Wild Woodbury Bere Regis - A poetical story

20 November 2023
Wild Woodbury

Ray Wills, the Gypsy Poet, was commissioned to write and perform this poem at September’s 2023 Wild Woodbury Performing Arts Festival, Bere Regis, Dorset.

Wild Woodbury Bere Regis

 (A poetical story)

Upon Woodbury Hill


The St Marys chapel stood

high on the Woodbury hill

so rich with its Anchoret's well.


Where a festival and a fair was held

with Its tales all to be told

of its waters of health

and its tablet of gold

with its spring water deep

down 200 feet or more

in its water below.


Once Gypsies camped near Woodbury hill

it was the home of fairs

folks remember it still

with fortune telling booths and village gal's

olé in the tooth along with blacksmiths

tending hooves so well


Where Hardy penned and folks did boast

he shot at the famous fairground galleries the most

for as Hardy said Bere it were a blinkering place

for thousands came to this kingly place


Since way back in the 12th century

they sold ponies there and gathered some

on the hill of Hardy's Green

long before the days of Wareham inn the Rising sun

there were thin men and fat ones and bearded ladies too

miles away from the port of Poole


The Kingsbere Fair.

it grows there in the September autumn weeks

and the cold wind it blows

and all the durzet dialect

volks doth speaks.


The Gypsies worked the fairgrounds

and volks drank in the Sailor inn on the hill

where the villagers tapped the sweet ale

and volks sipped of the well waters

its waters of health

to give them that zing

and make them feel well.


With two headed calves,

dancers and performers alike

locals charged the Grokels

to park all their bikes

with coconut shies and nine pin stalls

there was lots of fun for girl and boy did like


It was held each September for a week

where folks did travel

across from local n Dorchester streets

from faraway places

Birmingham, Bristol Exeter

and also all of their london Cockney chums

with oyster day and penny day to greet some



It boasted it was the biggest in the south

those days are gone now

though the hill still stands so proud

with woodland copses

and green pleasant grounds

it lorded over this little town


Was where old Fred Bartlett

had his families fairgrounds stalls

such an attraction for each boy n girl.


Hardy- Local Bere villagers said

“They be Gipsy vo’k up yon",


Twas where the Gypsy folk gathered

so frequent its true,

whilst their tents and their benders

were on gallows hill

amongst the trees and the leas

in the autumn mornings early dew


Gallows hill was where once Judge Jeffries

did give out his deathly deal

the volks in the village

they do remember him still.


The Batemans and Hughes families

camped on the gallows hill

where Caroline Hughes

was born one morn

you can hear her singing reels


It was where they took the census

and paid all their lordly

Drax tithes and dues each autumn

though their clothes were sad and worn.


I walked awhile where Bere stream doth flow

I gazed at the water cress fields and springs below

whilst the cold breeze blew upon the downs

where fields of yellow cups all bedded down

the trees were so tall and bare without their leaves

amidst the cloudy skies in the cool day breeze


Where Barnes once built their homes of bricks

where Johnny Barnes got up to all his usual fancy tricks

with village gals and games of chase and kiss


Where St Johns church

and Durbervilles crest

still haunt the views

upon the lanes and twisted hues

where lovers walked two by two

yet my dreams and thoughts

were of me and you


Sir John he was no Romany

but he were a Rai

for he could talk the Romani

and gave them all the loving eye.


He had crafted a living

within the world of the free

from all of their money offerings

at the pilgrimage fees


For to take of the well waters

with its sacred promise so heavenly

and so he grew rich

and wealthy tis true.


Sir John Squire the Abbot

gave pretty Emily the eye

and took her down

to the Bere meadow below

n courted her there among the rye


She were born a Fancy

Emily washer name twere true

a daughter of Gideon

at oer in Poole.


She called all the yappy barking Jucks

each and every one

all by their mongrel names

she could do the Dukerrin fortune

and read all their leaves

and play all the card games with ease.


She could milk a goat

and ride a horse bare back and wild

she could identify ink caps,

puff balls wide


She knew where to find

wild watercress, field mushrooms and sorrel

there in wild Woodbury

in the early morning dew.


