A FEW OF THE FEW THINGS TO BE SAID OF THE VILLAGE.
BY C. H. SPURGEON.
STAMBOURNE. We print it in capitals; but: we anticipate the question, Where is it? It is not easy to tell the traveler among gay capitals and snowcrowned Alps where this humble hamlet hides inside Of course, you know it is in Essex, not very far from the borders of Suffolk: but if you know no more, we are not at all surprised at your slender learning, nor are we quite sure that we can give you much more information. Still, let us try. Have you never heard of Birdbrook — name musical with sweet voices of flowing runnels and flitting songsters, surrounded with bowers of rushes, sedges, bushes, brambles, and climbing honeysuckle? Well, Bird-brook is almost Stambourne; only, as it has a railway station, it is not quite so rustic. And there is Ridgewell . The Romans there, or thereabouts, or between it and Stambourne, had quite a notable settlement: they liked watching on the ridges of hills where there were wells to supply the thirst of the camp. The well on the ridge, and divers nameless brooks, have lent their tiny rivulets to form the bourne whereof our village is the index, a bourne which soon loses its personality in the stream of the Colne, which in due time assumes the rank of a river. Is Stambourne the place where first the bourne needs to be stemmed? Or is it Stanebourn, the spot where the brook first needs to be crossed with stanes or stones?
If you have not yet discovered Stambourne, let your ear attend to the sounds of names more familiar to fame. Do you not know Toppesfield and Wethersfield , and Finchingfield , and Bardfield? Are all these villages fresh fields to you? Are you yourself so obscure as not to have heard of Sturmer or Helions Bumpstead? Must we give you up? We shall certainly do so if the august name of Steeple Bumpstead has never bumped against your memory. Hempstead we will not insist upon, though Dick Turpin was born there; for there seems to have been a Hempstead everywhere in days when hemp was the great vindicator of justice, and stood the magistrate in such excellent stead, when men would not be converted by the stocks, nor sanctified by being whipped at the cart-tail, Harvey, the great Harvey, sleeps in pieces in the church of the afore-named Hempstead; but it may be that your blood has circulated for years without your knowing who first discovered the fact. But, then, you have a cousin living at Great Yeldham!
Have you not? Surely “Yeldham great oak” must have been one of the visions of your youth, and it must abide among the memories of your riper years. No? Not knowGREAT Yeldham? Go to! Prisoner in some vast furnace of smoke, which is called a city, what knowest thou of the freshest, greenest, purest things which yet linger under the sun ?
If my adventurous pen must altogether quit Hill Farm, and Stambourne Hall, and take a wider range, I call to remembrance in the mid distance places such as Castle Hedingham , and Sible Hedingham , and Halstead in one direction; and Clare , and Haverhill in another. These are the towns and cities to which Stambourne looks up with due reverence and awe, regarding them as subordinate Londons, towns of vast importance, which, seen once in a life-time, raise a man to the same position in his native village as a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in town. To those regions where my fellow-creatures love to congregate, and create sewage and influenza, coal-smoke and yellow fogs, I will do no injustice: they must have many and great attractions, for they actually attract; but, oh, that one could abide among the buttercups of the meadows, and the poppies of the cornfields, and the sacred coverts of the brown-leaved woods! Alas, these joys are more for fancy than for fact! for, when we seek them out, the pastures happen to be swampy after rain, the green lanes are knee-deep in mud, and the copses have a chili blast tearing through them, which sends us home to gruel, hot water, and a tallow candle. All is not paradise, even in the parish of Stambourne.
Maybe, the village would have died out of memory altogether, were it not that, in its center, Puritanism had set up one of its most venerable shrines.
Driven from the Anglican Establishment by that silly craving for Uniformity, which produced a needless breach in a church which might have been united, a number of the best educated and most spiritual of England’s pastors preached to their flocks in such conventicles as they could find, or could provide (1662). Mr. Henry Havers would seem to have been a man of talent, as well as of piety, and either out of his own wealth, or from the great liberality of some member of his congregation, there were: erected a large meeting-house, and a manse, far above the usual provision for dissenting ministers in those days. Everybody seems either openly or secretly to have sided with Mr. Havers; and it is recorded that no one could be found to fill the office of churchwarden for the parish.
