. It is not worth the attention of any of us; but I am satisfied that this is the way in which it will work. I have the pleasure to know that there is one labouring family, at any rate, who are living well through my means. It is I, who, without knowing them, without ever having seen them, without even now knowing their names, have given the means of good living to a family who were before half-starved. This is indisputably my work; and when I reflect that there must necessarily be, now, some hundreds of families, and shortly, many thousands of families, in England, who are and will be, through my means, living well instead of being half-starved, I cannot but feel myself consoled; I cannot but feel that I have some compensation for the sentence passed upon me by Ellenborough, Grose, Le Blanc, and Bailey; and I verily believe, that, in the case of this one single family in the parish of Durley, I have done more good than Bailey ever did in the whole course of his life, notwithstanding his pious commentary on the Book of Common Prayer. I will allow nothing to be good, with regard to the labouring classes, unless it make an addition to their victuals, drink, or clothing. As to their minds , that is much too sublime a matter for me to think about. I know that they are in rags, and that they have not a belly-full; and I know that the way to make them good, to make them honest, to make them dutiful, to make them kind to one another, is to enable them to live well; and I also know that none of these things will ever be accomplished by Methodist sermons, and by those stupid, at once stupid and malignant things, and roguish things, called Religious Tracts.

From Durley I came on in company with farmer Mears through Upham. This Upham is the place where Young, who wrote that bombastical stuff, called Night Thoughts , was once the parson, and where, I believe, he was born. Away to the right of Upham lies the little town of Bishop's Waltham, whither I wished to go very much, but it was too late in the day. From Upham we came on upon the high land, called Black Down. This has nothing to do with that Blackdown Hill, spoken of in my last ride. We are here getting up upon the chalk hills, which stretch away towards Winchester. The soil here is a poor blackish stuff, with little white stones in it, upon a bed of chalk. It was a down not many years ago. The madness and greediness of the days of paper-money led to the breaking of it up. The corn upon it is miserable, but as good as can be expected upon such land.

At the end of this tract, we come to a spot called Whiteflood, and here we cross the old turnpike road which leads from Winchester to Gosport through Bishop's Waltham. Whiteflood is at the foot of the first of a series of hills over which you come to get to the top of that lofty ridge called Morning Hill. The farmer came to the top of the first hill along with me, and he was just about to turn back, when I, looking away to the left, down a valley which stretched across the other side of the down, observed a rather singular appearance, and said to the farmer, "What is that coming up that valley? is it smoke, or is it a cloud?" The day had been very fine hitherto; the sun was shining very bright where we were. The farmer answered, "Oh, it's smoke; it comes from Ouselberry, which is down in that bottom behind those trees." So saying, we bid each other good day; he went back, and I went on. Before I had got a hundred and fifty yards from him, the cloud which he had taken for the Ouselberry smoke, came upon the hill and wet me to the skin. He was not far from the house at Whiteflood; but I am sure that he could not entirely escape it. It is curious to observe how the clouds sail about in the hilly countries, and particularly, I think, amongst the chalk-hills. I have never observed the like amongst the sand-hills, or amongst rocks.

From Whiteflood you come over a series of hills, part of which form a rabbit-warren called Longwood warren, on the borders of which is the house and estate of Lord Northesk. These hills are amongst the most barren of the downs of England; yet a part of them was broken up during the rage for improvements; during the rage for what empty men think was an augmenting of the capital of the country. On about twenty acres of this land, sown with wheat, I should not suppose that there would be twice twenty bushels of grain! A man must be mad, or nearly mad, to sow wheat upon such a spot. However, a large part of what was enclosed has been thrown out again already, and the rest will be thrown out in a very few years. The down itself was poor; what then must it be as corn-land! Think of the destruction which has here taken place. The herbage was not good, but it was something: it was something for every year, and without trouble. Instead of grass it will now, for twenty years to come, bear nothing but that species of weeds which is hardy enough to grow where the grass will not grow.

