Council Chairman in Court

The Chairman of Woodford Parish Council appeared at the Chancery Division of the High Court as a result of actions he took to reopen a footpath.

The story starts about ten years before the court events took place, Woodford was very different to how it is now.
Walking up the High Street from the Dukes Arms, after passing the then recently constructed but now former Infant School, the next buildings on the right were those in Newtown, specifically Constable Walk. The whole area between the school and Constable Walk was a field known as Dovehouse Close.

At the end of Whittlesey Terrace (or Whittle Lane as it was known then) there was one large house known as Rose Cottage (approximately at the present-day junction of Rose Terrace and The Leys). There were no other properties in the field known as Meeting Close. A track went off to the left to the Baptist Chapel along the side of Meeting Close. The track also provided rear access to properties on the High Street between the Dukes Arms and Infant School. At the rear corner of the infant School grounds there was a stile. From this point a footpath continued across the field to the High Street exiting opposite Eady’s Row.

This second field was known as Dovehouse Close was owned by Mr and Mrs Gunn. In the late 1890s they had a row of ten houses built in Dovehouse Close with workshops to the rear and allotments to the front. The row of houses was known as “New Row” on the 1901 census but later renamed as Sunnyside. Sunnyside was, as it is now a private road, and was “gated” just before the first house. People continued to use the footpath from the end of Whittlesey Terrace to Eady’s Row much to the annoyance of the Sunnyside tenants / allotment holders and the landowner, Mrs Gunn.

The landowner took steps to secure the area and chained and locked the gates at each end of the footpath, much to the annoyance of other villagers. The Parish Council took up the case and made numerous requests of Mrs Gunn to re-open the path. Mrs Gunn refused, and on 3 January 1907 the Chairman, Mr Charles Neale accompanied by Mr Bertie Perrett broke the locks at both ends of the footpath to permit free access.

The local press takes up the story

11 January 1907

Woodford Footpath Dispute

On Thursday morning as Mrs Gunn had not opened the path according to the notice sent from the Parish Council meeting a large number of people gathered and at 10 o’clock some of the members of the Parish Council met. The Chairman (Mr C Neale) explained that the Council were opening the path in the interests of the inhabitants of Woodford and not through any spite toward Mrs Gunn. Mr Bertie Perrett then assisted in opening the gate and a large number of people walked through the field, the Council opening the path at the end of the field. At the close the chairman said the path was opened in the interest of the inhabitants of Woodford and the Council would see it was kept open, and if Mrs Gunn had it closed again the Council would open it at once.

12 April 1907

The right of way dispute which caused some little stir at Woodford a few months ago is likely to lead to proceedings in the law courts. It will be remembered that the Parish Council, at the request of the parishioners removed obstructions that had been placed upon a much-used footway, and now it is said the owner of the land across which the path runs, has issued writs against some of the leading parties in the proceedings. The Parish Council have now sought the aid of the District Council in the matter, and that body has appointed a committee to investigate.

3 May 1907

Regarding the alleged obstruction of a footpath at Woodford, the (District Council) committee reported that they had taken legal evidence from both sides and had taken legal advice, but the report from their legal adviser had not yet arrived and consequently the matter was adjourned for a month

8 November 1907

On Saturday before Mr Justice Parker in the Chancery Division, the action of Gunn v Neale and another came on for hearing on a motion by the plaintiff for judgment in default. The plaintiff, Mrs Elizabeth Gunn, wife of George Gunn of Woodford sued the defendants Charles Neale, baker and grocer and Bertie Perrett (sued as Bertie Pettitt), furnaceman, both of Woodford for an injunction restricting defendants from trespassing on plaintiff’s land. Plaintiff, as owner of the land called Dovehouse Close in Woodford Northamptonshire, said that on January 3 last defendants wrongfully entered the close, broke down and removed a gate and fences, the property of the plaintiff and walked across the close wrongfully claiming that there was a right of way across the close from the stile adjoining Mrs Bird’s Close, called the Meeting Close to the high road from Twywell. Mr Mackenzie for the plaintiff said there was no defence and the plaintiff proposed to take an injunction as claimed in the statement of claim. He did not ask for any damages – His lordship granted the plaintiff an injunction restraining defendants from trespassing upon the close mentioned in the statement of claim with costs.

6 December 1907


...It was reported that Mrs Gunn had made an offer to divert the footpath at Woodford providing the Council undertook to discontinue the traffic over her field in the future. The Parish Council wrote to say they had agreed with Mrs Gunn’s suggestion and asked the rural District Council to agree and accept the offer. This was agreed to.

To conclude

This new footpath was routed around the outside of the school playground. The route became a legal right of way, and was known by many as the “Righta”. The footpath still links the High Street with Rose Terrace.


The Mrs Bird mentioned is no relation to me.

Mrs Elizabeth Gunn was a Draper living in Newtown 1853 – 4 December 1909. Elizabeth Neall was the third wife of widower George Gunn marrying him on 19 June1897 at St Mays Church, Woodford. George was 21 years her senior.

Interesting to note that whilst the reports refer to a large number of villagers being involved in the re-opening of the footpath, the photographs suggest the majority of followers were children.