After his dispute with the haymakers, Sir Thomas Clarke sold Merdon to William Brock, a lawyer, from whom it passed to John Arundel, and then to Sir Nathanael Napier, whose son, Sir Gerald, parted with it again to Richard Maijor, the son of the mayor of Southampton. This was in 1638, and for some time the lodge at Hursley was lent to Mr. Kingswell, Mr. Maijor's father-in-law, who died there in 1639, after which time Mr. Maijor took up his abode there. He seems to have been a shrewd, active man, and a staunch Protestant, for when there was a desire to lease out Cranbury, he, as Lord of the Manor, stipulated that it should be let only to a Protestant of the Church of England, not to a Papist. The neighbourhood of the Welleses at Brambridge probably moved him to make this condition.
The person who applied for the lease was Dr. John Young, Dean of Winchester, who purchased the copyhold of Cranbury before 1643, and retired thither when he was expelled from his deanery and other preferments in the evil times of the Commonwealth, and there died, leaving his widow in possession.
Whether the lady was molested by Mr. Maijor we do not know. He was no favourite with Richard Morley, who rented the forge in Hursley, the farm of Ratlake and Anvyle, as Ampfield was then spelt, and thought him a severe lord to his copyholders. Morley was born at Hursley, and was sent to school at Baddesley in 1582, the year of the great hailstorm of the nine-inch stones. He kept valuable memoranda, which Mr. Marsh quotes, and died in 1672, when he is registered as:-
"Ricardus Morley Senex sepultus fuit, August 1672." (Senex indeed, for he must have been 97.)
Of Maijor, Morley records, "He was very witty and thrifty, and got more by oppressing his tenants than did all the lords in 60 years before him. He was a justice of the peace, and raised a troop in the cause of the Parliament." It must have been in the army that Oliver Cromwell made his acquaintance, and in 1647 began the first proposals of a "Marriage treaty," between Richard, Oliver's eldest surviving son, just twenty-one and educated for the Law, and the elder daughter of Mr. Maijor (which Carlyle always spells as Mayor). For the time, however, this passed off; but, apparently under the direction of Mr. Robertson, a minister of Southampton, and Mr. Stapylton, also a minister, the treaty was resumed; and three weeks after the King's execution, Oliver wrote to Mr. Maijor.
For my very worthy friend, Richard Mayor, Esq.: These.
LONDON, 12th February 1648.
SIR--I received some intimations formerly, and by the last return from Southampton a Letter from Mr. Robinson, concerning the reviving of the last year's motion, touching my Son and your Daughter. Mr. Robinson was also pleased to send enclosed in his, a Letter from you, bearing date the 5th of this instant, February, wherein I find your willingness to entertain any good means for the completing of that business.
From whence I take encouragement to send my Son to wait upon you; and by him to let you know, that my desires are, if Providence so dispose, very full and free to the thing,--if upon an interview, there prove also a freedom in the young persons thereunto. What liberty you will give herein, I wholly submit to you. I thought fit, in my Letter to Mr. Robinson, to mention somewhat of expedition because indeed I know not how soon I may be called into the field, or other occasions may remove me from hence; having for the present some liberty of stay in London. The Lord direct all to His glory.--I rest, Sir, your very humble servant,
Probably this was the time when the public-house of Hursley took the name of "The King's Head," which it has kept to the present day. But young Cromwell was inclined to loyalty, and when at Cambridge used to drink "to the health of our landlord," meaning the King! He was one- and-twenty when, with his father's friend Mr. Stapylton, he made a visit to Hursley, and was received by Mr. and Mrs. Maijor with many civilities, also seeing their two daughters, Dorothy and Anne. In a letter of 28th February, Cromwell thanks Mr. Maijor for "The reception of my son, in the liberty given him to wait on your worthy daughter, the report of whose virtues and godliness has so great a place in my heart that I think fit not to neglect anything on my part which may consummate a close of the business, if God please to dispose the young ones' hearts thereunto, and other suitable ordering of affairs towards mutual satisfaction appear in the dispensation of Providence."
Mr. Stapylton was commissioned to act for General Cromwell in the matter of settlements, over which there was considerable haggling, though Oliver writes that "the report of the young lady's godliness causeth him to deny himself in the matter of moneys." More correspondence ensued, as to the settlement of Hursley upon Dorothy and her heirs male, and the compensation to her younger sister Anne. Cromwell was anxious to hurry on the matter so as to have it concluded before his departure to take the command in Ireland.
