I wrote this to promote the Bagley Wood Fun Run (in The Oxford Times)
The village of Kennington is squeezed into a narrow track of land between Bagley Woods and the River Thames. The ancient woodland was first mentioned in an Abbey Charter of 955 by which King Eadred granted certain lands including Bagley Wood to the Abbot of Abingdon Abbey. It must have been a lawless place in the 13th century when men were frequently assaulted and sometimes killed in Bagley Wood and, in 1327, the prior of the abbey was carried off into the wood and threatened with a horrible end unless he did the prior-nappers’ bidding.
After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Bagley Wood was bought by St John College, in 1619, for the princely sum of £600. The 550 acres of woodland are still owned by the college. It is used for commercial timber production, teaching, research, and amenity by members of the college. The villagers of Kennington can apply to the bursar of the college for permission to walk there. But on Sunday June 21 any reader is free to discover them by joining in the well- marshalled 5 km Fun Run/ Walk organised by Sylfest Muldal for Kennington Overseas Aid with the permission of St John’s. The serious runners go first followed by the fun runners, the walkers, the dogs and the babies.(See below for details) That all takes places beneath that primordial canopy with echoes of Robin Hood-like tales.
Access to the woods has not been without conflict in the past. An account of one after the enclosure acts is told by local historian, Robert Sephton and titled ‘Thomas Pratt is shooting rabbits in Bagley Wood’
I asked Robert to explain the background and he said ’Kennington and surrounding villages adjoining Bagley Wood claimed rights of common allowing them to collect ‘underwood, furze and fern’ on which they were dependent for fuel. But at the beginning of the C19th, St John’s College began to prosecute them for trespass. In 1835, the villagers found a leader in Thomas Pratt, a wine and tobacco merchant of St Aldates, who had taken a small holding in South Hinksey. Matters came to ahead in December 1838 when the college hired men to go into the wood with carts to remove any underwood cut by the locals. So the villagers armed themselves with bill hooks and hatchets and drove them off. The college held Pratt responsible and obtained a warrant for his committal to prison but he disappeared from the area. In 1848, the college obtained an Act of Parliament to enclose the wood.’
Who would have thought the tranquil and law abiding village of Kennington was the haunt of highwaymen and the scene of such events? Kennington is still an independent minded place in that it is the only village in the country that raises money every year for an overseas project. 2009 has seen the opening of a library in a secondary school in Benin and a preschool cum community centre in KwaZulu Natal opens in August, both funded by the villagers of Kennington. So if you join them, on this fund raising five kilometre walk for this years’ project Cecily’s Fund what will you see?
Terry Treadwell manages the saw mill, situated off the old Abingdon road and lives on site. He says ‘The woods have an abundance of wildlife including munkjack, roe deer, badgers and foxes. The birdlife is superb and sometimes even goshawks and buzzards are seen hunting. About 180 nest boxes were erected in 1990 and a further 320 in 2007. Along with the research in Wytham Woods, there is a long standing study of great tits and the relationship of their density to the habitat in Bagley Woods. Regular blood samples are taken and cameras study the feeding of young.’
Terry says the Bagley Wood saw mill sells to trade and public and
‘The most popular product is cord wood for log burning stoves. We also sell some hard wood, mostly oak and the soft wood available varies but includes larch, Norwegian Spruce and Douglas Pine. A fire in 2004 destroyed the old sawmill but was replaced with a new building in 2006.’
The business employs two men in the woods and two in the saw mill.
Sylfest Muldal organises the fun run but is also an amateur naturalist and keen photographer. In one short visit to the woods he photographed a large variety of butterflies including peacock, green veined white, comma and yellow archangel and elephant and lime hawk moths. At the time of writing, he photographed an early purple orchid.
To find out more about Kennington Overseas Aid go to the website www.koa.org. You can download an entry form for the fun run/ walk or contact Sylfest Muldal on 735995. Not being long, it is a good family event with prizes for runners , improvers and a nature challenge. Family entry (up to 4 entries is £10.)
Bagley Wood Fun Run /Walk starts at 11:30 on Sunday June 21st
It starts from Forest Side playing field off Upper Road ( signed)
Sadly The Bagley Wood Fun Run is no more. We ended KOA on its 50th Anniversary with a Golden Gala Night .(see pic) St John’s College has recently opened to the public and added new gates both to Bagley Wood and West Wood on the other side of the old Abingdon Road.