CHAPTER VIII. THE SOMERSET, DEVON AND DORSET BORDERLAND
Chard is a place which satisfies the aesthetic sense at first sight and does not pall after close and long acquaintance. The great highway from Honiton to Yeovil becomes, as it passes through the last town in South Somerset, a spacious and dignified High Street with two or three beautiful old houses, among a large number of other picturesque dwellings which would sustain the reputation of Chard even without their aid. First is the one-time Court House of the Manor, opposite the Town Hall. Part of the building is called Waterloo House. It was built during the last quarter of the sixteenth century. A very beautiful and spacious room with two mullioned windows and a fine moulded ceiling graces the interior. This apartment is panelled with the most delightful carvings of scenes from the Old Testament, and with birds, animals and heraldic designs above the noble fireplace. The back of this house is even more charming than the front and the visitor should pass through the porch and passage-way for the sake of a glimpse at its old gables and mellow walls. The Choughs Inn at the west end of the town, not far from the church, is another fine example of late medieval architecture. Here also one should not be content with a mere passing glance. The interior is well worth inspection, as the old woodwork and queer guest rooms of the ancient hostelry have been jealously preserved. The present Town School was erected in 1671, but a pipe bears the date 1583, indicating an earlier building on the site.
The early fifteenth-century church is cruciform if we regard the high porches as transepts. The whole building, including the tower, is very low in proportion to its length. The fine gargoyles will be noticed before entering; equally elaborate is the roof of the chancel, but perhaps the most striking item is the magnificent tomb of William Brewer (1641) in the north transept.
As at Honiton, the mile of High Street is undeniably a true section of the Fosse Way, though at each end the modern road departs from the old way and shirks the hills. The geographical position of the street is interesting in that it stands on a "great divide." During rain the gutters take the water in two directions, to the English Channel and the Severn Sea. There is no clear evidence of the existence of a Roman station hereabouts, though it is more than probable that such was the case. The name of the town proves it to have been a Saxon settlement. Bishop Joscelyn of Wells made its fortune by his endowments and the gift of a borough charter. Chard bore its part in the Civil War and Charles I was obliged to stay here for a week, in his retreat from the west country, awaiting the commissariat that Somerset had failed to provide. "Hangcross Tree," a great oak, stood within living memory in the lower town on the way to the South Western station. This was the gibbet upon which twelve natives of Chard, followers of Monmouth, paid the penalty for their rebellion.
The excursion par excellence is to Ford Abbey, situated about four miles away on the banks of the Axe. (Prospective visitors who wish to see more than the exterior must make preliminary inquiries.) The situation is beautiful, as was usually the case with those chosen by the Cistercians. Unlike most of the great abbeys despoiled by the iconoclasts of the Dispersal, Ford fell into the hands of successive families who have added to and embellished the great pile without entirely doing away with its ancient character. A good deal of alteration was carried out by Inigo Jones who destroyed some of the older work and inserted certain incongruities more interesting than pleasing. The imposing appearance of the south front amply atones for any disappointment the visitor may experience at his first sight of the buildings from the Chard road. Over the entrance tower is the inscription:
ANO' D'NI MILLESIMO QUINQUESIMO VIC'MO OCTA'O
A D'NO FACTUM EST THOMA CHARD ABB.
The beautiful cloisters are much admired and the magnificent porch is one of the finest entrances in England. In the "state" apartments the grandeur of the ceiling in the Banqueting Hall is almost unique. The great Staircase was designed by Inigo Jones; this leads to the Grand Saloon in which are five Raphael tapestries, the finest in England; unsurpassed for the beauty of their colouring. The original cartoons are in South Kensington Museum. The visitor is conducted through the Monks' Dormitory to the Transitional Chapel, the resting place of Adeliza, Viscountess of Devon, who founded the Abbey for some homeless monks, wayfarers from Waverley in Surrey, who had unsuccessfully colonized at distant Brightley and were tramping home. This was in 1140. In 1148 the church was completed. The carved screen is elaborately beautiful and there are several interesting memorials of the families who have held this splendid pile of buildings, now the property of the Ropers. The traveller by the Exeter express has a charming glimpse of the picturesque "back" of the abbey, should he make his journey in the winter. In summer the jealous greenery hides all but a stone or two of the battlements.