Where she danced in the meadows

without any shoes


He was her champion

he was her knight

her king of the Rai

she loved him dearly

he was her guy


She saw him daily

he made her heart leap

day times thoughts were only of him

night times she had no sleep

kisses in the moonlight

walks in the Woodbury trees

among the Woodbury meadows

rivers and streams


He bedded her down

upon the grassy deep mossy dew

and it was there he did love her

and gave her his love crown anew.


In Woodbury wild

he took him a pretty fancy Gypsy dame

he gave her his truce

and in Bere Regis St Johns church

he gave her his name.


In Woodbury country

where the cress it grew wild,

Sir John Squire the Abbot

took him a Gypsy damsel

he took him a bride.


Then there on a ridge

by the knap in the dell

he heard the St john church

chime out its bells so well

then Sir John he did say

they village bell ringers Emily

they do clang em so well

on this ere our wedding day


Then he promised her wealth from the well

upon the top of Woodbury hill ridge

when the cold wind blew

across the meadows


Farmer Doddings worked the land

horse and man in days gone bye

when chavvie urchins

and wild young zunners

ran the lanes and bitter tracks

they carried the sacks on their backs

and the young maids milked ole cows udders


There neath great tall oaks and vick tall stacks

through muds of Shitterton and farms a plenty

Hills of Woodbury and hard and frosted tracks

they walked the lanes old Sam, Joe n Mac

man and boy up Rye hill and back


Was where once there in the meadow

upon a time so long ago

the old Queen Elfreda

once had a mansion house

till twas laid low


After the murder of her stepson Edward

at Corfe Castle he died in the moat below

King John had a palace there too so long ago

in the old decayed village below.


On the Woodbury wilds downs

where in winter it doth heavily snow.

the meadows were rich

its springs all so deep

more than 200 feet below

where the cress beds grew

so green n sweet so wild and low.


Where Caroline Hughes sang her songs

in the spring

when the cuckoos first did call and sing

whilst at Stoborough meadows

the old folk tales do say

afore the varmer opens the gate

to let em all out

and they will all fly away.

Cuckoo cuckoo


Where the chaffinch did sing each spring day

where the wild winds blew free

and the varmers make hay,

where the chavies ran wild

and zunners ran free

on naked tip toes

not far from the Purbeck seas

afore the hard winters snow


At the Greyhound Inn

Kings Arms and The Royal Oak

they had a many brew

told many a joke

many a hearth tax gave out its smokes

tales told within them were of cows and man

long time ago in this fair land.


Though the Drax wall nearby

was 2 million bricks thick

all circled around the vast estate ditch

all his wealth took by his slavery rich

and the truth which be hid.


The bricks all were laboured

from the Doddings yards

3 brickyards brick maker men

where all of the Gypsies crafted them

all levelled like zen.


Whilst the waters

did springs there

in the Doddings farm gates

so deep underground

for it created the water cress

the wealth all around


The cress it grew green and so sweet

and its great wealth it grew

for the healing of man

from his head to his feet.


The Doddings farm grew

and the Drax properties too

though all under one roof

due to the Drax tithes

and his rich man crews

with their aristocratic golden rule.


Whilst the volks in their hundreds

they all travelled to Woodbury fair

from London and Dorchester towns

to the Woodbury hill pilgrimage

dell on the ground


For to taste n take of the wells waters

to make them young once again

and so well and so strong.


The thrush it doth sing there,

whilst down below in the bere village

the crows they did gather in the meadows

where the bere volks still tell.

those stories of old and tales of the well


The romance of the Abbot and the Gypsy

it was a long times ago

the great healing well waters

with its golden tablet so old

Beres rich cress beds

with their delicious springs

and of all the Gypsies

who danced there and sings


Beesom brooms on carts and wains

beers and cottons, boats and booths

shooting galleries for the young at heart

and old in the tooth

merry go rounds and swingboat rides

autumn nights and a Gypsy bride


By Ray Wills


(Photograph: Defensive earthworks at Woodbury Castle by Roger Cornfoot, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14095113)