From London to Land's End by Daniel Defoe

[Continued from Wiltshire. See the first page for publication details.]


From hence I stepped up into the country north-west, to see the ancient town of Wimborne, or Wimborneminster; there I found nothing remarkable but the church, which is indeed a very great one, ancient, and yet very well built, with a very firm, strong, square tower, considerably high; but was, without doubt, much finer, when on the top of it stood a most exquisite spire--finer and taller, if fame lies not, than that at Salisbury, and by its situation in a plainer, flatter country visible, no question, much farther; but this most beautiful ornament was blown down by a sudden tempest of wind, as they tell us, in the year 1622.

The church remains a venerable piece of antiquity, and has in it the remains of a place once much more in request than it is now, for here are the monuments of several noble families, and in particular of one king, viz., King Etheldred, who was slain in battle by the Danes. He was a prince famed for piety and religion, and, according to the zeal of these times, was esteemed as a martyr, because, venturing his life against the Danes, who were heathens, he died fighting for his religion and his country. The inscription upon his grave is preserved, and has been carefully repaired, so as to be easily read, and is as follows:-

In hoc loco quiescit Corpus S. Etheldredi, Regis West Saxonum, Martyris, qui Anno Dom. DCCCLXXII., xxiii Aprilis, per Manos Danorum Paganorum Occubuit.

In English thus:-

Here rests the Body of Holy Etheldred, King of the West Saxons, and Martyr, who fell by the Hands of the Pagan Danes in the Year of our Lord 872, the 23rd of April.

Here are also the monuments of the great Marchioness of Exeter, mother of Edward Courtney, Earl of Devonshire, and last of the family of Courtneys who enjoyed that honour; as also of John de Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, and his wife, grandmother of King Henry VII., by her daughter Margaret, Countess of Richmond.

This last lady I mention because she was foundress of a very fine free school, which has since been enlarged and had a new benefactress in Queen Elizabeth, who has enlarged the stipend and annexed it to the foundation. The famous Cardinal Pole was Dean of this church before his exaltation.

Having said this of the church, I have said all that is worth naming of the town; except that the inhabitants, who are many and poor, are chiefly maintained by the manufacture of knitting stockings, which employs great part indeed of the county of Dorset, of which this is the first town eastward.

South of this town, over a sandy, wild, and barren country, we came to Poole, a considerable seaport, and indeed the most considerable in all this part of England; for here I found some ships, some merchants, and some trade; especially, here were a good number of ships fitted out every year to the Newfoundland fishing, in which the Poole men were said to have been particularly successful for many years past.

The town sits in the bottom of a great bay or inlet of the sea, which, entering at one narrow mouth, opens to a very great breadth within the entrance, and comes up to the very shore of this town; it runs also west up almost to the town of Wareham, a little below which it receives the rivers Frome and Piddle, the two principal rivers of the county.

This place is famous for the best and biggest oysters in all this part of England, which the people of Poole pretend to be famous for pickling; and they are barrelled up here, and sent not only to London, but to the West Indies, and to Spain and Italy, and other parts. It is observed more pearls are found in the Poole oysters, and larger, than in any other oysters about England.

As the entrance into this large bay is narrow, so it is made narrower by an island, called Branksey, which, lying the very month of the passage, divides it into two, and where there is an old castle, called Branksey Castle, built to defend the entrance, and this strength was very great advantage to the trade of this port in the time of the late war with France.

Wareham is a neat town and full of people, having a share of trade with Poole itself; it shows the ruins of a large town, and, it is apparent, has had eight churches, of which they have three remaining.

South of Wareham, and between the bay I have mentioned and the sea, lies a large tract of land which, being surrounded by the sea except on one side, is called an island, though it is really what should be called a peninsula. This tract of land is better inhabited than the sea-coast of this west end of Dorsetshire generally is, and the manufacture of stockings is carried on there also; it is called the Isle of Purbeck, and has in the middle of it a large market-town, called Corfe, and from the famous castle there the whole town is now called Corfe Castle; it is a corporation, sending members to Parliament.