From the top of this high land called Morning Hill , and the real name of which is Magdalen Hill , from a chapel which once stood there dedicated to Mary Magdalen, from the top of this land you have a view of a circle which is upon an average about seventy miles in diameter; and I believe in no one place so little as fifty miles in diameter. You see the Isle of Wight in one direction, and in the opposite direction you see the high lands in Berkshire. It is not a pleasant view, however. The fertile spots are all too far from you. Descending from this hill, you cross the turnpike road (about two miles from Winchester) leading from Winchester to London through Alresford and Farnham. As soon as you cross the road, you enter the estate of the descendant of Rollo, Duke of Buckingham, which estate is in the parish of Avington. In this place the duke has a farm, not very good land. It is in his own hands. The corn is indifferent, except the barley, which is everywhere good. You come a full mile from the roadside down through this farm, to the duke's mansion-house at Avington, and to the little village of that name, both of them beautifully situated, amidst fine and lofty trees, fine meadows, and streams of clear water. On this farm of the duke I saw (in a little close by the farm-house) several hens in coops with broods of pheasants instead of chickens. It seems that a gamekeeper lives in the farm-house, and I dare say the duke thinks much more of the pheasants than of the corn. To be very solicitous to preserve what has been raised with so much care and at so much expense, is by no means unnatural; but then there is a measure to be observed here; and that measure was certainly outstretched in the case of Mr. Deller. I here saw, at this gamekeeping farm-house, what I had not seen since my departure from the Wen; namely, a wheat-rick! Hard, indeed, would it have been if a Plantagenet, turned farmer, had not a wheat-rick in his hands. This rick contains, I should think, what they call in Hampshire ten loads of wheat, that is to say, fifty quarters, or four hundred bushels. And this is the only rick, not only of wheat, but of any corn whatever, that I have seen since I left London. The turnips, upon this farm, are by no means good; but I was in some measure compensated for the bad turnips by the sight of the duke's turnip-hoers, about a dozen females, amongst whom there were several very pretty girls, and they were as merry as larks. There had been a shower that had brought them into a sort of huddle on the roadside. When I came up to them, they all fixed their eyes upon me, and upon my smiling, they bursted out into laughter. I observed to them that the Duke of Buckingham was a very happy man to have such turnip-hoers, and really they seemed happier and better off than any work-people that I saw in the fields all the way from London to this spot. It is curious enough, but I have always observed that the women along this part of the country are usually tall. These girls were all tall, straight, fair, round-faced, excellent complexion, and uncommonly gay. They were well dressed, too, and I observed the same of all the men that I saw down at Avington. This could not be the case if the duke were a cruel or hard master; and this is an act of justice due from me to the descendant of Rollo. It is in the house of Mr. Deller that I make these notes, but as it is injustice that we dislike, I must do Rollo justice; and I must again say that the good looks and happy faces of his turnip-hoers spoke much more in his praise than could have been spoken by fifty lawyers, like that Storks who was employed, the other day, to plead against the editor of the Bucks Chronicle , for publishing an account of the selling-up of farmer Smith, of Ashendon, in that county. I came through the duke's park to come to Easton which is the next village below Avington. A very pretty park. The house is quite in the bottom; it can be seen in no direction from a distance greater than that of four or five hundred yards. The river Itchen, which rises near Alresford, which runs down through Winchester to Southampton, goes down the middle of this valley, and waters all its immense quantity of meadows. The duke's house stands not far from the river itself. A stream of water is brought from the river to feed a pond before the house. There are several avenues of trees which are very beautiful, and some of which give complete shelter to the kitchen garden, which has, besides, extraordinarily high walls. Never was a greater contrast than that presented by this place and the place of Lord Egremont. The latter is all loftiness. Everything is high about it; it has extensive views in all directions. It sees and can be seen by all the country around. If I had the ousting of one of these noblemen, I certainly, however, would not oust the duke, who, I dare say, will by no means be desirous of seeing arise the occasion of putting the sincerity of the compliment to the test. The village of Easton is, like that of Avington, close by the waterside. The meadows are the attraction; and, indeed, it is the meadows that have caused the villages to exist.

Thursday, August 7, Noon.

