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Catharine Furze   By: (1831-1913)

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It was a bright, hot, August Saturday in the market town of Eastthorpe, in the eastern Midlands, in the year 1840. Eastthorpe lay about five miles on the western side of the Fens, in a very level country on the banks of a river, broad and deep, but with only just sufficient fall to enable its long lingering waters to reach the sea. It was an ancient market town, with a six arched stone bridge, and with a High Street from which three or four smaller and narrower streets connected by courts and alleys diverged at right angles. In the middle of the town was the church, an immense building, big enough to hold half Eastthorpe, and celebrated for its beautiful spire and its peal of eight bells. Round the church lay the churchyard, fringed with huge elms, and in the Abbey Close, as it was called, which was the outer girdle of the churchyard on three sides, the fourth side of the square being the High Street, there lived in 1840 the principal doctor, the lawyer, the parson, and two aged gentlewomen with some property, who were daughters of one of the former partners in the bank, had been born in Eastthorpe, and had scarcely ever quitted it. Here also were a young ladies' seminary and an ancient grammar school for the education of forty boys, sons of freemen of the town. The houses in the Close were not of the same class as the rest; they were mostly old red brick, with white sashes, and they all had gardens, long, narrow, and shady, which, on the south side of the Close, ran down to the river. One of these houses was even older, black timbered, gabled, plastered, the sole remains, saving the church, of Eastthorpe as it was in the reign of Henry the Eighth.

Just beyond the church, going from the bridge, the High Street was so wide that the houses on either side were separated by a space of over two hundred feet. This elongated space was the market place. In the centre was the Moot Hall, a quaint little building, supported on oak pillars, and in the shelter underneath the farmers assembled on market day. All round the Moot Hall, and extending far up and down the street, were cattle pens and sheep pens, which were never removed. Most of the shops were still bow windowed, with small panes of glass, but the first innovation, indicative of the new era at hand, had just been made. The druggist, as a man of science and advanced ideas, had replaced his bow window with plate glass, had put a cornice over it, had stuccoed his bricks, and had erected a kind of balustrade of stucco, so as to hide as much as possible the attic windows, which looked over, meekly protesting. Nearly opposite the Moot Hall was the Bell Inn, the principal inn in the town. There were other inns, respectable enough, such as the Bull, a little higher up, patronised by the smaller commercial travellers and farmers, but the entrance passage to the Bull had sand on the floor, and carriers made it a house of call. To the Bell the two coaches came which went through Eastthorpe, and there they changed horses. Both the Bull and the Bell had market dinners, but at the Bell the charge was three and sixpence; sherry was often drunk, and there the steward to the Honourable Mr. Eaton, the principal landowner, always met the tenants. The Bell was Tory and the Bull was Whig, but no stranger of respectability, Whig or Tory, visiting Eastthorpe could possibly hesitate about going to the Bell, with its large gilded device projecting over the pathway, with its broad archway at the side always freshly gravelled, and its handsome balcony on the first floor, from which the Tory county candidates, during election times, addressed the free and independent electors and cattle.

Eastthorpe was a malting town, and down by the water were two or three large malthouses. The view from the bridge was not particularly picturesque, but it was pleasant, especially in summer, when the wind was south west... Continue reading book >>

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