Gammer Gurton's Inglecock
Another indelicate frivolity
"What the hell," I asked, "is an inglecock?"
I was sitting at a table in the great hall of a ramshackle Tudor house in the depths of Hampshire. In front of me were a laptop, a paperback, several pages of my own notes, and a sheaf of ancient paper covered with abominable sixteenth-century handwriting. Behind me were Alex and Hugo, staring helplessly at the words on the screen.
"It sounds like a sort of bellows," said Alex. "But how do I get it up my arse?"
What we were talking about is going to take quite a bit of explaining. But here goes.
Old Persimmon had given Hugo the task of producing Hambledon School's next renaissance play. But this time round there were two departures from the norm. Rather than the producer being named in July and the play performed in March, he was appointed in March for a performance in December. And instead of Hugo having, as he assumed he would, a free hand in choosing his play, Old Persimmon positively begged him to do Gammer Gurton's Needle. For all this there were two very good reasons.
The school had been founded in 1559, and it was now 2009 and the 450th anniversary. The main celebrations were taking place in the summer, but a grand finale was wanted at the end of the year. And the Founder had been a certain William Stevenson, whose other claim to fame was the authorship -- not categorically proved but generally accepted -- of Gammer Gurton's Needle, which is one of the two earliest comedies in English. What better than to wind up the festivities with the Founder's own play?
As you'll have gatheredby now, I'm a bit of a geek. I'm a fan of Elizabethan theatre and, like anyone who's really into it, I had picked up quite a lot about the traditions from which it grew. So I'd already read Gammer Gurton.But Hugo hadn't, nor had anybody else I knew apart from Old Persimmon. Hugo's first move was to discover how many actors were needed. Then he bought enough copies of the New Mermaid edition which Old Persimmon recommended. Then he asked a number of boys – me included -- to take part, though our roles were yet to be decided. Finally he asked Rob to brood on possible designs for the set. So off we all went with our copies to read over the Easter holidays.
For the first few days I was staying with Rob (whose parents, unlike mine, had no problems with us being gay and teamed up) and together we sat down to Gammer Gurton. It's a short affair -- only 1,280 lines, quite a bit less than any Shakespeare play -- and it's in rhyming couplets. Though earlier than Shakespeare and spattered with a fair number of obsolete words, it's no harder to understand, and our edition had helpful notes. And above all it's fun -- an earthy, racy, rollicking farce with plenty of scope for slapstick; good material, come to think of it, for the Marx Brothers if the film censors hadn't been around.
We looked at a reproduction of the title pageof the first edition. A Ryght Pithy, Pleasaunt and merie Comedie: Intytuled Gammer Gurtons Nedle Played on Stage, not long ago in Christes Colledge in Cambridge. Made by Mr. S. Master of Art. Imprented at London in Fleetestreat beneth the Conduit at the signe of S. John Evangelist by Thomas Colwell.
"Date?" asked Rob.
"Published 1575. It says so at the end. But written and acted a good twenty years earlier."
"Who's who, then?Ah, here's the list of characters. Gammer Gurton. Gammer?"
"Old woman. Short for grandmother. Like gaffer's short for grandfather."
"Right. Hodge, Gammer's servant. How old?"
"Tib, Gammer's maid. Young too?"
"Cock,Gammer's boy. Nice name. Boy meaning son?"
"No, another servant. Houseboy."
"Diccon, the Bedlam?"
"Bedlamite. An ex-inmate of Bedlam the madhouse, licenced to beg. Or at least claiming to be. Anyway, a beggar. But he's far from mad, just a mischief-maker. Living off his wits."
"Ah. Dame Chat?"
"Friend of Gammer's. Runs a pub next door."
"Doctor Rat, the vicar?"
"Grumpy. Pompous. Dim-witted. Fat. Likes his beer."
"Means bailiff. The sheriff's officer, representing law and order, who sorts everything out."
"Doll, Chat's maid?And Scapethrift, Bailey's servant?"
"Mutes. Not speaking parts."
"And Gib, Gammer's cat. Presumably doesn't speak either?"
"No, but I expect Hugo'll want cat noises. We can hardly have a real moggy. Couldn't control it. So he'll probably get you to lay on a dummy one."
"Hmm. That's the lot, then. What's the setting?"
"A village street. Behind it, Gammer's house and Chat's pub. Just their fronts -- you don't see inside. Each with a door. An upstairs window in Gammer's. No changes of scene."