I came through Alresford about eight o'clock, having loitered a good deal in coming up the valley. After quitting Alresford you come (on the road towards Alton) to the village of Bishop's Sutton; and then to a place called Ropley Dean, where there is a house or two. Just before you come to Ropley Dean, you see the beginning of the Valley of Itchen. The Itchen river falls into the salt water at Southampton. It rises, or rather has its first rise, just by the roadside at Ropley Dean, which is at the foot of that very high land which lies between Alresford and Alton. All along by the Itchen river, up to its very source, there are meadows; and this vale of meadows, which is about twenty-five miles in length, and is, in some places, a mile wide, is, at the point of which I am now speaking, only about twice as wide as my horse is long! This vale of Itchen is worthy of particular attention. There are few spots in England more fertile or more pleasant; and none, I believe, more healthy. Following the bed of the river, or rather, the middle of the vale, it is about five-and-twenty miles in length, from Ropley Dean to the village of South Stoneham, which is just above Southampton. The average width of the meadows is, I should think, a hundred rods at the least; and if I am right in this conjecture, the vale contains about five thousand acres of meadows, large part of which is regularly watered. The sides of the vale are, until you come down to within about six or eight miles of Southampton, hills or rising grounds of chalk, covered more or less thickly with loam. Where the hills rise up very steeply from the valley, the fertility of the corn-lands is not so great; but for a considerable part of the way, the corn-lands are excellent, and the farm-houses, to which those lands belong, are, for the far greater part, under covert of the hills on the edge of the valley. Soon after the rising of the stream, it forms itself into some capital ponds at Alresford. These, doubtless, were augmented by art, in order to supply Winchester with fish. The fertility of this vale, and of the surrounding country, is best proved by the fact that, besides the town of Alresford and that of Southampton, there are seventeen villages, each having its parish church, upon its borders. When we consider these things we are not surprised that a spot situated about half way down this vale should have been chosen for the building of a city, or that that city should have been for a great number of years a place of residence for the kings of England.

Winchester, which is at present a mere nothing to what it once was, stands across the vale at a place where the vale is made very narrow by the jutting forward of two immense hills. From the point where the river passes through the city, you go, whether eastward or westward, a full mile up a very steep hill all the way. The city is, of course, in one of the deepest holes that can be imagined. It never could have been thought of as a place to be defended since the discovery of gunpowder; and, indeed, one would think that very considerable annoyance might be given to the inhabitants even by the flinging of the flintstones from the hills down into the city.

