The hind that were chopping them up for his fire

[The Plaque at Langley Bush]

The hind that were chopping them up for his fire
Een stood like a poet awhile to admire
& when I last sat here to listen the thrush
I lookd on yon knowll at our favourite bush
Were gipseys campd round it in freedom did dwell
& a swain told its history that knew it so well
About a court yearly being kept neath its boughs
In its youth—when his forefathers herded the cows
While the bush oer our heads blooming feeble & old
Seemd listning in sorrow the story he told
& sighd as the winds summer breath flutterd bye
Its few scatterd leaves as one ready to dye
Tho the gipseys haunt still the lovd spot as before
& the swain calls it still by the name it once bore
Langley bush with its scard trunk & grey mossy bough
Is fled & the scene is left desolate now
A storm that made shepherds in dread for an hour
& boild oer the hills with its thunder & shower
Struck it down to the earth were it withering lay
Till the gipseys sought firing & hauld it away
When the shepherd returnd as the tempest was bye
From his hut of thatchd brakes that had sheltered him dry
He lookd with supprise & a fearful anoy
On the fall of his favourite known from a boy
& I thus to witness its sorrowful end
Feel a loss for its fate as I do for a friend

The Early Poems of John Clare 1804-1822,
ed. Eric Robinson, David Powell and Margaret Grainger
(Oxford, 2 volumes, I-II, 1989)

The site of the ancient thorn bush is thought to have once been a Bronze Age barrow and a Roman shrine, and was reportedly an open-air court in Anglo-Saxon times used by all the parishes in the area, known as the Langdyke Hundred.  Clare knew all this of course, and Langley Bush was as much revered by him as it seems to have been by his Anglo-Saxon predecessors.

In the eighteenth century the court moved to the Exeter Arms, in Helpston, and the place became known as a haunt of gypsies.

In 1996 a replacement tree was replanted on the mound and a memorial plaque, to mark the historic site, was added.  All very much in keeping with Clare’s original words in his 1821 poem ‘Langley Bush’:

O Langley Bush! The shepherds sacred shade
Thy hollow trunk oft gain'd a look from me
Full many a journey o'er the heath I've made
For such like curious things I love to see

How ironic therefore that as I subsequently discovered, that to visit the site and stand next to the hallowed tree, the visitor has to trespass on ‘private’ land, reported the ‘Village Tribune’ in December 2009:

 The Langley Bush is situated on private land.
 Permission to visit the mound should be sought from Fitzwilliam Farm (Milton Estates)’.

So to actually visit the site without ‘permission’, one must trespass on the land legally acquired from the commons during the enclosures.  Here is Clare bitterly railing on the subject:

I dreaded walking where there was no path
And pressed with cautious tread the meadow swath
And always turned to look with wary eye
And always feared the owner coming by;
Yet everything about where I had gone
Appeared so beautiful I ventured on
And when I gained the road where all are free
I fancied every stranger frowned on me
And every kinder look appeared to say
You’ve been on trespass in your walk today

From my essay “An Outing to Langley Bush” which can be read in its entirety here :

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