This part of the country is eminent for vast quarries of stone, which is cut out flat, and used in London in great quantities for paving courtyards, alleys, avenues to houses, kitchens, footways on the sides of the High Streets, and the like; and is very profitable to the place, as also in the number of shipping employed in bringing it to London. There are also several rocks of very good marble, only that the veins in the stone are not black and white, as the Italian, but grey, red, and other colours.

From hence to Weymouth, which is 22 miles, we rode in view of the sea; the country is open, and in some respects pleasant, but not like the northern parts of the county, which are all fine carpet- ground, soft as velvet, and the herbage sweet as garden herbs, which makes their sheep be the best in England, if not in the world, and their wool fine to an extreme.

I cannot omit here a small adventure which was very surprising to me on this journey; passing this plain country, we came to an open piece of ground where a neighbouring gentleman had at a great expense laid out a proper piece of land for a decoy, or duck-coy, as some call it. The works were but newly done, the planting young, the ponds very large and well made; but the proper places for shelter of the fowl not covered, the trees not being grown, and men were still at work improving and enlarging and planting on the adjoining heath or common. Near the decoy-keeper's house were some places where young decoy ducks were hatched, or otherwise kept to fit them for their work. To preserve them from vermin (polecats, kites, and such like), they had set traps, as is usual in such cases, and a gibbet by it, where abundance of such creatures as were taken were hanged up for show.

While the decoy-man was busy showing the new works, he was alarmed with a great cry about this house for Help! help! and away he ran like the wind, guessing, as we supposed, that something was catched in the trap.

It was a good big boy, about thirteen or fourteen years old, that cried out, for coming to the place he found a great fowl caught by the leg in the trap, which yet was so strong and so outrageous that the boy going too near him, he flew at him and frighted him, bit him, and beat him with his wings, for he was too strong for the boy; as the master ran from the decoy, so another manservant ran from the house, and finding a strange creature fast in the trap, not knowing what it was, laid at him with a great stick. The creature fought him a good while, but at length he struck him an unlucky blow which quieted him; after this we all came up to see what the matter, and found a monstrous eagle caught by the leg in the trap, and killed by the fellow's cudgel, as above.

When the master came to know what it was, and that his man had killed it, he was ready to kill the fellow for his pains, for it was a noble creature indeed, and would have been worth a great deal to the man to have it shown about the country, or to have sold to any gentleman curious in such things; but the eagle was dead, and there we left it. It is probable this eagle had flown over the sea from France, either there or at the Isle of Wight, where the channel is not so wide; for we do not find that any eagles are known to breed in those parts of Britain.

Dorchester in 1669From hence we turned up to Dorchester, the county town, though not the largest town in the county. Dorchester is indeed a pleasant agreeable town to live in, and where I thought the people seemed less divided into factions and parties than in other places; for though here are divisions, and the people are not all of one mind, either as to religion or politics, yet they did not seem to separate with so much animosity as in other places. Here I saw the Church of England clergyman, and the Dissenting minister or preacher drinking tea together, and conversing with civility and good neighbourhood, like Catholic Christians and men of a Catholic and extensive charity. The town is populous, though not large; the streets broad, but the buildings old and low. However, there is good company, and a good deal of it; and a man that coveted a retreat in this world might as agreeably spend his time and as well in Dorchester as in any town I know in England.

The downs round this town are exceeding pleasant, and come up on, every side, even to the very streets' end; and here it was that they told me that there were six hundred thousand sheep fed on the downs within six miles of the town - that is, six miles every way, which is twelve miles in diameter, and thirty-six miles in circumference. This, I say, I was told - I do not affirm it to be true; but when I viewed the country round, I confess I could not but incline to believe it.

