Tuesday 6th October 2020

Shakespeare’s Crab, an old crab-apple tree under which Shakespeare is supposed to have slept, which subsequently acquired magical powers. The legend can be traced back to the mid eighteenth-century, and is referred to by Garrick. The tree, along the main road to Bidford-on-Avon, became a minor shrine and target of souvenir hunters until what was left of it was rooted up in 1824.

After the tree had disappeared it acquired celebrity status. Charles Frederick Green, a Stratford man educated at Shakespeare’s school, published his 50-page account complete with illustrations, Shakespeare’s Crab Tree, around 1857.

The story was repeated in the June 27 1874 issue of All the Year Round, the popular journal founded by Charles Dickens and continued after his death by his son, also named Charles. It quotes directly from Green’s account. There were said to be two groups of drinkers from the Bidford area, the “Topers” and “Sippers”. “The Topers challenged all comers to a drinking match. “Early one Whit-Monday morning William Shakespeare and a few of his right merry boon companions, who had accepted the Topers’ challenge, started for Bidford, and, arriving there, had the mortification to find that the challengers had that very morning gone to Evesham fair on a similar errand; at this disappointment they resolved to take up with the Sippers, who had remained at home… Upon trial, however, the Stratfordians found themselves unequal to the contest, and were obliged to retire whilst they still retained the partial use of their legs. The poet and his comrades had not retreated more than a mile from the famous hostelrie of the Falcon – at which their capabilities had been tested, ere they lay down and bivouacked for the night, under the wide-spreading boughs of a thickly-blossomed crab-tree.”

Upon waking in the morning Shakespeare’s companions endeavoured to persuade him to renew the contest; but…he declined, and looking round and pointing to the villages from which his adversaries had assembled, uttered the following epigram:
Piping Pebworth, Dancing Marston,
Haunted Hillboro, Hungry Grafton,
Dodging Exhall, Papist Wixford,
Beggarly Broom and Drunken Bidford. ”

Drunken Bidford

Here where you slept
Right here I’m told
I sit and wait
I see a young girl in her car
She drinks coffee in a union jack beaker
I see a large overweight man scramble from his 4×4
Mask at the ready
I wait
Cars and Lorries trundle by on the B439 unaware
I’m sure of the history of your place of sleep
The slight drizzle of October falls
I wait
I’m waiting to see the nurse in the medical centre built on the spot
Where you slept under the crab apple tree
Drunken Bidford
Outside in this rain a wet plastic chair rests
Upon it sits a bottle of hand sanitizer
Not very welcoming
A sign reads wait here for appointments
The rain gets harder
I wait
Inside the building laughter echoes
A young receptionist obviously in conversation with a friend
I wait
After another short while she opens the window and tells me to report to the main building
I wait at last in the dry mask on
Hands sanitized
After I have waited
I am told my appointment is tomorrow

John Bish 6th October 2020


” They cast their caps up, and carouse together,
Like friends long lost.”

LITTLE of an authentic nature is known of the immortal bard of Avon
particularly of his youthful habits, nor is it at all surprising that the life
of an obscure yeoman s son did not engage the pen of a biographer of
the sixteenth century ; nor that the transcendent genius of his manhood
so dazzled his contemporaries that they never thought of searching out
the source whence it arose. The regret his premature death must have
occasioned to those most familiar with him, who, in all their epistles, address
him with the most affectionate regard as ” Beloved friend,” ” Gentle friend, ” Good master,” ” Sweet swan of Avon,” &c., clearly indicates
how much he was beloved.

On his decease a very important duty devolved upon his “good
fellows, Burbage, Hemming, and Condale,” namely, to collect the effu
sions of his mighty mind, which were scattered abroad with profuse
prodigality, and could only be procured from the playhouse copies and
from various parties into whose hands they had fallen, and, but for them,
his precious thoughts had been for ever lost. To the dispersed state in
which he left his writings, is to be ascribed that admixture of alloy which
is found amongst the brilliancy of his genuine effusions : again, before
his friends had time to complete his biographical reminiscences the
horrors of the great Civil War broke out, and for a time

” Laid this rich country waste, and rudely cropped
Its rip’ning hopes of fair posterity.”

The one sad consequence being the destruction by fanatical puritans of
records from which a circumstantial account of Shakspeare might have
been collected.

It is much to be lamented, that after all their indefatigable research
his biographers found but scanty materials of an authentic nature ;
therefore, as we may now almost despair of ever filling up the chasms
of undoubted history, we must endeavour to content ourselves with pro
babilities and the adopted chronicles of the neighbourhood of Stratford-
on-Avon, one of which is the Legend of ” The Crab Tree.” Although I
shall be able to trace its existence incontestibly to upwards of two
hundred years, it is often referred to, and not unfrequently summarily
dismissed, as the composition of some village rhymester, without any
inquiry being instituted as to its historical or local truth ; whilst, at the
same time, the no less doubtful story of Charlecote Park is pertinaceously
and implicitly believed. Yet the latter tradition comes in an equally
questionable shape ; the ballad on Sir Thomas Lucy being but a rough
pasquinade containing no greater amount of poetic merit than the epi- gram upon the villages, and claiming no higher authority than that of
being first assumed to be correct by Eowe. It is to be regretted that
this writer preferred relying on his fertile invention to the trouble of
investigating sources of information to which at that time he had access,
and which would have enabled him to write a reliable history of
Shakspeare’s life.

It must be obvious to every reader that Shakspeare enriched his
mind in his native county from the green lap of nature, where, with so
fertile an imagination, he could

” Find tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.”

The reflections of his youthful rambles beside the soft flowing Avon,
through flowery mead, grove, upland, forest, hill, and dale, spread them
selves throughout his works, and show the delight he took in remem
bering and portraying the salient features of the country round his
native town, where even now the whole face of creation wears an aspect
of quiet loveliness. Moreover, he must have had frequent opportunities
of mixing with mankind how else could even his subtle spirit become
acquainted with the inmost workings of the human heart ?

Tradition has, with great probability, described the youthful Shaks
peare as indulging in desultory habits, and his station as a yeoman s son
fosters that idea, inasmuch as it would afford him leisure and opportunity
to become familiar with all the occupations of rural life as well as with
the amusements of his times ; when, in the lonely farmhouse and secluded
hamlet, the rites of hospitality were observed with frequency and cor
dially dispensed. Then, every parish had its peculiar festivities; its ‘
Plough Mondays, its May-days, its Lamb Ales, its Whitsun Ales, its
Holy Ales, &c., on all of which occasions good cheer abounded in every I
rustic house. This fact indicates, beyond all doubt, that joviality and
boisterous mirth were the prevailing characteristics of the age, and that
at that period Englishmen agreed with Sir Toby Belch that ” He’s a

coward, and a coystrel, that will not drink till his brains turn o’ the toe
like a parish top.” Is it likely, then, that a generous nature such as
Shakspeare’s, in the buoyancy of youth, with leisure and inclination to
boot, should absent himself from these annual bacchanalian orgies ?

The monks of Bordesley Abbey enjoyed the privilege of holding an
assay of bread and beer at Bidford upwards of four hundred years before
the Reformation ; and it is but fair to conjecture that these assayers of
good cheer took special care that it should be of a superior quality; for
the Bidfordians are of those who believe that, as ” Bread is the staff of
life, good Ale is life itself,” and a sufficient quantity of the latter was
essential and ever the prologue to their nightly rest. After the Re
formation the privilege of assaying the bread and beer was transferred to
wise and discreet persons who were called ” Ale tasters and Bread
weighers ;” this appointment may have led to the formation of the good
fellows designated “Topers” and “Sippers;” and it may, therefore, be
fairly presumed that these were the jocund worthies who challenged the
Stratfordians to a drinking contest.

There was another notable body designated ” Ale tasters and Bread
weighers” at Stratford-on-Avon, appointed by the bailiffs and subse
quently by the mayors, whose bibulous capabilities the Bidfordians might
be desirous of ascertaining. Such a challenge resembles those in use
even to this day between the Ringers and Psalm-singers, who enjoy
nothing so much as to give each other a touch of their quality, and it is
more than probable that was the case in the acceptance of this cartel.
Shakspeare’s genial enjoyment of humour, which, among all his rare
qualities, shines so conspicuously, might, more than excusably, have
drawn him into the society of men from whose very follies, by skilful
alchemy, he would extract the rich materials of the world’s delight.

