Sussex History - Charles II Escape 1651
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From - The Green Lanes of Hampshire and Sussex - 1882



SHAKESPEARE and Sir Walter Scott cannot be recommended as guides in the study of history, and it is to be feared that many popular anachronisms may be traced to their writings. The bookmakers of our own day, too, often mislead, and even the painstaking and accomplished author or that famous Sussex novel, "Ovingdean Grange," is likely to perpetrate an error in connection with an interesting incident in our local history-the flight of King Charles II. after the Battle of Worcester.

In this paper an attempt is made to define more exactly than has yet been done the route of the fugitive monarch.

It is recorded in vol. v. of our Sussex Archaeological Collection, p. 48, that " Thomas and George Gunter of Racton, met the king near Hambledon, in Hampshire, with a leash of greyhounds, as if for coursing." This was on the evening of October 13th, 1657. The king passed the night in the character of a Roundhead at the house of " Thomas Symones," Gunter's brother-in-law.

They set out at break of day, crossing Broadhalfpenny Down (Brodehalfpeny is an exemption from paying a certain toll to the lord of the manor, &c., for setting up boards in a fair or market-see Bailey's Dictionary, folio, 1730), whence they would proceed over Catherington Down, Charlton Down, and Idsworth Down, in Hampshire, to Compton Down, in Sussex. The early morning scenery, the meeting in the central avenue of Stanstead Forest, and the melancholy ghost story, must be relinquished to the novelist, because it is most improbable that the king would be conducted through bad roads, with armed men, when the party might with more ease and safety canter over the smooth turf of our glorious South Downs. Even then the king would be within about two miles of Stanstead House, "where Captain Thomas Gunter prudently left him, in order to attract less notice upon the party." Gunter would have to ride about four miles to his house at Racton, from whence he is said to have proceeded to Brighton by the road through Arundel and Shoreham, arriving in time to arrange with and Tattersel for the king's voyage to the Continent, accompanying him in the voyage, and seeing him safe ashore. It is probable that some previous writers have confounded Captain Thomas with Colonel George Gunter in this particular.

Leaving the pretty villages of Compton and Up-Marden a little to the south, the king, Lord Wilmot, and George Grunter, follow the track up Long Down, and across the Marden Down to the Tumuli called the "Devil's Jumps," from whence they would have a splendid ride along the top of the Downs from west to east, with the broad valley of the Weald on their left, and the blue waters of the English Channel on the right, the horizon broken by Rook's Hill in the distance, and. occasional plantations near at hand. This point is about twelve miles as the crow flies from Hambledon, and the time could hardly have been earlier than nine o'clock. Leaving Treyford, and Bepton at their feet on the left hand, with Midhurst and Petworth at some distance beyond, they skirt the northern edge of the great West Down Woods, and passing over Cocking-Warren, cross the main road from Midhurst to Chichester. Another half-hour brings them to Heyshott Down, with Heyshott and the Dunsford of the Cobdens at the bottom of the hill on their left. At ten miles distance Black Down grandly and gloomily closes the scene. For five Iong miles they have close on their right Singleton Forest, Charlton Forest, and the Tegleases. In the middle distance of the Weald may inow be seen the brown and dreary commons of North Heath, Ambersham, and Graffham, with its ominous gibbet on " Galley Hill," and Duncton.

Here the Downs break off, and trend abruptly to the south-east. The travellers leaving Duncton Beacon to the left, rapidly descend the hill, passing solitary tumulus, whilst a flock of plump lapwings, resplendent with purple and green, wheel circling about their heads, screaming their weird and monotonous cry of " peewit," and startling both horses and riders from their meditations. In the bottom, at Littleton, they cross the highway from Petworth to Chichester. Throwing the reins on the necks of their horses as they toil up the chalky and " hollow " way of the next ridge of hills, the think of dangers past and present, and of dinner.

