The following post is the thirteenth of a series based on information obtained from a fascinating book Susana recently obtained for research purposes. Coaching Days & Coaching Ways by W. Outram Tristram, first published in 1888, is replete with commentary about travel and roads and social history told in an entertaining manner, along with a great many fabulous illustrations. A great find for anyone seriously interested in English history!
Note: Comment to enter the contest for Susana’s September Giveaway, a lovely necklace from London’s National Gallery (see photo at right).
“Rich crowds of historical figures”
One can almost imagine Mr. Tristram trembling with anticipation to relate to us the countless numbers of historical personages who passed along this timeworn route—so many that he skips over the Romans and barely mentions the pilgrims on their way to Canterbury. In fact, he admits
And here I may perhaps remark with advantage—to myself (in case it may appear that I am on a history bent rather than on coaching)—that the purely coaching record of the Dover Road is a thing only to be touched on briefly. For in point of fact it is “thin”, as dramatic critics would say, in the extreme.
Deptford: Elizabeth I, Christopher Marlowe, Sayes Court
In 1581 Elizabeth I traveled along a turnpike that ran from New Cross to Deptford to board Drake’s ship, the Golden Hind, that circumnavigated the globe. Apparently it was later
converted into a sort of dining-house for London visitors; in which case all I can say is that I hope that they recollected in what sort of sanctuary of heroism they were dining, and drank the health reverently of the great man who made English commerce possible, and so, indirectly, enabled them to pay the bill.
It was in Deptford that “the greatest perhaps of our Elizabethan dramatists was killed here in a tavern brawl.” Our author goes on about Christopher Marlowe‘s birth at Canterbury and insinuates that “the greatest of our poets is unrepresented in our pedantic Pantheon,” that other lesser poets were honored with slabs of marble while he only with an unmarked grave in the churchyard at St. Nicholas’s Church in Deptford. As to that, I feel I must add that had he not died at the age of thirty (under circumstances that are murky at best), his achievements might have been unequalled even by Shakespeare or Cervantes. And that a memorial window in Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey was laid in for him in 2002, which must have given great gratification to all Marlowe devotees.
Sayes Court, known for its exquisite gardens, was the setting for “some of the most brilliant scenes in Kenilworth” by Sir Walter Scott. Kenilworth is the story of a secret marriage between Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester and Amy Robsart. Click here to download this classic for free on your Kindle.
Set in 1575,
the tragic series of events begins when Amy flees her father and her betrothed, Tressilian, to marry the Earl. Amy passionately loves her husband, and the Earl loves her in return, but he is driven by ambition. He is courting the favour of Queen Elizabeth I, and only by keeping his marriage to Amy secret can he hope to rise to the height of power that he desires. At the end of the book, the queen finally discovers the truth, to the shame of the Earl. But the disclosure has come too late, for Amy has been murdered by the Earl’s even more ambitious steward, Varney. (Wikipedia)
I confess that it does me good when in the course of these disjounted rambles along the great roads of England I can find some spot haunted by the, to me, charmed figures which throng the pages of the Waverley Novels. Hitherto I have not reaped much of a harvest of joy in this direction it must be confessed; but Deptford has given me my first opportunity; and the Dover Road, a little further on, will give me my second; with which remark I think I may leave Deptford altogether, lamenting that all that can be seen of Sayes Court is now a parish workhouse, which stands on its site; and marvelling at the imperial relaxation of Peter the Great who stayed here in 1698 (at the Court, not at the workhouse), and who was wont to unbend a mind wearied with shipbuilding, by being driven through the world-famous hedges of the garden in a wheelbarrow.
A Kindred Spirit
It occurs to me that Mr. Tristram, in the above paragraph, has captured for me the essence of my fascination for this book. While I’m always interested in how people lived—and that includes travel—in the past, it’s not the listings of coaches and their travel times that holds my interest, anymore than it’s the grandeur and magnificence of stately homes that draws me to England year after year. It’s the history—the people who traveled there, lived there, had experiences there that catches my imagination. Standing on the same ground where countless others stood so many years ago, I feel privileged to be a part of it. There’s a sense of continuity of life, of gratitude for events and people that made it possible for me to live in relative safety, and sorrow that so much of what could have been learned from the past continues to be replayed again and again in the modern world.
History has so much to teach. If only people would listen to its wisdom!