West Wood was the former (and perhaps more politically correct) name of the woodland today called Mad Bess Wood or Mad Bess’ Wood. The previous name is self-evident, this was the wood to the West of Ruislip. The origin of its present name, however, is steeped in mystery. Eileen Bowlt’s book Ruislip Past says there is no certain answer: “Here is an intriguing name, but alas, with no explanation of its origin, although many have been made up by fertile imaginations”. The Watford Observer shone some more light on the matter claiming that Mad Bess was the wife of an 18thCentury gamekeeper, a demented old woman who prowled the woods at night looking for poachers. “Beware Mad Bess” was the poacher’s motto and with good cause. Certainly, Bowlt says it was documented, in the 18thCentury, as part of a cluster of woodlands North Riding, Mad Bess, Youngwood, Standell’s Wood and Censor’s Wood, and it is only in recent years, Mad Bess has become the predominant name. The first record of the name in the press came in an article published in The Sporting Magazine from March 1805, reporting on the Berkeley Hunt. It featured again in 1837, when Charles Churchill, the owner of Young Wood farm and the employer of the John Brill, is quoted at a Magistrate’s court hearing into the murder of 15-year-old John Brill.
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