At Ropley Dean, before I mounted the hill to come on towards Rotherham Park, I baited my horse. Here the ground is precisely like that at Ashmansworth on the borders of Berkshire, which, indeed, I could see from the ground on which I am now speaking. In coming up the hill, I had the house and farm of Mr. Duthy to my right. Seeing some very fine swedish turnips, I naturally expected that they belonged to this gentleman who is secretary to the Agricultural Society of Hampshire; but I found they belonged to a farmer Mayhew. The soil is, along upon this high land, a deep loam, bordering on a clay, red in colour, and pretty full of large, rough, yellow-looking stones, very much like some of the land in Huntingdonshire ; but here is a bed of chalk under this. Everything is backward here. The wheat is perfectly green in most places; but it is everywhere pretty good. I have observed, all the way along, that the wheat is good upon the stiff, strong land. It is so here; but it is very backward. The greater part of it is full three weeks behind the wheat under Portsdown Hill. But few farm-houses come within my sight along here; but in one of them there was a wheat-rick, which is the third I have seen since I quitted the Wen. In descending from this high ground, in order to reach the village of East Tisted, which lies on the turnpike road from the Wen to Gosport through Alton, I had to cross Rotherham Park. On the right of the park, on a bank of land facing the north-east, I saw a very pretty farm-house, having everything in excellent order, with fine corn-fields about it, and with a wheat-rick standing in the yard. This farm, as I afterwards found, belongs to the owner of Rotherham Park, who is also the owner of East Tisted, who has recently built a new house in the park, who has quite metamorphosed the village of Tisted, within these eight years, who has, indeed, really and truly improved the whole country just round about here, whose name is Scot, well known as a brickmaker at North End, Fulham, and who has, in Hampshire, supplanted a Norman of the name of Powlet. At Tisted I crossed the turnpike-road before mentioned, and entered a lane which, at the end of about four miles, brought me to this village of Selborne. My readers will recollect that I mentioned this Selborne when I was giving an account of Hawkley Hanger, last fall. I was desirous of seeing this village, about which I have read in the book of Mr. White, and which a reader has been so good as to send me. From Tisted I came generally up hill till I got within half a mile of this village, when, all of a sudden, I came to the edge of a hill, looking down over all the larger vale of which the little vale of this village makes a part. Here Hindhead and Blackdown Hill came full in my view. When I was crossing the forest in Sussex, going from Worth to Horsham, these two great hills lay to my west and north-west. To-day I am got just on the opposite side of them, and see them, of course, towards the east and the south-east, while Leith Hill lies away towards the north-east. This hill, from which you descend down into Selborne, is very lofty; but, indeed, we are here amongst some of the highest hills in the island, and amongst the sources of rivers. The hill over which I have come this morning sends the Itchen river forth from one side of it, and the river Wey, which rises near Alton, from the opposite side of it. Hindhead, which lies before me, sends, as I observed upon a former occasion, the Arun forth towards the south and a stream forth towards the north, which meets the river Wey, somewhere above Godalming. I am told that the springs of these two streams rise in the Hill of Hindhead, or rather, on one side of the hill, at not many yards from each other. The village of Selborne is precisely what it is described by Mr. White. A straggling irregular street, bearing all the marks of great antiquity, and showing, from its lanes and its vicinage generally, that it was once a very considerable place. I went to look at the spot where Mr. White supposes the convent formerly stood. It is very beautiful. Nothing can surpass in beauty these dells and hillocks and hangers, which last are so steep that it is impossible to ascend them, except by means of a serpentine path. I found here deep hollow ways, with beds and sides of solid white stone; but not quite so white and so solid, I think, as the stone which I found in the roads at Hawkley. The churchyard of Selborne is most beautifully situated. The land is good all about it. The trees are luxuriant and prone to be lofty and large. I measured the yew-tree in the churchyard, and found the trunk to be, according to my measurement, twenty-three feet, eight inches, in circumference. The trunk is very short, as is generally the case with yew-trees; but the head spreads to a very great extent, and the whole tree, though probably several centuries old, appears to be in perfect health. Here are several hop-plantations in and about this village; but, for this once, the prayers of the over-production men will be granted, and the devil of any hops there will be. The bines are scarcely got up the poles; the bines and the leaves are black, nearly, as soot; full as black as a sooty bag or dingy coalsack, and covered with lice. It is a pity that these hop-planters could not have a parcel of Spaniards and Portuguese to louse their hops for them. Pretty devils to have liberty, when a favourite recreation of the Donna is to crack the lice in the head of the Don! I really shrug up my shoulders thinking of the beasts. Very different from such is my landlady here at Selborne, who, while I am writing my notes, is getting me a rasher of bacon, and has already covered the table with a nice clean cloth. I have never seen such quantities of grapes upon any vines as I see upon the vines in this village, badly pruned as all the vines have been. To be sure, this is a year for grapes, such, I believe, as has been seldom known in England, and the cause is, the perfect ripening of the wood by the last beautiful summer. I am afraid, however, that the grapes come in vain; for this summer has been so cold, and is now so wet, that we can hardly expect grapes, which are not under glass, to ripen. As I was coming into this village, I observed to a farmer who was standing at his gateway, that people ought to be happy here, for that God had done everything for them. His answer was, that he did not believe there was a more unhappy place in England: for that there were always quarrels of some sort or other going on. This made me call to mind the king's proclamation, relative to a reward for discovering the person who had recently shot at the parson of this village . This parson's name is Cobbold, and it really appears that there was a shot fired through his window. He has had law-suits with the people; and I imagine that it was these to which the farmer alluded. The hops are of considerable importance to the village, and their failure must necessarily be attended with consequences very inconvenient to the whole of a population so small as this. Upon inquiry, I find that the hops are equally bad at Alton, Froyle, Crondall, and even at Farnham. I saw them bad in Sussex; I hear that they are bad in Kent; so that hop-planters, at any rate, will be, for once, free from the dreadful evils of abundance.

Looking back over the road that I have come to-day, and perceiving the direction of the road going from this village in another direction, I perceive that this is a very direct road from Winchester to Farnham. The road, too, appears to have been, from ancient times, sufficiently wide; and when the Bishop of Winchester selected this beautiful spot whereon to erect a monastery, I dare say the roads along here were some of the best in the country.

Thursday, August 7.

