Homes and Haunts of the Great
The place associations of some famous persons are dealt with in this chapter. The homes and haunts of great poets and writers have already been described. The plan of this chapter is roughly chronological. A start may be made with the fourteenth century and the place associations of John Wycliffe, the first of the great English reformers and preachers. As in so many other instances of this early period, the youth of Wycliffe is largely a matter of speculation. One knows, however, that he was born about 1324 at Hipswell, near Richmond, Yorks, this village being then called Spreswell. Somehow he became a student at Merton College, Oxford. In 1374 he was appointed to the living of Lutterworth in Leicestershire, through the favour of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. At Lutterworth he devoted the rest of his working life to preaching and writing against the abuses practised by the higher clergy of the Papacy.
Wycliffe's rectory has vanished. Of St. Mary's church, the east and south walls of the chancel date from the thirteenth century. The spire has been replaced by a top story to the tower.
More than a century after Wycliffe's death Thomas Wolsey was born at Ipswich. The sole relic of his connexion with that town, however, is the old Gateway in College Street, once the entrance to a college of secular canons that he built here in 1536, meaning it to be a companion seat of learning to the great foundation of Cardinal College, now called Christ Church, at Oxford.
Hampton Court, the greatest of Wolsey's " Homes," was built and furnished by the cardinal as a retreat for himself, but also for display. Its magnificence was to be the symbol of his power. It became so great a social and diplomatic success that it ceased to be a retreat from the cares of State, and Wolsey was soon seeking another elsewhere.
He found it at Esher, near by. In 1528, having been appointed to the See of Winchester, he inherited old Esher Place as an ecclesiastical perquisite. He repaired and partly rebuilt it, and, despite a warning from Bishop Gardiner that it was "in a moist and corrupt air," he spent many of his last days in it. Nothing remains of Esher Place now save the gatehouse, with its two flanking towers. In Wolsey's time, one knows, there was a long winy on either side of the gateway.
Wolsey's association with Sheffield was brief but poignant He was brought to the town after having been arrested at York in 1530 on a charge of communicating State secrets to the King of France. But George, Earl of Shrewsbury, who accepted delivery of his person at the Manor House, refused to regard him as a prisoner when he heard the fallen Cardinal's protestation of innocence. Wolsey stayed eighteen days, and then he departed to Leicester, where he died. Sheffield Manor is now a ruined fragment on a hill whose side is seared with the shafts and sheds of coal mines, and its base with ugly lines of humble pit dwellings.
Much more intimate in a way than Wolsey's are the place associations of his successor in the Chancellorship, Sir Thomas More. At Oxford the author of "Utopia" was of the band who helped to spread the new learning of the Renaissance, and it is to that city of spires and towers and stately peaceful college quadrangles that he seems most properly to belong. Old St. Mary's Hall, once a separate college and now a part of Oriel, counted him its most eminent member; he was a student at Canterbury Hall, on the site of what is to-day Canterbury "quad" at Christ Church.
His entry into affairs of State necessitated his coming to London - to Crosby Hall in Bishopsgate. Originally Crosby Place, or Crosby House, it was built in 1466 by Sir John Crosby, wealthy grocer and woolstapler, alderman and member of Parliament. After Crosby's death in 1475 His Grace the Duke of Gloucester fancied it as a convenient centre for the intrigues which at long last made him Richard III of England. The crown was offered him in the Council Chamber.
Here More lived until 1523, when he became the Speaker of the House of Commons. Subsequently he built himself a country house at Chelsea, the site of which was near the foot of the present Battersea Bridge.
At Nibley North, a village and parish of Gloucestershire, was born William Tindale, a contemporary of Wolsey and More, and - after making allowance for the labours of Wycliffe in the same field - the first translator and printer of the Bible into English. A very fine column over a hundred feet high, surmounted by a cross, was erected in 1866 on Nibley Knoll to commemorate Tindale; but we do not know the date of his birth, and little more about his earlier formative years. He appears, however, to have been educated at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, and to have gone to Cambridge while Erasmus was Professor of Greek at that university.
During the period of his chief activity, 1520 to 1536, he was chaplain-tutor to Sir John Walsh, at Little Sodbury, Gloucester; but in the end London was the scene of his most important development.
