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Birds Marsh Wood

Birds’ Marsh was not always Birds’ Marsh. In 1586, a manor survey of Langley Burrell described the common of the estate as including an area it called ‘Burchen Marsh’. It was called ‘Burth Common’ in 1715 and ‘Birch Marsh Common’ in 1779. In 1837, it was ‘Bush Marsh’ and by its enclosure in 1838, it was ‘Birch Marsh’ or ‘Burch Marsh’ or ‘Birds Marsh’ depending on which piece of documentation was consulted.

The lord of the manor, freeholders and customary tenants of Langley Burrell possessed rights to access and use Birds’ Marsh (along with the Common) according to local arrangements. By the seventeenth century, if not before, each property within the village possessed a specific number of rights of pasturage. These rights were called ‘leaze’ and dictated how many animals a commoner could graze. They were allotted for each qualifying property. The largest number of leazes were for the demesne of the lord of the manor. Those possessed of a right to leaze formed a committee of commoners with responsibility for the upkeep and management of the wastes. Relations between those with commoners’ rights and the lords of the manor were not always amicable, and gradually the Ashe family, who owned the manor from the mid-seventeenth century, brought leazes from the commoners. The legality of this was later questioned by the rector of Langley Burrell. Slowly control of Birds’ Marsh and the Common was concentrated in the hands of the manor. By 1817, the Lord of the Manor, Robert Ashe, had built a cottage there for a game keeper. This process culminated in the enclosure of Birds’ Marsh along with the Langley Burrell Common in 1838. The Marsh was thereafter in the full control of Ashe.

The woodland that makes up Birds’ Marsh is a haven for wildlife and has been enjoyed by the community for centuries. It also provided inspiration to the artist and etcher Robin Tanner. Robin first experienced it on a daily basis in 1920-1 when he was a sixth-former walking back and forth to school. In old age he reminisced:

Then came the wood called Birds’ Marsh, and the strong smell of its damp acid soil and foxes. Here in autumn there were frightening fungi under the oaks and beeches. In winter it was never lifeless, and in spring it was a glory of anemones, moschatel, wood sorrel, ferns and bluebells. All through the summer it was submerged in heavy green, looming and dark and wet even in the driest weather. Meeting the startling light as I left it and came out on to the hillside under the great chestnuts was always a shock.

The light may have been a shock for Robin, but it reminded him of a greater trauma, recalled by his father (who must have been almost a contemporary of Francis Kilvert the diarist):

It was here at this gateway that my father when a boy had seen what he called a “ghost funeral”, passing beneath the chestnuts into the dark wood. It was late evening, and he was frightened at the unwonted sight. He stood aside to let the nebulous procession pass, and, trembling, watched it fade into the trees. This matter-of-fact man never tired of describing the strange experience to us, and we in re-telling it loved adding details of our own.’

Birds Marsh Wood
Langley Burrell


Historic England TBC 

Nearby Points of Interest