Royston Winter Recreations

In the days of Queen Anne

by Rev. W. W. Harvey

Longman, Green & Co., London. 1873

Hardback, 116 pages

[Picture of cover from ebay]


The following reviews were published in The Royston Crow, September 1874


Impl 16mo., with 18 Wood Engravings, price 6s.             

Royston Winter Recreations

In the days of Queen Anne

TRANSLATED into Spenserian Stanza, by the Rev. W. V. HARVEY, B.D., Rector of Ewelme, Oxon, late rector of Buckland, Herts., from a contemporary Latin Poem by T. WRIGHT, M.A., Physician; with Illustrations by H. J. THURNALL, Esq., and Notes on Royston Memorabilia by the Royston Publisher.


From THE ATHENUM, 30th August, 1873.

When James the First, on his first journey to London, arrived in the little Hertfordshire town of Royston, on the 29th of April, 1603, he probably neither knew nor cared whether Briton, Roman, or Saxon had been there before him, or what English King had conferred on the town the privilege of holding a fair. Sufficient for the day was the precious knowledge it bore of itself. Queen Elizabeth had been buried scarce four and twenty hours, and James despatched a letter to the Archbishop of' Canterbury to have the royal coat of arms altered in accordance with present important circumstances.

Why his Majesty took to the place so kindly does not appear; perhaps it was because he there heard that his predecessor was fairly and definitively disposed of. The first present made to the King was quite enough to frighten him. It was done on his arrival. The High Sheriff, Sir Edward Denny, begged him to accept the offering of a. gallant horse, with rich saddle and furniture. James looked at the horse, and having looked, bade the High Sheriff ride the beast himself, and go before him. Denny' showed such ability as, in his dun-coloured suit, he curbed the fiery spirit of the steed, that James probably thanked his stars that he had not himself climbed into the saddle.

In little more than a year, however, the king's palace at Royston was fit. for the king to dwell in, and over the heath his kingship went hunting and hawking, on horses he could trust, and with whose natures he was familiar. He loved this sport overmuch; and his ministers hinted that public affairs suffered by these long-continued private pursuits. But James reasonably remarked that his health would suffer without them, "which," as that good king added, "being the health and welfare of us all, take you the charge and burden of affairs, and foresee that I be not interrupted or troubled with business." Exemplary king! He lived there, moreover, as simply as George the Third with his mutton and boiled turnips at Kew. "Niggardly housekeeping," Salisbury called it; and James called him traitor for the phrase, and playfully threatened him with the headsman. The king liked interruption in his hunting as little as rebuking hints about it. A party of Puritans once presented him a petition in favour of certain of their ministers as he was following his sport, and some of them were held to bail to answer for it before the Council. The king as little liked his favourite doctrines to be preached against. The Rev. Dr. Simpson, from Cambridge, whence James used to send for preachers to Royston, gravely offended him by the enunciation of Armenian doctrine, for which poor Simpson was compelled to make public recantation before the king! James had no thought or respect for others. The farmers about Royston were compelled to arrange everything about their farms to further His Majesty's sport. It did not matter how seriously it might affect them. It was at Royston he saw Somerset for the last time; kissed him, hugged him, laughed with him, and, as soon as he was gone, remarked, "I shall never see his face more! "

The Royston people grew a little tired of the King. The Cambridge youth poached on his preserves. His continued residence there impeded public affairs. It was difficult for his ministers to get at him; but such was His Majesty's pleasure. After his death, Charles the First visited tee palace once or twice; and after Charles's death, this royal country palace was pulled down and the materials sold. A very small fragment remains. * * * *

Royston, after its one taste of royalty, settled itself comfortably and contentedly down. In Queen Anne's days it had its intellectual men, and its famous Royston Club, older, indeed, than the Queen's reign, and snuffed out by political dissensions about the advent of George the Third. Among the intellectual men was Dr. Wright, who wrote a Latin poem descriptive of Royston life; how the best. men there loved good wine, a good table, and a good pipe or two; how they played cards and chess, talked politics, home and foreign, with every other talkable topic, to boot, till the host of the evening, whose house was open "While winter caps with snow the breezy hills," gave the signal for retiring:

The parting cup now bids the guests farewell,
'Tis almost ten, and dissipation kills;
Then seek, my friends, in sleep, cure for all mortal ills.

