Highways and Byways in Sussex


First Edition printed February 1904.


Over the border—The beginnings of the wells—Tunbridge Wells to-day—Mr. George Meredith—The Toad and other rocks—Eridge—Trespassing in Sussex—Saxonbury—Bayham Abbey—Lamberhurst—Withyham—The Sackvilles—A domestic autocrat—"To all you ladies now on land"—Withyham church—The Sackville monument—John Waylett—Beer and bells—Parish expenses—Buckhurst and Old Buckhurst—Ashdown Forest—Hartfield and Bolebroke—A wild region.

I have made Tunbridge Wells our last centre, because it is convenient; yet as a matter of strict topography, the town is not in Sussex at all, but in Kent.

In that it is builded upon hills, Tunbridge Wells is like Rome, and in that its fashionable promenade is under the limes, like Berlin; but in other respects it is merely a provincial English inland pleasure town with a past: rather arid, and except under the bracing conditions of cold weather, very tiring in its steepnesses. No wonder the small victoria and smaller pony carriage so flourish there.

The Pantiles by Frederick Griggs

The Pantiles, Tunbridge Wells. The healthful properties of Tunbridge Wells were discovered, as I record a little later, in 1606; but it was not until Henrietta Maria brought her suite hither in 1630 that the success of the new cure was assured. Afterwards came Charles II. and his Court, and Tunbridge Wells was made; and thenceforward to fail to visit the town at the proper time each year (although one had the poorest hut to live in the while) was to write one's self down a boor. A more sympathetic patron was Anne, who[Pg 392] gave the first stone basin for the spring—hence "Queen's Well"—and whose subscription of £100 led to the purchase of the pantiles that paved the walk now bearing that name. Subsequently it was called the Parade, but to the older style everyone has very sensibly reverted.

Tunbridge Wells is still a health resort, but the waters no longer constitute a part of the hygienic routine. Their companion element, air, is the new recuperative. Not that the spring at the foot of the Pantiles is wholly deserted: on the contrary, the presiding old lady does quite a business in filling and cleaning the little glasses; but those visitors that descend her steps are impelled rather by curiosity than ritual, and many never try again. Nor is the trade in Tunbridge ware, inlaid work in coloured woods, what it was. A hundred years ago there was hardly a girl of any pretensions to good form but kept her pins in a Tunbridge box.

The Pantiles are still the resort of the idle, but of the anonymous rather than famous variety. Our men of mark and great Chams of Literature, who once flourished here in the season, go elsewhere for their recreation and renovation—abroad for choice. Tunbridge Wells now draws them no more than Bath. But in the eighteenth century a large print was popular containing the portraits of all the illustrious intellectuals as they lounged on the Pantiles, with Dr. Johnson and Mr. Samuel Richardson among the chief lions.

The residential districts of Tunbridge Wells—its Mounts, Pleasant, Zion and Ephraim, with their discreet and prosperous villas—suggest to me only Mr. Meredith's irreproachable Duvidney ladies. In one of these well-ordered houses must they have lived and sighed over Victor's tangled life—surrounded by laurels and laburnum; the lawn either cut yesterday or to be cut to-day; the semicircular drive a miracle of gravel unalloyed; a pan of water for Tasso beside the dazzling step. Receding a hundred years, the same author peoples Tunbridge Wells again, for it was here, in its heyday, that Chloe suffered.

[Pg 393]
On Rusthall Common is the famous Toad Rock, which is to Tunbridge Wells what Thorwaldsen's lion is to Lucerne, and the Leaning Tower to Pisa. Lucerne's lion emerged from the stone under the sculptor's mallet and chisel, but the Rusthall monster was evolved by natural processes, and it is a toad only by courtesy. An inland rock is, however, to most English people so rare an object that Rusthall has almost as many pilgrims as Stonehenge. The Toad is free; the High Rocks, however, which are a mile distant, cannot be inspected by the curious for less than sixpence. One must pass through a turnstile before these wonders are accessible. Rocks in themselves having insufficient drawing power, as the dramatic critics say, a maze has been added, together with swings, a seesaw, arbours, a croquet lawn, and all the proper adjuncts of a natural phenomenon. The effect is to make the rocks appear more unreal than any rocks ever seen upon the stage. Freed from their pleasure-garden surroundings they would become beautifully wild and romantic and tropically un-English; but as it is, with their notice boards and bridges, they are disappointing, except of course to children. They are no disappointment to children; indeed, they go far to make Tunbridge Wells a children's wonderland. There is no kind of dramatic game to which the High Rocks would not make the best background. Finer rocks, because more remote and free from labels and tea rooms, are those known as Penn's Rocks, three miles in the south-west, in a beautiful valley.

