Picture of William Cobbett

William Cobbett

places mentioned

Dec. 10th to 24th, 1821: Norfolk and Suffolk Journal

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Monday, Dec . 10, 1821.

FROM the Wen to Norwich, from which I am now distant seven miles, there is nothing in Essex, Suffolk, or this country, that can be called a hill . Essex, when you get beyond the immediate influence of the gorgings and disgorgings of the Wen; that is to say, beyond the demand for crude vegetables and repayment in manure, is by no means a fertile county. There appears generally to be a bottom of clay ; not soft chalk , which they persist in calling clay in Norfolk. I wish I had one of these Norfolk men in a coppice in Hampshire or Sussex, and I would show him what clay is. Clay is what pots and pans and jugs and tiles are made of; and not soft, whitish stuff that crumbles to pieces in the sun, instead of baking as hard as a stone, and which, in dry weather, is to be broken to pieces by nothing short of a sledge-hammer. The narrow ridges on which the wheat is sown; the water furrows; the water standing in the dips of the pastures; the rusty iron-like colour of the water coming out of some of the banks; the deep ditches; the rusty look of the pastures; all show that here is a bottom of clay. Yet there is gravel too; for the oaks do not grow well. It was not till I got nearly to Sudbury that I saw much change for the better. Here the bottom of chalk, the soft dirty-looking chalk that the Norfolk people call clay, begins to be the bottom, and this, with very little exception (as far as I have been), is the bottom of all the lands of these two fine counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. Sudbury has some fine meadows near it on the sides of the river Stour. The land all along to Bury Saint Edmund's is very fine; but no trees worth looking at. Bury , formerly the seat of an abbot, the last of whom was, I think, hanged, or somehow put to death, by that matchless tyrant, Henry VIII, is a very pretty place; extremely clean and neat; no ragged or dirty people to be seen, and women (young ones I mean) very pretty and very neatly dressed. On this side of Bury, a considerable distance lower, I saw a field of rape , transplanted very thick, for, I suppose, sheep feed in the spring. The farming all along to Norwich is very good. The land clean, and everything done in a masterly manner.

Thursday, Dec . 13 .

Came to the Grove (Mr. Wither's), near Holt, along with Mr. Clarke. Through Norwich to Aylsham and then to Holt . On our road we passed the house of the late Lord Suffield , who married Castlereagh's wife's sister, who is a daughter of the late Earl of Buckinghamshire, who had for so many years that thumping sinecure of eleven thousand a year in Ireland, and who was the son of a man that, under the name of Mr. Hobart, cut such a figure in supporting Lord North and afterwards Pitt, and was made a peer under the auspices of the latter of these two heaven-born ministers. This house, which is a very ancient one, was, they say, the birthplace of Ann de Boleyne, the mother of Queen Elizabeth. Not much matter; for she married the king while his real wife was alive. I could have excused her, if there had been no marrying in the case; but, hypocrisy, always bad, becomes detestable when it resorts to religious ceremony as its mask. She, no more than Cranmer, seems to her last moments, to have remembered her sins against her lawful queen. Foxe's Book of Martyrs , that ought to be called the Book of Liars , says that Cranmer, the recanter and re-recanter, held out his offending hand in the flames, and cried out "that hand, that hand!" If he had cried out Catherine ! Catherine ! I should have thought better of him; but, it is clear, that the whole story is a lie, invented by the protestants, and particularly by the sectarians, to white-wash the character of this perfidious hypocrite and double apostate, who, if bigotry had something to do in bringing him to the stake, certainly deserved his fate, if any offences committed by man can deserve so horrible a punishment. The present Lord Suffield is that Mr. Edward Harbord, whose father-in-law left him ?500 to buy a seat in parliament, and who refused to carry an address to the late beloved and lamented queen, because Major Cartwright and myself were chosen to accompany him! Never mind, my lord; you will grow less fastidious! They say, however, that he is really good to his tenants, and has told them that he will take anything that they can give. There is some sense in this! He is a great Bible man; and it is strange that he cannot see that things are out of order, when his interference in this way can be at all necessary , while there is a Church that receives a tenth part of the produce of the earth. There are some oak woods here, but very poor. Not like those, not near like the worst of those, in Hampshire and Herefordshire. All this eastern coast seems very unpropitious to trees of all sorts. We passed through the estate of a Mr. Marsin, whose house is near the road, a very poor spot, and the first really poor ground I have seen in Norfolk. A nasty spewy black gravel on the top of a sour clay. It is worse than the heaths between Godalming and Liphook; for, while it is too poor to grow anything but heath, it is too cold to give you the chirping of the grasshopper in summer. However, Mr. Marsin has been too wise to enclose this wretched land, which is just like that which Lord Caernarvon has enclosed in the parishes of Highclere, and Burghclere, and which, for tillage, really is not worth a single farthing an acre. Holt is a little, old-fashioned, substantially-built market-town. The land just about it, or, at least, towards the east is poor, and has been lately enclosed.