The people, who formed the congregation, were at first called Presbyterians, and then Independents: that is to say, the congregations of the district were at first linked together somewhat on the Presbyterian plan; but as error began to leaven the mass, those churches which remained true to the gospel found it convenient, and indeed essential, to keep themselves to themselves, and thus to become Independents. Having an endowment left them in 1735, by a “lady bountiful”, of some thirty or more acres of land, which the minister could farm for himself, the place was not solely dependent upon voluntary offerings; but even if it had been, a host of wellto- do farmers, who came in from the neighboring villages, were quite able to have supported the pastor in comfort. Things are very different now: for many a farmer has enough to do to keep himself out of the workhouse.
In this paper we ought to have said something about the parish church; but we are not architecturally minded. Its chief interest to us is the fact that while our grandfather (Mr. James Spurgeon) was preacher at the meeting, Mr. Hopkins was rector at the church They preached the same gospel, and, without surrendering their principles, were great friends. The Bible Society held its meetings alternately in connection with the church and the meetinghouse.
At times the leading resident went to church in the morning, and to chapel in the afternoon; and, when I was a boy, I have, on Monday, gone to the Squire’s to tea, with Mr. Hopkins and my grandfather. The glory of that tea-party was that we four, the three old gentlemen, and the little boy, all ate sheared bread and butter together for a treat . The sugar was very brown, but the young boy was very pleased, and the old boys were merry also. Yes, Stambourne had its choice pleasures!
It is pleasant to read of the harmony between these two men of God: they increased in mutual esteem as they’ increased in years. As Mr. Hopkins had more. of the meat, and Mr. Spurgeon more of the mouths, the Rector did not forget to help his friend in divers quiet ways; such as a five-pound note for a sick daughter to go to the seaside, and presents of comforts in illness;.
On one occasion, it is said, that having a joint of beef on the rectory table, the clergyman cut it in halves, and sent his man on horseback with one half of it: to the Independent Parsonage, while it was yet hot: a kind of joke not often practiced between established and dissenting ministers. Yet, if our readers could see the hearty letter in which the present Rector, Reverend D. Rice Jones. and his kind wife, invite us to stay with them, they would perceive the same unity of spirit in another form. It is from this generous epistle that we make a quotation which will lie four-square with our subject. “Having been, in a very humble way, from my boyhood, a contributor to literature, my heart leaped with joy, when, on examining one of our old registers, I found at the beginning of one of the books, instead of the mere record of deaths and marriages, the following inscription, beautifully written in large letters: — ‘HISTORY OF STAMBOURNE.’
The title was followed by a closely-written page of narrative which caused me to shout to a friend, ‘ Hurrah! Here’s a find!’ Alas! when we had arrived at the bottom of the first page we had reached the end of the ‘History of Stambourne.’ The Rector who began that history must have been a spasmodic genius; and when he had ended that first page of his great work, his courage or his intellectual resources failed him, and he made a full stop where there should only have been a comma!
Never mind; we are going over to see what there may be in the old parish registers, and with the assistance of such a clergyman as Mr. D. Rice Jones, and such an Independent preacher as Mr. Houchin, we think we shall find some good thing even in the Essex Nazareth.
As. “The History” is not forthcoming, I must give a “general view” kindly supplied me by Mr. Houchin, which will sufficiently well inform us concerning the village. It may need correction by the census of 1891, but that correction is not likely to be in the direction of enlargement. We fear there is a decline. Everything is being sucked into the vortex of London; and the more’s the pity it should be so.
GENERAL VIEW OF THE PARISH OF STAMBOURNE.
Stambourne may be regarded as the first or last of the Colne Valley villages, as it contains the spring which is the principal source of that river.
