Recollections of Quinton and its Surroundings

A Historical Sketch Of The Village

By Henry Dingley.

QUINTON is situate in the ancient parish of Hales Owen, in the Hundred of Hill, distant from Birmingham four miles, and about the same from the well-known Clent Hills, which for ages have formed a scene of resort for the people of the surrounding country. These hills lie South-west of the College, and form an object of great beauty and admiration.

The village is very nearly central in England, and about 800 feet above the level of the sea. It is approached on all sides up rising ground, with a natural formation which gives it a splendid position in the district as one of its highest table lands, noted for its health and prospects. Quinton is so denominated, says the learned Antiquary, Dr. Nash, from the ancient Roman sport called the quintain, which, he adds, " Proves the Romans to have been stationed in this place." Also, another learned authority, Bishop Kennett, in his parochial “Antiquities of Burcester," observes that “running at the Quinton was not continued in any part of Oxfordshire, except where the Roman ways did run, or where some Roman garrison had been placed."

As many of my readers may not be acquainted with the nature of the game of quintain, I shall subjoin the following extract upon the subject from Malcolm's Anecdotes of the Manners and Customs of London, from the Roman -Invasion to the year 1700. Vol. iii, p. 8:-" The quintain, mentioned by Howe, had its origin from a whimsical idea; and those who practised with it were compelled to exert no trifling degree of agility to avoid the heavy blows it inflicted. In this instance, a strong post was placed erect in the ground, on which a piece of wood turned by means of a spindle: at one extremity a bag of sand was suspended, and the other presented a surface sufficiently broad to make it practicable to strike it with a spear when in full gallop on horse back; the pressure from the spear caused an instantaneous whirl of the wood, which was increased by the weight of the sand, and that saluted the back of the horseman in no very gentle manner if the speed of his courser happened to be less than that of the quintain."

The British and Roman period occurring between B.C. 55 and A.D. 449, it is beyond all doubt that Quinton was so named about the time of Christ, and has been so called ever since.

Next succeeded the Saxon period, from A.D. 449 to 1066, followed by the Norman Conquest. Chivalry now constituted the main principle of Norman life at this period, from A.D. 1066 to the death of King John, A D. 1216. Having its origin in the forests of Germany, and being common to all the Teutonic tribes, the institution of chivalry was first imported into England by the followers of Hengist and Horsa, but in a form as rude and simple as the arms they wore or the manners by which they were distinguished. How little, indeed, of the pomp and circumstances of chivalry could be manifested by those whose chief offensive weapons were an axe, a spear, and a long, crooked seax or sword, while their only defensive armour was a leathern helmet and light wooden target.

The arrival of the Normans with their more complete panoply of chain and scale armour and greater love of splendour and display, completely changed the scene. They had engrafted upon the original chivalry of the naked North the arts and refinements of the South, with which they very speedily superseded the rude knighthood of the Anglo-Saxons.

The education of a noble youth of England, therefore, at this period and every Norman family was accounted noble had a reference to the military training by which he was to maintain the ascendancy of his countrymen, the deeds he was to achieve, and the spurs he was expected to win. For this purpose he was placed as a page in the household of some knight or noble of approved military reputation, under whose instructions he learned those exercises by which he was improved in strength, dexterity, and hardihood, as well as in knightly courtesy, while his lessons combined sport and amusement with proficiency. Besides training for a hand-to-hand combat on foot, he was taught a knight's chief duty on horseback by tilting at the quintain. This was a pole set upright in the earth, with a shield fastened to it with thongs of leather, which he was expected to detach from the pole with the point of his lance, in full career, at the risk of being swept from the saddle if he failed. In these fierce ridings the loss of his seat, or even of a stirrup, was to be eschewed as. an inglorious failure. We find in one of the illuminated MSS. that this unshapely pole was at length elevated into the figure of a wooden Saracen revolving upon a spindle and armed with sword and shield. Here was an enemy sufficient to kindle the knightly and crusading zeal of the young tyro, as well as to task his utmost skill; for his object was to strike it full in the c breast or face while he firmly maintained his seat, in which case his opponent, had he been a living foe, would have been a dead man. But if he struck aslant or swerved from the centre, the Paynim wheeled rapidly round and struck the assailant a degrading blow on the back with his wooden scimitar.

