Below the Surface

A property in the country. What is the strange story attached to that place and the people who have successively called it their home? For that we have to go right back- to the distant past that connects it all.

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4. THE OLD CAT WOMAN'S COTTAGE

 

 

 

   It seemed that connections with those from outside places had usually brought life at Lynly only into disruption and sadness. And although they harboured a distrust for outsiders, being  rather secular in nature,their church going ways kept them hospitable and forgiving, convinced they had been punished by God for somehow erring.

 

   The new minister of the church had eventually been sent to the village after the seat had been all too long empty.  Quietly spoken Father Boothby spent his time preaching a message of celebrating life rather than the culpability of death and loss,reuniting neighbours and accepting new neighbours and quelling jealousies.It all helped to rebuild. And gradually with larger families in Lynly, the church was on its way to becoming full in the pews again.In time ,the new pastor would have his own house or vicarage as it would later be known. Samuel Banks' original  refurbished house at the back of the church would be better used for storage and sanctuary. Its unfinished refurbishment,the roof left open to the elements and pillaged of its imported stone,the place was little more than a ruin.

 

   A small,abandoned and dilapidated cottage which lay not far from the church,was chosen and agreed on to be repaired. This one, ivy entwined and stone tumbled ,was not colonised as a rookery but by cats.The old woman who had lived here had survived all her family only to live on in strange seclusion. She had kept a few cats which in passing years grew to several until she was no more remembered as widow Tanner but the old cat woman. Since her long departure, the cats, left to their own rule had now escalated to a dominion,growing semi-wild in the course. Inside,dozens of them scampered from the sound of approaching footsteps while nest after nest, broods of mewing kittens under rotten floorboards grew only to be replaced by new litters.  In the corners weighty tomcats with battle scarred features grumbled and hissed at approaching humans.  In the back yard was witnessed,a huge living ball of fur and flicking tales. It was in fact many tomcats all fighting to breed with the one female somewhere underneath.

   The eviction of this cat colony was the first step.Two boys sent from the woodyard arrived there first in the morning and went to work clubbing as many of the cats as they could. But soon enough the other parishioners  arriving quickly halted the cull. Terrible bad luck they said, for a new abode and didn’t they know that? So much so that there was talk of finding another residence for the pastor instead. The boys insisted they did it because cats carried the plague. But it didn’t wear for such carelessness, the others  pointing out that the old widow tanner herself had not died of the plague. No one could be sure. Eventually the pastor intervened,and though there would be no more clubbing,he would have none of the superstitions either.This was to be his house and that was the end of it. Or so he believed.

 

    And so those cats were shooed away with sticks and anything to hand until all had fled, retreating into the wild. From then on, for whatever feline reason of attachment, cats would forever after linger on the perimeters of that house.

 

   Next,locals of the parish agreed to come together every Thursday and Friday during the months of March and April. Solid beams of seasoned oak were donated from the woodyard. Cartloads of new bricks from the claypits' kiln along with old ones from other buildings that had fallen derelict.  Tiles too, salvaged from another building that had been pulled down replaced the wilting thatch of the Tanners' old home.With hammering and bolstering,crafting and repair,the labour of many,produced friendships and good working bonds between recent arrivals to Lynly and those who had always been here .Thus the little cottage was the first union of community spirit since Lynly’s demise that was reborn again and there it sat, almost opposite the church.

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   As years rolled on still, disputes from the big cities and the capital itself had occasionally spilled over, reaching into and disrupting the day to day life of those who had lived here at Lynly. In taverns over tankards of ale or cider,some villagers would be drawn in to take a side of this debate while others in the amber light of the hearth ,puffed on their pipe in cautious silence,abstention or perhaps wisdom. And from where those garlic stems grew in that valley, so many centuries later, it was now the  hooves of Royalist or Parliamentarian horse that thundered over them.

