In and Out of London Or, the Half-holidays of a Town Clerk
Loftie, W. J.
ON THE SURREY HILLS.
ON THE SURREY HILLS.
THE long reach of the chalk hills known as the North Downs enters Surrey near Guildford, and crossing the country from west to east, passes into Kent between Tatsfield and Chevening. It attains its greatest width in Surrey, a little way south of Croydon. The railway here plunges into a long tunnel and emerges high up among the downs, at an anonymous place from which the branch line diverges to Caterham. Caterham itself is some five miles off in a valley to the east. A bleak down, crowned with a Gothic asylum, of the most staring pattern, its brick walls blushing crimson as if at their exposed situation, is on the right; while, straight on along the line a glimpse may be obtained, between two rounded banks of chalk, of the valley to the south, inwhich Merstham, Gatton, and so many other pleasant places are spread out in the summer sunshine. This valley lies between the two ranges: the chalk on the north and the sand hills on the south. We are in the heart of the chalk. A vast cliff close to the Junction dazzles the eyes with its whiteness.
|The trees are all down in the valley, except a few young firs which defy the east wind around the asylum; and if it were not for the distant views of Caterham on one side, and of the Merstham valley on the other, the scene about the railway station would be almost unbearable in its bleakness. Yet, behind the unpromising front of the downs, something may be found worth the seeking. Each great billow has a valley between it and its neighbour. Five or six distinct waves of chalk may be counted before the comparative flatness of the Merstham district is reached. The inner life of these hills was almost unknown till a few years ago. The little churches, hidden from the wind in wooded nooks; the ancient houses, sometimes manors, sometimes farms; the quiet parsonages, the great bare fields with their scattered sheep, the sheltered valleys full of corn, the wooden windmills crowning each hill, had all a kind of independent existence apart from the world, and so shut out from the reach of strangers that it was not until some fifteen years ago that there were any roads in Chaldon, the parish whose church is the principal object of interest in our present excursion.|
The seclusion of Chaldon, great as it has been, has not been so great that the church has escaped restoration. Even to this corner of the earth have the disciples of Sir Gilbert Scott penetrated. For once their visit has been productive of good. Perhaps it would be safer to say, partly in spite of
|them has a great discovery been made and a real restoration effected. The allegorical painting which remains at Chaldon belongs to a series, and this one only has been rescued. The others, alas! perished under the hands of the restorer before assistance could arrive.|
An excursion to Chaldon and its surroundings has several strong recommendations for the sightseer. It is within easy reach of London. The country is eminently healthful; more than sufficiently picturesque, full of antiquarian interest; and withal so far unexplored that even "Murray," the ubiquitous, dismisses it in a sentence. He recommends the visitor to approach from the north, and passing Coulsdon to climb
So far the " Handbook." But would it surprise the compiler to learn that the church contains, in addition to and examples also of Norman, Decorated, Elizabethan, Stuart, and so on ?-and that a mile further on is one of the finest views over the weald and the sand hills that can be pointed out in the whole county ? We say nothing of the painting, which was only discovered two or three years ago.
We disobey "Murray," however, in our excursion. A return ticket to Merstham, a walk from Merstham over the hills to Caterham Junction through Chaldon
and Coulsdon, and a |
through the woods by the way,-this is our programme. Its merits are chiefly these. There are two or three trains at Caterham Junction for one at Merstham. We thus find ourselves able to return without too long a delay at the station whenever we may arrive there. Further, we visit the churches and chief objects of interest while we are still fresh in the early part of the walk; and, lastly, we have the sun behind us on the hills, and not shining in our eyes, a matter of no small importance in the glare of a chalk district.
