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KINGTON AND RADNORSHIRE
In the autumn of 1839 my brother came to Leighton to take me away, and in a day or two we started for Herefordshire, going by the recently opened railroad to Birmingham, where we visited an old friend of my brother's, a schoolmaster, whose name I forget, and who I remember showed us with some pride how his school was warmed by hot-water pipes, then somewhat unusual. We then went on by coach through Worcester to Kington, a small town of about two thousand inhabitants, only two miles from the boundary of Radnorshire. It is pleasantly situated in a hilly country, and has a small stream flowing through it. Just beyond the county boundary, on the road to Old and New Radnor, there is an isolated craggy hill called the Stanner Rocks, which, being a very hard kind of basalt very good for road-metal, was being continually cut away for that purpose. It was covered with scrubby wood, and was the most picturesque object in the immediately surrounding country.
We obtained board and lodging at the house of a gunmaker, Mr. Samuel Wright, a jolly little man, who reminded me of the portrait of the immortal Mr. Pickwick, and who, on account of his rotundity, was commonly known in the town as Alderman Wright. Mrs. Wright was, on the contrary, very thin and angular. They were equally different in their characters; he was very slow of speech, but very fond of telling stories of his early life, usually very commonplace, and told in such a way as to be dreadfully wearisome. After every few words he would stop, to let them sink in, then utter a few more with another stop, and all mixed up with so many “says I's " and "says he's,” and “ that's to say's," and little digressions about other people, that it was usually impossible to make out what he was driving at. Mrs. Wright, on the other hand, was a great and rather voluble talker, and she would often interpose with, “Now, Samiwell, you don't tell that right," and, of course, that would only lengthen out the story. She was a very active woman, a great scrubber and cleaner, and unusually fond of fresh air ; but these good qualities were sometimes inconvenient, as we all sat in a small room behind the shop, which had three or four doors in it, which we usually found open, and had to shut every time we came in. There was, in fact, such a constant draught in this room that I jokingly suggested a small windmill being put up, which might be used to grind coffee, but she always said that it was the warmest room in the house. Mr. Wright also seemed to enjoy fresh air and water to an unusual degree in those days, for early every morning, winter and summer, he would come down undressed into his little back yard, and there pour cold water all over his body, then scrub himself with a rough towel, put on his underclothing, and return upstairs to finish his toilet. But Mrs. Wright was an excellent cook, and gave us very good meals, and the alderman was very goodnatured, let me look on while he cleaned and repaired guns, and once, when I went with some friends to shoot young rooks, he lent me an excellent double-barrelled gun for the occasion; and these good qualities made up for the little eccentricities of both of them, who, though so different in some respects, were evidently very attached to each other, and never quarrelled. Mrs. Wright used to be fond of saying how dreadful it would be if Samiwell should die first after they had lived together so many years.
Our employers, two brothers, were also well-contrasted characters. The elder, Mr, Morris Sayce, was a rather tall, grey-haired man of serious aspect and rather silent and uncommunicative manner. He, I believe, devoted himself chiefly to valuations and estate agency. The younger partner, Mr. William Sayce, was a small, active, dark-haired man, rather talkative and fond of a joke, and as he attended to the surveying business, we saw most of him, and found him a pleasant superior. Both were married and had families of grown-up sons and daughters. They were very hospitable, and we were several times invited to dine or to evening parties at their houses, where we met some of the chief people in the town.
The offices were situated in a small house in a rather narrow street, the ground-floor being occupied by the partners' private office and a clerk's room, while a large room above was the chief map-drawing room, containing a large table ten or twelve feet long by five or six wide, used for mounting drawing-paper on canvas for large maps, with some smaller tables and desks, while other rooms were used chiefly for writing or store-rooms. There were a good many employées besides ourselves. The chief draughtsman and head of the office in the absence of the principals, was named Stephen Pugh, a thorough Welshman in appearance and speech, and a very pleasant and good-natured man, rather fond of poetry and general literature. The next marked character was a rather tall Irishman, a surveyor, who had the unconscious humour of his race, and was besides looked upon as somewhat of a philosopher. One evening, I remember, after work was over at the office, he undertook to give us an address on Human Nature or some such subject, which consisted of a rather prosy exposition of the ideas of Aristotle and the mediæval schoolmen on human physiology, without the least conception of the science of the subject at the time he was speaking. There were also a copying clerk, and two or three articled pupils, one or two about my own age, who helped to keep the office lively. In a solitary letter, accidentally preserved, written at this time to my earliest friend, George Silk, I find the following passage which well expresses the pleasure I felt in getting back to land-surveying :
"I think you would like land-surveying, about half indoors and half outdoors work. It is delightful on a fine summer's day to be (literally) cutting all over the country, following the chain and admiring the beauties of nature, breathing the fresh and pure air on the hills, or in the noontide heat enjoying our luncheon of bread-and-cheese in a pleasant valley by the side of a rippling brook. Sometimes, indeed, it is not quite so pleasant on a cold winter's day to find yourself on the top of a bare hill, not a house within a mile, and the wind and sleet chilling you to the bone. But it is all made up for in the evening; and those who are in the house all day can have no idea of the pleasure there is in sitting down to a good dinner and feeling hungry enough to eat plates, dishes, and all.”
Although he was at least ten years older than myself, Stephen Pugh was my most congenial friend in the office. When I was away surveying, and for a year or two after we had left Kington altogether, he and I used to correspond, and often wrote rhymed letters, which were, of course, very poor doggerel. I have, however, always kept in my memory a portion of one of Pugh's letters, partly perhaps on account of its extravagant flattery of my attempts at verse, though I always knew that I had no poetic faculty whatever. The letter began by describing what each one in the office was doing just as work was over one evening, with characteristic remarks on the idiosyncrasy of each; it then went on
“ The board was covered o'er with canvas white,
When to my hand there came what could be better
We think of Byron in the present day,” etc. Some time during the winter I went alone to correct an old map of the parish of New Radnor. This required no regular surveying, but only the insertion of any new roads, buildings, or divisions of fields, and taking out any that had been cleared away. As these changes are not numerous and the new fences were almost always straight lines, it was easy to mark on the map the two ends of such fences by measuring from the nearest fixed point with a ten or fifteen-link measuring-rod, and then drawing them in upon the plan. Sometimes the direction was checked by taking an angle with the pocket sextant at one or both ends, where one of these could not be seen from the other. As the whole plan was far too large to be taken into the field, tracings were made of portions about half a mile square, which were mounted on stiff paper or linen, and folded up in a loose cover for easy reference. In this way a whole parish of several thousand acres could be examined and corrected in a week or two, especially in a country like Wales, where, from a few elevated points, large tracts could be distinctly seen spread out below, and any difference from the old map be easily detected. I liked this kind of work very much, as I have always been partial to a certain amount of solitude, and am especially fond of rambling over a country new to me.
New Radnor, though formerly a town of some importance, was then, and I believe is still, a mere village, and a poor one, Presteign being the county town.
It is situated on the southern border of Radnor Forest, a tract of bare mountains about twenty square miles in extent, the highest point being a little over two thousand feet above the sea. Over a good deal of this country I wandered for about a week, and enjoyed my work very much. One day, when I had a little time to spare, I went a mile or two out of my way to see a rather celebrated waterfall, called Water-break-its-neck. I descended into the valley and walked down it, as I knew the fall was on one side of it in a small lateral valley, but owing to the glare of the afternoon sun, I did not see the opening in the shadow, and came down to the end of the valley. But I determined to see it, so turned back as fast as I could, and soon found it just out of sight, owing to a curve