By CleanSteve

Sydenham's Farm, near Customs Scrubs, Bisley

On the spur of the moment I decided to go looking for the Wittantree, an  ancient local meeting place of the council for Bisley Hundred, which was the centre of local ‘government’ in older times. There would have been ‘courts’ and decision making about the community at a central meeting point. 

I seem to be the only person locally who seems to know about this. When I discovered the eggs from our farm shop come from Wittantree Farm, just three hundred yards from Stancombe Beech farm shop my ears and brain were alerted.

I've looked at many maps to try to find if a 'Wittan Tree' still stands. Last month I made a discovery when one was indicated on a 19th century Ordnance Survey map, although it was in a slightly different place to where I'd previously searched. Today I went to the spot to have a look and within fifty yards there was a massive tree standing on its own by the old stone wall in a field. A footpath down the edge of the field led directly to the tree. It is marked as the Wysis_Way, which I know to be a modern name for the ancient trackways that go across country. The locally bit links Painswick with Bisley and then Cirencester, formerly the second largest Roman City in Britain.

I was so pleased to find the tree, even though it is not that old, as it stands out as an important marker in the landscape, a role trees and standing stones have always had in ancient times. Standing at the spot I could see it was focal point for miles around being on the edge of a steep valley starting just a few yards away, where a spring emerges to cut away a valley and become one of two or three feeders of the important Slad Brook.

A quarter of a mile away is a big open field called 'Custom Scrubs', which I've known for some time was an ancient settlement site. At one point this had been a Roman settlement. The Witan was a component of the Anglo-Saxon era in the centuries before the Norman invasion of Britain in 1066.

I walked north towards Painswick for only a few hundred yards dropping don past the spring and the small stream it formed. A little further down where the steep valley began to fall sharply, was Sydenham's Farm. I'd driven through it as the lane goes straight through the farm yard as it drops to the valley bottom where a few houses remain from the era of the thriving woollen trade.

I'd never seen the farm from this vantage point, standing close to the spring, and I thought it looks like a classic Cotswold hill farm, of the type that I first stayed in when I came to work on a similar farm in 1975, two miles to the east of here. It was built in the 16th century and added to in the 17th century. It is Grade 2 Listed.

I'd forgotten I'd blipped about the tree last year!  I added a lovely quote about it from Laurie Lee..

The Witan was the occasion when the King would call together his leading advisors and nobles to discuss matters affecting the country. It existed only when the King chose and was made up of those individuals whom he particularly summoned.

Also, under the Anglo-Saxons there had been regular meetings, or moots, for each county (or shire) where cases were heard and local matters discussed. The 'shire moot' was attended by the local lords and bishops, the sheriff, and most importantly, four representatives of each village. After the Conquest, this meeting became known as the County Court and it introduced the idea of representative government at the local level.

For the full text see the English Parliament website here:

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