I got a boy at Selborne to show me along the lanes out into Woolmer Forest on my way to Headley. The lanes were very deep; the wet malme just about the colour of rye-meal mixed up with water, and just about as clammy, came, in many places, very nearly up to my horse's belly. There was this comfort, however, that I was sure that there was a bottom, which is by no means the case when you are among clays or quick-sands. After going through these lanes, and along between some fir-plantations, I came out upon Woolmer Forest, and, to my great satisfaction, soon found myself on the side of those identical plantations, which have been made under the orders of the smooth Mr. Huskisson, and which I noticed last year in my ride from Hambledon to this place. These plantations are of fir, or, at least, I could see nothing else, and they never can be of any more use to the nation than the sprigs of heath which cover the rest of the forest. Is there nobody to inquire what becomes of the income of the crown lands? No, and there never will be, until the whole system be changed. I have seldom ridden on pleasanter ground than that which I found between Woolmer Forest and this beautiful village of Thursley. The day has been fine, too; notwithstanding I saw the judges' terrific wigs as I came up upon the turnpike-road from the village of Itchen. I had but one little scud during the day: just enough for St. Swithin to swear by; but when I was upon the hills, I saw some showers going about the country. From Selborne, I had first come to Headley, about five miles. I came to the identical public-house where I took my blind guide last year, who took me such a dance to the southward, and led me up on the top of Hindhead at last. I had no business there. My route was through a sort of hamlet called Churt, which lies along on the side and towards the foot of the north of Hindhead, on which side, also, lies the village of Thursley. A line is hardly more straight than is the road from Headley to Thursley; and a prettier ride I never had in the course of my life. It was not the less interesting from the circumstance of its giving me all the way a full view of Crooksbury Hill, the grand scene of my exploits when I was a taker of the nests of crows and magpies.

At Churt I had, upon my left, three hills out upon the common, called the Devil's Jumps . The Unitarians will not believe in the Trinity, because they cannot account for it. Will they come here to Churt, go and look at these "Devil's Jumps," and account to me for the placing of these three hills, in the shape of three rather squat sugar-loaves, along in a line upon this heath, or the placing of a rock-stone upon the top of one of them as big as a church tower? For my part, I cannot account for this placing of these hills. That they should have been formed by mere chance is hardly to be believed. How could waters rolling about have formed such hills? How could such hills have bubbled up from beneath? But, in short, it is all wonderful alike: the stripes of loam running down through the chalk-hills; the circular parcels of loam in the midst of chalk-hills; the lines of flint running parallel with each other horizontally along the chalk-hills; the flints placed in circles as true as a hair in the chalk-hills; the layers of stone at the bottom of hills of loam; the chalk first soft, then some miles further on becoming chalk-stone; then, after another distance, becoming burr-stone, as they call it; and at last, becoming hard white-stone, fit for any buildings; the sandstone at Hindhead becoming harder and harder till it becomes very nearly iron in Herefordshire, and quite iron in Wales; but, indeed, they once dug iron out of this very Hindhead. The clouds, coming and settling upon the hills, sinking down and creeping along, at last coming out again in springs, and those becoming rivers. Why, it is all equally wonderful, and as to not believing in this or that, because the thing cannot be proved by logical deduction, why is any man to believe in the existence of a God any more than he is to believe in the doctrine of the Trinity? For my part, I think the "Devil's Jumps," as the people here call them, full as wonderful and no more wonderful than hundreds and hundreds of other wonderful things. It is a strange taste which our ancestors had to ascribe no inconsiderable part of these wonders of nature to the Devil. Not far from the Devil's Jumps is that singular place which resembles a sugar-loaf inverted, hollowed out, and an outside rim only left. This is called the "Devil's Punch Bowl "; and it is very well known in Wiltshire that the forming, or, perhaps, it is the breaking up , of Stonehenge is ascribed to the Devil, and that the mark of one of his feet is now said to be seen in one of the stones.

I got to Thursley about sunset, and without experiencing any inconvenience from the wet. I have mentioned the state of the corn as far as Selborne. On this side of that village I find it much forwarder than I found it between Selborne and Ropley Dean. I am here got into some of the very best barley-land in the kingdom; a fine, buttery, stoneless loam, upon a bottom of sand or sand-stone. Finer barley and turnip-land it is impossible to see. All the corn is good here. The wheat not a heavy crop; but not a light one; and the barley all the way along from Headley to this place as fine, if not finer, than I ever saw it in my life. Indeed I have not seen a bad field of barley since I left the Wen. The corn is not so forward here as under Portsdown Hill; but some farmers intend to begin reaping wheat in a few days. It is monstrous to suppose that the price of corn will not come down. It must come down, good weather or bad weather. If the weather be bad, it will be so much the worse for the farmer, as well as for the nation at large, and can be of no benefit to any human being but the Ouakers, who must now be pretty busy, measuring the crops all over the kingdom. I have not gone through much of a bean country. The beans that I have seen are some of them pretty good, more of them but middling, and still more of them very indifferent.

