The Langley Bush

The Langley Bush was an old whitethorn tree that stood at the junction of the parishes of Ufford, Upton, Ailsworth and Helpston and was the traditional meeting place of Langdyke Hundred and the hundred court.

It was a key landmark for John Clare, not least as one of the favoured haunts of the local gypsies, with whom Clare had a particular affinity.

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.
What truth the story of the swain allows
That tells of honours that thy young days knew,
Of ‘Langley Court’ being kept beneath your bowers

The original bush was one of the victims of the enclosure movement, as Clare notes

By Langley Bush I roam, but the bush have left its hill

A new Langley Bush has been planted in recent years and can be seen from King Street just before the sharp turn west towards Southey Woods after Heath Farm.

Some time after the destruction of the first Peterborough monastery in 920 or thereabouts, an area comprising eight hundreds at the northern end of Northamptonshire became a largely autonomous judicial unit administered from Oundle and call the eight hundreds.  One of these was the double hundred of Nassaburgh, which comprised the Vill of Peterborough (the original Medeshamstede) and the hundred of Langdyke, the rural area surrounding the Vill.

Throughout the history of the Peterborough Liberty or Soke under the abbots, the hundred courts were centres for both administrative and legal business.

An insight into the functioning of the Langdyke Court is provided in the diaries of the Third Earl Fitzwilliam.  In his letter of 31 July 1701 to his Steward, Francis Guybon, he tells how John Carter, Lord Exeter’s coachman, called and told him a story of a highway robbery near Maiden’s grave (a cow pasture between Wansford and Stamford) and states that ‘It is a great loss, but I hope that the country will not be forced to pay for it’ (Hundreds were collectively responsible for losses by highway robbery).  On 7 May 1702, he wrote again to Guybon, stating that ‘Mr Ash brought a letter from the Langdyke jury desiring that I lend them £50 at interest’ to cover the costs of the robbery.  Previously he had written, ‘As to lending the countrey money to pay off the robbery money, I could very ill spare it at this time being forc’t to make use of all my money at this time and more then all, but the countrey shall not want money from mee if they cannot as easily gett it from another hand, for it’s much better to pay a little interest till the rents will pay it off, than to make an assessment in the Soake which will come hardly from the tenants.’

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