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would gladly offer you a better,' said he, if I had one ; but if you
will be contented to take the best I have, it may go with you.' 'I accept it the more willingly,' said the bishop, because you say it is worth little—not that I can count anything of little worth which is offered with such extraordinary good-will.' Turning, then, to his attendants, he said, “Saddle me the horse, for it is a seasonable present, and it is likely to serve me long. When saddled, he mounted it, and though at first he found its paces rough, after a little time, by a marvellous change, the motion became as pleasant and as gentle an amble as he could desire. And that no word which he had spoken might fall to the ground, the same animal never failed him for more than eight years afterwards—the time of his own death_turning out an excellent and most valuable palfrey. And what made the miracle more apparent was, that from iron-grey the horse began to grow white; so that, not long after, you could not find a horse more perfectly white than he became,”
When the greatest intellect in Europe could solemnly relate a story like this—believing it to be a miracle—let us judge more mercifully of the delusions and distractions of our simple minded forefathers.
Whether the dissolution of the convent was accomplished by force or by fraud, we know not. It appears only, from the instrument of surrender, now preserved among the records of the Augmentation Office in London, that on the 8th of December, in the 38th year of the reign of Henry the Eighth, the canons met for the last time in their noble chapter house, and appended their signatures to the document, in the following order
John Kildwick, Prior, William Lawson, Sub-Prior, John Blacket, Priest, Stephen Chapman, Priest, Thomas Catton, Priest, John Hawthorpe, Priest, Richard Seymere, Priest, Richard Bayldon, Priest, James Parkinson, Priest, Richard Morwyn, Priest, Edmond Newton, Priest,
William Beckfield, Priest, Anthony Watson, Priest, Robert Atkinson, Priest,
Peter Wilkinson, Deacon, and
John Nowell. These were the men who consented that Kirkham should become a solitary place, a desolation, and a wilderness of ruins.
In 1553, seven of them were living and in the receipt of a pension of £5 6s. 8d. each. The Prior, who had received £50 per annum, was then, I believe, dead.
I abstain, for obvious reasons, from reciting the legend called
“The Curse of Kirkham,” which tells in long genealogical array of the hapless fate of a family who are supposed to have benefited largely by the dissolution of the Priory.
When the King's survey was made in the 26th of Henry the Eighth, the annual value of the estates belonging to Kirkham amounted to £300 15s. 6d., a sum which, at the very least, would not now be sufficiently represented if multiplied by ten. I have not been able to discover the inventory of their personal property taken at the Dissolution, but Cole, in his MSS., now in the British Museum, says that there were taken away 30 fodder of lead, 442 ounces of plate, and 7 bells : one of these bells is said to be in the church of Appleton le Street, but upon examination I found it was of later date ; most probably it has been recast, for it speaks with a mediæval tongue.
The Chartulary, or Register of the charters of the Priorya volume containing very valuable topographical and genealogical information--though nothing illustrative of the architectural history of the house—is preserved in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, to which it was given, among his other manuscripts, by Lord Fairfax. He had obtained it from Roger Dodsworth, the great Yorkshire antiquary, who it, otherwise, seems, felt, like myself, a particular affection for the place.
I have seen impressions of two seals used by the canons, and they are interesting as showing how a particular subject was treated at different periods. The oldest is especially worthy of consideration, since-as is very seldom the case—it is doubtless coeval with the time of the foundation. It is of an elliptical or or oval form, bearing within the circumscription SIGILLVM SANCTI TRINITATIS DE CHIRCAM, a figure of the “ancient of days” sitting upon the rainbow, the left hand holding the book, and the right uplifted in the act of benediction. The peculiar position and the casting of the drapery indicate that the figure has been copied from some Saxon work. In fact, in the Benedictional of St. Ethelwold, a manuscript of the tenth century in the library of the Duke of Devonshire, is an illuminated figure resembling it precisely, and bearing the inscription TRINITAS VNVS ET VERVS. It is engraved in the twenty-fourth volume of “Archæologia.
The other, and much smaller seal, appears to have been made about the year 1300. It is of oval form, and has, perhaps, been fabricated on the temporary loss of the other, or for the use of the Prior, for in the only impression I have seen, the legend, with the exception of the word “ KIRKHAM," is obliterated. It represents the same Divine Being, as the older seal, sitting, not
on the rainbow, but on a plain seat under a canopy, having the book and the uplifted hand. In a compartment at his feet is the figure of a canon praying, the space on each side being adorned with the “water bouget” of Lord Roos. The same charge occurs also on each side of the canopy above, between two wheels, for Espec.
The house does not seein to have produced any members of celebrity. I have not been able to ascertain, however, whether or not Walter de Kirkham, bishop of Durham, who died in 1260, was, either by birth or education, connected with the place; or, also, Dr. Thomas Kirkham, who surrendered his house of the Grey Friars at Doncaster to Henry the Eighth, and was executed in 1547 for taking part in one of the risings of that period. One William Kirkham, abbot of Haltemprize, died in 1506. In the Cotton MS. Titus, A. xix., p. 524, is a treatise by “Nicholas Walkington de Kirkham de bello Standardi."
