A Flying Horse

“To those in search of out-of-the-way places where may be found the quiet of the boundless prairie I would recommend Batcombe. Its situation at the foot of a curving line of steep chalk downs is most romantic; its approach from the South by a headlong road which drops over the green cliff is most fearsome. The village has long vanished, having fled apparently to escape the boredom of unutterable solitude, leaving behind a church, a farmhouse and a few cottages. The church stands quite alone at the bottom of the silent downs, which surround it on three sides. So steep are these grass-covered heights that from their summit it is possible to look down upon the flat roof of the tower. The church possesses a font of most archaic design, and many monuments which are evidently the work of village stonemasons who had vivid fancies in their brains.

On the embattled tower are four pinnacles, one at each corner. Until a few years ago there were only three. The fourth was knocked off by the hoof of the squire’s horse when that gentleman jumped from the crest of the down into the village, clearing the church and tower on his way. The squire, whose name was John Minterne, was better known as “Conjuring Minterne”. He had dealings with the devil, so the story goes, and the extraordinary feats he performed by the aid of this being must have kept the villagers in a state of chronic uneasiness. Possibly the uncanny habits of the squire led to the depopulation of the settlement. It is to be regretted that The Life and Times of Conjuring Minterne has not yet been written. Certain it is that he ceased to associate with the devil before he died, for he is buried in the churchyard, in holy ground. His bomb is pointed out with pride to any who turn aside to visit this quaint place. It is small and square and singularly carved, but lacks both name and date, as well as any record of this alarming man. In the church are wall tablets to Minterns: to a John Mintern who died in 1761, as well as to a John Minterne who “decesssed” in 1592. I am unable to say if either of these “decessed” squires can lay claim to the name Conjuring Minterne, nor do I know in what century the open-mouthed villagers gazed upon their lord of the manor floating over the church in his Batcombe-bred horse. I can only state that no conventicle in Dorset is better adapted for the performance of this particular feat.”

 

 

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