Beyond the hospital, a turning to the left leads to Windsor, past Clewer. ě¨ëźě¸ěš´ě§ë
Windsor bulks hugely from these levels, with huddled houses and the towering mass of the castle lining a ridge above the Thames; the Round Tower, grim and terrible in other days, merely, in these times, a picturesque adjunct to the landscape.
It seems, indeed, that everywhere in these days the iron gauntlet has given place to the kid glove; persuasion is, nowadays, more a mental than a physical process. Only at Windsor these things take higher ground; here for persuasion in this era read diplomacy, where it had used to be a blood-boltered performance, in whose dramatic course axe and chaplain took prominent parts. The castle survives, its mediĂŚval defences restored for appearance sake, but its State Apartments filled with polite furniture, dreadfully gilded and tawdry. It makes a picture, this historic warren of kings and princes; but alas for picturesqueness, Henry the Eighthâs massive gateway is guarded to-dayânot by an appropriate Yeoman of the Guard, but by a constable of that singularly unromantic bodyâthe police!
If one is wise, one does not visit Windsor for the sake of the State Apartments, but for the external view of the castle, set grandly, like a jewel, amid its verdant meads. The meads form the most appropriate foreground; the proper time, either early morning or evening, for then, when the mists cling about the river, and the grass is damp with them, that ancient palace and stronghold, that court and tomb of Royalty, bulks larger than at any other hour, both on sight and mind. And, having thus seen Windsor aright, you cannot but return well pleased.
Surbiton, that great modern suburb of Kingston, can conveniently be made the starting-point of many pleasant runs through Surrey. Let us on this occasion start from Surbiton Station, and, making for the high road that runs to Ripley, turn to the left at Long Ditton, where the waterworks are, and so in a mile to the first semblance of rusticity at that well-known inn, the âAngel at Ditton,â as it is generally called by the many cyclists to whom for years this has been a rallying-place; although this is not Ditton at all, and its real name the not very romantically-sounding one of âGiggâs Hill Green.â We pass the âAngelâ on the left; on the right hand stretches the pleasant Green, with roads running away in the same direction to the village of Thames Ditton, a mile away, and worth seeing for those who have the exploring faculty well developed.
But to continue straight ahead, we pass Giggâs Hill Green only to come to other and larger commonsâDitton Marsh and Littleworth Common respectivelyâalong a road straight and flat for a considerable distance, passing under the long tunnel-like archway of the London and South-Western main line, and emerging from it to a full view of beautiful Esher Hill, a mile and a half away, while away on the left stretch miles of open country. Notice outside a modern, dry, and dusty-looking inn, called the âOrleans Arms,â a tall, circular stone pillar about ten feet in height, with names of towns along the road, and the distances to them, carved on it. This is familiarly known as the âWhite Lady,â and dates back to the coaching age; for this was the old road to Portsmouth, and was once crowded with traffic.
From this point it is a mile of continuous, though gentle, rise to Esher villageâSandown Park racecourse on the right, under the hill. Notice the very highly ornamental iron gates and railings of the park: a romantic history belongs to them. They came from Baron Grantâs palatial mansion of Kensington House, built but never occupied, and then demolished, which stood in Kensington Gore.
Kensington House is now quite forgot, and on its site rise the stately houses of Kensington Court. It was in 1873 that Baron Grant, bloated with the money of the widow and the orphan, plundered from them in his Emma Mine and other rascally schemes, purchased the dirty slum at Kensington then known as the âRookery,â and set about building a lordly pleasure-house on its site. Just as it was finished, his career of predatory finance was checked, and he never occupied the vast building. For years it remained tenantless, and was then demolished. âGrant,â as he called himself, died obscurely in 1899. He had in his time been the cause of the public losing over ÂŁ20,000,000 sterling. The Daily News spoke of him as an Irishman, but it will readily be conceded that his real name of Gottheimer is not strikingly Hibernian. He was, it is true, born in Dublin. So was Dean Swift: but, as the Dean himself remarked, to be born in a stable does not prove one to be a horse.
