Old and New London: Volume 5. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
In this section
"They bury their dead in the fairest suburb of the city."
Swaine's Lane—Traitors' Hill, or Parliament Hill—St. Anne's Church, Brookfield—Dr. Coysh—Highgate Cemetery—Arrangement of the Grounds—The Catacombs—A Stroll among the Tombs—Eminent Persons buried here—Stray Notes on Cemeteries—Sir William Ashurst's Mansion—Charles Mathews, the Actor—Anecdotes of Mathews—Ivy Cottage—Holly Lodge, the Residence of Lady Burdett-Coutts—Holly Village—Highgate Ponds—The "Fox and Crown" Public-house—West Hill Lodge—The Hermitage.
Leaving the main street of Highgate by Dartmouth Park Road, of which we have made mention in the preceding chapter, and passing in a southwest direction, we find ourselves at the entrance of a narrow thoroughfare called Swaine's Lane (formerly Swine's Lane), which branches off from the Highgate Road just on the outskirts of Kentish Town. This lane runs along the base of that part of Highgate which was formerly known by the name of Traitors' Hill, from being the rendezvous, real or reputed, of the associates of Guy Fawkes. It is traditionally stated that it was upon this spot that the conspirators anxiously awaited the expected explosion on the 5th of November, 1605. It was called also Parliament Hill. "The more common tradition," says Mr. Thorne, "is that it was called Parliament Hill, from the Parliamentary generals having planted cannon on it for the defence of London." To the left of Swaine's Lane stands St. Anne's Church, Brookfield, a large and handsome edifice erected by a Miss Barnett to the memory of her brother. The fine peal of bells in the tower was the gift of Miss (since Lady) Burdett-Coutts. In Swaine's Lane lived the celebrated medical practitioner, Dr. Coysh, as is certified by the following memorandum from the Court Rolls of the Manor of Cantelowes:—"These very ancient copyhold premises were formerly in the possession and occupation of Dr. Elisha Coysh, who, at the time that the plague of London prevailed, in the year 1665–6, was very famed in his medical practice and advice in cases of that dreadful malady, and was much resorted to at this his copyhold residence (modernly called Swaine's Lane) formerly called Swine's Lane, Highgate." The house in which he resided has long since been pulled down, but a portion of the ancient garden wall is standing.
Passing up Swaine's Lane, we soon arrive at the entrance to Highgate Cemetery. This is a showy composition, in the pointed or Old English style; for the most part machicolated, and flanked with turrets and octagonal buttresses, pierced with windows or panelled, the former capped with cupolas and finials, and the latter surmounted with pinnacles and finials. In the centre is a Tudorarched gateway, above which is an apartment, lighted at each end by a bay window; the roof terminating with two bold pointed gables, bearing in its centre an octangular bell-tower of two storeys, enriched with pinnacles, and surmounted with a cupola and finial. The right wing contains the lodge and clerk's office; and the left wing is appropriated as a chapel, the windows being filled with stained glass. The cemetery covered originally about twenty acres of ground on the southern slope of the hill, between the east and west bays; but a further extension has since been made, as we shall presently show. This cemetery possesses many natural beauties which are not enjoyed by any other rival of Père la Chaise in or out of London. The beauty of the situation would naturally lead to the supposition that it had been previously a park or garden of some nobleman; and such, indeed, we find to be the case, for in Mr. Prickett's "History of Highgate" it is stated that it comprises part of the grounds belonging to the mansion of Sir William Ashurst. The irregularity of the ground, here rising into a terrace, and there sinking into a valley, together with its many winding paths and its avenues of dark shrubs and evergreen trees, combine to impart to this hallowed spot a particularly charming effect.
The ground is the property of the London Cemetery Company, which was incorporated by Act of Parliament in 1839; and the cemetery itself was one of the first which was actually established by the Burial Act of 1835, which "rung the death-knell of intramural interments." The London Cemetery Company were among the early promoters of that reform which, as we have stated in our account of Kensal Green Cemetery, (fn. 1) was so long needed. It was founded by Mr. Stephen Geary, who also acted as architect to the Company, and who was buried here in 1854.
By the artist-like arrangement of the landscape gardener, Mr. Ramsey, the grounds are so disposed that they have the appearance of being twice their actual size; this effect is produced by circuitous roads, winding about the acclivity, and making the ascent more gradual. Besides the carriage road, the footpaths in all directions encircle the numerous plantations and flower-beds. On the left of the entrance is the chapel, a spacious and lofty building, well adapted and fitted up for its solemn purpose. The absence of all unnecessary ornament produces an effect of appropriate simplicity. A bier stands at the western end, which can be lowered through an aperture in the floor by hydraulic pressure. The object of this bier is to convey the coffin to a subterranean passage below, at the termination of the service in the chapel, so as to facilitate its conveyance to the new ground on the opposite side of the lane; for it may be here stated that the original ground being now fully occupied, an addition to the cemetery has been made, and this too is now being rapidly filled up. On leaving the chapel we pass by the lodge of the superintendent, and ascend a flight of broad stone steps which lead up towards the higher and more distant parts of the grounds. About half way up the hill, the roads gradually descend again to the entrance of a tunnel or passage, called the Egyptian Avenue. The angular aperture at the entrance of this avenue, with its heavy cornice, is embellished with the winged serpent and other Oriental ornaments; the Egyptian pillars and the well-proportioned obelisks that rise gracefully on each side of the entrance recall to the imagination the sepulchral temples at Thebes described by Belzoni. The group around this entrance is one of the most artistic points in the cemetery. The solemn grandeur of this portion of the cemetery is much heightened by the gloomy appearance of the avenue, which is one hundred feet long; but, as the road leading through it is a gentle ascent, the perspective effect makes it appear a much greater length. There are numerous square apartments, lined with stone, on each side of the avenue; these sepulchres are furnished with stone shelves, rising one above the other on three sides of the sepulchre, capable of containing twelve coffins, in addition to those which could be placed upon the floor. The doors of the sepulchres are of cast iron; they are ornamented with a funeral device of an inverted torch. At the termination of the avenue is a circular road five hundred feet in circumference; on each side of the road are sepulchres similar to those already described; the inner circle forms a large building, flat at the top, which is planted with flowers and shrubs; from the midst rises the magnificent cedar of Lebanon. The avenue, the sepulchres in the circles, with the elegant flights of steps leading to the upper ground of the cemetery, form a mass of building in the Egyptian style of architecture that, for extent and grandeur, is perhaps unequalled.
The lower part of the grounds are striking, from their beauty of situation and tasteful arrangement; but the view of the upper plantations, on ascending from the sepulchre, is still more so. Here we have an architectural display of another character: a long range of catacombs, entered by Gothic doorways, and ornamented with buttresses, the whole surmounted with an elegant pierced parapet. Above the catacombs is a noble terrace, which communicates with the centre ground by an inclined plane and a flight of steps. The view from this terrace on a clear day is extensive and beautiful: the foreground is formed by the cemetery gardens, and the pleasure grounds of the suburban villas, beyond which are seen the spires, domes, and towers of the great metropolis, backed by the graceful sweep of the Surrey hills.
The Gothic Church of St. Michael at the summit of the hill, with its lofty spire rising from amid the surrounding trees, forms a prominent and interesting feature in the background as the cemetery is viewed from Swaine's Lane. On the upper terrace abovementioned is the long range of Gothic catacombs, immediately beneath this church, presenting one of the most ingenious points of design in the architectural arrangement of the cemetery, of which the church appears to be an integral part, though such is not the case. We may here remark, en passant, that catacombs are found in most parts of the world. The catacombs of Rome, at a short distance from the city, are very extensive, and have evidently been used as burying places and as places of worship. The catacombs of Naples are cut under the hill called Corpo di Monte; the entrance into them is rendered horrible by a vast heap of skulls and bones, the remains of the victims of a plague which desolated Naples in the sixteenth century. At Palermo and at Syracuse there are similar recesses. In the island of Malta catacombs are found at Città Vecchia cut into the rock in which that old town stands. They occur again in the Greek islands of the Archipelago. At Milo there is a mountain completely honeycombed with them. In Egypt they occur in all parts of the country where there is rock; and in Peru, and in some other parts of South America, catacombs have been discovered.
"Many names familiar to London ears," writes the author of "Northern Heights," "present themselves on the tombs as you wander through this city of decomposition; and some of considerable distinction. The French have found their Montmartre or Père la Chaise; Germans, their Friedhof; and natives of countries still more distant lie scattered here and there. Perhaps no tomb has ever, as already stated, attracted so many thousand visitors as that of Tom Sayers, bearing on it his own portrait and that of his dog. (fn. 2) Wombwell, with his lion standing over him, as if to say, 'Well, he kept me cramped up for many years in his vans, but I have got him safe under my paw at last,' was, in its newness, a thing of much note; but it never had a charm for the pugnacious populace of London like the tomb of the great boxer."
It would be impossible, and indeed superfluous, to give here anything like a complete list of the various personages who have been buried in this cemetery; but a few of the most important may be mentioned.