This is the only spring in the parish, and it is situated at: the extreme west — called Stambourne Green, and forms a stream which runs through the center of the parish in an easterly direction, receiving the surface water from the greater portion of the land which slopes from north and south towards it on either side, the remainder going over to the north and south sides of the parish, being also brought into the main stream by two brooklets which fall into it on the east, whence it runs on to Yeldham.
This is entirely an agricultural village, having no business or manufacture of any kind unconnected with the land: even the straw-plait trade, which formerly occupied the women, has entirely failed.
The population is between four and five hundred. There are one hundred and five cottages — some of which were over-crowded twenty years ago, when only one was empty; but now one-fourth of them are vacant, and some in ruins, owing to the migration of the laborers during the last few years. Few farmers are resident in the parish, most of the farms being held offhand. The village contains; one blacksmith, one shoe-maker, two or three jobbing carpenters, two public houses and one general shop; but it has no doctor, chemist, butcher, or policeman within three miles. The soil here is a strong loam, resting on a very deep bed of solid clay, and is considered good corn land; and it can endure long drought much better than too much wet. There are no snakes or adders, the soil being too cold; no dry; but a small lizard lurking in damp buildings. No primroses are found growing naturally here, although a few are cultivated in the people’s gardens; but this loss is compensated by an abundance of cowslips and paigles, while the woodlands are adorned with harebells, anemones, and wild hyacinths, in their season.
There are a few pretty residences here. Stambourne Hall, occupied by Mr.
John Willett, is a stately home, containing many commodious rooms, built in the old heavy gabled style — with massive ornamented chimneys — and set at right angles, forming two sides of a. square looking south and west, so as to secure most of the day’s sun. It stands; in a pretty garden, surrounded by a large and well-wooded park. The Rectory is a snug and cozy dwelling, nestling in the midst of trees and shrubs, some little distance from the road. The Independent Parsonage is situate in the heart of the village, in the midst of a large garden, and surrounded with shrubs and trees, and is a pleasant and commodious house; and as one passes through this village, he must also be attracted by the residence at Hill Farm, and by the house of Mr. Joseph Unwin at the Mill. The Church is very prettily and quietly situated by the roadside, and has a large burial-ground surrounded by the trees of the Hall Park. It is faced next the road by a fine row of chestnut trees, laburnums, and blooming limes, which, in the spring, have a very rural and attractive appearance.
There is but one Dissenting Chapel, which is of the Congregational order.
This stands near the minister’s residence. It has a good burial-ground, and also stables and sheds for the horses and vehicles of those members of the congregation who drive in from a distance. It is shaded by lofty chestnut trees and limes, which, when covered with blossom in the spring, together with an abundance of lilacs, laburnums, and the flowers of the minister’s garden, make up a very charming scene. It is a lively spot on Sabbath days, as troops of children flock to the Sunday-school, and others congregate from the hamlets around.
There is no School Board in Stambourne, but the National School is used according to the terms of the new Act, and is managed by a committee of parishioners, and a school-attendance committee, consisting of the Rector, Independent Minister, and a Guardian of the poor. All fit children are now in attendance, and this must soon effect a great change in the elementary education of the people. We trust it will be a blessing to all.
This is about all that need be said in merely introducing Stambourne to the reader; who, if he be as fond of topographical works as the present writer, will not despise the outline, though it be not the picture of Jerusalem, but only a rough sketch of one of the villages of Judah. If this suffice not to give him a glimpse of Stambourne, let him mentally put together certain up and down roads, with broad margins of green, and walls of hedge; ponds as brown and foul as stale beer; ducks and goslings ad lib.; plots of woodland; fields of “tarmuts” and “wuzzel,” oats and barley; a windmill; two or three nice houses, with gardens and lawns; numbers of cottages, which could hardly be less picturesque; great wealth of fine trees; stretches of meadow land; valleys and undulations; pigs; and donkeys; and withal, a general disorderliness of fertility, and a sense of being out of the world, and having nothing particular to do, and you are, getting an idea of Stambourne. On the opposite page we present the reader with a fair picture of Stambourne Hall.