” Here might the bold wit of some jovial friend
The first faint image of his Falstaff lend.”



” The day shall not be up so “SQ soon as I,
To try the fair adventure of to-morrow.”

THE legend of the Crab Tree still preserved, and implicitly believed, in
Stratford-on-Avon and the vicinity, may fairly be supposed to have
occurred during the interval of Shakspeare leaving school and his
marriage, of which period so few authenticated events have been handed
down to us. THE LEGEND.

In the glorious days of good Queen Bess the village of Bidford, on
the Banks of the Warwickshire Avon, was noted for the illustrious bands
called “jTopers” and ‘^Sippers.” The ” Topers” were the stouter of the two,
and boldly challenged all England to contest with them in imbibing the
nut-brown ale, for which Bidford especially was famous. Early one
Whit Monday morning William Shakspeare, and a few of his right-merry
boon companions, who had accepted the Topers’ challenge, started for
Bidford, and, arriving there, had the mortification to find that the
challengers had that very morning gone to Evesham fair on a similar
errand ; at this disappointment they resolved to take up with the
Sippers, who had remained at home, and whom they held in contempt.

Upon trial, however, the Stratfordians found themselves unequal to the
encounter, and were obliged to retire whilst they still retained the partial
use of their legs. The poet and his comrades had not retreated mo
than a mile from the famous hostelrie of the Falcon-at which their
capabilities had been tested, ere they lay down and bivouacked, for the
night, under the wide-spreading boughs of a thickly-blossemed tree.

Upon awaking in the morning Shakspeare’s companions end(
to persuade him to renew the contest; but, probably foreseeing a second
defeat, and knowing Discretion is the better part of valour,” he declined,
and looking round, and pointing to the villages from which his adver
saries had assembled, uttered the following epigram :-

” Piping Pebworth, dancing Marston,
Haunted Hillboro’, hungry Grafton,
Dodging Exhall, papist Wixford,
Beggarly Broom, and drunken Bidford.”

Which appellations the villages still retain, and ever after the tree was
known far and near by the name of ” Shakspeare’s Crab Tree.”
plimentary as the designations undoubtedly are to some of these localities,
it would ‘be considered almost a species of blasphemy to doubt that
Shakspeare was the author of them, so much do the inhabitants rejoice
in the titles bestowed on their abodes.

Those who are not possessed of easy faith, and who do not believe
the verse to be a Shaksperean fragment, should remember he had been
drinking with the Sippers only: they may consider it paltry in character
and will not recognise it as a genuine effusion of Avon’s gifted bard ;
but, had he been carousing with the Topers, whose draughts were pottle-
deep, we might have had a specimen of his powers in all the majesty of
song ; if it, indeed, be true that

” A shallow draught intoxicates the brain,
Whilst a deep potion sobers us again.”

Upon a comparison of this legend with that of Charlecote Park, there
does not appear any reason why the one should not be as worthy of
credence as the other ; both may be said to be referred to in his works,
and the following observations may be considered to establish an im
portant point. In the second part of ” Henry the Fourth” the villages
of this neighbourhood are familiarly alluded to ; the scenes in the intro
duction to the ” Taming of a Shrew” are laid before an ale-house at
Wincote, and a tradition is still extant that it owes its origin to a joke
practised by one of Sir Aston Cockayne’s family, who were famous
sportsmen of the olden time, and made the Falcon Inn, at Bidford, the
centre of their hunting operations. Certainly the places are hamlets
adjoining Stratford-on-Avon as will be seen on reference to the accom
panying map it is the only scene in the whole of Shakspeare’s plays
which has direct reference to his own times ; nor is it too great a stretch
of imagination to suppose the bard was an eye-witness of the merriment
it must have caused. The name of ” Sly” is not yet extinct in this part
of the country, but whether the parties bearing it are descendants of the
redoubtable ” Christopher,” I have no pedigree to adduce ; but their
appearance gives unmistakable proofs of their consanguinity.

The biographers of Shakspeare are unable to account for his journey
to London, except by maintaining it arose from his predilection for deer
stalking ! if such was his habits it is probable that he was a customer of
the ” Fat ale-wife of Wincote,” and that he might occasionally take a
drop too much with his quondam friends the Topers of Bidford.

” Do you think because you are virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale?
” Yes, by St. Anne, and ginger shall be hot in the mouth too.”

” All the neighbourhood from old records
Of antique proverbs drawn from Whitsun lords,
And their authority at Wakes, and Ales,
With country precedents and old wives’ tales,
We bring you now.”

IN the autumn of 1822 I journeyed to Bidford, on a Shakspearean
pilgrimage, in company with my lamented friend Captain James Saun-
ders, a gentleman of great literary acquirements and antiquarian research,
who had taken up his residence at Stratford-on-Avon from his enthusi
astic admiration of Shakspeare, and employed the greatest part of his
time in investigating the records of the corporation, in order to unravel
the mystery which surrounds the early period of the poet’s history.
Among others he investigated the legend of the Crab Tree, and as his
companion on that occasion, I sketched ” The time-worn, lonely tree,”
and the eight villages that furnished competitors to Shakspeare and his
Stratfordian companions on their memorable visit to Bidford.

Amongst those gentlemen, from whom information was elicited, was
the Reverend Henry Holyoake, who, having been Rector of Bidford for
many years, attested that so great was his parishioners’ belief in the
legendary account of the Crab Tree, that he had never heard its authen-
ticity questioned, nor did he think there could possibly be the slightest
doubt about it.

He accompanied us to his friend Mr. Hurst, the ” Sir Oracle ” of
Bidford, a fine, robust, country gentleman, somewhat ” In the sere and
yellow leaf,” with ” troops of friends, for whose delight he is a perpetual
triumph, an everlasting bonfire light ! who saves his friends’ money in
links and torches, walking with them in the night betwixt tavern and
tavern ; but the ale he has drank would have bought lights at the dearest
chandlers in Europe.” When our Reverend cicerone informed Mr. Hurst
of our errand, that gentleman invited us to partake of his hospitality,
facetiously adding, if that is your business here, ” We’ll teach you to drink
deep ere you depart,” or we shall lose our reputation ; and a hearty wel
come he gave us ; indeed, so much so, that I began to fear he intended
to make an example of us as his townsmen of yore had done of mine.

As one glass of his generous wine followed the other, “Thick as
post on post,” he affirmed it could not hurt us ; and however inclined to
believe in his assertions, I began to feel unmistakable symptoms to the
contrary. Our kind host said he could remember the legend as long
as he could remember anything : his father used to talk about the jolly
bouts with the Stratfordians : in his younger days he himself had often
been at the Falcon, at Bidford, with ” the old poet,” meaning John Jor
dan, the author of ” Welcomb Hills” who used to recite one of his poems,
written to commemorate Shakspeare’s visit in which he made it appear
that the Avon’s bard was as fond ” Of a skin-full of drink” as any of

Mr. Hurst also gave a vivid account of Garrick’s jubilee at Strat-
ford-on-Avon, in 1769, in the pleasures of which he had participated.
He related the anecdote of Christopher Sly mentioned in the preceding
chapter and other exploits of Sir Aston Cockayne, and recited the
following poem written by that worthy knight, published in 1658, and
dedicated to Mrs. Clement Fisher, of Wincote :

” Shakspeare, your Wincote ale hath much renowned ;
That foxed a beggar that by chance was found,

Sleeping ; there needed not a word
To make him believe he was a lord,
But you affirm, and it seems most eager,
‘Twill make a lord as drunk as any beggar :
Bid Norton brew such ale as Shakspeare fancies,
Did put Kit Sly into such lordly trances ;
And let us meet there for a fit of gladness,
And drink ourselves merry in sober sadness.”

These doggerel lines, coupled with the fact that the Falcon Inn, at
Bidford, was kept by Norton in Shakspeare’s time, and for a great num
ber of years afterwards, ” Will help to thicken other proofs that do de
monstrate thinly” the truth of the legend, and that it was the received
opinion of the neighbourhood from Shakspeare’s to the present day.