Here reposes Michael Faraday, the celebrated chemist and philosopher, (fn. 3) already mentioned by us in our account of the Royal Institution, and of North Marylebone. He died in August, 1857, and, being a Sandemanian of the mystic school, he was laid in his grave without any service, not even a prayer or a hymn. H. Crabb Robinson, the friend of Coleridge, Goethe, Wordsworth, Lamb, Flaxman, and Clarkson, and the author of a most interesting Diary, who died in February, 1867, aged ninetyone, was here interred. Here, too, lie Mr. and Mrs. John Dickens, the father and mother of Charles Dickens, together with the latter's little daughter Dora. Sir John Gurney, a Baron of the Court of Exchequer, was buried here in 1845. Sir Thomas Joshua Platt, also a Baron of the same Court, who died in 1862, lies here; here too repose the remains of Judge Payne, and those of John Singleton Copley, Lord Lyndhurst, thrice Lord Chancellor of Great Britain, who was buried here in 1863. (fn. 4) Admiral Lord Radstock was interred here in 1857.
Of the artists buried in Highgate Cemetery, we may mention Charles Turner, A.R.A., who died in 1857; Alfred Edward Chalon, who died in 1860, brother of the more celebrated John James Chalon, who also was buried here in 1854. He was a native of Geneva, and achieved his greatest reputation as a portrait painter in water colours, and that mostly by his sketches of courtly and well-born ladies. Charles Joseph Hullmandel, the lithographic artist, was interred here in 1850. Sir William Ross, whom Sir Thomas Lawrence declared to be the first miniature painter of his day, and who died at an advanced age in 1860, lies buried here. Near to the upper entrance gate lie the remains of Mrs. Bartholomew, an artist of some note, the wife of Mr. Valentine Bartholomew, the celebrated flower painter, who also rests here. Two other Royal Academicians, Abraham Cooper and George Jones, lie buried here; the former died in 1868, and the latter in the following year.
Amongst men of literary note whose remains are interred here, we may notice Mr. Alaric A. Watts, editor of the "Literary Souvenir;" Pierce Egan, author of "Life in London," "Boxiana," "Life of an Actor," &c., the veteran historian of the ring, and sporting journalist; Mr. Samuel Lucas, managing proprietor of the Morning Star; Mr. W. J. Pinks, the Clerkenwell antiquary; Mr. James Kennedy, M.R.C.S., author of a "History of the Cholera," &c.; Mr. Joseph Guy, author of "Guy's Geography," and other educational works; and Mr. George B. Sowerby, the naturalist, author of "The Genera of Recent and Fossil Shells." Here, too, is buried the Rev. Frederick Maurice, the Founder and Principal of the Working Men's College in Great Ormond Street, of which we have spoken in a previous volume; (fn. 5) and also the Rev. Dr. Hamilton, a well-known author, and the successor of the great Edward Irving.
Of the miscellaneous interments we may mention those of Mr. John Vandenhoff, the actor; Lillywhite, the well-known cricketer, whose marble monument, erected by the members of the Marylebone Cricket Club, is carved with a wicket struck by a ball, representing the great cricketer as "bowled out;" of Colonel Stodare, the famous conjuror; and Atcheler, the horse-slaughterer, or knacker, to the Queen, whose tomb is marked by a rudely-carved horse, to show, it may be supposed, his fondness for his profession.
As an appendage to an account of Highgate Cemetery, which appeared in the Mirror, shortly after these grounds were laid out, the writer thus observes:—"The most ancient cemetery we are acquainted with, and perhaps the largest in the world, is that of Memphis; and of all the ancient burial places, no one conforms so nearly to modern ideas of cemeteries as that of Arles. In the early ages of Christianity the cemeteries were established without the cities, and upon the high roads, and dead bodies were prohibited from being brought into the churches; but this was afterwards abrogated by the Emperor Leo. The early Christians celebrated their religious rites in the cemeteries, upon the tombs of their martyrs. It was also in cemeteries that they built the first churches, of which the subterranean parts were catacombs. Naples and Pisa have cemeteries, which may be regarded as models, not only for good order and conveniency, but for the cultivation of the arts and the interest of humanity. That in Naples is composed of a large enclosure, having three hundred and sixty-five openings or sepulchres, answering to the days of the year, symmetrically arranged. The campo-santo or cemetery of Pisa is on every account worthy of attention. As a work of art, it is one of the first in which the classical style of architecture began to be revived in modern Europe. It was constructed by John of Pisa, being projected by Ubaldo, archbishop of Pisa, in 1200. The length of this cemetery is about 490 feet, its width 170, height 60, and its form rectangular. It contains fifty ships' freights of earth from Jerusalem, brought hither in 1288. The whole of the edifice is constructed of white marble. The galleries are ornamented with various specimens of early painting. Fine antique sarcophagi ornament the whole circumference, raised upon consoles, and placed upon a surbase, breast high. The Turks plant odoriferous shrubs in their cemeteries, which spread a salubrious fragrance, and purify the air. This custom is practised also in the Middlebourg and Society Islands."
Cemeteries, or public burial-grounds planted and laid out as gardens, around the metropolis, are a novelty of our time, although they were suggested just after the Great Fire in 1666, when Evelyn regretted that advantage had not been taken of that calamity to rid the city of its old burial-places, and establish a necropolis without the walls. He deplores that "the churchyards had not been banished to the north walls of the city, where a grated inclosure, of competent breadth, for a mile in length, might have served for an universal cemetery to all the parishes, distinguished by the like separations, and with ample walks of trees; the walks adorned with monuments, inscriptions, and titles, apt for contemplation and memory of the defunct, and that wise and excellent law of the Twelve Tables restored and renewed."
As we have intimated above, Highgate was once important enough to possess a "Mansion House," the grounds of which now serve as a part of the cemetery. The house itself stood at the top of the hill, as nearly as possible on the site now occupied by St. Michael's Church. The mansion was built by Sir William Ashurst, Lord Mayor of London in 1694, and, as may be imagined from its situation, commanded a most delightful prospect over the county for many miles on the one side, and an extensive view of the metropolis on the other. The chestnut staircase is said to have been executed from a design by Inigo Jones; some of the rooms were hung with tapestry, and the chief doorway was richly carved. The extensive pleasure grounds are said to have been laid out with considerable taste. The house was for some years occupied by Sir Alan Chambre, one of the Justices of the Common Pleas, and he was almost the last person who used it as a private residence. It was taken down in 1830. The stone doorway, with the coat of arms, has been placed as an entry to a house in the High Street; and some other armorial bearings, carved in wood, which once adorned the mansion, found a depository in the house of a local antiquary.
In Millfield Lane, in the hamlet of Brookfield, not far west from the spot where now stands St. Anne's Church, was the suburban retreat of Charles Mathews, the comedian, to which we have briefly referred in our notice of Kentish Town. (fn. 6) This celebrated humourist was the son of a well-known theological bookseller in the Strand, and was born in 1776. He used to relate, in his own amusing way, that he had ascertained from his nurse that he was "a long, lanky, scraggy child, very good tempered, with a face that could by no means be called regular in features; in fact," she said, she "used to laugh frequently at the oddity of his countenance." He received his education at Merchant Taylor's School, where the peculiar manners of three brothers, schoolfellows, incited his first attempts at mimicry, and which he afterwards embodied in one of his "entertainments." He could just remember Macklin, the centenarian actor, on whom he called when quite a young man, in order to ask his advice as to going on the stage. The old man, though he had then seen his hundredth birthday, frightened him so much that he was glad to beat a retreat.
In 1803 Mathews first appeared on the London stage in Cumberland's Jew. From this time the fame of the comedian was fully established; "never had broad humour been better represented." In 1818 he first resolved on giving an "entertainment" by himself, and in that year first announced himself "At Home" at the English Opera House. His success was signal, and such as to induce the managers of Old Drury and Covent Garden to attempt to interdict the performances; but in this they failed.
His "At Home," as we learn from Crabb Robinson's "Diary," was very popular in 1822, when he represented Curran, Wilkes, and other statesmen of the reign of George III. His imitation of Lord Ellenborough, indeed, is stated to have been so remarkable, that he was rebuked for the perfection with which he practised his art. In 1819 and three following years he resumed these profitable labours in the "Trip to Paris," "Country Cousins," &c. These "entertainments" have been given in almost every theatre in the United Kingdom. His last appearance in the regular drama was in Hamlet, when Mr. Young took leave of the stage, in 1832.
Charles Mathews' sense of humour, however, was so strong, that he was unable to restrain himself at any time from comic speeches. It is said that his residence at the foot of Highgate Hill was so situated that the wind when high blew with great violence on the house, and at times very much alarmed Mrs. Mathews. "One night, after they had retired to rest," as the story is told by Mr. Palmer, in his "History of St. Pancras," "Mrs. Mathews was awakened by one of these sudden gales, which she bore for some time in silence; at last, dreadfully frightened, she awoke her husband, saying, 'Don't you hear the wind, Charley? Oh, dear, what shall I do?' 'Do?' said the only partially-awakened humourist; 'open the window, and give it a peppermint lozenge; that is the best thing for the wind.' At another time, and when on his death-bed, his attendant gave him in mistake, instead of his medicine, some ink from a phial which stood in its place. On discovering his error he exclaimed, 'Good heavens, Mathews, I have given you ink!' 'Never, ne-ver mind, my boy, ne-ver mind,' said the mimic, 'I'll—I'll swallow—bit—bit—of blotting-paper.' Fun was in him by nature, and to the last he could not be serious."