With the seventeenth century, place associations became more definite and more circumstantial.
Imagine the centre part of Hampden House at Great Hampden, Bucks, without the wings on either side, and you have the house where lived John Hampden, patriot and soldier. It stands on meadow-land at the end of an avenue of fine beeches, and it was these same meadows that King Charles's Commissioners assessed at 305. for "ship-money." By his refusal to pay, Hampden extorted from Clarendon the grudging tribute to himself as "the most popular man in England."
The house, now covered with stucco, in accordance with the pretentious taste of its eighteenth century restorer, was then of honest red brick. Through a doorway on the right of the hall is the small " Brick Parlour " where Hampden was arrested, and herein are still kept the Hampden relics, including the silver chalice from which he drank the sacramental wine as he lay dying at the Shepherd's Inn at Thame.
Bunyan was born in 1628 near Elstow in Bedfordshire. " Bunyan's Cottage," with its gables, is still a landmark of the village main street. But though he lived here for about six years following his marriage and period of soldiering for the Parliamentarians, his actual birthplace was about a mile eastward, in a stretch of plough land called Pesselynton. This cottage has disappeared.
"Among other troubles that her marriage exposed her to," wrote Richard Baxter in his "Memoirs of Mrs. Margaret Baxter," "one was our oft-necessitated removals; which to those that must take houses, and bind themselves to landlords, and fit and furnish them, is more than for single persons that have no such clogs or cares."
Baxter was indeed a man of many homes and haunts. More than one address in London itself knew him; he stayed at Acton and Totteridge; and his youth was a sequence of changes from one place in his native Shropshire to another.
He was born in a picturesque half-timbered house at Rowton, in the Wrekin, owned by his maternal grandparents, the Adeneys, and was baptised in the neighbouring church of High Ercall. Here he spent the first ten years of his life. His parents lived at Eaton Constantine, a pleasant village between the Severn and the Wrekin.
Richard was transferred here at the age of ten to pick up what he could in the way of education. It was not much. Both sacred and secular teaching were in the hands of the parish curates, and they took their duties lightly. Two, indeed, are reported to have drunk themselves to beggary during their ministry. Young Baxter fared best with old Sir William Rogers, who instructed him at his father's house until it was time for him to proceed to the free school at Donington. Here he came under the tutelage of John Owen. Later, he spent a year and a half at Ludlow Castle with a Mr. Wickstead.
From Ludlow he went to Oxford. Next he is found teaching at the new school founded by Thomas Foley of Stourbridge, at Dudley; then came preferment to the church of S. Leonard at Bridgenorth. His next move was to Kidderminster, where there is a memorial of him in the open space known as "The Bull Ring," but a much better one at the new Meeting House consisting of a finely carved and canopied pulpit from which he preached.
Woolsthorpe, still a modest village six miles south of Grantham, in Lincolnshire, figures as the birthplace of Isaac Newton (1642). James Newton, his father, was the farming squire of the place, and lived in the old manor house, which had then been the property of his family for upwards of a century. A drawing of the house shows it to have been a very unpretentious building in the Jacobean "vernacular" style, gabled at each end, and with squat dormer windows in the roof. It was in the orchard at Woolsthorpe that Isaac saw the apple fall, and it was a great windmill just outside Grantham of which he made the model that so greatly excited the wonder and admiration of his elders. The model mill without a miller, it will be remembered, did not content him.
He found the necessary labour in the shape of a mouse which obliged with the necessary "treading" - for short periods only, we may hope and assume. Isaac was sent to a school at Grantham, where he lodged with a chemist, whose craft became a source of great delight and instruction. So much so that when the time came for him to take part in the business of the farm, and he accompanied the weekly excursion to Grantham market, he would disappear on arrival, and not be seen again till he was called for - at his beloved chemist's home.
The eighteenth century witnessed a great increase in the number of important country estates. Conspicuous among such places is the great house of Stowe, in Buckinghamshire.