We then called upon Mrs. Ashwin, a communicative old lady, whose
testimony fully corroborated that of Mr. Hurst ; she added that her
informant, who taught her the epigram on the villages, could remember
it from the troublesome times of England, when the second king Charles
addressed his followers from the hostelrie of the Falcon previously to the
disastrous battle of Worcester ; and as she related the bibulous exploits
of the Topers and Sippers, the fire of youth lit up the eyes of this
feeble octogenarian ” As the spirit of the past came o’er her.” She said,
” The Bidfordians have never lost their character, for they are a thirsty
lot even now ; nothing will ever alter them ! ” She had heard there had
been formerly a kind of mock corporation there ; the Topers were con
sidered the aldermen, and the Sippers the burgesses, and that it had
existed for ages. Indeed, the corporation of Stratford-on-Avon, as far
as regards sobriety, was little better at the commencement of the present
century ; for I have seen and I advert to the fact merely to show the
probability of such practices

” The justice,
With fair round belly, with good capon lined,”

carried home d la Falstaff in a buck basket, on the occasions of their

feastings and drinkings, which were neither few or far between ; ” I have
other reports by me, which, if I should set forth, some grave ancient
would be out of charity with me.”

We were further informed of the existence of the old sign of the
Falcon, which, when it ceased to be an inn, was sold to a wheelwright at
Broom ; thither we repaired, and found it nailed up as a pictorial embel
lishment in his shop. Captain Saunders purchased it, and had it con
veyed to Stratford. It is rudely painted, and, to use an heraldic
phrase, is a falcon displayed or on a field gules, surmounted with the
arms of the Skipworth family who were the then lords of the manor
of Bidford. ” Alluding to mine host of the White Lion Inn he says, finding me
a great admirer of Shakspeare, he took me on the road to a place called
Bidford, and showed me in the hedge a Crab Tree, called ” Shakspeare’s
Canopy,” because under it our poet slept one night ; for he, as well as
Ben Jonson, loved a glass for the pleasure of society ; and he, having
heard much of the men of the village as deep drinkers and merry fellows,
one day went over to Bidford to take a cup with them. He inquired
of a shepherd for the Bidford drinkers, who replied they were absent,
but the Sippers were at home, and, I suppose, continued the sheepkeeper,
they will be sufficient for you : and so, indeed, they were. He was forced
to take up his lodgings under that tree for some hours.

” ‘ Hushed with the buzzing night flies to his slumbers.’


” ‘ Enjoyed the honey-dew of sleep.’


There is another notice of the tradition of Shakspeare’s Crab Tree,
and the epigram on the villages as being long known in Warwickshire,
published in the Gentleman’s Magazine for December, 1794, Vol. 64,
Part 2, page 1062.

In Ireland’s Warwickshire Avon, published towards the end of the
last century, there is a similar account of the tradition, and the earliest
representation of the Crab Tree I have seen (a wood cut), which is
correct as it then appeared in 1795.

Dr. Drake, in his ” Shakspeare and his Times, 1817,” notices the
existence of the legend, and expresses his conviction of its antiquity and
Shaksperean origin.

Douglas Jerrold in his ” Shilling Magazine” gives a pleasing and
vivid relation of the tradition and of the manner in which Shakspeare’s
birth-day ought to be celebrated.

The fidelity with which the peasantry of the neighbourhood of
Bidford recite the epigram is remarkable, and also how invariably they
ascribe it to Shakspeare ; thus, it appears, both the learned and un
learned have, for upwards of two hundred years, acknowledged their
belief in the truth of


” Revisit’st thou the time-worn, lonely tree
Whose rugged trunk is sacred still to thee ?
Beneath whose branches, thick with blossoms spread,
Thou laid’st one summer’s night thy weary head,
Whilst Mab despatched her little elfin crew
Around the heath in search of morning dews,
Some tripp’d the bank, and some the briery dell,
Or scooped the stone, or shook the blue hare-bell,
From cup of acorn or of ruby hips
To pour the cool drops o’er thy parching lips.”

” Here fairies by moonlight dance round his green bed
For hallow’d the turf is which pillow’d his head.”


IN a valley of beautiful and varied scenery, full of repose, and rich in
verdant loveliness, with opening vistas of surpassing beauty jhejCots-
wold Hills in the distance, and nearer, bold Breedon, looking frowningly
upon the Vale of Evesham, through which sweeps the ” Soft-flowing
Avon,” glittering like molten silver between the willows on its sedgy
banks ; five short miles from Stratford, one from Bidford, and a few
hundred paces from the river, on the then uninclosed roadside, grew a
Crab Tree, whose gnarled trunk and giant size bespoke the growth of centuries, and which tradition has uniformly associated with the name of
Shakspeare. The humble dwellers of the neighbourhood (probably some
of the drinking party) conferred upon it the appellation of ” Shakspeare’s
Crab Tree,” from its having sheltered him and his companions from the
dews of night on an occasion when a carousal having disqualified them
from proceeding further, they laid themselves down to sleep under its
thickly blossomed branches.

My earliest recollection of the Crab Tree was about the year 1814,
at which time it was frequently called ” Shakspeare’s Canopy ;” it was
regarded with almost superstitious veneration by the peasantry of the
neighbourhood, and was then rich in foliage and fruit. The autumnal
winds of 1816 blew off several of its stalwart boughs, and year after
year it suffered equally from the effects of time and the depredations
of unthinking visitors. For several subsequent years it remained as
depicted in the annexed sketch made in 1823 when only a few leaves
appeared on a single twig, which ultimately died off before the autumn,
and left only

” A rotten tree
That cannot so much as blossom yield.”

The remains of its decayed trunk and roots were carefully removed to
Bidford Grange on the 4th of December, 1 824.

The oak which concealed the second Charles was for a long time
venerated by the adherents of the House of Stuart, yet that must fall
into insignificance when compared with the tree that over-canopied the
greatest poet nature ever produced, for, when all records of the monarch
shall have passed away, the fame of the bard will not have attained the
zenith of its glory. The celestial light of Shakspeare’s knowledge will
continue to illuminate the darkest corners of the earth, as it now irra
diates both hemispheres with its effulgent rays.

” Though Albion’s isle may boast thy lore,
Yet lives thy spirit on Columbia’s shore.”

It has often excited surprise that Shakspeare has not introduced more
frequent records in his works of incidents which occurred to him in
his nonage, and with such accuracy as to indicate their undoubted
origin ; those noticed in the second chapter are certainly referable to
the neighbourhood of Stratford, and parties well acquainted with its
vicinity recognise the allusions to it, which distinctly show that he well
knew each bosky bourne and verdant dell in the locality of the famous


” As poetry and piping are cousin-germans,
So piping and playing are of great affinity.”

I RESOLVED to make a pedestrian visit to Pebworth, that I might stroll
leisurely through some of those scenes from which Shakspeare has
unquestionably derived his earliest ideas of rural imagery and rustic life.
My route was over Bidt’ord Bridge, along the ancient Unman road called
” Icknield Street,” and for some part of the way lay in sight of the Avon,
fancifully winding through the wide and fertile Vale of Evesham, some
times disappearing among groves, or beneath its own green banks ; and
anon breaking out into full view, in silvery eddies sweeping round a
slope of meadow land, and then losing itself in the distant line of azure,
undulating hills.

After pursuing the road for about two miles I ascended Staple Hill,
which commands an extensive view of the Cotswold Range strongly
contrasting the Warwickshire side of the Avon, and indicating, notwith
standing the improvement of two centuries, that rarest Will

” Was no stranger here in Gloucestershire,
Whose high, wild hills, and rough, uneven ways
Draw out our miles and make them wearisome.”

At Bickmarsh I turned off to the left into a footpath which led
along the borders of fields and under hedgerows by Leza Barn taking
the windmill for a landmark, until I came to Dorsington Lane, -at the
end of which lies Pebworth, which is situated on a gentle eminence. It
i< a pretty little village, containing about two hundred cottages, principally
built of stone, covered with thatch or Gloucestershire stone-slate, most
of them having trim gardens, bright with flowering shrubs, or clustering
vines overhanging the doorways, while the substantial residences of
the yeomen, with well filled rickyards, give ample testimony of their

The church, which is dedicated to St. Peter, stands on the summit
of a hill, and is a humble specimen of early Gothic architecture ; having
j^square, embattled tower, as will be seen in the annexed view.

On the south side of the church stands an antique chapel, doubtless
part of a still more ancient edifice ; it is separated from the body of the
church by four gothic arches supported on octagonal pillars. There is a
gallery at the west end for the choir, under which is an ancient font :
and in the chancel is a piscina, proving that the sacred structure was
erected previously to the Reformation ; it also contains several monuments
to the memory of the Bonners, and the Shakels, whose descendants occupy
an important position in the village. The Reverend James Fowler, the
worthy pastor, resides in an unostentatious vicarage, separated merely
from the churchyard by the road.

