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Introduction by Ellen Beatrice Wood to the 1897 reprint of the book of 1610


Rowland Vaughan (of Newcourt) his Booke

Place name:

Golden Valley, Bacton




Of Rowland Vaughan, author of the following pamphlet, so little is known, except what he himself tells us, that an introductory sketch of even a few pages is a matter of some difficulty. The second son of Watkyn Vaughan of Bredwardyne, County Hereford, he was intended for Court life, his first-cousin, Rowland Vaughan of Porthamel (afterwards M.P. for Breconshire), being Groom of the Chambers to Queen Elizabeth, and his grand-aunt, Dame Blanche Parry, her great friend and chief Bedchamber-woman; but, as he himself tells us, " his spirit was too tender to endure the bitternesse" of Dame Blanche's "humor", and after some years spent in the greatness and glory of Court, he was " forced" by the same old relative's "careful, though crabbed, authority" into the Irish wars probably those of Sir Henry Sidney against the O'Desmond.

Here he spent three or four years; but this time it was his body that was "too tender," and the standing waist (or, to use his own expression, " twist") deep in the bogs, combined with fasting and ill diet, sent him home invalided to Bredwardine.

That Bredwardine was a place of some pretensions, we learn from some seventeenth century manuscript notes for a History of Herefordshire. First in a list headed "Where appeare any tokins of great old houses now done desolated" we find "Castells within the shire on the south side of Wye—the Castel of Bredwardine." Then in an account of the different parishes comes, "Bredwardine had a faire castel called the Castel of Grone, and another at the place called the Court of Vaughans, called also the Radnor; the first held by appearing at Brecknocke Castle gate on horseback completely armed with his speare, and there to wait all day on the day of [space]. It is now honoured with a family of the Vaughans, of the second house, whose ancestors by a match with one of the co-heirs of the Parrys had by her great revenues." This alludes to the marriage of Rowland's father, Watkyn, with Joan Parry, daughter of Henry Parry of New Court.

The manuscript goes on to state that in Bredwardine Church is an effigy of a knight in full armour, supposed to he "by tradition, and that probable", John de Bredwardyne, knighted by William the Conqueror. Thus far goes the Harleian M.S. No. 6868. M.S. No. 6726, also Harleian, written in1655, tells us a little more about Bredwardine. It states, "The dwelling-house, very fairly built by Eoger Vaughan about the year 1639-1640, was an ancient and strong castle, retaining that title still. It was called anciently the Castel of Grone; the lands and tenements belonging to it is still called by the name of the Manor of Grone. Another Lordship in this parish, which is held by the suit and doome in the County Court, and belongs unto the Vaughans, is called the Court of Vaughans (belonging to another branch of Vaughans, viz., Sir George Vaughan), was sold to those Vaughans of Bredwardine about the year 1630. There is a small fortified hill, which was for the safeguard of the inhabitants against sudden invasion."

In Rowland's day, then, the place was a "faire castell." The rebuilding of 1640 was not till after his death, Roger being his nephew, son to his elder brother Henry Vaughan of Moccas; but two years even in this "great old house" bored our hero to such an extent, that he would have gone off again to the wars, had not his fair kinswoman, Elizabeth Vaughan, intervened, and turned his thoughts towards matrimony.

Elizabeth was daughter of the abovenamed Rowland of Porthamel and Elizabeth Parry of New Court, co-heiress with her sister Joan, who married Rowland's father, Watkyn of Bredwardine, of the New Court estates.

The Parrys and Vaughans intermarried in each generation, and the cross relationships are so puzzling, that I shall not attempt here to follow up the pedigree of either family, except to draw attention to the fact that they were both very proud of their kinship with David Gam, the hero of Agincourt, from whose daughter, "Gladis de Gam", sprang the Vaughans by her first marriage with Sir Roger Vaughan, who was killed at Agincourt, and the Pembrokes by a second marriage with Sir William Herbert, father by her of the first Earl of Pembroke. The Vaughans and Pembrokes fought side by side in many a fight, and the dedication of Rowland's book to the then Earl show that the feeling of kinship had survived the wear and tear of nearly two hundred years.