"Sounds simple enough. Nicely rustic. And no fancy costumes?"
"No. Gammer and her household are yokels. But everything hinges on Hodge's leather trousers two pairs, both with holes in the seat -- and he shits in one of them. All of that lot speak in dialect, by the way -- ichfor I, like in German; cham, I am; chold, I would. That sort of thing. If Hugo's wise he'll modernise it a bit. Chat and Rat and Bailey are higher up the social scale. Better dress for them, and no dialect."
"OK. And what's the plot?
"Read the Prologue. It gives the whole game away."
When quoting,I'll modernise the obscurer words, or add an explanation if they have to stay for the sake of the rhyme.
As Gammer Gurton, with many a wide stitch,
Sat piecing and patching of Hodge her man's breech,
By chance or misfortune as she her gear tossed,
In Hodge's leather breeches her needle she lost.
When Diccon the Bedlam had heard by report
That good Gammer Gurton was robbed in this sort,
He quietly persuaded with her in that stound [at that time]
Dame Chat, her dear gossip, this needle had found;
Yet knew she no more of this matter, alas,
Than knoweth Tom our clerk what the priest saith at mass.
Hereof there ensued so fearful a fray,
Mas' Doctor was sent for, these gossips to stay,
Because he was curate and esteemed full wise;
Who found that he sought not, by Diccon's device.
When all things were tumbled and clean out of fashion [in utter chaos],
Whether it were by fortune or some other constellation [arrangement of the planets],
Suddenly the needle Hodge found by the pricking
And drew it out of his buttock where he felt it sticking,
Their hearts then at rest with perfect security,
With a pot of good ale they struck up their plaudite [applause].
Rob laughed. "So they spend the whole play just looking for a needle?"
"More or less. But with complications. Let's read it through."
So we read, with comments from time to time.
Diccon wanders into the village and hears unaccountable wailing from Gammer's household. He takes advantage of their distraction by nicking a joint of bacon from inside the door. Hodge, unaware of the disaster that has struck, arrives home from digging in the field. He's grumbling about the state of his trousers -- filthy, and with a great hole in the seat -- and hoping that Gammer's mended his other pair. He's also grumbling about the work that Gammer puts him to.
"I would she had the squirt!"read Rob. "The footnote says the squirt is the trots!"
"It's littered with that sort of thing. Look, down here -- they gave no more heed to my talk than thou wouldst to a turd. The whole thing's what the Victorians would call vulgar."
Tib comes out of the house and tells Hodge what's happened.
My Gammer sat her down on her cushion and bad me reach thy breeches,
And by and by -- a vengeance on it! -- or she take two stitches
To clap a patch upon thine arse, by chance aside she leers,
And Gib, our cat, in the milk pan she spied, over head and ears.
'Ah, whore! Out, thief!' she cried aloud, and slapped the breeches down;
Up went her staff and out leapt Gib at doors into the town.
But Gammer'sneedle -- her only needle, an item of considerable value in those days -- has disappeared, and despite endless searching it can't be found. Hodge, upset that his other breeches are still unmended, demands a candle so that he can search in the murky house for himself. Gammer tells Cock to light one at the hearth, but he takes an unduly long time.
Hodge: Come away, ye whoreson boy! Are ye asleep? Ye must have a crier!
Cock[within]: I cannot get the candle light -- here is almost no fire.
Hodge:I'll hold thee a penny I'll make ye come if that I may catch thine ears!
Art deaf, thou whoreson boy? Cock, I say! Why, canst thou not hear us?
Gammer:Beat him not, Hodge, but help the boy and come you two together.
"Is it just my dirty mind?" asked Rob. "I'll make thee come!All those comes, in fact."
"Mine's dirty too. The whole play's full of puns and innuendos, you know, like pricks in bums. Innocent enough on the face of it. But give them a bit of emphasis, or the odd wink . . ."
Cock comes out (see? -- you're reading things into it too!) and Hodge goes in to light the candle. Cock, looking in through the door, describes how Hodge is trying to blow up sparks in the fire. But the sparks are really the eyes of Gib the cat, shining in the dark. Gib, disliking being puffed at, dashes screeching upstairs followed by a cursing Hodge who shouts for help from the window because -- he thinks -- Gib's tail is on fire and in danger of setting the thatch alight. Gammer calls him down, tells him not to be an idiot, and makes them all have yet another look. That gives rise to false alarms.
Cock: By my troth, Gammer, methought your needle here I saw,
But when my fingers touched it, I felt it was a straw.