I am very happy to hear that that beautiful little bird, the American partridge, has been introduced with success to this neighbourhood, by Mr. Leech at Lea. I am told that they have been heard whistling this summer; that they have been frequently seen, and that there is no doubt that they have broods of young ones. I tried several times to import some of these birds; but I always lost them, by some means or other, before the time arrived for turning them out. They are a beautiful little partridge, and extremely interesting in all their manners. Some persons call them quail . If any one will take a quail and compare it with one of these birds, he will see that they cannot be of the same sort. In my Year's Residence in America , I have, I think, clearly proved that these birds are partridges, and not quails. In the United States, north of New Jersey, they are called quail: south and south-west of New Jersey they are called partridges. They have been called quail solely on account of their size; for they have none of the manners of quail belonging to them. Quails assemble in flocks like larks, starlings or rooks. Partridges keep in distinct coveys; that is to say, the brood lives distinct from all other broods until the ensuing spring, when it forms itself into pairs and separates. Nothing can be a distinction more clear than this. Our own partridges stick to the same spot from the time that they are hatched to the time that they pair off, and these American partridges do the same. Quails, like larks, get together in flocks at the approach of winter, and move about according to the season, to a greater or less distance from the place where they were bred. These, therefore, which have been brought to Thursley, are partridges; and if they be suffered to live quietly for a season or two, they will stock the whole of that part of the country, where the delightful intermixture of cornfields, coppices, heaths, furze-fields, ponds and rivulets, is singularly favourable to their increase. The turnips cannot fail to be good in such a season and in such land; yet the farmers are most dreadfully tormented with the weeds, and with the superabundant turnips. Here, my Lord Liverpool, is over-production indeed! They have sown their fields broad-cast; they have no means of destroying the weeds by the plough; they have no intervals to bury them in; and they hoe , or scratch , as Mr. Tull calls it; and then comes St. Swithin and sets the weeds and the hoed-up turnips again. Then there is another hoeing or scratching; and then comes St. Swithin again: so that there is hoe, hoe, muddle, muddle, and such a fretting and stewing; such a looking up to Hindhead to see when it is going to be fine; when, if that beautiful field of twenty acres, which I have now before my eyes, and wherein I see half a dozen men hoeing and poking and muddling, looking up to see how long it is before they must take to their heels to get under the trees to obtain shelter from the coming shower; when, I say, if that beautiful field had been sowed upon ridges at four feet apart, according to the plan in my Year's Residence , not a weed would have been to be seen in the field, the turnip-plants would have been three times the size that they now are, the expense would not have been a fourth part of that which has already taken place, and all the muddling and poking about of weeds, and all the fretting and all the stewing would have been spared; and as to the amount of the crop, I am now looking at the best land in England for swedish turnips, and I have no scruple to assert that, if it had been sown after my manner, it would have had a crop double the weight of that which it now will have. I think I know of a field of turnips, sown much later than the field now before me, and sown in rows at nearly four feet apart, which will have a crop double the weight of that which will be produced in yon beautiful field.

Friday, August 8.