Charles Mathews has been styled "the Hogarth
of the English stage." His pleasant thatched
cottage here, which looked down on Kentish Town,
and commanded a distant view of London, was, as
he was wont to say, his "Tusculum." It rose, not
unlike a country vicarage, in the midst of green
lawns and flower-beds, and was adorned externally
with trellis-work fancifully wreathed and overgrown
with jasmine and honeysuckles. In the interior of
this retired homestead was collected a more interesting museum of dramatic curiosities than ever
was gathered together by the industry of one man.
Here he would show to his friends, with pride and
pleasure, relics of Garrick—a lock of his hair, the
garter worn by him in Richard III.; and also his
collection of theatrical engravings, autographs, and
portraits now in the Garrick Club. (fn. 7)
"A merrier man,
Within the limit of becoming mirth,
I never spent an hour's talk withal.
His eye begat occasion for his wit,
For every object that the one did catch
The other turned to a mirth-moving jest."
Charles Mathews, whose wit and versatility were proverbial, died at Devonport, June 27th, 1835, immediately after his return from America. Mrs. Charles Mathews wrote her husband's memoirs after his decease.
A view of Ivy Cottage, as the residence of Charles Mathews was called, is given by Mr. Smith, in his "Historical and Literary Curiosities." With it is a ground-plan, showing the apartments devoted to his theatrical picture-gallery, and the arrangement of his portraits, now in the possession of the Garrick Club. Among the treasures of the house also was the casket made out of Shakespeare's mulberry-tree at Stratford-on-Avon, in which the freedom of that town was presented to Garrick, on the occasion of his jubilee, in 1769. A sketch of this is also given in the same volume.
Holly Lodge, the residence of Lady BurdettCoutts, stands in its own extensive grounds on Highgate Rise, overlooking Brookfield Church, Millfield Lane, and the famous Highgate Ponds, which lie at the foot of the south-western slope of the hill. The house—formerly called Hollybush Lodge—was purchased by Mr. Thomas Coutts, the well-known banker, of whom we have spoken in our account of Piccadilly, (fn. 8) and it was bequeathed by him, with his immense property, to his widow, who afterwards married the Duke of St. Albans. On her decease, in 1837, it was left, with the great bulk of her fortune, amounting to nearly £2,000,000, to Miss Angela Burdett, a daughter of Sir Francis Burdett, the popular M.P. for Westminster, who thereupon assumed the additional name of Coutts. As we have intimated in the chapter above referred to, the extensive power of benefiting society and her fellow-creatures, which devolved upon her with this bequest, was not lost sight of by its possessor, and her charities are known to have been most extensive. Amongst the chief of these have been the endowment of a bishopric at Adelaide, in South Australia, and another at Victoria, in British Columbia; also the foundation and endowment of a handsome church and schools in Westminster in 1847, and the erection of a church at Carlisle in 1864. Besides the above, she has been also a large contributor to a variety of religious and charitable institutions in London—churches, schools, reformatories, penitentiaries, drinking-fountains, Columbia Market, model lodging-houses, &c. Miss Burdett-Coutts also exercised her pen, as well as her purse, in mitigating and relieving dumb animals and the feathered tribe from the suffering to which they are often subjected, having written largely against cruelty to dumb creatures. In recognition of her large-heartedness she was, in the year 1871, raised to the peerage as Baroness Burdett-Coutts.
Holly Village, of which we have already spoken, stands on the southern side of the pleasure-grounds of Holly Lodge. It was built about the year 1845 by Lady Burdett-Coutts, as homes for families of the upper middle class. They comprise a group of about ten cottages, erected to add picturesque and ornamental features to the surroundings of Holly Lodge, and are surrounded by trim and well-kept gardens. They were also intended, in the first instance, to provide cottage accommodation of a superior description for the workpeople on the estate; this idea, however, was abandoned, and the houses are now occupied by a higher class in the social scale. The whole village has been erected with an amount of care and finish such as is seldom bestowed on work of this description, or even work of a much more pretentious kind. Some of the houses are single, and some comprise two dwellings. They are built of yellow, white, and moulded brick, some with stone dressings. Although bearing a general resemblance, and in one or two instances arranged as corresponding pairs, they all differ more or less in form, and considerably in the details. All of them have a quiet elegance that is very uncommon in buildings of their class. The entrance is rather elaborately adorned with two carved statues of females, holding a lamb and a dove; and there is some pretty carving elsewhere. Mr. Darbishire was the architect of this model village.
The ponds mentioned above are on the estate of the Earl of Mansfield, and lie below Caen Wood, in the fields leading from Highgate Road to Hampstead, between Charles Mathews' house and Traitors' Hill. In the summer season they are the resort of thousands of Londoners, whilst the boys fish in them for tadpoles and sticklebats, or sail miniature boats on their surface. The ponds are very deep, and many a poor fellow has been drowned in them, some by accident, and more, it is to be feared, by suicide. About the year 1869 these ponds were leased to the Hampstead Waterworks Company, which has since become incorporated with the New River Company. These ponds, for a long time, supplied a considerable portion of the parish with water.
Nearly on the brow of the West Hill, a little above the house and grounds of Lady BurdettCoutts, as we ascend towards the Grove and the town, we notice a roadside inn, of a retired and sequestered aspect, rejoicing in the name of the "Fox and Crown." It bears, however, on its front the royal arms, conspicuously painted, with a notice to the effect that "this coat of arms is a grant from Queen Victoria, for services rendered to Her Majesty when in danger travelling down this hill," and dated a few days after her accession. Some accident, it appears, happened to one of the wheels of the royal carriage, and the landlord had the good luck to stop the horses, and send for a wheelwright to set matters straight, accommodating Her Majesty with a seat in his house whilst the repairs were being executed. The event, if it did not turn the head of Boniface, brought him no luck, for he died heart-broken, the only advantage which he reaped from the adventure being, it is said, the right of setting up the lion and unicorn with the crown.
On West Hill, immediately below the "Fox and Crown," stands a rustic house, at right angles to the road, called West Hill Lodge. This was occupied for many years by William and Mary Howitt, who wrote here many of the books by which their names will be hereafter remembered. Of these we may mention "The Ruined Castles and Abbeys of Great Britain and Ireland," the "Illustrated History of England," "History of the Supernatural in all Ages and Nations," "Visits to Remarkable Places, Old Halls, and Battle Fields;" and last, not least, the "Northern Heights of London." Another residence on West Hill, a little above the entrance to Millfield Lane, was called the Hermitage, of which the Howitts were the last occupants. It stood enclosed by tall trees, and adjoining it was a still smaller tenement, which was said to be the "real and original Hermitage." It is thus described by Mr. Howitt:—"It consisted only of one small low room, with a chamber over it, reached by an outside rustic gallery. The whole of this hermitage was covered with ivy, evidently of a very ancient growth, as shown by the largeness of its stems and boughs, and the prodigality of its foliage. In fact, it looked like one great mass of ivy. What was the origin of the place, or why it acquired the name of the Hermitage, does not appear; but being its last tenant, I found that its succession of inhabitants had been a numerous one, and that it was connected with some curious histories. Some dark tragedies had occurred there. One of its tenants was a Sir Wallis Porter, who was an associate of the Prince Regent. Here the Prince used to come frequently to gamble with Sir Wallis. This hermitage, hidden by the tall surrounding trees, chiefly umbrageous elms, and by the huge ivy growth, seemed a place well concealed for the orgies carried on within it. The ceiling of the room which they used was painted with naked figures in the French style, and there they could both play as deeply and carouse as jovially as they pleased. But the end of Sir Wallis was that of many another gamester and wassailer. Probably his princely companion, and his companions, both drained the purse as well as the cellar of Sir Wallis, for he put an end to his existence there, as reported, by shooting himself.
"There was a pleasanter legend of Lord Nelson, when a boy, being once there, and climbing a very tall ash-tree by the roadside, which therefore went by the name of 'Nelson's tree,' till it went the way of all trees—to the timber-yard. It was reported, too, that Fauntleroy, the forger, when the officers of justice were in quest of him, concealed himself for a time at this hermitage." The old Hermitage, however, with its quaint buildings, its secluded lawn, and its towering trees, disappeared about the year 1860, and on its site a terrace of houses has been erected.
"—Many to the steep of Highgate hie;
Ask, ye Bæotian shades! the reason why?
'Tis to the worship of the solemn Horn,
Grasped in the holy hand of Mystery,
In whose dread name both men and maids are sworn,
And consecrate the oath with draught and dance till morn."—Byron.
Charles Knight—Sir John Wollaston—The Custom of "Swearing on the Horns"—Mr. Mark Boyd's Reminiscence of this Curious Ceremonial—A Poetical Version of the Proceedings—Old Taverns at Highgate—The "Angel Inn"—The Sunday Ordinary—A Touching Story—The Chapel and School of Highgate—Tomb of Coleridge, the Poet—Sir Roger Cholmeley, the Founder of the Grammar School—Southwood Lane—The Almshouses—Park House—St. Michael's Church—Tablet erected to Coleridge—Fitzroy House—Mrs. Caroline Chisholm—Dr. Sacheverel—Dorchester House—Coleridge's Residence—The Grove—Anecdote of Hogarth—Sir John Hawkins' House—A Proclamation in the Time of Henry VIII.—North Hill—The "Bull Inn."
