Lincolnshire now begins to thoroughly belie its p.178 reputation for flatness, the road descending steeply from Colsterworth and rising sharply from Easton Park to the park of Stoke Rochford, with another long sharp descent beyond, and a further rise of some importance into Great Ponton, another of the very small “Great” villages.
Great Ponton, or Paunton Magna, as it was formerly called, was in early days the site of a Roman camp, and of a turnpike gate in latter times. Both have gone to a common oblivion. If the ascent to the tiny village by the highroad is steep, the climb upwards to it by the country lanes from the lowlands on the east, where the Great Northern Railway takes its easeful course, is positively precipitous. Overlooking the pleasant vale from its commanding eyrie stands the beautiful old church, in a by-way off the main road; the church itself strikingly handsome, but the pinnacled and battlemented tower its peculiar glory. It is distinctly of the ornate Somersetshire type, and a very late example of Perpendicular work.
Having been built in 1519, when Gothic had reached its highest development, and Renaissance ideals were slowly but surely obtaining a hold in this country, we find in its lavish ornamentation and abundant panelling an attempt to combine the florid alien Renaissance conventions with that peculiarly insular phase of Gothic, the Perpendicular style. The result is, as it chances, happy in this instance, the new methods halting before that little further development which would have made this a debased example. The building of this tower was the work of Anthony Ellys, merchant of the staple, and of his wife, as a thank-offering for a prosperous career, and of an escape from religious persecution; and his motto, “Thynke and thanke God of all,” is still visible, carved on three sides. His house, a crow-stepped old mansion next the church, is still standing, and recalls the legend of his sending home a cask from his warehouses in Calais, labelled “Calais sand.” Arriving home, he asked his wife what she had done with the “sand.” p.179 She had put it in the cellar. He then revealed the fact that it contained, not sand, but the greater part of his wealth.
Prominent on the south-east pinnacle of this tower is a curious vane in the shape of a fiddle. The legend told of it says that, many years ago, there wandered amid the fenland villages of Lincolnshire a poor fiddler who gained a scanty livelihood by playing at fairs and weddings, and not infrequently in the parlours of the village inns on Saturday nights. After some years of this itinerant minstrelsy, he amassed a sufficient sum of money wherewith to pay his fare p. 180as a steerage passenger to the United States, to which country his relatives had emigrated some time before. In course of time, this once almost poverty stricken fiddler became rich through land speculation in the backwoods; and, revisiting the scenes of his tuneful pilgrimages in the new character of a wealthy man, offered to repair this then dilapidated church, as some sort of recognition of the kindnesses shown him in bygone years. Only one stipulation was made by him, that a vane representing his old fiddle should take the place of the weathercock. This was agreed to, and, as we see, that quaint emblem is there to this day.
Candour, however, compels the admission that this pretty legend has no truth in it; but the story has frequently found its way into print, and so is in a fair way to become a classic. The original fell in 1899 and was broken. The then rector would have replaced it with another vane of different character, but the old folk were attached to their fiddle, and so a replica was made by subscription, and fixed; and there it is to-day: the first fiddle, said the rector, that ever he heard of in the guise of a wind-instrument!
Among the many curious inn-signs along the road, that of the “Blue Horse,” at Great Ponton, is surely one of the most singular, and is a zoological curiosity not readily explained.