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The Kintbury Great Bell
Witch, the River & the Bell

In the days of yore, those old-fashioned times,
When the poet wrote Robin Hood's old garland rhymes;
When Englishmen wore the old-fashioned frock coat,
And the ladies, God bless them, the old-fashioned cloaks;
When the old-fashioned parson rode his grey nag;
And every hamlet had its old-fashioned hag,
Or witch, who lived in an old-fashioned cot,
And bore all the ills of the old-fashioned lot,
There stood in old Berkshire famed land of tillage
The old rural place called Kintbury village.
There too, stood its church, with a very old tower
And in it an old clock to strike the past hour;
Likewise in this tower as traditions tell,
Hung a monstrous, heavy old-fashioned bell.
The walls of the tower rarely ever were seen,
It being so twined with old ivy so, green,
Where wisdom's bird safely sits all the day
Waiting for night to go seeking its prey.
There too the jack daws
Enjoyed their hoarse caws;
In freedom and safety from man and his laws;
There sparrows could rest
Not fearing molest
That urchins could pilfer their reeds-built nest;
Each crevice and crack
Was a house for the bat
And a castle of safety from the wiles of the cat;
Thus each and all quite happy were seen
To enjoy the old tower and its ivy so green.
Now this old-fashioned clock in striking the hour
Hit its hard knocks on the bell in the tower,
Whose dong was so loud, so heavy and strong,
And vibrating roar so tremendously long,
It shook the glass from the old cottage frames
That "curse on the bell" oft came from the dames.
It awoke the babes in their cradles from sleep
Which made young mothers to "curse him" and weep.
It caused their crockery to dance and to quake
And even their fire irons to tremble and shake.
If their beer got thick, or their milk turned sour
It was laid on the bell in sounding the hour.
Whatever ill came, if they fell thick or thin
The fault was sure to he put on him;
The one or the other was "cursing" each hour
The poor old bell m he hung in the tower;
And the thicker and faster their "curses" fell
More long and loud seem'd the dong of the bell;
Till foul scandal at last whisper'd about,
The bell was bewitched - there wasn't a doubt,
And the hag who resides in yonder old cot
Was the cause of all the nice fortunes they'd got;
Now reader, I'll try,
Between you and I,
To place this old lady before the mind's eye.
Nor ought invent
To misrepresent,
Because with old age she was shrivell'd and bent;
But truth shall portray this queer old soul,
Her habits and costume so singularly droll.
Remote from the village she liv'd quite alone,
She had pity from few, and the envy of none:
She with her soot sack
Upon her bent back
And under her arm the soot shovel so black
With a ten foot pole
For the chimney hole
With its besom-head made of holly branch green,
To leave her lone cottage she daily was seen,
And patiently wander from door to door
To sweep the chimneys of the indigent poor.
Time had furrow'd with wrinkles her face,
Where unwashed soot had took up its place;
With long shaggy brows, that the sunken eye
Could scarcely be seen by the passers-by;
So toothless her mouth that her jaws fell in,
Thus made near neighbours her nose and chin;
And as she rambled with her soot brush and sack
She had the harmless habitual knack
To mutter aloud thoughts of whatever kind
Just as they uppermost came to her mind.
Thus was contru'd and whispered about
She talked with old Nick - there wasn't a doubt;
Half bent by age sackcloth was her gear
And a pair of top boots her general wear
With hat on her head which had seen better times
Paints you her portrait in these humble lines.
But though she was not so charming a Miss
As to tempt a lord of creation to kiss
Her old heart was pure and clean within,
Thus void of all envy or hideous sin.
When travelling her rounds from door to door
She strove to please all, the rich and the poor;
To all their questions her answers wore mild
To gentle and simple, man, woman, and child.
She bore all their scoffs, and their taunts and their jeers
And smiled at their folly and frivolous fears,
For she knew ignorance taught them to see
A monster human nature never can be.
A July day was waning fast
The sun had disappeared
And from a bank of towering clouds
Was distant thunder heard.
Not a breath of cooling air stirr'd
To sway the village trees
Not yet a zepher was on the wing
To give one fauning breeze.
A deathlike sultry silence reign'd
Except what met the eye,
Of lightning flashing, which foretold
A tempest drawing nigh.
The angry clouds soon darken'd the sky,
The stillness vanished, the wind blew high
The thunder roll'd - the lightning flashed
And hail and rain down in torrents splash'd,
Which made the old tower reel to and fro,
And seem'd to creek out - " alas! I must go."
Though tightly bound with the ivy so warm
He could not withstand such a pitiless storm;
For fate had decreed, come down he must,
And Boreas then gave him an extra gust,
And down he went with a crashing fall,
Clocks, birds, bats, the green ivy and all;
And most strange to tell,
That the oft curs'd bell
Roll'd tumbl'd, and tumbl'd and roll'd
Till he came to the Kennet so chilly and cold
When splash he went into its tumbled flood
And buried himself quite deep in the mud.
There snugly laid - could he speak - he would shout
Should you want me again, you must pull me out."
The tempest being past; - when daylight came
No one stirred, man, maiden nor dame;
They slept, and turn'd so long in their bed