At the end of a long, twisting-about ride, but a most delightful ride, I got to this place about nine o'clock in the evening. From Thursley I came to Brook, and there crossed the turnpike-road from London to Chichester through Godalming and Midhurst. Thence I came on, turning upon the left upon the sandhills of Hambledon (in Surrey, mind). On one of these hills is one of those precious jobs, called "Semaphores ." For what reason this pretty name is given to a sort of telegraph house, stuck up at public expense upon a high hill; for what reason this outlandish name is given to the thing, I must leave the reader to guess; but as to the thing itself, I know that it means this: a pretence for giving a good sum of the public money away every year to some one that the borough-system has condemned this labouring and toiling nation to provide for. Bidding the Semaphore good-bye, I came along by the church at Hambledon, and then crossed a little common and the turnpike-road, from London to Chichester through Godalming and Petworth; not Midhurst, as before. The turnpike-road here is one of the best that ever I saw. It is like the road upon Horley Common, near Worth, and like that between Godstone and East Grinstead; and the cause of this is, that it is made of precisely the same sort of stone, which, they tell me, is brought, in some cases, even from Blackdown Hill, which cannot be less, I should think, than twelve miles distant. This stone is brought in great lumps, and then cracked into little pieces. The next village I came to after Hambledon was Hascomb, famous for its beech , insomuch that it is called Hascomb Beech . There are two lofty hills here, between which you go out of the sandy country down into the Weald. Here are hills of all heights and forms. Whether they came in consequence of a boiling of the earth, I know not; but, in form, they very much resemble the bubbles upon the top of the water of a pot which is violently boiling. The soil is a beautiful loam upon a bed of sand. Springs start here and there at the feet of the hills; and little rivulets pour away in all directions. The roads are difficult merely on account of their extreme unevenness; the bottom is everywhere sound, and everything that meets the eye is beautiful; trees, coppices, cornfields, meadows; and then the distant views in every direction. From one spot I saw this morning Hindhead, Blackdown Hill, Lord Egremont's house and park at Petworth, Donnington Hill, over which I went to go on the South Downs, the South Downs near Lewes: the forest at Worth, Turner's Hill, and then all the way round into Kent and back to the Surrey Hills at Godstone. From Hascomb I began to descend into the low country. I had Leith Hill before me; but my plan was, not to go over it or any part of it, but to go along below it in the real Weald of Surrey. A little way back from Hascomb, I had seen a field of carrots ; and now I was descending into a country where, strictly speaking, only three things will grow well--grass, wheat, and oak-trees. At Goose Green I crossed a turnpike-road leading from Guildford to Horsham and Arundel. I next came, after crossing a canal, to a common called Smithwood Common. Leith Hill was full in front of me, but I turned away to the right, and went through the lanes to come to Ewhurst, leaving Crawley to my right. Before I got to Ewhurst, I crossed another turnpike-road, leading from Guildford to Horsham, and going on to Worthing or some of those towns. At Ewhurst, which is a very pretty village, and the church of which is most delightfully situated, I treated my horse to some oats, and myself to a rasher of bacon. I had now to come, according to my project, round among the lanes at about a couple of miles distance from the foot of Leith Hill, in order to get first to Ockley, then to Holmwood, and then to Reigate. From Ewhurst the first three miles was the deepest clay that I ever saw, to the best of my recollection. I was warned of the difficulty of getting along; but I was not to be frightened at the sound of clay. Wagons, too, had been dragged along the lanes by some means or another; and where a wagon-horse could go, my horse could go. It took me, however, a good hour and a half to get along these three miles. Now, mind, there is the real weald , where the clay is bottomless ; where there is no stone of any sort underneath, as at Worth and all along from Crawley to Billingshurst through Horsham. This clayey land is fed with water soaking from the sand-hills; and in this particular place from the immense hill of Leith. All along here the oak-woods are beautiful. I saw scores of acres by the roadside, where the young oaks stood as regularly as if they had been planted. The orchards are not bad along here, and, perhaps, they are a good deal indebted to the shelter they receive. The wheat very good, all through the weald, but backward.

At Ockley I passed the house of a Mr. Steer, who has a great quantity of hay-land, which is very pretty. Here I came along the turnpike-road that leads from Dorking to Horsham. When I got within about two or three miles of Dorking, I turned off to the right, came across the Holmwood, into the lanes leading down to Gadbrook Common, which has of late years been enclosed. It is all clay here; but, in the whole of my ride, I have not seen much finer fields of wheat than I saw here. Out of these lanes I turned up to "Betchworth" (I believe it is), and from Betchworth came along a chalk-hill to my left and the sand-hills to my right, till I got to this place.

Sunday, August 10.

I stayed at Reigate yesterday, and came to the Wen to-day, every step of the way in a rain; as good a soaking as any devotee of St. Swithin ever underwent for his sake. I promised that I would give an account of the effect which the soaking on the South Downs, on Saturday the 2nd instant, had upon the hooping-cough. I do not recommend the remedy to others; but this I will say, that I had a spell of the hooping-cough, the day before I got that soaking, and that I have not had a single spell since; though I have slept in several different beds, and got a second soaking in going from Botley to Easton. The truth is, I believe, that rain upon the South Downs, or at any place near the sea, is by no means the same thing with rain in the interior. No man ever catches cold from getting wet with sea water; and, indeed, I have never known an instance of a man catching cold at sea. The air upon the South Downs is saltish, I dare say; and the clouds may bring something a little partaking of the nature of sea water.

