One of the more popular pieces of historical curiosity published here of late was the 1925 article about Cannock Chase – ‘This wild land of heather and gorse‘, which local history dynamo Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler found in the newspaper archives and transcribed for readers.
Susan Marie Ward of Staffordshirebred understands exactly how I feel about my beloved wild place, and has today shared with me something remarkable – it’s a book of essays about Cannock Chase, first published as articles in the Express & Star written under the name Pitman, whom we are told is one M. Wright. The book was published in 1933, entitled ‘The Best of Cannock Chase’.
Susan has been good enough to scan this beautiful book for me, and periodically I will feature here articles from it – and I don’t think there’s any place better to start than the story of Dick Slee, beautifully told here.
This will be particularly interesting to local copper Simon Guilfoyle, who has lately been exploring Cannock Chase on his bike and asked me about the location of Dick Slee’s Cave.
Comments welcome: here, or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.
THE HERMIT OF CANNOCK CHASE.
The hermit of Cannock Chase was Dick Slee, who made for himself a turf hut in a hollow at the Oakedge end of the Marquis’ Drive.
Dick made friends with a hare which became his daily companion, and the hermit was heart-broken when his pet was chased by hounds and killed.
Slee was formerly a labourer in the service of the Ansons of Shugborough. Being of a shy and retiring disposition, he cherished a strong desire to retire into a quiet corner of the Chase where he could enjoy the life of a hermit.
He persuaded his master to permit him to stake out a small plot of land and there set up his humble dwelling. To this spot Dick carried a few bricks daily for some weeks, and there he built his hut of turf upon the firmer foundation of bricks. He staked out his little garden, and planted a few trees.
Folk in the village not far away took a kindly interest in Dick and often sent their children with tasty morsels for his meals.
Open moors were a great joy to the hermit, and, wearing a long brown coat which reached below his knees, he would sit for hours at his hut door in reverie. In the birches and laburnums of his garden there were singing birds. At the foot of the plot there was a spring of water.
“The Hermit in the Wood” people called him, and there were some of the villagers who tried to associate him with uncanny influences. “Be sure to keep my greyhounds away from Dick’s Cave, for I would not have his hare killed for all the world,” said Anson to his men.
One day, however, a mistake was made, and terrified Bess had to scamper for her life when the greyhounds approached. Bess beat the hounds and made straight for the Hermit’s hut, and just as Dick opened the wicket to receive her, Bess dropped dead at his feet. Everybody in the village was grieved when they heard the bad news, and Dick’s old master said, “I would not have had this happen for a thousand pounds.’ Dick tried to console himself by framing his feelings in verse :—
Poor Bess, alas, is dead!
Nought but bad luck for me;
She had no soul to save,
Yet Bess I lov’d to see.
Each day she did around
My humble cot attend,
She was my sole companion,
And my silent friend.
Dick made a vault in which he desired to be laid to rest some day, and in this he buried Bess.
Miserable melancholy laid its grip on Dick after the loss of his pet, and the parish authorities thought it advisable to remove him to Rugeley workhouse, and it was there he died.
Relic hunters made havoc of Dick’s hut and garden, and little more than a few bricks in a small hollow remained within a few years to show the spot where the Hermit of Cannock Chase lived in the last quarter of the eighteenth century.