Soon after the Reformation the parish of Pebwprth became cele
brated for its choir, whose fame spread so far that their services were
frequently required at Worcester Cathedral, in which diocese it is situated.
The parish clerk, who, in his everyday occupations, followed ” Bottom’s”
profession (that of a weaver), talked very loquaciously of his ancestors
having filled the office for more than a century, and became most mourn
fully pathetic when he eulogized the choir then fallen into disuse owing
to the late Vicar preferring congregational to choral singing. From the
manner in which he lauded the vocal powers of the defunct choir the
suggestion naturally arises that no bullfinches ever piped so melodiously
as they had done ; so that, without the reputation they might have
acquired for their skill on the pipe and tabor, their proficiency in sacred
melody, doubtless, earned for their native village the designation of


” We heard that England
Were busied with a Whitsun morris- dance.”

PROCEEDING in a northerly direction from Pebworth along the rough,
dirty lane for a mile or so, then turning to the right ” Jog on, jog on the
footpath way, and merrily hent the stile a ” crossing the rich pasture
lands, studded with lofty, umbrageous elms, casting a beautiful park-
like appearance on the sylvan scene, I came to a narrow track leading to
a village, whose aliases would alone render it notorious, it having been
known to ancient and modern ” Dogberrys ” as Dry Marston, Marston
Sicca, and Long Marston, when it does not rejoice in the merrier appel
lation of ” Dancing Marston.” This parish is situate in Kiftsgate Hun
dred, in the county of Gloucester, four miles south-west of Stratford, and
about a mile and a-half north-east of Pebworth. Placed on a level plain
between two streams, which in rainy seasons overflow on all sides, the
village looks as though it was constructed on an island in a quagmire of
mud, and wanted helping from the mire and dirt.

The church, evidently coeval with the Norman conquest, has but the
humblest pretensions to architectural beauty ; it is surmounted by a low,
embattled bell tower, the whole of which is ensconced in roughcast. In
the churchyard are several tombs of the eleventh and twelfth centuries,
some of which are elaborately carved, but the stealing hand of time has
quite obliterated the inscriptions. Descending a few steps into the
church I found it gloomy and monotonous, with little to attract attention,
except a few scarcely legible brasses and inscriptions on the floor.

A large freestone font occupies an important position in a structure of such
limited proportions. The living is a rectory, in the deanery of Campden,
and was two centuries ago worth 120 a-year, besides its first fruits,
tenths, procurations, synodals, and pentecostals ; doubtless, ere this, it
has ripened into a “fat” living, if the comfortable appearance of the
rectory forms a criterion of judgment.

I^waited on the clergyman to make a few recondite inquiries, and
was ushered into the drawing-room, where I found a quiet, placid gentle
man with a feeble voice, who said he had never ascertained to what Saint
the church had been dedicated, nor why the village was called ” Dancing

Marston.” As I could glean nothing, new or old, from this source, I
bowed myself out of his presence, and gave up the investigation, with the
patience of a baffled antiquary, ” Marry and Amen,” said I, ” here endeth my research !”

John Cooper gave 300, in the year 1643, to establish a free school
in this village, the money was accordingly laid out in the purchase of a
house and lands, the proceeds of which are expended in the education of
the boys of this and the adjoining parishes ; but if the now large sum
be properly dispensed, and the youthful villagers retain their terpsicho-
rean propensities, they should be wise, merry, and happy. Here I found
about two hundred cottages of a neat and cleanly appearance, besides
several large farmhouses.

The old Manor-house, belonging to the Tomes’s family, in whose
possession it has been for centuries, afforded an asylum to our second
King Charles, after the disastrous battle of Worcester: “The king,
disguised in a grey suit, rode on a horse before Mrs. Lane through the
Parliamentary forces, and took up his quarters at Mr. Tomes’s house.
Here the king, who had assumed the name of Will Jackson, being in the
kitchen in pursuance of his disguise, the cookmaid busy in providing
supper for her master’s friends, desired him to wind up the jack ; in
obedience to her orders he attempted it, but hit not the right way, which
made the maid in some passion ask, ‘What countryman are you that
you know not how to wind up a jack?’ Will Jackson answered very satis-
factorily, ‘ I am a poor tenant’s son of Colonel Lane in Staffordshire, we
seldom have roast meat, but when we have we don’t use a jack;’ which in
some measure assuaged the maid’s indignation.” The identical jack still
retains its position, together with some spears which were used in that
lamentable but interesting period of English history.

In this village there existed, time out of mind, a band of morris-
dancers, who were wont to attend the wakes, fairs, and merry meetings,
for many miles around. Fantastically decked with ribbons, with bells
attached to their legs, they were accompanied by a tabor and piper, who,
with a ” Motley fool,” were a source of great amusement to their rustic
neighbours. So recently as 1830 they visited Shakspeare’s jubilee at
Stratford-on-Avon ; since that period they have been discountenanced by
their wealthier neighbours; as there are but “Few gentlemen now-a-days”
like Sir Andrew Aguecheek, who

” Delight in masks and revels altogether.”

It is to be regretted that, in the middle of the nineteenth century of the
Christian era, those joyous holy days and festivals, which our English bards
were so delighted to look upon, are seldom or ever observed, for

” Then the merry bells ring round,
And the jocund rebecks sound
To many a youth and many a maid
Dancing in the chequered shade ;
Young and old come forth to play
On a sunshine holyday.”

“Alas, and alack-a-day,” these poor villagers now rarely or never
make their wonted excursions through the country round, or exercise
their fantastic dancing at home, so greatly are the innocent recreations of
the poor curtailed; but, however “Short and simple the annals” of these
poor morris-dancers might have been, it was, doubtless, they who gained
for their native village the designation of


” It may be only on enchanted ground

It might be merely thought’s expansion ;
But in the spirit, or the flesh, I found
An old and haunted mansion.

” For over all there hung a cloud of fear,

A_sense of mystery the spirit daunted,
And said, as plain as whisper in the ear,
Hillboro’s haunted !”

LEAVING Dancing Marston by another narrow lane, passing through Dor-
sington and Welford Pasture, and crossing the Avon at Bidford Grange,
then by an almost unfrequented footpath, I came suddenly upon Haunted
Hillboro’, a large stone manor-house, dating as far back as King Stephen’s
reign, at which time it was in the possession of Peter de Strodley and
Henry de Montfort, who granted ten acres of land and a fishing house on
the Avon, with free passage through the floodgates, to the monks of
Bordesley Abbey.

The great antiquity of this manor, its secluded situation, and its
appearance, alike are highly favourable to the supposition of its being
haunted. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, almost every old
manor-house in a romantic and melancholy situation had its old familiar
ancestral spirit, particularly if any of its former occupants had met with
a violent or sudden death. Should such a catastrophe ever have occurred,
the house was certain to have a grim mark set upon it as the undoubted
habitation of a ghost, and some whose superstitious fears had wrought
more highly on their excited imagination, would declare they had seen or
heard the inhabitants performing their usual avocations in their midnight
visitations ; ” Becoming borrowers of the night for a dark hour or twain.”
In those ages, the members of a family would congregate around the
fire relating stories of fairies, ghosts, and murders, till

” On every lip a speechless horror dwelt,

On every brow the burden of affliction,
The old ancestral spirit knew and felt
The house’s malediction.”

When King James’s ” Demonology” first appeared in print, it gave a great
impetus to all classes to express their open belief in supernatural agency ;
it was the surest way to royal favour, and if all England did not believe
it, they ought, out of their loyalty for ” This wizard of the north,” to
do so.

I braved the ban, entered the house, and was shown into a spacious
room, which served ” For parlour, kitchen, and hall ;” a bright wood fire
was blazing away at one end of the apartment, shedding an air of
comfort, and added cheerfulness to the prevailing neatness and order
which bespoke the superintendence of a notable housewife. I had not
waited long before a plump, little, bustling woman presented herself, to
whom I communicated the object of my visit. She seemed delighted
with an opportunity of having a little gossip, but regretted that she could
only refer me to Shakspeare’s plays for a solution of my queries ; and,
though it was always called ” Haunte.d.JEIillbQro! > ” she repeatedly assured
me there was now no reason for the appellation. Thus, communing with
” Bald disjointed chat,” I lingered longer than I should have done, for
the last ray of sunshine had departed before I left the house, the bats
were flitting about in the dim twilight ere I had finished the annexed
sketch, and the moon had risen to lend her lustre to declining day.
Whether haunted or not, there stands a fair stone manor-house, em
bowered in lofty elms on Avon’s willowy banks, its principal features
unchanged from the great poet’s time, with neither highway nor by-way
near it to trench upon its sombre peace. Secluded from the. haunts of
the living, there the shadowy dead may revisit the ” Pale glimpses of the
moon” unnoticed and unseen.

