« PreviousContinue »
Hertford, Marquis of...
Grammar School ...
7 Valley of the Red Horse
Verney, family of
St. Mary's Church
St. John's Hospital
9 Weston Hall
IF we were to follow the orthodox fashion in such cases, we should first show how Warwickshire stands in the very heart of England, mark the latitude and longitude, tell how it is bounded on all sides, give its ancient Saxon name, number its carucates, its servi, its bordarii and villani, denote the local time, indicate its geological characteristics, and state in detail various topographical and meteorological facts, with a bewildering array of heavy statistics. We might take as a model, slightly corrected and very much elaborated, the concise epitome of Gabriel Richardson, “Batchelor in Divinitie,” who gives this as the distressing condition of the county in 1627:
“Bounded upon the south with Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, upon the east with Northamptonshire and Leicestershire, upon the north with Staffordshire, and upon the west with
Worcestershire. It is distinguished into the Woodland, the part upon the north of the Avon; and the Feldon, lying upon the south of the river, a champian, deepe, and fat soile. The sheepe of this countrey (especially of the Feldon) are great devourers, eating up villages and farmhouses, and consuming or driving out their inhabitants, a common misery of the kingdome. Towns in the Woodland are Sutton-Colfield, neere Staffordshire. Bremicham, inhabited with blacksmiths, forging sundry kinds of iron utensils. Coleshull, Non-Eaton, Mancester (a smale village upon the river Anker), Manduessedum of Antoninus. Coventry upon a small rivulet, named Shirburn, the chiefe town, and, with Lichfield, a bishop's see. To the south-west upon a lake amongst woods standeth the large, faire, and strong castle of Kenelworth. Henley upon the Alne, Aulcester at the meeting of the rivers Alne and Arrow. Upon the Avon, Rugby; Warwick, naming the countrey (Præsidium of Antoninus, and the Notitia, the station then of a troupe of Dalmatian horse). Stratford upon the same river. In the Feldon, Southam, Kineton, Shipston, upon the Stour. Here are contayned 15 market townes, 9 hundreds, and 158 parishes. The auncient inhabitants were the Cornarii of Ptolemy, afterwards the Mercian Saxons.”
Still, there is something to be said about “the heart of England.' It is great with the memories of our grandest poets, our stoutest heroes, and noblest martyrs, of famous learned men and noted artists, illustrious inventors and dexterous mechanics. It has, too, its legends, songs, and stories; its tales of battle-fields and sieges, of feudal fights and secret bloodshed, of hoary old castles and crumbling palaces, grand historic churches and heroic tombs.
Although it contains no lofty hills or broad flowing rivers; although it has no imposing grandeur or romantic wildness—it is rich in scenes of sylvan beauty, and profuse in the magnificent and picturesque. Away to the south its gently undulating hills and dales are pasture lands; its sleepy streams border rich meadows and fruitful cornfields. In stories of war it is wealthy; its homesteads have memories of battles—traditions of huge graves. There are towers where the beacon fires were lit in troublous times, moated mansions pitted with bullet marks, and old iron balls and broken casques turned up by the ploughshare in the fields.
In the north, ancient forests still flourish, cattle are reared, and grain is grown ; but busy trade invades the country, sweeps away the farmer, his homestead, and colitary fields; digs pits and lights furnace fires, or builds up huge workshops, peoples them with crowds, and raises tall chimneys as new features in the landscape. The north, too, has its traditions ; but they are all of peace. It tells how the first steam engine throbbed and the first locomotive ran; where machinery made the first cotton thread, and coal gas
was first lit; how the teeming brains of ready inventors wrought out new benefits to the world, and were realised by skilful hands.
The ancient history of Warwickshire is that of almost every other English county. The Romans threw their great highways across it in various directions; had their stations in different parts—at Cleybrooke, Mancetter, and Alcester, at Warwick, Monks' Kirby, and Coventry—and have left traces of their occupation in old walls, broken swords, gold, bronze and silver coins, and tesselated pavements.
In Saxon times the county formed part of the kingdom of Mercia, and within its borders Ethelbald, one of the last of the Mercian monarchs, met a treacherous death. This occurrence took place at Seckington, in the year 757 ; and the successor to the crown, Offa the Terrible, built a palace for himself at Tamworth, near the spot where his predecessor fell. These kings had also a royal residence at Kingsbury, and probably, it is conjectured, at Offchurch. The county was subsequently ruled by Alfred, and it gave to the kingdom for its ruler the Alderman Aethered and that heroic woman his wife, worthy daughter of such a king, the Lady Ethelfleda. It was the scene of battles with the Sea Kings, the stout Danes, and fierce Northmen, and it was upon that strife that the legend of the great Guy of Warwick is founded, and in this period that the famous Lady Godiva flourished. It matters very little now whether, as antiquarians say, Guy is a myth, the Giant Colbrande an invention, the Dun Cow a fable, and the Dragon an impossibility. They are all“ extant and written in most excellent English ” portions of our national history, as authentic as Canute's experiment upon the sea shore, or Arthur's institution of the Round Table. Guy was the first of the “king makers" for which Warwick is famed. Old Michael Drayton, proud of the county that gave him birth, sings, in his “Polyolbion” (1613), of the exploits of Guy:
“To thee, renowned knight, continuall prayse we owe,
At tilt, from his proud steed, Duke Otton threw'st to ground;
The defeat of Colbrande was Guy's crowning glory. It was in 926, as the story runs, when Athelstane was at war with the Danes, that the fate of the kingdom hung upon the issue of a single combat. Colbrande, a Saracen giant,” championed the cause of the Northmen; Guy defended the rights of the king; and accordingly, as the ballad tells
“ Brave Warwick Guy, at dinner time,
Challeng'd the gyant savage,
Brimfulle of wrath and cabbage.”
How Guy fought and conquered, the old minstrels, in their rhyming chronicles, make the victor tell:
“ Then I to England came againe,
And here with Colbronde fell I fought,
Had for their champion hither brought.
And slewe him soone, right valliantlye,
From Danish tribute utterlye."
Having done the state this service, Guy retired to his hermitage and lived a holy life, making finally “a good ending,” leaving trophies of his prowess in fight in gigantic armour and in the bones of the fierce animals he slew,