Vanishing England eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 311 pages of information about Vanishing England.

        That the wretch in his chains, each night took the pains,
        To come down from the gibbet—­and walk.

In order to act as a warning to others the bodies were kept up as long as possible, and for this purpose were saturated with tar.  On one occasion the gibbet was fired and the tar helped the conflagration, and a rapid and effectual cremation ensued.  In many museums gibbet-irons are preserved.

Punishments in olden times were usually cruel.  Did they act as deterrents to vice?  Modern judges have found the use of the lash a cure for robbery from the person with violence.  The sight of whipping-posts and stocks, we learn, has stayed young men from becoming topers and drunkards.  A brank certainly in one recorded case cured a woman from coarse invective and abuse.  But what effect had the sight of the infliction of cruel punishments upon those who took part in them or witnessed them?  It could only have tended to make cruel natures more brutal.  Barbarous punishments, public hangings, cruel sports such as bull-baiting, dog-fighting, bear-baiting, prize-fighting and the like could not fail to exercise a bad influence on the populace; and where one was deterred from vice, thousands were brutalized and their hearts and natures hardened, wherein vicious pleasures, crime, and lust found a congenial soil.  But we can still see our stocks on the village greens, our branks, ducking-stools, and pillories in museums, and remind ourselves of the customs of former days which have not so very long ago passed away.

  [56] Act of Parliament 25 George II.

CHAPTER XIV

OLD BRIDGES

The passing away of the old bridges is a deplorable feature of vanishing England.  Since the introduction of those terrible traction-engines, monstrous machines that drag behind them a whole train of heavily laden trucks, few of these old structures that have survived centuries of ordinary use are safe from destruction.  The immense weight of these road-trains are enough to break the back of any of the old-fashioned bridges.  Constantly notices have to be set up stating:  “This bridge is only sufficient to carry the ordinary traffic of the district, and traction-engines are not allowed to proceed over it.”  Then comes an outcry from the proprietors of locomotives demanding bridges suitable for their convenience.  County councils and district councils are worried by their importunities, and soon the venerable structures are doomed, and an iron-girder bridge hideous in every particular replaces one of the most beautiful features of our village.

When the Sonning bridges that span the Thames were threatened a few years ago, English artists, such as Mr. Leslie and Mr. Holman-Hunt, strove manfully for their defence.  The latter wrote:—­

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Vanishing England from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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