At Thursley I left the turnip-hoers poking and pulling and meddling about the weeds, and wholly incapable, after all, of putting the turnips in anything like the state in which they ought to be. The weeds that had been hoed up twice, were growing again, and it was the same with the turnips that had been hoed up. In leaving Reigate this morning, it was with great pleasure that I saw a field of swedish turnips, drilled upon ridges at about four feet distance, the whole field as clean as the cleanest of garden ground. The turnips standing at equal distances in the row, and having the appearance of being, in every respect, in a prosperous state. I should not be afraid to bet that these turnips, thus standing in rows at nearly four feet distance, will be a crop twice as large as any in the parish of Thursley, though there is, I imagine, some of the finest turnip-land in the kingdom. It seems strange, that men are not to be convinced of the advantage of the row-culture for turnips. They will insist upon believing that there is some ground lost . They will also insist upon believing that the row-culture is the most expensive. How can there be ground lost if the crop be larger? And as to the expense, take one year with another, the broadcast method must be twice as expensive as the other. Wet as it has been to-day, I took time to look well about me as I came along. The wheat, even in this ragamuffin part of the country, is good, with the exception of one piece, which lies on your left hand as you come down from Banstead Down. It is very good at Banstead itself, though that is a country sufficiently poor. Just on the other side of Sutton there is a little good land, and in a place or two I thought I saw the wheat a little blighted. A labouring man told me that it was where the heaps of dung had been laid. The barley here is most beautiful, as, indeed, it is all over the country.

Between Sutton and the Wen there is, in fact, little besides houses, gardens, grass plats and other matters to accommodate the Jews and jobbers, and the mistresses and bastards that are put out a-keeping. But, in a dell, which the turnpike-road crosses about a mile on this side of Sutton, there are two fields of as stiff land, I think, as I ever saw in my life. In summer time this land bakes so hard that they cannot plough it unless it be wet. When you have ploughed it, and the sun comes again; it bakes again. One of these fields had been thus ploughed and cross-ploughed in the month of June, and I saw the ground when it was lying in lumps of the size of portmanteaus, and not very small ones either. It would have been impossible to reduce this ground to small particles, except by the means of sledgehammers. The two fields, to which I alluded just now, are alongside of this ploughed field, and they are now in wheat. The heavy rain of to-day, aided by the south-west wind, made the wheat bend pretty nearly to lying down; but you shall rarely see two finer fields of wheat. It is red wheat; a coarsish kind, and the straw stout and strong; but the ears are long, broad and full; and I did not perceive anything approaching towards a speck in the straw. Such land as this, such very stiff land, seldom carries a very large crop; but I should think that these fields would exceed four quarters to an acre; and the wheat is by no means so backward as it is in some places. There is no corn, that I recollect, from the spot just spoken of, to almost the street of Kensington. I came up by Earl's Court, where there is, amongst the market gardens, a field of wheat. One would suppose that this must be the finest wheat in the world. By no means. It rained hard, to be sure, and I had not much time for being particular in my survey; but this field appears to me to have some blight in it; and as to crop, whether of corn or straw, it is nothing to compare to the general run of the wheat in the wealds of Sussex or of Surrey; what, then, is it, if compared with the wheat on the South Downs, under Portsdown Hill, on the sea-flats at Havant and at Titchfield, and along on the banks of the Itchen!

Thus I have concluded this "rural ride," from the Wen and back again to the Wen, being, taking in all the turnings and windings, as near as can be, two hundred miles in length. My objects were to ascertain the state of the crops, both of hops and of corn. The hop-affair is soon settled, for there will be no hops. As to the corn, my remark is this: that on all the clays, on all the stiff lands upon the chalk; on all the rich lands, indeed, but more especially on all the stiff lands, the wheat is as good as I recollect ever to have seen it, and has as much straw. On all the light lands and poor lands, the wheat is thin, and, though not short, by no means good. The oats are pretty good almost everywhere; and I have not seen a bad field of barley during the whole of my ride; though there is no species of soil in England, except that of the fens, over which I have not passed. The state of the farmers is much worse than it was last year, notwithstanding the ridiculous falsehoods of the London newspapers, and the more ridiculous delusion of the jolterheads. In numerous instances the farmers, who continue in their farms, have ceased to farm for themselves, and merely hold the land for the landlords. The delusion caused by the rise of the price of corn has pretty nearly vanished already; and if St. Swithin would but get out of the way with his drippings for about a month, this delusion would disappear, never to return.

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

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