Local History Titles Site Search


To the Editor of the Bucks Herald.

Sir, — As a tribute to the excellent education given in our elementary schools, l should like to relate my experience in a couple of talks I have had with the hundred or so boys and girls of the Tring Church House School, evacuated from a large number of schools round London. Their headmaster, Mr. Hugo Bright, wished to interest his pupils in the history and features of their war-time home, but could not find any guide-book to Tring. One of his girls, however, obtained from the County Library a copy of my booklet, “That Tring Air,” with the result that l was asked to give the children a talk on Tring.

The boys and especially the girls, were keenly interested, and asked some very intelligent questions, chiefly directed to “How old is this?” and “When war that built?” I was able to answer most of these, but one little girl stumped me by asking, “When was Tring first built or settled?” To which, of course, the only answer was, “Nobody knows.” We only know from the Domesday Book that Tring, or Treung, existed in Saxon times, before 1066 and all that, and that it was chiefly owned by a Saxon Thane, Engelric, who managed to annex two “Socmen,” who had previously been independent of him and were under the protection of “Usulf, son of Frane.” Was this the "Usulf, son of Frane." Was this the Saxon progenitor of the proprietors of the " Bucks Herald"? After my account of the prosecutions for witchcraft, and of the Tring witch-ducking, the last in the country, I was posed again by a girl asking, "Why did they call them Witches?" Not having Skeat's dictionary at hand, I got out of that by asking, “What else would you have called them?"

At the end of my first talk, there were at least twenty hands shot out for questions, and so I promised to come and see them again. At my second interview I gave them only a short account of the old industries of Tring — Agriculture, the oldest of them all; Canvas Weaving; Silk Throwing; Straw-plait; Scent manufacture; Brewing and Milling; and left it to the children to ask questions, with which they bombarded me.

At the end I offered a copy of "That Tring Air" as a prize for the best essay on Tring. Sixty were sent in. The headmaster selected six and I awarded first place to Pamela Elwood, aged I3 years and 8 months, of the Church House School, for a very excellent essay.

                                           ARTHUR MACDONALD

Bucks Herald, 20th June, 1941





Arthur MacDonald M.A.






















Having always been keenly interested in the history of my native parish, whose distinctive air I have inspired since my first breath, with the requisite intervals for education, travel, and “time”; and having accumulated a mass of notes on it from many sources, ancient and modern, I have quailed at the task of putting them into proper shape for a parish history according to the learned Cox’s directions, documented from long research in the Record Office and British Museum, but have amused myself in my old age by utilizing my notes in a gossiping narrative without any pretensions to exact accuracy or historical form.  This plan sets me free to air whatever theories occur to me, and to digress as much as I like when I think of a funny reminiscence.

Those who wish to ascertain the dry details of the successive owners of the manors and of the Great House, of the patrons of the living, and list of rectors and vicars, and of the “forefathers of the hamlet,” rude and otherwise, who lie in the churchyard and cemetery, must consult the County Histories of Hertfordshire, noted at the end of this work.  Here they will get all and more than they can digest, from Domesday Book to the beginning of the twentieth century.  My object will be to show something of the original and forceful characters who have made the history of their parish under the invigorating influence of

That Tring Air.


Hazely, Tring, 1940.



The “Air” of Tring

That Tring Air! For what is it not responsible in the physique and character and doings of its citizens, and hence for its history through the ages?

And here at once we encounter one of those mysteries, hitherto unsolved and perhaps insoluble: How can the air of a place have and retain a character of its own, persisting through the centuries? Why is the air of Margate and of Blackpool, as the doctors aver, the purest and healthiest in England? The air which we breathe in Tring to-day, if the wind is from the north, was over Wigan ten days ago — if from the east, left the Russian Steppes two or three months ago. It is continually in motion, except in a rare period of dead calm, and we can seldom be breathing air of exactly similar quality two days in succession. Is there a constant emanation from the soil, giving a stable character to the air of each place? But soil-air is said to be stagnant and unhealthy, and a period of wet after a dry spell displaces the soil-air and produces a crop of disease.

Or is it not the air of a place at all that produces effects on its inhabitants, but, as the Dowsers hold, rays emanating from the subsoil and all its constituents, rays which like the radio, are independent of all motion of the air and of all intervening obstructions; rays which will perhaps one day explain the homing instinct in animals susceptible to them?  Whatever it is, rays, soil, water, electricity, or rateable value, something there is which distinguishes one place from another and determines the character of the people living in it, builds bonny babies or rickety ones, makes people give their children Old Testament names or those of the current royalties or warriors, and even affects immigrants from other parts and moulds their characters to those of the natives.  As a cloak for our blank ignorance on this matter, let us call it, as the doctors do, the air of a place or district.  That Tring Air, then, is strong and bracing, kills off the soft and weak, and fosters only the strong and virile, whether natives or, as the old rate-books call them, “Forriners.”  The little town is placed on the lower chalk at the foot of the Chiltern Hills, and although Chauncy, the old Hertfordshire historian, calls it “A Vill standing in a bottom,” it is 450 feet above sea-level and almost as much above the Thames in London, and the old parish, which included Long Marston and Wilstone, like all its neighbours on the foot-hills of the Chilterns, stretches long and narrow from the seven or eight hundred feet level of the chalk escarpment, six or seven miles down on to the two or three hundred feet of the Gault Clay.  Here, as at old Bulbourne Head, is the actual watershed between the valleys of the Thame and Thames and of the Colne and Lea, so that there is no natural surface water, no possibility of floods, and very few bad thunder-storms.  What water there is from the scour of the hills and the infant springs was collected at the beginning of the nineteenth century into the big artificial reservoirs of the Canal which it feeds at the highest point, to run down through the locks, north-west to Birmingham and south-east to London.

Incidentally, the owners of the Tring Park Estate, who sold the land to the Canal Company, reserved the sporting rights, and the reservoirs have been developed by the natural-history-loving Rothschilds into sanctuaries for many interesting birds and fishes.  All the ornithologists got excited over the nesting of the lesser ringed-plover on the reservoir banks in 1938.

J. B. Priestley, in describing his hectic lecturing tours in America, writes in Rain Over Godshill “I remember, with a gratitude equal to that I feel towards the kind folk everywhere in those parts, the American air.  If I revived so often and so quickly, it was not food or drink or rest that did it, but the miraculously tonic air.  I would crawl out of the train hot and exhausted wondering how I should get through the evening’s long programme, but even a few gulps of that air, between the station and the hotel, would bring me to life again.  Nature has given America unpleasant extremes of heat and cold, floods and droughts, dust-storms, blizzards, tornadoes, but as a recompense these States have a perpetual supply of this vintage and restorative air.  I do not know the secret of its quality, but I live to testify to its possession of this medicinal power.”

The same may be said of That Tring Air.  I keep my health in my old age, when I cannot walk or stand for half an hour without a pain in the small of my back, by frequent “Voyages autour de mon jardin” and up and down the sunny, sheltered road in front of my house, chatting with my neighbours and drinking in the invigorating air, always excepting when it is from the north-east, from the Russian Steppes, whence comes everything unpleasant and “neither good for man nor beast.”  Then I dry up and sit before my log fire and breathe my own CO2, until the wind changes.  A Daily Telegraph article read: “The tide at Weston-super-Mare does strange things.  It rises and falls some forty-three feet at a time the highest in Europe.  The result of this maritime abandon is to provide a special kind of ‘air-conditioning,’ and this is in turn held to account for an unwonted energy which seizes the visitor.”

But this effect may be due to the immensely greater tide produced by the pull of the moon and sun on the atmosphere, perhaps measurable by miles instead of feet.  If so, may not a similarly abnormal tide in the atmosphere over our water-shed be the scientific explanation of the energising properties of That Tring Air?  Further research may reveal that it has been at atmospheric Spring and Neap tides that most of our eccentricities have been produced.



The Name

The name of Tring, with its compact individuality, has puzzled the antiquarians, from the great Professor Skeat to the English Place-Name Society, who in their volume on Hertfordshire place-names give numerous spellings from Domesday Book onwards, but no good guess at the origin.  The favourite ascription of names ending in “ing” to the settlement of the descendants of some Saxon farmer leaves this gentleman with nothing but a “Tr” to distinguish him, and no such Saxon is known, even with one of the five vowels in his middle or at his end.  The Domesday spelling is “Treung, Tring,” so that if the name is from a Saxon patronymic, “Tre” would seem to be the name.  No such word is found in the list of known Saxon settlers.  The Comish “Tre” is, of course, a prefix only, like Pol and Pen.

The English Place-Name Society, so revered for their modern scientific method, have, may I say with great deference, made some bad “bloomers” about Tring.  Taking the names of houses and hamlets from the modern Ordnance Map, they have connected them with early recorded names of inhabitants of somewhat similar sound.  Thus they hazard that Beech Grove and Grove Place were the homes of Ralph ate Beche (1307) and John de la Grave (1296), whereas they were both named from the Grove of Beeches planted in a half-mile semi-circle round his house by one Seare in the late eighteenth century.  These erudite gentlemen also state that “The complete absence of any Danish place-name elements shows that there never can have been any regular Danish settlement here, even on a small scale,” whereas we have Dunsley Farm, given in Domesday Book as Daneslai (or Danes’ Field) with the “Oddie Hill” immediately above it; Scandinavian “Oddi,” a triangular piece of land, which it is; and the Hundred is the Hundred of Dacorum — of the Danes — showing that there must have been at least a small Danish colony here, outside the Dane-Law.

Inconsistently, however, the Society does hazard the guess that the name may be the Danish “Thrithing,” or “Third Part,” of an administrative area like the “Ridings” of Yorkshire, but this would be as absurd as calling a town “Hundred” or “County.”



The Romans, Danes, Saxons, and Normans

That Tring Air was doubtless responsible for attracting and retaining a specially independent and virile clan of the hardy Danes, far removed from their fellows on the other side of the Hertfordshire Lea, and surrounded by suspicious and hostile Saxons.

The Romans seem to have left Tring alone, there being no water there and no oysters, and even the rabbits, which they are said to have imported in the senseless way in which people do import potential pests like the grey squirrel and the musk-rat, do not infest the district in any excessive numbers.

Of the Saxons and Normans in Tring we have only the mention in Domesday Book, from which we gather that the Saxon thane who held Tring Manor from King Edward the Confessor was one Elgeric, or Engelric, and that there were two “Sochmen,” or owners independent of Engelric, under the protection of Usulf, son of Frane.  Can this be the Saxon progenitor of our Tring and Aylesbury De Fraines, written thus by their Norman conquerors?  Engelric seems to have hung on to the Manor for a bit after the Conquest, as he “laid” these Sochmen to his Manor after the coming of King William, but he was dispossessed of it very soon in favour of the great Norman lord, Count Eustace, or Robert, Earl of Ewe, who had whole counties bestowed on him for his services and counsel to the Conqueror.

The language of Domesday, with its hides and virgates and carucates, soke-lands and berewicks, bordars and villeins, and pannage for hogs, requires a special education for its comprehension and comparison with present-day standards.

It would hardly be possible even for the few who have acquired this education to form any idea from the Domesday valuations of the equivalent in statute acres of the various manors and hamlets making up the present parish, and any comparison of money values then and now is beyond the estimation of all our historians and economists.  For instance, Tring Manor was valued at two and twenty pounds annual value of white money by the weight of the Earl of Ewe, presumably pounds weight of silver, and it is impossible to get any idea of what this might mean in modern money.  Experts have, by comparison of wages, incomes, prices, etc., arrived at rough approximations of equivalent values for later centuries, e.g., forty times the recorded figures for circa 1300, and thirty times for circa 1600, so that a priest's stipend of £5 a year in 1300 may have been roughly equivalent to £200 a year now, or the same amount in 1600 equal to £150 a year now, but I cannot learn that any such investigations and comparisons have been made for eleventh-century figures such as the Domesday valuation.



