Barnaby Rudge HTML version

Chapter 1
In the year 1775, there stood upon the borders of Epping Forest, at a distance of about
twelve miles from London--measuring from the Standard in Cornhill,' or rather from the
spot on or near to which the Standard used to be in days of yore--a house of public
entertainment called the Maypole; which fact was demonstrated to all such travellers as
could neither read nor write (and at that time a vast number both of travellers and stay-
at-homes were in this condition) by the emblem reared on the roadside over against the
house, which, if not of those goodly proportions that Maypoles were wont to present in
olden times, was a fair young ash, thirty feet in height, and straight as any arrow that
ever English yeoman drew.
The Maypole--by which term from henceforth is meant the house, and not its sign--the
Maypole was an old building, with more gable ends than a lazy man would care to count
on a sunny day; huge zig-zag chimneys, out of which it seemed as though even smoke
could not choose but come in more than naturally fantastic shapes, imparted to it in its
tortuous progress; and vast stables, gloomy, ruinous, and empty. The place was said to
have been built in the days of King Henry the Eighth; and there was a legend, not only
that Queen Elizabeth had slept there one night while upon a hunting excursion, to wit, in
a certain oak-panelled room with a deep bay window, but that next morning, while
standing on a mounting block before the door with one foot in the stirrup, the virgin
monarch had then and there boxed and cuffed an unlucky page for some neglect of
duty. The matter-of-fact and doubtful folks, of whom there were a few among the
Maypole customers, as unluckily there always are in every little community, were
inclined to look upon this tradition as rather apocryphal; but, whenever the landlord of
that ancient hostelry appealed to the mounting block itself as evidence, and
triumphantly pointed out that there it stood in the same place to that very day, the
doubters never failed to be put down by a large majority, and all true believers exulted
as in a victory.
Whether these, and many other stories of the like nature, were true or untrue, the
Maypole was really an old house, a very old house, perhaps as old as it claimed to be,
and perhaps older, which will sometimes happen with houses of an uncertain, as with
ladies of a certain, age. Its windows were old diamond-pane lattices, its floors were
sunken and uneven, its ceilings blackened by the hand of time, and heavy with massive
beams. Over the doorway was an ancient porch, quaintly and grotesquely carved; and
here on summer evenings the more favoured customers smoked and drank--ay, and
sang many a good song too, sometimes--reposing on two grim-looking high-backed
settles, which, like the twin dragons of some fairy tale, guarded the entrance to the
In the chimneys of the disused rooms, swallows had built their nests for many a long
year, and from earliest spring to latest autumn whole colonies of sparrows chirped and
twittered in the eaves. There were more pigeons about the dreary stable-yard and out-
buildings than anybody but the landlord could reckon up. The wheeling and circling