That travellers thought Kintbury folk were dead;
For they laid and waited thus anxiously long,
To hear the clock strike his usual loud dong;
They never once dreamt the mishap they'd got
By the loss of the bell that spoke for the clock.
But when they arose and the cause found out
They blam'd the old witch for the terrible rout,
And some folks declared they had seen the hag's form
Astride of the broomstick amidst the storm.
There lay mice, bats
And vampire rats;
There lay dead birds - some wounded and trying
To rise on the wing 'midst the dead and the dying.
There lay the tower which had stood the rude gust
Of numberless storms quite crumbled to dust.
There lay branches of the ivy so green,
But the deuce of a bell was there to be seen.
The witch must have done it, did each and all say
For nought but witchcraft could take it, away.
Then were all sorry the old bell was gone
That forever was lost the sound of his dong;
What e'er they should do - no one could tell
So dire the misfortune of losing their bell
So sudden the shock
Not one could surmise, or even could throw
Light on the subject how in future to know
'What 'twas o'clock.
The village, in fact, was in uproar and yell
For so sudden a loss of their oft curs'd bell,
Till a meeting was hold by the wink and the nod
By some knowing old dames - but secret the job
From the old witch, and to frustrate her plan'
'Twas proposed to consult their fam'd cunning man.
To this excellent idea each and all wore agreed
And two old cronies were chosen with speed
Of talkative reputation,
To visit this man and to start the next day
Attired in their best; with a donkey and CHAY
As the village deputation.
When there they arrived, they told him each fact
And craved his great cunning how they should act;
They begged very hard
With a tempting reward
If he would kindly exert his great power
By restoring their bell, if he couldn't the tower.
When he had heard the whole of their woes,
He placed his barnacles astride on his nose,
Por'd o'er his books of mystical lore
To find out a secret he'd been told before;
In the Kennet's cold bed he knew very well
There laid the Kintbury old-fashioned bell;
And thus we see
To pocket his fee,
And to please these simple Kintbury folk
Thus this cunning old oracle spoke;
"Now my good friend pray listen to me;
"By consulting the planets I plainly see
"THAT the favourite bell you do wish to have
"Has got by witchcraft a watery grave:
"For he now lies deep in the Kennet's bed
"Nought to he seen but the top of his head;
"And I can foresee
By signs before me
That you once again Kintbury bell shall see;
But have him again to sound you the hour
"Depends on your silence - a difficult power,
"With such other rules as I shall now tell
"Before you again possess your great bell.
"Thus if 'tis your wish to, have him again,
"You must hook on his head a bright new chain
"And to this chain, placed all in a row,
"Fasten twelve Heifers, white as pure snow;
"Each one must be led
"With a bridle on head
"By a maiden in white, with a sash of blood red,
"And each one with a whip of silken thong
"To drive the heifers quite silently on
"The time to commence must he at midnight
"When the moon and stars shine silvery white
"But no one must speak,
"Not a word, nor sneeze, nor even a groan
"But all to he silent as if carved in stone
"Or the charm will break
"Then all your anxiety, trouble and cost
"For the bell you seek will for ever be lost."
To perform those rules was a difficult work
That would puzzle a conjuring Jew, or a Turk;
SUPERSTITION said no; it is easily done,
If you have resolution to help in the fun.
Resolved they were that the bell they sought
Should be drawn out - the heifers were brought
The maidens were ready - the moon shone bright,
And off they all marched - the time midnight
The young and the old - the gay and the grave.
The timid and fearful - the rogue and the knave;
And with these, half bent, was seen with the rest
The old chimney sweep in her sackcloth drest.
To witness the scene she dreamt not of harm,
For she knew naught of the great silent charm;
On the banks of the stream she took up her stand
"Harmless, yet the fear of the whole village band
When all being ready, and the heifers were drove
The ponderous old bell was seen to move,
And when on the banks of the Kennet stream
His well-known old metal sides were seen,
The suppos'd old witch as pleased as the rest
To see the bell rise from the watery nest,
Throw up her arms, and with ecstatic shout,
And stentorian voice she thus cried out:
"Here again comes Kintbury Great Bell
"In spite of all the devils in hell!"
The charm thus broke, snap went the chain
Dong went the bell as he roll'd back again;
Away ran the heifers over hedges and rails,
With the long iron chains still at their tails;
Away ran the villagers in such fearful din
None thought themselves safe till at home locked in;
Left the poor sweep on the bank quite alone
Fearless and dauntless to find her way home.
She then plainly saw that a storm would arise
From those innocent words she spoke in surprise;
And thenceforth she knew would their taunts and jeers
Fall tenfold thicker on her harmless ears;
So she packed up her kit, and lock'd her cot door
Left the place and was never heard of more.
It soon was reported that she under the bell
Had made her abode, there over to dwell;
And to keep their bell from again being in town
She hangs on his clapper to keep him tight down.
If 'tis so, or not, we may all safely vow
If the bell was lost there - no doubt he's there now.


 

    Nash Ford Publishing 2001. All Rights Reserved.