A Few of the Few Things to Be Said of the Village.
C. H. Spurgeon.
STAMBOURNE. We print it in capitals; but we anticipate the question, Where is it? It is not easy to tell the traveller among gay capitals and snow-crowned Alps where this humble hamlet hides itself. Of course, you know it is in Essex, not very far from the borders of Suffolk: but if you know no more, we are not at all surprised at your slender learning, nor are we quite sure that we can give you much more information. Still, let us try. Have you never heard of Birdbrook—name musical with sweet voices of flowing runnels and flitting songsters, surrounded with bowers of rushes, sedges, bushes, brambles, and climbing honeysuckle? Well, Birdbrook is almost Stambourne; only, as it has a railway station, it is not quite so rustic. And there is Ridgewell. The Romans there, or thereabouts, or between it and Stambourne, had quite a notable settlement: they liked watching on the ridges of hills where there were wells to supply the thirst of the camp. The well on the ridge, and divers nameless brooks, have lent their tiny rivulets to form the bourne whereof our village is the index, a bourne which soon loses its personality in the stream of the Colne, which in due time assumes the rank of a river. Is Stambourne the place where first the bourne needs to be Stemmed? Or is it Stanebourn, the spot where the brook first needs to be crossed with stanes or stones?
If you have not yet discovered Stambourne, let your ear attend to the sounds of names more familiar to fame. Do you not know Toppesfield and Wethersfield, and Finching field, and Bardfield? Are all these villages fresh fields to you? Are you yourself so obscure as not to have heard of Sturmer or Helions Bumpstead Must we give you up? We shall certainly do so if the august name of Steeple Bump-stead has never bumped against your memory. Hempstead we will not insist upon, though Dick Turpin was born there; for there seems to have been a Hempstead everywhere in days when hemp was the great vindicator of justice, and stood the magistrate in such excellent stead, when men would not be converted by the stocks, nor sanctified by being whipped at the cart-tail. Harvey, the great Harvey, sleeps in pieces in the church of the afore-named Hempstead; but it may be that your blood has circulated for years without your knowing who first discovered the fact. But, then, you have a cousin living at Great Yeldham! Have you not? Surely "Yeldham great oak" must have been one of the visions of your youth, and it must abide among the memories of your riper years. No? Not know Great Yeldham? Go to! Prisoner in some vast furnace of smoke, which is called a city, what knowest thou of the freshest, greenest, purest things which yet linger under the sun?
If my adventurous pen must altogether quit Hill Farm, and Stambourne Hall, and take a wider range, I call to remembrance in the mid distance places such as Castle Hedingham, and Sible Hedingham, and Halstead in one direction; and Clare, and Haverhill in another. These are the towns and cities to which Stambourne looks up with due reverence and awe, regarding them as subordinate Londons, towns of vast importance, which, seen once in a lifetime, raise a man to the same position in his native village as a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in town. To those regions where my fellow-creatures love to congregate, and create sewage and influenza, coal-smoke and yellow fogs, I will do no injustice: they must have many and great attractions, for they actually attract; but, oh, that one could abide among the buttercups of the meadows, and the poppies of the cornfields, and the sacred coverts of the brown-leaved woods! Alas, these joys are more for fancy than for fact! for, when we seek them out, the pastures happen to be swampy after rain, the green lanes are knee-deep in mud, and the copses have a chill blast tearing through them, which sends us home to gruel, hot water, and a tallow candle. All is not paradise, even in the parish of Stambourne.
Maybe, the village would have died out of memory altogether, were it not that, in its centre, Puritanism had set up one of its most venerable shrines. Driven from the Anglican Establishment by that silly craving for Uniformity, which produced a needless breach in a church which might have been united, a number of the best educated and most spiritual of England's pastors preached to their flocks in such conventicles as they could find, or could provide (1662). Mr. Henry Havers would seem to have been a man of talent, as well as of piety, and either out of his own wealth, or from the great liberality of some member of his congregation, there were erected a large meetinghouse, and a manse, far above the usual provision for dissenting ministers in those days. Everybody seems either openly or secretly to have sided with Mr. Havers; and it is recorded that no one could be found to fill the office of churchwarden for the parish. The people, who formed the congregation, were at first called Presbyterians, and then Independents: that is to say, the congregations of the district were at first linked together somewhat on the Presbyterian plan; but as error began to leaven the mass, those churches which remained true to the gospel found it convenient, and indeed essential, to keep themselves to themselves, and thus to become Independents. Having an endowment left them in 1735, by a "lady bountiful", of some thirty or more acres of land, which the minister could farm for himself, the place was not solely dependent upon voluntary offerings; but even if it had been, a host of well-to-do farmers, who came in from the neighbouring villages, were quite able to have supported the pastor in comfort. Things are very different now: for many a farmer has enough to do to keep himself out of the workhouse. In this paper we ought to have said something about the parish church; but we are not architecturally minded. Its chief interest to us is the fact that while our grandfather (Mr. James Spurgeon) was preacher at the meeting, Mr. Hopkins was rector at the church. They preached the same gospel, and, without surrendering their principles, were great friends. The Bible Society held its meetings alternately in connection with the church and the meetinghouse. At times the leading resident went to church in the morning, and to chapel in the afternoon; and, when I was a boy, I have, on Monday, gone to the Squire's to tea, with Mr. Hopkins and my grandfather. The glory of that tea party was that we four, the three old gentlemen, and the little boy, all ate sugared bread and butter together for a treat. The sugar was very brown, but the young boy was very pleased, and the old boys were merry also. Yes, Stambourne had its choice pleasures!
It is pleasant to read of the harmony between these two men of God: they increased in mutual esteem as they increased in years. As Mr. Hopkins had more of the meat, and Mr. Spurgeon more of the mouths, the Rector did not forget to help his friend in divers quiet ways; such as a five-pound note for a sick daughter to go to the seaside, and presents of comforts in illness. On one occasion, it is said, that having a joint of beef on the rectory table, the clergyman cut it in halves, and sent his man on horseback with one half of it to the Independent; Parsonage, while it was yet hot: a kind of joke not often practised between established and dissenting ministers. Yet, if our readers could see the hearty letter in which the present Rector, Rev. D. Rice Jones, and his kind wife, invite us to stay with them, they would perceive the same unity of spirit in another form. It is from this generous epistle that we make a quotation which will lie four-square with our subject. "Having been, in a very humble way, from my boyhood, a contributor to literature, my heart leaped with joy, when, on examining one of our old registers, I found at the beginning of one of the books, instead of the mere record of deaths and marriages, the following inscription, beautifully written in large letters:—
'HISTORY OF STAMBOURNE.'
The title was followed by a closely-written page of narrative which caused me to shout to a friend, 'Hurrah! Here's a find!' Alas! when we had arrived at the bottom of the first page we had reached the end of the 'History of Stambourne.' The Rector who began that history must have been a spasmodic genius; and when he had ended that first page of his great work, his courage or his intellectual resources failed him, and he made a full stop where there should only have been a comma."
Never mind; we are going over to see what there may be in the old parish registers, and with the assistance of such a clergyman as Mr. D. Rice Jones, and such an Independent preacher as Mr. Houchin, we think we shall find some good thing even in the Essex Nazareth.
As "The History" is not forthcoming, I must give a "general view" kindly supplied me by Mr. Houchin, which will sufficiently well inform us concerning the village. It may need correction by the census of 1891, but that correction is not likely to be in the direction of enlargement. We fear there is a decline. Everything is being sucked into the vortex of London; and the more's the pity it should be so.
—Memories of Stambourne