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its castellans, and the history of the events which have occurred within and under its walls. A great house like Woburn, and a noble family like that of Russell, take new interest and attraction after we have studied the stately Vandycks which set before us the Earls and Countesses of Bedford "in their habits as they lived,” and have followed the story of the house from the days of Henry VIII. to those of Queen Victoria. Even in a city like Leeds, where all is modern bustle and energy, and where the glowing life of the nineteenth century would seem to shut out all recollection of the past, the wonder and admiration with which we regard the existing town are greatly increased when we trace the beginning from which it rose, the slow increase of the early settlement, the quaint old town of the Stuart days, and the outburst which, almost sudden at first, has within the present century brought Leeds to its world-wide influence and importance.
Everywhere, in short, the natural features and boundaries of a district have influenced the course not only of local, but of national history; and historical events, or the growth of institutions and foundations resulting from them, have often modified, and sometimes entirely changed, the condition and the features of large tracts of country. This action and reaction will specially be noted in the descriptions to be given in “Our Own COUNTRY;” and in treating such subjects as are more distinctly historical, the latest lights and the most recent information will be laid under contribution. In this manner the various divisions of the book may suit the purpose of so many “field lectures,” to borrow a term from the geologists, where the features of the country and its connected history may be studied and explained on the spot.
is not unfitting that a book in which it is proposed
to describe the most interesting and important sites of Great Britain should, in its opening pages, deal with Salisbury Plain.
No part of this country contains more striking relics of a primæval or pre-historic age, or is more distinctly associated with the later British period and with the dawn
of English history. It is a district belonging altogether
The greatest and most mysterions of rude-stone monuments has been preserved among its solitudes. Barrows and sepulchral mounds are scattered over it in every direction. Ancient earthworks and fastnesses crown the principal heights along its borders. Dykes and trenches, the march-lines and boundaries of various tribes
OLD SARUM, PROM THE AMESBURY
to the past.
and races, cross and divide it. Roman, roads and British trackways pass over its high ground, or through the valleys which it overlooks. One great British stronghold, which guarded the southern entrance of the plain, was adopted by successive conquerors, and became the Roman
Sorbiodunum and the Saxon Searo-byrig — the « Old Sarum” of later times. At Amesbury, under the eastern border of the plain, nestled a house of Benedictine nuns, which possibly represented a monastery established on the same site in the very earliest days of British Christianity—long before Augustine landed on the shore of Thanet. The name connects it with the Brito-Roman Ambrosius, the contemporary of the historic Arthur. Myths and legends, British and Old Saxon alike, gathered round Amesbury, which finds a place in the great cycle of Arthuric
There, as it was believed, Queen Guinevere retired from the world; and the convent was not only especially favoured by royal and noble ladies who wished to follow her example, but the memories of its British connection so far clung to it, developed as they had been by the spread and influence of romance, that certain great personages who claimed or affected a British descent chose the Church of the Benedictines at Amesbury for the place of their burial.
All these are relics and traditions which have their foundations in remote, hardly historic ages, and which are therefore well in keeping with the solitary, untrammelled country in which they are found, and which, by its very wildness, has helped to retain them. A century ago there was little touch of cultivation about Salisbury Plain. Sheep in the summer, and flocks of bustards in the winter, were, in Drayton's words, the “burgesses of the heath ;” and a journey across it, even in fine weather, was not undertaken without some risk of losing the way. * This condition of things has entirely changed. Good and broadly-marked roads traverse the plain in all directions, whilst corn-fields and tilled land have greatly encroached on it, stealing upward from the surrounding valleys. But the general outline of Salisbury Plain is still sufficiently marked. It is the southern of the two great divisions of the chalk in Wiltshire. The northern division forms what is known as the Marlborough Downs, and its escarpments are far bolder than those of Salisbury Plain, from which it is divided by the Vale of Pewsey, which extends across the centre of the county, and is scooped out of the upper green-sand. The southern chalk district extends from Salisbury in a line bearing north-east, by Amesbury and Sidbury to Easton Hill, where there is a wide view of the Pewsey valley, with the opposite heights of Marlborough, scarred by the Wansdyke. Thence the chalk ranges westward, with a little inclination to the south, as far as Westbury and Warminster ; and so returns, in a line bearing southeast, by Heytesbury to Salisbury. All along this border the bolder heights are marked by intrenchments—Battlesbury, Scratchbury, Chisenbury—which overlook the richer country, and served as watch-towers for the ancient people of the plain. In shape, this plain is an irregular triangle, whilst the length of each side may be roughly estimated at about twenty miles. Of its general character we shall better judge in passing over it toward Stonehenge. The chalk mass of the plain is pierced by the Bourne brook, by the Wily,
* Thus Mr. Pepys and his party, journeying from Salisbury toward Somersetshire, lost their way on the plain, and were obliged to spend the night in a strange town.
the Nadder, and the southern Avon, all of which meet in the neighbourhood of Salisbury. These river-valleys, in their quiet beauty, their hamlets nestled among trees, their venerable mansions, their broad meadows, through which the stream flows onward between tufts of purple loose-strife and great masses of sword-flag, contrast pleasantly with the open heights of the downs. It is held, however, that the influence of the chalk is felt throughout Southern Wiltshire, and that the sharp division of the county is between the chalk district generally and that north of the Marlborough Downs, where the land for the most part lies on Oxford clay. Wiltshire is thus divided between “chalk” and “cheese" -for the northern district is a great dairy ground.
