Page images
PDF
EPUB

and more especially Colonel Hope, V.C., who was living at Parsloes, an old manor house within an easy walk, and with whose amiable and intellectual family we spent many pleasant Sunday afternoons. Colonel Hope had here laid out a large sewage farm, and had for years carried out experiments demonstrating the fact that many agricultural crops could be grown on absolutely sterilized sand by the application of sewage in proper quantities. He had urged that the whole of the London sewage, instead of being emptied into the Thames near Barking, should be carried on to the Maplin sands, where about ten thousand acres of land could be reclaimed and fertilized so as to grow a large portion of the vegetable food for London. This would have been the cheaper method in the end, saving the pollution of the whole tidal course of the Thames and the enormous annual cost of dredging required to partially remedy that pollution. Instead of this wasteful expenditure, the rental of the reclaimed land, with the fertilizing sewage, might have been so large as to fully repay the extra expenditure, and at the same time give us an unpolluted stream in our capital city. But the plan was too grand to be accepted, and we continue to pay the penalty.

In the following year I found near the village of Grays, on the Thames, twenty miles from London, a picturesque old chalk-pit which had been disused so long that a number of large elms and a few other trees had grown up in its less precipitous portions. The chalk here was capped by about twenty feet of Thanet sand and pleistocene gravel, and from the fields at the top there was a beautiful view over Erith to the Kent hills and down a reach of the Thames to Gravesend, forming a most attractive site for a house. After some difficulty I obtained a lease for ninety-nine years of four acres, comprising the pit itself, an acre of the field on the plateau above, and about an equal amount of undulating cultivable ground between the pit and the lane which gave access to it. I had to pay seven pounds an acre rent, as the owner could not sell it, and though I thought it very dear, as so much of it was unproductive, the site was so picturesque, and had such capabilities of improvement, that I thought it

would be a fair investment. The owner lived at Winchester, and when I went down there to see him and arrange the terms, I recall one little incident illustrating one of the great social changes of the last thirty-five years. After our business was settled and we had had some lunch, he offered to show me the cathedral, and on our way there a gentleman passed us on one of the early bicycles, which were then a comparative novelty. As the cyclist passed, my companion remarked, “There goes a fool upon rollers"-expressing a very common opinion among the older portion of the community.

As there was a deep bed of rough gravel on my ground and there were large cement works at Grays, I thought it would be economical to build of concrete, and I found an architect of experience, Mr. Wonnacott, of Farnham, who made the plans and specifications, while I myself saw that the gravel was properly washed. In order to obtain water in ample quantity for building and also for garden and other purposes, I had a well sunk about a hundred feet into a water-bearing stratum of the chalk, and purchased a small iron windmill with a two-inch force pump to obtain the water. I made two small concrete ponds in the garden-one close to the windmill—and had a large tank at the top of a low tower to supply house water. My friend Geach, the mining engineer whom I had met in Timor and Singapore, was now at home, and took an immense interest in my work. He helped me to find the windmill—the only one that we could discover in any of the engineering shops in London—and the well being completed, he and I, with the assistance of my gardener, did all the work of fitting the pump at the bottom of the well with connecting-rods and guides up to the windmill, which also we erected and set to work ourselves. As the windmill had no regulating apparatus, and, when the wind became strong, revolved far too rapidly, and even bent the connectingrod, I attached to the ends of the iron vanes pieces of plate iron about a foot square, fixed at right angles to the line of motion. These acted as brakes as soon as the revolution became moderately rapid, but had little effect when it was slow; and the arrangement worked very well.

[graphic][merged small][merged small]
[ocr errors]

With the help of another labourer I also myself laid down 14-inch galvanized water-pipes to the house, with branches and taps where required in the garden. I also built concrete walls round the acre of ground at top, the part facing south about nine feet high for fruit trees, the rest about five feet; and also laid out the garden, planted mounds for shelter, made a winding road from below, which, when the shrubs had grown up, became exceedingly picturesque; and helped to sift out hundreds of cubic yards of gravel to improve the land for the kitchen garden. All this work was immensely interesting, and I have seldom enjoyed myself more thoroughly, especially as my friend Geach was a continual visitor, was always ready with his help and advice, and took as much interest in the work as I did myself. We got into the house in March, 1872, and I began to take that pleasure in gardening, and especially in growing uncommon and interesting as well as beautiful plants, which in various places, under many difficulties and with mingled failures and successes, has been a delight and solace to me ever since.

During my four and a half years' residence at Grays I received visits from several foreigners of eminence, among whom I especially recollect three, Russians-Hon. Alexander Aksakoff, who may almost be called the Myers of Russian and German spiritualism; Professor Boutleroff, a biologist and also a spiritualist; and V. S. Solovyoff, also a spiritualist. These were all delightful people, and they somewhat amused my wife and myself by their enjoyment of the few delicacies we were able to give them. On one of the occasions we had a fine crop of peaches on our concrete wall, small, but very delicious, and we had feasted on them for some time. So we put a handsome dish containing a dozen or more on the tea-table, and as our Russian visitor seemed greatly to appreciate them, we pressed him to eat as many as he liked, and he took us at our word and finished the dish. Another time we had some very good orange-marmalade on the table, which we offered with bread and butter, but our guest said, “No; with my tea "—so he asked for half a cup of tea, of course without milk or sugar, in the Russian

« EelmineJätka »