The Reformation

The dissolution of the monasteries, that tremendous upheaval and change in the life of England, passed Tring by almost without remark.  No monastery existed here, nor in the vicinity.  No monks were seen tilling the fields or paying clandestine visits to the ladies of the town.

The farmers were tenants of the lords of the various manors, Tring Rectory, Miswell, Pendley, or Bunstrux and Riccardins, and not of any abbot or prior.

What connection there was with any religious house was fortuitous and distant, as when Tring Manor and Rectory was granted by the Crown to the abbot and monks of Faversham, in Kent, who held it from the middle of the twelfth century until 1340.

No land or tithes in Tring passed by the Dissolution Acts from any monastery into the hands of the king, and so to lay purchasers or grantees.  The great tithes were, in fact, in the hands of the Cathedral of Christchurch, Oxford.

The inhabitants of Tring must have looked on in astonishment, but with detachment, at the suppression of the great Abbey of St. Albans, seventeen miles away, and at the redistribution of its vast estates and tithes and the pensioning-off of its abbot and brethren.

The nearest religious house would be that of the small body of the Bons-hommes at Ashridge, a unique French order.  There was also a small house of Franciscan nuns at Kings Langley, suppressed by Henry VIII, refounded by Mary, and suppressed finally by Elizabeth.

It is an interesting fact that the Manor of Tring was granted by Henry VIII to Sir Edward North, who was Treasurer and Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations of the King’s Revenues, set up on the dissolution to administer these huge accretions to the royal income, and to dispose of these great estates by sale or grant to courtiers for services rendered, after providing for the pensioning of the former owners, which, contrary to popular impression, was done on a liberal scale, though, of course, out of their own former properties.



The Canal, Reservoirs, and Railway


It is not until we come to the London and Birmingham Canal Act of 1792 that we find our little parish intersected by a public utility company, with parliamentary powers to acquire a strip of land right through the country for public transport services.  The canal was the first outcome of this new power, to be followed half a century later by the railway.

Tring was a key point in the London and Birmingham Canal system, being the highest point on the route.  The big reservoirs were therefore placed here, to supply the water to run down both ways through the locks.  From the summit level of the canal branches were formed to Wendover and Aylesbury.  Three large reservoirs were formed near Little Tring, and three near Wilstone.  They are supplied from springs and from the surface water from the hills, and pumping stations lift the water from them into the summit of the canal or its branches.

These artificial sheets of water were formed amid picturesque surroundings, and with their reed-fringed and tree-bordered edges, form a pleasant feature in the otherwise waterless landscape.  Besides their utilitarian office, they afford good sport in fishing, wild-fowling, and skating.  The supply of water, right on the watershed, is not unfailing, and in dry years several of the reservoirs have become quite empty, corn having been grown on their beds.  Some big fish have been taken from them: pike up to 28 lbs., bream up to 10 and 11 lbs., also perch, roach, dace, and chub, the latter not plentiful.  Referring to Izaak Walton’s chapter in The Compleat Angler on “How to fish for and to dress the Chavender or Chub,” Ashby Sterry, the delightful “Lazy Minstrel,” wrote:

“When you’ve caught your Chavender, your Chavender or Chub,
You hie you to your Pavender, your Pavender or Pub,
And when you’ve had your Gravender, your Gravender or Grub,
You lay you down in Lavender, sweet Lavender or Lub.”


The London and Birmingham Railway Company obtained their Act about 1835, ten years in advance of the General Railway Act. [Robert] Stephenson was the engineer, and again the position of Tring at the highest level between the two terminals made it an important point on the line.  The wise Scot [Geordie] advised a deep cutting rather than a tunnel, and dug down to a depth sufficient to surmount the summit with easy gradients, which have paid the company over and over again, enabling it to run longer trains than any other company.  An old picture is in existence showing the peculiar and original method of excavation in those early days of railway engineering.  Three planks were fixed up the slope of the cutting.  At the top of these a stout post was driven into the ground, with a grooved wheel on top.  Over this a chain or stout rope was passed, the lower end hooked to a wheel-barrow, the upper to a horse in the field above.  When the navvy had filled the barrow with chalk, he hung on to the handles, the word was given, the horse pulled, and barrow and navvy were drawn up the plank to the top.  There were frequent mishaps, and the resident engineer devised a mechanical lift to take the place of this primitive method.  The navvies, however, broke up the new-fangled machine and carried on as before.

The railway was completed and opened in 1838, a year after Queen Victoria’s accession, and great was the excitement of the first journey.  Whether the famous engine, the “Rocket,” was used cannot be said, but the passengers stood in trucks like those now used for cattle.  The first “sleepers” were large granite blocks supporting the ends and middles of the rails.  These shook the passengers all to pieces, and soon had to be replaced by wooden sleepers laid across the permanent way.  Many of the old granite blocks can be seen in Tring and other places on the line, used in threes as mounting-blocks for horsemen.

Another replacement found necessary was the parapets of the road bridges over the railway, which first consisted of open palisades of short cast-iron Doric pillars on stone bases.  It was soon found that horses passing over the bridges were terrified by the engines and trains roaring below, in full view of the animals.  These had to be replaced everywhere by high, solid, brick walls.  I have not seen the old palisades used up anywhere but as the front fence of my own house, where they make a substantial, imposing, and everlasting frontage-guard, the only drawback being their frequent use by the passing boy as a dulcimer by drawing a stick along them, to the detriment of the paint.  To encourage building near their stations, the company granted free passes on their line for a varying term of years, from Watford to Tring.  My father was the only inhabitant of Tring (two miles from the station) to take advantage of this concession, and for building and inhabiting “Beech Grove” received a free first-class pass for twenty-one years between Tring and Euston.



The Inclosure

When M. Jules Cambon was ambassador in London, he was appealed to, at a banquet, as to whether “Sauce Reforme” was properly spelt in the menu.  He replied: “En France la réforme ne se fit pas sans e mute” (émeute).  But in England the most drastic revolutions, such as the suppression of the monasteries, the drainage and reclamation of the fens, the inclosure of the parishes, and the break-up and redistribution of the great estates, have been carried out in an orderly and legal way, without “émeute” [riots] or any great agitation or ill-feeling.

To many people the word “inclosure” connotes the grabbing of a common from the poor, fencing it in and adding it to the private demesne of the Lord of the Manor.  Witness the popular doggerel:

“The Law condemns the man or woman
 Who steals the goose from off the common,
 But lets the greater felon loose
 Who steals the common from the goose.”

But to the sober historian it means an agricultural revolution necessitated by the progress of farming, and carried out in perfect order by well-considered legislation.  The necessary change had long been foreseen, and That Tring Air made its inhabitants pioneers, with some other parishes, in getting its own Inclosure Act and Award in 1799, forty-six years in advance of the General Inclosure Act of 1845.  The old communal farming system, introduced and practised by the Saxons, so well and meticulously described and illustrated by Seebohm in his history of the inclosure of his native parish of Hitchin, in North Hertfordshire, was everywhere seen to be entirely unadaptable to modern farming methods after the introduction of the turnip and clover.  A parish such as Tring comprised the town and its hamlets, each surrounded by numbers of small “old inclosures” owned and held with the houses.  Outside there were huge, open, arable fields of three or four hundred acres, unfenced and undivided.  Hazely Field, Hawkwell Field, Dunsley Field, Goldfield, Hounslow Field were the fields immediately surrounding the town, and some of these old names have happily been preserved in those of houses and farms lying in them.  In each of these great fields there were perhaps a hundred or more strips of half an acre to three or four acres, belonging to different owners, each of whom would own, say, five to ten strips in different parts of each of the open fields, giving each owner a sample of the varying soil.  The rotation of crops in each field was laid down by custom, usually on a three-course shift of corn, beans, and fallow, and there was an elaborate communal system of cultivation.  Each owner contributed his bit to the common plough and team, a huge wooden implement drawn by five or six oxen yoked by a pole 16½ feet long, the “rod, pole, or perch” of land measurement.  The plough was driven for a furlong (furrow-long), 40 poles or 10 chains, and turned at the grass balk which divided the big field, and was constantly raised by the soil pushed up and dropped by the plough in turning.

It can readily be seen that on the introduction of root crops instead of bare fallow, and an improved rotation of a four-course shift of wheat, clover, barley, or oats and turnips or mangold wurzel, with the requisite cleaning and manuring for each crop, conserving the fertility of the soil, the old system must be superseded.  There were no half-measures.  This revolution, achieved by the private Inclosure Acts and finally by the General Act, was thus carried out: the whole of the open fields of the parish were thrown into hotch-pot and redivided into fields of convenient size to be privately owned, and free from the former custom of the right of every owner to turn his pigs and sheep over the stubbles of the whole field after harvest, to pick up what little they could.

A competent surveyor and valuer was appointed by the owners of the strips. He called statutory meetings of all those interested, registered and verified their claims to ownership of the strips and rights of pasturage in respect of them or of their homesteads, on the common or waste of the manor and on the Lammas lands or common pastures, made a complete survey and plan of the parish (most of these were models of accurate geodesy and map-making), on which he divided the open fields into separate inclosures, and allotted them to the several claimants in strict proportion to the total of their former ownerships and rights, ordained the position and nature of the fences to be made by each new owner, and at each successive step held meetings to check and confirm his redistribution.  Parts of each field were reserved from allotment and sold to the highest bidder to provide the heavy expenses of the Inclosure. Voluntary exchanges of allotments arranged between landowners were confirmed and embodied in the Award which was finally made.

Under the private Acts like that of Tring, the always vexed tithe question was solved for all time by the allotment of land in lieu of tithes to the parson and the lay tithe owner, and it would have saved a century of legislation and agitation if this system had been adopted for all parishes under the General Inclosure Act.

Where the owners of small, old inclosures and a few strips in the open fields had not sufficient land or rights to give up for compensation for tithes, their lands were charged with “corn rents in lieu of tithes,” an annual payment regulated by the average price of wheat and readjusted periodically.

Land was also allotted to the inhabitants as a body, or “the Poor,” in lieu of any rights of pasturage or fuel they possessed in the commons or wastes, the rents being laid out by charity trustees on coal and bread doles.

In Tring a hundred acres of land on the hills was so set apart as “Poor’s Land,” subsequently exchanged for allotment gardens and recreation ground.

The inclosure process was a tremendous upheaval and drastic change in the ownership of the lands of the parish, and laid the orderly foundation of modern agriculture. The Tring Inclosure Act, Award, and Plan, showing all the “allotments” or new fields, new roads, and footpaths, is a most interesting document, deposited with the Urban District Council, and it can be inspected by those interested. There are very few parishes where an inclosure has not taken place, but one of them is our neighbouring parish of Aldbury, where the public road goes through unfenced fields, and the owners and occupiers of the open fields still have the right, if they choose to exercise it, of turning their animals over the whole of the stubbles after a certain date in August. The strips have by sales and exchanges been consolidated into a few ownerships, and the rights have by common consent and convenience been unexercised for many years.

There is, however, one parish in the East Midlands, Laxton, where the old communal system is still carried on, on the medieval three-course shift, the strips still being in separate ownership. The production of these fields would be thought to be far inferior to that of the adjoining enclosed parishes, but Professor Orwin, who, with his wife, has produced a monumental book on Laxton, says that there is not much difference; that the soil is such heavy clay that nothing else could have been done with it, and that there is not much difference between the gross output of the unenclosed and enclosed lands.