Although âGrantâ died obscurely, and his name and his schemes had long before that time become discredited, it must not be supposed that he was personally ruined with the wreck of his projects. Not at all. He lived and died very comfortably circumstanced, while many of his creditors remained unsatisfied. He could pay debts when he chose, but when he chose not to, there were no means of compelling him. Where have we heard the same story in recent years?
SURBITON to LEATHERHEAD
Esher, up along the hill, is a pretty village, with many and varied associations and an extraordinary number of curious relics. It is a charmingly rural place, with a humble old church behind an old coaching inn, and a new church, not at all humble, across the way. The old church and the old innâthe âBear,â they call itâare both extremely interesting. In the hall of the inn, placed within a glass case, secure from the touch of the vulgar, are the huge boots worn by the post-boy who drove Louis Philippe, the fugitive King of the French, to Claremont in 1848. They are huge jack-boots closely resembling the type worn by Marlborough and his troopers at Blenheim, Ramilies, and Malplaquet.
âMr. Smithââfor under that plebeian disguise the Citizen King fled from Parisâresided at Claremont by favour of Queen Victoria, and died there two years later.
Claremont is an ominous place, with a tragical cast to its story. Most of those connected with it have been unfortunate, if not before they sought the shelter of its ill-omened roof, certainly afterwards. Clive, the âheaven-born general,â who built it, shot himself; the newly married only child of George the Fourthâthe ill-fated Princess Charlotteâdied there, under somewhat mysterious circumstances; and the Duke of Albany, who had not long been in residence, died untimely in the south of France, in 1884.
The old church of Esher, long since disused and kept locked and given over to spiders and dust, has a Royal Pew, built for the use of the Princess Charlotte and the Claremont household in 1816. It is a huge structure, in comparison with the size of the little church, and designed in the worst possible classic taste; wearing, indeed, more the appearance of an opera-box than anything else.
The authorities (whoever they may be) charge a shilling for viewing this derelict church. It is distinctly not worth the money, because the architecture is contemptible, and all the interesting monuments have been removed to the modern building, on a quite different site, across the road.
It cannot be too strongly insisted upon that the death of the Princess Charlotte in her eighteenth year made a vast difference in English historyâor, at least, English Court history. Had she survived, there would have been no William the Fourth, and Queen Victoria would never have been queen. Think of it! No Victorian Era, no Victoria Station, no Victoria Embankment, no Victoria in Australia, no Victoria in Vancouver Island; and, in short, none of those thousand things and places âVictoriaâ and âVictorianâ we are surrounded with. None of those, and certainly no Albert Halls, memorials, streets, and places commemorative of that paragon of men.
The reflections conjured up by an inspection of Esher old church are sad indeed, and the details of it not a little horrible to a sensitive person. There is an early nineteenth-century bone-house or above-ground vault attached to the little building, in which have been stored coffins innumerable. The coffins are gone, but many of the bony relics of poor humanity may be seen in the dusty semi-obscurity of an open archway, lying strewn among rakes and shovels. To these, when the present writer was inspecting the place, entered a fox-terrier, emerging presently with the thigh-bone of some rude forefather of the hamlet in his mouth. âDrop it!â said the churchwarden, fetching the dog a blow with his walking-stick. The dog âdropped itâ accordingly, and went off, and the churchwarden kicked the bone away. I made some comment, I know not what, and the churchwarden volunteered the information that the village urchins had been used to play with these poor relics. âTheyâre nearly all gone now,â said he. âThey used to break the windows with âem.â And then we changed the subject for a better.
The ânewâ churchânew in 1852âis a very imposing one, also with its Claremont Royal Pew, very like a drawing-room, built on one side of the chancel, high above the heads of the vulgar herd, who often, when the church is open, climb up the staircase to it, and, seating themselves on the chairs, go away and boast of having sat on the seats honoured by the greatâthereby proving the vulgarity aforesaid.