Returning once more to the main street of the village—"this romantic rather than picturesque village,"as Crabb Robinson calls it in his "Diary"—we resume our perambulation, starting from Arundel House, of which we have given an account in an earlier chapter. (fn. 9)
A small house close by the site of Arundel House was for many years the residence of Mr. Charles Knight, whose name is well known in connection with popular literature.
A little to the north of this house, but standing back from the high road, was the mansion of Sir John Wollaston, the founder of some almshouses in Southwood Lane, which we shall presently notice. Sir John Wollaston, we may here remark, was at one time Lord Mayor of London, and held several appointments of trust in the City. He died in the year 1658, and was buried in the old chapel of Highgate.
The main street of the village, although so near
to London, has about it that appearance of
quietude and sleepiness which one is accustomed
to meet with in villages miles away from the busy
metropolis; and like most other villages, the
number of its public-houses, as compared with
other places of business, is somewhat remarkable.
In 1826 there were, in Highgate, no less than
nineteen licensed taverns, of which Hone, in his
"Every-day Book," gives the signs. In former
times a curious old custom prevailed at these
public-houses, which has been the means of giving
a little gentle merriment to many generations of
the citizens of London, but is now only remembered as a thing of the past. It was a sort of
burlesque performance, presided over by "mine
host," in which the visitor, whoever he might be,
was expected to take an oath, which was duly
administered to him, and was familiarly called
"swearing on the horns." "No one," writes Mr.
Samuel Palmer, "ever hears of this hamlet without
at once referring to it:—
'It's a custom at Highgate, that all who go through,
Must be sworn on the horns, sir; and so, sir, must you.
Bring the horns, shut the door; now, sir, take off your hat,
When you come here again, don't forget to mind that.'
A few years ago it was usual all over the kingdom to ask, 'Have you been sworn at Highgate?' And if any person in conversation laid an emphasis more than usual on the demonstrative pronoun that, it was sure to elicit the inquiry. Some sixty years ago upwards of eighty stage-coaches would stop every day at the 'Red Lion' inn, and out of every five passengers three were sworn. So soon as the coach drew up at the inn-door most pressing invitations would be given to the company to alight, and after as many as possible could be collected in the parlour, the landlord would introduce the Highgate oath. A little artifice easily led to the detection of the uninitiated, and as soon as the fact was ascertained the horns were brought in. There were generally sufficient of the initiated to induce compliance with those who had not yet passed through the ordeal. The horns were fixed on a pole five feet in height, and placed upright on the ground before the person who was to be sworn. The neophyte was then required to take off his hat, which all present having also done, the landlord, in a bold voice, began the ceremony. It commenced by the landlord saying—
'Upstanding and uncovered: silence. Take notice what I now say to you, for that is the first word of the oath; mind that! You must acknowledge me to be your adopted father, I must acknowledge you to be my adopted son. If you do not call me father, you forfeit a bottle of wine; if I do not call you son, I forfeit the same. And now, my good son, if you are travelling through this village of Highgate, and you have no money in your pocket, go call for a bottle of wine at any house you may think proper to enter, and book it to your father's score. If you have any friends with you, you may treat them as well; but if you have money of your own, you must pay for it yourself; for you must not say you have no money when you have; neither must you convey your money out of your own pocket into that of your friend's pocket, for I shall search them as well as you, and if I find that you or they have any money, you forfeit a bottle of wine for trying to cheat and cozen your old father. You must not eat brown bread while you can get white, unless you like brown the best; nor must you drink small beer when you can get strong, unless you like small the best; you must not kiss the maid while you can kiss the mistress, unless you like the maid best; but sooner than lose a good chance, you may kiss them both. And now, my good son, I wish you a safe journey through Highgate and this life. I charge you, my good son, that if you know any in this company who have not taken this oath, you must cause them to take it, or make each of them forfeit a bottle of wine; for if you fail to do so, you will forfeit one yourself. So now, my son, God bless you; kiss the horns, or a pretty girl if you see one here, which you like best, and so be free of Highgate.'
If a female were in the room, she was, of course, saluted; if not, the horns were to be kissed, but the option was not allowed formerly. The peculiarity of the oath was in the pronoun that, which generally resulted in victimising the strangers of some bottles of wine. So soon as the salutation was over, and the wine drank, the landlord, addressing himself to the newly-made son, said, 'I have now to acquaint you with your privileges as a freeman of Highgate. If at any time you are going through the hamlet, and want to rest yourself, and you see a pig lying in a ditch, you are quite at liberty to kick her out and take her place; but if you see three lying together, you must only kick out the middle one, and lie between the two; so God save the king!'" These last liberties, however, are, according to Mr. Larwood, a later addition to the oath, introduced by a facetious blacksmith, who at one time kept the "Coach and Horses."
Mr. Mark Boyd describes at length, in his "Social Gleanings," the whole of the process to which it appears that he and his brother were subjected one fine Sunday half a century ago, and to which they submitted with all the less reluctance because they learnt that Lord Bryon and several other distinguished personages had been sworn there before them. He relates the initiatory steps of ordering a bottle of the Boniface's best port, and another of sherry, "which the landlord took care should be excellent in honour of so grave a ceremonial, and for which he did not omit to charge accordingly." He goes on to describe how "the landlord and his waiter then retired to prepare for the imposing ceremony, and in ten minutes a thundering knock at the door announced the approach of the officials. In marched, with all solemnity, the swearer-in, dressed in a black gown with bands, and wearing a mask and a wig; his clerk also in a black gown, carrying the horns fixed on a pole in one hand, and in the other a large book, from which the oath was to be read. The landlord then proclaimed, in a loud voice, "Upstanding and uncovered. Take notice what now I say to you, &c.," and so proceeded to administer the oath verbatim, as above. "The custom," adds Mr. Boyd, "has now fallen into disuse; but at the 'Gate House Tavern,' some months ago (1875), whilst the waiter was administering to me an excellent luncheon, I mentioned that, were the landlord to revive the custom, many of the present generation would extremely enjoy the fun in which their ancestors had indulged, and none more than our 'American cousins.' 'Moreover,' said I to the waiter, 'where you now make five shillings you would pocket ten; and if your landlord provided as good port and sherry as formerly, he would sell two bottles for one.'" In spite, however, of Mr. Boyd's specious argument, and even the example of Lord Byron, we believe that the landlord has not at present ventured on reviving this absurdity, even in this age of "revivals" of various kinds. In fact, if the truth must be told, he takes no interest in the historic past, and does not care to be questioned about the ceremony.
The following is one version, among several, of
an old initiation song which was used on these
occasions in one of the Highgate inns, which
either "kept a poet," or had a host who was fond of
rhyming. We take it from Robert Bell's "Ballads
and Songs of the Peasantry of England;" the
author states that it was supplied to him by a very
old man, who had been an ostler at Highgate.
"The old man," adds Mr. Bell, "told him that it
was not often used of late years, as 'there was no
landlord that could sing, and gentlemen preferred
the speech.' He also owned that the lines were
not always alike, some saying them one way
and some another, some making them long, while
others cut them short:"—
Enter Landlord, dressed in a black gown and bands, and wearing an antique-fashioned wig; followed by the Clerk of the Court, also in appropriate costume, and carrying the register book and the horns.
Landlord. Do you wish to be sworn at Highgate?
Candidate. I do, father.
The Landlord then says or sings as follows:
Silence! O yes! you are my son!
Full to your old father turn, sir;
This is an oath you may take as you run,
So lay your hand thus on the horn, sir.
[Here the Candidate places his right hand on the horn.
You shall not spend with cheaters or cozens your life,
Nor waste it on profligate beauty;
And when you are wedded, be kind to your wife,
And true to all petticoat duty.
[The Candidate says "I will," and kisses the horns, in obedience to the Clerk, who exclaims, in a loud and solemn tone, "Kiss the horns, sir."
And while you thus solemnly swear to be kind,
And shield and protect from disaster,
This part of the oath, you must bear it in mind,
That you and not she is the master.
[Clerk: "Kiss the horns again, sir."
You shall pledge no man first when a woman is near,
For 'tis neither proper nor right, sir;
Nor, unless you prefer it, drink small for strong beer,
Nor eat brown bread when you can get white, sir.
[Clerk: "Kiss the horns again, sir."
You shall never drink brandy when wine you can get,
Say when good port or sherry is handy,
Unless that your taste on strong spirit is set,
In which case you may, sir, drink brandy.
[Clerk: "Kiss the horns again, sir."
To kiss the fair maid when the mistress is kind
Remember that you must be loth, sir;
But if the maid's fairest, your oath does not bind,
Or you may, if you like it, kiss both, sir.
[Clerk: "Kiss the horns again, sir."
Should you ever return, take this oath here again,
Like a man of good sense, leal and true, sir;
And be sure to bring with you some more merry men,
That they on the horn may swear too, sir.
Landlord. Now, sir, if you please, sign your name in that book; and if you can't write, then make your mark, and the Clerk of the Court will attest it.