We do not know what the merits of the original Latin poem 'Bruma' may be; but it has been translated by the Rev. W. W. Harvey "by the request of present residents in that town" (Royston). The English version is easy and graceful, but calls for no further note. The volume itself, which is got up with great taste, is dedicated "gratefully" to Mr. Gladstone, to whom Mr .. Harvey is indebted for his rectory of Ewelme.

From THE INQUIRER, 16th August, 1873

The translation is pleasing. * * * * * We have only further to notice the very superior style in which this small quarto of 116 pages is got up, both in binding, printing, and especially in ample illustration by woodcuts of the town of Royston, and the neighbourhood.

From THE WEEKLY DISPATCH, 30th August, 1873.

To the pages of the "Gentlemen's Magazine" we are indebted for nearly all we know respecting a once famous club which was founded at Royston, in Hertfordshire, nearly two centuries ago. In 1780, a "Cantab" wrote to Mr. Urban, making' inquiries respecting the Royston Club, which had then ceased to exist, and in 1783, a letter appeared in the magazine, giving the desired information. The precise year of the institution of the club is not known, but it was certainly before the year 1698, and possibly dates from the Revolution. * * * * *

In 1710, Dr. Thomas Wright, one of its members, wrote a poem extending over eight hundred hexameter lines descriptive of the winter amusements of the upper class of Royston society, and more particularly of the manner in which the members of the club passed their evening. It is this poem, entitled "Bruma, et verpera Brumalis, Roystoni agitata," of which Mr. Harvey has favoured us with a translation. The appointment of Mr. Harvey to the now historical rectory of Ewelme, doubtless accounts for the fact that it is "gratefully and respectfully inscribed to the Right Hon. William Ewart Gladstone, M.P." This, however, by the way. The poem opens with a description of out-door winter sports, hunting, racing, shooting, &c., and then comes to the more important topic, the meeting of the club :-

                                      Where the red lion,
With patent gorge and aspect sinister,
Stands guard where Snow to Bacchic rites doth minister.

* * * * * * *

The sun is down, to each announced guest
    The master of the evening feast is known,
He welcomes all with smile, and some with jest,
    And gives to serious talk a jovial tone,
    Then takes his seat upon th' Olympian throne.
The well-swept hearth ablaze with ruddy glow,
    And yard-long ware along the table strown,
Bid welcome to the guests their fumes to blow
From lips retentive, ere wit finds a readier flow.

It is curious, and in the highest degree interesting, as illustrative of social character, to learn how our ancestors enjoyed themselves at these hebdomadal gatherings. Their first duty was to drink to the health of good Queen Anne; then the Church, true mother of our English liberty; next the Royal Family, and

Lastly, both arms whereby the enemy
From Albion's shores has still forefended been,
In truth and valour clad.

To even enumerate the topics of conversation which follow would occupy a long list - the crops, the last tax, the influx of Germans under the then regime, the state of foreign countries, the victories of Marlborough, Prince Eugene, the capture of Gibraltar, theology, philosophy, medicine - these are a few of the subjects. A suggestive "bit" is contained in three lines. An eager discussion is being carried on: -

But hark! with twanging horn and tired jade,
The casually serving post has come,
And one the flying sheet reads out to all the room.

Another point of difference between modem club life and that of worthy Royston folk may be gathered from the closing lines :-

'Tis almost ten, and dissipation kills;
Then seek, my f
riends, in sleep, cure for all mortal ills.

Not the least interesting part of this thoroughly enjoyable book is the appendix, contributed by Mr. Warren, the local publisher. In about thirty pages of carefully-compiled matter he gives us an account of ancient Royston; of the Cave, concerning the origin of which Parkins and Stukeley wrangled so fiercely; of the palace of' King James, and of his hunting exploits in the neighbourhood; of the Priory; the Church; and. in fact, of almost everything worthy of being known of this interesting place.

The illustrations, by H. J. Thurnall, are worthy of the text. The frontispiece shows the original carved mantelpiece * * * * still in existence, bearing date 1635, and reaching to the ceiling. The other illustrations are of places in and about Royston, and the tail piece is a wood-cut of Bewick's, of the famous Royston Crow. The manner in which the book is got up is a convincing proof that London has not absorbed all the native talent of printers and bookbinders.

The reference to the Gentleman's Magazine, is to the October 1783 edition - and the article gives detailed information of the club and a list of its members. It is reprinted in Hertfordshire 1731-1800.

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