The terms were finally settled, and Richard and Dorothy were married at Hursley on May Day, 1649, before Cromwell's departure to crush the ill-arranged risings in Ireland. Her sister Anne shortly after married John Dunch of Baddesley, with 1000 pounds as her portion. Morley of Baddesley chronicles the marriage in no friendly tone: "When" (says he) "King Charles was put to death, and Oliver Cromwell Protector of England, and Richard Maijor of his privy council, and Noll his eldest son Richard married to Mr. Maijor's daughter Doll, then Mr. Maijor did usurp authority over his tenants at Hursley." In another place he says that "he" (i.e. Mr. Maijor) "set forth horse and man for the Parliament, and was a captain and justice of peace. Lord Richard Cromwell was also a justice of peace, and John Dunch a captain and justice. These all lived at Lodge together in Oliver's reign; so we had justice right or wrong by power; for if we did offend, they had power to send us a thousand miles off, and that they have told us."
Richard, having no turn for politics or warfare, preferred to live a quiet life with his father-in-law, in the lodge. There were two walnut avenues planted about this time, leading to the lodge from the churchyard on one side, and on the other towards Baddesley; and the foundations of the house can still be traced on the lawn to which both lead.
Oliver writes in the summer after the marriage that he is glad the young people have leisure to make a journey to eat cherries. There is little doubt but that this must have been to the gardens in Ram- Alley near Chandler's Ford, originally Chaloner's Ford, where numerous trees, bearing quantities of little black cherries called merries, used to grow, and where parties used to go as a Sunday diversion, and eat, before the days of the station and the building.
The elder Mrs. Cromwell paid a visit to Hursley after parting with the Protector on his voyage to Ireland; but he never seems to have gone thither in person, though he wrote kindly paternal letters to his son and daughter. He wishes Richard to study mathematics and cosmography, and read history, especially Sir Walter Raleigh's. "It is a Body of history, and will add much more to your understanding than fragments of story." And to Dorothy, he gives advice on her health and religious habits.
John Hardy had been Vicar of Hursley but was expelled, and Mr. Maijor, as patron of the living, provided persons for the ministry and kept a close account of their expenses, which is still preserved. Seven different ministers in the half year after Christmas 1645 were remunerated "for travell and pains in preaching," after which time Mr. Richard Webb settled for a time at Hursley, and Mr. Daniel Lloyd at Otterbourne, though several more changes took place.
A parish register at Hursley, 1653, recording births (not baptisms), mentions the opening of a chalk-pit at Hatchgate in 1655, and at Otterbourne. The children of William Downe of Otterbourne Farm are distinguished by double black lines below their names.
Oliver Cromwell, according to an old village tradition, sunk his treasure at the bottom of Merdon Well, in an iron chest which must have been enchanted, for, on an endeavour to draw it up, no one was to speak. One workman unfortunately said, "Here it comes," when it immediately sank to the bottom and (this is quite certain) never was seen! The well was cleaned out in later times, and nothing was found but a pair of curious pattens, cut away to receive a high-heeled shoe, also a mazer-bowl, an iron flesh-hook and small cooking-pot, and a multitude of pins, thrown in to make the curious reverberating sound when, after several seconds, they reached the water. A couple of ducks are said to have been thrown down, and to have emerged at Pool hole at Otterbourne with their feathers scraped off.
On 3rd September 1658, the family party at Hursley was broken up by the unexpected death of the Protector. He was not yet sixty years of age, and had not contemplated being cut off before affairs were more settled; and when, in his last moments, he was harassed with enquiries as to his successor, he answered, "You will find my will in SUCH a drawer of my cabinet." Some of his counsellors thought he named his son Richard; and no one ever found the drawer with the will in it, in which it was thought that his son-in-law Fleetwood, a much abler man, was named.
At any rate, Richard was accepted in his father's place by Parliament and army, and went to much expense for the Protector's funeral. It must have been a great misfortune to him that his shrewd father-in- law, the witty and thrifty Mr. Maijor, was sinking under a complication of incurable diseases, of which Morley speaks somewhat unkindly, and he died in the end of April 1660.
Richard had never been a strong partisan of the Commonwealth, though he had quietly submitted to whatever was required of him. He had been member of Parliament for the county of Hants, and had been placed at the head of the list of his father's attempt at a House of Lords, and he allowed greatness to be thrust on him in a quiet acquiescent way. He dismissed the fictitious parliament that his father had summoned, and then offended the strict and godly of the army by promoting soldiers of whom they disapproved. "Here is Dick Ingoldsby," he said; "he can neither pray nor preach, and yet I trust him before you all."
No one had any real enthusiasm for the harmless, helpless man, "the phantom king of half a year"; and it was just as old Mr. Maijor was dying that Richard was requested by the "Rump" to resign, and return to Hampton Court, with the promise of a pension and of payment of the debts incurred by his father. While packing for his departure, he sat down on a box containing all the complimentary addresses made to him, and said, "Between my legs lie the lives and fortunes of all the good folk in England!" He then returned to Hursley, where he found himself pursued by those debts of his father which the Long Parliament had engaged to pay, and which swallowed up more than his patrimony, though the manor of Merdon, having been settled upon his wife, could not be touched. He was sufficiently alarmed, however, to make him retreat to the continent and change his name to Clarke.
