Page images

passages, more especially that of constructing bridges, fell upon the priests, being at that time the persons of most varied education, and probably best qualified by engineering talent to undertake it. There was one bridge more particularly, the celebrated wooden one called the “Sublician,” connecting, and being then the only one that did connect, the opposite sides of the Tiber. This means of communication, so precious both as a passage and a defence, was placed under the special care of the Priests who took, as it is said, from this charge their name of Pontifices. When Christianity succeeded Heathenism, it was thought politic to retain in many instances existing names : and so it has come to pass that the Chief Bishop of Christian Rome, still continuing after 24 centuries to use the Title of PONTIFF, represents in fact the Trustees of the very bridge of our old school friend Horatius Cocles ! The Title survives, but the Trust has expired. For after long assault and frequent reparation, yellow Tiber washed the bridge bodily away a 1000 years ago, and it has never been rebuilt.

How, and under what authority, in our own country, road and bridge making was conducted in early times, would be a curious subject of inquiry. Acts of Parliament, turnpike trusts, highway rates, and the like, are of course, comparatively modern inventions. Royal commissions in times past may have controlled the king's highways: but the original making, even of many of them, certainly of many of the passages and causeys which are found upon them, was no doubt owing in great measure to the efforts of individuals. Now and then a great person would be drowned or nearly so, and then there would be improvement. In 1252, a Queen of England who had suffered a cold bath in crossing the Warwickshire Avon at Stratford, as soon as ever she had escaped from the water, hastened to assign a meadow for the perpetual sustentation of a bridge. This was perhaps the same that was afterwards improved by Hugh Clopton, Mayor of London, “who made (says Leland) a sumptious bridge and causey there. There had been but a poor one of timber and no causey to come to it; whereby many poor folks and others, refused to come to Stratford when Avon was up, or coming thither stood in jeopardy of life.”

The great causey and arched bridges that divide Barnstaple from Plympton, in Devon, owe their origin to a similar accident. “A merchant of London called Stawford chanced to be at Barnstaple to buy cloth, and saw a woman riding to come over by the low salte marsh from Plympton towards Berstaple, and the tide came so sore in, that she could not pass: and crying for help, no man durst come to her; and so she was drown'd. Then Stawford took the prior of Berstaple a certain sum of money to begin this causey, and the bridges, and after paid for the performing it.”1

There is, or used to be, hanging up in the hall of St. Helen's Hospital at Abingdon, a long ditty in praise of the builder of Culham Bridge, near that town: one verse in modern phrase ran thus:

King Harry the fifth in his fow-erth year

Hath found for his folk a bridge in Berk-shire;
For carriage and cart to come and go clear,

That, winters before, were soused in the mire.
And some from their saddles flopped down to the ground,

Or into the water, wist no man where. Private convenience again, would set some to work. Across the moors of Glastonbury is a causeway a mile long, called Graylake's Foss, made by the abbots, chiefly for communicating with their own estates. It was no doubt through clerical influence under other circumstances, that amongst deeds of charity to which the dying were often urged, we find bequests of money by will, for making or repairing highways or causeys. No bad use to put it to either: when it is remembered how many centuries it takes before any country is really provided with decent roads; and how difficult it is to keep them in tolerable order when they are made. Amongst right thinking persons of this kind, was Joan Lady Bergavenny, who in 1434 devised “to the making and mending of feeble bridges and foul ways, £100.”2 Still greater was the zeal of Edmund Brudenell Esq., who in 1457 ordered by his will, even his gold cup, silver basins, a great piece of gilt plate with the cover, and three silver candlesticks, to be sent to the Tower of London to be melted down: to mend the highway across the heavy clay between Aylesbury and Wendover. Praiseworthy too was the act of Walter Lord Hungerford who a little earlier, “ for the health of the soul of the Lady Katherine his wife,” first made a safe footing over Standerwick Marsh between Beckington and Warminster. Nor let Sir Ralph Verney, Knight, be forgotten, who gave £10 by will, to amend “noyous and ruinous ways,” in that same rich but dirty vale of Aylesbury aforesaid.

1 Leland Itin: II. 105.

2 Test. Vetusta. p. 226.

Instances of perpetual endowments for the repair of roads or footpaths are by no means common. In Wilts there are only one or two. Cricklade has its “Wayland Estates,” given in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, for the repair of highways about that town, and for no other purpose. These are of considerable value; consisting of about 30 houses, and 50 acres of land, worth together, in 1833, about £95 a year. And at Devizes, so late as A.D. 1641, as appears by a memorandum in a council book, John Pierce, gentleman, a chief burgess, paid £50 into the borough purse, the use thereof to be bestowed yearly at the discretion of the Mayor and Recorder, on the maintenance of the causeways.

