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the lower edge, was pushed down on one side of it, and outside this again another wedge-shaped piece was inserted. The top of this was now just under the iron cap of the heavy pile or rammer, and on pulling a rope, this was freed and dropped on the top of the wedge, which it forced halfway down. In a few seconds it was raised up again, and fell upon the wedge, driving it in a good deal further, and the third blow would send it down level with the top of the counter. Then when the rammer rose up, another rope was pulled, and it remained suspended; a turn of a handle enabled the first wedge to be drawn out and a much thicker one inserted, when, after two or three blows, this became so hard to drive that the rammer falling upon it made a dull sound and rebounded a little ; and as the process went on the blows became sharper, and the pile would rebound two or three times like a billiard ball rebounding again and again from a stone floor, but in more rapid succession. This went on for hours, and when the process was finished, the meal in the sack had become so highly compressed that when taken out it was found to be converted into a compact oilcake. In this mill there were, I think, three or four counters parallel to each other, and on each, perhaps, six or eight stamps, and when all these were at work together, but rebounding at different rates and with different intensities of sound, the whole effect was very strange, and the din and reverberation almost deafening, but still at times somewhat musical. During this squeezing process the oil ran off below through suitable apertures, but was never seen by us. I believe these old stamping-mills are now all replaced by hydraulic presses, which get more oil out and leave the cake harder, but the process would be almost silent and far less picturesque.
A very interesting and beautiful object connected with the water-supply of the neighbourhood was the New River Head or Chadwell Spring, the source of the original New River brought to London by Sir Hugh Myddleton. It is about two-thirds of the distance from Hertford to Ware, and is situated in a level meadow not far from the high-road, and about a quarter of a mile from the main river. As I knew it, it was a circular pond nearly a hundred feet in diameter, filled with the most crystal clear water, and very deep in the centre, where the springs were continually bubbling upward, keeping up a good stream which supplied a considerable part of the water in the New River. But its chief beauty was, that the centre was filled with great flocculent masses of green confervæ, while the water in the centre appeared to have a blue tint, producing exquisite shades of blue and green in evervarying gradations, which were exceedingly beautiful. In fact only once have I seen another spring which equalled it in beauty, in the little island of Semau, near Timor, and that was by no means equal in colour-effects, but only in the depth and purity of the water and the fine rock-basins that contained it. I am informed that now this beautiful Chadwell Spring has been entirely destroyed by the boring of deep wells in the neighbourhood, which have drawn off the springs that supplied it, and that it is now little more than a mudhole, the whole New River supply being drawn from the river Lea or pumped up from deep wells near Ware. Thus does our morbid civilization destroy the most beautiful works of nature. This spring was, I believe, unequalled in the whole kingdom for simple beauty.
While the country to the north and west of the town was characterized by its numerous streams, mills, and rich meadows, that to the east and south was much higher and drier, rising gradually in low undulations to about four hundred feet and upwards at from four to five miles away. This district was all gravelly with a chalk subsoil, the chalk in many places coming up to the surface, while in others it was only reached at a depth of ten or twenty feet. In the total absence of any instruction in nature-knowledge at that period, my impression, and that of most other boys, no doubt, was, that in some way chalk was the natural and universal substance of which the earth consisted, the only question being how deep you must go to reach it. All this country was thickly dotted with woods and coppices, with numbers of parks and old manor houses ; and as there were abundance of lanes and footpaths, it offered greater attractions to us boys than the more cultivated districts to the north and west. Walking along the London Road, in about a mile and a half we reached Hertford Heath at a height of three hundred feet above the sea, and half a mile further was Haileybury College, then a training college for the East India Company, now a public school. All round here the country was woody and picturesque ; but our favourite walk, and that of the Grammar School boys, on fine half-holidays in summer, was to what we called the racingfield, a spot about two miles and a half south of the town. As this walk is typical of many of the best features of this part of the town's surroundings, it may be briefly described.