Rowland Vaughan of Porthamel and his wife, Elizabeth Parry, had two daughters (their son died unmarried in 1582), Elizabeth, who married our hero, and Katherine, who married Sir Robert Knollys, and so became daughter-in-law to dear old Sir Francis Knollys, whose wife, Katherine Carey, was Queen Elizabeth's first-cousin.

The fair and virtuous Elizabeth Vaughan was "a loving wife" according to her husband, but apparently one who would stand no nonsense. She soon put a stop to his roystering with old comrades, and bade him employ himself at home, by looking after her property, she "being seized of a mannor and overshott mill." The manor was New Court. An apparent disagreement with the miller made Rowland wish to get rid of his responsibility, but madam overruled him, and he "obeyed her will, as many doe, and many miseries do ensue thereby". And so, " in the month of March" , our Rowland (" with no desire, I protest, to fashion or forme husbandry" ) was wandering by the mill-stream, possibly whistling as he went for want of thought, or thinking regretfully of those boon companions, only now allowed to memory, when his wandering eye fell upon a small stream, or as he would call it, a "waterprill," issuing from a molehill, and from this small beginning came his mighty scheme of irrigation. His difficulties were great. His neighbour, Rowland Parry of Moorhampton (whose son Stephen afterwards became our Rowland's son-in-law), readily gave him permission to make the necessary uses of his side of the river; but one of his tenants ("being very aged and simple") made such a to-do, that, after Rowland had vainly tried, what he calls "bugg words" bribery had to be resorted to, with the result that the simple(?) rustic got a "meadow-plott" worth £40, instead of the three acres of old meadow land, heavily laden with moss, rush, and cowslip, which his landlord so much coveted. Of the money spent we can form no estimate. Over one piece of trenching (which, the neighbours said, would cost a thousand marks) Rowland saved a £100 by his crafty way of setting to work. Elsewhere he mentions that a bad piece of work on the part of a vain-glorious carpenter cost him over £2000.  But his book must have bitterly disappointed any one who tried to get real practical information on either of his subjects; his wandering mind flies off anywhere, wholly irrelevant anecdotes are begun and never finished, and real statistics are the last things he would condescend to work out for us. Still, he states that his demesne at New Court was let for £40 a year, and "is now worth £300"; that one meadow, for which he got £5 yearly, now yields £15 in hay and aftermath alone; that if at the end of four years "drownings" your outlay of £500 has not made itself £2000 or £3000, "your choyce" (of land) "is bad, and luck worse." He offered a neighbour £15 a year for a hundred acres of arable (that being its rental) on a four years' agreement, at the end of which time Rowland was to have a twenty-one years' lease of it at £100 a year, all cost of putting up sluices, & etc., to be Rowland's; but on the entering of the twenty-one years' lease the neighbour was to put down £300, which, as Rowland observes, he gets back in three years.

Though the hundred acres was "in the eye of his house" and must have been unsightly in its state of unculture, the neighbour refused the offer. "He offered nothing, and he hath done nothing" says Rowland, " therefore this is but an accusation for negligence, setting it forth in as friendly a manner as I may."

Further on we learn that three moles, suffered to live by a servant's carelessness, cost him £20 a year in damage to the "stankes" and there is an amusing little homily on the sin of ingratitude to these little creatures, who were the originators of all the vast system of irrigation, but though they are offered the run of his pleasaunce, burrowing in the "Stanke Royal" is high treason, and the moles are doomed, in spite of qualms of conscience.

Then, too, the saving of labour is slightly touched on, but these facts are scattered all about the book, and one can only guess that the cost must have been immense, though Rowland blames his neighbours for not following his example, in utter oblivion of the fact that they may not have had any capital to advance, as not to every one's share falls a wife seized of a "manner and a overshott mill" .

And here I must note that a mill in those days was apparently a very choice possession, for Rowland thus comments on their owners: "The mill may be worth four or five pound; but because he will win reputation to his demesnes on information on the marriage of his son that he hath such a mill, he would rather suffer muddy flouds in winter and clean water in summer to breake their limbs in his mill-wheels then exercise his wits (by drowning) to attain a world of wealth."