Tib:See, Hodge, what's this? May it not be within it?
Hodge:Break it, fool, with thy hand, and see and thou canst find it.
Tib:Nay, break it you, Hodge, according to your word.
Hodge:God's sides! Fie, it stinks! It is a cat's turd!
It were well done to make thee eat it, by the mass!
"Eat it?" cried Rob.
"It's poking fun at the catholic mass. This is a protestant play, remember. It pokes plenty of fun at catholic saints too."
Act II. The sound of a drinking song wafts out from the pub. Diccon and Hodge enter. Hodge, lamenting his lack of decent trousers, explains the loss of Gammer's needle. Diccon thinks he said 'Gammer's eel.'
Hodge: Tush, tush, her nee'le, her nee'le, her nee'le, man -- 'tis neither flesh nor fish!
A little thing with a hole in the end, as bright as any silver,
Small, long, sharp at the point, and straight as any pillar.
"More innuendo," I said. "In those days, needlealso meant a cock."
But why, asks Diccon, is Hodge so keen to get his trousers mended? Because, says Hodge,
Kirstian Clack, Tom Simson's maid, by the mass, comes hither tomorrow.
I'm not able to say between us what may hap;
She smiled on me the last Sunday, when I put off my cap.
Ah, says Diccon, that isimportant. Look, can you keep a secret? Then swear it by kissing my arse; which Diccon reluctantly does. To get the needle back, Diccon goes on, I'll have to summon up the devil. And, with appropriate mumbo-jumbo, he pretends to do so. Silly Hodge, terrified, finds his bowels turning to water.
By the mass, I'm able no longer to hold it!
Too bad-- I must befoul the hall!
Diccon:Stand to it, Hodge! Stir not, you whoreson!
What devil, be thine arse-strings bursten?
But Hodge, already crapping in his pants, has run indoors. "Fie, shitten knave!"cries Diccon, and goes next door to call on Dame Chat. He tells her, quite falsely, that Gammer Gurton thinks Chat has stolen her cock.
"Of course," I pointed out, "he means her rooster. But you've got to remember that all these parts were played by men or boys. Exactly like us. And the whole of the play's littered with cocks. The stolen cock crops up time and again. So does Cock the boy. So does cox, meaning fool. Hint, hint, nudge, wink."
And when Hodge ventures out again, having changed his breeches for the ones Gammer has been mending, Diccon tells him, equally falsely, that Chat has stolen Gammer's needle; and Hodge passes the message on to Gammer.
Musical interlude. Act III. Gammer and Chat emerge at cross purposes, trade exceedingly rude words, and fall to fisticuffs. Hodge and Cock look on, crying encouragement but doing nothing to help. Gammer, having had the worst of it, sends Cock to fetch Doctor Rat to see justice done. Meanwhile Gib the cat is ailing, and Hodge, suspecting she has swallowed the needle, has to be dissuaded from raking out her arse to find it.
Interlude. Act IV. When the vicar arrives, dragged grumbling out of another pub, Hodge explains everything as far as he understands it. They all go into Gammer's house to talk it over, except for Diccon who calls on Chat again and tells her that Hodge is about to steal her hens by breaking into her house through a hole in the wall. Chat goes indoors to await him, and Diccon tells Rat, when he comes out, that he has just seen Chat sewing with Gammer's needle. If Rat crawls through that hole he'll witness it with his own eyes. And so the credulous Rat does. When halfway in, his bum sticking out, he yelps that he's been bashed on the head, and emerges backwards with a bloody pate.
"That ought all to be visible," Rob said thoughtfully. "Not his head -- the make-up chap needs to slap blood on it while he's in the hole. Just his fat bum -- nice opportunity for a good loud fart. Right, so the hole's got to be in Chat's front wall."
Rat goes off in dudgeon to fetch Master Bailey to conduct an inquiry.
Interlude. Act V. They arrive together. Rat, his head now in bandages, is complaining bitterly. Bailey points out that, as a self-confessed burglar, he got what he deserved.
By my troth, and well worthy, besides, to kiss the stocks.
To come in by the back side when ye might go about!
