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A FIFTEENTH-CENTURY HOSTEL.
of ancient date, discovered that Alfriston really derived its name from Alfred's ton (Alfred's town), King Alfred, according to history, having been at one time here, the Domesday Book as well confirming the fact in its spelling of the place.
Our antiquarian friend had also something to say as to the quaint inn-sign at Widford; this he told us is known by the name of the Good Woman. First it was called the Silent Woman, because having her head cut off the poor woman naturally could not speak; it would seem that in times past the Essex people did not esteem it a virtue for their wives to do much talking, and so as this woman was perforce silent she became to them the Good Woman, all of which, as our friend stated, was as true as most traditions are, and I dare say he was right.
We did not find much of interest in Chelmsford, which town appeared to us more prosperous than picturesque; alas! that these terms should nowadays never seem synonymous! In rambling about the place we did however come upon one oldtime building that delighted us an ancient inn it was, a half-timbered structure of the fifteenth century, 'Ye Old Cross Keys' as its sign-board informed us. A clean and neat little hostel with bright flowers in its windows, somewhat modernised the rest of the old house, but fortunately its quaint and cosy look had not been altogether improved away. It was truly a picture in the prosaic street, and redeemed it from being wholly common-place. We could not resist the temptation to make a sketch of this ancient bit of architecture, even
though by so doing we attracted around us a small crowd of inquisitive little boys, besides one curious specimen of a worthy and doubtless useful citizen, who could not understand why we should waste our time sketching that insignificant old place' when there was a big town hall much better worth drawing, built all of stone (or at least the front), a handsome building that any town might be proud of,' and which, he said, cost I forget how many thousand pounds. He reminded us forcibly of a certain American gentleman who courteously showed us over his native 'city,' and when calling our attention to the various fine buildings therein was careful to inform us how many dollars each one cost, the fineness of the structure appearing in his estimation to greatly, if not wholly, depend upon the number of dollars expended upon it.
How mean that charming unpretentious bit of past-time building made the featureless modern houses that compose the rest of the street appear, with all their pretentiousness, their tedious sameness of outline, and want of architectural purpose.
Leaving Chelmsford, we observed to the right of us, as we drove out of the town, an old pump near to a disused graveyard, with the notice This Pump is closed by order of the Sanitary Authorities,' which action appeared to us a very wise exercise of power on their part, though why, if it was not considered safe to use, the pump was not altogether removed puzzled us. It would be well if all rural sanitary authorities were as regardful of the welfare of the people. At one village, when on a previous
tour, we came upon a well situated actually right in the middle of the churchyard, and this was being used by the villagers to obtain their supply of water; had we not seen this for ourselves, we certainly could not have credited that such a thing would be allowed in these days. At many farmhouses, too, on the way, we noticed that the pump was placed adjoining the farmyard, so that the water could hardly fail to be contaminated; indeed this most undesirable arrangement appeared to us to be the rule rather than the reverse, possibly for the convenience of watering the cattle, and those we spoke to on the matter could see no harm in the arrangement.
Another thing that caused us some surprise (or rather, perhaps I should more correctly say, would have done so, had we not been prepared for it by former experience) is the apparent objection that country people seem to have against admitting fresh air into their homes, for even upon the finest summer day it was nothing unusual to find all the windows of the houses and cottages we passed by strictly closed, and if a cotter had a pane broken this was sure to be carefully pasted up. Indeed, so much does this closing of windows prevail in country places, as though they were never intended to open, that we made it a rule upon arriving at our inn to first of all visit our room and at once admit a supply of fresh air thereto.
The country between Chelmsford and Witham is exceedingly beautiful, well wooded and well watered, rich in foliage, a treeful land, dotted every
here and there with pleasant rural homes, from the stately mansion standing in its finely-timbered park to the humble ivy-grown cottage with its tiny garden of old-fashioned flowers, gay of colour and sweet of perfume, but whether grand or lowly each old home was in charming harmony with its surroundings, and added therefore to the beauty of the prospect.
We passed through a country thoroughly English that day, full of the poetry of civilisation and with none of its ugliness, a peaceful pastoral land into which the bustle and haste of this busy century has not yet penetrated, a country that has changed little if any of its characteristics in all these changeful centuries. It seemed as if some magic spell was cast over all to preserve its ancient peace and quietude. Man and Nature have long been here familiar friends, and all the spreading loveliness we looked upon is the outcome of their long companionship.
Unfortunately, Englishmen, when they do condescend to travel at all at home, mostly rush to thronged watering-places or slavishly follow in well-beaten tourist tracks, fashion-led or guide-book directed; they have therefore little or no knowledge of the old-world calm, the restful quietude, the eye-delighting, heart-filling beauty of the everyday scenery of rural England, a veritable earthly paradise travelled now by few, as the grass-grown roads often but too plainly prove, and practically therefore unseen save by the local inhabitants; a country whose rare charms are unspoilt by modern prosperity or the presence
of the professional tourist, whose powers of spoiling the fairest scenery are wofully great. The majority of Englishmen know not this untravelled land, and have not therefore the deep-rooted love of it that comes alone from long intimacy, a love our ancestors held as a most precious thing; but then our forefathers lived in closer communion with Nature than we do now. The glare and flash of electricity, and the rush and roar of steam, had not blinded them to the charm of simple beauty; the restless, unabiding spirit engendered by the cheap and speedy railway had not taken possession of them. It is the mellow, homelike beauty of our ancient land, with the bloom of ages over all, that gladdens so both heart and eye, a beauty revealed only to the leisurely wanderer along its devious by-ways, tree-shaded lanes, and pleasant footpaths. The scenery of roadside England is not exciting; there is nothing very wonderful or strange about it; there is no need of strong adjectives to describe it; it is neither grand nor sublime-merely beautiful, but oh! how great is its dower of beauty! What a revelation of loveliness it is to anyone who has not yet had that delightful experience, to walk or drive through an English county simply in search of the picturesque, careless of his course, careful only to avoid large towns, and to keep as far as may be from the iron way.
At the pleasant hamlet of Boreham we came upon a well-timbered park, with two avenues of trees leading from the road to the hall; between these was a long straight stretch of water; the quaint formality of the arrangement gave the place