When or why Rowland first thought of the project which he calls his "common-wealth" does not appear, but it also must have been a gigantic work; we gather it was begun after the completion of the water-works, as he says, "I have built my mill, and acquainted the water with his course; unto this mill I add all offices," & etc, This commonwealth was a. sort of community of tradesmen, who supplied each other with their specialties before offering them in open market; a clerk fixed the rate at which the tanners was to supply the glovers, and the carders the spinners, & etc; and justice seems to have been meted out with a steady hand. Great order was kept in the commonwealth; a first offence was reprimanded, a second punished, the third entailed banishment from the precincts.

Rowland thus got a market for all his farm produce. He grew the sheep and kine which both fed and employed his glovers and weavers, the tanners got their bark from his forests, and he seems to have personally superintended everything. A great number of the operatives were housed on the premises; and we read of their washing-places, their eating-hall, their hospital indeed, of every convenience that human ingenuity of those days could dream of.

Two thousand "mechanicalls" had joined Rowland's community by the time of his writing his book (1604), which was in those days a very much larger number proportionately to the population than it is now, especially in that remote corner of England or Wales, as Rowland repeatedly calls Herefordshire These two thousand workmen daily assembled to food in the big hall at sound of trumpet; but bodily food was not the only thing supplied for them by their energetic "protector" He built them a chapel, attended by both preacher and curate, who got respectively £50 and £20 yearly—good stipends for those days—and almshouses for the sick and old. The priests must have been a great boon outside the commonwealth, for in all the Golden Valley, "which is seven miles long and one broad" there was not one parish which could afford to maintain a priest, and a young "preacher" used to come over from Hereford every now and then, and preach so many sermons at so much a piece, charging very high, Rowland hints, on account of the fancied perils of the journey!

Other ministrations the people had none, except that of an old monk, survivor of the "great house of White Monks" (Abbey Dore), who is evidently in Rowland's eyes a great deal worse than nobody; though I cannot decide whether a Papist or a Puritan was his chiefest aversion — probably the latter, the religion which did not allow oaths being quite unfit for any gentleman.

The poet, John Davies of Hereford, who lauds his kinsman with such fervour that only the knowledge that he was writing master to Henry Prince of Wales, and a great celebrity in his own line (Fuller says his handwriting was so beautiful that one had to examine it under a magnifier to see if it were print or no), prevents one thinking that he was largely in Rowland's debt, says that "the Mechanicalls" all wore "scarlet capps", and filled their chapps and lapps from the forty dishes, which we learn were daily provided for them. This scarlet Rowland also alludes to, saying that if he did go again to Court he would be but a shabby figure, though smart, in a sense, as wearing " scarlett of Builth, or Welch frize" .

It was twenty years from the time of that walk, one day in March, before the account of the water-works was begun—and that apparently took about six years to write, as he notes events taking place as he writes in 1604, and the date of publication is 1610. That he dictated it is evident, from the words "take breath" written in by error on the part of the secretary at the close of a sentence.

While the "Water-works" were in progress old Dame Blanche died (in 1589). She left Rowland £100, a most handsome bequest in those times, and also £20 for the repair of the road between "Meat and Dourd, and New Court and Moorhampton." Douro sounds so suggestive of Spanish settlers that I must quote what my MS. says about it: "The vale of Straddel is that which we call the Golden Valley—ystrad in Welsh is valley— and we may believe this is the most ancient denomination of it, for dyffrin dwr being sounded among the Normands, they thought they had heard the word d'or, and so Englished it the Golden Valley, whereas the latter Welsh denomination signifies noe more than the Watry Valley."

Thus my manuscript; but another legend has it that when the Saxon invaders pushed the Welsh back into "Welsh Wales" they asked some captive the name of the little brook which runs purling through the valley, and were told Dwr, which means simply water, but which they caught up as Dor, and hereafter called the river "the Dor." In later days the monks, moved either by the fairness of the landscape or the golden richness of the fields ripe for harvest, perpetrated a monkly jest, and called the valley Voile d'Oro, the Golden Valley, or the Valley of the Dor. However that may be, in Rowland's time it was always called the Golden Valley, but the great ruined abbey at the mouth of it was known as Abbey Dore or Douro, and it is then between the abbey and Moat that the road was to be kept up. Immediately after the Reformation, John Scudamore, of Kent Church (Holm Lacy?), had interposed to stop the work of desecration and spoliation of the abbey, and turned part of it into an Anglican place of worship, and I suppose it is to him alone we owe the partial preservation of it—all honour to his name!