With these and such like exercises, amidst hot competition and merriment, the young pages of a noble household exercised themselves in the mimicry of war, by, which they were trained to its stern realities. From the station of page the young aspirant attained to that of squire, in which he was not only to continue his military exercises but join in the real business of war by following his master to the field. During his intervals of leisure he perfected himself in the arts of riding and tilting at the quintain, etc. The whole period of education for knighthood usually lasted seven or eight years. When, the Squire, after his probation, was to obtain the coveted honour of knighthood, the investment was performed in the sacred precincts of the Church, with such a combination of military and religious ceremonial as sufficed to mark it out as one of the noblest of all earthly distinctions.

While the active sports of the nobility of England were those of conquerors and tyrants, those of the common people were both few and cheerless. The chief game was bowling; another, commonly called the game of kayle-pins, consisted in striking down small conical pieces of wood with the throw of a cudgel; also, the fence of sword and buckler are frequent in the pictorial delineations of this era, and were in great favour among the English commons, as they have always been among every martial people. Amidst the rougher sports wrestling was not neglected, and one warlike form which it assumed was the tilting of men horsed upon the backs or shoulders of their companions, where each grappled with his antagonist and endeavoured to throw him to the ground. Foot racing and the game of football, spear throwing and archery, are also included among the sports of the period.

Fitz-Stephen also describes a game in vogue among the London citizens, which may be called the water tournament, or rowing (not riding) at the quintain, which was performed in the following fashion. A mast was set up in the midst of the River Thames, to which a shield was nailed; a boat was rowed at full speed against it, and a man standing in war-like attitude at the stern, with his lance or pole couched, took aim at the shield as he flew past it. But woe to the luckless Wight who could not retain a firm footing while his weapon closed or was shivered in the encounter! In this case he was thrown backward like an unhorsed knight, and laid sprawling in the depths of the river, amidst a peal of universal merriment. Boats, however, were always in readiness to fish up the unsuccessful, so that nothing worse occurred than a sound ducking.

The same drolling imitation of the sports of chivalry was practised on land. A pole of sufficient height was planted in the ground, at the top of which a transverse beam, having at one end a bag of sand and at the other a board, revolved as easily as a weathercock to the touch. This board constituted the mark at which the peasantry mounted on their clumsy, untrained horses, rode with staves couched in full career; but no sooner was the board struck than the sand-bag revolved like the fist of a giant, and unseated, the unlucky tilter by a blow between the shoulders, unless he eluded it by dexterous ducking or sharp spurring.

By these two sports of land and water the citizens and peasantry of England caricatured the solemn military games of their Norman oppressors, and enjoyed 'the merriment and stir of a tournament without the bloodshed and broken bones with which it was accompanied.

We think it very possible that the military tournaments of the Romans took place in the now College Park for two reasons; this is the finest space for picturesque surroundings in the vicinity, and would be therefore chosen as the site most excellently suited for the purpose. And again, the old, Roman road, or as we should now term it the turnpike road, then ran alongside the College Park, that part of the now Hagley Road directly north of the College not having been in existence a hundred years.

That Quinton has borne its present name from the Roman period is also conclusively evident from the fact that the oldest county histories only speak, of it as Quinton to its remotest known existence. On the tournament occasions people from the district going to see the Roman military displays would say, “1 am going to the quintain," and to this day it is both called and printed, “The Quinton."

©QLHS 2003

Ed’s Comment: The above article is an extract from “The Bourne College Chronicles” by Henry Dingley. Henry was the grandson of Samuel Dingley, the Quinton nail-factor; the article is dated March 1892. Again my thanks to Harry Vincent who lives in Canada. Harry has promised more material but up to now I seemed to have lost contact with Harry. The origin of “The Quinton” name is open to discussion but this article gives an insight into one suggestion.

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