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It may be worth noting that an historical relic is[40] preserved in the immediate https://ggmoa.com neighbourhood of this place; no less important an one, indeed, than the skull of Oliver Cromwell, now in the possession of Mr. Horace Wilkinson. Much discussion has arisen respecting it, but there seems no room for doubting that this is the veritable skull (or, rather, mummified head) of the Protector. The relic has a pedigree that traces it back to the stormy night when it was blown off the roof of Westminster Hall, where it had been exposed on a spike after the Restoration. The rusty spike still transfixes it, and on the dried cranium the reddish brown hair is yet to be seen. It has had many odd adventures. Picked up by a sentry on duty at[41] Westminster Hall, it was concealed under his cloak, and afterwards secretly disposed of to some of Cromwell’s descendants, coming, many years later, into the possession of a travelling showman, from whom it was purchased by a relative of the present owner.
Ightham village, to which we now make our way, must by no means be confounded with Ightham Mote, two miles distant from it southward, past the hamlet of Ivy Hatch. Steeply up, and as steeply down, with intervals of welcome flatness, goes the road to the village, always through the pine-woods, and here and there the way is overhung with little craggy cliffs of yellow sand and gravel, as yet untouched by the road-surveyors of the County Council, who will doubtless some day trim away all these rustic selvedges of the forest, and curb and bank them in a straight line. What will the artists do then? Meanwhile, one still has here just one of those characteristic scenes Morland and his school so loved to paint—the hollow road with its steep banks, in whose crumbling earth the great wayside trees have secured what looks like a precarious footing, and the sandy earth where the moles and the rabbits burrow deep amid the gnarled roots. Up on the hillside that looks down upon the road is Oldbury,[42] a Roman encampment, called by antiquaries the “Gibraltar of Kent”; but we will take the tales of its strength on trust, for a bicycle is no aid in exploring hilltop fortifications.

Ightham is a village that looks as though it had at some time aspired to become a town, so urban in character are some of its houses; urban, that is to say, in no ill sense. There is, for instance, the so-called “Town House,” one of the most beautiful and dignified architectural compositions of that late seventeenth or early eighteenth century character which in its Renaissance ideals makes so thorough a departure from the older English Gothic models. By “Town House” you are to understand a building devoted to public purposes; what we should, nowadays, more grandiloquently term a “Town Hall.” There was a time when Ightham bade fair to take on a new era of importance, in the early days of cycling, when it enjoyed a great popularity that was stolen away by Ripley, nowadays itself in the cold shade of neglect.
Turning to the right out of Ightham, through the pretty hamlet of Ivy Hatch, the Mote House is reached in two miles of shady lanes. Like many another old English house, Ightham Mote is tucked away coyly from the sight of the casual wayfarer. Looking diligently, you see it on the left hand, on coming down into a hollow, just a glimpse of its magpie black and white north front glimmering through the surrounding woods. It is one of the earliest of the fortified manor-houses, something between a castle and a residence, built when people had greater ideas of [45]comfort than obtained when the Edwardian strongholds were erected, and yet before it was safe to build a house incapable of defence. Nowadays one finds a preference for an open, breezy situation; in those times, if they did not build upon sites difficult of access in one way they did in another; if they did not select a rocky crag they sought some oozy hollow, where, with some little ingenuity, it was possible to form a broad moat by damming the surrounding streams. This was the resort adopted here, and in Ightham Mote to-day one sees the original idea of a watery girdle, from whose inner sides rise defensible walls enclosing a courtyard. The only way across this moat was by a drawbridge, now replaced by masonry, the drawbridge defended by the still-remaining entrance-tower. Originally the ornamental[46] part of the residence was strictly kept within the courtyard. The walls looking outward were either blank or else very sparingly provided with window openings. Later centuries have somewhat altered this, and the picturesque, half-timbered gables and outbuildings tell a tale of increasing security. There are those who will have it that Ightham Mote is the most picturesque old house in England. Perhaps it is, for its moss-grown stone walls, going sheer down into the clear water of the moat, its nodding, peaked gables, reflected in that beautiful ceinture, and the mellow red of the old brick entrance-tower, form a wonderful picture. Five hundred years have passed, and it is still a home. The tapestried hall, with its boldly timbered roof, yet forms the central point of the house, and the bedrooms where the Selbys, the old-time owners, slept for many generations are in use in these latter times. Modernity has c
The imaginative may yet, without much difficulty in the mental exercise, people the quaint paved courtyard with the conventionally fair ladies and gentle knights of the age of chivalry; those ladies who, to judge by the works of the Old Masters, were so extremely plain, and those knights who could teach the tiger and the hyæna something in ferocity. Not that the old owners of Ightham Mote were men of this kind. Their old home plainly tells us they were not, desiring rather a peaceful seclusion than the ambitions and contentions of courts and camps. Defence, not defiance, was the[47] watchword of those who lived in this picturesque hollow, barred in at night from the chances, surprises, and alarums of the riotous outer world.