Merstham Church will repay a visit. It is reached from the railway station by the village street, and a pretty walk through a kind of little glen, with a rickety bridge over one of those mysterious ponds which, connected in their history with the iron trade of the middle ages, are yet more strangely connected, geologically, with their famous neighbour, the burrowing Mole. The church stands on the first of the chalk. A foretaste of the view to be seen above may here be obtained from the parapet of the wall on the south side of the churchyard. An Early English west door has suffered restoration; but other specimens of the same date remain untouched. A brass or two, a half defaced recumbent figure, some handsome and tasteful modern monuments, a little bit of old stained glass, and clerestory windows which, owing to the roof of the side aisles having been raised, are within
|the church, occupy a few minutes; and then, leaving the churchyard at the eastern end, we commence to climb the hill, passing on our way a great quarry and a row of melancholy-looking workmen's houses. The summit of the hill is soon reached, and immediately we are in a different region. Everything is changed. Behind us in the valley, to the south and west, village after village, orchard after orchard, park after park, stretch away towards Redhill and Reigate. The sand hills are clothed with trees to their summits, here and there church spires and red-roofed villas rise against the sky line, while at intervals a gap shows the Weald of Kent beyond, and in the farthest distance the Sussex downs and the blue line of hills in which Tunbridge Wells and Frant are concealed. The view is worthy of Birket Foster. Nay, one feels assured he must have studied it already to his advantage.|
Turning our backs upon the valley we plunge into the hills. Here the scene is entirely different. It is not bleak, nor bare, nor ugly; but somehow it is not so pleasing. The wind seems always to blow, the trees look as if they were all inclined one way: the fields are very large, the houses very few and very small. But a pleasant lane among the cornfields, with elms almost meeting overhead, and then a breezy common, covered with furze and heather, then a path through a ploughed field, bristling with flints, then a steep ascent along a dark wood into which the pheasants run as leisurely as if the
|will not be for months to come, and the top of another hill is reached, and Chaldon Church, with its spire, just shows itself among the trees in front. At the foot of a green lawn dotted with elms is the rectory; a little to the left is an old farmhouse, formerly the woods and cornfields interspersed form the background of a circumscribed but pretty landscape; the air of retirement and the absolute stillness being in a kind of negative way the most striking features. A dog at the the farm, dozing in the sun on the top of his kennel, begins to bark at sound of footsteps: the sudden noise is almost painful to the ear, but the profound stillness, once broken, is not to be recalled. The visitor leaves his musings, and rousing himself to obtain the keys, enters the churchyard and the church.|
I have brought with me a very elaborate and interesting paper, which Mr. J. G. Waller read for the Surrey Archaeological Society some years ago. It relates to the then recently discovered painting on the west wall of Chaldon Church. Mr. Waller's paper must be my guide in endeavouring to describe it. He has not only explained the subject and meaning of the painting itself, but has illustrated his explanation by a reduced drawing; and has given examples of each part of the design in a carefully chosen series of extracts from the "Legenda Aurea," the " Acta Sanctorum," and other recondite sources of monkish lore. The paper
|is printed in the Transactions of the Surrey Society.|
Armed, then, with the keys of the church, and with Mr. Waller's key to the painting within, we may enter. The church is only forty feet long at most, yet it consists of a nave, two side aisles, a chancel, and a side chapel. The basement is Norman, and does not answer in all respects to the plan of the present building. The earlier church was wider, probably, and shorter. The greater part of what we see now is Early English: one or two of the windows are Perpendicular, one or two Decorated. A chapel on the north side was evidently removed, and a Perpendicular window inserted in the aisle, when a large flat arch was made and built up in the chancel wall. It looks as if it had never contained a window, and may be of fifteenth-century work. The tower and spire were added some forty or fifty years ago. The pulpit bears a name and date,
and a curious tablet in a style worthy of John of Padua and the Renaissance in England, and dated , has a quaint inscription which commences thus:-
It bears initials and a semi-heraldic badge, but no name. The tombstones are not remarkable; the register commences in . The church is dedicated to St. Paul; though it is sometimes spoken of as St. Peter's, and in a will dated , as St. Peter and
|St. Paul's. This would perhaps be the right designation.|
But the most remarkable thing in the church is a painting on the west wall, facing the chancel arch. It is about seven feet from the ground, and forms a band, chiefly of a deep brown or chocolate colour, divided across with a strip of conventional bordering, and vertically in the centre by a portion of the design. The subject, according to Mr. Waller, and he is no doubt right, is the
-in short a The two bands represent respectively Heaven and Hell. The ladder rises from the lower to the upper. It is crowded with little figures: some climbing, others falling off; some stopping by the way, others apparently being helped up by angels. On the right, in the lower division, are figures of demons, tortures great and small, the punishment of usury, of inebriety, of luxury, and other horrible conceptions, whilst at the end is the Tree of Knowledge and the serpent in its branches. To the left of the ladder other evil spirits stir up a blazing caldron full of souls, and little scenes of retribution are enacted in every direction. In the upper division, to the left, Michael is weighing the candidates for heaven, while others are welcomed by angels from the summit of the ladder; on the right Enoch and Elijah are seen ascending outside the ladder: a nimbus, between the sun and moon, appears at the top; and
|to the extreme right, above the forbidden tree, is a representation of the descent into Hell, treated according to the usual method.|
As examples of the stories current in the thirteenth century and here placed before the eyes of the faithful, Mr. Waller gives some extracts. We may take one as a specimen. Among the most conspicuous of the strange figures is that of the a name which was applied not only to a man who lent money at high or exorbitant rates of interest, but also to a covetous or miserly person. There are many horrible stories in the monks' books of the end of such people. According to one of them, which occurs in the Chronicle of Matthew Paris, a monk of Evesham had a vision in of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise; and saw among other sights a goldsmith being tormented on account of frauds committed in his lifetime. In the picture we see the method of punishment clearly illustrated. The tongue hangs out, and coins drop from the mouth. Bags of money are about the waist and neck. He is compelled to count a heap of red-hot money, and sits on a flaming seat. With regard to some of the other figures, we have less unpleasant readings from ancient authors. Some of the figures are represented as undergoing temptation, and Mr. Waller takes occasion to speak of the early Christian doctrine of good and bad spirits attendant on the soul of man. From the of Hermas he makes a beautiful quotation. He tells us:-
But of all the old authors, Tundale best illustrates, in his celebrated "Vision," the scenes here depicted. The date of the poem is about , so that it is just a little older than the painting if we accept, as we safely may, Mr. Waller's estimate. Tundale was an Irishman by birth, of noble rank, who having died suddenly in a fit of passion, is conducted by his guardian angel through Hell, Purgatory,
and Paradise, as Dante describes himself in
the . The poem was exceedingly
popular, and exists in several languages and
dialects, including English. In it the |
which forms so remarkable a feature of the Chaldon painting, is minutely described:
so we read, modernising the language.
