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“They would appear to be not older than the reign of Edward the Second or Third. Some ornaments were evidently bestowed on the interior by Henry the Seventh; for in the cieling of the principal room now standing, are represented the red and white roses united.'
The castle will again occur to notice in connection with the historical events which have happened in or near the town of Bampton.
§ 16. LEGEND OF THE LADY-WELL. In the time when the Roman Catholic church prevailed throughout Europe, almost every thing was, by reason of some legendary tale, made an object of sanctity or superstition to the people. Wells and fountains, in particular, were objects of reverence to the Christians, as they had been to the Pagans before the Christian Religion was established. The nymph of the
Grotto," of the “River," or of the “Fountain," was displaced, and one of the Saints of the Church, the Holy Virgin, or perhaps even Christ himself, was installed as the tutelary Guardian of the pure element, which ministers so largely to the uses and necessities of mankind.
In the parish of Bampton are two “Holy Wells.” Conceming one of these, from which a field beyond Cote House on the road to Sbifford is still called “Holy-well field," no legend has been recorded, but the other has been rendered famous by tradition, and its reputation has come down almost to our own times.* It is distant about 200 yards from the northern wall of the castle, and is so thickly covered with bushes, that a stranger could with difficulty find it without a guide. The field, which lies between it and the Castle, seems to have been formerly used as a tilting-area in which the garrison assembled for tournaments and other exhibitions. It is qradrangular, and surrounded by a moat, which is of lesser dimensions than that which protects the Castle itself. In the hollow ground formed by the crumbled sides of this moat, and near its western angle, the ancient well is situated.
* Pilgrimages to Holy Wells were forbidden by the fifth law of Canute king of England.
The water is still of the most pellucid clearness, sweet to the taste, though much neglected, full of fallen leaves, and, haunted by vermin. The spot is sufficiently secluded to account for the sacred character which it bears and to have called forth those feelings of superstition or enthusiasm, which were common in the Middle Ages. The stone-work, with which the sides of the Fountain are protected from the weight of earth and trees, whose roots penetrate through the crevices, is still in tolerable preservation, though four or five hundred years have probably passed away, since it was erected. The little nook has in fact, under the patronage of “Our Lady of the Well,” been hardly touched by the ruthless hands of the spoiler, before whom the massive Castle and its out-works have almost entirely ceased to exist. Tradition informs us that the Fountain first attracted the notice of the neighbouring peasants by the healing nature of its waters. The cattle of the neighbourhood were thought to be more free from disorders than those which fed on other pastures; and in process of time, its virtues were found to apply to the peasants themselves. The piety of the church took a hint from the admiration and credulity of the people, and it began to be credibly reported that Our Lady the Virgin delighted to haunt the place, and perform her personal ablutions in the miraculous Well. When this report was sufficiently propagated, the inhabitants of the adjoining villages flocked thither in large numbers, bringing with them their children and relatives, to be dipped in the Well, as a certain cure for every species of disease.
This practice, which we may be sure was accompanied with the payment of some fee or
compensation to the guardians of the sacred plaec— continued for many centuries, and almost even to the present day. is only thirty-three years since the death of an old inhabitant of the town [Elizabeth Skinner) who had known many children, having fits and other diseases, carried many miles to be cured of their complaints, by being immersed in the "Lady-Well.”
The present generation, however, have ceased to avail themselves of the medicinal properties of these waters, which have either lost their virtue, or are eclipsed by the superior abilities of the Medical Practitioners to whose charge the health of Bampton is consigned.
§ 17. THE GHOST OF COW-LEAS CORNER. Many years ago there was a custom, that those who had committed suicide should be buried in a place where four roads meet, with a stake driven through the body. There is no doubt that the effect of this law would be to create horror in ignorant minds, and so to deter them from the crime of selfmurder by the ignominious ceremonial which awaited them and the mutilation of their body after death. The origin of this custom is lost in obscurity : it is impossible to say whether the practice arose from the pious wish to place the remains of the deceased under the keeping of the HOLY CROSS, of which the cross-roads formed a kind of rude imitation, or whether, on the other hand, it was done in abomination of the form of the cross. Both these feelings have prevailed at different periods of English history. I shall make no apology for quoting the following passages in support of both these views.
Richard Flecknoe, in his “Ænigmatical Characters,” 8vo, Lond. 1665, p. 83, speaking of your “fanatical reformers,” says “had they their will, a bird would not fly in the air, with its wings across, a ship with its cross-yard sail upon the sea, nor profane tailor sit cross-leggeil on his shop-board, or have crossbottoms to winde his thread upon.” This whimsical detestation of the cross-form, says the author of the Popular Antiquities, “no doubt, took its rise from the odium at that time against every thing derived from Popery."
The opposite view of the question may be illustrated by Dalrymple, who, in his Travels in Spain, says, that there not a woman gets into a coach to go a hundred yards, nor a postillion on his horse without crossing themselves. Even the tops of tavern-bills and the directions of letters are marked with Crosses."
But it is unnecessary to multiply instances : for in every country of Europe for the space of fifteen hundred years the greatest respect was paid to every thing which was cross-like in its form, and this feeling became at length almost as gross and contemptible as were the endeavonrs of the Puritans in after-ages to divest themselves of this superstition.
At the distance of about half a mile from the western extremity of the town of Bampton, the road which leads to Clanfield and Faringdon is crossed by another, which, coming up from the hamlet of Weald, continues its course towards the north-west to Alvescott, Kencot, Bradwell, and other villages. At this point, which is sufficiently exposed to the winds and weather to enhance, if it were necessary, the horrors of the ceremony, it was customary formerly to bury, in the dead of night and by torch-light, the bodies of those unliappy beings, who had relieved themselves of the evils, " which they knew of,” in this world by "fleeing to others which they knew not of.” The spot is, however, known—not by any appellation derived from the burial of the suicide, but by the homely and pastoral designation of “Cow-lcas Comer ;” and all memory of the unhallowed corpses which have there mouldered, would long since have perished, if it were not for the troubled spirits, which once occupied those sinful tabernacles of flesh, but now, rejected from their decayed habitations, and no longer liable to be consigned to the Red Sea and other lock-up-places by the Exorcists, which the Church once provided, they wander forth occasionally upon the world, and, never departing far from their place of burial, alarm the farmers and peasants, who pass late at night near the fearful spot.
There are persons still living, who assert that they bave seen supernatural appearances in the neighbourhood of Cow-leas Corner; neither can it be said that such persons have been under the influence of liquor : for a state of inebriety has the effect of multiplying—or at least of doubling—the object which presents itself to the eye; and it is certain that all those who have experienced such visitations have never seen more than one ghost at a time : besides which their veracity has never been questioned and they have all returned in an alarmed state of mind, and often with the loss of a hat, shoe, or some other article of dress, in token of the terror occasioned to them by the supernatural visitor.
About two years ago there lived in Bampton an old man since deceased, who formerly travelled as a higler between Bampton and some of the neighbouring villages. In following the duties of his vocation he passed at all hours of the night by Cow-leas corner, and used to declare, to his dying day, that he had often seen the ghost which haunted that place. On ordinary occasions the apparition kept at a respectful distance from him and having merely shown himself to the higler, vanished in the shape of a calf, sheep, or some other rustic animal; but on one occasion his proceedings were of a more serious nature and assumed rather a diabolical character. The benighted traveller had stop