Friday, Dec . 14.

Went to see the estate of Mr. Hardy at Leveringsett, a hamlet about two miles from Holt. This is the first time that I have seen a valley in this part of England. From Holt you look, to the distance of seven or eight miles, over a very fine valley, leaving a great deal of inferior hill and dell within its boundaries. At the bottom of this general valley, Mr. Hardy has a very beautiful estate of about four hundred acres. His house is at one end of it near the high road, where he has a malt-house and a brewery, the neat and ingenious manner of managing which I would detail if my total unacquaintance with machinery did not disqualify me for the task. His estate forms a valley of itself, somewhat longer than broad. The tops, and the sides of the tops of the hills round it, and also several little hillocks in the valley itself, are judiciously planted with trees of various sorts, leaving good wide roads, so that it is easy to ride round them in a carriage. The fields, the fences, the yards, the stacks, the buildings, the cattle, all showed the greatest judgment and industry. There was really nothing that the most critical observer could say was out of order . However, the forest trees do not grow well here. The oaks are mere scrubs, as they are about Brentwood in Essex, and in some parts of Cornwall; and, for some unaccountable reason, people seldom plant the ash , which no wind will shave , as it does the oak.

Sunday, Dec . 16.

Came from Holt through Saxthorpe and Cawston. At the former village were on one end of a decent white house, these words, "Queen Caroline; for her Britons mourn " and a crown over all in black. I need not have looked to see: I might have been sure, that the owner of the house was a shoe-maker , a trade which numbers more men of sense and of public spirit than any other in the kingdom. At Cawston we stopped at a public house, the keeper of which had taken and read the Register for years. I shall not attempt to describe the pleasure I felt at the hearty welcome given us by Mr. Pern and his wife and by a young miller of the village, who, having learnt at Holt that we were to return that way, had come to meet us, the house being on the side of the great road, from which the village is at some distance. This is the birthplace of the famous Botley Parson , all the history of whom we now learned, and if we could have gone to the village, they were prepared to ring the bells , and show us the old woman who nursed the Botley Parson ! These Norfolk baws never do things by halves. We came away, very much pleased with our reception at Cawston, and with a promise, on my part, that, if I visited the country again, I would write a Register there; a promise which I shall certainly keep.

Friday (morning), Dec . 21 .

The day before yesterday I set out for Bergh Apton with Mr. Clarke, to come hither by the way of Beccles in Suffolk. We stopped at Mr. Charles Clarke's at Beccles, where we saw some good and sensible men, who see clearly into all the parts of the works of the "Thunderers," and whose anticipations, as to the "general working of events," are such as they ought to be. They gave us a humorous account of the "rabble" having recently crowned a Jackass, and of a struggle between them and the "Yeomanry Gavaltry." This was a place of most ardent and blazing loyalty , as the pretenders to it call it; but, it seems, it now blazes less furiously; it is milder, more measured in its effusions; and, with the help of low prices, will become bearable in time. This Beccles is a very pretty place, has watered meadows near it, and is situated amidst fine lands. What a system it must be to make people wretched in a country like this! Could he be heaven-born that invented such a system? Gaffer Gooch's father, a very old man, lives not far from here. We had a good deal of fun about the Gaffer, who will certainly never lose the name, unless he should be made a lord. We slept at the house of a friend of Mr. Clark on our way, and got to this very fine town of Great Yarmouth yesterday about noon. A party of friends met us and conducted us about the town, which is a very beautiful one indeed. What I liked best, however, was the hearty welcome that I met with, because it showed that the reign of calumny and delusion was passed. A company of gentlemen gave me a dinner in the evening, and in all my life I never saw a set of men more worthy of my respect and gratitude. Sensible, modest, understanding the whole of our case, and clearly foreseeing what is about to happen. One gentleman proposed, that, as it would be impossible for all to go to London, there should be a Provincial Feast of the Gridiron , a plan, which, I hope, will be adopted. I leave Great Yarmouth with sentiments of the sincerest regard for all those whom I there saw and conversed with, and with my best wishes for the happiness of all its inhabitants; nay, even the parsons not excepted; for, if they did not come to welcome me, they collected in a group to see me, and that was one step towards doing justice to him whom their order have so much, so foully, and, if they knew their own interest, so foolishly slandered.