[Here one of the above requests is complied with.
Landlord. You will now please to pay half-a-crown for court fees, and what you please to the Clerk.
The necessary ceremony being thus gone through, the business terminates by the Landlord saying "God bless the King (or Queen) and the Lord of the Manor," to which the Clerk responds, "Amen, amen!" N.B. The court fees are always returned in wine, spirits, or porter, of which the Landlord and the Clerk are invited to partake.
It will now be seen what is the meaning of the old proverb as applied to a knowing fellow:—"He has been sworn at Highgate." The words are applicable to a person who is well acquainted with good things, and who takes care to help himself to the best of all.
Grose speaks of this whimsical ceremony at some length in his "Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue," published in 1785, and it is clear from what he says that even in his day the ceremony was very ancient. Hone's "Year Book" contains also a full account of the ceremony, as it was performed in the early part of the present century at the "Fox," or (as it was then styled) "The Fox under the Hill," an inn already mentioned by us. Hone does not throw much light on the origin of the practice, which, doubtless, is as old as the Reformation, and was originally intended as a parody on the admission of neophytes into religious guilds and confraternities by the clergy of the Catholic Church.
Grose, being a shallow antiquary, apparently regarded it as a piece of comparatively modern tomfoolery, got up by some landlord "for the good of the house." A correspondent, however, subsequently points out the antiquity of the custom, and sends a copy of the initiation song, which varies, however, considerably from our version above.
It may be added that Grose was in error on another score, as Mr. Robert Bell observes, when he supposed that the ceremony was confined to the lower orders; for both when he wrote, and in subsequent times, the oath, absurd as it is, has often been taken by persons of rank and education too. An inspection of the register-books, had any still existed, would doubtless have shown that those who have kissed the mystic horn at Highgate have belonged to all ranks of society, and that among them the scholars of Harrow have always been conspicuous—led on, no doubt, like so many sheep, by the example of their bellwether, Lord Byron. When, however, the stage-coaches ceased to pass through Highgate, the custom gradually declined, and appears to have been kept up at only three inns, respectively called "The Original House," the "Old Original House," and the "Real Old Original House." Mr. Bell, writing about the year 1860, says: "Two of the above houses have latterly ceased to hold courts, and the custom is now confined to the 'Fox under the Hill,' where the rite is celebrated with every attention to ancient forms, ceremonies, and costume, and for a fee which, in deference to modern notions of economy, is only one shilling."
The old crier of Highgate is said still to keep a gown and wig ready to swear in any persons who may wish to go through the ceremony; for the swearer-in, whoever he might or may be, generally wore a black gown, mask, and wig, and had with him a person to act as clerk and bearer of the horns.
Of course there was room for a luxuriance of comicality, according to the wit of the imposer of the oath, and the simplicity of the oath-taker; and, as might be expected, the ceremony was not a dry one. Scarcely ever did a stage-coach stop at a Highgate tavern in those days, without a few of the passengers being initiated amidst the laughter of the rest, the landlord usually acting as high priest on the occasion, while a waiter or an ostler would perform the duty of clerk, and sing out "Amen" at all the proper places.
Although some ten or dozen pairs of horns are religiously kept in as many of the chief inns in Highgate, where they pass along with the house in the inventory from one landlord to his successor; yet, singularly enough, none of the register books in which the neophytes were wont to inscribe their names after taking the oath, are now known to exist. Their loss is much to be regretted, as in all probability, as we have above intimated, an inspection of them would have shown that many persons otherwise celebrated for wisdom made fools of themselves at least once in their lives. It appears, however, from an article in the Penny Magazine, published in 1832, that even then the ceremony had been abandoned by all respectable members of society.
The origin of this singular custom is variously accounted for. One is that it was devised by a landlord who had lost his licence, and who used it to cover the sale of his liquors. Another, and more probable one, is, that "Highgate being the nearest spot to London where cattle rested on their way from the North to Smithfield for sale, many graziers put up at the 'Gate House' for the night. These men formed a kind of fraternity, and generally endeavoured to secure the inn for their exclusive accommodation on certain days. Finding, however, they had no power to exclude strangers, who, like themselves, were travelling on business, these men formed themselves into a sort of club, and made it imperative on all who wished to join them to take a certain oath, and bringing an ox to the door, compelled them either to kiss its horns, or to quit their company."
The house of greatest dignity and largest accommodation was the "Gate House," so called from the original building having been connected with a gate which here crossed the road, and from which, as we have already stated, the name of the village is understood to have been derived.
The old "Gate House Inn" still stands, though the droll ceremony which we have described has fallen into disuse for more than a quarter of a century. In the hall of the inn, however, are still to be seen a gigantic pair of mounted horns, the same, it is affirmed, which were used in the administration of the Highgate oath.
In Hone's time the principal inn, the "Gate House," had stag-horns, as had also the "Mitre," the "Green Dragon," the "Bell," the "Rose and Crown," the "Bull," the "Wrestlers," the "Lord Nelson," the "Duke of Wellington," the "Crown," and the "Duke's Head." Bullocks' horns were used at the "Red Lion" and "Sun," and ramshorns at the "Coach and Horses," the "Castle," the "Red Lion," the "Coopers' Arms," the "Fox and Hounds," the "Flask," and the "Angel." At each of the above houses the horns were mounted on a stick, to serve in the mock ceremonial when required.
In some cases there was also a pair of mounted horns over the door of the house, as designed to give the chance passengers the assurance that the merry ceremonial was practised there; and Mr. Thorne states that at one inn in Highgate the horns are still to be seen on the outside of the house. It is acknowledged that there were great differences in the ceremonial at different houses, some landlords having much greater command of wit than others.
In the good old days, "when George III. was king," societies and corporations, and groups of workpeople, who were admitting a new member or associate, would come out in a body to Highgate, to have him duly sworn upon the "horns," and to enjoy an afternoon's merrymaking at his expense.
The only historical fact which has been preserved regarding this singular custom, is that a song embodying the burlesque oath was introduced in a pantomime at the Haymarket Theatre in 1742.
If we can put faith in Byron—in the lines quoted as a motto to this chapter—parties of young people, under (it is to be hoped) proper superintendence, would dance away the night after an initiation at the "Horns." It may be added that similar customs prevailed in other places besides Highgate, such as at Ware, at the "Griffin" at Hoddesdon, and other villages.
The "Angel Inn," on the crest of the hill, just opposite the old village forge, is remarkable for its antiquity, dating probably from before the era of the Reformation. It is one of the few hostelries now standing which are built wholly of wood. Doubtless it was originally the "Salutation" Inn; and when, at the Reformation, the Virgin Mary was struck out of the signboard, the Angel remained, and so became the sign.
Whilst on the subject of taverns and houses of public entertainment, it may not be out of place to speak of the celebrated "Sunday ordinary, at one shilling per head," at one of the Highgate inns, to which in former times the London citizens flocked in great numbers. A curious print, representing some of the characters who frequented this ordinary, was published by Harrison and Co., towards the close of the last century. Mr. Palmer, in his "History of St. Pancras," tells the following touching story in connection with this ordinary:—"A constant visitor at this table d'hôte was accustomed to take considerable notice of a very attractive young girl who waited at table, and from passing observations drew her at length to become the partner of his Sunday evening rambles. After some time he made known his passion to the object of his affection, and was accepted. He informed her that his occupation would detain him from her all the week, but that he should dine at home on Sunday, and leave regularly on the Monday morning. He would invest in her own name and for her exclusive use £2,000 in the Three per Cent. Consols on their marriage; but she was not to seek to discover who he was or what he did, for should she once discover it he would never return to her again. Strange as were the terms, she acquiesced, and was married, and everything went on for a long time amicably and comfortably. At length her woman's nature could hold out no longer; she must at all hazards discover her husband's secret. She tried to suppress the desire, for she really loved him; but Eve-like, she could resist no longer; and therefore on his leaving her as usual one Monday morning, she disguised herself as well as she could, and followed him from Highgate to London, when he entered a low coffee-shop, from whence after a while he issued—yes, her husband—in the meanest possible dress, and with a broom began to sweep the crossing near Charing Cross. This was more than she could bear; she made herself known, and reviled him for his deceit. After an angry discussion she saw her husband return to the coffee-shop, again dress himself in his gentlemanly attire, and bidding her farewell, depart, no more to return. Grieved and annoyed, she returned to Highgate; his marriage bestowment maintained her in comfort, but it left her solitary and alone."
