4 wonderfully bizarre things about Bricket Wood

The Picture House on School Lane is one of the area's most iconic buildings

The Picture House on School Lane is one of the area's most iconic buildings - Credit: Archant

A thriving village with a close-knit community and bagfuls of character, Bricket Wood is a favourite with young families that want to be close to London without losing all the laid-back calm of rural life.

A property in Bricket Wood

A property in Bricket Wood - Credit: Archant

The village is far from being a boring backwater, however - as Rachel Love discovered…

Witchcraft and nudism

Bricket Wood station

Bricket Wood station - Credit: Archant

There are definitely a couple of traits of Bricket Wood that are undeniably bizarre and this one is probably my favourite. Bricket Wood was originally home to Gerald Gardner, a Wiccan forefather that proclaimed the beliefs of contemporary Paganism. With deep roots through the village, attracting worshippers from afar, Gardner dismantled the 16th century Wiccan witch cottage found in Ledbury, Herefordshire, and reconstructed it in Bricket Wood’s Five Acres as a meeting point.

All of this seems straightforward but, somewhere along the line many members of Gardner’s original following hadn’t been told that Five Acres was the site for the Bricket Wood nudist camp, that many of the nudists there had taken an interest in Paganism, and that those naked people would be popping along to meetings and ceremonies in the cosy, Lilliputian-style cottage. Squashed together like naked, fleshy sardines, some members weren’t having any of it and left, traumatised and disgruntled. Others, however, threw caution to the wind and stripped down to their birthday suits.

Hanstead House

Hanstead House - Credit: Archant

How Bricket Wood stopped the invasion of the Nazis

Putting two and two together we could say that Gardner was an opportunistic, sexually divisive con artist that thrived off attention, exhibitionism, orgies and trickery. However, his ‘cone of power’ may tell you otherwise.

A property in Bricket Wood

A property in Bricket Wood - Credit: Archant

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Since his followers were generally of a mature age, unable to play an active role in the war effort, in 1940 they decided that enough was enough. Prancing, naked in a circle around a volunteer, they believed that once the volunteer had died from starvation and exposure to the elements, the ‘cone of power’ would grow in strength, target Hitler’s conscience and steer him clear of English shores. Now, in defence of the Bricket Wood pagans, we weren’t invaded by the Nazis and, despite two voluntary deaths and the respiratory illnesses that followed, the ‘cone of power’ had been used for the greater good.

The modern nudists

Bricket Wood’s ‘Spielplatz’, the ‘playground’ in German, and Five Acres are impossible not to mention in light of Gardner’s reign. Apparently the Spielplatz site marks the first time a naked woman had been featured on British television, when a documentary of the place was aired on ITV.

The naturist community is another bizarre, yet admirable aspect to Bricket Wood’s ever-changing personality. There has, as far as I’m aware, never been a clash between the clothed and the naked locals, never any inappropriate sights to be seen outside of the camp; Bricket Wood seems pretty happy with its alter ego. The members refer to the fully clothed outsiders as ‘Textiles’, like an uncanny play on Muggle versus Wizard.

The fancy house and rubbing shoulders with celebrities

So you can see that Bricket Wood did not have a conventional beginning and it continues to have an unapologetic way of springing surprises - past, present and future. Another little gem from Bricket Wood’s history is Hanstead House. Once owned by the Scottish entrepreneur, Sir David Yule, apparently the most important and influential British man to do business with India during the British Empire, the house is now used as a film studio. Random, I know, but it is another defining feature of the landscape.

I have taken many walks down Drop Lane, past the grand, wrought-iron gates of Hanstead House and towards the stream. So far I’ve seen Phil Mitchell from Eastenders… Could be better, could be worse. Downton Abbey’s Ed Speleers and Game of Thrones’ Alfie Allen have also filmed on the grounds of the estate.

A controversial future and a discovery

The ever mysterious goings-on behind the Hanstead gates have reared their heads several times over the years since planning permission for the construction of 138 new homes was filed for the 50 acres of parkland Hanstead House offers. It was only during this period of debate between the locals and the council that I heard about the Grade II listed building on site. It wasn’t the house itself, but Sir David Yule’s mausoleum and, with it, the altogether odd, pet cemetery he is buried alongside.

What’s more wonderfully curious are the lengths that were taken to construct the burial ground; complete with a carved stone rug, desk, chair, books and letters, Yule, even in death seemed to carry on working. It also has a roof, a plinth, iron railings and relief sculpture depicting Yule’s time in India, and a quote from Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘England’s Answer’.

It is all of these bizarre tales and historic features that make Bricket Wood the unconventional village that it is. As time passes, the land changes, neighbours move on and newcomers take their place, but the memories of Bricket Wood are all too wonderfully bizarre to be forgotten.