Old London Bridge, A Romance of the Sixteenth Century

Rodwell, G Herbert
1860

CHAPTER THE LAST.

CHAPTER THE LAST.

 

The fruit of every tale is for to say

They eat, and drink, and dance, and sing, and play. Chaucer.

IN the time of Edward the Sixth, there stood an old house at the end of Chancery Lane, of which the above engraving is an exact representation. This house may be taken as a fair sample of the general style of London buildings, three hundred years ago, and it was from this house Dame Spikely was conducted by Horton, when she went to give evidence in the Law Court of West- minster. It was soon destined, however, to become the home of a very different character, for it had lately been purchased by Master Hewet for the purpose of carrying out one of his long-premeditated plans. But of that anon.

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So very long had Edward, with Anne and Flora, been abroad, that ere they returned to Old England again, wonderful changes had taken place. Old London Bridge had been restored to its former magnificence, and the Golden Fleece was now one of the most superb houses upon it; but perhaps the greatest change of all, was to hear the Bridge-shooter's altered tone of voice, as he proudly addressed his master as-" My lord, and Alyce as my lady." By this it may be guessed, that Master Hewet was now LORD MAYOR OF LONDON; and what was quite as wonderful in William's own estimation, was to find himself elevated to the dignity of master of the Lord Mayor's barge. Never before had coat and badge been worn with greater pride, than it then was by the Bridge-shooter, when he attended his master upon state occasions. How often had he, when a poor ragged boy at the Old Swan Stairs, looked with an envying eye upon the Lord Mayor's bargemen, as they rowed proudly past, and now to find himself, not a mere bargeman, but the very head of them all, was a circumstance more like a dream to him than plain reality. Perhaps the proudest day of his whole bargeman's life, which by-the-by only lasted a year, was when he attended the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress as far as Greenwich, to receive on board their splendid boat the Lord Mayor's daughter, with her husband, and his own dear Flora, when they returned from the continent. Flora, as she stood watching the approaching barge, could not imagine what William meant by holding up his right hand as high as he possibly could; it seemed as if he were snapping his thumb and finger at her; but this she felt convinced could not be the case. The moment they had descended from the ship into the barge, the mystery was solved at once, for between the finger and thumb, which William kept saucily shaking close to the pretty little nose of Flora, there she saw a wedding-ring.

" Oh, I shall faint, I shall faint, I know I shall!" she exclaimed, as she pretended to fall fainting into the arms of her delighted lover. " I remember my fatal promise-I am lost !"

" Yes, and I've just found you," replied William, " and remember the finder is now to be handsomely rewarded for his trouble."

After the first burst of joy at the meeting had subsided, the merchant began to inform Osborne of the plans he had been arranging for their future modes of life. " Yes," he said, " the house on the Bridge has been rebuilt, and furnished with all the luxuries that the four quarters of the globe can bestow, and there you and Anne will live; for upon you will now devolve all the labours of our trade. I and Alyce shall remain in the house we now inhabit, and William is to - "

Here the merchant was interrupted by Flora entering the saloon of the barge, in a violent fit of laughter. She was followed by William, who was evidently annoyed about something; but the more he appeared so, the more did Flora laugh, and insisted upon telling them the cause.

" Now, Flora, it's too bad-it is, upon my life I" said William. " But never mind, you are master now, but I shall be after Christmas."

This made Flora laugh still louder.

" But what can have made the girl so mad ?" enquired Alyce.

" Why, when I found," said Flora, " that the merchant-I mean his lordship-had determined that marry William I must, why, I consented;

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and as I wished him not to look quite so silly as some people do when they are being married, by not knowing what they are to say or do, I made him begin to practise. ' Now, William,' said I, ' you will have to say-I, William so and so-'

" By-the-by," interrupted Edward, " it never struck me before; but I really believe that not one person here ever heard his other name; for he has always been called either Billy, or William, or the Bridge-shooter. So tell us, William, what is your name ?"

At this, William blushed up to his eyes, and Flora began again to laugh.

" I asked him the same question; and what do you think was his reply ? He said-' he didn't know his own name, but he'd go and ask his mother."

This caused a general laugh, at the Bridge-shooter's expense. They were now very near the Bridge; so he seized upon this circumstance as an excuse for leaving them in their mirth. He now took the guidance of the boat into his own hands. When they were almost close upon the Bridge, he gave a signal. Every oar was in an instant shipped, and in another moment the barge shot gallantly down the fall. The oars, like a flash of light, once again were in the flood; and in five minutes more they had all landed at Old Swan Stairs.