In this advanced age let us not carp at every romantic talc, but take
the poet at his word, and call the manor by its ancient name of


” As hungry as the sea.”

IT was difficult to find the way from so sequestered a spot as Haunted
Hillboro’ without a guide : traversing the scarcely distinguishable foot
paths I was obliged to use a little astronomical knowledge, and endeavour
to find a north-west passage, making my way but slowly, looking diligently
for gaps and stiles in the high hedgerows, and now and then finding one
with a plank thrown across a deep ditch, whilst a stream crept silently
along, hiding itself among rushes, hazel and blackberry bushes. Farther
on is a tract of land called Crunhill-leas, where I was almost bewildered
by the numerous tracts that intersect it, formed by sheep as well as by
man, those of the former being quite as well defined, if not as judiciously
chosen. I soon found my way into the Bidford road, and returned to my
hostelrie for the night.

In the morning I proceeded for about two miles amidst ” The hateful
reek of limekilns,” and arrived at ” Hungry Grafton,” within the hundred
of Barlichway, in the county of Warwick, and containing in its parish
the townships of Arden’s Grafton and Hillboro’.

In ancient times it is said to have belonged to the Knight Templars,
and that is why it is sometimes called Temple Grafton ; in the earliest
records it is written both Grastone and Grseveston, probably from the
bushes which abound on the uneven surface of the parish.
greatest attention has of late years been paid to the cultivation of the
soil in this locality it is still hungry and sterile : yet, if nature has denied

to it that fertility which is so manifest in the surrounding hamlets, its
geological advantages are more than equivalent to those ” Upon the manor
born,” for it is situated on a blue lias formation, which furnishes employ
ment to the inhabitants in working the quarries and burning the stone
into lime. There are several farmhouses in the village besides the
cottages, which have a clean and neat appearance, and are constructed
principally of stone. The parish contains a population of upwards of
four hundred, and covers an extent of one thousand and thirty acres.

Antiquity hunters, on arriving in strange villages, generally pay an
early visit to the church, as they there become acquainted with every par
ticular of ancient or local interest. Thither I repaired with more than
usual anxiety, and found it standing on a little knoll of ground, adjoining
the high road ; it is a humble cruciform structure, with a low bell tower
at the west end, as will be seen by the annexed print. It is dedicated to
St. Andrew : nojndigenous yew, nor any kind of tree, grows in this
” Hungry churchyard ” to throw its cooling shade over the latticed
windows of the church, or on the mouldering remains of poor mortality,
but the whole is surrounded by a stone wall, which looks as if the icy
jaws of death had swallowed the last semblance of vitality.

I entered the low porch, expecting to step into the regions of antiquity,
and find some cross-legged effigies of the Knight Templars, looking like
fossil remains just exhumed from some neighbouring quarry, but none are
left “To guard their couch of darkness;” “All are removed from their
fixed beds of lime,” and not a wreck left on the sands of time to show
that such things were. Disappointed in the church from which I had
expected so much I explored the village, in the hope of finding some
creature comforts, and anxiously peering for a sign announcing ” Good
accommodation for man and beast,” or, ” The Traveller’s Rest,” or even,
” The Traveller’s Hope,” but in vain, no such happy announcement was
to be found amongst the whole community. If hungry you go thither,
hungry \i)ii must remain, unless “Your cause doth strike some heart with
pity,” and you arc hospitably relieved.

If what is here adduced is not sufficient to convince my readers (.1
the correctness of Shakspeare’s appellation, let him apply to the parson
of the parish, who, although he rejoices in the munificent income of iW
per annum, is an absentee, and he will, doubtless, give his opinion in
unison with that of Avon’s bard, and call it


” To the young men send humble treaties : dodge,
And palter in the shifts of lowness.”

ABOUT two miles from Hungry Grafton, in a westerly direction along the
footpath, across uncultivated fields thickly interspersed with stunted crab
trees and hawthorn bushes, then over the ridge of a steep hill, and through
several corn fields, I arrived at the village of ” Dodging Exhall,” or, as it
is sometimes called, ” Dudgeon Exhall.” The cottages here seem com
pletely in each others way, like grain that had been sown broadcast, and
surely there must have been great engineering difficulties in constructing
roads to each of them.

I wandered about this apparently deserted village without discovering
any signs of life, save that in a distant field I saw three women working ;
as I approached them I thought I had found the identical “Weird Sisters,”
for they were

” So wither’d, and so wild in their attire ;
They look’d not like the inhabitants o’ the earth,
And yet were on’t.”

I went towards them, pondering whether, like their great originals,
they could reveal the past, if not the future, and inquired why the village
was called Dodging ExhalL The aged crones stared at each other with
a gaze of wild astonishment, which seemed to imply they knew not ; nor
could I elicit any information whatever from ” These imperfect speakers.”
Surely, thought I, if these are a specimen of the inhabitants it must be
Dudgeon Exhall.

Retracing my steps I perceived a man turning one of the angles of
the lane ; he was advanced in life, and of a form that had once been
athletic but was then somewhat bowed by time, perhaps by care ; there
was something in his appearance that indicated intelligence, although his
sunburnt, furrowed countenance seemed the title-page of tribulation. I
entered into conversation with him, and found he had been the parish
clerk for forty years ; I requested to view the church, and whilst he went
for the keys, strolled into the consecrated enclosure, and inspected the
frail memorials of the dead. There I was particularly struck with the
frequency of the name of Griffin j whether the name was analagous to
the disposition of those who had borne it I could not divine, possibly so,
for I found one who might be made of gentler clay, poor John Lamb,
who had prematurely ” Shuffled off this mortal coil,” as though unable to
live with ” Monsters dire,” who had hitherto been supposed to exist only
in the fabled past.

The arrival of the parish clerk put an end to my idle speculations,
for his assurances convinced me there was not a griffin, whether hippogriff
or man, then living in the parish.

We approached the church, which is (as will be seen by the accom
panying sketch) a small plain building ; it is dedicated to St. Giles, was
built in Henry the First’s time, having a small bell tower of wood, and a
low porch, constructed of the like material, covered with ivy and green
with moss, the accumulation of successive years. We descended into the
church, the door of which grated harshly on its hinges, as though in
dudgeon at being disturbed on a week day, when it is opened once only
on a Sunday. All here seems to be associated with long established
usage, for the interior does not appear to have been whitewashed since
the Reformation The robins have left traces of many a winter residence,
and spiders enjoy their ancestral possessions undisturbed, as there are the
remains of many a vagrant fly strangled in their meshes ; all is peace,
dim, fading, but serene ; even the gorgeous sun itself seems to have lost
all energy, for its rays struggle through windows dimmed by the dust of
ages, and the hroad eye of day sheds at best but a tolerable twilight on
this sequestered spot. The church was formerly a chapelrie of Evesham
Abbey ; the benefice is a rectory, and, with the curacy of Wixford
attached, the income amounts to 400 a-year ; the Rev. Hugh Carlton
is the present incumbent ; whilst the parish clerk rejoices in the muni
ficent stipend of fifty shillings for his annual services.

I accompanied this humble official to his dAvelling, situated within a
few hundred paces of the church, on ground about ten feet above the
level of the lane ; it is a thatched cottage, has a small strip of garden,
with little flower beds, while a honeysuckle hangs over the door and sends
its delicate perfume into this primitive abode. The principal apartment
is a low whitewashed room, with the usual appendages of a labourer’s
home all scrupulously clean ; before the fire was the companion of his
cares, providing their frugal meal, whilst the daughter, a delicate looking
girl, occupied herself in ironing. From this little group I had hoped to
derive some information, but as pebbles make a stream diverge into
different channels, even at the fountain head, so was it here ; for George
Hunt (that being the clerk’s name), maintained that the epithet attached
to the hamlet was “Dudgeon,” whilst his daughter modestly intimated
that it was ” Dodging ” Exhall, for she had seen it in a printed book,
so thus again doubt and mystery arise, similar to those which veil the poet’s history.

