Turn the page
Picturesque England
Turn the page


Moor Park

THIS house has so many memories attached it that we must have noticed it even if it had not been, as it is, a picturesque place. It lies at the foot of the hills that bound the heaths towards Farnham, and is near Waverley Abbey. It is a spacious mansion of three storeys, and was the residence of Sir William Temple, long ambassador to the Hague, and a man of great ability as a statesman and essayist He died at Moor Park in 1698, and beneath a sundial in the garden, near the east end of the house, his heart is buried; his body lies in Westminster Abbey.

He engaged Jonathan Swift, a distant relation of his own, and then a young man, to read to him and occasionally to act as amanuensis at a salary of ,20 a year and his board. At first the accomplished courtier and statesman could scarcely endure the rough manners of the poor Irish lad, seldom talked to him, and never let him sit at his table. But Swift saw what good manners were in his brief interviews with Temple, and also what education could do. He resolved to improve himself, and studied eight hours every day. At the end of two years he was obliged to leave Moor Park, and go to Ireland for his health sake. He had foolishly eaten at one time a dozen Shene pippins, and they made him extremely ill. Sir William missed his clever amanuensis during his absence, and when Swift was able to return to him he occupied a far different position; he was now Temple's confidential secretary, and was permitted to be present at his employer's interviews with William III., who was much attached to Sir William. Whenever Temple had the gout and was unable to attend on his sovereign, he deputed Swift to do so, and the king seems to have liked the young secretary very much. Swift said that William III. taught him to eat asparagus Dutch fashion, that is to consume the whole of it - not only the ends - a good way of eating it if the stalks are green and tender, but impossible when they are white and hard. William must have felt very much at home in Temple's lovely but formal gardens, for they were laid out in the Dutch style, and must have constantly reminded him of Holland. He was so pleased with Swift that he offered him the favour he would himself have most appreciated: he told him that he would make him a captain of cavalry. But Swift had no inclination for a military life, and declined it. He had a good excuse for his refusal in the frequent attacks of giddiness from which he suffered all his life. It was at Moor Park - or rather in a cottage near it - that Swift met and loved the unfortunate Stella. Her true name was Esther Johnson, and she was the daughter of Sir William Temple's steward. In consideration of her father's faithful service Temple left her at his death a legacy of a thousand pounds. Sir William constructed a canal - his tastes were wholly Dutch - in his park, and there were grass walks at the sides bordered with the most beautiful flowers.

In 1699 Temple died, and left a legacy with his MSS. to Swift, after having, before his death, obtained a promise from the king that he would give the secretary the first prebend's stall vacant at Westminster or Canterbury. But William forgot his promise, though Swift had dedicated Sir William Temple's posthumous works to him.

Lord Berkeley then invited Jonathan to accompany him to Ireland as his private secretary, and he went; but he did not retain the situation long, as the earl had been told that the office ought to be held by a clergyman. Swift took orders in the Church, but was disappointed of the deanery of Derry through the same malign influence that had caused his dismissal from his secretaryship, and had to be content with the livings of Laracor and Rathbeggin, in Meath.

He increased the parochial duty at Laracor by having prayers on Wednesdays and Fridays, and certainly endeavoured to do his duty as a clergyman. He invited Esther Johnson and a Mrs. Dingley with whom she lived to Dublin, and it is said on reliable authority, secretly married her, but would never acknowledge her as his wife, or even see her alone, spending, however, much of his time with the two ladies. From this time Swift appears as an author, and wrote the "Tale of a Tub."

It was not, however, till nine years afterwards that Swift, entrusted with a mission from the Irish Primate to the minister Harley, saw opened before him a field for the exercise of his great talents. But though recognised as one of the first literary men of his time, Queen Anne's strong prejudice against him prevented Harley from promoting him in the Church; nor can we blame Anne, as some of his writings were very objectionable, and would have been most unfitting from a bishop. Swift returned to Dublin to pass the rest of his life as Dean of St. Patrick's; from this abode issued his famous "Gulliver's Travels" and poems, and he won the adoration of an entire people by the publication of the "Drapier's Letters." But much trouble came into his life, the consequences of his own faults, and the end was, indeed, misery. He lost his reason entirely, and died mad.

We have not space to enter here into the sad story of his conduct to Miss Vanhomrigh (the Vanessa of one of his poems), and his strange love for Stella. There is every excuse for him in the incipient insanity which at the end revealed itself. Both Scott and Thackeray have written the life of this gifted but most unhappy man, whose memory will always linger about Moor Park.

There is an old cavern in the sandstone rock that bounds Moor Park, that is called "Mother Ludlam's Hole," from Mother Ludlam, a rather amiable and popular witch, having lived in it. At the bottom of it flows a small stream from some hidden spring. The water is very transparent and pure, and it was from it that the monks of Waverley Abbey obtained their supply.

Above this cave is a deep fox-hole in the sand. A person named Foote, who had become disgusted with the world, took refuge here. He remained till he was nearly starved to death; then his thirst becoming unendurable he crawled down to the stream to drink, and was found by it dying. He was taken to the nearest cottage, and then to Farnham workhouse, where he died in 1840. His last words were, "Do take me to the cave again."


Turn the page
Picturesque England
Turn the page
Picturesque England - Matthew Spong 2004