From the south-west corner of All Saints' Churchyard was a broad pathway bounded by hedges, called Queen's-bench Walk, near the top of which was a seat, whence there was a nice view over the town, and the story was that the seat had been put there for Queen Elizabeth, who admired the view. This led into a lane, and further on to an open footpath across a field to Dunkirk's Farm. In this field, about fifty yards to the left, was a spring of pure water carefully bricked round, and as springs were not by any means common, we seldom went this way without running down to it to take a drink of water and admire its purity and upward bubbling out of the earth. At Dunkirk's Farm we crossed the end of Morgan's Walk, a fine straight avenue of lofty elms (I think) about three-quarters of a mile long, terminating in a rather large house-Brickenden Bury. In after years, when I became acquainted with Hood as a serious writer, the scene of that wonderful poem which begins with the verse
“ 'Twas in a shady Avenue,
And from a tree
There came to me
And sometimes underground ”was always associated with this Morgan's Walk of my boyhood, an association partly due to the fact that sometimes
a woodman was at work felling trees not far off, and this recalled another verse
“The Woodman's heart is in his work,
His axe is sharp and good :
From distant rocks
His lusty knocks
Re-echo many a rood.” Leaving the avenue we crossed a large field, descending into a lane in a hollow, whence a little further on a path led us along the outside of Bayfordbury Park, the old oak palings of which were well covered with lichen and ivy. Following this path about a mile further by hedges and little brooks and small woods, we came out into a sloping grass field of irregular shape and almost entirely surrounded by woods, while little streamlets, usually with high banks on one side and low banks or gravel heaps on the other, offered the most enticing places for jumping and for playing the exciting game of follow-my-leader. This we called the racing-field; why I never heard, as it was certainly not suited for horse-racing, though admirably adapted for boyish games and sports. When the boarders of the Grammar School came here, usually accompanied by some of the day-scholars and in charge of one of the masters, or ushers as we then called them, this was the end of our walk, and we were all free to amuse ourselves as we liked till the hour fixed for our return. We then broke up into parties. Some lay down on the grass to rest or to read, some wandered into the woods bird-nesting, some played leap-frog or other games. Here again in after years when I read “The Dream of Eugene Aram," I always associated it with our games in the racing-field, although the place described was totally unlike it
"Like sportive deer they coursed about,
And shouted as they ran-
As only boyhood can;
A melancholy man.”
Our ushers were not melancholy men, but sometimes one of them would bring a book to read while we played, and this was sufficient to carry out the resemblance to the poem, and summon up to my imagination this charming spot whenever I read it.
In one corner of this field there was a rather deep circular hole, from which chalk was brought up as a top-dressing for some of the poor gravel soil, and this was one of the instances which led me to the belief that chalk was always somewhere underground. In this field I was once told that a wonderful plant, the bee-orchis, was sometimes found, and my father used to talk of it as a great rarity. Once, during the time we lived at Hertford, some one showed us the flower, and I remember looking at it as something so strange as to be almost uncanny, but as I never found one myself I did not think more of it.
Just over the boundary wall of our school playground, and continuing along the side of the churchyard, and then across the fields for a long distance southward, was a dry, irregular ditch or channel cut in the gravel by flood-water after heavy rains. In places this would be very deep-six or eight feet or more, in others shallow, and in some places there were vertical drops where regular little waterfalls occurred after storms. The whole appearance of this channel was very strange and mysterious, as there was nothing like it anywhere else. We called it the Gulps or Gulphs, but it is now marked on the ordnance maps as Hag's Dell, showing that it was looked upon as a mysterious phenomenon by those who gave it the name. This also was a kind of playground, and we sometimes spent a whole afternoon wandering about it. In the neighbourhood of Morgan's Walk, however, there were many interesting spots, among others, some old hedgerows which had been so undermined in a chalky slope as to form complete overhanging caves, one of which I and two of my companions made our own, and stored it with a few necessaries, such as bits of candle, a tinder-box with flintsteel and matches, and a few provisions, such as potatoes, which we could roast in our fire, and play at being brigands.