That Tring Air has produced or attracted some of the best farmers and stock-breeders in the country.  The red, flinty clay on the top of the chalk in the upper part of the parish grows some good crops if properly treated, as it was at Leylands by Fred Crouch, of Miswell, whose crop of wheat, nearly six feet high, drew from Moses Pratt, of the Wick Farm, the remark: “If that was my crop and I went by it every day, I should get wry-necked.”

On the hanging of the chalk escarpment, where there are but few inches of soil on the bare chalk, as at Dancers’ End, much feeding is necessary, but even under such circumstances men of capital and enterprise have managed to extract a living.  One Hepburn, on taking Dancers’ End farm, was followed by one of his men, who asked to come and work for him.  “Very glad if you will, John, but I must tell you that it won’t do to sit down and have your ‘Baiver’ under the hedge here, for the land’s that hungry, it will have the seat out of your breeches” (though a less-polite term was used).

The middle part of the parish, round Tring, on the chalk-marl and glacial gravels, provides good average soil, on which the long-famous Pendley stock farms and West Leith shire-horse stud farms flourished under the management of such well-known men as Harry Bishop and Tom Fowler, either of whom could buy or sell a shire foal for £200, which required some judgment and experience.  Down on the strong gault clay at Long Marston, in the northern end of the parish, good wheat has always been grown, and good cattle and sheep on the pastures, by such sound farmers as the Newmans and Southernwoods, following each other for generations.  The fruit belt of the Upper Greensand is here but a narrow strip, but advantage is taken of it to grow some good “Dampsons and Pruins.”  The Tring Agricultural Association, founded in 1840, was a go-ahead institution from the first, led by their president, James Adam Gordon, of Stocks, a Scot with the keen appreciation of his race of science applied to agriculture.  Quite early in its history, the Association had a good try to increase the yield of the crops by electricity, but it was in advance of its time, and had not the advantage of our modern developments.

It was the first to realise the value to agriculture of the Rothamsted experimental station in their county.  The first little laboratory, next to Harpenden Common, bears a stone with the names of the committee and secretary of the Tring Association, as having been presented by them to Mr. Lawes, the founder of the station.

The Annual Show of the Association, held for half its history at Tring Station in October, with a famous ploughing match and show of the year’s grain, started with a prize list of £30, and the ensuing dinner at the Harcourt Arms or Royal Hotel, held from 4 p.m. until a late hour, was always the occasion for the free exchange of the then most advanced ideas on agriculture and its relation to the State.  The big landowners, farming parsons, and leading tenant farmers, all spoke their minds out, and finally joined in the chorus of “The Farmer’s Boy” and “John Peel,” sung by Henry Chapman and Herbert Brown.  On the acquisition of Tring Park by that great agriculturist and stock-breeder, the first Lord Rothschild, the Association took a new lease of life and held its show in Tring Park, with great developments in milk and butter tests, sheep-dog trials, and all the features of the most up-to-date agriculture.

Lord Rothschild, generously liberal to his tenants, was at the same time well aware of the effects of the uneconomic process of rent remission. He remarked to the secretary of the Association:

“Brown, you may point out five different ways in which

a farmer may make or save twenty pounds, but if he can go to Mr. Brown and get a hundred pounds off his rent, that is much easier.”

A fellow-farmer, discussing the same subject with a Rothschild tenant who was getting 44 per cent. off his fair rent, told him: “What you want, old chap, is your rent doubling. Then you would buck up and do something.”

“Old Batch,” whose sayings are elsewhere recorded, when we were enjoying a perfect season, remarked:

“We shall find one soon, shan’t we, Sir?”

“What is that, ‘Batch’?”

“A contented farmer.”

The Association, at its centenary, can justly claim to have done as much for agriculture as the Royal or any Association in the country, and it is its legitimate boast to have produced the best one-day show in England, thanks to a long succession of eminent agriculturists, able secretaries, and capable tenant farmers, including one of the best presidents of the National Farmers’ Union.



The Church

Tring Church is a fine, handsome structure, the result of nine or ten centuries of building, rebuilding, and restoration.  We shall never know when, or by whom, the first church was built, or whether there was a wooden one here in Saxon times, perhaps built by Engelric, the Thane of Tring.

There was a Norman church, of which the only relics are certain stones built into the present walls, showing Norman tooling, and the base-stone of an octagonal mullion found built up in the tower wall at the last restoration in 1881, a stone which the builders rejected, and which now carries a sun-dial in my garden.  The great Earl Eustace of the hundred manors, whose forest of Eu in Normandy is now hunted by our Duke of Westminster’s pack of hounds, may or may not have built the Norman church.  His daughter Matilda, Stephen’s queen, about 1150, gave the Rectory, Manor, and Advowson of Tring to the abbot and monks of Faversham, Kent, who held them until 1340, when they granted them to the Archbishop of Canterbury in exchange for two advowsons in Kent, and the Archbishops held them until 1539, when they again passed to the Crown.

The abbot and monks of Faversham may have built the thirteenth-century church, of which the only remaining portion is the north wall of the chancel with its Early-English lancet window.

In the early fourteenth century a big rebuilding took place, and the massive west tower, the feature which makes the church, was built, about 1360 to 1400, with its “Hertfordshire spike,” a little embryo spire planted on the roof of the tower instead of the tall spire, for the support of which angle arches had been built across the corners of the belfry.  It is curious, however, that so many neighbouring churches have a similar feature.  This rebuilding may have been done by one of the Archbishops, and another may have been responsible for the fifteenth-century rebuilding, about 1470, which produced the present church, with its beautiful perpendicular nave arcade and clerestory, and the very intriguing series of sculptured natural and fabulous beasts which constitute the most interesting feature of the church, seven each side, at the springing of the nave arches.  They are beautifully carved, of most spirited design, and full of obscure symbolism, perhaps inspired by some great and most unchristian antipathy and sarcasm.

This is Cussans’ guess at their origin (History of Hertfordshire): “The grotesque corbels, carved in stone, which support the wall-pieces in the spandrels of the nave arches, are very curious.  The regular (monastic) and secular (parochial) clergy of the Middle Ages were ecclesiastical Montagues and Capulets; each hated the other, and both detested the Mendicant Friars.  The antagonism of the Regulars and Seculars is portrayed not only in their writings, but in their works of art, from the tapestry of Bayeux to the ‘Misereres’ of Henry VII’s chapel in Westminster Abbey.  Friars were commonly represented by the regular clergy as swine, foxes, and monkeys, and in Tring Church we have examples of the three devices.  One of the corbels represents a pig with a friar’s cowl; in another (1st, S.E.) is a fox running off with a goose, alluding to the craft of the preaching friars and the stupidity of their hearers; a third (2nd from S.E.) represents a monkey in religious habits, holding a book in one hand and a bottle in the other; on another corbel (3rd from S.E.) we see the Dragon killing St. George, the meaning of which is obvious.”

These figures present such interesting problems of symbolism and intention, that it may help towards a solution if a detailed description is given, from a report on the church by the late Mr. Philip Mainwaring Johnston, F.S.A., F.R.I.B.A., made in December 1910, accompanied by a series of excellently clear photographs. (Mr. Johnston designed the 1914 War Memorial):

“Taken in order from west to east on the north side and from east to west on the south side, the figures are as follows:

N. side


No. 1

A Monster with a woman’s head and fore part, clawed hind feet, the scaly wings of a dragon folded against her sides.  She wears a fillet with a stud in the centre, and holds two great tresses of her hair in her hands.  It is difficult to suggest the meaning of this monster, unless it be intended for one of the Locusts of the Apocalypse (see Revelations, ix, 7).

No. 2

A Beast swallowing a man (or perhaps a child).

No. 3

A Wild Boar; perhaps intended to symbolise the enemies of the Church of Christ. ‘The boar out of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast of the field doth devour it’ (Psalm lxxx, 13).

No. 4

A Wild Man, his body covered with long, plaited hair and wreathed from the loins downward with a vine-trail.  This figure may be taken as the emblem of the ‘Natural Man.’  It is often found carved on or about a font in the Eastern Counties, as at Halesworth and Saxmundham, Suffolk, in allusion to the ‘putting off of the old man’ in Holy Baptism.

No. 5

An Antelope, with tusks; a subject that is met with in the medieval bestiaries.

No. 6

A Hound, with a bossed collar.

No. 7

An Angel, bearing an heraldic shield.

S. side


No. 8

A Fox carrying off a goose over his back.  The head of the goose has been broken (or bitten?) off, but the neck is between the jaws of Reynard, and his bushy brush is tucked into the angle of the shaft-base and arch-moulding.  It seems probable that these animal satires were often aimed at the greed, rivalries, and love of power of the secular clergy, the monks and the friars.  A fox, habited in a friar’s gown, preaching to a congregation of ducks and geese from a pulpit, is in miséricordes at Beverley and Ripon.

No. 9

A Monkey, habited as a monk (or friar?), carrying a bottle and a book.  Had a friar been intended, his knotted girdle would doubtless have been shown.

No. 10

A Griffinon devouring a man in armour.  This has been described, somewhat oddly, in a county history as ‘The Dragon killing St. George.’  The prostrate and apparently dead warrior is a good illustration of the armour of a man-at-arms of Edward IV’s reign, and the ferocious griffon is also a spirited piece of animal carving.

No. 11

A Lion holding a shield between his paws.

No. 12

A Dragon.

No. 13

A Collared Bear, chained and muzzled.  Possibly in allusion to the cruel sport of bear-baiting, then and till a much later date popular with rich and poor.  Tring in the fifteenth century no doubt had its bear-pit and bull-ring.  (There is no evidence of this.)

No. 14

A Dog fighting with a dragon.

Mr. Johnston adds: “In carrying out works of restoration at Blythburgh Church, Suffolk, the writer had the opportunity of closely examining a series of stone figures on pinnacles decorating the parapet of the south aisle, which happens to be of the same approximate date as the Tring carvings.  Several of the subjects are the same, and among them is a chained monkey with a monk’s cowl.  From the similarity in date and subjects, the wide range and apparent absence of scheme in both cases, it would seem that the artist in these two churches worked under the same inspiration.  At Blythburgh the subjects, from east to west, are: Eagle, Lion, Fox, Bull, Ape, Devil, King, King.”

From all this we may form the conjecture that the Archbishop of Canterbury, having undertaken the rebuilding of his church of Tring on a worthy and permanent scale, resolved to put the finishing touch to the work by instructing his masons to express in stone the infinite contempt and hostility for the mendicant friars which was a tradition of the “Regulars” and “Seculars,” and on this assumption these figures nearly all represent the cunning, rapacity, and unscrupulousness attributed to a body of men who were more successful than the established clergy in annexing the wealth of the faithful.  If No.1 is a Locust of the Apocalypse, the meaning is clear devouring all in their path.  No. 2 may be the devouring of the widow; No. 3, the wasting of the property of the faithful as by a beast of the field; No. 4, the unregenerate man that the typical unconventional friar was supposed to be; No. 6, their unrelenting pursuit and hounding down of any one who had money or goods; No. 8, the fox-like raiding of the gullible geese; No. 9, the monkey tricks practised on his victims by a friar with a breviary in one hand and a bottle or purse in the other; No. 10, the triumph of evil over good, however well armed.  The rest doubtless had meanings then well known, pointing to similar vices and malpractices, so that we perhaps have in Tring Church a permanent record of the religious savagery of the medieval established order against the unofficial free lances, the Salvation Army of that day.