In 1675 Mrs. Richard Cromwell died, leaving out of a numerous family only one son and two daughters. The son, Oliver, inherited the estates, and seems to have been on good terms with his father, who, in 1700, came to live at Cheshunt under his name of Clarke, and made some visits to Hursley. Richard married under this assumed name, and left some children.
When Oliver died without heirs in 1706, his father Richard, according to the original settlement, succeeded to the property, but his two daughters set up their claim, and the case was brought into court. It is said that the judge was Cowper, but this has been denied. At any rate the judge seems to have been shocked at the undutiful litigation, and treated the old man with much respect.
The case was decided in his favour, and he lived between Hursley and Cheshunt till his death in 1712 in his 86th year.
As Mr. Palgrave writes:-
Him count we wise, Him also, though the chorus of the throng Be silent, though no pillar rise In slavish adulation of the strong, But here, from blame of tongues and fame aloof, 'Neath a low chancel roof,
The peace of God He sleeps; unconscious hero! Lowly grave By village footsteps daily trod; Unconscious! or while silence holds the nave, And the bold robin comes, when day is dim, And pipes his heedless hymn.
These are a poet's meditations on him, more graceful than the inscription on the monument erected to him by his two undutiful daughters, ere, in 1718, they sold the estate. It was a large tablet of marble, surmounted by death's heads. It is of gray or veined marble, in the Doric style of architecture, and is in height thirteen feet, and in breadth nearly nine. The inscription upon it is as follows:-
This Monument was erected to the memory of Mrs. Eliz. Cromwell, spinster (by Mr. Richard Cromwell and Thomas Cromwell, her executors). She died the 8th day of April 1731, in the 82d yeare of her age, and lyes interred near this place; she was the daughter of Richard Cromwell, Esq., by Dorothy, his wife, who was the daughter of Richard Maijor, Esq. And the following account of her family (all of whom, except Mrs. Ann Gibson, lie in this chancel) is given according to her desire.
Mrs. Ann Gibson, the 6th daughter, died 7th Dec. 1727, in the 69th year of her age, and lies interred, with Dr. Thomas Gibson, her husband, Physician General of the Army, in the church-yard belonging to St. George's Chapel, in London.
Richard Cromwell, Esq., father of the said Eliz. Cromwell, died 12th July 1712, in the 86th year of his age.
Oliver Cromwell, Esq., son of the said Richard Cromwell, died 11th May 1705, in the 49th year of his age.
Mrs. Dorothy Mortimer, a seventh daughter, wife of John Mortimer, Esq., died 14th May 1681, in the 21st year of her age, but left no issue.
Mrs. Dorothy Cromwell, wife of the said Richard Cromwell, died 5th January 1675, in the 49th year of her age.
Mrs. Ann Maijor, mother of the said Mrs. Dorothy Cromwell, died 13th of June 1662.
Richard Maijor, Esq., husband of the said Mrs. Ann Maijor, died 25th April 1660.
Mrs. Dorothy Cromwell, a fifth daughter, died 13th December 1658, in the 2nd year of her age.
A fourth daughter died 27th May 1655, in the 1st year of her age.
Mrs. Mary Cromwell, a third daughter, died 24th September 1654, in the 2nd year of her age.
A son of the said Richard and Dorothy Cromwell, died 13th December 1652, in the 1st year of his age.
Mrs. Ann Cromwell, a second daughter, died 14th March 1651, in the 1st year of her age.
Mr. John Kingswell, father of the said Mrs. Ann Maijor, died 5th March 1639.
The lime-trees, beautifully surrounding the churchyard, are said to have been planted by Richard Cromwell, and there was certainly an excellent fashion of planting them in the latter end of the seventeenth century, partly due to a French custom, partly to Evelyn's Sylva. The beautiful avenue of limes at Brambridge, in three aisles, was probably planted at this date by one of the Welles family.
In taking down the old lodge of Merdon or Hursley, a large lump of metal was found, squeezed into a crevice of the wall, and was sold by Mr. Heathcote as a Roman weight; but on being cleaned, it proved to be the die of the seal of the Commonwealth. Richard had caused a new seal to be made for himself by Simon, a noted medallist, and he had probably thus disposed of the die as a dangerous possession. Mr. Vertue saw it in 1710, in the collection of a Mr. Roberts, but it has since disappeared.
There was a stone inscribed to Edward Reynell and Mary his wife, who died respectively in 1698 and 1699. They are believed to have been friends of Oliver Cromwell the grandson, who certainly named them in his will. There was a tradition in Hursley that this Reynell was actually the executioner of King Charles.