It is observable of these sheep that they are exceeding fruitful, the ewes generally bringing two lambs, and they are for that reason bought by all the farmers through the east part of England, who come to Burford Fair in this country to buy them, and carry them into Kent and Surrey eastward, and into Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire and Oxfordshire north; even our Banstead Downs in Surrey, so famed for good mutton, is supplied from this place. The grass or herbage of these downs is full of the sweetest and the most aromatic plants, such as nourish the sheep to a strange degree; and the sheep's dung, again, nourishes that herbage to a strange degree; so that the valleys are rendered extremely fruitful by the washing of the water in hasty showers from off these hills.

An eminent instance of this is seen at Amesbury, in Wiltshire, the next county to this; for it is the same thing in proportion over this whole county. I was told that at this town there was a meadow on the bank of the River Avon, which runs thence to Salisbury, which was let for 12 pounds a year per acre for the grass only. This I inquired particularly after at the place, and was assured by the inhabitants, as one man, that the fact was true, and was showed the meadows. The grass which grew on them was such as grew to the length of ten or twelve feet, rising up to a good height and then taking root again, and was of so rich a nature as to answer very well such an extravagant rent.

The reason they gave for this was the extraordinary richness of the soil, made so, as above, by the falling or washing of the rains from the hills adjacent, by which, though no other land thereabouts had such a kind of grass, yet all other meadows and low grounds of the valley were extremely rich in proportion.

There are abundance of good families, and of very ancient lines in the neighbourhood of this town of Dorchester, as the Napiers, the Courtneys, Strangeways, Seymours, Banks, Tregonells, Sydenhams, and many others, some of which have very great estates in the county, and in particular Colonel Strangeways, Napier, and Courtney. The first of these is master of the famous swannery or nursery of swans, the like of which, I believe, is not in Europe. I wonder any man should pretend to travel over this country, and pass by it, too, and then write his account and take no notice of it.

From Dorchester it is six miles to the seaside south, and the ocean in view almost all the way. The first town you come to is Weymouth, or Weymouth and Melcombe, two towns lying at the mouth of a little rivulet which they call the Wey, but scarce claims the name of a river. However, the entrance makes a very good though small harbour, and they are joined by a wooden bridge; so that nothing but the harbour parts them; yet they are separate corporations, and choose each of them two members of Parliament, just as London and Southwark.

Weymouth is a sweet, clean, agreeable town, considering its low situation, and close to the sea; it is well built, and has a great many good substantial merchants in it who drive a considerable trade, and have a good number of ships belonging to the town. They carry on now, in time of peace, a trade with France; but, besides this, they trade also to Portugal, Spain, Newfoundland, and Virginia; and they have a large correspondence also up in the country for the consumption of their returns; especially the wine trade and the Newfoundland trade are considerable here.

Without the harbour is an old castle, called Sandfoot Castle; and over against them, where there is a good road for ships to put in on occasions of bad weather, is Portland Castle, and the road is called Portland Road. While I was here once, there came a merchant-ship into that road called Portland Road under a very hard storm of wind; she was homeward bound from Oporto for London, laden with wines; and as she came in she made signals of distress to the town, firing guns for help, and the like, as is usual in such cases; it was in the dark of the night that the ship came in, and, by the help of her own pilot, found her way into the road, where she came to an anchor, but, as I say, fired guns for help.

The venturous Weymouth men went off, even before it was light, with two boats to see who she was, and what condition she was in; and found she was come to an anchor, and had struck her topmasts; but that she had been in bad weather, had lost an anchor and cable before, and had but one cable to trust to, which did hold her, but was weak; and as the storm continued to blow, they expected every hour to go on shore and split to pieces.

Upon this the Weymouth boats came back with such diligence that in less than three hours they were on board them again with an anchor and cable, which they immediately bent in its place, and let go to assist the other, and thereby secured the ship. It is true that they took a good price of the master for the help they gave him; for they made him draw a bill on his owners at London for 12 pounds for the use of the anchor, cable, and boat, besides some gratuities to the men. But they saved the ship and cargo by it, and in three or four days the weather was calm, and he proceeded on his voyage, returning the anchor and cable again; so that, upon the whole, it was not so extravagant as at first I thought it to be.