From 1584 to 1600 Rowland was involved in one lawsuit after another. They are extremely dull lawsuits, their only interest being that they show what large possessions Rowland had acquired, either by inheritance, money-lending, or purchase. The suit in 1584 is against one Dame Anne Gresham, with regard to some property which Rowland owns by right of his wife, who inherited from her brother William, who died childless in 1582.

Then in 1596 is one against James Parry of Poston, who seeks to "redeem tithes within the townships of Peterchurch, Hynton, Taylorshope, Wilbroke, Leynalls, and Wylaw-stone, in the parish of Peterchurch, which he held in lease for years, and the park of Snodhill, his inheritance, which he mortgaged" , Rowland had lent James Parry £20 on the security of the above named tithes.

Then comes a Star-Chamber case, and then, crowning misfortune, one in the "Court of Wardes" which, as Rowland pathetically says, "Bredd more white haires in my head in one yeare then all my wetshod water-works in sixteene" This case lasted five years, and during its course Rowland went home to see to his "drownings" (sadly neglected, we hear, during his absence), leaving his "Wanton Warde," as he calls her, in charge of a Puritan tailor, and the next thing he hears is that his "Welsh niece" alias the Wanton Warde, has married the tailor's nephew.

Rowland's wrath knows no bounds; he has a stormy interview with. the tailor, who declares his ignorance of the intrigue; but when Rowland wants him to swear on the cross of his shears, he refuses, it being against his principles to swear. It is not, however, against Rowland's, and black surmises about complicity are made, and our poor old squire loses all chance of the customary "tip" over that ward's marriage, and is not that enough of itself to "brede white hairs in a Brittaines beard?"

In 1594 Rowland's sister, "Lady Gattes" died; and as her funeral certificate is rather quaint, I append it; it is from the collection at the College of Arms.

"Catherine, Lady Gattes, daughter to Watkyn Vaughan of Bredwardyn, in Com. Hereford, Esquire, had in her lyffe time three husbands, the first James Boyle of Hereford Towne, Esq., and by him had two daughters. Anne, first daughter, and one of the heirs of James, was marryed to James Tompkyns of Monnington, in Com. Hereford, Gent. Marye, second doughter, and one of t heirs of James, was marryed to Howell Gywnne of Trecastle, Com.[space], Esq.

After, the aforenamed lady marryed her second husband, Sir Henry Gatte of Senne, in Com. Yorke, Knight, but had no issue. Thirdlye, and lastly, she marryed Robert Whytt of Aldershott, in Com. Southe, Esquire, but had no issue. Thys lady departed this lyffe to the Lord the 15 November at Westmynster (in the gat house (erased)), and was buried in St. Margaretes Church there, the wone-and-twentyeth of the moneth aforesaid, 1594.
Chefe moorrner at her funerall the Lady Hawkyns, and there servyd Clarencieux, Kinge at Armes and Blew Mantle. In witness whereof I have sett hereunto my hand the day and yere afowsaid.

In 1609 we find Rowland joining with his son John in the sale of the manor and lands of Wormebridge, in Turneston parish. This property Rowland had bought from Sir Christopher Hatton, who had received it as a grant from Queen Elizabeth. After one intermediate generation this property passed into the hands of the Olives of Styche (in Shropshire), who in 1800 bought out some descendants of the New Court Parrys, who still had Wormebridge place, and pulled down both houses, building in their stead their present seat of Whitfield.