From this fragmentary history of the institution, I now proceed to the consideration of the building, or—as a trespass board at the gate more properly and pathetically terms it—"the few stones," that represent it: for the church, chapter house, refectory, and such principal parts as usually form the most important and interesting subjects for examination in a monastic building, are all but laid level with the sward-and two or three features in what is left will alone engage the eye of a casual observer. With the exception, indeed, of the gatehouse, a suggestive fragment of the choir, and the inner walls that had been reserved to bound the quadrangle for agricultural purposes, little or nothing has escaped the hands of sacrilegious despoilers. There is a creditable tradition that the building was used as a quarry when Howsham Hall was built, fifty years after the Dissolution ; but whether this or more insidious demands for erecting farm buildings, or repairing the roads, reduced it to its present condition, I am junable, of course, to ascertain. I know only that, within the last century, it has presented much the same appearance that it does now. Here is Buck's view of it, taken in 1721, a wild distempered dream, surely, as to particulars and perspective ; though, perhaps, acceptable in the main.
The ruins stand on the eastern side of the river Derwent, and in the curvature of a densely wooded part of the vale—the very beau ideal of a poet's dream of seclusion and rest. The road from York to Malton passes immediately in front of the Gatehouse, crossing the river by a bridge of three arches, of which one is of the Early English period. In a plan of the
Ruin, made in the year 1754, and now exhibited, the more modern part was represented by four wooden arches. A little further
up the road is noted also, the site of a stone arch,” as it is called, “under the high road, for the easier conveyance of provisions and fuel to the Priory:" but of this work no trace now remains.
In advancing to the Gatehouse, the first object that attracts attention is the square base of a cross, apparently of the same age, elevated on three steps, most likely supplied when it was repaired, as Gent, in his history of Ripon says, by Madame Crowther, the owner of the Priory, above a century ago. It is ornamented with two reversed trefoils, on each side, and (sturdy tradition notwithstanding, that this was the veritable stone against which Espec's son dashed his head) has no doubt served
market cross”—though I find no such chartered privilege granted to the Priory. The villagers and pleasure seekers of a wide district, however, still congregate here on a particular day in Autumn, although jackdaws and starlings and larks are the only articles of commerce. They call the meeting “ Kirkham Bird Fair.”
Though it is evident, from the decoration, which cannot be referred to a period earlier than the time of Edward the First, that this is not the “fatal stone," I fancy that the base of the cross to which the chronicle alludes may yet be seen a few hundred yards higher up the side of the valley, at an angle where a lane branching from the main road leads to Firby. It not only satisfies the tradition in respect of its position, but also by its Saxon or early Norman date, being two feet six inches square by two feet deep : the base of the shaft, according to the matrix, having measured twelve by eleven inches.
The Gatehouse has been a building of considerable size, with reference to the domestic structures of its period, and was erected in a plain and becoming fashion in the latter half of the twelfth century. On the west side of the archway is a small apartment that has been vaulted, with another above; and, on the east, a much more spacious room, that has also been vaulted, and had an elliptically headed fireplace inserted in the Decorated period. A chamber above, of similar dimensions shows a flat trefoil-headed doorway opening into a vacant space once occupied by a garderobe, the drain of which, in its descent to the river, passes through the house; and being still partly visible has contributed another to the long list of “subterraneous passages." of the building has been very probably used as a hospitium or an
infirmary for the poor of the district. Indeed, as Gent, writing about the year 1733, calls it the “Guest House," and his inductive powers were but feeble, I presume it then traditionally bore that name.
The central compartment, or gateway proper, has extended two bays of vaulting in length, but they are now entirely destroyed. It was inserted or rebuilt in the early Decorated period; a circumstance that has originated the common idea that the whole of the building was erected at that period. The outer or northern face (which within the last century seems to have been taken as the pictorial exponent of the whole Priory, judging even from the collection of plates which I now exhibit) is not only a remarkably picturesque, but a highly interesting example of a monastic gateway. The photograph I now present, will convey to you a far more definite and clear idea of its general appearance than I could otherwise provide ; and I will therefore touch only on the details. Here then, below the cornice, will be observed four shields of arms: the first, those of Clare, or, three chevrons gules : second, three lions of England, for Plantagenet: third, gules, three water bougets, ar. for Lord Ros; and, fourth, chequey or and gules, for Vaux, being the particular bearings of Gilbert de Clare Earl of Gloucester, who married Joan of Acre daughter of king Edward the First-and of William the second Baron de Ros and Patron of Kirkham, who married Maud the younger daughter of John de Vaux of Freston in Lincolnshire." As the earl, who probably appears here in consequence of Lord Ros having held of his fee in these parts, died in 1296—and Ros in 1316—there would have been little difficulty, even before the styles of Gothic architecture were discriminated, in ascertaining the date of the work. It must be remarked that in these instances, as in those below, the arms of the man and his wife are not impaled within one shield as became the rule at a subsequent period, but are placed on separate military shields ; that of the male occupying the dexter side, even when a subject had married the king's daughter.
A niche at each extremity below is now empty. in a sketch taken about a century ago, the eastern one held a broken figure, which I believe to be the same that Gent describes as that of St. Peter, with the keys in his hand and a church in his right hand.
The figure sitting within the vesica, which the same industrious observer deemed to be “ Pilate sitting in Judgment,” is the representation of the Trinity, copied from that seal of the house which had then recently been engraved, and which I have previously described.