Thursday, May 29, 2008

Oak Apple Day

We were taking a leisurely stroll around the Oak Wood at Trentham when it suddenly occurred to me how apt it was that we should be walking there on this particular day. The woods were quiet and peaceful with just the wonderful sound of differing bird song to keep us company.

Most prolific birds were, of course, blackbirds, crows and magpies but we also saw a jay flitting around in the branches, a buzzard soaring overhead and in the distance the sound of a cuckoo. I'd only mentioned a few posts back that it was years since I'd heard a cuckoo so it was wonderful to experience it. The weather was warm and dry and as we walked the sun began to peer through the leaves of the trees highlighting the gnarled and twisted branches.

Suddenly in the distance we saw the deer grazing under the trees as they made their way up into the woods, they seemed oblivious to us being anywhere near them. Usually at the first scent of humans on the air they scatter and hide but today they confidently carried on with their lunch.

Oak Apple, or Royal Oak day was celebrated on 29th May it being a celebration for the return of King Charles II and the day of his triumphal procession into London. The 29th May was also Charles's birthday and the oak is significant because during the Civil Wars, Charles had hidden in an oak tree to escape the Parliamentary troops after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. The tree in question was at Boscobel House in Shropshire where Charles spent several days in hiding and from whence he escaped dressed as a servant to begin his exile in France.

We visited Boscobel House a couple of years ago on our way back from Cosford. It is one of those fascinating old houses with plenty of hiding places and priests holes in which a fugitive could spirit themselves away.

Below is the spot where Charles II hid amongst the leafy branches of the Oak Tree. We were told on our visit that it wasn't this tree though as the one below is grown from a cutting from the original tree so it is sort of 'offspring of' the original.

In 1664 Parliament declared 29th May to be a day of thanksgiving and people would go to a special service in their church and wear sprigs of oak on their coats or hats in celebration. Apparently people caught not wearing a spring of oak or an oak apple (actually an oak gall) risked the chance of being whipped with stinging nettles or having their bottoms pinched because of their 'Roundhead' sympathies; in some areas 29th May is also known as nettle day. Apparently in Castleton in Derbyshire a special 'garlanding' procession is held, when a man (the King) carrying garlands on a frame on his shoulders, accompanied by his Queen and the children of the village, is led to the church where, after much dancing along the way, the 'garland' is lifted up to the church tower to be displayed. I'm assuming the 'King' has been safely released from it by then.

Oak Apple Day ceased to be a public holiday in the 1850s but was still celebrated, especially in rural areas, well into the last century. I remember my mother telling me about celebrating Oak Apple Day when she was at school; by the time I went to school it wasn't celebrated in any way.


  1. Boscobel House, you are bringing back so many fond memories of our life in Staffordshire. King Charles hiding in the oak tree! I had not thought about that for years.

  2. glad to bring back memories, acornmoon, I think it is a wonderful story - when I was a child I filled my head with tales of the Civil Wars and the return of King Charles - 'Children of the New Forest' was my favourite book - then I was wholeheartedly on the Royalist side - I suspect nowadays I would be a firm Parliamentarian:)