It had been settled that William and Flora should be married on the day before Christmas-day, so that a right-merry wedding it was sure to be; for the Christmas merrymakings in the olden time may be said to have been quite serious affairs. The Christmas holidays had already commenced, and this being the case, mirth and jollity reigned from one end of the kingdom to the other. Every street had its singers of Christmas carols. Plays and masquerades were not only going on in private houses, but even in the churches. A Lord of Misrule became the commanding genius in the larger mansions; and in others a like personage took the title of King of the Bean. All the houses were hung within and without with ivy and holly, and people danced around standards decked with evergreen, in the main roadways. One of the principal dishes at the Christmas board, was a huge boar's head: this was always introduced with great pomp and ceremony -loud flourishes of trumpets, or other musical instruments, announced its approach. Even prohibited games were allowed at this season, and indeed all the world, for a time, seemed turned upside down. Clowns dressed themselves out as bishops and judges; and judges and bishops became clowns, or acted the fool in various ways. The Bridge- shooter had drawn the prize to become the " King of the Bean," and how he obtained this dignified station, we can in a few words explain.

Flora had made a splendid cake, in which one bean was baked. All Hewet's household-retainers, workmen, weavers, throwsters, and all, were partakers of his hospitality; and when the proper time was come, the cake was broken into pieces, and whoever gained the piece containing the bean, was lord over all for a stated time. The Bridge-shooter had gained it, and bravely did he lord it, particularly over Flora.

When he returned from having asked his mother what his name was,

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he told Flora, that there never was a name so cut out for a waterman as his, for it was Flood-" And uncommon well it looks over the door."

" Over what door ?" inquired Flora.

" What door !" replied William; " why, over our own door, to be sure, in-front of our house, at the end of Chancery Lane."

" Why, William," said Flora, " you must be mad to talk this nonsense !"

" If it is nonsense, it's uncommon pleasant nonsense; and you only come and see it," said the Bridge-shooter; and as he would take no denial, Flora and he strolled towards Chancery Lane.

When they arrived there, it was all quite true; for there she saw, on a board, over the door, " William Flood, Clothseller."

William now made her heart jump with joy, for he told her, that the merchant had given that house to his wife, and his wife was going to give it to Flora, as a wedding-present; and that the merchant was stocking the place with all sorts of clothier's goods, and was going to set William up as a retail dealer.-" Do you see that window up there ?" said he, pointing to an upper casement. " That's to be our nursery- it will hold a quantity of little beds."

" William, William !" said Flora; " I must beg of you not to talk about such things to me-until after to-morrow."

When the morrow did come, the bells were set ringing merrily. The expected marriage of the Bridge-shooter had made a great noise in and about the neighbourhood of Philpot Lane, and also amongst the inhabitants on Old London Bridge; so that, when he and Flora went to the church, they were attended by an enormous crowd of persons, all declaring they were intimate friends of the bride or bridegroom. Amongst these, of course, were the four inseparables, Catchemayde, Checklocke, Silkworm, and the sharp-nosed little arrow-maker.

Luckily, the mansion of the merchant Hewet was an immense building, and the great hall in which the Christmas-eve revelries were to take place, was of a prodigious size. It was profusely decorated with ivy and holly, and lighted by nearly a thousand tapers. A large gallery was crowded with musicians, who filled the air with sweetest, and merriest strains.

The moment William and his pretty bride entered beneath the roof; they were seized by his bargemen, and straightway placed, side by side, upon the Yule-log, which had been kept near the door on purpose. Then a shout was raised, both within and without the house. Some of the bargemen acted the part of horses, to drag the Yule-log along, while the rest marched at the side, as a guard of honour.

In this way did worthy Master William Flood and his smiling dame enter the presence of the Lord Mayor of London and his beloved Alyce. Behind them stood Edward and Anne; and by Hewet's side sat the old man of the show.

Checklocke and Silkworm, with the little arrow-maker, all three arm- in-arm, were the noisiest of the noisy. Poor Catchemayde had been caught by his wife, and taken home like a naughty boy.

Presently, a poor, shabby, unfortunate, poverty-stricken being, stood forward, and made most horrible faces, which he intended to be comic.

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Anne looked at the man with much interest, for she imagined she had seen some one of the kind before.

The man very humbly begged of his Lordship to be allowed to amuse the company.

" Amuse the company !" said Hewet; "why, what can such an unhappy-looking being as you do to amuse ?"

" Oh," said the man, making another grimace at the Lord Mayor, and at the same moment knocking off his own hat, and slipping on a wig, that old age had made more than half bald, " I can sing you a song, called Diddle'em Downy !"