But against this interesting theory must be put the opinion of Mr. George Kruger Gray, F.S.A., a great authority on ecclesiastical symbolism, who doubts whether the church authorities had anything to do with the designing of this series of carvings, which were probably executed without any superior direction by the itinerant masons who built our parish churches, and had free scope to produce a series of figures for pure ornament, and that they did this from well-known designs of heraldic figures without any general plan or principle.  “The Bear,” says Mr. Kruger Gray, “(almost always muzzled and with staff), the Wild Boar, the Griffon (half lion and half eagle), the Wodehouse or Wild Man, the heraldic Antelope (generally with collar and chain), the Talbot (a dog of the mastiff type), the Lion, the Monkey, and the Dragon, were all well-known and popular figures in heraldic art.  The true Dragon has wings and four legs; the Wyvern, wings and two legs.  No. 12 is probably meant for a Lizard.  One can find most of these beasts and creatures in almost any set of carvings, as well as in the decorative borders of the manuscripts.”

Both views may be correct.  The guild of masons must have been well aware of the bitter feeling of their employers against the friars, and may have embodied this feeling in many of their designs, others being simply well-known heraldic figures without special significance.

As a small boy, taken regularly to church with my family “to set a good example,” my heavenward gaze was directed alternately to the funny figures on the corbels, and to the bats which hunted continually up and down in the dimness of the roof.  The bats departed, and the death-watch beetle came (it is said you cannot have both), and there was another big whipround to be made.

After the fifteenth-century rebuilding, no more additions of consequence were made to the structure.  A very drastic and complete restoration was effected in the nineteenth century, 1861 to 1881, and the Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments reported “Condition good, owing to recent restoration.”

No doubt the usual destruction of all “Popish” features took place at the Reformation, and must have been very complete, as none have survived.

Apart from alterations of the main structure, the church went through some minor adventures in the nineteenth century.  The Rev. Charles Lacy, who was vicar from 1819 to 1839, found the stone pillars of the nave very carefully painted over in imitation of blue marble.  This marbling had been done at considerable cost by a former would-be benefactor, said to be one of the Gores, who owned Tring Manor until 1768, and who had employed Italian workmen, and the result was considered in every way as happy as if the stones were of the costliest marble instead of homely “clunch.”  (These things are purely a matter of custom and contemporary taste.  It comes as a shock to modern admirers of “the stones of Venice” to realize that the ultra-pure lines of the columns of the Parthenon were painted in gaudy stripes of blue and red and yellow.)  Mr. Lacy, however, was before his time in this respect, and considering even whitewash better than such pretension, had all the work whitened over in 1832, but such was the opposition of his flock to the destruction of the object of so much admiration, that the Vicar had to lock the doors while the operation was carried out, and the churchwardens explained to the parishioners that the work going on was not by their orders, and would not therefore be payable for by the parish.

Similar rules of art had prompted the people of Tring to subscribe a yearly sum of some £70 or £80 until the completion of the important and then fashionable work of enveloping the whole outside of the fabric in stucco.  An estimate was obtained in 1827 for “Ruff-casting” that part of the church that was bare, and washing the whole with Aylesbury lime.

In the later restoration, one of the first necessities was the stripping of this mantle and the exposure and restoration of the old flint and stone work.  Some of the old inhabitants who subscribed to both operations began to think the canons of ecclesiastical art a little changeable.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the music was supplied by a small orchestra housed with the choir in a gallery hung on to the east wall of the tower, the instruments being a violin, a “fiddle’s father,” or double-bass, and some wood-wind.  The schoolmaster conducted, and the congregation were accustomed to turn (west) towards the choir when singing, but, of course, with the old free-and-easy, loose-box pews of those days, there was a picturesque diversity of position among the family groups.  One can well imagine the effect of That Tring Air having inspired the schoolmaster-conductor to outdo the parish clerk of the Devonshire church who composed a special anthem for the first visit on record of the bishop of the diocese, on this wise:

1. Symphony by the orchestra—the ‘Fiddle’s Father,’ the Hautbois, Sackbut, Psaltery, and all kinds of music.

2. Anthem:

“Whoy glap ‘your ’ands, ye little ’ills,
 Whoy glap, whoy glap, whoy glap?
 Whoy! ’Tis because we’m glad to zee
 ’Is Gra-ace the Lard Bish-ap.

(Symphony as before.)
 Whoy ’op ye zo, ye little bir-rds,
 Whoy ’op, whoy -’op, whoy ’op?
 Whoy! ’Tis because we’m glad to zee
 ’Is Gra-ace the Lard Bish-op.

 Whoy z-gip ye zo, ye little lambs,
 Whoy z-gip, whoy z-gip, whoy z-gip?
 Whoy! ’Tis because we’m glad to zee
 ’Is Gra-ace the Lard Bish-ip.

 Ees! ’e be goom tu breach to we,
 Zo let us hall z-trike hup,
 And zing a glorious zong of braise,
 To bless the Lard Bish-up.”

(Symphony in full blast, crashing and rolling, dying away to silence, while the conductor mops his brow with a large red handkerchief.)

In due course an organ, or “box o’ whustles,” replaced the orchestra in the western gallery, causing nothing less than a revolution.  The choir struck, and refused to sing, stung to this drastic step by derogatory remarks as to their performance being “like a parcel of bulls.”  The Vicar was equal to the occasion, and refused to preach.

“No singing, no preaching.”

Even this outbreak of hostilities was eventually got over, and peace again reigned.

After the commencement of the restoration of 1861, the western gallery was removed, and a little organ was hung on to the north wall, surrounded by a red curtain, above which the Vicar’s gardener rose to blow the organ by pulling a rope, as for a knell.  A few boys, seated near the organ, did duty for a choir, Ted Dawe, though of the same age as the rest of us, singing a deep bass.  We saw to it that the Christmas decorations included a trail of the prickliest holly round the blower’s rope.

It was well towards the end of the great restoration before a new (or rather second-hand) organ was subscribed for by the ladies of Tring, and placed in a new organ chamber, and the choir, instead of the reigning family, occupied the chancel.

Of the memorials in Tring Church, the Anderson tombs in the sanctuary, and the very remarkable piece of Tacitcan latinity in the mural tablet, are noteworthy.  The Gore monument is genuine Grinling Gibbons, as appears from his signet mark, the pea-pod, hidden in the design.  Sir William’s thumb will be seen to have been replaced, after a repose of some generations at the bottom of the pond in Brook Street, enabling him to continue with dignity the argument with his wife which was in progress.



The Women

That Tring Air has produced or attracted through the ages the type of feminine beauty associated with moderately hilly country.  Who has ever seen a pretty girl in Holland or the Fen districts of England!  And who has ever seen a really ugly one in Cumberland or North Wales?  Tring, with a maximum elevation of 800 feet and a minimum of 300, has favoured a race of gently attractive females, neither ravishingly beautiful nor uninterestingly plain, but in many cases partaking of the nature of its chalk downs, with swelling curves and deep combes surmounted by eyes of the colour of the bluebell, and hair waving like the tender beech in spring. These things are not recorded in the county histories or the parish registers, and it can only be inferred from personal observation during the past century that the women of Tring have, through the ages, been on the whole satisfying to the eye and very presentable, without ever producing a Helen of Troy or an outstanding beauty to cause disturbance in international or even local politics.

In Shaw’s play, Geneva, Bombardone attributes manly qualities to elevation above sea-level, and remarks: “I don’t think our friend Battler was born very high.”

That Tring Air brought the “Merry Monarch” down here with his Nelly Gwynn to Tring Park, owned and built from Wren’s designs by Henry Guy, groom of the bed-chamber. Who knows whether that strong air or influence, whatever it may be, is responsible for the first ancestor of the Dukes of St. Albans? “Make him a Duke, or I will throw him out of the window,” said Nelly from her London lodging. But Salisbury Hall, nearer to St. Albans, another of their “road-houses,” may dispute this honour with Tring.

The obelisk in Tring Park Woods is certainly no memorial to “Sweet Nell of Old Drury.”  It was probably erected in the eighteenth century in the fashion of the time, as a distant terminal to a vista through the trees to look at from the windows of the house and be able to say “That’s mine!”

A charming story was written round Sir Peter Lely’s picture of Nell Gwynn at Tring Park by the late Lady Battersea, daughter of Sir Anthony de Rothschild, of Aston Clinton, Apropos d’un Portrait, with a chapter, “Sous les Hétres de Tring Park.”  It was translated into English, and is long out of print.




That Tring Air perpetuated in the inhabitants the universal belief in witchcraft as late as the middle of the eighteenth century, when a farmer at Gubblecote had what was probably an outbreak of foot and mouth disease among his cattle, perhaps the last in the parish until those of 1938.  Then, as now, nothing was known of this plague or how it originates, but our Tring farmer of 1751, like his modern successors, had his theory, only his was witchcraft.  He remembered that some five years previously a poor old hag named Ruth Osborn (still a name in Tring) had come begging some butter-milk.  He repulsed her and said he had not enough for his pigs, to which she replied “I hope the Pretender will come and take your pigs, and you, too.”  This, of course, was sufficient explanation of the outbreak and also of the recurrence of fits to which the farmer was subject.  He took serious counsel with his neighbours, and called in a “white witch” from Northampton to counteract the spell, but the delinquent Ruth Osborn must be made an example of, with her husband, who was just as bad.  There are women in Tring now whose very appearance would in those days have convicted them of being in league with the Devil.

The popular agitation against the old couple, innocent of all occult pretensions, grew and grew, fostered especially by one Colley, a chimney-sweep, who saw notoriety and gain for himself in the persecution.  All the resources of eighteenth-century advertisement were brought to bear in the surrounding towns and villages, notifying that on a certain date a notorious witch and wizard would be publicly ducked for their wicked sins.  No doubt the idea was a survival of the ordeal by water to prove the witchcraft, by the sinking of the innocent or floating of the guilty, but by this time any such test had degenerated into mob-law punishment, the crime being taken for granted. The whole country-side gathered to see the show at Long Marston pond, where the schools now stand. The old couple, who had been hidden in the loft of the vestry of Tring Church, but which proved no sanctuary, were haled to the pond, their thumbs and great toes tied together (another survival of anti-witchcraft practice) and dragged through the water time and again, Colley turning them over with a stick, until the woman was drowned and the man shortly after succumbed, when Colley went round with the hat and made a very substantial “cap.”  The whole populace were satisfied.  Justice had been done!  There were no police to interfere, and the parish constable was entirely sympathetic with the lynching.  But the people were not prepared for the sequel.  Colley was tried for murder at Hertford Assizes, convicted, and condemned to be hanged on the site of his crime with equal publicity.   Consternation and resentment at the sentence followed, but the execution was carried out, not, however, without the despatch from London of a troop of the “Royal Horse-guards, Blue” to prevent a rescue, and keep order.  A pistol of one of the troopers went off accidentally when the troop were drawn up in Tring market-place, and a panic followed.

That and the ducking were probably the most exciting days Tring ever had.  It was a very long time before the indignation died down, and probably a generation or more before the people abandoned their firm belief in witchcraft.

The authorities themselves had only a few years before this ceased the age-long persecution and execution of witches and wizards; by the passage of the Act 9, Geo. II (1736) [Note] witchcraft ceased to be a statutory or ecclesiastical offence.

In Elizabeth’s reign indictments for witchcraft were numerous.  Two are recorded at Tring, in the abstracts:

“1596. Hertford Summer Sessions, 19th July, 38 Eliz.
“411. Alice Crutch, wife of Thomas Crowtch of Great Trynge, labourer, on 28th Sept. 34 Eliz. at Gr. Trynge, bewitched Hugh Walden, who languished until lst April following, when he died at Gr. Trynge.
Endorsed. Witness, Marry Montague. True Bill.
Po se cul ca null S9.