Stowe was built by Vanbrugh, the architect of Blenheim. Originally it belonged to the Temple family. Then it passed to the Grenvilles, who entertained magnificently there. The place became the resort of Lord Chesterfield, Horace Walpole, Congreve, Alexander Pope and the elder Pitt, Earl of Chatham, whose wife was a Grenville. Lord Chatham loved everything about Stowe, from the grandiose colonnaded front to the grottoes, temples, statues and stucco artificialities with which "Capability" Brown had bespattered the extensive grounds.
Lord Chatham had a voracious appetite for properties of his own. His first important venture was South Lodge in Enfield Chase, which he bought in 1652. Four years later he fell a victim to the charms of Hayes Place, near Bromley, in Kent, and South Lodge was disposed of. But after spending a fortune on Hayes he suddenly wearied of it, in 1765, and sold it to the Honourable Thomas Walpole. No sooner done than he became convinced that the air of Hayes was essential to the recovery of his health. After a couple of years of frantic entreaties and negotiations conducted by Lady Chatham, he succeeded in getting it back for £17,400, being nearly £5,000 more than the price Walpole had paid him for it. Once again, in 1772, he tried to sell Hayes, but he was dead before any bidder for the place came forward.
The most melancholy house of Chatham's remains to be mentioned: Pitt House, a high mansion in a large, secluded garden at Hampstead, overlooking the Hendon Valley. For a little over a year (1767) he occupied two small rooms at the top, using a wheeled chair in order to get from one to the other.
The youth of his sons, William and John, was spent partly at Hayes and partly at Burton Pynsent, with occasional visits to Weymouth and Lyme Regis. William was born at Hayes and loved it; but loved still better the neighbouring wood of Holwood on the high ground west of Farnborough, where the Vale of Keston lies spread beneath. When he became Prime Minister he was able to gratify that old ambition to call the wood his own.
He bought Holwood House in 1785, and lived there several years. It was the scene of many a meeting with William Wilberforce, and of the hatching of the great anti-slavery campaign. But during his last term of office he acquired Bowley Green House on the Kingston Road, Wimbledon Common; in the grounds of which he fought the famous duel with Tierney. He died there in 1806.
Lord Clive, the virtual founder of our Indian Empire, was another who made a hobby of estate-owning. He was born at Styche, in the village of Moreton Say, two miles from Market Drayton, on the Shropshire boundary. The modern Styche is a brick structure in the Georgian style, but on September 29, 1725, when Clive came into the world, it was a picturesque black and white timber one with projecting wings and steep gables, in the style of many of the houses still standing in the broad-street of Market Drayton.
The young dive's first school was at Lostock, in Cheshire, but later on he attended the Grammar School at Market Drayton. It was here that he climbed to the top of the parish church steeple and sat on the gargoyle that capped it.
When he inherited Styche, he pulled down the old house and had the present one built from the design of Sir William Chambers. He also acquired Walcot Park, near Basford, and another big estate in Montgomeryshire, and finally in 1769 purchased Claremont, at Esher, from the Earl of Clare. Having done so, he pulled the house down and built another.
All the home memories of James Wolfe, the hero of Quebec, are centred round the old-world village of Westerham, in Kent. What is now called Quebec House was his home, though he was not actually born there, but at Westerham Vicarage. Quebec House was formerly "Spiers." It stands at the bottom of the hill on the road to Maidstone, a substantial many-gabled brick house set within two acres of garden. Marton, in the Cleveland division of Yorkshire, was the birthplace of Captain James Cook, but the cottage in which he was brought into the world (October 27, 1728) has disappeared from where it stood in the grounds of Marton Hall. A commemoration vase has been erected on the site. Very little is known of Cook's boyhood. In 1736 his labourer father appears to have bettered his family's social position by becoming bailiff to a Mr. Scotlowe, of Airy Holm Farm, near Ayton, where James was sent to the High Green school. Later he served as apprentice in the shop of a haberdasher named Saunderson, in the fishing village of Staithes, where he learnt his sea lore. This shop was demolished, but the materials were used in building what is nowadays proudly pointed to as "Cook's Shop," in Church Street.
Yorkshire saw little of him after his first few voyages. He was married at St. Margaret's Church, Barking, in Essex, and for a while his home-comings were spent in Shadwell. Then No. 88, Mile End Road became his headquarters up to the time of his last voyage, which ended in his death, February 14, 1779.