A ride of twenty-five miles through the pure and exhilarating air of the open Downs would be enough to sharpen any capable appetite, and the Merry Monarch, doubtless, hereabouts, as the writer himself has done at the same place, exclaimed to his somewhat startled attendants, or quasi-masters, " my belly crieth cupboard." Plodding on, the horses have brought them again to the top of the Down, and now, from Glatting Beacon, the king, pulling up his horse, follows with his eye the " Stane Street," or Roman Way, which, with its central ridge, two roads, and side ditches, runs up hill and down dale, straight is an arrow from the bow, far as his eye can trace its course in a direct line to the spire of Chichester Cathedral, which rises at a distance of ten miles out of the rich and lovely champaign country, backed by the Channel and the Isle of Wight, which hangs like a blue cloud in the south-west horizon. Turning his horse's head, lie gazes over the Weald. At his feet are the villages of Bignor and Sutton, with. their whitewashed cottages and busy watermills. To the left is Burton Park, with its broad sheets of water and ancient mill. Again, the commons, covered with their brown heath and frost-struck ferns, of' Horncroft, and most romantic Fittleworth. There, too, is the cornmon of Watersfield, with its Roman camp, and the still more venerable Lodge Hill of the Celt. Beyond rises the hill, with its "Holt," named Arundel, after its noble owner; and far away, in the dim distance, is the long, grey, even line of the Hog's Back, marking the site of the town of Guildford. Looking a little more to the east, and following the northern line of the Roman Way, through Pulborough and Billingshurst, among the silver windings of the Arun, the view is bounded by Leith Hill, rising, rugged and majestic, in the far county of Surrey. The poor king for once feels himself ennobled, the magnificent panorama awakening in his heart some feeling akin to appreciation of the sublime, and, rising slightly in his stirrups, he exclaims, "This is a country worth, fighting for! "

Urged, however, by the anxieties of his followers, or rather leaders, he once more, and with a sigh, turns his horse's head to the south-east, and, rapidly descending the hill, past some ancient tumuli, where lay buried those who, in the old times, fought and lost the day, the party plunge into the shades of Houghton Forest.

Safely and unchallenged have they hitherto pursued their way, having seen no human being, save a shepherd here and there in the distance tending his flock. But for his pressing cares, the ever-recurring thought of his father's death, and regrets for his own lost crown, Charles would have considered this the pleasantest journey be ever. took in his life. Other thoughts now occupy his breast, and the deep gloom of the back woods, now arrayed in autumnal robes of sienna and gold, reminds him that lie is in the heart of the enemy's country Meekly does he ride at a respectful distance behind his pretended master, and well is it for him that he does so, for, suddenly, honest George Gunter reins in his' steed, exclaiming in an undertone, "We are undone-here is Captain Morley, the Governor of Arundel Castle." "Never mind," quietly replied the king, "move on." And then follows the dangerous interview so well described by Mr Ainsworth. Lord Wilmot, Gunter, and the king having dismounted, they slowly pass on, crossing the road from Arundel to Petworth, at about three miles north of the Castle; and, still leading the horses, they plunged into the steep, rough, old hollow, well-named the "white way," and speedily found themselves in the quiet village of Houghton. The writer has thus given the tradition of the neighbourhood, which was related to him on the spot, and which certainly appears more probable than that the king should have been conducted through HaInaker and Slindon to the town of Arundel. That, would indeed have been riding into the lion's mouth, and without the slightest necessity, for though the river Arun could have been crossed only by the bridge at Arundel, or by the bridge at Houghton, the journey by the Downs and Houghton must have been preferred and decided on without a moment's consideration.

This also was the route which good Gilbert White, of Selborne, took in his journeys into Sussex " for upwards of thirty years," as he says in the fifty-sixth letter of his charming History of Selborne.

The facts were, doubtless, mainly as represented in this paper, and the famous rencontre took place in Houghton Forest, perhaps when the shades of evening were falling, as Waller and his Roundheads were returning from their day's hunting to Arundel Castle, from which they were still distant, and not in, or near the town, as the novel informs us.

The precise spot in the forest where the meeting happened, is the finest scene for such an incident that the painter could possibly desire. The subject is an admirable one for a Gilbert or a Maclise.

If the reader started from Hambledon soon after daylight on a 14th of October, and pursued on horseback the course indicated, lie would find the suit far down in the west, or already set, as he rode through Houghton, and would not be at all disposed to scale the bold heights of the next range of the South Downs, which are here separated by the broad embouchure of the Arun.

Travelling on the hills at night is not without risk, especially in the autumn. The writer remembers that, some years since, two neighbour yeomen, attempting to cross the hill one evening on horseback, not far from Houghton, from the house of the one farmer to that of the other, were overtaken by a dense fog. They speedily bewildered themselves, and then their horses, and, after wandering about till towards morning, without being able to recognise one familiar object, Farmer Bartlett was almost over overjoyed to find that, instead of having been spirited into some terra incognita," as they began to fear seriously must be the case, his horse had by great good chance put his head over his own gate. Many such tales are current among frequenters of the Downs, and Gunter must have known from these and various other causes the risks the king ran through travelling at night. were even greater than those he incurred by day. Our fifth volume records at p. 57 a very interesting arrest of' a Parliamentarian officer, probably Colonel Apsley, of Warminghurst, on a December night, in 1643, on the very hill which was now before the king, both Roundheads and Cavaliers scouring the hills in the fog it almost is much risk to friends as foes, and the mere sight of the hill before them would remind Gunter of the capture, and lead him to fear that the tables might now be turned with a vengeance, should the king continue his journey.

