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A Winter's Journey to Preach

    The clock struck eight, the morning clear'd,
    The coffee drank, the coach appear'd;
    To Reedham bound, a dirty road,
    A stomach sick, with hyppish load,
    A jumbling coach, the horses bad,
    And everything to make me sad;
    Had not a cheerful friend or two
    Engag'd the journey to pursue,
    At length, arriv'd at Reedham Green,
    No church bell heard, no mortal seen;
    A churchyard bleak, near wat'ry swamp,
    A dirty church, a surplice damp,
    A reading desk, extremely cold,
    A pulpit dusty, weak and old,
    A prayer-book in old print letter,
    A bible, rather worse than better;
    A congregation great and small,
    Made up but few poor souls in all;
    With ancient dames with wither'd faces,
    Sat fast asleep in lower places;
    Two grey-head dons, with gloves on pate,
    Sat just above in nodding state;
    One maiden fair with yellow knot,
    The only primrose of the spot.
    The rest were chiefly farmer's men,
    Who star'd and listen'd now and then.
    A bearded clerk that sings or says,
    But poorly vers'd in musick's lays,
    A psalm up rear'd, in jingling notes,
    Contriv'd for sol-fa growling throats;
    In broken tunes, now in, now out,
    'Twas all confus'd like rebel's rout.
    Then came the sermon long and dull,
    Adapted right to Clodpate's skull.
    Some gap'd, some slept, one sober lad
    Beneath his arm a bible had:
    This learned youth had wit enough
    To search the doctor's Scripture proof:
    He sat demure with awkward face,
    And doubled down the quoted place.

    The service done, no dinner near,
    A mile, at least, to cup and cheer;
    Churchwarden Hog, not seen at church,
    Left hungry parson in the lurch.
    Sir Crape look'd blue, the rest look'd pale,
    For want of something to regale.
    A further drive from marshy Down,
    To reach the Swan at Norton Town,
    There (glorious sight!) with great good luck
    Before the stomach-hour had struck,
    A loin of veal in lordly dish,
    And eggs and bacon, traveller's wish,
    Allay'd the grumblers of the day,
    And rais'd our spirits up so gay.
    We there sat down content and snug,
    With wine, and ale, and cyder mug.
    Nature refresh'd in cheerful way,
    We drank, and pledg'd, and call'd to pay.
    The coachman wheel'd the hadscoe round,
    And brought us home, all safe and sound.
    Reedham, farewell! thou starving soil,
    Not worth a preacher's charge or toil,
    Thy gift but shillings ten, - fifteen I spent;
    Was ever priest on such an errand sent?
    Thro' dirt and wet, thro' cold and hunger keen,
    To reach sad boors on Ignoramus Green.

First published in the Newcastle Courant, 30th September, 1732 but reprinted on 15th June 1883, solicited a letter from a reader who identified "Reedham" as Billingham. He remarked on the changes to the church and its music but recollected his childhood visits to Billingham church, "to hear the wondrous bass fiddle and violins to lead the rustric choir in its psamoldy"

Read the complete letter HERE


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