The Isle of Portland, on which the castle I mentioned stands, lies right against this Port of Weymouth. Hence it is that our best and whitest freestone comes, with which the Cathedral of St. Paul's, the Monument, and all the public edifices in the City of London are chiefly built; and it is wonderful, and well worth the observation of a traveller, to see the quarries in the rocks from whence they are cut out, what stones, and of what prodigious a size are cut out there.

The island is indeed little more than one continued rock of freestone, and the height of the land is such that from this island they see in clear weather above half over the Channel to France, though the Channel here is very broad. The sea off of this island, and especially to the west of it, is counted the most dangerous part of the British Channel. Due south, there is almost a continued disturbance in the waters, by reason of what they call two tides meeting, which I take to be no more than the sets of the currents from the French coast and from the English shore meeting: this they call Portland Race; and several ships, not aware of these currents, have been embayed to the west of Portland, and been driven on shore on the beach (of which I shall speak presently), and there lost.

To prevent this danger, and guide the mariner in these distresses, they have within these few months set up two lighthouses on the two points of that island; and they had not been many months set up, with the directions given to the public for their bearings, but we found three outward-bound East India ships which were in distress in the night, in a hard extreme gale of wind, were so directed by those lights that they avoided going on shore by it, which, if the lights had not been there, would inevitably happened to their destruction.

This island, though seemingly miserable, and thinly inhabited, yet the inhabitants being almost all stone-cutters, we found there were no very poor people among them, and when they collected money for the re-building St. Paul's, they got more in this island than in the great town of Dorchester, as we were told.

Though Portland stands a league off from the mainland of Britain, yet it is almost joined by a prodigious riff of beach--that is to say, of small stones cast up by the sea--which runs from the island so near the shore of England that they ferry over with a boat and a rope, the water not being above half a stone's-throw over; and the said riff of beach ending, as it were, at that inlet of water, turns away west, and runs parallel with the shore quite to Abbotsbury, which is a town about seven miles beyond Weymouth.

I name this for two reasons: first, to explain again what I said before of ships being embayed and lost here. This is when ships coming from the westward omit to keep a good offing, or are taken short by contrary winds, and cannot weather the high land of Portland, but are driven between Portland and the mainland. If they can come to an anchor, and ride it out, well and good; and if not, they run on shore on that vast beach and are lost without remedy.

On the inside of this beach, and between it and the land, there is, as I have said, an inlet of water which they ferry over, as above, to pass and re-pass to and from Portland: this inlet opens at about two miles west, and grows very broad, and makes a kind of lake within the land of a mile and a half broad, and near three miles in length, the breadth unequal. At the farthest end west of this water is a large duck-coy, and the verge of the water well grown with wood, and proper groves of trees for cover for the fowl: in the open lake, or broad part, is a continual assembly of swans: here they live, feed, and breed, and the number of them is such that, I believe, I did not see so few as 7,000 or 8,000. Here they are protected, and here they breed in abundance. We saw several of them upon the wing, very high in the air, whence we supposed that they flew over the riff of beach, which parts the lake from the sea, to feed on the shores as they thought fit, and so came home again at their leisure.

From this duck-coy west, the lake narrows, and at last almost closes, till the beach joins the shore; and so Portland may be said, not to be an island, but part of the continent. And now we came to Abbotsbury, a town anciently famous for a great monastery, and now eminent for nothing but its ruins.