Shelter for the night had already been provided at Amberley Castle, the residence. of the loyal Sir John Briscoe, and there appears to be scarcely sufficient reason to doubt the tradition which is referred to by the Rev. G. A. Clarkson in his Notes on Amberley (Sussex Archaeological Collection, vol. XVII. p. 223), and that the bedchamber on the east side of the Castle, looking into the churchyard, and designated King Charles's room, was really occupied by him on the night of October 14th. It would indeed be difficult to find a place more suitable for an escape, in case of a sudden night attack, as it is on the very edge of the " Wild Brook," affording facilities for flight to those intimate with the locality, and being extremely dangerous to either horse or foot of strangers.

In proof that the day must have been far spent when Charles reached Amberley, we may refer to vol. ix. of our Collections, p. 51, where we read that eight years before the king's flight a party of horse set out from Bury Hill, which hill the king was crossing when he met Colonel Morley, at six o'clock a.m., and went as far as Petersfield to reconnoitre, and that, though the business was urgent, they did not get back till ten o'clock next morning, having been in their saddles most of the time, as they were " close by the enemy all along," and say " they had noe meat but a peece of bread and cheese, and our horse's, while we eat it, had not halfe-an-houre's titne."

Allowing, therefore, for the slower return journey, when horses and men must have been well-nigh knocked up, the distance being more than sixty miles ; and remembering, that Hambledon is some ten miles further than Petersfield, in nearly the same direction, it seems clear that it must have been almost, or quite, dark when Charles reached Houghton Bridge. Indeed, the darkness in Houghton Forest insured both the sharpness of the keeper's challenge and the escape of the king.

Recurring to the novelist, it should be borne in mind that Arundel Castle is not visible at the distance of two miles on the Chichester road, nor, indeed, is it visible at all in that direction, till the traveller emerges from the gorge of the old road immediately upon the Park House Valley, at a spot where, in old times, stood the Water Gate of the town. (The spring "dick" [ditch] which here formed the western defence of' Arundel and its Castle, rises at some distance up the valley, and runs into the Arun). It is most unlikely also that the king should ride from Hambledon in time to meet Waller and a party of troopers going out a-hunting. Of course, if our fugitives passed through Arundel at till, they took the way through " Tarrant," or - T'e Arun Street," usually styled " The Lower Lane," to the bridge, and so would have no occasion " to mount the ascent on which the proud fortress is planted."

A MS. in the British Museum, entitled - The last act in the miraculous story of His Majesty's escape, as it was taken from the mouth of Colonell Gounter by a person of worth, a little before his death," indicates that the journey from Hambledon to Brighton was accomplished in one day. If so, the poor king is truly said to " undergoe a very hard journey," the distance being more than sixty miles. He had " ridd neere fourty miles " the day before. If Charles really did rest a night at Amberley, the king mounted his horse early on the morning of the 15th, otherwise, according to the Racton MSS., the fugitives, arriving at Houghton, stop at an ale-house for some bread and drink, and there discuss also two neat's tongues, which the provident colonel had put into his pockets at Hambledon.

When climbing the steep ascent of Amberley Mount, the king's horse casts a shoe. This makes it necessary to leave the crest of the Downs, along which is the usual route, and moving south-east they came either to Upper or Lower Burpham, or to Lee Farm, probably the latter. It is situated in a deep valley among the hills, completely secluded from the outer world ; and here the shoe is replaced. The local tradition of the shrewd blacksmith, not a Sussex man, we fear, is well rendered by the author of Ovingdean Grange, except that he makes the place an inn, and puts it and the smithy on the south side of Angmering Park, instead of on the north. As the park is quite out of the way from Arundel to Shoreham, the royal party would not have passed through it, even if they had crossed over the bridge at Arundcl. The king doubtless took the usual track over the Downs to Muntham Furze, having Stirrington, with more watermills, Sullington, and Washington, in sight at the foot of the hill. Parham Park was lost sight of in the détour for the shoe. Beyond Stillington is the dark expanse of Heath Common, then comes Warminghurst, of the Apsleys, already referred to, with the churches and cottages of Ashington and Thakeham, nestling among embowering elms; then is seen the broad, green expanse of the delta of the Adur, a mere miniature, however, of the levels of the Arun. This is backed by the villages of Shipley, West Grinstead, with its park and lake, Knelt Castle, Shermanbury, Henfield, and Ashurst. Far off in the background is the town of Horsham, with the of St. Leonard's and Tilgate Forests, the busy scenes of the ironworks, where were manufactured both the arrow-heads so nobly used by Sussex yeomen on the classic fields of Agincourt, Cressy, and Poictiers; and for the king's ignoble days, those cannon and cannon balls which were so completely to change the "pomp and circumstance " of war.