Under these circumstances I leave it to my readers to determine by
which of the two appellations it must be called ; and, whilst unwilling
to interfere with the right of private judgmental can not doubt that
gallantry will ioin the pretty village lass and declare in favour of


” With twenty popish tricks and ceremonies
I have seen them faithful to observe.”

I PROCEEDED in a westerly direction, accompanied by my cicerone, George
Hunt, who, like his reverend rector, is a pluralist, along a narrow ravine
overhung with hawthorn bushes and crab trees, whose antique roots are
washed bare by Haybrook, which runs along the side. A wide opening
of the road here reveals a beautiful landscape, disclosing farmhouses and
cottages embowered in well wooded and highly cultivated lands, the
property of the Marquis of Hertford ; then crossing the brow of the hill
through a number of corn fields, we came again into a deep, hollow lane,
and, turning a sudden corner, arrived at Wixford Church, a small
structure almost eclipsed by a colossal yew tree.

The parish of Wixford belonged to the renowned Guy, Earl of
Warwick, before the Norman conquest : the village is situated on the
banks of the river Arrow, two miles from Alcester, one from Exhall, and
seven from Stratford-on-Avon. The church is of very limited pro
portions, with a small bell turret at the west end, indicated by the
accompanying sketch. It is dedicated to St. Milburgh ; on the south
side is a chapel, of much larger dimensions than the church itself, dedi
cated to St. John, from which it may be inferred that the chapel of the
Evangelist has taken the church of poor St. Milburgh under its pro

Entering the sacred edifice, ” Far from the busy haunts of men,”
every restless passion seems soothed into repose, arising, perhaps, from a
consciousness that all must soon be mingled with the dust; the very
shadow of death appears to rest upon the mildewed walls, stained and
tinted by weather and by time ; its mouldering monuments ; its dark oak
paneling, all reverend with the gloom of by-gone years, are marvellously
fitted for the abode of solemn meditation. Some of the ancient symbols
of Romanism which escaped destruction at the Reformation still remain ;
the confessionals yet divide the church from the chapel, and the raised
steps to the altar carry back the memory to the past. In the chapel is a
tomb curiously embellished and inlaid with brasses, the prevailing orna
ment being the human foot ; it was erected to the memory of Thomas
De Crew and Juliana his wife, A.D. 1400. There are several others of
lesser importance which are fast mouldering to decay. The chapel is
kept in perpetual repair by the Throckmorton family, who, until recently,
resided at the ancient baronial residence, Coughton Court, but now at
Buckland, and who, with a considerable number of the inhabitants of
this neighbourhood, still adhere to the Roman Catholic faith. In one
of the chancel windows, where it had lain time-out-of-mind covered with
its kindred dust, I saw a relic of poor humanity, a tibia covered with
parasitical ossifications, sufficient to prove if the former possessor was
not a saint he must have been a martyr at least ” To the ills that flesh
is heir to” and, perhaps, quite as worthy of being canonized as many
others which in more celebrated shrines abound; for why should not
poor ” Popish Wixford” have a sainted relic when it has so little else to
recommend it ?

The Protestant reformation was a great conservator of saints’ days
to their rightful owners, when each new canonization was obliged to rob
the former possessor of the honours of his day ; as every new interment
in the churchyard deprives the previous occupant of the quiet repose of
the grave. Alas ! thought I, whilst contemplating this remnant of poor
extinct mortality again brought to light, how were you cuffed and huffeted
in this world, and then you could not find a sanctuary even in the grave !
Silence and oblivion, like the waves of time, have closed upon your fate,
and no one can now tell the story of your sufferings or your end.

The lands of this parish in ancient times belonged to the Priory of
Alcester and the monks of Evesham; the canons of Kenilworth had to
pay forty-six shillings per annum, and cause mass to be performed in this
chapel three times a-week, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday ; which,
doubtless, gave rise to the application to this parish of the epithet of


Methinks they are exceeding poor, and bare to beggary.

I HAD a delightful walk of about two miles in a southerly direction from
Popish Wixford, principally across the fields and over a wood-crowned
steep, from which there is a beautiful prospect of the princely demesne
of Ragley Park, the seat of the Marquis of Hertford, and the substantial
homesteads of Kingley, Pophills, Morehall, with the river Arrow, which
at Broom turns the mill-wheel, and, rushing across the dam, ” Gurgling
its way over the stony bosom of the ford,” takes its sinuous course
through the verdant meadows until it falls into the Avon at Salford

I sauntered about the village, looking for an object for a sketch ;
and, but for the mill, this would have been a task of considerable
difficulty, as there is no church or other building of importance there,
“The rest is so forlorn and beggarly.” Broom, doubtless, derives its
name from the pretty flowering shrub which grows abundantly in the

In days of yore, Broom belonged to Evesham Abbey ; it is now a
hamlet attached to Bidford parish, and contains about four hundred
inhabitants, many of whom retain their primitive habits and occupations,
such as pedlars, razor grinders, renovators of chair bottoms, and other
petty trades. There are several farmhouses built of framed timber and
wattles, and covered with tiles ; many of the cottages are constructed of
mud with thatched roofs, some of which are in a sadly dilapidated con-
dition, with no other flooring than the bare ground. Since Shakspeare’s
time, ” The world hath lived in deeds two thousand years ;” yet here a
complete antithesis presents itself the statu quo in the world’s pro
gression like to a blot on the fair face of the county which all around
abounds with fertility and plenty.

Whether the appellation of ” Beggarly” was originally given from the
wretched condition of the village, the inert habits of the population, or
from both, it is impossible accurately to determine ; but it now thoroughly
deserves the cognomen it has so long retained of


” ‘Tis no matter, I’ll never be drunk whilst I live again, but in honest, civil, godly
company, for this trick if I be drunk, I’ll be drunk with those that have the fear of God,
and not with drunken knaves.”

THE moody reflections occasioned by the forlorn condition of the village
I had just quitted were soon dispelled, as I became wrapt in admiration
of the glorious sun, shedding its golden rays upon the foliage of the um
brageous elms in the fields through which I passed, in that delightful
hour, when

” The departing sunbeam of the west
Kissed, with a smile, his Avon’s virgin stream.”

A merry chime from the old grey tower of Bidford church, looming
in the distance, gave hopeful presage of the hearty welcome which awaited
me from the sturdy sons of Bacchus. ” Shall I not take mine ease in
mine inn ? ” arose in my mind, as I sought refreshment and repose at the
White Lion, adjoining the bridge, where, after partaking of a substantial
repast, and refreshing myself with a draught of nut-brown ale, I came to
the conclusion that the Bidfordians had not lost the art of brewing.

Having the prospect of a long, dull evening before me, I resolved to
explore the village, and ascertain whether the old ” Falcon ” was still in
existence. “Who knows,” thought I, “but I may light upon some
legendary traces of old Norton, ‘ The bully-rock ‘ of Shakspeare, and
his jolly guests ; at any rate there will be the pleasure of treading the
halls once vocal with the mirth of the bard, and the madcap roysterers
who dared to encounter the redoubtable Topers and Sippers.” The
resolution was no sooner made than put in execution, and anon I found
myself wending my way towards that ancient region of wit and ale, the

” Thou most beauteous inn,

Why should hard-favoured grief be lodged in thee,
When triumph is become an alehouse guest ? “

Alas ! how sadly is the scene changed, for ” The Falcon is no longer
towering in his pride of place,” but is converted into the poorhouse.

It is a large stone building, in the early Tudor style of architecture,
with lofty gables, and stone-shafted windows. Remaining as it does
entirely in its original state, it may be considered a fair specimen of
country inns of the mediaeval age It occupies a considerable area of
ground, having an enclosed court yard, with an open gallery on three
sides, which, whilst it afforded communication to the upper rooms on
ordinary occasions, gave ample space on festive days for spectators to
enjoy cockfighting, bear-baiting, and other similar amusements of the
Elizabethan age. After examining the exterior of the ancient hostelrie,
I found my way to a lateral entrance up a flight of steps, and was
received by the matron, who, with much civility and communicativeness,
showed me over the house, which required but little alteration to adapt it
to its present purpose.