“412. ―― on 4 July, 38 Eliz. at Great Trynge, bewitched to death one horse valued at 50/- of the goods and chattels of Thomas Grace.
Endorsed. Witness, Thomas Grave. True Bill.
Po se cul ca null S9.”

The cryptic Latin legal abbreviations, like Humpty Dumpty’s words, had to do a great deal of work.  “Po se” was for “Ponit se super patriam de bono et malo”— “Placed herself on her country for good or ill”— and after all that means “Pleaded not guilty.”  The result of the trial is recorded by the laconic “cul” for “culpabilis” — found guilty.  Evidence of means was then summed up by “ca null.”  “Catalla nulla” — has no goods, chattels, lands, nor tenements for forfeiture.  And the final result is indicated almost graphically by a large “S9“Suspend per coll.” — “To be hanged by the neck until she be dead.”

It will be noted that these cynical sentences were knocked off daily on the evidence of one witness, sometimes years after the alleged offence.

Incidentally, these abstracts of 1596, with their casual and inconsistent spelling, show the persistence of such Tring names as Crouch, Baldwin, Montague, and Grace.

 Note [Ed.]

1735: 9 George 2 c.5: The Witchcraft Act
An Act to repeal the statute made in the first year of the reign of King James the First, intitutled, An Act against conjuration, witchcraft, and dealing with evil and wicked spirits, except so much thereof as repeals an Act of the fifth year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, Against conjurations, inchantments and witchcrafts, and to repeal, an Act passed in the parliament of Scotland in the ninth parliament of Queen Mary, intituled, Anentis witchcrafts, and for punishing such persons as pretend to exercise or use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, inchantment, or conjuration.




That Tring Air must always have produced or fostered keen sportsmen, hardy fellows, horsemen hunting stag, fox, and hare, foot-sloggers walking all day after greyhounds, gunmen after the pheasants, partridges, hares, and rabbits, and a fair sprinkling of night poachers.  I once gave one a lift in my dog-cart on a dark night from the hills, where he had been having a go at the pheasants in the Tring Park woods.  He was so grateful for the lift that he invited me to come out some night, and promised me “first pick.”

In the middle of the nineteenth century the Old Berkeley Foxhounds were kennelled at Hastoe, and a pack of harriers at Grove.  The Rothschilds settled down in the Vale of Aylesbury and brought their staghounds, with which many notable people rode, including the beautiful Empress of Austria, and Whyte Melville.

At their first meet, Bliss, a farmer near Aylesbury, put on a grand spread for them, and, quite forgetting their persuasion, loaded the table with pork in every shape and form, and hardly anything else.  A hard-riding Rector of Hardwick, the Rev. Dr. Erle, who kept an exceedingly good cellar, was asked by his bishop: “Do you think, Mr. Erle, it is quite wise to be so very friendly with these Jews?”  To which Erle replied: “My Lord, I have great hopes of converting them!”

The late Herbert Grange, farmer and corn merchant, and Master of the Tring Farmers’ Drag, reckoned that he had hunted with twelve packs from his home at Tring Grove, long before the days of horse-boxes and motor-cars.  These would be the Old Berkeley, Hertfordshire, Whaddon Chase, Bicester and South Oxfordshire Foxhounds; the Rothschild Staghounds, Rawle’s Berkhamsted Buckhounds, the Tring Drag, the Berkhamsted, Old Berkeley and South Hertfordshire Foot Beagles; the North Bucks Harriers, and the Bucks Otter Hounds, which make fourteen.

Race meetings were occasionally held — on Wigginton Flats, a hundred years ago, and a sporting steeplechase at Pendley in the days of Squire Joseph Williams and his brother, Captain Stanley.

Cricket, as in all small country towns, fluctuated according to the number of active young men in the place, but the Tring Park Cricket Club never went under, playing in front of the house until the advent of the Rothschilds, who provided the Club with their present excellent ground on the Station Road.  The whole town turned out to watch the matches.  In Tring Park E. G. G. (“Egg”) Sutton, an M.C.C. man, was captain.  The Rev. Arthur Loxley, monocle in eye, always went in ninth man, fixed his bat in the block and never moved it, and kept up his wicket while others made the runs.  When Herbert and Fred Brown from the Brewery got in together, Fred did the blocking and Herbert the picturesque slogging, and it was difficult to separate them.  Herbert kept wicket, with a broad blue sash across his shirt like an order.  When the bail tipped his head and drew blood, he continued at his post, the blood trickling down over his shirt, the hero of the day!  The Amersham match, played in Shardeloes Park, was always the great event of the season, and more than once resulted in a tie.  Fred and Herbert Brown drove over to it in a tandem, with white traces.  Coming home rather late one windy night, Fred turned in to the great yard doors of the Brewery, the wind blew one of the doors up and knocked the leader down, and Fred and Herbert and the wheeler were left outside.

The Rev. H. E. B. Arnold, curate of Tring in 1876, was no cricketer, but was persuaded by “Egg” Sutton, the captain, to play once, in the last match of the season.  Arnold went in last wicket down but one.  The ball came very fast, Arnold hit at it wildly, had not the faintest idea where it went, but heard afterwards that slip failed to hold an easy catch.  The man at the other end shouted “Run!” and Arnold ran and scored a single.  The next ball clean bowled his partner, so Arnold’s average for the season was 3, which only mathematicians realize is infinity.  On the strength of this, Arnold claimed the bat given for the highest average, but “Egg” Sutton, who was no mathematician, said that 5 was 1, and so took the bat himself for an average of 32.  Arnold was advised not to dispute the matter, as Sutton was a much bigger man and queer-tempered, but Arnold was undoubtedly right by the rules both of cricket and mathematics.

To spoil this excellent story, cricketers will know that as the Rev. H. E. B. Arnold had no completed innings, he was ineligible for the bat, although Sutton did not appear to know this, and decided the point on a mathematical inaccuracy.

Sutton was a fine bat, and used to go in first with W. G. Grace in “Gentlemen v. Players,” but if things got exciting, he used to throw an epileptic fit, which complicated matters.



The Tring Poet

That Tring Air produced a now long-forgotten poet, Gerald Massey, a village-Hampden and revolutionist, not afraid to voice the woes of the under-dog.  He wrote in the early nineteenth century, and was appreciated and encouraged by the great Tory family of the Brownlows, of Ashridge.  This is the sort of thing he wrote:

“Think of the wrongs that have ground us for ages,
 Think of the wrongs we have still to endure!
 Think of our blood, red on History’s pages;
 Then work, that our reck’ning be speedy and sure.
 Slaves cry to their Gods! but be our God revealed
 In our lives, in our works, in our warfare for man;
 And bearing — or borne upon — Victory’s shield,
 Let us fight battle-harnessed, and fall in the van.
 Hold on — still hold on — in the world’s despite
 Nurse the faith in thy heart, keep the lamp of Truth
 And, my life for thine! it shall end in the Right.”

Gerald Massey is said to have been the model for George Eliot’s Felix Holt, Radical.  He worked in Kay’s silk-throwing mill, at starvation wages, and in his later years dabbled in hypnotism, experimenting on his wife, and finding, to his alarm (or otherwise?) that he could not “undo” her.  His son was a familiar figure in Tring in the eighteen-seventies, standing about near the church with crutches and a crippled foot suspended in a white strap from his neck.

Some of Massey’s poetry was very beautiful, and won him the admiration and friendship of Tennyson, Maurice, Kingsley, George Eliot, and Ruskin.  But his work could not keep him, and he was poor all his life, Palmerston putting him on the Civil List for a pension.




There are some inhabitants of Tring whose forbears have dwelt in the place for two or three generations, but they are not many.  There are great old names in the town still, Brandons and Gowers and Osbornes, but the majority are “forriners.”  Take the “Browns”:

John Brown, the son of a yeoman farmer of Okeford Fitzpaine, Dorsetshire, came to Tring about 1830, bought a small brewery there, and for the rest of his long life of ninety-five years did the greatest service to his fellow-townsmen and the country round by brewing good beer.  His carts bore the inscription “John Brown, Common Brewer,” presumably in contradistinction to the private brewer, who up to that time produced a sour concoction in his farm-house coppers for his family and farm-hands.  John Brown soon made his mark, and showed the Tring people what he was made of.  He was appointed “Overseer” of the parish, and, finding its finances in a parlous state, he made five half-crown rates in one year, an unheard-of levy in those times, and summoned every one who hesitated to pay.  A born sportsman, he kept hunters and rode to hounds, and won a celebrated race at the Vale of Aylesbury Steeplechases.  When the London and Birmingham Railway was promoted, and found powerful opposition from the local landowners, the direct line from Hemel Hempstead to Leighton Buzzard down the Dagnall valley being effectively turned out by the Brownlow interest into the present route further west, John Brown saw his chance to get a station within two miles of Tring, to build an hotel there and sell his beer.  The land, now part of the Pendley Estate, belonged to the Comte d’Harcourt, resident in Paris, with an agent in England, who opposed the railway, and would not sell a site for a station.  Very well, then, the Railway Company would make their station at Pitstone, with a branch to Aylesbury.  It came to the last day for a decision, and one Sunday morning John Brown, accompanied by his half-brother William, whom he had brought to Tring as a land agent, got into his four-wheeled chaise and ran the agent down at Sunningdale, talked to him like a Dutch uncle, and got him to agree to sell the Comte d’Harcourt’s land, not only for the station, but also for railwaymen’s cottages and for an hotel, the latter to John Brown himself, and the Harcourt Arms was duly erected opposite the station, later renamed the Royal Hotel because the reigning monarch came and had a glass of beer there after hunting.  By some stroke of luck, the second Earl of Lonsdale pitched on the place, in the sixties of the nineteenth century, took the whole hotel, stabled eighty horses there, and kept a lady; became Master of the Old Berkeley Foxhounds, and kept a pack of harriers at the Grove, near Tring Station.  By some abnormal departure from the Lonsdale tradition, this second Earl had bag-foxes sent down from Lowther, the Tring country being poorly foxed, and they were taken to the nearest covert to the meet, turned down, and often had to be shooed away with a besom by old Tom Edwards, John Brown’s man.  This unsporting procedure gave rise to a celebrated song, beginning:

“There was an Earl of ancient name
 Who hunted the fox, but preferred him tame,”

and finishing:

“Then off to town by the four o’clock train.”

It is recorded that a fox cub, dug out at Lowther, ear-marked, and sent down to Tring, found his way back to Lowther.  Rays, again, no doubt.  John Brown aided and abetted this unsporting Earl, and with his twin-brother Sam, whom he put in to manage the hotel, carried on the Old Berkeley long after the Earl had become a complete invalid, and kept a meticulous diary extending to some fifty manuscript volumes, recording what horses and hounds were taken out, the earths stopped, the coverts drawn, the runs, the kills, and often the places where they laid out for the night.

John Brown went to Hall’s, the hatters, in Regent Circus, and asked for a hunting top hat, the same as the last one.

“Yes, sir, when was that?”

“Sixty years ago!”

And this hat was until recently still in the family — of board an eighth of an inch thick, which, if it had come down on a turnip, would have fractured his skull, and the turnip as well.

The Reverend Arthur Frederick Pope, Vicar of Tring from 1872, was an original, intellectual, and lovable character.  As to the Tring Air, he stated with conviction that you encountered it by a most perceptible change on the rise of the road at Dudswell as you approached Tring from Berkhamsted.  To hear Pope give the Absolution was a revelation.  After a long pause he recited in the most impressive possible tone: “He pardoneth all them that truly repent.”  It was a real Absolution.  At Christmas Pope preached an economic sermon, thundering forth: “Pay your bills!  How can you expect your tailor to pay his men if you don’t pay him?  Here is the first thing you can do to help your fellow-creatures.”