Anne was no longer in doubt about whom she was looking upon; and whispering something to her father, she advanced to poor Downy, and placing a purse in his hand, said-" Take that-it comes from an old acquaintance."

The poor fellow appeared thunderstruck at her munificence, but before he could find words in which to utter his gratitude, Anne had again removed far from him. He waited not for further permission, but at once started off in his celebrated song, although he was no longer the Diddle- 'em that he had once been; yet, when he came to the words,

For be they black, white, fair, or browny,

And though they got up with the lark in the morn,

Yet none could be up to Diddle-'em-Downy,

there was an immense roar of laughter; but almost anything would, upon that Christmas-eve, have caused a laugh, for everybody had come prepared to be happy, and happy indeed they all appeared to be. It was now proposed that every one should kiss the bride, but to this William decidedly objected; and as he was the King of the Bean, why, his word became law, and thus Flora escaped the dreadful infliction.

Now the delicious " lambs' wool" was handed round. As many of our readers, particularly the gentler kind, may not be aware of the mysteries of lambs' wool, we will explain how this exquisite beverage is concocted; a number of apples are tied to the end of a number of strings, and are then hung up to roast before a blazing fire; under each apple stands a tankard of ripe delicious ale, well seasoned with sugar, spice, and nutmeg; when the apples are done thoroughly, they drop from the strings, and having fallen into the ale, it is then ready for drinking. The real name is supposed to have been la mas ubhal, that is, the day of the apple fruit, but being pronounced lamasool, our English tongues soon corrupted it to lambs' wool.

After some few dozens of the tankards of lambs' wool had passed from lip to lip, the merriment increased prodigiously, and a general dance took place. Even the merchant and his Alyce were not permitted to decline joining in this part of the delights of a Christmas-eve. Nor did Edward and Anne refuse; but the happiest and merriest couple there, was Flora and her newly-made husband.

All seemed joy around, so while they are thus happily engaged we will let fall the curtain upon OLD LONDON BRIDGE.

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"And is that the end ?" we think we hear more than one fair reader say; " it is really quite abominable of these authors-they never will tell all one would wish to know. I, for one, should have liked to have known whether the old man did get his brother's property-and what became of the property that Horton stole from Sir Filbut Fussy-and what became also of Lord Talbot-but most of all, I should like to have known a little of the after-lives of Edward and Anne, for if it be really true, that the autograph of Edward Osborne is still to be seen at the British Museum, it would appear he must have become some one of consequence, or that some one of consequence became so through him."

These few queries, gentle reader, shall be answered. First, the old man did get his brother's property, and lived many years to enjoy it, in the Cottage on the Heath, and many a visit did the lovely Anne pay him there; the stolen property of Sir Filbut was never discovered; Lord Talbot, in due course, became the Earl of Shrewsbury, and continued an intimate friend of Sir William Hewet, (for he was knighted after being Lord Mayor,) and when Sir William died, so says his will, he left the earl a ring with his initials engraved thereon, W.H. That the earl proposed for the hand of Hewet's daughter, may be found recorded in Pennant's London, where after describing the heroic conduct of Hewet's apprentice, Edward Osborne, he has words to this effect-" That the hand of Hewet's daughter was greatly sought after when she became marriageable; amongst others who offered, was the Earl of Shrewsbury; but the merchant replied to all, that ' Osborne had saved her, and that Osborne should enjoy her."

Sir William Hewet, at his death, besides the ring to the earl, left a fortune of £6000 a year, the greater portion of which came to Edward Osborne; he also left the Clothworkers' Company £15 to provide a dinner for the Livery attending his funeral; and 6s. 8d. for every maiden of his native place who should be married during the first year after his decease.

Edward's after-life was one of unvarying happiness and success; he became Lord Mayor of London, in , when he received knighthood. After the death of Sir William Hewet, Osborne and his sweet Anne resided in the merchant's mansion in Philpot Lane.

Now we feel quite convinced, although our gentle readers do not like to ask the question, that the setting down the number of children they had, will be a piece of information not at all unacceptable; well then, they had five, two sons and three daughters. Hewet Osborne, one of the sons, was knighted by the Earl of Essex during the war in Ireland; the other son's name was Edward, who never married. Two of the daughters' names were Anne and Alyce; the name of the third we have not been able to discover. The great-grandson of our hero, was Sir Thomas Osborne, who was raised to the peerage by King Charles the Second, as Viscount Latimer, and Baron Kiveton; he next was created Earl of Danby, then Marquis of Carmarthen, and on , became the first Duke of Leeds. The present Duke of Leeds is a lineal descendant of our Edward of Old London Bridge.