1826 journal of Rev John Skinner
Journal extract of Rev John Skinner of Somerset who visited the rector of Walkern, Rev Camper-Wright, in 1826
(HALS Ref: PC/230)
1 December 1826
?It was a rainy unpleasant morning, and I continued within doors, penning in some of my sketches, and tinting others. At one o?clock I walked across the fields, with Mrs William Skinner [sister (in-law)], to Mr and Mrs Wright at the Parsonage at Walkern: we returned to dinner at six o?clock, two late by two hours for my family in the country. Dame fashion will extend her influence into the remotest corners of the earth; but this almost universal sovereign shall never bind me to her chariot wheels, if it rested with my own choice, I had rather dine at two than at four as I now do when at home; but never will I fix to dine at six.
2 December 1826
Still the same kind of weather, by no means inviting for out of doors operation; I therefore was not a little glad I had some to occupy me within. Mr Meetkirk and Mr Ogle called at Yardley; the farmer engaged me to dine with him at Julians on Tuesday, both the above named gentlemen dine with Mr Parslow on Monday. Hertfordshire is without exeption the coldest county I ever was in; for notwithstanding fires in the Parlour and my bed room I cannot keep myself tolerably comfortable, the clay and gravelly soil may account for this phenomenon, indeed I have heard it remarked that the snow does not lay so long in Yorkshire as in this county. Towards the middle of the day I accompanied Mrs Wm Skinner again to Walkern, being engaged to dine there, and take my bed: a change of stockings, shoes, etc, etc, were sent forward, as a necessary precaution, as the Scottish Laird of the domain, Mr Murray, by changing the footpath from its original line, and afterwards ploughing over it, has made one of the most slippery, dirty, splashy, abominable paths I ever noticed under some existing circumstances, a true emblem of Scottish accommodation, still more dirty in its kind than that afforded to the inhabitants of the old town of Edinburgh. A murrain, I exclaimed (while floundering over the miry furrows) upon Murray?s dirty ways!!! I spent a pleasant evening at Mr wright?s and slept at his house.
3 December 1826
After breakfast I retraced my steps with Mrs Wm Skinner across the Scottish Causeway to Yardley in order to attend Parslow?s church: owing to my cold I could offer no assistance in the duty. His text was in allusion in the Advent ?Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, goodwill towards men?. The Scottish Laird and his daughter were present. Thinks I to myself, if you had good will towards men, you would not purposely send them such a road as you do now, out of mere spite,this is not doing as you would be done unto Mr Murray, and I?m sure these dirty ways will never lead to anything good Mr Murray.
In the evening we attended Mr Wright?s church at Walkern, who preached a good, plain, practical sermon, on the duties of christians, who expected to profit by the coming of Christ at the last day. We returned across the fields to Yardley to dinner: it had hailed during the time we were in church, which improved the glissade across the fields.
4 December 1826 (page 172)
Still the same kind of cold comfortless weather: a good hard frost would be greatly preferable; at least to me. At the middle of the day, I walked with Mr Parslow and made a sketch of the front of Mr Murray?s castellated mansion, built of brick, with a large round tower in the centre. I remember the original building before it was thus transformed, and a part of which I believe constituted the house, in which Mr Chauncey, the Author of the History of Hertfordshire, dwelt, within my recollection. It has had three owners; first it belonged to Mr Spurrier; then to Sir David Baird; and now to Mr Murray. It is thus the Manors of Norman Chieftains, pass from hand to hand, in a commercial Country. Mr Murray the present occupier, was a commissary in the army serving in Spain: he lost his wife and daughter by a melancholy catastrophe; as both were killed at the same time by jumping out of a Post Chaise, the horses of which had run away: his eldest daughter eloped from a window of the chateau, with an officer, and his second daughter resides with him: so much for a sketch of Family History, which seldom finds a place in my journals, but I give it here in order to show that great misfortunes have not always a tendency to soften the heart, on the contrary, they sometimes are found to render it misanthropic and obdurate. All the traits which have come to my knowledge of the character of this petty Bashaw of a commissary, tend to confirm this position: I hope it is not very general…
?The third sketch I took was of Walkern Church: the fourth of the Parsonage, in the midst of an extensive lawn, having a piece of water in front; formed by the laying back of the brook Ben [sic], which rises about half a mile to the north of the village. Dr Heath,
the late incumbent of the living, planted a walk, extending nearly half a mile in a circuit. It is somewhat singular, that Mr Wright has succeeded this gentleman in his preferment at Eton??
?A little beyond Walkern Parsonage, the traces of a Roman road are very visible, running Northwards in the direction of Royston: Of this I made a sketch, and had time permitted, I should have traced it by walking instead of by my pencil. At Clay End, between Walkern and Bennington, a Roman gold coin was found some years ago, and shewn me by Mr Waddington, the then possessor of the property: but this like Yardleybury has changed hands four times within my recollection.?
NOTES: The Rev John Skinner (1772 ? 1839) was parish vicar of Camerton, Somerset, and an amateur antiquarian and archaeologist. He excavated numerous antiquities, especially barrows, and he visited many places for antiquarian purposes, writing journals and making sketches along the way. His journals, published many years after his death and now preserved at the British Library, are an important historical document. His obsession with Roman roads is reflected in his illustrations ? any road which was reasonably straight was sketched and commented on. Sadly, Skinner committed suicide in 1839 by shooting himself.