The interior arrangements include original fireplaces, carved and painted ceilings, and a chapel. The grounds without and the forest trees beyond are green and luxuriant beyond belief outside the wonders of fairy tales—to whose realms, indeed, Ightham Mote more nearly belongs than to this workaday world. The moat, fed by a crystal stream, is clear and sparkling, and birds and butterflies skim over it and into the thickets of shrubs and wild flowers like so many joyous souls escaped from a life of care and pain to rejoice for ever and ever in sunshine and a careless existence. It is with a sigh that the Londoner turns away from a place whose loveliness fills him with a glorious discontent.

Many of the Selbys lie in Ightham Church, and some have their memorials in the little domestic chapel attached to the Mote House. Dame Dorothy Selby was a very phœnix of all the virtues, if we may believe her epitaph, wherein she is compared with a number of notable biblical characters, all very edifying.

The monument to her “pretious name and honor” is still to be seen on the chancel wall of Ightham Church. She appears to have been a person of many accomplishments. Firstly, a needlewoman of considerable parts—

“She was a Dorcas
Whose curious Needle turn’d th’ abused Stage
Of this leud World into the golden Age;
Whose Pen of Steele, and silken Inck enroll’d
The Acts of Jonah in Records of Gold.”

Then it is claimed for her that she discovered the Gunpowder Plot, in these words—

“Whose Arte disclos’d that Plot, which, had it taken,
Rome had tryumph’d and Britan’s walls had shaken.”

“She was
In heart a Lydia; and in tongue a Hanna.
In Zeale a Ruth: In Wedlock a Susanna.
Prudently simple, prouidently Wary;
To th’ World, a Martha: and to heauen, a Mary.
Who put on
} in the yeare of her { Pilgrimage 69 March 15.
Redeemer 1641.
O rare and most estimable dame, paragon and phœnix, and very Gorgon of all the virtues, how little are your qualities hid in this, your epitaph!

She looks all those things and more, in her marble bust, that with thin, sharp-pointed nose, and with drawn-down mouth, gives her a very vinegary expression. There can be little doubt of it, the old lady was that terrible creature, the Superior Person.

There is, opposite this worthy lady’s monument, the stone effigy of a very much earlier inhabitant of the Mote—Sir Thomas Cawne, who died in 1374. He is represented in armour, his calm face peering out of his hauberk and chain mail. The window to his memory, over his tomb in the north chancel wall, made according to the directions in his will, still remains.

There will, doubtless, be those who, resting content with Ightham Mote, will decline to follow these wheelmarks farther, for such a place is worth lingering over. For the insatiable sight-seer who will proceed, the[49] way lies as straight ahead as the winding lane will permit to Shipborne, where we turn to the left, passing through the village, and then, in little over a mile, to the right, at the cross-roads, going, with Frith Woods on the left and Dene Park on the right, for two miles farther, turning left where a sign-post points to Hadlow. Many hollows are descended into on the way, where tiny streams run across the wooded roads, and there are correspondingly sharp rises.

Mereworth village, on the borders of the wide-spreading Mereworth Woods, lies up a turning to the right, on the fine broad road leading to Maidstone. Mereworth is remarkable for its hideous church, resembling some of Wren’s City of London churches; with a classical colonnaded porch, windows like those of a factory, and great overhanging eaves, very like those of that “great barn,” St. Paul’s, Covent Garden. A tall steeple, with classic peristyle, completes the outward composition. Now turn to the interior; an even more pagan sight than the exterior prepares the stranger for. It is like a huge room, and is divided into nave and aisles by plaster pillars, painted and grained to resemble marble, with all the fittings in a correspondingly classic style. This objectionable building owed its origin in 1748 to the eighth Earl of Westmoreland, whose seat, Mereworth House, near by, is built somewhat in the same style. The only relic of the old church is the grand monument of his ancestor, the first earl. In the churchyard is the tomb of Evelyn Boscawen, Viscount Falmouth, who married (the epitaph tells us) Baroness Le Despenser.

Here we are come into the Vale of Medway, and two miles of a beautiful road bring us to Wateringbury, where little rills, trickling down to join the greater stream, nourish all these leafy hillsides into such dense growth. There is a curious relic in Wateringbury Church—an old wooden club or mace three feet and a half in length, known as the “Dumb Borsholder,” belonging to the hamlet of Pizein Well, in the Manor of Chart. This was the central figure in the court-leet of the manor, and on those occasions was carried into the court by the head tything-man, or borsholder, as a symbol of authority, much in the same way as the Lord Mayor of London takes the Mace with him on state occasions. But the “Dumb Borsholder” seems to have been regarded both as a symbol and as a person; and, carried into court with a handkerchief passed through a ring at one end, had naturally to be answered for when called upon to put in an appearance. The other end of this club is provided with an iron spike, like a bayonet, with which to break open the doors of refractory tenants. Retired from active service so long ago as 1748, this formidable weapon is now chained up in the vestry.

From here to Teston the way is bordered by hop gardens. Teston Bridge, crossing the Medway in seven Gothic arches, is a beautiful old structure, but Teston Church, although its shingled spire on[51] the hillside looks picturesque, does not improve on closer acquaintance, having been classically re-cast, something in the manner of Mereworth.
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