Perry Wood: A Midnight Deal with the Devil
Perry Wood is what remains of an ancient forest that once stretched from Worcester down almost to Oxford. Now nestled around the south east of the City of Worcester, it was claimed as a Royal Chase by Henry VIII and said to be his favourite hunting place. The Battle of Worcester was the climactic set piece of the English Civil War. Although one of three clashes around the city during the war, it is commemorated as the last stand of the Royalist cause and the final triumph of Cromwell's Parliamentarian army. Charles II and his forces fortified the city walls and prepared to be besieged by the now vastly greater “Roundhead” forces, some of whom were camped in Perry Wood.
Legend tells of more sinister preparations carried out by Oliver Cromwell. The night before the planned storming of Worcester city, the future Lord Protector quietly left his camp on the slopes looking down on the city accompanied by his Colonel Lindsay. They walked straight into Perry Wood. There in a clearing, beneath a great oak tree, Cromwell had arranged a meeting with none other than the Devil himself. He asked for victory in the coming battle and for an extra ten years of assured life to enjoy his all but guaranteed position as leader of the nation – in return he offered his very puritan soul. The Old Beast agreed but haggled the requested life assurance down to seven years, with Cromwell turning to his colonel and famously declaring - “Now Lindsay, the battle is won and I cannot wait to engage!” The rest is history, the general was victorious and Charles fled into exile. Cromwell lived out his seven years in eventful and bloody style, climaxing with him actually being offered the crown which he refused. Unsurprising as he fought so hard to abolish the monarchy but some said he didn't want to push the terms of his diabolical contract too far!
The Lord Protector of the Commonwealth died almost on the exact anniversary of his alleged Satanic bargain, seven years later on the 3rd of September, after a very sudden bout of malaria. Indeed, his death was so quick that suspicions were raised whether he had been poisoned. He was not to rest in peace either. Upon the Restoration of the Monarchy the new King Charles II had the body of Oliver Cromwell disinterred, publicly beheaded, then hurled into a bog, with the head displayed on a pike outside Westminster for the next twenty years. The monarchy thrived but what of the faithful city of Worcester? The fabulous Georgian palace of the Guild Hall along the High Street has a strange stone effigy carved directly above the main door. It represents a bizarre union of Oliver Cromwell and the devil, merged together as a leering fiend with it's pointed ears nailed to the archway, while Charles I and II stand either side of the doorway. A lasting testament to the power of legend and folklore.
Today Perry Wood is a shadow of it's former glory but when walking through the forest early on a quiet morning it doesn't take much imagination to almost hear the hunting horns of Henry VIII and flintlock blasts from the Civil War. Modern ghost hunters sometimes hold vigils through the dark hours and it does have an ill aspect about it at night. One man even once reported being chased by a giant invisible creature crashing through the undergrowth! “Cromwell's Oak” was marked on old maps until it's felling sometime during the late 1800s but many strangely twisted old oaks still create an otherwordly atmosphere in this wonderful city wood. My pictures were taken during every season of the year.
One of a couple of "tree holes" where modern pagans often leave offerings
Perry Wood in spring
Path through the woods
Perry Wood in winter
The effigy of Cromwell merged with the Devil above the Guildhall door