Romantic Rockingham Forest
THE traveller with an eye to the picturesque and an ear atune to the tales that may be told by old stone houses, ruins and ancient camps, will find much to interest him in that northerly corner of Northamptonshire known as Rocking- ham Forest. This tract of broken woodland, stretching from Desborough north-eastwards almost to Stamford and the
• confines of the Fen country, would seem to such a man to • have changed but little since the days when Queen Elizabeth danced with Sir Christopher Hatton in his Hall of Kirby, and • Thomas Tresham used to indulge his fancy for erecting strange and fantastic buildings. To discover the beauties of this district a car is useful, but by no means a necessity, for if the visitor make his head- quarters at Oundle—and he will never regret stopping at the Talbot Inn, where is a fine oak staircase reputed to have come from Fotheringhay Castle—he may easily cover the district on humble push-bike, or even, with the assistance of a few trains or motor-'buses, on his own legs. The district takes its name from the village of Rockingham, whose Castle, frowning over the Welland Valley, dates from the fort built by Duke William of Normandy to protect the forest country from invasion froin the North. This castle, some portions of which are actually of thirteenth-century work, is still inhabited, and is as a rule not open to the public, but fine views of it may be obtained from several points. It was a Royal residence even before Windsor, and was one of the favourite hunting resorts of both Richard I. and John. Richard evidently liked to combine business with pleas*, for when he wanted to confer with his Bishops upon some matter of State, he called them all together to Pipewell Abbey, near Rockingham, the mason for this place being chosen being given as " in order that the tedium of the proceedings might be enlivened by the chase, for which there was such abundant opportunity in the surrounding forest." Thus Richard set a precedent followed eight centuries later at certain famous Conferences. The Forest teems with places of interest, off the beaten track perhaps, but none the less worth visiting for that. Here, between Oundle and Rockingham, is the magnificent but desolate ruin of Kirby, in its day--until, in fact, the beginning of the last century—one of the finest houses in the shire, if not in all England. Built by John Thorpe about 1570 • for Humfrey Stafford, sixth Earl of Northampton, it was pur- *Chased by Sir Christopher Hatton, who, having danced his way into Elizabeth's favour, was made Lord Chancellor by her at the age of forty-seven. Little now remains of the fine building designed by Thorpe and added to by Inigo Jones but crumbling. walls and ivy-covered ruins. So complete is . the dectly that only a-few of the rooms are safe to enter. The great banqueting hail, however, with its gallery, is more or less intact, though stripped recently of its panelling. Visitors are allowed to see -over Kirby for a fee of sixpence, and no further charge is made for the privilege of scribbling or cutting their wretched names over the walls, as thousands have Already done. A mile or so from Kirby, and connected to it, so tradition says, by a secret passage, is the lovely house of Deene, the ancient hothe of the .Brudenell-Brucei. Deene h almost
without compeer even in a county renowned for its beautiful
houses. It cannot, perhaps, boast the magnificent splendour
of Burghley, the .antiquity and grandeur of Rockingham, or the architectural wealth of Drayton, yet whether Deene is seen from within its panelled rooms or from the main road across the lake, it makes a picture that one 'might search the world for, and never beat.
The traveller who comes to Great Weldon will be reminded of the ancient forest when he sees on the to of the church tower the old iron " lantern" or frame in which used to be lighted the beacon to guide wayfarers by night through the forest. Not far from Weldon, on the borders of Harrys Park and Lords Walk, near Farming Woods, there stands a stone which also will carry him back in his imagination to the forest days. This stone bears an inscription, " In this place grew Bocase Tree," which has puzzled many an archaeologist. However, not far off from the stone is a long, narrow field
known as the Bowcast, which points to archery having been practised there, and it has been assumed that Bocase Tree was the tree upon which the archers used to hang their bow. cases.
Just south of the bridle road between Qtmdle and Brigstock, and in a clearing in the woods, there stands the remarkable ruin known as Lyveden New Bield, to distinguish it from the Old Bield, a fine old manor house, not far off. This New Bield was built about 1605 by Sir Thomas Tresham, father of Francis Tresham, one of the chief conspirators in the Gun- powder Plot, but it was never finished. It is in the form of a Greek cross, each side of each wing being twenty-three feet long with fine bay windows at the end. Above the windows are a series of medallions carved with emblems of the Passion, all, alas ! now scored and defaced by the names of vandal visitors who delight in torturing the souls of old buildings by carving their obscure names wherever they go. Another of Tresham's quaint fancies is the Triangular Lodge, in the park of Rushton Hall, near Kettering. Lady Wood, not far from these Bields, was, in May, 1743, the scene of the surrender, to General Blakeney and his troops from Northampton, of a number of the Black Watch. Regi- ment, who, suspicious of the reason why they had been brought from Scotland to London, and fearing they were to be sent to the plantations, had marched away from London determined to get back to Scotland. They had reached this wood when the troops from Northampton arrived, and they were sur- rounded by the latter. After two or three days they began to surrender in groups of a dozen or more, and were eventually marched back to London. A number were sentenced to death, but only three were shot, the rest escaping the capital sentence. One soldier died in the wood, and though there is no longer any trace of his grave, the place was until recently known as Soldier's Field.
The visitor who finds himself near Kettering may, as he sees himself almost surrounded by avenues of old elms, wonder at the mentality of John, second Duke of Montague, " John the Planter," who, frustrated in his intention to plant a seventy- mile long avenue from Boughton to London, planted the same total length of avenues radiating out in every direction from Boughton ! No visit to the district can be called complete which does not take in Fotheringhay, seven miles to the north of Oundle, where a boulder sonic five feet high on the bank of the river is all, save a grassy rampart, that remains of the Castle wherein Queen Mary of Scotland knelt to the headsman on the-morning of February 8th, 1587. The church, with its fine flying but- treiscs, is one of the most beautiful churches in the district, and is worth visiting. But he who comes to Fotheringhay by car—let him beware of, the bridge over the Nene ! It is a veritable humpback, very narrow, with blind approach. Tradition says there is a curse on Fotheringhay. The present writer believes in it. His car once met another at the very apex of this bridge ! Among other places worth visiting, but which space does not allow of describing, are Geddington with its Eleanor Cross ; Warkton with the line groups of statuary by Roubiliac in its church ; Barnwell Castle ruins ; and the aviaries at Lilford, open to the public on certain days of the week. In Oundle itself there is much of interest. A wall, on which are one or two " gazebos," runs almost round the town, and in the streets are many old houses,• gateways and picturesque courts. The traveller, as he leaves after a tour of the district, may ruminate, as he gazes at the Parish Church, upon the intrepid daring of the school-boy who, in 1906, climbed its crocheted spire, alone and unaided, to tic a handkerchief to the weather-vane, 214 feet above the ground—a foolhardy deed; but one in true keeping with the adventurous mediaeval atmosphere of the whole forest district. R. C. B. G. * *