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If You Go Down To The Woods Today…

August 1, 2010
Paupers Wood, West Didsbury

Paupers Wood, West Didsbury

…and I did get a big surprise! Fenced off from Nell Lane, and tucked in between the new developments at South, Paupers Wood is a magical place.

Paupers Wood, West Didsbury

Paupers Wood, West Didsbury

A paupers’ burial site that became a dumping ground for fly-tippers is being turned into an ethereal wonderland. For over a century Paupers Wood – a burial place for the Victorian poor from the old Withington Workhouse – has been shrouded in mystery.

Paupers Wood, which is thought to contain a Victorian cholera pit, was consecrated in the mid-19th century. There are no headstones left on the site and it is thought some of the dead have been exhumed. However, in the early 1960s a female skull was found on the site.

Paupers Wood, West Didsbury

Paupers Wood, West Didsbury

The Paupers Wood Project was set up by volunteers after mum-of-two Mary Machlachlan, a city lawyer, bought the old burial site from a housing developer.  Following a major clean-up to remove mounds of litter, the group’s 30 volunteers, who are working with local schools, are now hosting child-centred nature days on the two-acre site in West Didsbury. Called the Forest School, the project is based on a Scandinavian model where the emphasis is on children exploring nature under their own steam.

Paupers Wood, West Didsbury

Paupers Wood, West Didsbury

The project has been a major turnaround for the small patch of woodland on Nell Lane, whose blossoming wildlife species have, until recent years, been locked behind wrought-iron fences and steel gates.

The conservation group’s conservation work – which has earned them a Biodiveristy Hotspot Award – has allowed a variety of plants and birds to flourish. Jon Follows, the city council’s biodiversity strategy officer, said the site was a ‘great example of how community groups can make a difference in their local patch‘.

Paupers Wood, West Didsbury

Paupers Wood, West Didsbury

The wood, on the corner of Nell Lane and Princess Parkway, is home to huge copper beech trees, horse chestnuts, turkey oaks, limes, Norwegian maples, silver birches, goat willows, Italian alders and bluebells. Bird species include sparrow hawks, song thrushes, robins, wrens, blackbirds and wood pigeons.

Being shown around the site by Mary, it wasn’t difficult to understand why this project is enjoyed by so many children. You can inspire children in a classroom, but I know I’d find some of the work I do, so much easier if I had a living, breathing classroom like Paupers Wood, with which to fire their imaginations. There was a really mystical feeling about the place – amazing considering its location, just off a main road and near to a development area.

Paupers Wood, West Didsbury

Paupers Wood, West Didsbury

The wood carvings are absolutely exquisite and the memorial seat, made for one of the founders of the project, was really quite moving in terms its beautiful simplicity. A amazing way to be remembered. It’s a real sensory experience in this wood – although the volunteers do cut back, it seem so have been left entirely to Nature. Pathways seem to find themselves. Brambles “hide” beautiful carvings. A circle of logs and carved seats, together with the remnants of a fire, give a real sense of a natural experience.

Leaving the wood, and back out onto the normality of Nell Lane, is a strange experience. Now I really do know how Mary Lennox felt in Francis Hodgson Burnett’s “The Secret Garden”…

Paupers Wood, West Didsbury

Paupers Wood, West Didsbury

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