The benefaction of Maud Heath was earlier than these, and if the tradition about her is true, its history is a curious one. She is said by common report to have been a market woman, who having long felt by sad experience the inconvenience of a swampy walk, especially in the conveyance of such perishable ware as butter and eggs, devoted the savings of her life to the laudable purpose of providing a good footing for her successors in all time to come. She made no will: (at least we have not been able to hear of one either in the registers at Salisbury or in London) but during her life time, about the year 1474, in the reign of K. Edw. IV., she gave to certain trustees, some houses and land in and near Chippenham to carry out her intentions, How much, if any, of the causey was finished before her death, or whether it was begun at all, we have no account.

It commences about 4 miles from Chippenham, on the eastern side of the town, at the top of Bremhill Wick Hill. The hill itself is a high and pleasant ridge capped with dry iron sand, but immediately at the foot of it, upon the northern side, lies a low and flat tract of heavy clay land, made heavier by occasional inundation of the North Wilts Avon which runs through it. There can be no doubt that to ensure safe passage for the old wives and their baskets across this plashy level, was a main point with the considerate Maud Heath. Here no doubt she had often herself had a battle with the mud: had lost many a fine fresh .egg, and disappointed many a Chippenham breakfast table, during the wars of the Roses. Over this her battle ground she was resolved to triumph, and she has triumphed. The stone-pitched path that has so long borne and will yet probably so much longer bear her name, continues down Wick Hill, (where indeed it does not seem to be much wanted) through the pretty village of Tytherton, (surnamed from a former owner) Kellaways, then across the perilous flats just mentioned, over a canal and then over the Avon by bridges, and so through the parish of Langley Burrell, till it lands the Bremhill adventurer safe at the town of Chippenham. Between Langley Common and Chippenham, on account of insufficient breadth of road, or for some other reason, there was until lately a considerable distance without any causey; but it is now completed the whole way.

Maud Heath being thus represented by so useful and enduring a work, might very well say, as Sir Christopher Wren is made to say within St. Pauls, “If you want to see my monument—look around you:” and perhaps from the peculiar circumstances of this case and the tradition belonging to it, it was not very likely that her name at all events would be forgotten, however obscure the rest of her history might become. Still, as the public memory is sometimes treacherous even towards those who have deserved more nobly of their country than Maud Heath, it was not an unwise precaution, on the part of those who took it, to set up at intervals by the wayside substantial mementos of the good deed and the worthy doer.

The verses inscribed upon these memorials are not indeed amongst the highest efforts of the muse; but they have the merit of being adapted to the purpose of being easily remembered by the common people.

The path is always described in the old documents relating to it,

as starting from Wick Hill, not from Chippenham. And so in the poetry. On a large stone at the commencement of it, near Bromhill, are these lines.

“From this WICK HILL begins the praise

Of MAUD HEATH's gift to these highways.” . At the other end, next to Chippenham, just at the point of junction of the two turnpike roads from Malmsbury and Draycote, is a second stone with this couplet:

“Hither extendeth Maud HEATH's gift;

For where I stand is Chippenham clift.” 1 Midway, at the bridge over the Avon, there is a third commemorative stone: a pillar about 12 feet high, erected by the feoffees in 1698, which enters more into particulars.

“To the Memory of the worthy Maud HEATH of Langley Burrell, Spinster: who in the year of grace, 1474, for the good of travellers, did in charity bestow in land and houses about eight pounds a year, for ever, to be laid out on the highway and causey, leading from Wick Hill to Chippenham Clift." CHIPPENHAM Injure me not.

WICK HILL. CLIFT. On the several faces of the pillar are short Latin sentences, intended to be applicable both to the journey to Chippenham, and to the longer one of human life. To these, however intelligible to the pontifices of Langley or Bremhill, and the other learned guardians of this modern “Sublician," the late vicar of Bremhill, the Rev. W. L. Bowles, obtained leave to attach for the use of less accomplished travellers, an interpetration in the vulgar tongue.

1 It is to be presumed that this stone, being a public authority, speaks the truth; and therefore when it says “this is Chippenham Cliff,as Chippenham Cliff we must regard it. But the word is scarcely applicable to a locality almost flat. There is indeed all the way to the railway arch, a gentle slope down which a cannon ball might, or might not, roll: but there is not upon the spot, anything approaching to the abruptness of a cliff. The stone is just upon the limit of the parish of Langley Burrell, and probably has always been where it is; but had the causey been carried on to the left (still keeping within the same parish), so as to follow the old road towards the town, it would presently have arrived at something much more like a cliff-the steep rugged bank which overhangs the river, near the entrance to Mr. Esmeade's grounds at Monkton. And there it would have been a more intelligible stone.

« PreviousContinue »