When Time, who steals our hours
Shall steal our pleasures too;
The memory of the past shall stay
And half our joys renew.
As I grow older my thoughts often revert to the past, and like the old Persian poet, Khosros, when he walked by the churchyard and thought how many of his friends were numbered with the dead, I am often tempted to exclaim: "The friends of my youth! where are they?" but there is only the mocking echo to answer, as if from a far-distant land, "Where are they?"
"One generation passeth away; and another generation cometh," and enormous changes have taken place in this country during the past seventy years, which one can only realise by looking back and comparing the past with the present.
The railways then were gradually replacing the stage-coaches, of which the people then living had many stories to tell, and the roads which formerly had mostly been paved with cobble or other stones were being macadamised; the brooks which ran across the surface of the roads were being covered with bridges; toll-gates still barred the highways, and stories of highway robbers were still largely in circulation, those about Dick Turpin, whose wonderful mare "Black Bess" could jump over the turnpike gates, being the most prominent, while Robin Hood and Little John still retained a place in the minds of the people as former heroes of the roads and forests.
Primitive methods were still being employed in agriculture. Crops were cut with scythe and sickle, while old scythe-blades fastened at one end of a wooden bench did duty to cut turnips in slices to feed the cattle, and farm work generally was largely done by hand.
At harvest time the farmers depended on the services of large numbers of men who came over from Ireland by boat, landing at Liverpool, whence they walked across the country in gangs of twenty or more, their first stage being Warrington, where they stayed a night at Friar's Green, at that time the Irish quarter of the town. Some of them walked as far as Lincolnshire, a great corn-growing county, many of them preferring to walk bare-footed, with their shoes slung across their shoulders. Good and steady walkers they were too, with a military step and a four-mile-per-hour record.
The village churches were mostly of the same form in structure and service as at the conclusion of the Civil War. The old oak pews were still in use, as were the galleries and the old "three-decker" pulpits, with sounding-boards overhead. The parish clerk occupied the lower deck and gave out the hymns therefrom, as well as other notices of a character not now announced in church. The minister read the lessons and prayers, in a white surplice, from the second deck, and then, while a hymn was being sung, he retired to the vestry, from which he again emerged, attired in a black gown, to preach the sermon from the upper deck.
The church choir was composed of both sexes, but not surpliced, and, if there was no organ, bassoons, violins, and other instruments of music supported the singers.
The churches generally were well filled with worshippers, for it was within a measurable distance from the time when all parishioners were compelled to attend church. The names of the farms or owners appeared on the pew doors, while inferior seats, called free seats, were reserved for the poor. Pews could be bought and sold, and often changed hands; but the squire had a large pew railed on from the rest, and raised a little higher than the others, which enabled him to see if all his tenants were in their appointed places.
The village inns were generally under the shadow of the church steeple, and, like the churches, were well attended, reminding one of Daniel Defoe, the clever author of that wonderful book Robinson Crusoe, for he wrote:
Wherever God erects a house of prayer,
The Devil always builds a chapel there;
And 'twill be found upon examination,
The Devil has the largest congregation.
The church services were held morning and afternoon, evening service being then almost unknown in country places; and between the services the churchwardens and other officials of the church often adjourned to the inn to hear the news and to smoke tobacco in long clay pipes named after them "churchwarden pipes"; many of the company who came from long distances remained eating and drinking until the time came for afternoon service, generally held at three o'clock.
The landlords of the inns were men of light and leading, and were specially selected by the magistrates for the difficult and responsible positions they had to fill; and as many of them had acted as stewards or butlers - at the great houses of the neighbourhood, and perhaps had married the cook or the housekeeper, and as each inn was required by law to provide at least one spare bedroom, travellers could rely upon being comfortably housed and well victualled, for each landlord brewed his own beer and tried to vie with his rival as to which should brew the best.
Education was becoming more appreciated by the poorer people, although few of them could even write their own names; but when their children could do so, they thought them wonderfully clever, and educated sufficiently to carry them through life. Many of them were taken away from school and sent to work when only ten or eleven years of age!
Books were both scarce and dear, the family Bible being, of course, the principal one. Scarcely a home throughout the land but possessed one of these family heirlooms, on whose fly-leaf were recorded the births and deaths of the family sometimes for several successive generations, as it was no uncommon occurrence for occupiers of houses to be the descendants of people of the same name who had lived in them for hundreds of years, and that fact accounted for traditions being handed down from one generation to another.
Where there was a village library, the books were chiefly of a religious character; but books of travel and adventure, both by land and sea, were also much in evidence, and Robinson Crusoe, Captain Cook's Three Voyages round the World, and the Adventures of Mungo Park in Africa were often read by young people. The story of Dick Whittington was another ideal, and one could well understand the village boys who lived near the great road routes, when they saw the well-appointed coaches passing on their way up to London, being filled with a desire to see that great city, whose streets the immortal Dick had pictured to himself as being paved with gold, and to wish to emulate his wanderings, and especially when there was a possibility of becoming the lord mayor.
The bulk of the travelling in the country was done on foot or horseback, as the light-wheeled vehicles so common in later times had not yet come into vogue. The roads were still far from safe, and many tragedies were enacted in lonely places, and in cases of murder the culprit, when caught, was often hanged or gibbeted near the spot where the crime was committed, and many gallows trees were still to be seen on the sides of the highways on which murderers had met with their well-deserved fate. No smart service of police existed; the parish constables were often farmers or men engaged in other occupations, and as telegraphy was practically unknown, the offenders often escaped.