From hence we went on to Bridport, a pretty large corporation town on the sea-shore, though without a harbour. Here we saw boats all the way on the shore, fishing for mackerel, which they take in the easiest manner imaginable; for they fix one end of the net to a pole set deep into the sand, then, the net being in a boat, they row right out into the water some length, then turn and row parallel with the shore, veering out the net all the while, till they have let go all the net, except the line at the end, and then the boat rows on shore, when the men, hauling the net to the shore at both ends, bring to shore with it such fish as they surrounded in the little way they rowed. This, at that time, proved to be an incredible number, insomuch that the men could hardly draw them on shore. As soon as the boats had brought their fish on shore we observed a guard or watch placed on the shore in several places, who, we found, had their eye, not on the fishermen, but on the country people who came down to the shore to buy their fish; and very sharp we found they were, and some that came with small carts were obliged to go back empty without any fish. When we came to inquire into the particulars of this, we found that these were officers placed on the shore by the justices and magistrates of the towns about, who were ordered to prevent the country farmers buying the mackerel to dung their land with them, which was thought to be dangerous as to infection. In short, such was the plenty of fish that year that the mackerel, the finest and largest I ever saw, were sold at the seaside a hundred for a penny.

From Bridport (a town in which we see nothing remarkable) we came to Lyme, the town particularly made famous by the landing of the Duke of Monmouth and his unfortunate troops in the time of King James II., of which I need say nothing, the history of it being so recent in the memory of so many living.

This is a town of good figure, and has in it several eminent merchants who carry on a considerable trade to France, Spain, Newfoundland, and the Straits; and though they have neither creek or bay, road or river, they have a good harbour, but it is such a one as is not in all Britain besides, if there is such a one in any part of the world.

It is a massy pile of building, consisting of high and thick walls of stone, raised at first with all the methods that skill and art could devise, but maintained now with very little difficulty. The walls are raised in the main sea at a good distance from the shore; it consists of one main and solid wall of stone, large enough for carts and carriages to pass on the top, and to admit houses and warehouses to be built on it, so that it is broad as a street. Opposite to this, but farther into the sea, is another wall of the same workmanship, which crosses the end of the first wall and comes about with a tail parallel to the first wall.

Between the point of the first or main wall is the entrance into the port, and the second or opposite wall, breaking the violence of the sea from the entrance, the ships go into the basin as into a pier or harbour, and ride there as secure as in a millpond or as in a wet dock.

The townspeople have the benefit of this wonderful harbour, and it is carefully kept in repair, as indeed it behoves them to do; but they could give me nothing of the history of it, nor do they, as I could perceive, know anything of the original of it, or who built it. It was lately almost beaten down by a storm, but is repaired again.

This work is called the Cobb. The Custom House officers have a lodge and warehouse upon it, and there were several ships of very good force and rich in value in the basin of it when I was there. It might be strengthened with a fort, and the walls themselves are firm enough to carry what guns they please to plant upon it; but they did not seem to think it needful, and as the shore is convenient for batteries, they have some guns planted in proper places, both for the defence of the Cobb and the town also.

This town is under the government of a mayor and aldermen, and may pass for a place of wealth, considering the bigness of it. Here, we found, the merchants began to trade in the pilchard-fishing, though not to so considerable a degree as they do farther west--the pilchards seldom coming up so high eastward as Portland, and not very often so high as Lyme.

It was in sight of these hills that Queen Elizabeth's fleet, under the command of the Lord Howard of Effingham (then Admiral), began first to engage in a close and resolved fight with the invincible Spanish Armada in 1588, maintaining the fight, the Spaniards making eastward till they came the length of Portland Race, where they gave it over - the Spaniards having received considerable damage, and keeping then closer together. Off of the same place was a desperate engagement in the year 1672 between the English and Dutch, in which the Dutch were worsted and driven over to the coast of France, and then glad to make home to refit and repair.