being all made of
that drew near the bridge to make a prey of the souls that fell off. Tundale sees
Tundale asks his angel the meaning of this.
He goes on to say that the figure on the bridge so sorely weeping is that of one who had stolen from "Holy Chyrche."
With regard to the style and execution of the picture, it is worth while to refer to Mr.Waller more at length, because similar pictures have been found
of late years in many other churches, and considerable interest has been excited about them. Mr.
Waller notices that there is no filling-up of the
features, and that where two cross each other the
outlines of both appear, by which no doubt the
painter meant to indicate that they were ghosts,
and semi-transparent. The outlines show great
ease and a ready hand. The attitudes are well
The picture is painted in tempera, and not in fresco. All medieval church painting was done in tempera; that is, the colours were mixed with a kind of glue or size made from shreds of parchment. The colours used are red and yellow ochre, a little native cinnabar and white.
Another painting was on the south side of this one, on the face of the respond supporting the first arch. This was destroyed in the restoration of the church, during the temporary absence of the rector. Had it not been for his vigilance all would have been effaced. Who knows how much we have lost in other places ? This departed picture, even though departed, is of the utmost importance. From it and from the conventional foliage of the Tree of Knowledge at the north end of the west wall, Mr. Waller is able to approximate by no means vaguely to the date of the painting. The aisles are, as we have seen, Early English, and cannot therefore be earlier than the end of the twelfth century. On
|the other hand, the " Tree " cannot be much later. We thus arrive at a date between and . With regard to the painter and the style of his art, Mr. Waller makes some interesting observations, from which we gather that the design was not unknown in the Greek Church; that this example is very strictly in accordance with Byzantine rules for such a work; that certain accessories are of a kind to point to a French origin; but that on the whole, if was worthy to succeed William de Sens as architect of Canterbury Cathedral, there is no reason an English painter should not have been found to execute this elaborate design.|
But the afternoon wanes rapidly as we sit questioning Mr. Waller, and diving into the "Vision " of Tundale and the " Promptuarium Exemplorum." There will be no time to visit Coulsdon Church or the Reedham Asylum. So one more look at a painting nearly two hundred years older than Orcagna, and we commit ourselves to a pleasant lane through the hollow, emerging at length on the open down, actually in sight of the Crystal Palace. We had forgotten that London itself was only some fifteen miles away at most. "Murray" mentions a very steep hill up from Coulsdon. Going in the opposite direction, it is very steep down; but the up hill at the other side, though he does not mention it, is twice as long and quite as steep.
The ascent ceases at the summit of another wave of the chalk. This one comprises the parish of
|Coulsdon. But there is no painting in Coulsdon Church, and although it is, or was at the time of our visit, happily unrestored and in fair order, I only delay to notice an epitaph mentioned in the "Handbook," and again descending reach another valley, clothed with thickets of hazel, fruitful in nuts; and turn to the left at last into a bridle road, each winding of which brings us nearer to the Caterham Junction, and the busy haunts of men. On the right is the Reedham Asylum, a not unpleasing building high on the hill, and after a short delay we cross the railway through an arch and pursue the turnpike road between Croydon and Redhill, until we arrive at the station. This last half-mile along the dusty highway is, we find, more fatiguing than any other part of our pleasant three hours of hill and dale; but we fortunately get in exactly two minutes before a train stops, and a comparatively early return to London is secured.|
In looking back upon the afternoon's excursion, I find a few items to note which may be of service to future travellers. The key of Merstham Church is kept in the village, between the station and the church, and should be obtained on the way. If a visit to Chaldon only is contemplated the little town of Caterham will be found more convenient, and vehicles may be had there at reasonable fares. The drive from Caterham is almost as beautiful as the walk from Merstham, and " Murray " need not be read backwards.