History Becomes Biography

Throughout the book Highways & Byways of Dorset, the author has kept his distance, but when the account reaches Lulworth, we are suddenly onto his home patch, so get some fascinating local stuff first hand.

“The village of West Lulworth lies along the foot of the blunt-ended Bindon Hill, in a valley curving to the sea. It was years ago as picturesque a hamlet of thatched cottages as could be imagined, with its spring of clear water issuing from the hill, its mill-pond where a great sheep-washing was held once a year, and its mumbling old mill. Now numerous red brick villas and lodging houses have done much to rob it of its ancient charm. The queer old church too has long since been pulled down. It stood by the roadside in that part of the village known as “Up along” to distinguish it from the maritime end of the single street,which was called “Down along” It was a very small, ancient church. Its dwarfed tower was so low that it would have been no desperate feat to jump from the top of it into the graveyard which was heaped about its foot. I remember well the singing gallery and the pews, which were so high that when I and the other children sat down the whole congregation vanished from our view. It wa not considered reverential to stand upon the seat, so those of tender years saw little. We, however, heard much, because the music consisted of a violin, a bass viol, a flute, and an instrument called, I believe, a serpent. This orchestra occupied the singing gallery, and I recollect that the players were both slow and deliberate, and that when they commenced the wrong tune they were loudly rebuked by the clerk. I always felt it a privilege to reach the church in time to hear the tuning up of the instruments, which wa an awe-inspiring affair attended by whisperings.

The lads of the village, with red faces and vivid neckcloths waited outside the porch in a giggling crowd until the bell ceased tolling, at which moment they lurched in with great clatter of hob-nailed boots. I have no doubt that the village maiden found the passing of the porch on sundays no small ordeal. The farm labourer always came to the service in a picturesque smock frock, which has now almost ceased to be a feature of English costume. when he reached the door he took of his shapeless felt hat and pulled a lock of hair over his forehead with an expression of devout humility. I recollect the introduction of the harmonium and the disbanding of the players in the gallery. [this was about mid 19th century when vicars got fed up with musicians nursing hangovers from the night before tended to be more an embarrassment than aid to worship] It may be surmised that the new instrument was regarded as of questionable orthodoxy, and that its notes grated upon the ears of the village folk. Both geese and ducks have, to my knowledge, waddled into the church during Divine service, and have made some progress up the aisle before they were discovered and driven forth by the indignant clerk. To a child sitting in a high pew, both their entry and their exit were to be appreciated only by signs and sounds, helped by fuller information gained from the fortunate youngsters who occupied the open seats around the font. when the days were hot the windows of the church were thrown open during the hours of worship, and through one of the little casements – visible over the pew top – it was possible to see the apple trees of an orchard, with apples on them. Through the windows also came the sound of bees, the tinkling of the sheep bells on the downs, and the muffled laughter of ungodly boys who had escaped churchgoing. ”

This post reminds me of a great song by XTC, a rarety as it is almost romantic, Love on a Farm Boy’s Wages:


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