Page images

In order to elucidate the matter a little, it may be useful to refresh the reader's memory by a slight sketch of the earliest introduction of the Saxons, particularly into this part of Britain. During the later years of the Roman occupation of the country, a number of Angles and Saxons had gradually found their way over to the Eastern and South-eastern coasts, and probably into other more central parts. Upon the Romans finally abandoning the island, these settlers were followed by organized bodies of their fellow-countrymen from the banks of the Rhine and the Elbe. About the year 450 the Jutes had formed the kingdom of Kent: in 473 the Angles had similarly established themselves in the middle and northern district : and between the years 493 and 519, the Saxons, led by Cerdic and Cynric, had founded the kingdoms of Essex, Middlesex, and Wessex. Of Wessex, Winchester was the capital. Cynric by degrees extended his dominion westward: defeating the Britons in A.D. 552 at Old Sarum, then called Searobyrig, and by another victory at Dyrham near Bath, his son Ceawlin obtained possession of the three great Roman towns Glevum (Gloucester), Corinium (Cirencester), and Aquæ Solis (Bath). The Christianity of the ancient British Church, long since fallen into a state of degradation, had been almost annihilated by the Heathenism of the Anglo-Saxon invaders. In A.D. 590 it was restored by the arrival of Augustine, and in course of time the whole country was once more converted. In A.D. 635 the West Saxons, under Cynegils, accepted the revived faith. He died A.D. 643. On his death his son Cenwealh apostatized, and lost his kingdom : but was restored both to the church and his throne in A.D. 646, and died A.D. 672.

“There is, therefore," as Mr. Akerman observes, “every reason to suppose that sometime in the reign of Cynegils, the Pagan mode of interment amongst his subjects ceased.” And though it is probable that Pagan customs would still linger amongst them, still he is of opinion that the Harnham graves exhibit too many traces of Heathen usage, to allow the supposition that the persons buried there could have been converted to the true faith.

This view of the matter is confirmed by the further circumstance, that a very large grant of land chiefly to the south of Salisbury, and including Harnham, was made to the church of Winchester by Cenwealh, probably as an atonement for his apostacy. When this district had thus been placed under the immediate influence of the church, Pagan usages would of course be less and less tolerated, even if they were not thenceforth wholly forbidden. The inference therefore seems to be that with so many traces of Paganism in the mode of the interments as Harnham exhibits, it must have been a burial place of Anglo-Saxons of Wessex prior to their conversion to Christianity.

Mr. Akerman's authority upon these subjects is so high, that we most willingly adopt his view of the subject; making only the passing observation, that the total absence of any signs of the Pagan custom of burning the body, as well as the almost uniform position of these skeletons facing the East, are a very close approximation to Christian custom. The situation also of the cemetery, no longer upon the elevated ground which the early Anglo-Saxon loved, as well as the generally peaceable character of the interments, wholly without sword, and with spear rarely, seem to point to the very latest days of Saxon Paganism ; perhaps to the transition period between Paganism and Christianity, during which the ancient prejudices would be allowed a harmless indulgence, until they finally disappeared. There is at all events a mixture of Pagan and Christian customs in this cemetery, which it does not seem easy otherwise to account for.

Mr. Akerman's memoir is illustrated by an excellent map of the neighbourhood, showing as far as the identification of names will allow, the limits of the grant of land by Cenwealh to the church of Winchester. He also supplies the derivation of some of our modern South Wiltshire local names.1

1 We do not quite concur with the remark, that the authors of Sir R. C. Hoare's history were wrong in their explanation of the name of Stoke-Verdon. They say it is so called from the Lords Verdon. Mr. Akerman is for the correctness of the popular pronunciation Stoke-Farthing, which he identifies with Fyrdynge's Lea” of the Saxon Charter. This is very likely the case. But, if the authorities given in Sir R. C. Hoare's book are faithful, which is not disputed, that place, at a later period, certainly belonged to the Lords Verdon. So that both derivations are right.

We understand that this interesting excavation is to be continued : and, in concluding the present notice of what has been already done, we cannot offer to our readers a more satisfactory apology' för moddling with dead men's bones, than that which has been made by Mr. Akerman himself. '“Let it not be said that a spirit of idle curiosity has urged us to disturb the ground where the primitive inhabitants of a forgotten lineage have slept undisturbed for twelve centuries. Their weapons, their decorations are valueless to the idle observer, but to the archæologist they are of great price. They afford to him a retrospeót of an age that has long since passed away: they furnish fragmental evidence of what we once were : and contribute notes for a yet unwritten chapter of our history.