It is remarkable that each of the chalk divisions of Wiltshire bas its great rude-stone monument. Stonehenge is the wonder of Salisbury Plain ; Avebury was at one time perhaps the greater wonder of the Marlborough Downs. This fact, together with certain points of difference in the monuments themselves, may perhaps afford some faint glimmering of light as to their respective dates, although too great caution cannot be used to be sure that such a glimmering is indeed perceptible. We propose at present to visit Stonehenge, journeying to it from Salisbury across the plain : perhaps the most impressive way in which it can be approached.
As we ascend toward the plain from the meadows of Salisbury, we see rising before us, at the very gate of the open country, the conical hill of Old Sarum, with its crown of intrenchments. The stronghold itself, and the ground over which we pass towards it, are full of recollections closely connected with the earlier history of the English people. The mighty ramparts of the hill were, probably, much as we see them now, the defences of the Britons in the year 552, when, as we learn from the Saxon Chronicle, Cynric, King of the West Saxons, “ fought with the Bryts at the place that is called Searobyrig; and the Bryt-waels he put to flight.” This was one of those great fights which extended the borders of the Saxons, and must have given them possession of the western portions of Wiltshire and of the great chalk plain north of the fortress—the Saxon name of which, Searo-byrig, retained in “Sarum,” preserves, no doubt, in some shape, the British name, which had been Latinised into Sorbiodunum. So the English first spread themselves over Salisbury Plain; and the fight in which they won it may well have extended over the sloping ground towards the present city of Salisbury. Five centuries later came another conquest; and in the early spring of 1070, after William had fu subdued the north and the west of England, he gathered his victorious army for a final review on this same ground, stretching toward the meadows where afterwards rose the spire of the existing cathedral, and frowned down upon by the great hill-fort, within whose dykes and trenches a “burgh” had long been existing. On the same ground, and under the control of the same fortress—which perhaps by that time had put on more of the aspect of a Norman castle—a far more important gathering was held in 1086, when, after the Domesday Survey had been accomplished, all the “Witan," and all the landholders of England who were worth summoning, were assembled, to the number, it is said, of sixty thousand, all of whom “ bowed down to King William, and became his men, and swore to him faithful oaths that they would be faithful to him against all other men.” These are the figures with which in imagination we may cover the plain towards Salisbury, as we look over it at last from the ridge of the great earth work. For the fortress itself, we shall agree with the antiquary Stukeley, that “the prospect of the place is at present very august, and would have afforded us a most noble sight when in perfection.” In its first condition it apparently resembled many other great British earthworks—such as Old Oswestry and its fellows on the Silurian border ; Battlesbury and Scratchbury on the western edge of Salisbury Plain ; and Deanbury, Bury, and Quarley within the Hampshire border. But no other British fortress in this country has had so remarkable a history. The Romans took possession of it, and a Roman town rose within the ancient trenches. Then followed the Saxon “ burgh ;” and after the Conquest, the old English defences, whatever they were like, were strengthened by Norman walls and towers. A true “ Castle” arose ; and in the year 1076 the place of the united sees of Sherborne and Ramsbury, of which the dioceses extended over Dorsetshire and Wiltshire, was removed to Old Sarum, where a cathedral was built. In short, for many centuries Old Sarum was alive with all the stir and bustle of a fortified town; and it is the contrast between its ancient condition and its present solitude which here affects us so strangely. The life of other hill-forts disappeared at too remote a period to allow of our feeling, when within their intrenchments, the same impression that we are treading on a "reverend history.” Here the primitive fastness, after witnessing so many changes and recognising so many different masters, has passed back again to almost its first condition; yet the ghosts of these changes still haunt it so distinctly that we do not wonder to find Mr. Pepys confessing, after a visit to the place on an autumn evening, that "it being very dark, it frightened me to be all alone."
In dry seasons, the outlines of streets and houses are plainly visible; and the foundations of the Norman cathedral have been traced throughout. Six bishops presided at Old Sarum, until the seventh, Richard le Poer, removed the place of his see to the lower ground, and began the building of the existing cathedral of Salisbury.
The ecclesiastics had never found Old Sarum pleasant. “ When the wind did blow,” according to an old tradition, “they could not hear the priest say mass.”
There was a scarcity of water; and the lay castellans and their soldiery were troublesome and insulting The proper site for the new church was, as some asserted, determined by an arrow shot from the ramparts of Old Sarum. Others declare that the site was revealed to the bishop in a dream by the Virgin herself. The citizens gradually migrated to the new and more convenient town which rapidly sprang up, and to which a charter was granted in the second year of Henry III, Old Sarum remained for some time a strong fortress and full of houses; but the Norman cathedral was taken down in 1331, and its materials were used for building the famous spire of Salisbury ; the castle fell into decay; the place was at length deserted ; and when Leland visited it about the year 1538, there was not, he tells us, "a single hows left within or without Old Sarisbyri.” So it has remained to this day. Climbing the steep face of the hill, we find the summit fenced by a vast earthen rampart and ditch, the height from the bottom of the ditch to the top of the rampart being not less than 106 feet. The area within, an irregular circle, contains 274 acres. In the centre is a second circular earthwork and ditch, very nearly as high as the outer rampart. This was the site of the castle or citadel. It is now thickly overgrown with briars and brushwood, but some portions of a strong wall, on the crest