The great room on the western side is the one in which it is said
Shakspeare tested the potative capabilities of the ” Sippers.” It is a large
whitewashed apartment, with an ample, old-fashioned fireplace, capable
of admitting within its jambs a knot of crones, on a winter’s eve, circling
around the fire. All the original furniture had long since disappeared
except a massive dining table, around which a score of elderly, indigent
men were seated, taking their repast. My inquiries seemed to arouse to
a state of consciousness an ambiguous looking man, who had sunk into
pensive meditation over the remains of a basin of soup. This person,
named George, might have been lineally descended from one of the veritable
Topers, for his present appearance resembled a dissolving view of the
valiant Bardolph, as an ashy whiteness was stealing over the still glowing
embers of his once rubicund nose, probably arising from a change of the
quality of his potations in his new abode. Suddenly breaking from his
dark reverie, he assured me, in a confidential whisper, that Master
Shakspeare had rubbed his shins against the legs of that table many a
time, and that there was nothing else “antyke” in the house. Encour
aged by my attention to his remarks, he ventured to relate many anecdotes
of Shakspeare, which, as he observed, are not set down in printed books,
although they pass current enough in Bidford.

In the twilight of the evening, and in the hurry of my investigation,
I should have forgotten him of the Bardolph nose, who accompanied us
to the door, but, as I was about to depart, he heaved a deep sigh, and
though I did not see a tear trembling in his eye, there was a spasmodic
contraction of the upper lid, then, as he slyly extended his hand from
under the skirts of his coat; unseen by the matron, I slipped a small coin
in it, and departed with his hearty benediction and the courtesying of
the smiling dame.

I had passed the churchyard, and was slowly wending on, when a
deep reverie into which I had fallen was disturbed by one of those honest
bursts of laughter that generally proceed from that Bacchanalian temple,
an inn. On looking up, I found it the sign of the Boot ; the house
had been recently encased in brickwork, and an embattled parapet gave
it a ludicrous appearance. I entered, with the view of finding my way
into the apartment to take a peep at the party who seemed so merry, but
was met by the landlord, who, seeing I was a guest of higher pretensions,
wished me to go into the parlour ; but, following the bent of my inclina
tion, I proceeded into the kitchen, which every one must know is the
favourite resort of the middle and lower order of travellers in agricultural
districts. The party consisted of several pig dealers, a fat, burly cow
doctor, ” Whoso black eye from a recent scuffle,
Seems he had boxed without the muffle,”

and a tailor, the veritable shadow of a man, from the Emerald Isle, with
a few of the usual attendants and hangers-on.

They were seated round a bright fire, eclipsing the flickering light of
two or three candles that were dotted about, illuminating the kitchen and
settling in mellow radiance on the flitches of bacon which were suspended
from the ceiling. A momentary pause in the merriment ensued upon my
entrance, but it was speedily renewed by the tailor continuing his details
respecting the Teetotallers who had attempted to establish their heretical
doctrines in Bidford. As he related their adventures, and their ultimately
giving up their attempt as hopeless, his hearers were convulsed with
laughter, and finally this goodly company joined in a requiem over the
defunct body of maudlin Teetotallers, proving to demonstration the
truthfulness of my venerable friend, Mrs. Ashwin’s remark, that ” They
are a thirsty lot even now.”

As I was about returning to mine inn, I perceived a great bustle
at the public-house opposite, which was used as the excise office ; thither
I repaired, and, on entering the parlour, found it filled with robust, portly
persons, all furnished with some kind of evening potation, and most of
them with pipes, sending forth such volumes of smoke as rendered it
difficult to discover the features of the guests across the room. They
consisted of the ” Bully-rocks” and maltsters of the town and neighbour
hood, who had come to pay their taxes. The gist of the conversation
was the hardships they had to endure to pay such an iniquitous impost as
a tax upon their drink, although it required a great stretch of imagination
to suppose that they were hardly dealt with. I left this meeting, believing
that they and the clouds of smoke would clear away in the morning.

Bidford was formerly a market town of considerable note ; it is
within the Stratford-on-Avon division of the Hundred of Barlichway, and
is an extensive parish, containing three thousand two hundred and forty
acres, besides the hamlets of Barton, Broom, and Marlclift. It is
situated on the northern bank of the river Avon, whose importance to the
town was formerly very great, for the extramission of inland produce and
the importation of coals and merchandize. The ancient Roman road,
called ” Icknield Street,” passes over the Avon at Bidford hridge, “Whose
wearisome, but needful length, gives indication of floods,” to which the
low lands on the Gloucestershire side are subject. From the meadow
adjoining I made the annexed sketch. The village consists, principally,
of one long, irregular street, running nearly parallel with the river ; the
houses are chiefly built of limestone, interspersed with a few gable-
framed timber tenements, having gardens and orchards sloping to the
banks of the Avon. The church is dedicated to St. Lawrence, and was
recently rebuilt, the tower only remaining in its original state. The
benefice is a vicarage worth two hundred and thirteen pounds per
annum, and belonged to the crown as early as the time of Edward the

I now conclude these remarks in the full persuasion that I have
proved to demonstration the truth of Shakspeare’s epithet, that ” The
toss-pots still have drunken heads,” and whilst such Bacchanalians con
tinue to reside there, it will ever retain the name of


THE Elizabethan age is one which particularly adorns our English annals.
The invention of printing, then in general use, afforded facilities for the
diffusion of those great thoughts which prepared the world for a mighty
change ; whilst the Protestant Reformation had quickened many a manly
heart, which, once released from the bondage of superstition, shook off a
priesthood that had stunted all the energies of mankind, and rendered all
the efforts of human progression abortive. Those parts of the world
which had thus thrown off their leading strings produced a galaxy of
talent unequalled in any other period an era in which England shone
conspicuously, and above all, most pre-eminently, in the advent of so rare
a genius as Shakspeare, born at Stratford-on-Avon, on St. George’s Day ;
a presage to mankind that he would become the tutelar genius of British
poesy, as the martial saint had been of chivalry.

The discovery of the New World made all received traditions of the
old one seem obsolete ; everything required the charms of imagination and
romance, for men were no longer satisfied with the dull realities of life ;
even the biographers of Shakspeare appear to have been tinctured with
the same spirit, and desirous of giving an ancestral importance to his
name, as if the accidental circumstance of birth could render him more
illustrious, when

” Kings for such a name would wish to die.”

It is conjectured that John Shakspeare, the poet’s father, if not a
native of Stratford, came to reside there about the year 1550. He after-
wards married Mary, the youngest daughter of Robert Arden, of Wilm-
cote, whereby he became possessed of some sixty acres of land, called
” The Ashbies,” he also rented a meadow and appurtenances at Ingon.
In a deed alienating some property in Henley Street, Stratford-on-Avon,
it is described ” As situated between the houses of George Badger, draper,
on the west side, and John Shakspeare, yeoman, on the east side,” which
exactly corresponds with the existing boundary of William Shakspeare’s
birthplace ; showing, beyond all doubt, his father’s occupation. Aubrey
asserts John Shakspeare was a butcher, but he adduces no evidence to
prove he ever followed such a trade, unless, indeed, he might have occa
sionally slaughtered and sold some of his own-fed stock, as farmers
frequently do ; and yet, in no proper sense of the word, have been a

Howe states he was a woolstapler and dealer in wool, which state
ment remains unsupported, except it may be said it received a doubtful
confirmation from a pane of stained glass, in the kitchen window of the
house in Henley Street, representing the arms of the Merchants of the
Staple. This purpose, however, it could not answer, inasmuch as it is
clearly shown that Shakspeare Hart, being employed to repair the
windows of the chapel of the guild, brought it thence, and introduced it
into his own window.

Malone discovered, as he thought, that the poet’s father was a glover ;
but the individual he speaks of was another John Shakspeare, in very
humble circumstances, and who, from being mentioned in the records of
Stratford, has been mistaken for the poet’s father. With these slender
facts before us, how can we say, with any degree of certainty, that ‘he
followed any other occupation than that of a yeoman, cultivating his own
property, and renting lands of others? That “He was the architect of
his own fortune ” is beyond a doubt, for he filled the humblest offices
of the corporation, and rose from step to step, as he became possessed of
houses, tenements, and lands, until he was elected high-bailiff in 1568,
and thus became a person of reverence, which position he maintained
till his decease, as the following extract from the parish register of Strat-
ford-on-Avon, certifies : ” 1601, Sept. 8, Master John Shakspeare was

His alliance with Mary Arden was productive of eight children : the
poet was the third in order of birth, for on reference to the same authority,
we find: “1564, April 26, Gulielmus, filius Johannes Shakspeare.”
The three brothers and two sisters of the bard apparently arrived
at maturity, but are unknown to fame except by the reflected lustre of
their immortal brother. It would be an undoubted absurdity to suppose
there would be any record of the childhood of an humble yeoman’s son,
suffice it for us to know, that whilst ” Muling and puking in the nurse’s
arms,” he happily escaped the plague which, in a few months after his
birth, decimated the population of his natal town.