Wiltshire Titles' Registration, 1709.

On the subject of the public registration of 'bargains and sales, now felt to be a question of national importance, the County of Wilts, viewed as a community, took the initiative nearly a century and a half ago. It is true that Sir Matthew Hale had previously delivered his views on the point, in a pamphlet of 26 pages, published in 1694, eighteen years after his death, but there appears (so far as we are aware) no trace of the county movement developed in the following document having been preceded by any similar expression in other parts of the kingdom.

On the 8th of December, in the 8th year of Queen Anne; a petition of the High Sheriff of Wilts, Her Majesty's Justices of the Peace, and gentlemen of the Grand Jury, assembled at the quarter sessions of the peace, held at Marlborough, 4th October, 1709, and of several of the Justices of the Peace, and other gentlemen and freeholders of the same county, was presented to the House and read; setting forth “That the lands in the said county

are generally freehold, and may be and sometimes are so secretly conveyed by ill-disposed persons, that several who have purchased lands or lent money thereon, have been undone by prior and secret conveyances and incumbrances: And praying that leave may be given to bring in a bill for the public registering of all deeds, wills, conveyances, and other incumbrances, that shall be made of any honours, manors, lands, tenements, or hereditaments, within the said county of Wilts, and also for the enrolment of all bargains and sales thereof."-___"Ordered: That leave be given to bring in a bill in accordance, &c.: And that Sir Richard Howe, Sir Charles Hedges, Mr. Montague, and Mr. Diston, do prepare and bring in a bill."

The only other references to the affair are, a second reading on the 19th of December; the gentlemen serving for Dorsetshire added to the committee in January ; those for Surrey and Huntingdon added in February; and finally, instructions conveyed to the committee on the following day, “That no attorney at law should be Registrar”; after which it disappears from the pages of the Commons' Journal.

This petition clearly enough exhibits the opinion entertained by men of property at the early part of the 18th century respecting the conveyances then in use for landed property: but the chief objection to them appears to be that they were not safe as against “prior and secret conveyances.” The Act proposed was never passed, but the decision of the Courts of Equity have since that period formed a good protection against the fraudulent and secret practices complained of. The care which during the last and present century has been bestowed on the documentary proof of titles has greatly contributed to discourage and frustrate secret conveyances. Indeed the commission of such a fraud is now a very unusual circumstance; the grievance felt at the present day being one of a different kind, consisting in fact of the element of expensiveness, as the result of that elaborate investigation, and cumbrous verbosity which are deemed requisite for the due protection of a purchaser or party accepting a security in freehold land. It is chiefly for remedying this, that a Commission has been appointed by Her present Majesty's Government, who are now preparing a Report which will shortly be laid before Parliament.

It is somewhat remarkable that amongst the country gentlemen who appear to have interested themselves in this matter (those of Dorsetshire, Huntingdon, and Surrey for instance) no mention should be made of the gentlemen of Gloucestershire or the members for that county; and yet it is well known that Sir Matthew Hale, whose treatise “On the Inrolling and Registering of Conveyances” has been already referred to, lived in Gloucestershire and would probably have made communications on the subject to the members of his own district. Almost the whole case is discussed in that work, and the opinion announced by this eminent lawyer was decidedly in favour of a general register. The book it is true does not bear his name, being merely attributed to "a person of great learning and judgment,” but is well known to have been his production. In our own day the counties of York and Middlesex have obtained Acts for local registers, but as before observed, the gentry of Wiltshire were the first in the field.

Malmesbury Abbey.

The following petition has, I believe, been unnoticed by any local topographer. It is an application made in the 10th year of Henry VI. for the appointment to a vacant “ Corrody” (in mediæval Latin, “Corrodium”) or Allowance charged upon a Monastery for maintaining a servant to the King, and providing him with meat, drink, and other necessaries.

“Au Roy nostre souveraign Sieur. Supplie tres humblement vostre humble liege serviteur Thomas Hill varlet du celier de nostre souveraigne Dame la Regne; Que de vostre benigne grace, il vous plais lui granter et ottroyer une corrodie estant en l'Abbaye de Malmesbury, à present vacante en vostre main par la mort et

« PreviousContinue »