The Duke of Wellington and many of his heroes were still living, and the tales of fathers and grandfathers were chiefly of a warlike nature; many of them related to the Peninsula War and Waterloo, as well as Trafalgar, and boys were thus inspired with a warlike and adventurous spirit and a desire to see the wonders beyond the seas.
It was in conditions such as these that the writer first lived and moved and had his being, and his early aspirations were to walk to London, and to go to sea; but it was many years before his boyish aspirations were realised. They came at length, however, but not exactly in the form he had anticipated, for in 1862 he sailed from Liverpool to London, and in 1870 he took the opportunity of walking back from London to Lancashire in company with his brother. We walked by a circuitous route, commencing in an easterly direction, and after being on the road for a fortnight, or twelve walking days, as we did not walk on Sundays, we covered the distance of 306 miles at an average of twenty-five miles per day.
We had many adventures, pleasant and otherwise, on that journey, but on the whole we were so delighted with our walk that, when, in the following year, the question arose. "Where shall we walk this year?" we unanimously decided to walk from John o' Groat's to Land's End, or, as my brother described it, "from the top of the map to the bottom."
It was a big undertaking, especially as we had resolved not to journey by the shortest route, but to walk from one great object of interest to another, and to see and learn as much as possible of the country we passed through on our way. We were to walk the whole of the distance between the north-eastern extremity of Scotland and the south-western extremity of England, and not to cross a ferry or accept or take a ride in any kind of conveyance whatever. We were also to abstain from all intoxicating drink, not to smoke cigars or tobacco, and to walk so that at the end of the journey we should have maintained an average of twenty-five miles per day, except Sunday, on which day we were to attend two religious services, as followers of and believers in Sir Matthew Hale's Golden Maxim:
A Sabbath well spent brings a week of
And Health for the toils of to-morrow;
But a Sabbath profaned,
WHATE'ER MAY BE GAINED.
Is a certain forerunner of Sorrow.
With the experience gained in our walk the previous year, we decided to reduce our equipment to the lowest possible limit, as every ounce had to be carried personally, and it became a question not of how much luggage we should take, but of how little; even maps were voted off as encumbrances, and in place of these we resolved to rely upon our own judgment, and the result of local inquiries, as we travelled from one great object of interest to another, but as these were often widely apart, as might be supposed, our route developed into one of a somewhat haphazard and zigzag character, and very far from the straight line.
We each purchased a strong, black leather handbag, which could either be carried by hand or suspended over the shoulder at the end of a stick, and in these we packed our personal and general luggage; in addition we carried a set of overalls, including leggings, and armed ourselves with stout oaken sticks, or cudgels, specially selected by our local fencing master. They were heavily ferruled by the village blacksmith, for, although we were men of peace, we thought it advisable to provide against what were known as single-stick encounters, which were then by no means uncommon, and as curved handles would have been unsuitable in the event of our having to use them either for defensive or offensive purposes, ours were selected with naturally formed knobs at the upper end.
Then there were our boots, which of course were a matter of the first importance, as they had to stand the strain and wear and tear of a long journey, and must be easy fitting and comfortable, with thick soles to protect our feet from the loose stones which were so plentiful on the roads, and made so that they could be laced tightly to keep out the water either when raining or when lying in pools on the roads, for there were no steam-rollers on the roads in those days.
In buying our boots we did not both adopt the same plan. I made a special journey to Manchester, and bought the strongest and most expensive I could find there; while my brother gave his order to an old cobbler, a particular friend of his, and a man of great experience, who knew when he had hold of a good piece of leather, and to whom he had explained his requirements. These boots were not nearly so smart looking as mine and did not cost as much money, but when I went with him for the boots, and heard the old gentleman say that he had fastened a piece of leather on his last so as to provide a corresponding hole inside the boot to receive the ball of the foot, I knew that my brother would have more room for his feet to expand in his boots than I had in mine. We were often asked afterwards, by people who did not walk much, how many pairs of boots we had worn out during our long journey, and when we replied only one each, they seemed rather incredulous until we explained that it was the soles that wore out first, but I had to confess that my boots were being soled the second time when my brother's were only being soled the first time, and that I wore three soles out against his two. Of course both pairs of boots were quite done at the conclusion of our walk.
Changes of clothing we were obliged to have sent on to us to some railway station, to be afterwards arranged, and soiled clothes were to be returned in the same box. This seemed a very simple arrangement, but it did not work satisfactorily, as railways were few and there was no parcel-post in those days, and then we were always so far from our base that we were obliged to fix ourselves to call at places we did not particularly want to see and to miss others that we would much rather have visited. Another objection was that we nearly always arrived at these stations at inconvenient times for changing suits of clothes, and as we were obliged to do this quickly, as we had no time to make a long stay, we had to resort to some amusing devices.
We ought to have begun our journey much earlier in the year. One thing after another, however, prevented us making a start, and it was not until the close of some festivities on the evening of September 6th, 1871, that we were able to bid farewell to "Home, sweet home" and to journey through what was to us an unknown country, and without any definite idea of the distance we were about to travel or the length of time we should be away.
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