« AnkstesnisTęsti »
and there is nothing in its appearance to prove otherwise.
A grand old home is Faulkbourne, one after our own romantic imagining—a realised ideal—and we envied the owner its possession. Every whit as picturesque as tourist-haunted Haddon, but never having had the glamour of great deed or thrilling love story thrown over it, it has not gained the wider fame, and is, therefore, unknown to the tourist and unsought by him, doubtless much to the possessor's peaceful enjoyment of his own. We found no mention of this interesting old house in our guide-book after most diligent search therein, but knowing the various vagaries of these productions this fact did not much astonish us; indeed, had we really discovered a place so remote from the ordinary beaten paths of travel described there, we should certainly have been somewhat surprised.
On reaching the hall we made bold to ring the bell at the entrance gateway. (One could not use the term 'front-door' in speaking of such a place— it would take all the poetry at once away; though, as a stern matter of fact, I believe it was such a door that we went to.) We rung on the slender hope that perchance we might be permitted to view the interior. It was the housekeeper who answered our summons, and, upon making known our desire, very politely, yet very positively, refused us, stating that no stranger was allowed admission. Her manner showed that she was much puzzled at our even dreaming to ask such an unheard-of thing, which proved to us plainer than anything else that
we had at last discovered a favoured land where the genus tripper has not yet appeared.
Near to Faulkbourne Hall in the grounds are some remarkably fine cedars, alone worth a long journey to see. One of these trees, I think I may safely say, is amongst the largest, if it is not itself actually the largest in the kingdom. When we were there it measured twenty-five feet in circumference at about a foot from the ground. How old it is, who can say ?
Returning to Witham we ordered the horses to, and were soon again on our way. Having been told by an antiquarian friend that there was a remarkably fine old tower-house at Layer Marney, a scattered hamlet in an almost terra incognita between Witham and Colchester, we looked up the name of the place on our map, and endeavoured to make out our route thither, which, however, we were not very successful in doing, for the Essex crosscountry by-ways are almost as puzzling as Hampton Court maze, so we determined to take our course by the compass, selecting those roads that appeared most likely to lead in the direction we desired, trusting to arrive some time during the day at Layer Marney.
It was pleasant on that hot summer day to exchange the dusty highway for the tree-shaded and grass-bordered country lanes, narrow though they were and given to wind about in a most perplexing and annoying manner. Writing of country by-ways, I wonder why it is that Devonshire is so famed above all other parts for the length, narrowness, and
endless twistings and turnings of its lanes. There are other counties with lanes quite as narrow, as winding, and as long. I almost think that in this matter Essex can hold her own with ease, and I feel as sure as I am of anything that some of the Sussex by-ways could do even more more could give the Devonshire lanes long odds and a beating; and I ought to know, for I have both walked and driven. over the greater portion of both counties.
Passing by an old mill close to a cool stilly sheet of water, whose picturesque water-wheel has, alas! given way to the hidden turbine, we presently came to Little Braxted Church, said to be one of the smallest places of worship in Essex, its total length from east to west being barely forty-five feet; and when from this the chancel is taken away and the space at the other end where baulks of timber spring up in a strange manner from the floor to the roof to support the tiny bell turret, there is not room left for a large congregation, as may be imagined.
Little Braxted Church is a very ancient and an exceedingly quaint Norman building. It is chiefly constructed of stone rubble, and has a rounded chancel (apsidal is, I believe, the correct architectural term); both chancel and nave are under one roof. One of the original Norman windows is curiously small and deeply set, being only a few inches wide, but the chief interest of this ancient edifice lies in its interior. Upon entering the church one is struck by the richness of the decorated walls, every inch of which is painted with frescoes, scrollwork, or other ornamentation, and along the beams
are texts in English and inscriptions in Latin. It is, indeed, a gem of a church, and one is the more charmed with the rare beauty of the interior by the contrast with its rough, almost rude, exterior. It takes the stranger wholly unawares, and the suddenness of the surprise enhances the effect. It is not often, alas! that the wanderer of to-day is delightfully surprised by the internal beauty of a remote country church, the more especially when situated like this in a poor agricultural district, where one generally expects whitewash and neglect-which expectation is seldom disappointed.
The rector of Little Braxted is manifestly, and very justly, proud of his small and beautiful church. The great interest he takes in it is shown in a somewhat curious little book that he has written for the benefit of his parishioners, which he calls 'The Story of the Church.' In his book the rector relates much of the church's past history, which he states was first erected about the year 1120, so that this tiny fane is over seven long centuries old. 'Most of the country then,' he writes, was covered with thick woods or wild heath, and as for the roads, oh! what hard work it was to drag the stones over them to build this church! Some of the stones came by ship to Maldon and some by land, and the dark brown stones you see here and there in the walls were gathered from Tiptree Heath. When they had cleared the ground the builders came down on St. Nicholas' morning (December 6) and put two poles in a line so that they stood just straight with the sun as it rose over the hill, and on that line they
HISTORY OF A CHURCH.
made the middle aisle. That is the reason the chancel points so much to the south instead of lying due east; and if you come to church next St. Nicholas' Day, just as the service begins at eight o'clock, you will see the sun shining straight in at the east window over the altar.'
After following the history of the church down to the present century the rector goes on to relate, in his easy colloquial manner, the part he took in making the once plain structure beautiful. In 1856, when I was a boy,' he says, 'learning my Latin grammar, and knowing nothing about Little Braxted (and not much about anything), the rector here set to work to restore this church; he collected and spent nearly 500l. and made the whole church sound, strong, and clean. But when I came here I thought, Why should it only be clean? Why not beautiful?—and good friends helped me: friends who never saw this place, but who love the House of God wherever it is. And so many more hundreds of pounds have been spent, and the little window (the quaintly tiny Norman one that I have already mentioned) that looks down on the chancel would not complain now, as it used to do, that "This House lieth desolate." First, then, teach your children, and everyone you come across in the world, that God's House ought to be the finest house and the most beautiful house in the parish.'
Besides the stories told in frescoes, and besides the many texts in curious lettering, making the walls truly 'sermons in stones,' there are numerous Latin inscriptions, some painted strangely in long and