The last page of Rowland's book contains a formal acknowledgment of a debt of forty shillings. Of the four copies to which I have had access, only three have the acknowledgment, and only one has any name filled in. The name has been carefully erased, not so carefully, however, but that we fancy we can decipher it as William Powell, in the parish of Llywell, in the county of Brecknock,the last word being quite clear. It runs thus: "Be it known unto all men by these presents, that I Rowland Vaughan of New Court, in the County of Hereford, Esquire, do acknowledge myselfe to owe and stand duly indebted unto [space] in the County of, the sum of 40 shillings of lawfull money of England, to be paid unto the said, his heirs, executors, or administrators, at the full end and determination of five years next ensuing the date thereof. To the which paiement will and truly to be made, I, the said Rowland Vaughan, doe binde mee, mine heires, executors, and administrators, firmly, by these presents. In witnesse thereof I have caused this Bill, thus in print, to be made as my Deed, and have hereunto set my name the xxix of November, in the yeare of the raigne of our soveraigne Lord James, by the grace of God of England, France, and Ireland, King, defender of the Faith, the VII. and of Scotland the XLIII. 1609. By mee, Rowland Vaughan."

One copy of the book, in the British Museum, has manuscript notes in a seventeenth century hand, calling attention to various statements, making Chaucer the author of the old saw, "Thou art an old doting fool" and stating that Rowland's promise of further explaining his use of the levell by a picture, or, as he calls it, a mapp, has not been fulfilled.

Gough, in his "Typographica Brittanica", mentions two maps, but I have only been able to reproduce one, from a photograph off an engraving in Buncombe's copy of the work, which engraving was discovered by Dr. Vevers of Hereford in 1883. It should be somewhere about the centre of the book; but I have, for various reasons, put it in the place of the missing frontispiece.

The two main ostensible reasons for the book, namely, the irrigation scheme, and the commonwealth or community of trades, do not by any means sum up Rowland's resources. He must have had great mechanical skill, as he used his water-power for all sorts of purposes, amongst others for turning his kitchen spits (at the factory, not at home), and sawing timber. He soon discovered the cheapness of water traffic, and built a boat to convey his farm produce from the White House to New Court, where the "Mechanicalls" had their headquarters; whilst his remarks on the breeding and rearing of calves, though they savour somewhat of the kindergarten system of education (teaching by playing), show that he took great heed to his stock as well as his crop. I cannot find if any of his neighbours followed his example; for, though my manuscript tells of the remains of trenches at Moccas, where his brother Henry lived, one can only conjecture that they might possibly have been for irrigation purposes, and I have searched in vain for any remark in the histories of Shropshire about that ill-judged attempt of Maister Hoord, of which Rowland speaks in his book.

The date of Rowland's death and his age are unknown. I can find neither will, inquisition, nor certificate; but on a beam in Peterchurch Church is the Vaughan coat-of-arms, quartered with that of Gams (?), with date 1612, the last figure somewhat doubtful, which I take to be a monument to the old man. The blazon of the Vaughan coat, which is reproduced on the title page, is—Sable a chevron argent between three boys' heads affrontee, couped at the shoulder proper, crined or, and about each neck a serpent entwined vert. This coat was adopted on account of the legend that Moredig Warwyn, one of their ancestors, was born with a snake round his neck. The Bredwardine Vaughans always bore the chevron, as appears in the visitation of Herefordshire of 1619, from which the York herald has copied this coat for me.

There is a legend that our Rowland is buried at West Ham, but there are no registers there prior to 1653, and there is no trace of a tomb; but I found the inquisition of a certain Rowland Vaughan, a city knight, who died in 1612, and I consider he was probably buried in the old church, not our Herefordshire Rowland; the fact that this city man had also a wife Elizabeth, and left no male heir, is quite enough to account for the story.

Elizabeth Vaughan re-married a certain Richard Leighton, and is buried at Vow-church. The date on the tomb is 1640, but it is so rudely cut that it may have been added later, and be quite incorrect. The inscription runs thus: "Here lieth the body of Eliza Leighton, wife to Richard Leigh, and formerly married to Rowland Vaughan, Esquire, deceased".