Close by the old gate, at the summit of the hill, and opposite the tavern now known as the "Gate House," stood, till the year 1833, the chapel and school of Highgate, which dated their origin from the sixteenth century, as the following minute records:—"Mdum that the fyrst stone of the Chapell and free Scoole at Higate was leyd the 3rd day of July 1576, and the same Chapell and Scoole was finished in Septr 1578." There had, however, been a chapel on this spot from at least the fourteenth century; for, in the year 1386, Bishop Braybroke gave "to William Lichfield, a poor hermit, oppressed by age and infirmity, the office of keeping our chapel of Highgate, by our park of Haringey, and the house annexed to the said chapel, hitherto accustomed to be kept by other poor hermits." This institution is noticed by Newcourt, in his "Repertorium," but he had met with one other, by which Bishop Stokesley, in 1531, "gave the chapel, then called the chapel of St. Michael, in the parish of Hornesey, to William Forte, with the messuage, garden, and orchard, and their appurtenances, with all tenths, offerings, profits, advantages, and emoluments whatever." "Regarding these hermits," writes Mr. J. Gough Nichols, in the Gentleman's Magazine, "we have this further information, or rather tradition, related by the proto-topographer of Middlesex: 'Where now (1596) the Schole standeth was a hermytage, and the hermyte caused to be made the causway (fn. 10) betweene Highgate and Islington, and the gravell was bad from the top of Highgate hill, where is now a standinge ponde of water. There is adjoining unto the schole a chapple for the ease of that part of the countrey, for that they are within the parish of Pancras, which is distant thence neere two miles.' "
Hughson, in his "History of London," tells us
that, though the site of the hermitage in ancient
times is idealised, little is known about it. Nor is
this wonderful, for does not the poet write—
"Far in a wild, remote from public view,
From youth to age a reverend hermit grew?"
The chapel itself, for some reason or other, was granted by Bishop Grindal, in 1565, to the newlyfounded grammar-school of Sir Roger Cholmeley, together with certain houses, edifices, gardens, and orchards, and also two acres of pasture abutting on the king's highway.
The edifice was a singular, dull, and heavy nondescript sort of building of brick and stone. It consisted of a nave, chancel, two aisles, and galleries, together with a low square embattled tower at the western end, flanked on either side by a porch with a semicircular-headed doorway. Above the lowest window of the tower, between the two doorways, was a stone bearing the following inscription:—
"Sir Roger Cholmeley knt, Ld chiefe baron of ye exchequer, and after that Ld chiefe justice of the king's bench, did institvte and erect at his own charges this publiqve and free gramer schole; and procvred the same to be established and confirmed by the letters patents of queen Elizabeth, her endowinge the same with yearly maintaynance; which schoole Edwyn Sandys Ld bishop of London enlarged an° D'ni 1565 by the addition of this chapel for divine service and by other endowments of pietie and devotion. Since which the said chappel hath been enlarged by the pietie and bounty of divers honble and worthy personages. This inscription was renewed anno D'ni 1668 by the governors of the said schoole."
From the above inscription some doubts were raised as to the exact date of the erection of the chapel; and about the year 1822, when the new church was first projected, a warm controversy sprung up respecting it. The main subject of the dispute, however, was the right of property in the chapel, whether it was vested entirely in the governors of the school, or shared by the inhabitants. "The truth appears to have been," writes Mr. Nichols, "that the chapel was actually the property of the charity, as well by grant from the Bishop of London, the ancient patron of the hermitage, as by letters patent from the Crown, and also by transfer from a third party, who had procured a grant of it from the queen as a suppressed religious foundation; that for the first century and a half the inhabitants had been allowed to have seats gratuitously; and that about the year 1723 the pews had been converted into a source of income for the school."
With regard to the association of the name of Bishop Sandys with the date 1565, one error is manifest, for he was not Bishop of London until 1570. Newcourt perceived the incoherency, and in copying the substance of the inscription into his "Repertorium," he altered the year suo periculo to 1570. A searching examination which the records of the school have since undergone, has disclosed that the correct date is either 1575 or 1576; for it was in the former year that the rebuilding was projected; and in the latter, when it had not far proceeded, Bishop Sandys was translated to the see of York. The alteration of the date was probably accidentally made when the inscription was re-cut.
One portion of the old chapel had a very extraordinary appearance; for small round windows were placed directly over the round-headed long ones, not unlike the letter i and its dot. These round windows originally lighted three rooms belonging to the master's house, which, down to near the close of the last century, stood over the body of the chapel. The edifice had undergone four several repairs and enlargements between the years 1616 and 1772, and also, probably, another when the inscription was renewed in 1668. The repairs in 1720 seem to have been important, as they in curred an expense of more than £1,000, of which sum £700 were contributed by Mr. Edward Pauncefort, treasurer to the charity, and the balance by the inhabitants of Highgate. Again, in 1772, the body of the chapel was, in a great measure, rebuilt; and it was then that its ceiling was raised by the removal of the three rooms above mentioned. Within the chapel was a monument to William Platt, Esq. (the founder of some fellowships in St. John's College, Cambridge), who died in 1637; also a monument to the memory of Dr. Lewis Atterbury (brother of the celebrated bishop), who was preacher here. This monument, on the chapel being pulled down for the erection of the present church of St. Michael, was removed to Hornsey Church, of which Dr. Atterbury had been vicar. Sir Francis Pemberton, Chief Justice in the reign of Charles II., who died at his residence in Highgate, was buried in the old chapel; as also was Sir John Wollaston, the founder of the almshouses in Southwood Lane. On the demolition of the chapel, several of the monuments and tablets were removed to the new church. The chapel enjoyed some celebrity and popular favour in the reign of Queen Anne and George I., when it was the only place of worship in a rather extensive neighbourhood, and was consequently a centre of attraction to persons of all classes, who, after service was over, used to promenade the terraced sides of the Green. One of its ministers was the Rev. Henry Felton, D.D., well known as the author of a learned "Dissertation on the Classics," and sometime Principal of St. Edmund's Hall, Oxford.
Becoming inadequate to the accommodation of the inhabitants of the neighbourhood, and part passing into a state of dilapidation, it was taken down in 1833. The area of the chapel for many years formed the burial-ground for the hamlet; and till 1866 it remained much in its original condition. In it stood, among other tombs, that of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the poet and philosopher, who during the latter period of his life resided at Highgate, and where he died in 1834. The tomb itself is now to be seen in the resuscitated chapel of the Grammar School.
Sir Roger Cholmeley, the founder of the Grammar School, and the great benefactor of Highgate, was in high favour under Henry VII., who bestowed on him the manor of Hampstead. He held the post of Chief Justice under Mary; but was committed to the Tower for drawing up the will of Edward VI., in which he disinherited his sisters. He spent his declining years in literary retirement at "Hornsey"—probably at no great distance from the school which he had founded—and died in 1565.
We meet with the following description of the school and its situation in Norden's "Speculum Britanniæ:"—"At this place is a free school built of brick, by Sir R. Cholmeley, knight, some time Lord Chief Justice of England, about the year of Christ 1564: the pencion (sic) of the master is uncertaine; there is no usher, and the schole is now in the disposition of six governors, or feoffees. Where now the schole standeth was a hermitage, and the hermit made the causeway between Highgate and Islington." From the same authority we learn that Sir Roger Cholmeley "instituted and erected the schole" at his owne charges, obtaining a confirmation by letters patent from Queen Elizabeth, who was always ready to welcome and encourage such improvements, and may be supposed to have taken a personal interest in one which lay so close to her own royal chase and hunting ground. It appears, from Norden, that the chapel was added in order to enlarge the school; but how this addition was calculated to effect such an end does not appear, unless the pew-rents or endowment of the chaplain were added to the salary of the schoolmaster, and this, as we have shown above, really seems to have been the case.
It is perhaps worthy of note that Mr. Carter, who was master of the school during the civil wars, was ejected and treated with great cruelty by the Puritans. Walker, in his "Sufferings of the Clergy," says that he was "turned out of the house with his family whilst his wife was in labour, and that she was delivered in the church porch." Another fact to be recorded is that Master Nicholas Rowe, the poet and Shakespearian commentator, was a scholar here.
It would appear from the "Account of Public Charities," published in 1828, that the forty boys in the school were then taught no classics, and that, although the "reader" of the chapel was charged with their education, the latter performed his duty by deputy, and that his deputy was the sexton! It is somewhat sarcastically added by the compilers of the "Account," that "this forms the only instance we have met of the conversion of a grammar foundation into a school of English literature!" This school, it may be added, has several scholarships and exhibitions for boys who are proceeding to the universities, and has for some years held a high place among the leading grammar schools of the second class, under Dr. Dyne and his successor. It now numbers upwards of two hundred scholars. The school has attached to it a cricket and football field of about ten acres, on the north side of the road leading to Caen Wood and Hampstead Heath. The ground was in great part paid for by donations of friends of the school, and an annual payment added to the boys' fees. A pavilion also was erected by the donations of "old boys." On this ground the croquet tournament of all England was held in 1869. The original school buildings, as erected by Cholmeley, disappeared many years ago. A new school-house was erected in 1819, but this having at length become inadequate for the wants of the pupils, it was, at the tercentenary of the school which was celebrated in June, 1865, determined to raise new buildings. The old school was accordingly taken down in 1866, and rebuilt from the design of Mr. F. Cockerell. It is now a handsome Gothic structure of red brick, with stone dressings, and has attached to it a handsome chapel in a similar style of architecture, and a spacious library, school-room, and class-rooms. The chapel, built in remembrance of Mr. George Abraham Crawley, a governor of the school, was the gift of his widow and family; the expense incurred in the erection of the library was mostly paid for by funds raised by former scholars.
