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 Mad Bess Wood

An interestingly named place, and one of those perennial questions that comes up on the notice board from time to time, "why is Mad Bess Wood so called?"

Before we even get to that where is it? Well to access it you need to leave Ruislip on the road to Northwood, called Bury Street where it leaves from the bottom of the High Street. Near to crematorium/Six Bells the name of the road changes to Ducks Hill Road, though throughout its length it is the A4180.

Passing the Six Bells you begin to climb a long hill. Just back from the brow there is a small turning to your left, turn here and you enter the car park for the woods. There are pedestrian lights here which are very unusual as there is a "stop" button at a height suitable for those on horseback to push!

Here is a map (use back button to return).

The woods themselves consist of 188 acres and were formally owned by Sir Howard Stranson Button before being acquired "the council" by way of a compulsory purchase order in 1936. This purchase was made in order to form part of  the newly thought out "green belt" around London, up until this time it had been thought that they would be built over.

Reference to an A-Z road atlas reveals that there is, within Mad Bess Woods itself Mad Bess Wood Cottage, and also "North Riding Wood" and "Young Wood" (Youngerwood), though these names are never used and the whole wood comes under the "Mad Bess" banner locally. Other sections named separately included Standell's Wood and Censor's Wood, but these sections seem not to get a mention in the A-Z. 

The aforementioned cottage can be more easily accessed from Breakspear Road North on the way up to Harefield by the sharp bend just before the entrance to Bayhurst Wood County Park (So grandly named because it has a few picnic tables!?). The area by the cottage is (was?) run as a camp site. The cottage was that of the game keeper in the late 1800's.

Please note that barbeques are NOT allowed in any of the local public open spaces including Mad Bess Woods.

So to that name.

Well if we look in Eileen Bowlt 's excellent book Ruislip Past, (which just might be available via this web site courtesy of Amazon, and if not send me an e-mail and I can point you to a seller) we find out that there is not an answer to this question!

I quote

"Here is an intriguing name, but alas, with no explanation of its origin, although many have been made up by fertile imaginations"

Now as this lady is the local historian who is Ruislip Online to argue?

Such fertile imaginations have, however, come up with the ghost of a headless horsewoman most often......so for those wanting a reason this vision certainly fits the name! 

But hang on, the Watford Observer states, with some authority:-

Mad Bess was the wife of an 18th Century gamekeeper, a demented old woman who prowled the woods at night looking for poachers. "Beware Mad Bess" was the poacher's motto, with good cause, by the sound of it.

(In 1837 15 year old John Brill was murdered in the woods, so there maybe at least one ghost in there!)

Finally, as this area has such an intriguing name it is used on the car stickers available free from Ruislip Online which read:-

Find us at


You Wood be Mad Bess not to

If you want one the only conditions are that you actually live in Ruislip, or very local to it, and that you don't just lob it in the bin! Interested? Send in an e-mail with your address....

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