He calls out Dame Chat, who still thinks it was Hodge that she brained. She demands that Gammer and Hodge be questioned too. But Hodge denies burglary, and his head is uninjured. Gammer resurrects the accusation that Chat has stolen her needle, and Chat resents the rankling accusation that she has stolen Gammer's cock. This brings Bailey to the point. Who, he asks, first made these accusations? The answer to both is Diccon. He is summoned and, after much prevaricating, admits everything. Though Rat wants him hanged, Bailey merely orders him to promise to make amends to everyone he has wronged -- Rat, Chat, Gammer, Hodge, even Gib -- and to seal the promise by swearing an oath on the seat of Hodge's leather breeches. Diccon agrees.
But Hodge,he insists, take good heed now thou do not beshite me!
[Gives him a good blow on the buttock]
Hodge: God's heart, thou false villain, dost thou bite me?
Bailey:What, Hodge, doth he hurt thee or ever he begin?
Hodge: He thrust me into the buttock with a bodkin or a pin!
I say, Gammer! Gammer! . . . I have it, by the mass, Gammer!
Gammer:What? Not my needle, Hodge!
And there of course it is, in Hodge's breeches all the time, and now pricking him deep in his bum. More innuendo here, naturally – a needle (also meaning a cock) in his arse. He extracts it, and amid general rejoicing everyone repairs to Chat's pub for a drink.
"Well, that's fun," was Rob's verdict. "More fun than I expected. And I've got some ideas for the set. Half-timbered houses, don't you think? Let me do some sketching before I forget."
While he sketched, I read the editor's introduction. It was good, but it left me with an uneasy feeling that there was something I didn't quite go along with. That led me into lengthy but inconclusive searches on the web, until Rob interrupted to show me his preliminary design.
"They wouldn't have had much scenery and stuff, would they?" he asked. "Not originally?"
"Not much. There weren't any theatres at all. Not then, not public ones. Only private, with a temporary stage rigged up in the dining hall at Oxford and Cambridge colleges -- like Gammer-- or at schools like St Paul's and Eton, or royal palaces, or the guildhall in provincial towns."
"Who were the actors, then?"
"Two sorts. Either troupes who wandered round the country playing medieval morality plays, hideously serious and dull, spiced up with interludes of music and clowning. Or else amateurs putting on their own plays in schools and colleges and suchlike. In places like that, you see, they'd begun to revive Latin drama -- Plautus' and Terence's comedies, Seneca's tragedies -- and they even put on new plays in English that were based on classical models, complete with acts and scenes to give them structure."
"So Gammer's one of those?"
"That's right. We've got two English comedies from the 1550s. The first was Ralph Roister Doister, which was written by a certain Nicholas Udall. He was headmaster of Eton." I chuckled. "Or rather he had been, until he was convicted of buggering his boys. He was sacked, of course, but he got a year's salary as severance pay, and spent less than a year in jug. And he ended up as headmaster of Westminster School."
"He got off lightly!"
"He did. Under the Buggery Act he could've been hanged. But in Tudor times, whatever the law said, they weren't much bothered about what you did in bed, unless it resulted in public scandal. I think only one person was hanged for it -- Lord Hungerford, who'd buggered half his servants. And what really scuppered himwas heresy and astrology -- forecasting the death of the king. Much worse crimes. The buggery was just an add-on. Where were we?"
"Oh yes. Well, that's based on Plautus and Terence but with an English slant to it, and it's pretty decorous. Gammer Gurton's much more original. They always say it came after Roister Doister" -- my vague unease returned -- "and there's hardly anything classical about it. Then in 1561 someone wrote a tragedy called Gorboduc. Monumentally boring, but it's the first play in blank verse. Stumping and wooden, sure, but it's the medium that Marlowe and Shakespeare transformed into poetry . . . Sorry, I'm being geeky. I'm lecturing." I was all too liable to lecture when I got on my hobby horse.
"So what?" said Rob. "I like youbeing geeky. I like your lectures."
"Oh. Good." We were becoming less rude with each other all the time. It mustbe love at work. "Anyway, it was only in 1576 that the first theatre was built in London. The shows were getting a bit more sophisticated by now, but they were still tedious or inarticulate or even nonsense. Until 1587, when a young man arrived in London from Cambridge with a new play in his pocket. His name was Christopher Marlowe, and his play was Tamburlaine. It was put on at the Rose. Some of it's noise and bombast, but the rest's pure poetry -- thundering blank verse of a kind that had never been heard before. Marlowe knew exactly what he was up to. The prologue begins
"From jigging veins of rhyming mother-wits,
And such conceits as clownage keeps in pay,
"– there's Gammer for you, or the play the mechanicals put on in the Dream–
"We'll lead you to the stately tent of war,
Where you shall hear the Scythian Tamburlaine
Threatening the world with high astounding terms."
