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The inhabitants of Beccles are singularly fortunate in one respect, for the town possesses extensive estates which preclude the necessity for borough rates, as the costs of paving, highways, sewerage, police, and lighting are paid from funds arising from this source. The estate in question consists of nearly a thousand acres of rich marshland pasturage. Fancy living in a town without rates! I would the town I lived in were rateless!
Beccles, like Bungay, is a pleasantly situated and picturesque place. It has too a certain indescribable look of prosperity; not the prosperity that breaks out in stucco shops and plate glass, that asserts itself in cheap and flimsy villas, or desirable mansions badly built, all show and sham, but a quiet sufficient prosperity that is suggestive of contented abiding and well-being.
Beccles truly does not possess a castle set on a height like Bungay, but it boasts of a grand old church that stands on a commanding eminence, from which there is, as our American cousins would express it, a superb prospect' over the vast low-lying valley of the Waveney; the eye can trace from thence the far winding course of the little river glistening for miles in the green level marshes. The fine tower of this church stands detached at some distance from the main building; it is a splendid specimen of masonry. Unfortunately, it was not quite finished by the ancient builders, and it has remained unfinished, as they left it in the sixteenth century, to this day. Perhaps, however, after all there is not so much to grieve about in its being un
A FOREIGN-LOOKING TOWN.
completed, for if it is not so grand as it would have been in its perfect state, it is undoubtedly more picturesque.
Of the past history of Beccles I must confess total ignorance. We were content to take the place as we found it, nor have I since troubled to look its past record up in books, but from the many names of streets ending in 'gate' we presumed that it must once have been a fortified and walled town. There is Ballygate Street, Blyburgate Street, Ingate Street, Northgate Street, Smallgate Street, and possibly others that we failed to note.
The market-place at Beccles is quite foreignlooking; indeed, to use an Irish expression, I think that I may say it is more so than many continental ones. The wide irregular market square, with its surroundings of high-gabled and irregular-roofed houses, having the ancient church and great grey tower for a background, forms a charming picture. Prout would have gloried in sketching it. Were it not for the names on the shops around, and for the people, who are too pronouncedly English and wanting in picturesqueness, Beccles as viewed thus might be a town in Normandy.
But there is another even more effective peep of the place. As seen from the riverside below, from near to the first bridge that crosses the Waveney, on the road to Yarmouth, the town of Beccles makes a most romantic picture, well composed and rich in colour. I wonder whether any artist has ever yet come and painted this. Over all stands the grey church tower, dominating the whole town, the very
expression in stone of the ancient ecclesiastical supremacy; gathered around this are the uneven-roofed red-tiled houses, then comes a mingling of quaint waterside buildings, trees, and different sorts of sailing craft (from the giant of Norfolk rivers, a trading wherry, to a diminutive canoe); a bright green meadow constitutes the foreground. The changeful outlines of the buildings, the contrasting colours of the red roofs with the solemn grey of the church, and the pale blue smoke losing itself in a mystery of halftints, the grey and green of the outbuildings and riverside trees, the gleaming and sparkling of the water, and the many hues of the various craft idly afloat thereon, with the fresh green of the foreground meadow, made a subject worthy of the brush of Turner.
So boldly does the church uprise above the clustering houses, with such a masterful air does it assert its dignity, that Beccles seems more like a miniature cathedral city than a little-known provincial town. There is one thing about these country towns: as a rule, when they possess buildings of merit, they are not dwarfed as in London by high houses close around; space also permits the observer to see their edifices at a proper distance, and therefore the beauty of their proportions can be understood and rightly appreciated. Nor is this all, for the sunshine not being cut off from them, they have the supreme advantage of the full relief of light and shade, without which even the finest elevation loses half its effect from the want of contrast and consequent lack of emphasis in the architectural details.
Out of Beccles our road took us over the flat
A STRANGE COUNTRY.
marshlands that form the Waveney valley. The land here is but about two feet above the water level, and we could not but wonder how it was drained at all, but we wondered a great deal more further on our journey. When we found some of the dykes embanked above the land with large craft with great spreading sails thereon, voyaging high above dry ground, it seemed as though the general order of things and laws of nature had been set at defiance. A strange country this vast fenland, reclaimed by the tireless toil of centuries and only retained by constant watchfulness, and now that the land does not pay to cultivate, at least so the farmers say, the question arises, will this ceaseless struggle to maintain it be kept up?
Reaching the end of the marshlands, we noticed a picturesque inn, the Swan by name, built in 1734, as is shown by the iron figures upon its walls. The Swan, we have noted, is as favourite a title for riverside inns as is the Ship for seaport publics and the Red Lion or King's Head for the chief hotels in market towns. There is more in the names of such places than at first meets the eye.
A few miles of pretty country brought us to the hamlet of Haddiscoe, the very interesting church of which is set on a height that seems almost a hill in this flat land. This edifice contains much fine Norman work, noticeably the exceedingly beautiful north doorway; in a niche above this is a very curious carved image of a man, seated in a chair, holding up both his hands. The tower (round as usual) is unusual in one respect, in that it is embattled and has
some uncommon windows. The roof is of lead, not
The country now became flat once more, with sluggish rivers; our road was bounded by pollards, a great level sea of land stretched far away on either side of us. The landscape was characteristically flat, nothing higher for leagues than a church tower or a tall poplar tree; the sky above was more spacious than the one we were accustomed to, a vast dome of cloud-flecked blue extending from horizon to horizon. I do not wonder that it was a difficult task to convince the famous Dutchman that the world was really round; in his country it certainly does appear above all things flat.
The most noticeable things in the prospect are the many windmills, some at work, others at rest, some white in the sunshine, others showing dark against the silvery sky. I do not think that I have ever before seen so large a number of windmills at