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News > Alumni News and Profiles > King's Remembered > Reminiscences from John Rammell (N43/47)

Reminiscences from John Rammell (N43/47)

Here, OB John Rammel remembers Cogley Wood and the mysterious man who lived in a shack
Cogley Wood, nr Bruton
Cogley Wood, nr Bruton

If you ventured up the River Brue, as we did on many occasions in the mid-1940s, no doubt looking for trouble, but also exploring the glorious Somerset countryside, you’d come to the dark mass of trees: Cogley Wood. A medieval woodland that flourished before even the King’s School was established, it seemed to breathe history and hold secrets of past generations who had trod this rich and bountiful land.

For us King’s School boys it was, of course, just a place to roam free. But Cogley Wood was dark and somewhat intimidating. There were paths that cut through the trees, tracks that led somewhere and perhaps nowhere, and places where the light filtered down through the trees to shadow. We knew these paths well; they gave us the freedom to roam.

Some way into the wood there was a specific location where two tracks crossed one another and there was a small plot of land that was bare of trees. Here, at this location, there was a hut, a derelict cottage that stood alone.  Well, perhaps it didn’t so much ‘stand’ as ‘totter’, its door held up by broken hinges and the windows plugged with rags. Seemingly abandoned, we knew that an old man lived within. We called him Tom. Tom Cogley. The place was surrounded by junk: tin cans, a broken barrow, a dilapidated bike, rusty tools, and sometimes a tattered pair of trousers hanging  out to dry. On occasion, a wisp of smoke rose from the chimney. But always Tom was quite alone, isolated, living in silence.

We knew that as we approached, laughing and shouting, he would emerge and, brandishing a stick or a spade he would yell at us to go away. Often he would be quite enraged. But, keeping out of range, we still passed quite close by. Not too close but, as we figured he didn’t own the woods, we certainly didn’t retreat.  There was a story that he had once been a charcoal burner and had simply stayed on when that job had come to an end. Maybe so. On occasions we had seen him in Bruton, a ragged figure, when he came in for supplies.

One winter day when the snow lay thick on the ground and the wind whipped and stung our cheeks, we emerged from the wood and set off back to Bruton, across the hard fields. Ahead there was a barbed wire fence dividing one field from another and where once, no doubt, there had been a hedge. It was a straight line, jagged and harsh, that held our gaze. In the distance we could see a flutter of fabric that shook in the cold wind. To us It looked rather like a scarecrow that had been knocked from its pedestal and now lay close to the ground. Surely it was a scarecrow because we could see what appeared to be a stuffed hand shaking in the wind. . And then closer still we could see a body and legs. And then we could see a face. The skin quite white, tight, and the eyes closed. It was no scarecrow.    It was Tom. There was no sign of life. He had been caught by the jagged barbs, held by them, inextricably held by them on a cold winter morning as, no doubt, he was making his way to the village for supplies.

Shocked, we ran into Bruton and told the police of our horrifying discovery. Later, Tom’s dwelling was torn down, the site cleared, his personal belongings carted away; leaving no sign that it had once been home and refuge to a reclusive old man.  

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