CHAPTER XXII. ALONG THE HUMBER
In going westward we come, at the village of North Cave, to the southern horn of the crescent of the Wolds. All the way to Howden they show as a level-topped ridge to the north, and the lofty tower of the church stands out boldly for many miles before we reach the town. The cobbled streets at the east end of the church possess a few antique houses coloured with warm ochre, and it is over and between these that we have the first close view of the ruined chancel. The east window has lost most of its tracery, and has the appearance of a great archway; its date, together with the whole of the chancel, is late Decorated, but the exquisite little chapterhouse is later still, and may be better described as early Perpendicular. It is octagonal in plan, and has in each side a window with an ogee arch above. The stones employed are remarkably large. The richly moulded arcading inside, consisting of ogee arches, has been exposed to the weather for so long, owing to the loss of the vaulting above, that the lovely detail is fast disappearing.
About four miles from Howden, near the banks of the Derwent, stand the ruins of Wressle Castle. In every direction the country is spread out green and flat, and, except for the towers and spires of the churches, it is practically featureless. To the north the horizon is brought closer by the rounded outlines of the wolds; everywhere else you seem to be looking into infinity, as in the Fen Country.
The castle that stands in the midst of this belt of level country is the only one in the East Riding, and although now a mere fragment of the former building, it still retains a melancholy dignity. Since a fire in 1796 the place has been left an empty shell, the two great towers and the walls that join them being left without floors or roofs.
Wressle was one of the two castles in Yorkshire belonging to the Percys, and at the time of the Civil War still retained its feudal grandeur unimpaired. Its strength was, however, considered by the Parliament to be a danger to the peace, despite the fact that the Earl of Northumberland, its owner, was not on the Royalist side, and an order was issued in 1648 commanding that it should be destroyed. Pontefract Castle had been suddenly seized for the King in June during that year, and had held out so persistently that any fortified building, even if owned by a supporter, was looked upon as a possible source of danger to the Parliamentary Government. An order was therefore sent to Lord Northumberland's officers at Wressle commanding them to pull down all but the south side of the castle. That this was done with great thoroughness, despite the most strenuous efforts made by the Earl to save his ancient seat, may be seen to-day in the fact that, of the four sides of the square, three have totally disappeared, except for slight indications in the uneven grass.
The saddest part of the story concerns the portion of the buildings spared by the Cromwellians. This, we are told, remained until a century ago nearly in the same state as in the year 1512, when Henry Percy, the fifth Earl, commenced the compilation of his wonderful Household Book. The Great Chamber, or Dining Room, the Drawing Chamber, the Chapel, and other apartments, still retained their richly-carved ceilings, and the sides of the rooms were ornamented with a 'great profusion of ancient sculpture, finely executed in wood, exhibiting the bearings, crests, badges, and devises, of the Percy family, in a great variety of forms, set off with all the advantages of painting, gilding and imagery.'
There was a moat on three sides, a square tower at each corner, and a fifth containing the gateway presumably on the eastward face. In one of the corner towers was the buttery, pantry, 'pastery,' larder, and kitchen; in the south-easterly one was the chapel; and in the two-storied building and the other tower of the south side were the chief apartments, where my lord Percy dined, entertained, and ordered his great household with a vast care and minuteness of detail. We would probably have never known how elaborate were the arrangements for the conduct and duties of every one, from my lord's eldest son down to his lowest servant, had not the Household Book of the fifth Earl of Northumberland been, by great good fortune, preserved intact. By reading this extraordinary compilation it is possible to build up a complete picture of the daily life at Wressle Castle in the year 1512 and later.
From this account we know that the bare stone walls of the apartments were hung with tapestries, and that these, together with the beds and bedding, all the kitchen pots and pans, cloths, and odds and ends, the altar hangings, surplices, and apparatus of the chapel - in fact, every one's bed, tools, and clothing - were removed in seventeen carts each time my lord went from one of his castles to another. The following is one of the items, the spelling being typical of the whole book:
'ITEM. - Yt is Ordynyd at every Remevall that the Deyn Subdean Prestes Gentilmen and Children of my Lordes Chapell with the Yoman and Grome of the Vestry shall have apontid theime ii Cariadges at every Remevall Viz. One for ther Beddes Viz. For vi Prests iii beddes after ii to a Bedde For x Gentillmen of the Chapell v Beddes after ii to a Bedde And for vi Children ii Beddes after iii to a Bedde And a Bedde for the Yoman and Grom o' th Vestry In al xi Beddes for the furst Cariage. And the ii'de Cariage for ther Aparells and all outher ther Stuff and to have no mo Cariage allowed them but onely the said ii Cariages allowid theime.'