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St. John's, Shottesbrooke
A Berkshire Legend

Shottesbrooke Church is near Shottesbrooke Hall:
The House rather great, and the Church rather small,
But a gem of a Church in its way all the while,
A Cathedral in miniature, gothic in style,
With choir and with transept, with nave and with aisle,
And tower and steeple built in the diagonal:
The former is square, the latter octagonal
And tapering and graceful and wondrously tall
With a weathercock perched on the top of a vale.

This church of the Baptist is built in the cruciform
And I'm free to confess that if I were to choose a form
For my own delectation
And edification
Severe and yet graceful, expanded not loose of form,
Just the same in its style
As the quaint little pile,
With its calm holy look,
In that elm, sheltered nook,
The Church of the Baptist: St. John's, Shottesbrooke.

Sir William de Trussell was a worthy old Knight
As ever pricked steed or couched lance in a fight:
No man could be stauncher
At sirloin or haunch or
Chalice or flagon of sack or of ale;
No wight could be found
Through the country all round,
In Wiltshire, or Oxford. or Berks, I'll be bound,
Who could fight more, or kill more,
Who could eat more, or swill more,
Who could tipple and guzzle
Till filled to the muzzle,
Than the jolly old fellow, Sir William de Trussell.

We all have our crosses, I guess, in life:
Sir William had two; so goes the story;
One was armorial: to wit, a 'cross flory',
The other corporeal: to wit, a cross wife:
The first he bore on his arms in fight,
The second he bore in his arms at night;
But if truth must be told
This warrior bold
Felt the weight of his arms
Less than that of her charms
For my Lady de Trussell was given to scold.

The Dame had the fame of the rigidest piety:
The Knight was a wight of most doubtful sobriety; 
And whenever he chanced to take too much drink,
(About Seven times in a week I should think)
And his eyes grew red, and his speech grew thicker,
My Lady perceived that her Lord was on Liquor,
And was justly shocked at his breach of propriety.
Then she took him to task
For abuse of the Flask,
With sermons and sneers 
She belaboured his ears,
Till a storm at last of hysterical tears
Put an end to the daily connubial bicker.

Now it chanced one day
When the Dame was away, 
Some of his boon companions gay
Turned in for pot-luck for Sir William de Trussell
Swash-bucklers, and gallants, with swagger and bustle,
Rackety fellows, omnipotent trenchermen,
For drinking or fighting, or larking, no stauncher men
So down they sat at the jolly Knight's table; 
And they ate and they drank hard
From platter and tankard
Till each merry fellow, with drink grew so mellow
That to sit or to drink he no longer was able,
So when no-one could sit
Or drink any more,
They fell down on the floor,
And Sir William was taken to bed in a fit.

They put him to bed
A deplorable sight,
Poor Fellow!
For he looked like one dead,
His lips were so white
And his face so yellow,
The sight of the Knight in this doleful plight
Softened the heart of this lady quite
When she came up to her chamber at night.
There a happy thought or
An instinct taught-her
To drive out the Devil of Wine by Water.

So Water cold and water hot
They poured on the head of the scuseless sot,
And Water hot and water cold
In gallons and palefuls not to be told;
Water inside and water out, above, below and all about;
Till at last with a sigh, he opened his eye
And to a groom who was standing by:
''Giles! Do you hear?
Bring me a pot of the smallest beer."

But no beer would they give him: No, not a drop,
But they gave him plenty of aqueous slop:
Water drenches and water stupes,
Water gruel and water soups,
Till my lady saw him recovering sure;
And in two or three days
To all people's amaze,
The Knight was a perfect (water) cure.

All the time the knight lay in bed
His lady preached and his lady prayed
On the sin of the bottle, pot and bowl,
Till she troubled his conscience and tortured his soul.
Then an oath he sware to his lady fair:
"By the cross on my shield
A Church I'll build!
And therefore the deuce a form
Is so fit as the Cruciform;
And the patron saint that I find the aptest
Is the holiest water-saint: - John the Baptist."

Out of his bed the knight arose,
He put on his dublet, he put on hose
And as fierce as a Tatar,
Soon in stone and in mortar
He was up to his eyes and gave nobody quarter
Till Shottesbrooke Church, with its nave and its choir,
Its transept and arches, its tower and its spire.
Save the vane on the summit was finished entire.

"Who will fix the vane on the steeple?"
Sir William de Trussell cried.
And he looked around among his people
But none of his people replied
Painter and glazier, tinker and brazier,
Carver and gilder and hewer of stone,
Joiner and mason one by one
Shook his head and skulked aside;
Till Sir William de Trussell was quite in a puzzle
And swore at his men in a way most profane:
"Will none of you rascals go put up the vane?"

Then forth stepped a fellow, swarthy and strong.
His chest was broad and his arms were long.
"Marry, Sir William, I and my fellows
With hammer and tongs, and fire and bellows,
Fashioned the vane. I'll do your desire,
And place it myself on the top of the spire.
I only ask, when I've put it up
That you will send me a brimming cup
Of ale, to drink to our good King."
"Dicken Smith, I'll do that thing.
And., more than that, when thou com'st down
I'll line thy pouch with a dozen crown."

They lifted the smith with pully and rope
Along the steeple's dizzy slope,
And, when the smith was safely up
They hoisted a tankard of ale and a cup.
The smith, he fixed the vane in its place
And he made it fast with an iron brace;
Then out of the tankard he filled the cup
With foaming ale. Then standing up
He waved it over his head with a siding,
And cried as he drained it,
"Long live the King".

A moment he stands; to the people he calls;
He wavers, he falters: Oh Heavens! He falls
Smashing and clashing and whirling around
From steeple and tower with crashing rebound,
Limb crushed and quivering,
Gore stained and shivering,
Moaning and groaning he falls to the ground.
Up they took him
And shook him
But all was in vain:
His bones were all broken.
He never gave token
Of feeling again
Except one word spoken
To tell of his pain.

On a stretcher when lifting him,
Shaking and shifting him,
T'was only one syllable,
For, I guess, he was ill able
Even to utter it, or rather to mutter it:
A sound interjectional, something like "Oh,"
Then a spasm and a shudder from head to toe,
And Dicken Smith became rigid
And lifeless and frigid.
Sir William de Trussell, with doleful surprise
heard the poor fellow's cries
And profoundly replies
To his "Ohs" with "My Eyes".

They buried the smith on the spot where he fell,
With prayer of priest and toll of bell;
Over his body they placed a stone
And carved in memory of his moan
Upon the slab two large round 'Os'
Which the bald-headed sexton shows
To any stray peripatetic that's willing
To look at the church and to give him a shilling.

Dicken Smith's fate has an excellent moral
For folks that drink beer from the pot or the barrel
Never stand at your tipple, nor vapour., nor swagger;
Never drink out o'doors, or perhaps you may stagger,
At home or abroad, drink within doors and sitting,
And you'll carry your liquor discreetly and fitting;
Above all, this advice I would give all good people,
Never drink beer on the top of a steeple.

The Legend
Sir William Trussell Junior
Shottesbrooke Church


    Nash Ford Publishing 2001. All Rights Reserved.