The unusually named Pissen Wood, near Rotherfield Greys, is special for a number of reasons, recently investigated by Gill Davies.
The derivation of the name ‘Pissen Wood’ is unclear. ‘Pissen’ is a Middle English word, literally ‘to piss’- which seems curiously inappropriate for such a beautiful spot! But old names do become modified from the original over the years. One suggestion form Chris Gilliam, Archivist at the Oxfordshire Record Office, is that pissen could be a corruption from a word like peas or piece, as in the name Pishill, a small hamlet in south Oxfordshire.
The National Trust currently manages Pissen Wood. It was transferred by the last owner of the Greys Court Estate, Sir Felix Brunner, in 1969. Paul Williamson, currently Custodian of Greys Court, says;:
“The wood is part of the 250 acres of Estate that have always remained with the property and have not been sold off over the years. Pissen Wood itself is classified as semi-ancient woodland; this probably means that it has always been woodland, but subject to alteration by Man. There is a history of coppicing in the area, the effects of which can still be seen in the woods today.”
As the wood has always remained with the property, it is interesting to speculate as to how many of the owners of the Court, through the ages, enjoyed the displays of bluebells and the dappled shade of the beech trees there. Some of them are commemorated in Rotherfield Greys Church by spectacular monuments. Did the fifth baron, Sir Robert de Grey, whose brass of 1387 lies there, walk through this wood? Did Sir Francis Knollys, Queen Elizabeth I’s Lord Treasurer of the Household from 1572-96, find time from his service at court to enjoy his country estate? Or was Pissen Wood simply regarded as a resource, providing supplies of wood and game?
Whatever the attitude of our predecessors, the Wood remains an area where we can delight in the changing seasons.
Such was Gill Davies' enjoyment of Pissen Woods that it inspired her to enter our Special Woods art competition in 2008. Below is a picture of her entry; a quilt depicting the bluebells the woods of the Chilterns are famous for: