Although it is less than 7 miles from St Margarets you’ve probably never heard of Perry Oaks and you’d be hard pressed to find it on a map - but according to legend this medieval hamlet, now buried under concrete at Heathrow, is where the last wolf in England was killed.
Perry Oaks and Heath Row were small hamlets on the western extremity of Hounslow Heath. In his 1935 book “Highwayman’s Heath” Gordon S Maxwell wrote…
“In Heath Row are some old cottages which might be in the heart of Devonshire, for their antiquity, their picturesqueness, and lonely situation. Very few people ever see them, for so few go along this road….no motorist would ‘waste’ his time (thank Heaven!) on this mere by-road with the arterial horrors so near.
Perry Oaks is even smaller; a few scattered cottages, a delightful old farm and some orchards and meadows - and there it is. It is hardly a hamlet, even, but it is nevertheless a beautiful spot. Few have ever heard of it, and if you ask the average person if they know it they look at you as if you were enquiring for a place in Cumberland…instead of one hardly a dozen miles from London…Therein lies its charms.”
For all its anonymity Perry Oaks, which is now underneath Terminal 5, did warrant a mention in the 1868 edition of “All the Year Round”…
“Hounslow Heath was once an oak forest that spread its green boughs from Staines to Brentford, and there is an old tradition that the last wolf in England, killed centuries ago, was hunted down at Perry Oaks in that neighbourhood.”
Of course lots of other places claim to be the location of the death of the last wolf in England. “Popular Romances of the West of England”, published in 1903 states that Ludgvan, near Penzance was the home of a gigantic specimen and the last of his species. He carried off a child and was eventually tracked down by the local peasantry. The village of Barthomley in Cheshire makes the same claim and has named a local brook the Wulvarn in memory of the poor beast. The same distinction is also claimed by Wormhill in Derbyshire where it says the last wolf was killed in the sixteenth century. Another strong contender is Humphrey Head in Cumbria where it seems the last wolf was killed in the fourteenth century, inspiring a poem…
'And now once more to Humphrey Head It makes with faltering bounds- And whither are the hunter And where are the abiding hounds?'
Mrs. Jerome Mercier
Local historian Gordon S Maxwell, author of ‘Highwayman’s Heath’ was unable to find any further information on the Perry Oaks wolf but he was inspired by the legend to visit the hamlet…
“Twilight was fast closing into night as I sat on a field gate, smoking, and let my imagination run riot, trying to picture what the place must have been like in those far-off days when giant oaks covered the now cleared ground, and the traveller might meet the dreaded wolf in any forest glade….All at once I was conscious of a rather uncanny feeling; for out of the darkness gleamed two green eyes. I watched fascinated. Yes, it was no hallucination- it was a wolf’s head!…I did not move, but still gazed spellbound. There was no sound, no footstep was audible, but without doubt there was a shadow of a huge grey wolf, magnified and slightly distorted by the mist. It was terribly real - and yet so unreal!…If the beast had just passed across the view, and so out of sight, I might still think that I had seen the ghost of England’s last wolf, had not a whistle sounded close by, and the animal turned quickly. A man emerged from the copse…and the mystery was cleared up, for when the “wolf” got near I saw what it was - a large Alsatian dog.”
It turned out that the dog was called Rex and his owner knew nothing about the legend of the Perry Oaks wolf. Gordon S Maxwell dismisses the man as being ‘pleasant but entirely unimaginative!’ So to avoid similar admonishment be careful the next time you are waiting for your baggage at Terminal 5. That shadowy grey shape slipping behind the trolleys or lurking underneath the carousel could be an illegal alien but it might just be the ghost of the last wolf to be killed in England - at Perry Oaks, less than 7 miles from St Margarets.
The wolf is generally thought to have become extinct in England during the reign of Henry VII (1485-1509), or at least very rare.
– from Martyn Day