Southwood Lane is the name of a narrow and irregular road which runs in a south-easterly direction across from the back of Sir R. Cholmeley's school to the "Woodman," and leads thence to Muswell Hill. In this lane, in the year 1658, Sir John Wollaston founded six almshouses, which he devised, with their appurtenances, to the governors of the Free School, "in trust for the use of six poor alms people, men and women, of honest life and conversation, inhabitants of Hornsey and Highgate." In 1722 the almshouses were doubled in number and rebuilt, as a stone over the entrance informs us, at the expense of Mr. Edward Pauncefort, who likewise founded and endowed a charity-school for girls. The school, however, appears, through some neglect, to have lost much of the endowment designed for it by the founder. The Baptist chapel in this lane is one of the oldest buildings in the parish, having been founded as a Presbyterian chapel as far back as 1662. In course of time the Unitarians settled here, when the chapel had among its ministers David Williams, the "High Priest of Nature," and founder of the Literary Fund, of which we have spoken in our notice of Bloomsbury Square. (fn. 11) Dr. Barbauld and Dr. Alexander Crombie were also ministers here. Early in the present century the chapel passed into the hands of the Baptists.
On the north side of the lane stands a large modern brick mansion known as Park House. The Asylum for Idiots was founded here in 1847, by Dr. Andrew Reed; but about eight years later was transplanted to more spacious buildings at Earlswood, near Red Hill, in Surrey. In 1863, Park House was purchased, and converted into the London Diocesan Penitentiary.
The new Church of St. Michael stands at some
little distance from the site of the old chapel, on
the summit of the hill,. overlooking the cemetery
on the one side and Highgate Grove on the other;
and, as we have stated in the preceding chapter, it
occupies the site of the old mansion built by Sir
William Ashurst, who was Lord Mayor of London
in 1694. It is a poor and ugly sham Gothic
structure, though the spire looks well from a
distance. It was built from the designs of Mr.
Lewis Vulliamy, and was thought to be a wonderful triumph of ecclesiastical art when it was
consecrated in 1832. At the end overlooking the
cemetery is a magnificent stained-glass window,
representing the Saviour and the apostles, the gift
of the Rev. C. Mayo, many years preacher in the
old chapel. It was executed in Rome. The
border contains several coats of arms from the
windows of the old chapel. There are a few
interesting monuments removed hither from the
former edifice; but that which is most worthy of
notice is a tablet erected to the memory of Coleridge, of whose tomb we have spoken above. It
bears the following inscription:—
Sacred to the memory of
SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE,
Poet, Philosopher, Theologian.
This truly great and good man resided for
The last nineteen years of his life
In this Hamlet.
He quitted "the body of his death,"
July 25th, 1834,
In the sixty-second year of his age.
Of his profound learning and discursive genius
His literary works are an imperishable record.
To his private worth,
His social and Christian virtues,
James and Ann Gillman,
The friends with whom he resided
During the above period, dedicate this tablet.
Under the pressure of a long
And most painful disease
His disposition was unalterably sweet and angelic.
He was an ever-enduring, ever-loving friend,
The gentlest and kindest teacher,
The most engaging home companion.
"O framed for calmer times and nobler hearts,
O studious poet, eloquent for truth!
Philosopher, contemning wealth and death,
Yet docile, child-like, full of life and love."
On this monumental stone thy friends inscribe thy worth.
Reader! for the world mourn.
A Light has passed away from the earth!
But for this pious and exalted Christian
"Rejoice, and again I say unto you, Rejoice!"
S. T. C.
Besides the celebrities whose names we have already mentioned, Highgate has been the home of many others. Lord Southampton had a mansion here, called Fitzroy House, which was situated in Fitzroy Park, adjoining Caen Wood. It was built about the year 1780, and is said to have been a handsome square brick building. Lord Southampton was the Lord of the Manor of Tottenhall, or Tottenham Court, in whose family it still remains. In the rooms of the mansion were portraits of Henry, the first Duke of Grafton; George, Earl of Euston; and Charles, Duke of Grafton. The Duke of Buckingham resided at Fitzroy House in 1811. In 1828 the mansion was taken down, and the park sub-divided and improved by the erection of several elegant villas.
Mrs. Caroline Chisholm has lived at Highgate, on the Hill, for some years. A native of Wootton, in Northamptonshire, she was born about the year 1810. Her father, Mr. William Jones, was a man of most philanthropic character, which his daughter inherited from him. The energy of her character was exercised for the benefit of the needy of her own neighbourhood, until her marriage with Captain Alexander Chisholm, of the Indian army, removed her to a more extended sphere of usefulness. The name of Mrs. Chisholm will be best remembered as the champion of the cause of emigration in various social phases, when grievances of any kind required to be redressed. Among her efforts in this direction may be mentioned the consigning of two shiploads of children from various workhouses to their parents in Australia at the expense of the Government. A similar success attended her efforts on behalf of convicts' wives, who had been promised free transmission, in certain cases of meritorious behaviour on the part of their husbands. Her greatest achievement, however, was the establishment of the Female Colonisation Loan Society, for the promotion of female emigration.
In 1724, died at his house in the Grove, Dr. Henry Sacheverel, (fn. 12) the great leader of the Tory party in the factions of 1709. He was a bigoted High Churchman, and his sermons were the brands to set the Established Church on fire. For expressions in his writings he was impeached and brought to the bar of the House; but far from disowning his writings, he gloried in what he had done. His trial lasted three weeks, and excluded all other public business for the time, when his sermons were voted scandalous and seditious libels. The queen was present as a private spectator. His sentence prohibited him from preaching for three years, and his sermons were ordered to be burnt by the common hangman. The following anecdote is recorded:—A portrait of this divine, with the initials S. T. P. attached to his name (signifying Sanctæ Theologiæ Professor), was hanging up in a shop window, where some persons looking at it, asked the meaning of the affix, when Thomas Bradbury, the Nonconformist minister, hearing the inquiry, and catching a glimpse of the print in passing, put his head among them, and adroitly said, "Stupid, Troublesome Puppy," and passed on.
Sir Richard Baker, author of the "Chronicles" which bear his name, died at his residence in Highgate at the commencement of the seventeenth century; as also did Sir Thomas Cornwallis, a man who had acquired considerable eminence in the reigns of Edward VI. and Queen Mary. Here lived Sir Henry Blunt, one of the earliest travellers in Turkey, and also Sir John Pettus, a distinguished mineralogist. The great Arbuthnott seems also to have been at one time a resident here, for it appears from a chance expression in one of Dean Swift's letters, that he was obliged to quit Highgate by the res angusta domi.
Dorchester House, a large mansion of note here, was formerly the seat of Henry Marquis of Dorchester, and was used in the middle of the last century as a ladies' hospital. Part of Grove Row covers the site of this house, which was devoted by its owner, William Blake, a draper of Covent Garden, to a most excellent charity, the failure of which is deeply to be lamented, as its only fault appears to have been that it was in advance of the selfish age which witnessed its birth. The mansion bore the name of its former owner, the Marquis of Dorchester, from whom Blake purchased it early in the reign of Charles II., for £5,000—all that he possessed—with the intention of establishing it as a school or hospital for forty fatherless boys and girls. "The boys were to be taught the arts of painting, gardening, casting accounts, and navigation, or put out to some good handicraft trade. The girls were to learn to read, write, sew, starch, raise paste, and make dresses, so as to be fitted for any kind of service, thus anticipating the orphan working schools of our own time. When he sunk his money in this purchase, he hoped, and no doubt believed, that the benevolence of the wealthy would furnish the means for its support. But here he was doomed to disappointment." Far from being so fortunate as Franke of Halle, or the Curé d'Ars, or Müller of Bristol, he found charity much colder than he expected. Having exhausted his own resources, he made earnest appeals to the titled personages and city ladies of London, but in vain. For some time, indeed, his generous establishment struggled on. In 1667 there were maintained and educated in it thirty-six poor boys, dressed in a costume of blue and yellow—not unlike that of the boys of Christ's Hospital. It still existed in 1675, but it cannot be traced later than 1688, or about twenty years. In order to describe and recommend the institution which lay so near to his heart, Blake wrote and published a curious book, called "Silver Drops; or, Serious Things." It is written in a most eccentric style. He speaks of the place as meant "at first only for a summer recess from London, which, having that great and noble city, with its numerous childhood, under view, gave first thought to him of such a design." Mr. Howitt infers from the style, which is "almost insane," and from the "nobility of soul struggling through it," the piety and spirituality, the desire to have the boys taught the art of painting, and finally from the name of William Blake, that the "strange and good" founder must have been the grandfather or great-grandfather of the "eccentric but inspired writer-artist" of the same name, whom we have already mentioned more than once in our account of the neighbourhood of Oxford Street, and whose father is known to have been a hosier in Carnaby Market, not far from Covent Garden. A view of the mansion is engraved in Lysons' "Environs," and in the Gentleman's Magazine, (fn. 13) and also in William Howitt's "Northern Heights of London."
Part of the site of Dorchester House is now also covered by Pemberton Row, in which, says Mr. Prickett in his "History of Highgate," a part of the materials of the old building seem to have been utilised; for "on examining the elevation of Dorchester House with Pemberton Row, a remarkable similitude will appear in the character and style of the pedimented dormers, cornices, and heavy roofs." Among the early occupants of the houses erected after the removal of Dorchester House, was Sir Francis Pemberton, a distinguished judge of the seventeenth century. Sir Henry Chauncy gives a very high character of him in his "History of Hertfordshire," and there is a portrait of him among the "Council of the Seven Bishops." The row of houses has since borne his name.
