Dr. William Bell, Hainault Forest Hermit
Census 1901 Chigwell Row.
|147 Tent on Forest Tent William Bell Head Single 70 Herbal doctor own acc born Bethnal Green|
Known locally as Old Dido.
We live in the meadows,
And we toil in the soil,
Far away from your cities and glooms;
More cheery are we,
Though in rags we may be,
Than the pale faces are in your rooms.
"I was born in Bethnal Green on 5th March 1831, and christened at Shoreditch. I was the youngest of eight children and orphaned at the age of 11.Some of my relations were rich. One of my sisters married a captain; another owned a lot of property at Leytonstone. Although poor, I always upheld myself. I worked at the twine ground which stood where Mile End Union house is now. I sold fish. For nine years I was in the East India Docks and suffered three accidents there - given up once I was , but they didn't know Dr. Bell. I was always fond of the forest at Chigwell Row. I've blackberried here for over 62 years and never missed a season. I have walked to London many times to sell my produce. I have never darkened the door of a Union house, I have never begged from anyone and never been accused of theft. I have no hoard of gold to tempt a robber. Some people think there's gipsy blood in me, but there isn't. I'm pure English. I may be poor man but I have caused more excitement in this country that even the King has done. I sit here at night, smoking my clay pipe with an easy conscience, and sing with the birds. I've composed a lot of songs to sing.
is a tarpaulin sheet and some sacking suspended on a wire between two
trees, and I sleep on a bed of rags. I cook in the open and have a
charcoal fire in an old bucket. An old battered frying pan and a tea
kettle suffice. I keep my food and other necessaries in bottles and jars.
It can be difficult in wet summers but I am very fit. I tend a small plot
in the forest in which I grow potatoes, cabbage and French beans. I have
repaired the hedges and ditches to prevent the straying of cattle and not even
received a farthing for it. Although I am of short stature with unkempt
iron grey hair and beard, with corduroy trousers, a waistcoat and jacket
people say that even if my age is beyond the Psalmists allotted life span
I appear hale and hearty.
Dr William Bell tends his plot in the forest. His beans are growing on the left of the picture.
Left: The Hermit of Hainault Forest
Who has lived in complete seclusion for more than 20 years.
From The Tatler No 57. July 20th 1902
Below: Dido's Oak, Sheepwater. Photo © Peter Comber
Compiled from newspaper reports:
Western Times December 23 1903
Worcester Chronicle December 26 1903
Portsmouth Evening News May 17 1904
Essex County Chronicle May 20 1904
Essex Newsman May 21 1904
Western Times May 24 1904
Chelmsford Chronicle June 17 1904
Edinburgh Evening News June 17 1904
Lemington Spa Courier June 17 1904
Essex Newsman June 18 1904
"I've blackberried here for 62 years and never missed a season. I have walked to London many times to sell my produce."