'At the beginning of February, on one of those genial mornings which occasionally occur thus early in the year, as if to give us a foretaste of Spring, I set out on a pilgrimage to Cumnor, having been located for two months in the neighbourhood of Abingdon, and being unwilling to leave it without visiting that celebrated and romantic spot.
The country between Abingdon and Cumnor is bleak, flat and uninteresting, occasionally inter-spersed with mud hovels of the most wretched description, which give an air of poverty and desolation to the scene: as you approach Cumnor, however, the country improves, and on entering the village assumes a very charming aspect. It is indeed an interesting and romantic spot, independent of the charm thrown around it by the genius of Sir Walter Scott. The first object which strikes the eye is the ancient church, which stands at an angle of the village, surrounded by its large and beautiful cemetery, where lowly and recent graves are mingled with the sculptured tombstones (now crumbling to decay) of past centuries.
Opposite the church stands its appendage, the pretty vicarage, with its smiling garden and velvet lawn; and lower down, the Bonny Black Bear hangs out its sign, inscribed, as of yore, with the name of Giles Gosling. It is a long, low-gabled building, and though it has been rebuilt since the days of 'good Queen Bess', it still occupies the same spot as the ancient hostelry, and indeed several of its original chambers are said even now to exist.
Nearly facing the inn at the back of the churchyard is the site of the celebrated Abbey Mansion, Cumnor Hall, where a solitary pile of stone, which from the strong nature of the mortar that cements it, resisted all attempts made to level it, is all that remains to tell of its former existence. A walled meadow, sloping and very irregular, extends its verdant length where erst the garden and grounds stretched their gravelled walks, and raised their high shrubberies. At one side is a ruined terrace, shaded by a few picturesque old trees - and at the extremity of the field, a dash of water emanating from a welling spring. This brook, tradition reports, is never frozen, for the Lady Dudley's Ghost was laid there, after having for years haunted the groves and chambers of Cumnor Hall. Across the lane which runs along the boundary wall, stands a curious old stone dwelling, coeval with Cumnor itself, and in perfect preservation. It is now a farm-house, and is backed by trees. The two gables (half hid in luxuriant wreaths of ivy), which boldly project forward, leaving a little court in the centre- the long turretted chimneys, festooned with the same graceful plant - the windows surmounted by rich carvings - the ample porch- all of a bygone age. This quaint old building completes the picture, which is singularly pretty and impressive when seen from the churchyard. The spot where the lady Dudley's body was found, at the bottom of the staircase leading from her chamber, is indicated by a tree planted when the staircase was removed....
On entering the church .... the ancient oaken benches, used instead of pews, are well worthy of note. Most of them have elaborately carved backs, and all are terminated at each end by a massive pillar, crowned by some fanciful grotesque device. On one of these is depicted a pair of spotted toads, which, in a variety of frightful contortions, accommodate themselves to the required outline. Again- another with a leaf-like outline, serrated at the edges, encloses three tiny shields an either side, on which are portrayed, in very minute carving, a series of emblems of the crucifixion, viz:- The Cross of Calvary - the Hebraic characters of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, a heart gashed by the spear, and a pair of feet imprinted by nails, the cock that crowed thrice - the purse borne by Judas -the garment without seam -the ladder, the spear and the reed - and lastly, pincers, nails and hammer. This carving is coeval with the monastery, and the devices are so well executed, the oak so solid, and the whole in such excellent preservation, that the benches retain all their pristine strength and beauty. Above one of the windows there is a small circular light, of brilliantly illuminated glass, representing, though very minutely, a lady in flowing sable robes, kneeling at her devotions. This figure is pointed out as the Lady Dudley. Numerous fantastic heads project from the groined roof, and the whole interior wears the melancholy air of present desolation and bygone splendour.
From an article in the magazine 'Family Friend' 1850.