Of his schoolboy days, there is nothing definite: it is probable he
received his education at the Free Grammar School of Stratford-on-Avon,
then under the mastership of Thomas Hunt, curate of Luddington. The
humble minister of religion, who was Shakspeare’s first instructor, has left
no memorial of his talents or acquirements: he was succeeded by Thomas
Jenkins, whose merits are also unknown, but whether their pupil was an
apt scholar, or ” Creeping like snail unwillingly to school” we have no

The particular occupation for which he was instructed, is equally
uncertain: Aubrey says he was brought up to his father’s trade of a
butcher, and that when he killed a calf he would do it in high style, and
make a speech. Rowe says he was trained to his father’s craft of wool-
combing, but from falling into low company, and his habits of deer-stealing,
he was compelled to fly his country thus Stratford lost an indifferent
woolcomber and the world gained an immortal poet; another biographer
states he was placed in an attorney’s office, others say he was a school
master ; it is also stated that he was a gardener evidently from his
familiarity with the terms and practice of horticulture: and all of them
quote passages from his works in support of their particular opinions. In
the absence of any positive evidence to show that he ever followed any of
the occupations ascribed to him, it is fair to suppose that, whilst his father,

John Shakspeare, was busily engaged in cultivating his own lands and
those he rented of others, his eldest son would be expected to make
himself useful in the same pursuits; hence he would gain the most
favourable opportunity for the development of his poetic genius, as it
would enable him to see with his own eyes all nature’s glorious works.

At the early age of eighteen he became the arbiter of his own
fortune, and married Anne, the daughter of Richard Hathaway, a
substantial yeoman of Shottery, Old Stratford, as it is frequently called.
He had scarcely completed his nineteenth year before the claims of a
parent were added to those of husband, and in the following year they
were increased by the birth of twins; but the rapidity with which
Shakspeare’s family gathered round him, does not seem to have produced
any very sedentary effects upon his restless mind. It is highly probable
that young Shakspeare, having no other settled employment, followed
husbandry; and that, whilst visiting his father’s lands at Ingon, which
skirt the woods of Charlecote, he would wander through the romantic
glades drinking deep draughts of inspiration, and reveling in that mute
luxury of thought, which enabled him in afterlife to enchant mankind
with his inimitable portraitures of woodland scenes.

It could not, however, have been in solitude and seclusion that he
acquired his knowledge of mankind ; but he must have had habits and
propensities similar to his own ” Prince Hall,” for there can be little
doubt that, in early life, he was to be found running about the neighbour
hood of Stratford, in company with all the madcaps of the town, who, in
their excursions, would quaff potations pottle deep with ” Marian Hacket,
the fat ale-wife of Wincote,” or laugh at the adventures of ” Christopher
Sly,” sympathize with Davy who besought Justice Shallow ” To coun
tenance William Visor, of Wincote, against Clement Parks of ‘ The
Hill,'” enjoy the frolic of Silence nicknaming goodman Puff, of Barson,
revel with the Topers and Sippers, and be the boon companion of Norton,
mine host of the Falcon, of Bidford, and thus did the youthful bard gain
the knowledge he has developed of every phase of human life.

Some of Shakspeare’s biographers have endeavoured to soften and
explain away his early irregularities ; they seem, however, natural to his
romantic turn of mind, and a poaching exploit, with some jovial marau
ders, in Sir Thomas Lucy’s park, would strike his eager and yet untamed
imagination as something delightfully adventurous. This invasion of
Charlecote Park, it is said, was visited with so much severity that, in a
spirit of retaliation, the young bard wrote a rough Pasquinade, which
was affixed to the park gate, and this flagitious attack upon the dignity
of the knight so excited his ire, that Shakspeare was obliged to leave his
wife and family in Warwickshire and seek seclusion from his wrath in

Arrived in the great metropolis, it is said he endured great hard
ships, although, as there is no proof that he had forfeited the esteem of
his own or his wife’s father, it is probable they, from their position,
furnished him with such supplies as would have obviated any very great
privations. Richard Burbage, Thomas Green alias Shakspeare, and the
poet were of one county and almost of one town : if all of them did not
take their way together, the two former had preceded him, and they
must have been made of sterner stuff than players usually are if they
allowed a townsman at least, if not a kinsman, to have been reduced to
any such extremities as some commentators have roundly asserted he

Aubrey’s account of Shakspeare, brief and imperfect as it is, says,
” This William, being inclined naturally to poetry and acting, came to
London, as I guess, when about eighteen, and was an actor at one of the
theatres, and did act exceedingly well, for his wit and pleasantry soon
rendered him an universal favourite.” There we lose sight of him for a
few years, with all his sympathies naturally aroused at a separation from
all that was dear to him; however, about the year 1590, he emerges from
the obscurity which enveloped his earlier history, and

” As the sun breaks through the darkest clouds,”
so did his genius overcome all obstacles of birth, education, or misfor-
tune : so did he begin a career of literary glory, in which, for twenty
successive years he gave to the world, as if heedless of the treasure, and
prodigal from the very excess of wealth with which his mind was stored,
some forty matchless plays, besides poems rich in the vocabulary of words
with more exquisite sweetness, ardent feeling, tender pathos, sound
philosophy, greater variety, and far mightier genius than any other poet
from the earliest times, a model for dramatic and lyric writers of all
succeeding ages.

The quaint ” Mummeries” and tedious ” Mysteries,” in fashion
previously to Shakspeare’s days, soon gave place to his spirit-stirring
plays which ravished every ear and captivated every heart : his mighty
thoughts he ” Married to immortal verse” that gave to all the dull
realities of life a charm of romance, drawing admiring multitudes to
weep at Desdemona’s fate, to sympathize with the loves of Romeo and
Juliet, with the ideal speculations of Hamlet, and the bitter sorrows of
King Lear, ” Or read with detestation the misdeeds of Glo’ster.” The
genius of the inimitable dramatist was not confined to the ” Globe,”
where he gained ” Golden opinions from all sorts of men” which nightly
filled its coffers, but, in the language of the great moralist, he soared
above this life,

” Exhausted worlds, and then imagined new.”

In the prime of life his exertions were crowned with wealth, with
honours, and renown, and he returned to Stratford-on-Avon, ” Having
purchased the largest and best house in the town, where he continued to
supply the stage with two plays every year, for which he had an allowance
so large that he lived at the rate of a thousand pounds a-year.” As a
relaxation from his mental labours he became the cultivator and propri
etor of the lands, the possession of which, in the most ardent aspirations
of his youth, he could never have anticipated : but this was a state of
happiness too great to last; for, although on the 25th March, 1616, he
praised God that he was of perfect health and memory, and ” Did make
and ordain his last will and testament,” yet within a month a little
month, mankind had to deplore the fulfilment of his own prophetic

” This day I breathed first, time has come round ;
And where I did begin, there shall I end;
My life has run its compass.”

” Shakspeare, Drayton, and Ben Johnson had a merry meeting, and
it seems drank too hard, for Shakspeare died of a fever there contracted.”
Such is the only account extant of the death of Shakspeare, and it is one
which may be contemplated without painful emotion ; for, if he acce
lerated his end by drinking, it was in accordance with the spirit of his
times, and on an occasion when it would be difficult to say where excess
begins or hospitality ends ; at a merry meeting with two of his most
illustrious friends, and the last of many social hours.

Whatever the cause of his last illness may have been, it was but of
short duration, for he died on the 23rd of April, 1616. The day he
accomplished his fifty-third year he descended to the grave, beloved for
his natural and cheerful habits, in the full possession of those faculties
with which his Maker, beyond all other sons of men, had so signally
endowed him, and was buried, on the 25th of the same month, in the
chancel of Stratford-on-Avon church. He left that which no other
British poet hath ever done, an ample freehold, unincumbered, estate to
his descendants ; and the malediction in his epitaph has kept his ashes
undisturbed within the hallowed sanctuary of his grave.

” His good remembrance,
Lies richer in your thoughts than on his tomb.”

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