 

   Blind allegiance, that devious utility used on so many generations had begun to be questioned openly by those brave enough to ask. The country grew further divided between those who questioned openly and those who would not as if it were to contest God’s appointment. A biblical test from God to divide those who belonged in his house and those who did not. Loyalty,it is said,is one of mans most admirable yet greatest flaws. The argument between the two raged. Battles and fighting took place everywhere it seemed, for this argument involved everyone. Pursued horsemen were witnessed galloping from beggars cross through to the lesser visited Lynly. They sought desperate refuge in its wooded clefts or with local residents who were more detached from the civil violence sweeping the land. In those times during the mid sixteen hundreds  hospitable locals would discover the price of taking pity before caution.

 

   As did the elderly Mary Liddle. Widow Liddle was given the dilemma that many are faced with and all try to avoid. Being forced to choose a side before the fight has its victor. And so it came to the widow, basing her decision on decency rather than taking a side, permitted a royalist gentleman to take refuge in her household. Upon the arrival of parliamentarian soldiers, already he had fled, but poor Mary admitting she had given abode to the young man was then  accused of hiding the enemy. This had her escorted to London, ending at the Tyburn with a hefty jolt around her neck, old bandy legs swinging in the grey drizzle of morning. 

 

   Holyrood church sat a little back from the main laneway which wound its way through the bottom of the valley pastures  from one end  to the other  in the shadows of those slumbering green giants,the rolling hills.The flint masonry of Holyrood, half hidden by  huge old yew trees was with tower and two short wings having as was usual,a plan view of the cross. The Yews looked ominous and indeed they were. Thought able to withhold the odd malevolent spirit lest it may rise from the dead. To walk the land again bringing harm or unjust revenge to the living.It was in fact that the yew was the grand sentinel,the ancient tree who presided over the length of an age as all others came and went.Including the church wall that had been placed around the yew trees once giving them sanctuary against the demand for longbow.

   Recorded as far back as the doomsday book, Holyrood had housed the pleas and prayers of so many generations and withstood each passing upheaval and century. A cannon ball embedded in its flinty masonry marked one of its many chapters and had been put there by a detachment of roundheads, stationed in nearby Bridgeford during the civil war. Their message to persuade a band of retreating Royalists holed up in its sanctuary to come out. The same final conclusion had come to many royalists all over the country fleeing for refuge. In the last days of that civil war,those lives that had been led by taking so much from others in the guise of special right and superiority were finally brought to a focal point when they were hunted down until cornered in some building or wooded cleft. And for those royalists hiding in Holyrood church,the time had  come to them to face their minds reason or, try to find comfort in deluded self pride and blind allegiance among their patriots,shaming those who considered reason.

 

   The fate of  cornered cavaliers ended differently throughout the country. Parliamentarian generals sometimes ruthlessly ordered them hung, other times only to have them offer recantation and new allegiance given. For many,the side they had taken was often chosen out of nothing more than necessity and obligation, be it money or your landlord’s overbearing persuasion. Those taking refuge in Lynly’s church, Holyrood, were spared. Well, that is the ones who eventually came out, half starved. Three had tried to escape just before sunrise. The news of  their fate was then read out to the remaining few within the church later that afternoon by the surrounding parliamentarians.

It was one of many forgotten episodes in this quiet little place. In its church grounds, lay buried past generations going back so far in time that only large, dusty and deteriorating books in the church annals could vaguely recall a link to who had been.

 

 

 

                                                 The Cottage

 

   Hollyrood cottage, which had been turned into a vicarage by the hands of the community so long ago, eventually fell into disuse and abandoned. It was, some said that succeeding pastors were reluctant to live there. Talk of the first pastor who had lost his mind lingered on. What ever their reasons, a new residence was granted by the church. A different property, giving a more amply provided building with gate and driveway. Called The Vicarage,  it was to be found half a mile from the church, standing opposite the ancient oak at the crossroads.

 

   Time went on until the wheel turned,the oak tree cast its leaves and things changed. 

 

   Then one day during the 1970's something dark was again about to take place in Lynly.

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