I paused in wonderment. Tamburlainenever ceases to enslave me. "It was the most revolutionary moment in the history of English theatre. It was the spark which set the stage alight. The audience must've gone home reeling. Every playwright in London would've been there, and they all jumped on the bandwagon. Shakespeare included. He'd just arrived from Stratford, and he sat down there and then to write his first play. Parts of Henry VIare pure Marlowe -- he musthave seen Tamburlaine. And the rest, as they say, is history."
"Good God!" said Rob. "I never knew that. But Gammer was a good step along the path?"
"Oh yes. It came thirty-odd years before Tamburlaine, and in its simple way it was mould-breaking too."
At that point we were called down to dinner.
In bed that night I said, "Thank you, Rob."
His only reply was to hug me. He knew what I was thanking him for.
After a few days I returned to my dysfunctional home. I eased the boredom by further thinking and further searching, and managed to pinpoint the source of my unease about Gammer's date. Another fortnight and I was back at Hambledon, where Hugo called everyone together for a meeting.
"Now we've all read it," he said, "we've got to decide who plays who. It's just the eight of us. The Lovibond lasses won't be here, and we don't need any tiddlers. For starters, I've put myself down for Hodge and Sam for Diccon. And Sam, you'd better do the prologue too."
He gave Gammer and Chat ("they're really pantomime dames who don't need unbroken voices") and Rat and Bailey to boys who'd also been in the Dream.
"Are you all happy with those?"
We were. Myself, I was very happy, because Diccon is a great part. And that left, of the actors present, only young Matt Brown who'd been Helena in the Dream, and Alex Stevenson who'd not only been Hermia but also, the year before, the young prince in my Edward II.
"Then the question," said Hugo, "is whether Alex does Cock and Matt does Tib, or the other way round. For Tib we need an unbroken voice, but for Cock it doesn't matter. Matt, d'you think your voice is going to break before December?"
"Well, if you don't mind me being personal, have you got any hair down there?"
"Yes, I have. Quite a bit. I think my voice'll go soon. High time too. And a good thing if it does, seeing what I've let myself in for on Speech Day."
Someone asked what he meant.
"Oh, didn't you know? The Founder was an ancestor of mine, you see. Stevensons have been coming to Hambledon ever since it started. And because my grandpa and my dad are both dead, I'm the current Stevenson, and the headmaster's lined me up to say a few words on Speech Day. I'd much rather do that without squeaking."
"And it's great," said Hugo, "that you're in your ancestor's play. I know what a kick I got from playing my own ancestor in Edward II. Right then, it looks like Cock for Alex and Tib for Matt. OK? "
He went on to talk about the play, and I was impressed. He seemed a maturer Hugo, taking his job with proper seriousness -- while firmly insisting that Gammerhad to be fun -- and everything he said made very good sense. He was going to liaise with the director of music over suitable music for the interludes. He passed round Rob's preliminary sketches for the set and invited comments. He ended by pointing out that while Gammerwas quite popular with amateur dramatic groups, they always used heavily sanitised versions. Very rarely was it performed uncensored.
"We've got to modernise some of the dialect that's simply too difficult. But otherwise we're doing it complete and unabridged, and not ashamed of it. Anyway, it'll hardly be as, um, explicit as what happened in Edward IIand the Dream. And after all, it's got a major place in the history of English theatre. Sam, you say you reckon it's even more important than people think. Can you fill us in?"
I'd come prepared for this, and put on my geeky lecturing hat.
"It's a matter of dates," I said. "And of religion. Henry VIII of course broke with Rome and set up the Church of England. When he died in 1547 he was succeeded by his son Edward VI, who was only a boy but passionately in favour of the new protestantism. It was under him, in 1549, that the Book of Common Prayer was published, the first in English, and from then on it was illegal to use the old catholic Latin services. There were objections in Cornwall and Devon, where they rebelled and were bloodily put down. But pretty well everywhere else it caught on at once. Then in 1553 Edward died -- he was only fifteen -- and his half-sister Mary succeeded. As a catholic, of course she switched everything back to square one, and protestants took cover. But she only lasted five years, and in 1558 Elizabeth became queen and turned England protestant again.