King Charles would cross the highway from Horsham to Broadwater and Worthing at the north of Highden House, and of Muntham (where resided that staunch royalist, Sir Thomas Boyer), skirting Chanctonbury Ring, and leaving Wiston at its foot, having Cissbury Ring two mile,; to the south. We must, therefore, leave Oswald Barcombe, the proverbial shepherd, to the story-teller and his admirers, and follow the king, not to "the White Horse at Steyning," which place lie would carefully avoid, but down the hill between Steyning and Maudlin, through Bramber and Beeding Street, where they met some of Colonel Herbert Morley's soldiers (of Glynde, near Lewes), " who yet did not examine them, nor had they, as far as could be discovered, the least suspicion of the royal passenger " (Sussex Archaeological Collection, vol. v., p. 49). Colonel Gunter says, respecting this, adventure, " From thence (Houghton), being come to Bramber, we found the streets full of soldiers, on both sides the houses, who, unluckily and unknown to me, were come hither the night before to guard, but, luckily, or, rather, by very special Providence, were just then come from their guard upon Bramber Bridge into the town for refreshments. We came upon them unawares, and were seen before we suspected anything. My Lord Wilmot was ready to turn back, when I stept in and said, If we do, we are undone. Let us go on boldly, and we shall not be suspected. 'He saith well,' saith the king. I went before, he followed, and we passed through without any hindrance. It was then between three and four o'clock in the afternoon. We went on, but had not gone far, but a new terror pursued us-the same soldiers riding after us as fast as they could. Whereupon the king gave me " ahem." I slacked my pace till they came up to me, and by that time the soldiers were come, who rudely passed by us, we being in a narrow lane, so that we could hardly keep our saddles for them, but passed by without any further hurt, being some thirty or forty in number."

Once more up the Downs goes the king, but in company with Lord Wilmot only, the truly noble Gunter taking the high road through old Shoreham, skirting the Downs just south of Portslade. He reached the "George Inn " at Brighton, which he found free from all strangers; and, having taken the best room in the house, and ordered his supper, he "entertained himself " with a glass of wine, which the reader will doubtless consider to have been well earned.

We return to the king with Lord Wilmot, who has been terribly scared by the, soldiers. They follow the broad track over the hills from Beeding to White Lot, and so at last to Portslade, between Shoreham and Brighton, where, on the west side of the village green, still stands the cottage, with high-pitched roof, visible from the Brighton and Portsmouth Railway, at which, in a little chamber, cunningly contrived near the chimney in the roof, the king lay till Tattersell had completed his arrangements for the voyage to Normandy. At least, so says tradition. But the romantic hiding here, and the visit to Ovingdean, so charming to read in Mr. Ainsworth's story, are sadly at variance with the colonel's MSS., in which he states that the king and Lord Wilmot came direct to the " George " at Brighton. Here they supped together, and then " Up comes mine host. He runs to the king, and, catching his hand, said, 'It shall not be said that I have not kissed the best man's hand in England." The king soon retires to his chamber. Gunter begins to treat with Captain Tattersell, who had been sitting with the king at supper. It had already been agreed, through the agency of Mr. Francis Matisell, a French merchant at Chichester, that Tattersell should receive £50 for the voyage to France, and the colonel, beetiise the wind had become suddenly fair, offers £10 more to get off that night. The colonel is compelled by the loyal but greedy skipper to give his word to insure the ship for £200, and the king, and Lord Wilmot go on board at "two of the morning." Our Sussex "Worthy " takes his leave, craves " His Majesty's pardon if anything had happened," &c. He sees them sail at eight of the clock, and it is afternoon before they are out of sight. He says they landed at Fachkam (Fechamp) at ten a.m. on Wednesday, October 15th. They were no sooner landed, but the wind turned, and a violent storm arose, &c., and he concludes by saying, " I was not gone out of the towne of Brighthemston two houres, but soldiers came thither to search for a tall, black man, six foot four inches high."

Here we take our leave of the monarch, and of the reader too, with the parting suggestion that if he would see Sussex, and enjoy one of the most delightful rides imaginable, he should follow the course thus indicated as that pursued by King Charles the Second. - Sussex Archaeological Collections, vol. VIll., By Samuel Evershed, Esq.

Updated 09 March, 2010
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