While we stayed here some time viewing this town and coast, we had opportunity to observe the pleasant way of conversation as it is managed among the gentlemen of this county and their families, which are, without reflection, some of the most polite and well- bred people in the isle of Britain. As their hospitality is very great, and their bounty to the poor remarkable, so their generous friendly way of living with, visiting, and associating one with another is as hard to be described as it is really to be admired; they seem to have a mutual confidence in and friendship with one another, as if they were all relations; nor did I observe the sharping, tricking temper which is too much crept in among the gaming and horse-racing gentry in some parts of England to be so much known among them any otherwise than to be abhorred; and yet they sometimes play, too, and make matches and horse-races, as they see occasion.

The ladies here do not want the help of assemblies to assist in matchmaking, or half-pay officers to run away with their daughters, which the meetings called assemblies in some other parts of England are recommended for. Here is no Bury Fair, where the women are scandalously said to carry themselves to market, and where every night they meet at the play or at the assembly for intrigue; and yet I observed that the women do not seem to stick on hand so much in this country as in those countries where those assemblies are so lately set up - the reason of which, I cannot help saying, if my opinion may bear any weight, is that the Dorsetshire ladies are equal in beauty, and may be superior in reputation. In a word, their reputation seems here to be better kept, guarded by better conduct, and managed with more prudence; and yet the Dorsetshire ladies, I assure you, are not nuns; they do not go veiled about streets, or hide themselves when visited; but a general freedom of conversation - agreeable, mannerly, kind, and good - runs through the whole body of the gentry of both sexes, mixed with the best of behaviour, and yet governed by prudence and modesty such as I nowhere see better in all my observation through the whole isle of Britain. In this little interval also I visited some of the biggest towns in the north-west part of this county, as Blandford - a town on the River Stour in the road between Salisbury and Dorchester - a handsome well-built town, but chiefly famous for making the finest bone-lace in England, and where they showed me some so exquisitely fine as I think I never saw better in Flanders, France, or Italy, and which they said they rated at above 30 pounds sterling a yard; but I suppose there was not much of this to be had. But it is most certain that they make exceeding rich lace in that county, such as no part of England can equal.

From thence I went west to Stourbridge, vulgarly called Strabridge. The town and the country around is employed in the manufacture of stockings, and which was once famous for making the finest, best, and highest-prize knit stocking in England; but that trade now is much decayed by the increase of the knitting-stocking engine or frame, which has destroyed the hand-knitting trade for fine stockings through the whole kingdom, of which I shall speak more in its place.

From hence I came to Sherborne, a large and populous town, with one collegiate or conventual church, and may properly claim to have more inhabitants in it than any town in Dorsetshire, though it is neither the county-town, nor does it send members to Parliament. The church is still a reverend pile, and shows the face of great antiquity. Here begins the Wiltshire medley clothing (though this town be in Dorsetshire), of which I shall speak at large in its place, and therefore I omit any discourse of it here.

Shaftesbury is also on the edge of this county, adjoining to Wiltshire and Dorsetshire, being fourteen miles from Salisbury, over that fine down or carpet ground which they call particularly or properly Salisbury Plain. It has neither house nor town in view all the way; and the road, which often lies very broad and branches off insensibly, might easily cause a traveller to lose his way. But there is a certain never-failing assistance upon all these downs for telling a stranger his way, and that is the number of shepherds feeding or keeping their vast flocks of sheep which are everywhere in the way, and who with a very little pains a traveller may always speak with. Nothing can be like it. The Arcadians' plains, of which we read so much pastoral trumpery in the poets, could be nothing to them.

This Shaftesbury is now a sorry town upon the top of a high hill, which closes the plain or downs, and whence Nature presents you a new scene or prospect - viz., of Somerset and Wiltshire - where it is all enclosed, and grown with woods, forests, and planted hedge-rows; the country rich, fertile, and populous; the towns and houses standing thick and being large and full of inhabitants, and those inhabitants fully employed in the richest and most valuable manufacture in the world - viz., the English clothing, as well the medley or mixed clothing as whites, as well for the home trade as the foreign trade, of which I shall take leave to be very particular in my return through the west and north part of Wiltshire in the latter part of this work.

[Continues to Somerset.]