Dorchester House itself stood on the west side of the Grove or Green, and the house occupied by Mr. Gillman, the surgeon, who had Coleridge as his inmate, stands on another portion of its site. Charles Lamb and Henry Crabb Robinson were frequent visitors of Coleridge whilst he was living here; in the "Diary" of the latter, under date of July, 1816, we read:—"I walked to Becher's, and he accompanied me to Mr. Gillman's, an apothecary at Highgate, with whom Coleridge is now staying. He seems already to have profited by his abstinence from opium, for I never saw him look so well." Mr. Thorne, in his "Environs of London," describes the house in which Coleridge lived as "the third house in the Grove, facing the church, a roomy, respectable, brick dwelling, with a good garden behind, and a grand look-out Londonwards. In front of the house is a grove of stately elms, beneath which the poet used to pace in meditative mood, discoursing in unmeaning monologue to some earnest listener like Irving or Hare, or an older friend, like Wordsworth or Lamb. The house remains almost unaltered; the elms, too, are there," but, he adds, "some Vandal has deprived them of their heads." It was in his walks about Highgate that Coleridge one day met Keats. He thus describes him:—"A loose, slack, and not well-dressed youth met me in a lane near Highgate. It was Keats. He was introduced to me, and stayed a minute or so. After he had left us a little way, he ran back and said, 'Let me carry away the memory, Mr. Coleridge, of having pressed your hand.' 'There is death in that hand,' I said, when Keats was gone; yet this was, I believe, before the consumption showed itself distinctly.'"
Coleridge was called by De Quincey "the
largest and most spacious intellect, the subtlest
and most comprehensive that has yet existed
among men;" and Walter Savage Landor admits
the truth of the statement with a reserve in favour
of only Shakespeare and Milton. Charles Lamb
calls him "metaphysician, bard, and magician in
one." If he had written nothing but the "Ancient
Mariner," his name would have lived as long as
English literature itself, though Southey denounces
it as "the clumsiest attempted German sublimity
that he ever saw." It was after a visit to Coleridge, at Highgate, in all probability, that Shelley
thus wrote of him:—
"You will see Coleridge: him who sits obscure
In the exceeding lustre, and the pure
Intense irradiation of a mind
Which, with its own internal lustre blind,
Flags wearily through darkness and despair,
A cloud-encircled meteor of the air,
A hooded, eagle among blinking owls."
Almost everybody knows the general outline of the story of the wasted life of Coleridge. How in early manhood he enlisted into the 15th Light Dragoons, but was released from the uncongenial life he had chosen by friends who accidentally detected his knowledge of Greek and Latin; how even when he had gained a name and a position as an essayist, he refused a handsome salary for regular literary work, declaring that he "would not give up the pleasure of lazily reading old folio columns for a thousand a year," and that "he considered any money beyond three hundred and fifty pounds a year a real evil." But this lazy reading of folios led, in his case, to confirmed idleness, an indolent resolution to gratify the mind and sense, at the cost of duty. "Degenerating into an opium-eater, and a mere purposeless theoriser, Coleridge wasted his time, talents, and health, and came, in his old age, to depend on the charity of others, and at last died; all his friends and many others besides regretted that he had done so little worthy of his genius."
Before he died Coleridge composed for himself
the following epitaph, most striking for its simplicity
"Stop, Christian passer-by! stop, child of God!
And read with gentle breast. Beneath the sod
A poet lies, or that which once seemed he;
Oh, lift a thought in prayer for S. T. C.!
That he who many a year, with toil of breath,
Found death in life, may here find life in death;
Mercy for praise—to be forgiven for fame.
He asked and hoped through Christ. Do thou the same."
Highgate Green, or Grove, is situated on the summit of West Hill, opposite St. Michael's Church. Until within a few years ago, when the Green was completely enclosed with dwarf iron railings, and planted with shrubs by a committee of the inhabitants, aided by the assistance of the vestry of St. Pancras, it was an open space, having several seats placed for the convenience of those who were weary. The green was formerly a favourite resort of the London folk, as it afforded space for recreation or dancing. Almost in the centre of this Green stands the "Flask" Inn, which was formerly one of the head-quarters of revellers at Highgate, as was its namesake at Hampstead.
In a comedy, published in 1601, entitled Jack
Drum's Entertainment, on the introduction of the
Whitsun morris dance, the following song is given
in connection with the hostelry:—
"Skip it, and frisk it nimbly, nimbly!
Tickle it, tickle it lustily!
Strike up the tabour,
For the wenches' favour,
Tickle it, tickle it lustily!
Let us be seen on Highgate Green,
To dance for the honour of Holloway;
Since we are come hither,
Let's spare for no leather,
To dance for the honour of Holloway."
The following story is told connecting Hogarth's name with this Green:—"During his apprenticeship he made an excursion to this favourite spot with three of his companions. The weather being sultry, they went into a public-house on the Green, where they had not been long, before a quarrel arose between two persons in the same room, when, one of the disputants having struck his opponent with a quart pot he had in his hand, and cut him very much, causing him to make a most hideous grin, the humourist could not refrain from taking out his pencil and sketching one of the most ludicrous scenes imaginable, and what rendered it the more valuable was that it exhibited the exact likenesses of all present." The "public-house" here mentioned, no doubt, was the "Flask."
A large part of the Green was formerly a pond, which was fringed on one side, at least, by farm buildings. Once a year, at fair-time, its surface was covered—if tradition speaks the truth—with little sailing vessels, which made the place quite gay with an annual regatta.
It is perhaps worthy of a note, by the way, that
this village, or hamlet, was not unrepresented at
the "Tournament of Tottenham"—real or imaginary—recorded by Warton, in his "History of
Poetry," for we read that among those who re
paired to it, either as spectators, or to bear a part
in the lists, were
"—all the men of that country—
Of Iseldon (Islington), of Hygate, and of Hakenay."
Church House, on the Green, close by the entrance to Swaine's Lane, was, in the middle of the last century, the abode of Sir John Hawkins, author of a "History of Music," of whom we have spoken in our account of Westminster. (fn. 14) At the time when Sir John Hawkins lived here, the roads were very badly kept; indeed, so difficult was the ascent of Highgate Hill that the worthy knight always rode to the Sessions House, Hicks's Hall, in a carriage drawn by four horses. Pepys tells us how that Lord Brouncker found it necessary to put six horses into his coach in order to climb Highgate Hill. The capacious coach-house and stables belonging to the house now serve as the lecture-hall and offices of the Highgate Literary Institute.
Prior to the construction of the roadway over the hill, the whole of this district was only known as a portion of Hornsey, and was for the greater part covered with the woods of Hornsey and Haringey Park; indeed, it is affirmed that it originally formed part of the Forest of Middlesex, wherein King Henry VIII, indulged in (he sports of the chase, as may be seen by the following proclamation issued by him in 1546:—
Yt noe person interrupt the Kinges game of partridge or pheasant—Rex majori et viccomitibus London. Vobis mandamus, &c.
Forasmuch as the King's most Royale Majestie is much desirous of having the game of hare, partridge, pheasant, and heron, preserved in and about his manour at Westminster for his disport and pastime; that is to saye, from his said Palace toe our Ladye of Oke, toe Highgate and Hamsted Heathe, to be preserved for his owne pleasure and recreation; his Royale Highnesse doth straightway charge and commandeth all and singular of his subjects, of what estate and condition soev' they be, not toe attempt toe hunte, or hawke, or kill anie of the said games within the precincts of Hamsted, as they tender his favour and wolvde eschewe the imprisonment of theyre bodies and further punishment, at his majestie's will and pleasure.
Teste meipso apud Westm. vij. die Julij anno tercesimo septimo Henrici octavi 1546.
Of Hornsey Wood itself, the chief portion left is Bishop's Wood, extending nearly all the way from Highgate to Hampstead; a smaller fragment, known as Highgate Wood, lies on the north side of Southwood Lane, near the "Woodman" Tavern, but this was much cut up in forming the Highgate and Edgware Railway; another piece, somewhat less encroached upon, lies at the end of Wood Lane.
North Hill, as the broad roadway north of the "Gate House" is called, is cut through what was once part of the Great Park or bishop's land, and joins the main road about half a mile beyond Southwood Lane. The road may be said to form part of the village of Highgate, for its sides are almost wholly occupied by villas and rows of cottages, among which are several public-houses, including the "Red Lion," one of the principal coaching houses of former times, and one where the largest number of persons were "sworn on the horns," as stated above.
The "Bull Inn," on the descent of the Great North Road towards Finchley, is worthy of note as one of the many such residences of the eccentric painter, George Morland, to whom we have frequently alluded. It is recorded that he would stand for hours before this hostelry, with a pipe in his mouth, bandying jests and jokes with the drivers of all the coaches which travelled by this route to Yorkshire and the North.
We may observe, in conclusion, that, in the opinion of many persons, Highgate does not possess the same variety of situations and prospects as Hampstead, nor is it so large and populous a place; but its prospects to the south and east are superior to those in the same direction from Hampstead.