"Now Gammerwas produced at Christ's College in Cambridge. And the important point is that Cambridge -- and Christ's in particular -- was strongly protestant. That's underlined by the ribald anti-papist tone that runs all through Gammer. And William Stevenson was a Fellow of Christ's from 1551 to 1561, exceptduring Mary's reign when he had to stand down because of his views. We don't know exactly when he was born. But he was ordained in 1552, probably as soon as he reached twenty-one, which was then the minimum age. So most likely he was born in 1531. Does your family," I asked Alex, "have a date?"
"Not for sure. But we think 1531 too."
"Well, he went up to Christ's in 1546. If we're right, he was fifteen. That fits -- in those days you went to university anywhere between twelve and sixteen. And he graduated in 1550 at nineteen, and was made a Fellow in 1551 at twenty. The college records show that they paid him for music in 1549, and put on a play of his almost every year from 1550 to 1559, except during Mary's reign. They don't give their titles, damn them, so it could have been a string of different plays. Much more likely it was the same play which was such a hit that it was repeated year after year. One payment is 'to ye carpenter for setting up ye houses,' which sounds just like what Rob's doing -- building Gammer's and Chat's houses.
"That's guesswork, of course, because there's been no firm date for Gammer. The first surviving edition -- we call it the quarto -- was published in 1575. But there's a strong case for an earlier edition, though no copies have survived, published in 1562 under the title Diccon of Bedlam. That fits with what the quarto says -- 'played on stage not long ago, in Christ's College' -- meaning the last performance in 1559. But it includes the phrase 'in the king's name,' which means it must have been written before Edward VI died in 1553. After him, there weren't any kings for fifty years. Only queens. And in fact we can take it further back still, to 1549 or earlier. To be precise, before 9th June 1549."
I told them why, and that nobody seemed to have noticed it before.
"And that fits too. I reckon Gammer's too vulgar for a Fellow to have written, especially one who'd just been ordained, or was about to be. Even young Fellows had their dignity to stand on. As I see it, it's undergraduate humour. And because undergraduates were so young in those days, that's the equivalent of our schoolboy humour. Stevenson wrote it when he was somewhere between fifteen and eighteen. The same as us."
The others had been following closely, and nodded their understanding.
"And that means that Gammerisn't just one of the first regular comedies in English, but thefirst. It's pretty well agreed now that Ralph Roister Doisterwas written for Queen Mary in 1553. Gammerbeats that by at least four years."
"Brilliant!" they said, grinning.
I won't bore you with a full account of the summer term. Everyone had exams which sadly had to take priority, and apart from occasional rehearsals Gammerstayed on the back burner. It was beginning to take shape, but the main donkey-work would come in the autumn. This was why Old Persimmon had changed the timetable. Alex's voice, though, did break as predicted, and by Speech Day it had settled into a light tenor. He made a modest and creditable little speech, all the more creditable because it was in the presence of the Queen, who graced the celebrations of an institution to which the first Elizabeth had granted its charter 450 years before. And it was a good thing Gammerwasn't scheduled for Speech Day. The Queen, like her great-great-grandma Victoria, might not have been amused.
I was coming to like Alex. Hitherto I hadn't known him well. I would have done if he'd been in my own house, but he wasn't -- he was in Hugo's. He was a cheerful young imp, still small for his age, with a pert face under curly dark hair. But he was modest, he could be serious, and his head was remarkably well screwed on. In a couple of years he'd probably be producing the play. I found myself talking to him quite often when time allowed, and learned that, as I'd guessed, he was deeply interested in his ancestor.
"But we aren't likely to discover any more about him," I warned. "The scholars have been through all the known archives with a fine-tooth comb. Unless you've got any family papers tucked away."
"You never know," he said thoughtfully. "We live in an old, old house. It's on the site of a grange of Romsey Abbey. When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, William's dad bought it off him and built the house. We've lived there ever since, and there's tons of junk in the attic. There mightbe something. I'll have a look. Maybe William can help."
I assumed he meant a brother or a friend.
"Whereabouts is it?" I asked.
"Hampshire. Abbot's Bumley."
"Never heard of it. Where's it near?"
"Bishop's Bumley. But that's a dump," he said disparagingly. "It belonged," he added as if to explain its dumpishness, "to the Bishop of Winchester."
Ihadn't heard of Bishop's Bumley either.
"D'you know Nether Wallop?"
I shook my head again.
"Oh. Well, about nine miles from Andover." Got there at last. I hadheard of Andover.
Another interesting development was that Alex spent more and more time in Hugo's company. My suspicion grew that a romance was brewing. If so, good for Hugo. Alex was a far better bet than our Edward had been, and they were types who'd fit very well together.
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