Pope lectured to the Working Men’s Club on hygiene.  “Don’t put your sweaty clothes and your boots in your children’s bedroom.  You put a nail in your child’s coffin every time you do so.  Put your boots up a tree, down a well, anywhere except in the bedroom.  Wear flannel shirts, to absorb the perspiration.  The fashionable man must have a white linen shirt.  Give me a flannel shirt, and let the man of fashion be as dirty as he likes.  Bathe your whole body every day.  You may think it takes a Roman bath and a sponge as big as the father of all the hedgehogs to do this, but I can tell you I have often bathed in a basin and three pints of water.”

Pope built “The Furlongs” as a clergy house, imagining that Tring would grow tremendously at the west end and require a staff of a dozen curates.  With the same idea he built St. Martha’s Church, near.  He also built the organ chamber in Tring Church and the Gravelly and New Mill schools.  When, at a Jubilee celebration, these benefactions were mentioned, this called forth a disclaimer which astonished the parish and made them feel very uncomfortable.

The Reverend Arthur Frederick Pope, Vicar of Tring

“These things had to be done, the congregation did not come forward to do them.  I was not going round begging for money, and I did them, to the detriment of my children’s education.  The parish ought to have been ashamed of themselves for allowing me to do it.  You might as well allow your coachman to build your new harness-room.  The clergy should be left to their proper job of providing for the spiritual needs of their congregation, and not be worried with material requirements.  How can you expect the carving-knife to carve, if you poke the kitchen fire with it?”

After Pope resigned the vicarage of Tring, he lived for some years at “The Furlongs,” and often preached for his brother clergy in the surrounding villages, to which Tring people flocked to hear what Pope would say next.  At Marsworth he preached on St. Paul’s shipwreck.  “A night and a day on the deep — perhaps on a hen-coop.”

At Wigginton he preached from the Epistle of St. James.  “If a man with a gold ring comes into your congregation, give him not the best seat.  It is a very doubtful advantage for a congregation to have a man with a gold ring in it, that is, a man who can pay, and does pay, and saves the others from paying.”

Pope, then a bachelor, wrote from Switzerland to his churchwarden: “I am now about to take perhaps the most important step a man can take in his life.”  (“Marriage, of course,” thought the churchwarden.)  “I am going to shave off my moustache!”

In preparing candidates for confirmation, Pope was not content with “mass” instruction.  He had each candidate individually many times to his house, and imparted his whole soul and spiritual experience to them, with lasting effects on their whole life.  Never was a man who took a higher view of his duties- — or privileges, as he considered them — as a parish priest.

As a hygienist, Pope was equally original. A friend, asked to dinner, was shown into the drawing-room, apparently empty, but the hearth-rug presented a lumpy appearance, and Pope was underneath it, with a horse-rug round him, trying to get warm. He would not dress for dinner — certain of catching cold. He was an indefatigable skater, determined to master the outside edge backwards; swathed his knees and all vulnerable points in thick comforters, put his cap down and skated round it all day, falling again and again, until he mastered the art.

Then there was “Bumper Bly,” the smock-frocked, boss-eyed horse dealer, who stood at the cross-roads looking up the High Street with one eye and down his native Frogmore Street with the other.  An original, if ever there was one!

He attended Aylesbury market on Saturdays with a string of screws, seeing, as he frankly confessed, “if he could find ever a fool.”  When he did, he considered he was fair game, but with those who employed him regularly to buy their horses, he was quite straight.  The local doctor, “Daddy” Pope, always bought his horses from “Bumper,” and told him “You must never get me one under six years old; my neck is precious.”  He bought one, and after driving it on his rounds for a week, said to his man, Miller, “I never thought to ask ‘Bumper’ how old this horse is.”  Miller replied: “Risin’ fie, sir.”  “Oh! that's too bad, I must speak to ‘Bumper.’”  When the doctor tackled him, Bly’s answer was: “Well, what a lucky man you are, Mr. Pope!  So many of my six-year-olds turn out to be twenty!”

The banker, who bred and drove some very fast fiddle-headed carriage horses, asked him: “Bly, what is the best bit for a pulling horse?”  The considered answer was: “Well, Muster Butchers, I don’t know as I can properly advise you on that point; you see, mine are all the other way, they want floggin’ along like wiv a frail” (flail).  Bly had to sign his cheques with a cross.  The banker told him: “You can easily learn to write your short name,” and gave him a lesson or two, and “Bumper” used to sit on the railings of the cattle market studiously practising “W. Bly W. Bly” on the back of an envelope.

He insured himself against accidents, and was asked by the agent: “Are you strictly sober and temperate in your habits?” Answer: “Well, sir, you know very well I never takes more than two glasses of champagne with me dinner.” “Have you ever had a fit?” “Yes, had one this mornin’.” “Epileptic or apoplectic?” “Neither. It was an okkard (awkward) fit.”

The local auctioneer had a horse left on his hands after a farm sale, and asked Bly to take to it, but they could not come to terms.  The next day Bly said to the auctioneer’s son, “That’s a capital club as your father and me belongs to.”  “What club is that, Bly?”  “Why, the Catch-olt (catch hold) Club.”

“Bumper” rented a small meadow, in which several goats were tethered.  “Are these your goats, Bly?” said a friend.  “Well, I suppose they are!  I don’t know what I’m a doin’ wiv goats them’s clergymen's goods.”

Bly related that “Muster Cumberledge, up at Hastoe, wanted a mare in foal.  I hadn’t got one, but I found a man who took a mare up and showed him, and she was rather fat, and Muster Cumberledge asked him ‘Is she in foal?’  And the man jabbed the mare with his thumb on the off-side and said ‘Oh! yes, sir, can’t you see it jump?’  ‘Oh! yes, so I can,’ says Muster Cumberledge, but she were no more in foal nor I be.  I couldn’t do a thing like that, you know.”

“Bumper” called on a client at Willesden.  A little girl “answered” the door, and ran in to her father, saying: “Daddy, there’s such a funny man come to see you; he’s got a brown nightgown on, and I don’t know whether he’s looking at me or down the road.”

Another “character” produced by That Tring Air was “Old Batch,” — William Batchelor — for fifty years or more factotum to William Brown, the auctioneer.  “Batch” attended to a large garden, saw to the horses, cows, pigs, and poultry, drove his master out in the dog-cart, acted as auctioneer’s man at furniture sales, and with his excessively plain wife, lived at and looked after the office.  He was the Sam Weller of the place, and would make the sorriest old tramp laugh.  He read the papers and had his opinions on all that was going on.  After the expulsion of the Jews from Russia by the Czar, “Batch” remarked: “If I was Lord Rothschild, I shouldn’t lend no more money to the ‘Char’ of Russia, giving ‘em all notice to quit like that.”  And Lord Rothschild did not lend any more money to the “Char.”

“Batch’s” great idea was that all the animals “knew” him.  Every old sow he named “Charlotte Gurney,” and told her to “come and take yer gruel.”  His mistress, inspecting the cabbages under a nine-foot fruit wall at the back of the garden, said “‘Batch,’ the snails seem to eat these cabbages a good deal; can’t you catch some of them?”  To which “Batch” was ready with the answer: “Bless you, ma’am, they know my step.  As soon as I come in at the front gate, they’re over that wall like a shot!”  When “Batch” was sitting on the window-sill of the office, joking with every passer-by, the fire brigade were called out to a farm fire on the hills.  A discussion arose as to whether they would find any water there.  “Oh yes,” quoth “Batch,” “I know there’ll be water there, it’s a dairy farm!”

“Batch” was quite a reader.  “Bless you, sir, I’ve read Shakespeare and Milton.”  “Yes,” said his wife, bridling, “the Vicar gave him a Shakespeare.  I had to take it away from him, he read it so!”

“Batch,” of course, had his opinions on the perennial Irish question.  “They want old Oliver Crumble back.  Shoot ’em down, I say.  Shoot ’em down!”  On which Mrs. “Batch” remarked: “Yes, he says ‘Shoot ’em down,’ and he wouldn’t hurt a fly.  Only yesterday, he moved a frog out of the way so that the bus shouldn't run over it.”  “Yes,” said “Batch,” “and then the little beggar turned round and laughed at me.”

When King Edward VII, as Prince of Wales, visited Lord Rothschild at Tring Park, and the little town was decorated with triumphal arches and Venetian masts, “Batch” remarked that he had never seen Tring look so much like the New Jerusalem before.  “I was just coming out of the gate when his carriage passed.  Lor! didn’t I tear my old billycock off sharp!  ‘E knowed me, ’e did, ’e gi’n me a nod.”

Mrs. “Batch” was a perfect Mrs. Malaprop.  Her room at the office looked on to the churchyard.  “This new Vicar of ours seems a funny sort of man.  I see ’im going about the churchyard in a Cossack.”  A room in the office was let periodically in the evening to the Gas Company directors, and Mrs. “Batch” had to make it ready for them.  Without the slightest idea of a joke, she told someone, who asked what she was doing, “I’ve got to get the room ready for them there gas meeters.”

She related that “Batch” had by misfortune dropped a postal order in the fire, and on going to the postmaster to ask what he could do about it, was told: “If you like to pay the money, you can have another.”  “Now don’t you call that indignant?” said Mrs. “Batch.”

“Batch” had a great opinion of the intelligence of one of his master’s horses.  “There, that horse can do anything except play the organ and teach in the Sunday school.”

“Batch” reckoned that in walking up and down several times a day to his work he had walked once and a half times round the world, and had worn a special path.  After his death, another original, “Chip” Rolfe, a road man, was asked “What would old ‘Batch’ say to you, digging down his path?”  To which the answer came: “We don’t care nothin’ for them as is gone dead, and very little for them as is alive!”

Fred Crouch, of Miswell Farm, the principal Rothschild tenant, was one of our greatest characters.  A dear old chap, the soul of honour and straightforwardness in business, beloved by all his friends and especially by his younger friends, he was the ugliest, most loose-limbed and awkward man you would meet in many days’ marches.  He was a good, sound, old-fashioned farmer, holding Miswell and owning Leylands Farm on the hills.  He belonged to our local debating society, and was asked to propose an agricultural subject.  The most he could be persuaded to move was that “With better seasons and higher prices, agriculture may again flourish.”  Needless to say, opposition to such a self-evident proposition was impossible.

Fred Crouch had such a large head and such enormous feet that no ordinary hats or boots could be got to fit him.  He inquired of his wife: “Emma, where is that old straw hat I had last year?”  The cook chipped in: “I think it’s up in the loft, with half a bushel of onions in it.”  His feet were too big to go into an ordinary stirrup or an ordinary scraper.  If you overtook him, stumbling up the side-walk in Tring, it was fatal to give him the time of day until you had passed him, or he would stagger round and inevitably fall off the kerb.

His house was the rendezvous of all the young men of the place, always welcome, and they there discussed all things in heaven and earth.  The conversation one night turned on the Deceased Wife’s Sister Bill, and someone asked: “Why do we never hear of the other side of the question, marriage with a deceased husband’s brother?”  Fred remarked: “Wouldn’t one embrace the other?”  And they all began to laugh.  Fred’s deaf old father, Benjy, wanted to know what the joke was.  When Emma tried to explain, Benjy remarked: “Well, the most natural thing to do, wouldn’t it be?”