Rowland had three children, one son, John, who died sans issue, I believe, before his father—he was alive and of age in 1609— and two daughters. Jane, who had New Court, married her kinsman, Stephen Parry of Moorhampton, who exchanged the combined properties for that of Arkeston, in the parish of Kingston, Co. Hereford. Blanche married Epiphany Haworth, and had the White House, where her father had always lived. This was occupied by descendants of hers till about fifty years ago, when it changed hands. Some chairs, which had belonged to Queen Elizabeth, and which she is said to have given to Henry Parry of New Court, Rowland's grandfather; and a portrait of a lady in Welsh dress, bearing inscription, —Blanche-Parry, "1590," were bought at the sale by, and still belong to, Dr. Jenkins of the Copelands, Hereford. As to the original of the portrait, the greatest authorities disagree. It was long thought to be the celebrated lady of the Bedchamber, but as she died very old, and blind, in 1589, that is impossible. Mr. Parry of Harewood considers it to have been Blanche Haworth herself, though I cannot see why it should then be called Blanche Parry. I think it is of her sister's mother-in-law, who was Blanche Parry both as maid and wife, though I own I cannot account for its presence at the White House, unless Jane and Stephen did not care to move it with them to Arkeston.

Herefordshire is singularly unlucky in its county history. Duncombe, who was writing one to order, was not public-spirited enough to continue his work on the death of his patron; and though other hands have continued his work with the help of his notes, the Hundred of Webtree is altogether omitted, while the Hundred of Ewyas is very sketchily done, and contains no mention of Rowland or his works. That they were the sight and talk of the neighbourhood, is evident from the fact that open table was kept for visitors to the commonwealth, whose coming was notified by a watchman by beat of drum or blair of trumpet, according to the condition of the approaching guest, "whether he be horseman or footman" .

In 1801 Mrs. Burton, the wife of the then vicar of Atcham, in Shropshire, and herself one of the Parry family, pilgrimaged to Bacton and New Court, and describes the latter place as being a dreary, ruinous farm house. It had once been moated, according to the custom of our ancestors. In two of the rooms, which seemed to have been bedrooms, were remains of carved oak wains-cotting, and an old carved staircase betrayed evident traces of the splendours of past times. An upper room had been curiously painted, some of the figures yet remaining on the walls. The ceiling appeared to have been arched; the Gothic window remained to determine the architectural character of the old mansion. Mrs. Burton speaks with enthusiasm of a magnificent variegated oak, and describes the remains of the terraced gardens, with its ruined summer-house. The old farmhouse was replaced by a modern building shortly after this visit; and New Court and Moorhampton are now farmhouses of the most ordinary (I mean commonplace) description.

The absolute disappearance of all traces of Rowland's irrigation works, and of the great buildings necessary for the housing and employing of his community, can only be attributed to the civil wars, which raged with great fury in Herefordshire, a most obstinate stronghold of the Royalists. What side the Vaughan's took, I know not; the Parry's were stout Roundheads.

The fact, too, that Rowland's son-in-law exchanged properties with another branch of the Parrys, thus bringing New Court into the hands of those who had no  personal interest in his experiments, may have begun the end which the civil wars undoubtedly finished; but we can have little doubt that 2000 "Mechanicalls" could not be allowed to spin and weave when stout men were wanted for the fight, and who knows but that these members of the "Common-wealth" were all the more acceptable from the discipline they had already gone through under our Rowland. I must hope that they helped the cause of the son of their " deare master," who is spoken of with such affectionate respect, and considered the embodiment of human virtues, not that of the Puritan, who would no more have sworn on the cross of his sword than would  that " tailour" , who behaved so " scurvily," upon his shears, and whose whole conduct would have filled Rowland with deep disgust.

The absence of all outside accounts of Rowland's works make a more complete sketch of his life impossible, and our imagination alone can fill in the blanks We must, then, fancy the old squire in his scarlet cape, riding-rod in hand, walking down the Golden Valley from the White House to New Court (some three miles) to overlook the raising of the sluices and the marshalling of his "Mechanicalls" to dinner, or, as one can well fancy, reading the Riot Act to the unruly, and intermeddling with kindly officiousness in the private matters of his people. Or in later days, too old now for the walk down and up the valley, dictating his "Long experienced Water-workes" to his admiring amanuensis, interrupted now and then by his masterful helpmate or his dearly loved children; and so slips the time away, till first the book and then the life draws to an end, and Rowland Vaughan sleeps with his fathers, and of him all that remains to us is this little pamphlet.


This extract reflects the view of Ellen B Wood in 1897 and not necessarily that of the ELSG

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