Eridge, whither all visitors to Tunbridge Wells must at one time or another drive, is the seat of the Marquis of Abergavenny, whose imposing A, tied, like a dressing gown, with heavy tassels, is embossed on every cottage for miles around. In character the park resembles Ashburnham, while in extent it vies with the great parks of the south-west, Arundel, Goodwood and Petworth; but it has none of their spacious coolnesses. Yet Eridge Park has joys that these others know not of—brake fern four feet high, and the conical hill on[Pg 394] which stands Saxonbury Tower, jealously guarded from the intruding traveller by the stern fiat of "Mr. Macbean, steward." Sussex is a paradise of notice boards (there is a little district near Forest Row where the staple industry must be the prosecuting of trespassers), and one has come ordinarily to look upon these monitions without active resentment; but when the Caledonian descends from his native heath to warn the Sussex man off Sussex ground—more, to warn the Saxon from his own bury—the situation becomes acute. By taking, however, the precaution of asking at a not too adjacent cottage for permission to ascend the hill, one may circumvent the Scottish prosecutor.

The hill is very important ground in English history, as the following passage from Sir William Burrell's MSS. in the British Museum testifies:—"In Eridge Park are the remains of a military station of the Saxon invaders of the country, which still retains the name of Saxonbury Hill. It is on the high ground to the right, as the traveller passes from Frant to Mayfield. On the summit of this hill (from whence the cliffs of Dover may be seen) are to be traced the remains of an ancient fortification; the fosse is still plainly discernible, enclosing an area of about two acres, from whence there is but one outlet. The apex of the hill within is formed of a strong compact body of stone, brought hither from a distance, on which doubtless was erected some strong military edifice. This was probably one of the stations occupied by the Saxons under Ella, their famous chief, who, at the instance of Hengist, King of Kent, invaded England towards the close of the fifth century. It is said that they settled in Sussex, whence they issued in force to attack the important British station of Anderida or Andredceaster. Antiquaries are not agreed as to the precise situation of this military station; some imagining it to have been at Newenden, on the borders of Kent; others at Pevensey, or Hastings, in Sussex. The country, from the borders of Kent[Pg 395] to those of Hampshire, comprises what was called the Forest of Andredsweald, now commonly called the Weald, was formerly full of strong holds and fastnesses, and was consequently well calculated for the retreat of the ancient Britons from before the regular armies of the Romans, as well as for the establishment of points of attack by the succeeding invaders who coped with them on terms somewhat reversed. The attack of the Saxons on Anderida was successful, and the consequence was their permanent establishment in Sussex and Surrey, from which time they probably retained a military station on this hill.

"There is likewise within the park a place called Danes Gate. This was doubtless a part of a military way; and as it would happen that the last successful invaders would occupy the same strong posts which had been formed by their predecessors, this Danes Gate was probably the military communication between Crowborough, undoubtedly a Danish station, and Saxonbury Hill."

The view from Saxonbury extends far in each quarter, embracing both lines of Downs, North and South. The long low irregular front of Eridge Castle is two or three miles to the north-west, with its lake before it.

Queen Elizabeth stayed at Eridge for six days in 1573, on her progress to Northiam, where we saw her dining and changing her shoes. Lord Burleigh, who accompanied her, found the country hereabouts dangerous, and "worse than in the Peak." It was another of the guests at Eridge that made Tunbridge Wells; for had not Dudley, Lord North, when recuperating there in 1606, discovered that the (Devil-flavoured) chalybeate water of the neighbourhood was beneficial, the spring would not have been enclosed nor would other of London's fatigued young bloods have drunk of it.