IN Household Words, vol. x., for September 2, 1854, was a paper with this heading, so well written, that as I have had some little experience in the same way myself, I cannot do better than follow so good an example and give you the benefit of some of this experience of mine.
The twenty miles of the writer in Household Words was, as the readers of the periodical (the best extant) are aware, from Lancaster to Preston; and in this he has an advantage over me, seeing that his walk was twenty miles straight on, whereas mine is ten miles there and ten back, namely, from this good town of Birmingham to the town of Coleshill; and this again must be shortened, for, if we except William Hutton's house, there is nothing noticeable before we come to Castle Bromwich, with its fine old hall and pretty rural village, with creepers over almost all the houses. Just beyond Castle Bromwich is a very fine rookery with the usual amount of noise.
Up to this time the weather on the day of my walk had been very dull, but here the sun burst out splendidly, making the leafless trees and hedges look bright and warm. "Welcome, Phoebus Apollo, Lord of Day, or whatever name thou choosest to be called by,--thrice welcome here."
On the brow of the hill, beyond Castle Bromwich, you get the first glimpse of Coleshill spire about three miles before you, and a beautiful view it is. Just before me, about a mile off, was a dark brown leafless wood, out of which the tower and spire seemed to rise at once into the clear sky; on each side lay the far distance, bright in the sunshine, and every few minutes the tower and spire were gilded into brightness, and then sank back into dark shadow; in the foreground were fields and homesteads and the broad, white, winding road, with the lights and shadows chasing each other over the scene. I wish those who think there can be no beauty when the leaves are off the trees, except in frost, had been with me that day.
And now, in imitation of the shadows from the fleeting clouds playing before me, I have a shadow of a human nature. In the reign of Henry VII., when Perkin Warbeck was in arms in the south for the throne of England, Sir Simon Montfort, Lord of Coleshill, sent thirty pounds to him by his younger son Henry, honestly supposing him to be the son of his former master, Edward IV. On this very road the young man travelled, and on this very spot, possibly, turned his horse for a last look at his home. The tower stood then nearly as it does now, and the prospect was much the same, with more wood. Well would it have been for him if he had been warned there in time, and turned his horse and ridden back. All this fair manor of Coleshill, with its bright fields and smiling homesteads and stately woods, that lay so calm and fair before him--all this, together with his father's life, was lost for that thirty pounds. When that unfortunate gentleman was brought to his trial at Guildhall, he was accused of nothing else; but this he never denied. It was proved that he had no particular intention of favouring Warbeck, but merely sent the money good-naturedly and in a gallant recollection of the duty he owed formerly to his dead master, King Edward; yet in his old age he was drawn through the city and hanged and quartered at Tyburn. His manor was given to his accuser, Simon Digby, in whose family it still remains.
A little farther on is a road to Coleshill over the meadows, and through a large field like a chase, once a part of the park of the Digbys, dotted all over with very old oaks, some of them quite bleached and dead, part of the old Forest of Arden. Near the path are two very old trees where originally stood four, which bore the name of the "Four Evangelists." One of them has a hollow in the trunk large enough to shelter three or four men. Far on is a little foot-bridge over the Cole, a pretty stream with willows on the banks.
Flow on, blithe rivulet, to the sea,
Thy tribute waves deliver.
In these meadows you get many pleasant views of Coleshill on the top of its hill, with the old houses and gable ends and great barns and farm buildings grouped close round the foot of its lofty tower and spire. I believe there are one or two modern abominations with slated roofs, but you can't see them from here. A little farther, and you are at the town.
In the large, fine old church are the tombs of the Digbys, each with their effigies and those of their ladies, beautifully carved in alabaster, their hands folded; the lords with their swords by their sides, their heads resting upon helmets, and their feet on lions. And older than these are two effigies of the Clintons, with fleur-de-lis on their shields, and legs crossed, Crusaders to the Holy Land! The pews are close against these two last, and I thought how different a seat there must have been, with that old Crusader beside you, from two hours in the Meeting-house in Bull Street. One of the Prayer-books I opened was marked "Charlotte Hollis." I wonder whether Charlotte ever thinks of what that means by her side? Let us hope she is always better employed.
I made a speech on the subject of their being buried cross-legged which greatly delighted the old sexton, and in the hope that it may do the same to you, I will give it as near as I can entire. " And you see they are buried cross-legged, which means that they fought in the Holy Land against the Turks. For you see the Turks had got Jerusalem, and Christians wanted to get it, and so there were many great wars between them, and whoever fought in the Holy Land was buried with his legs crossed when he died."
This exposition so delighted the old man that, overcome with his emotions, he burst forth into the passionate exclamation: "Sir, you are a learned gentleman; I daresay you'll have read a great deal about the old times." Modesty, of course, forbids my informing the Essay Meeting, as I did the old sexton, that I had read something. I am aware that Pennant thinks the Clintons buried here were not Crusaders, and that sometimes men were buried cross-legged merely as a sign of reverence and faith; but I confess that I hardly like to believe this. By the bye, the old sexton is worth studying; I was told so before I went, and I found it to be true. He is eighty-six years old, and very hale and hearty; he was born near Lichfield, and remembers the organ in Coleshill Church when it was at Lisher-wick, the seat of the late Lord Donegal, near that place. When the house was pulled down in 1810 it was brought here. He (the sexton) was thirty-six years waiter at the Swan at Coleshill, and, as he told me, remembered as many as fifteen or sixteen carriages waiting at once at the gate for horses! What a picture this gives us of the old posting days! It was a great place in that way, as the direct road to Liverpool passed through it, missing Birmingham, which place the great people did not like even to change horses in. He has been nearly thirty years in his present post; he disapproves of railways, and says that, although he has friends in Birmingham, he is afraid to go there, it is so large. At the entrance of the church is a curious font, quaintly carved.
And so I tore myself away from the old sexton and the church. The churchyard stands high, and, as Pennant remarks, commands a fine view of a rich country. And then, turning towards home in the warm afternoon sunshine, I lingered in the meadow by the banks of the Cole and in the chase among the ancient remains of the once proud Forest of Arden, my thoughts full of the old Digbys lying peacefully beneath their effigied tombs in Coleshill Church.