Poor old Fred was never safe on his pins.  One Sunday afternoon, the maids being out, Fred went into the kitchen to see who was trespassing on the farm.  Emma heard a great crash, and found Fred on the floor in a mess of blood and coal.  He had, as usual, missed his footing, fallen on to the coal-scuttle and cut his head.  He was one of two men I knew who had no idea of the tune of “God Save the King” except by seeing the people standing up, but he loved a comic song, and would sit glued to the singer to hear the words.  He religiously went through the whole of the pictures in the Royal Academy every year with the catalogue, but he was not the farmer who was staring at a picture of the Gadarene swine rushing down a steep place into the sea, when his vicar came up and saluted him.  “Oh! Vicar, you’re the very man I wanted to see.  I’ve been puzzling over this picture.  What I want to know is, who paid for them pegs?”

To show the innate courtesy of the man, Fred once broke his leg in awkwardly trying to mount his nag at his hill farm, and was carried down to Tring on the floor of a farm cart.  On the way he met a lady of his acquaintance, and politely took off his hat to her from his recumbent position.

The Littles, of Tring Grange Farm, a Lincolnshire family, made their mark in Tring as agriculturists.  They farmed a barren area of flints on the hills successfully, most of their fields being an unbroken spread of chalk flints, no soil showing at all, but under every flint there was moisture, and if they had been raked off, the land would have been ruined.  Chauncy, the old Hertfordshire historian, accounted for this fertility by saying that “The flints have a seed of fire in them, to keep the land warm!”  The Littles were sheep-farmers, and James Little, who was ambidexterous, had been known to shear a hundred sheep in a day — then a great feat, but, of course, not to be compared with the Australian shearers even before the adoption of the shearing machine.

Tom Little, his son, carried on, and with his monocle and good education, was one of the “characters” of Tring. He joined in all the festivities of the place, and hunted on his wicked chestnut horse, “Cucumber,” which he rode in a rural steeplechase at Princes Risborough.  As he came galloping in through the crowd all over the course, a friend met him and said “Well, Tom, I’m sorry you’ve not won.”  “What do you mean?” said Tom, “I’m first.”  “Oh, no, there was someone in a quarter of an hour ago!”

Tom, with his short sight, was constantly in difficulties.  He drove his sister and her girls’ governess home from Tring after a merry party, in his dog-cart, along what he called his “Bottom,” thinking all the gates were open; but one was half-open towards him, and he barged into it, upsetting the cart, the horse trotting home out of the harness.  Having ascertained that the ladies were unhurt, Tom struck a fusee, and said “Now let’s look for my tooth!”

After giving up Tring Grange, he went round the world, started a well-boring business in Australia, bought an area of land in Queensland which he was going to irrigate and call “Tring,” walked into the death-trap near the bridge at Brisbane, and was drowned.

In the garden of Tring Grange was a beautiful deep dell, planted with every wild flower and shrub that would grow.  This was the scene of many a romance, and also of a great fight between two Tring “characters,” Long Tom Mayow, a pupil in the land agent’s office, and Jack Shugar, dissipated son of the local solicitor.  Both trained assiduously for many weeks, and the bout was eagerly looked forward to by the initiated.  History does not record the result, but it was certainly an exciting instance of the influence of That Tring Air.

At Tring Grange, where Tom Little had lived with his widowed sister, Alice Horn, and her two girls, they kept up their forbears’ practice of family prayers.  Alice told Tom he did not read enough of the Bible, he cut it too short.  The next morning Tom started off on the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, read it all through, and began the next, until they had to stop him and leave the room.

Betty Leatherland, though not a native of Tring, spent a good deal of her life there and thereabouts, and must not be left out of the list of Tring “characters.”  Her distinction was her great age.  She lived to one hundred and thirteen, and there are photographs of her at one hundred and eleven reaping corn in one of John Brown’s fields.  Her age was well authenticated, her baptism being recorded in the parish registers of Chinnor, Oxfordshire, but her face was sufficient proof of her exceptional antiquity.  The furrows were an eighth of an inch deep, and on the dirt in them you could have grown mustard and cress.  She was supposed to be of Gipsy stock, but did not consort with them, wandering solitary all over the neighbourhood begging at the best houses, where she was always welcomed on account of her cheery good nature and stock of worldly wisdom and original wit.  Asked if she had any special wish before she died, she replied: “Yes, I should like to go up in a balloon and look down on the world I have lived in so long.”

The Washingtons had a connection with Tring in the seventeenth century.  The registers record:

“Baptised, 1635, Layaranc, son of Layaranc Washington.
 1636, Elizabeth, daughter of Mr. Larranc Washington.
 1641, William, son of Mr. Larranc Washington.
“Buried, 1654, Mrs. Washington, 11th January.”

The rate-book commencing 1664, records that Laurence Washington was rated for the relief of the poor up to 1683 at sums ranging from l½d. to 2d. (per week).  In 1684 his name is replaced by that of Mary Washington.  In 1690 no Washington occurs, nor since.  Mr. H. F. Waters, an American genealogist, made it clear that the Washingtons whose baptisms are recorded in the Tring registers were three of the children of the Rev. Lawrence Washington, M.A., Rector of Purleigh, Essex, and of Amphillis, his wife, daughter of John Roades, farm bailiff to Sir Edmund Verney at Middle Claydon, Bucks, and that it is her burial which was registered in 1654.  Another son of theirs, John, brother of the Lawrence who was rated, emigrated to Virginia about 1657, and was the great-grandfather of General George Washington.

In an article in The Field of the 29th of December, 1917, by Reginald Pape, were some interesting illustrations of the arms of different branches of the family, the earliest showing three stars and two stripes, the origin of the Stars and Stripes.



Tring in the Nineteenth Century
The Houses, Industries, and “Pubs.”

A picture of Tring at the beginning of the nineteenth century would show:

The Church, much as at present, but before the extensive restoration of 1862-1882.

The Market House in front of the church, a long building like the lions’ cage at the zoo, where the straw plait was sold on Friday mornings and com in the afternoon, with a set of lofts above it rented by the corn merchants for storage. Two or three shops completed the blocking-out of the view of the church.
A picture of this ancient “cage” hangs in the Council Chamber.

The old Rose and Crown, flush with the street, with the bowling green behind it.

The High Street: a series of small, ancient shops, some with bow-windows, and many with half-doors, over the closed lower half of which the proprietor leaned smoking his pipe, watching the passing show, and opening to an occasional customer.

The great printing firm of Hazell, Watson & Viney sprang from Tring.  In A Century in Print, the history of the firm for its first hundred years, 1839 to 1939, an illustration is given of “Bird’s Shop,” an ivy-covered Georgian building adjoining the market-place, which was replaced later by the Tring Park Estate office manager’s house.  Underneath the illustration is printed: “Where George Watson started a hundred years ago.  The picturesque building at Tring in which George Watson, the real founder of Hazell’s, started in business as a printer and stationer almost exactly a hundred years ago.  He sold the Tring business in 1848 to his apprentice, E. C. Bird, who retired only in 1906.”

E. C. Bird was another Tring “character,” who was said to be the only fossil bird not in the Tring Museum.  A concert programme was once taken to him to be printed, with a direction “That title is to be in inverted commas.”  “Yes,” said Bird, adjusting his pince-nez, “that’s if we’ve got any.”

He took Mrs. Bird (exactly like a frog) to an entertainment at Aldbury in a brougham from the Rose and
Crown.  Coming home, he found the carriage bumping over very rough ground.  Leaning out, he called to the driver: “Do you know where you’re going?”  There was no answer.  The driver, having spent the evening at the Greyhound, had fallen off.  Mrs. Bird, in alarm, unconsciously broke into poetry, and asked: “Oh! Mr. Bird, what has occurred?”  The intrepid Bird had to clamber along the shaft, pick up the reins, pick his way across the great ploughed field to the White Highway, and drive Mrs. Bird home, leaving the unconscious driver to sleep it off in Aldbury great field.

The Brewery, previously a plait merchant’s office, with a long room in which the plait makers gathered to be paid for their long hanks of the different patterns.

No Silk Mill then, but five different canvas factories, introduced by the Flemings when the Nonconformists were turned out of the Netherlands wholesale, like the Jews from Germany and Italy are now.

The Western Road had no houses beyond the cross-roads in the present centre of the town.

Then about 1825 Tring Park Estate was bought by one Kay, a silk throwster of Macclesfield, who built a silk throwing mill in Brook Street.  To work the engines by water, Kay diverted the Miswell and Dundale springs (the highest sources of the Thame and Thames) by deep culverts, to the mill-pond, thence through a great waterwheel to work the engines, which had alternative steam power, and the water, after doing its work, was led by an artificial cut or conduit, called “The Feeder,” into the summit of the Grand Junction Canal, or its Wendover branch, at “New Mill.”  The silk mill employed some five hundred hands, drawn from every cottage in the town, and from a small army of girl apprentices, housed near the mill.  As a small boy I have a vivid impression of these girls, in their grey uniforms, occupying a good part of the north aisle of the church and sending a strong swish of sound through the building as they stressed their esses in the hymns.  So, in those days, with the silk mill and the canvas factories, Tring was like a northern manufacturing town.

In course of time both industries were killed by foreign competition under the Free Trade regime.  One after another the canvas factories closed, the remnants of the last of them being carried on for many years by Charles Cato, who first made the open canvas used by young ladies for “wool work” and curates’ slippers; then he produced beautifully fine, soft canvas for curtains, and supplied the big London shops.

When the Rothschilds bought Tring Park, the silk mill was leased to Evans & Co., of Wood Street, in the city.  When the industry was beaten out, the Evans’s had to throw up the lease, and the first Lord Rothschild, to avert the disaster of the workers being thrown out of employment, took the mill on himself and worked it, at a loss, of course, for the remainder of the lease, directing the younger workers to find other jobs as they could, and at the closing-down, pensioning off the older ones who could not get other employment.

Tring, which by its situation and lack of transport facilities, had never been suited to modern industry, then reverted to its former residential and agricultural character.  The tradesmen of Tring were never tired of spreading the calumny, through their commercial travellers, that Lord Rothschild had ruined Tring, attributing this economic change to him, and to this day there are citizens who hanker for a reversion to factories, however unsuitable the place is for them, so that the hands could spend their pennies in the local shops, ignoring the fact that this ideal had already been attained by the rebuilding of all the farm-houses and cottages on the Tring Park Estate and the addition of many more, and the employment of all the surplus labour of the place and much more from outside, on the pedigree stock farms, the gardens, and the woods.

Lord Rothschild completed the “ruin” of Tring by enabling the local Council to take advantage of the re-
housing Acts by abolishing the slums, compensating the owners, and re-housing the occupiers in fifty new model cottages, to be let for all time at nominal rents.  He also anticipated the playing-fields movement by providing recreation grounds, and devoted several parts of the estate to allotment gardens and small holdings.

Under these circumstances it can be understood that the best minds in Tring have not sympathized with any persecution of the Jews.

That Tring Air was once scented with aromatic herbs, and could be again if the cultivators of the soil would turn their attention to this delightful industry, instead of trying to cover it with “bungaloid growths.”  The most fertile field in the parish, that bordering the ancient brook next to Brook Street, now the “feeder” of the canal, was about 1830 or so devoted to the growth of herbs for the manufacture of scent by one Narraway, who had a little scent factory near the present Baptist Church; and on “Tring Hill,” near the turn to Drayton Beauchamp, lavender was grown, on the same bed of the chalk as the successful lavender grounds at Hitchin.