Dec . 22 (night).

After returning from Yarmouth yesterday, went to dine at Stoke-Holy-Cross, about six miles off; got home at midnight, and came to Norwich this morning, this being market-day, and also the day fixed on for a Radical Reform Dinner at the Swan Inn, to which I was invited. Norwich is a very fine city, and the castle, which stands in the middle of it, on a hill, is truly majestic. The meat and poultry and vegetable market is beautiful. It is kept in a large open square in the middle, or nearly so, of the city. The ground is a pretty sharp slope, so that you see all at once. It resembles one of the French markets, only there the vendors are all standing and gabbling like parrots, and .the meat is lean and bloody and nasty, and the people snuffy and grimy in hands and face, the contrary, precisely the contrary of all which is the case in this beautiful market at Norwich, where the women have a sort of uniform brown great coats, with white aprons and bibs (I think they call them) going from the apron up to the bosom. They equal in neatness (for nothing can surpass) the market women in Philadelphia. The cattle-market is held on the hill by the castle, and many fairs are smaller in bulk of stock. The corn-market is held in a very magnificent place, called Saint Andrew's Hall, which will contain two or three thousand persons. They tell me that this used to be a most delightful scene; a most joyous one; and I think it was this scene that Mr. Curwen described in such glowing colours when he was talking of the Norfolk farmers, each worth so many thousands of pounds. Bear me witness, reader, that I never was dazzled by such sights; that the false glare never put my eyes out; and that, even then, twelve years ago, I warned Mr. Curwen of the result ! Bear witness to this, my disciples, and justify the doctrines of him, for whose sakes you have endured persecution. How different would Mr. Curwen find the scene now ! What took place at the dinner has been already recorded in the Register; and I have only to add with regard to it, that my reception at Norfolk was such, that I have only to regret the total want of power to make those hearty Norfolk and Norwich friends any suitable return, whether by act or word.

Monday, Dec . 24.

Went from Bergh Apton to Norwich in the morning, and from Norwich to London during the day, carrying with me great admiration of and respect for this county of excellent farmers , and hearty, open and spirited men. The Norfolk people are quick and smart in their motions and in their speaking. Very neat and trim in all their farming concerns, and very skilful. Their land is good, their roads are level, and the bottom of their soil is dry, to be sure; and these are great advantages; but they are diligent, and make the most of everything. Their management of all sorts of stock is most judicious; they are careful about manure; their teams move quickly; and, in short, it is a county of most excellent cultivators. The churches in Norfolk are generally large and the towers lofty. They have all been well built at first. Many of them are of the Saxon architecture. They are, almost all (I do not remember an exception), placed on the highest spots to be found near where they stand; and, it is curious enough, that the contrary practice should have prevailed in hilly countries, where they are generally found in valleys and in low, sheltered dells, even in those valleys! These churches prove that the people of Norfolk and Suffolk were always a superior people in point of wealth, while the size of them proves that the country parts were, at one time, a great deal more populous than they now ate. The great drawbacks on the beauty of these counties are, their flatness and their want of fine woods; but to those who can dispense with these, Norfolk, under a wise and just government, can have nothing to ask more than Providence and the industry of man have given.

William Cobbett, Rural Rides (Letchworth: Temple Press, 1932)

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