The church was built chiefly from the accumulated funds of a bequest anciently left to Esher. This was the piece of land now called Sandown Park and the site of the well-known racecourse, let to the racecourse company at an annual rent. Not until 1899 did it occur to the Vestry that for the Church to be the landlord of a racecourse was a rather scandalous state of affairs, and the sanction of the Charity Commissioners was then sought and obtained for a scheme to sell the land outright for ÂŁ12,000, this sum to be invested in Consols. These tender consciences obscured the business side of the question, for the land, if not already worth more than that sum, very shortly will be, considering the spread of Londonâs suburbs. It is rather singular that this freehold, bequeathed so long ago, was once the site of the forgotten Priory of Sandown, which would appear never to have been revived after its Prior and all the brethren perished in the great pestilence, the Black Death, that almost depopulated England in the Middle Ages.
Leaving the village behind and pursuing the Portsmouth road, the woodlands of Claremont Park are left behind as we come downhill towards Horseshoe Clump, a well-known landmark on this road. This prominent object is a semicircular grove of firs on the summit of a sandy knoll, looking over the valley of the Mole, the âsullen Moleâ of the poets, flowing in far-flung loops below, on its way to join the Thames at Molesey. This is a switchback road for cyclists thus far, for the ridge on which Horseshoe Clump stands is no sooner gained than we go downhill again, and so up once more and across the level âfair mile,â to descend finally into Cobham Street, where the Mole is reached again. Here turn to the left, along a road marked by a sign-post âChurch Cobham,â the original village, off the main road, of which Cobham Street on the Portsmouth road is only an offshoot developed by the traffic of old road-faring days. Church Cobham has, besides its ancient church and âChurch Stile House,â a picturesque water-mill and mill-pond beside the road. Beyond, in two miles, the tiny village owning the odd name of Stoke DâAbernon is sighted; village in name only, for the church and a scattered house or two alone mark its existence. The Norman family of DâAbernon gave their name to this particular Stoke, originally a primitive British stockade, or defensible camp, at a ford on the Mole.
For the happily increasing class of tourists who are interested in archĂŚology, let it be noted here that the chancel of this church contains the earliest monumental brass in the kingdom, the mail-clad effigy of Sir John DâAbernon, dated 1277.
Many of his race, before and after his time, lie here. The life-sized engraved figure of this Sir John, besides being the earliest, is also one of the most beautiful. Clad from head to foot in a complete suit of chain mail, his hands clasped in prayer, heraldic shield on one arm, his pennoned lance under the other, and his great two-handed sword hanging from a broad belt outside the surcoat, this is a majestic figure. His feet rest on a writhing lion, playfully represented by the engraver of the brass as biting the lance-shaft.
A second Sir John DâAbernon, who died in 1327, son of the first, also has his life-sized memorial engraved on brass.
Stoke âDabbernun,â as the rustics call it, is at once exhausted of interest when its church has been seen.
The road now crosses the Mole by an old red brick bridge, and leads up a gentle rise to Slyfield Farm, a very picturesque old farmstead of red brick, designed in the classic style prevailing in the reign of James the First. This was once the manor-house of the now extinct Slyfield family. Fair speech and presentation of a visiting-card may generally be relied upon to secure the courtesy of a glimpse into the hall of this interesting old house, where an ancient massive carved-oak staircase may be seen, still guarded by the original âdog-gatesâ that in the times of our forebears kept the hounds in their proper place below stairs.
The road now winds pleasantly through the valley, but not within sight of the river until past the outlying houses of the little village of Fetcham. On gaining the point where the road from Great Bookham to Leatherhead falls into the one we are following, look out for an unassuming left-hand turning past the railway arch, leading in a hundred yards to Fetcham mill-pond. This is a lovely spot, where the wild-fowl congregate, and well worth halting at on a summerâs day, but tucked away so artfully that it will scarce be found save by asking. It is a long sheet of water, with reeds, and an island in the middle, and a peep back towards Leatherhead from the farther end, where the church tower peers above the trees. Flocks of moor-hens, a few couples of stately swans, and some domestic ducks form the invariable feathered company of the pond, and not infrequently the coot takes up his quarters here, with myriads of dabchicks; the great swans and little dabchicks, swimming together on the water, forming the oddest of contrasts: the swans like warships and the dabchicks like little black torpedo-boats.
Cycles can be walked along the path to the far end of the pond, where the road is reached again.