There are untold possibilities in this soil for the growth of herbs of all sorts, culinary, medicinal, and perfumery.  At Pendley Beeches there is a natural bed of belladonna, with just the necessary conditions, a southern exposure with sun from ten till two.  During the 1914 war this was exploited and replanted, and produced leaf and root of better quality than the imported Balkan variety, with substantial monetary benefit to the Red Cross Society.  Dandelion, cultivated and manured like a swede crop, could produce £50 per acre, and £25 after payment of expenses of cultivation . Agrimony, fox-glove, autumn crocus, and many another herb, could be cultivated to pay, and incidentally to provide relief for suffering humanity.  A few farmer-botanists could make themselves independent of wheat subsidies and Milk Boards.  This industry is at present left to the great drug firms, who buy land in such districts, for instance, as Ampthill, Bedfordshire, and grow all the herbs they want.  Let one young farmer, owning his land, study the demand for different herbs and the capability of his soil to produce them, the manures to stimulate them, and the world market for the product, and his neighbours will open their eyes and imitate him, and another foreign importation will be replaced by home growth.

There have been many other enterprising and original manufactures started in Tring at one time or another, inspired by That Tring Air.  In the nineties of the nineteenth century a pickle factory flourished for a time at the Victoria Hall building, turning out delectable and odoriferous products, of which onions formed a great element.

A Tring original genius once hit upon the discovery that Holland’s gin, despite its taste of furniture polish, was a specific for lumbago, and rheumatism of not too deep-seated origin, and his researches led to the fact that it was the element of the juniper berry in the gin which produced this effect, eliminating the acids from the blood through the kidneys.  He collected all the juniper berries from the Halton hills with the idea of producing a patent remedy for these troubles, but found the supply was limited, even if he searched all the slopes of the Chiltern Hills.  It meant the acquisition of a large area of them and the close cultivation of the juniper.  It also meant capital, and it was here that the project failed, for the capitalists are so sceptical of new ideas.  There would have been two branches of this industry, one for the decoction of the juniper berry pure and simple into a patent medicine, and the other, for those who preferred it in alcoholic form, of a new gin, containing much more juniper, and at half the price of De Kuypers’, and for this a name had even been invented, the mysterious and magic word “Watkildanti.”  Ah! well.  “The best-laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley.”  The inventor now finds that he can always cure himself of lumbago and rheumatism by getting a sixpenny bottle of oil of juniper at Boots’, and taking three drops on a lump of sugar just three times, or even twice, instead of buying De Kuypers’ Hollands Gin at fifteen shillings a bottle.


That Tring Air was always conducive to the refreshment of its inhabitants at the various licensed houses, with the accompanying conviviality and camaraderie.

The Rose and Crown, in the centre of the High Street, and, as is always appropriate, opposite the church, was and is the principal hostelry, and by its name indicates an origin in Tudor times.  The old house was flush with the street, and was kept in 1832 by Timothy Northwood, who brewed his own ale, and, strangely enough, was also exciseman.  John Sheerman, afterwards landlord of the Hunt Hotel, Leighton Buzzard, kept the Rose and Crown, and had some 1847 port, which he kept until it resembled faintly-coloured water.  He was a big, pompous man, very pally with the “nobility and gentry.”  By interest with the then Duke of Norfolk, he was the first Englishman into Paris after the siege of 1871.  Some friends of his who had been shooting near Tring and had a good retriever, before calling on him, visited the butcher, who had a number of rabbits on his slab, and made an arrangement with him.  On their entering the Rose and Crown, Sheerman at once spotted the dog and asked if he was a good retriever.  “Oh! I think so,” was the reply.  “Have you got any rabbits in the place?  Here! old man, go and see if you can find a couple of rabbits.”  Off went the dog, according to plan, and soon came back with a couple.  “Go on, old fellow, see if you can find another couple,” and the feat was repeated.  Sheerman “bought it” properly.  “Never saw such a thing in my life.”

Jabez Thorn was the last landlord of the old house, when the “Rose” was kept by a “Thorn,” with a head waiter named “Budd.”

The first Lord Rothschild built the present picturesque hotel, set back from the road, and let it to Trust Houses, the present owners.  There are two entries in the visitors’ book signed “Edward P.” (the Duke of Windsor) one on the 28th of February, 1935.

A tradesman’s token is exhibited in the entrance-hall bearing the lettering—“William Axtell, His Half-penny,” and on the obverse, “Of Tring, 1668,” and an illustration of the Rose and Crown.  These tokens were very numerous at that date, and were really a private currency, honoured by the tradesman when they came back to him.  The smallest official coin was the silver penny, and smaller change was needed, as a halfpenny would buy a gallon of beer.

The George, at the cross-roads in the centre of the town, was a very small hostelry kept by one Tompkins, with a corn chandler’s store, until rebuilt by the Aylesbury Brewery Company.  The old Rose and Crown was then being pulled down, and the A.B.C. had the chance to build a rival hotel, but the directors took the tracing of the architect’s fine elevation, doubled the top storey down on to the ground floor, spoilt the design, and cut out all the additional bedrooms.  They only wanted to sell their beer.

The Victoria, in Frogmore Street, was for some years the home of the afore-mentioned notorious, smock-frocked horse dealer, “Bumper” Bly.

The Castle, King’s Arms, and Britannia, at key positions for thirst-slaking, are monuments to the building genius of the brewer, John Brown, who utilized every inch of space in them, from the roof-ridge to the cellar floor.

When John Brown conceived the idea of building the big malting off Akeman Street, he did not call in an architect, a quantity surveyor, or even a builder.  He went to bed for twenty-four hours, and worked the whole thing out in his head, without putting pen to paper.  He then sent for the bricklayer and carpenter, and informed the former: “You will build me a malting so long, so wide, and so high, which I will set out with you on the ground.  I shall find you so many thousand bricks, so many quarters of lime, and so many tons of sand.  You will mix the mortar and lay the bricks at so much per thousand.  There will be so many windows and so many doors, for which you will build the jambs and arches, being paid as if they were solid brickwork.  You [to the carpenter] will make so many wooden window frames and louvre windows, so many doors, and so many rafters and purlines for the roof.”  And so on through the whole building which remains as a model of sound and efficient construction.

The Red Lion and Black Horse, at the bottom of Frogmore Street, were the “lodging houses,” accommodating the ladies and gentlemen of the road who were not dependent on the casual wards: Italian organ-grinders, with their monkeys, Rumanian peasants, with their dancing bears, itinerant singers, fiddlers, guitarists, et hoc genus omne.

The following was heard in the High Street as a sample of these artistes: A man and woman, with a small child between them, pacing slowly and expectantly and singing deliberately and unctuously:

“We shall meet [step] bye and bye (thank you, sir), [step]. We shall meet (thank you, ma’am) on that bee-you-tifful shore. [aside.  You little beggar, if you don’t sing the same as me, I’ll knock your bloomin’ little ’ead orf].  We shall meet, etc., etc.”


Another ultra-refaned performer sang: “Sing-ging to welcam, The Pilligrums of the nate, Sing-ging, etc., etc.”

The Old Maidenhead was at the top of Akeman Street, opposite the Museum, and gave its name to the street.  One wonders what the pictorial sign was, if any.  The street was quite wrongly named since “Akeman Street.” This was the name of the ancient road from London and Berkhamsted, passing through Tring Park, emerging as the present Park Road, and going on to Aylesbury, Bicester, and Cirencester.



Tring in the Twentieth Century

The two great wars, of 1914 and 1939, affected Tring as they did every town and village in the country, and the history of one is the history of all.

The changes in the place itself were chiefly effected by the sale and break-up of the Tring Park Estate.  The second Lord Rothschild left his world-famous museum and zoological collection to the British Museum, to whom the third Lord presented the house and part of the Park, so that Tring finishes its manorial history by becoming a permanent national centre of natural history, and it is possible that the Park may again become the home of emus and rheas and cassowaries as it was in the nineteenth century, when the second Lord Rothschild, then “Mr. Walter,” drove a team of four zebras, and the cassowaries were deported when one of them went for the first Lord.  There was then a small menagerie at the museum, including some of those lethargic antipodean birds, the kiwi, which went to sleep with their long bills stuck in the ground, and when disturbed, behaved like a testy old clubman, and returned at once to their nap.  There were porcupines also, which, when roused, would shoot their quills half an inch into a deal board.  There was a clutch of ostrich eggs, on which the cock would not sit, as was his duty; so an enquiry had to be made for a broody cock ostrich.  The wingless emus used to explore the pockets of passers-by for food, and Tring Park must surely have been the scene of Bret Harte’s ballad:


    “Oh, say, have you seen
    ’Neath the beeches so green,
So charming and rurally true,
    A peculiar bird
    With a manner absurd
Which they call the Australian Emu
    Have you
Ever seen this exotic Emu?

    “He trots all around
    With his head on the ground
Or erects it quite out of your view,
    And the ladies all cry
    As his figure they spy—
‘Oh! what a sweet, pretty Emu.
    Oh do
Just look at this charming Emu.’

    “Old saws and gimlets
    But his appetite whets
Like the world-famous bark of Peru,
    There is nothing so hard
    That this bird will discard,
And nothing his taste will eschew
    That you
Can give this voracious Emu.

    “One day to this spot
    When the weather was hot
Came Matilda Hortense Fortescue,
    And beside her there came
    A youth of high name,
Augustus Florel Montague.
    The two
Both loved that wild foreign Emu.

    “With two loaves of bread
    Then they fed it, instead
Of the flesh of the white cockatoo
    Which once was its food
    In the wild neighbourhood
Where ranges the great kangaroo
    That too
Was game for the famous Emu.

    “The time passed away
    In this innocent play
When up jumped the bold Montague:
    ‘Where’s that specimen pin
    Which I gaily did win
In a raflle, and gave unto you,
(No word spake the guilty Emu).

    “‘Quick! tell me his name
    Whom thou gavest the same,
Ere these hands in thy blood I imbrue.’
    ‘Nay, darling,’ she cried
    As she clung to his side,
‘I am innocent as that Emu.’
He replied, ‘Miss M. H. Fortescue.’

    “Down she fell at his feet
    Just as white as a sheet
As swiftly he fled from her view;
    He thought ’twas her sin
    For he knew not the pin
Had been gobbled up by that Emu
    All through
The voracity of that Emu.”

The Tring Park Estate was broken up by several public and private sales in 1938-1940.  Most of the farms went to the tenants, and the woods to timber merchants, with the exception of the hanging beech woods along the Chiltern slope for three miles south-west of Tring, which were acquired by the Bucks and Herts County Councils for preservation.  The “accommodation lands” went to speculators, who covered them with small villas and so carried on the residential character of Tring, for “the many.”

It is most difficult to write of present times, and I now understand why we never got beyond the reign of George III in our school history studies.  Tring, no doubt, is destined to become a suburb of London and continuous with it, but no crowding of houses and people will ever use up or diminish the invigorating effect of That Tring Air.



The Tring Nursing Association

Tring is fortunate in having, for its size, one of the best parish Nursing Associations in the country. It was started in 1900 by the first Lady Rothschild, who endowed it with a liberal investment in War Loan, now (1940) bringing in £187 a year, and the Nightingale Cottage Nurses’ Home, with a ward for accidents and operations. A first-class nurse is engaged, and the sick poor of Tring are well looked after. Attendance is also given to a few paying cases in emergency. The endowment was at first sufficient to meet nearly all requirements, and supplementary subscriptions of interested residents were merely nominal.  Now, however, that the usefulness of the institution has been much extended, and costs have gone up, the expenses are exceeding the income by £70 or £80, and an appeal has been made to old and new inhabitants of Tring to make up this deficiency and to see that their Nursing Association is maintained.

No more worthy cause can be recommended to the generosity of the residents. If there are any profits from the sale of this work (which is doubtful) they will be given to the Tring Nursing Association, which must be kept going, whatever else goes under, as a sacred obligation of the healthy individuals who benefit by That Tring Air.


web counter  

Local History Titles Site Search