As a lover of trees in general and in particular Oak Trees which as I get older hold a certain fascination for me due to their longevity and my relative lack of, there is a day coming up which I only learned of relatively recently, well a few years ago if memory serves me well, and of which some of you may not be aware.
Have you ever heard of Oak Apple Day or Royal Oak Day?. It was a formal public holiday celebrated in England on 29 May to commemorate the restoration of the English monarchy, in May 1660. In some parts of the country the day is still celebrated and thankfully this includes my own County of Northamptonshire.
In 1660, Parliament declared 29 May a public holiday, “to be forever kept as a day of thanksgiving for our redemption from tyranny and the King’s return to his Government, he entering London that day.”
The public holiday, Oak Apple Day, was formally abolished in 1859, but the date retains some significance in local or institutional customs. It is, for example, kept as Founder’s Day in the Royal Hospital Chelsea (founded by Charles II in 1681).
These ceremonies, which have now largely died out ( I wonder how many Schools have children dancing round a Maypole these days?) which as I mention above is not the case in Northamptonshire, and which will be marked again this year –
They are perhaps continuations of pre-Christian nature worship. The Garland King who rides through the streets of Castleton, Derbyshire, at the head of a procession, completely disguised in a garland of flowers, which is later fixed to a pinnacle on the parish church tower, can have little connection with the Restoration, even though he dresses in Stuart costume. He is perhaps a kind of Jack in the Green and the custom may have transferred from May Day when such celebrations were permitted again after having been banned by the Puritans.
Those Puritans certainly knew how to dampen the spirits and we have our modern day equivalents but we won’t dwell on anything negative as I’m in a very positive mood as I write this.
In the Cornish village of St Neot the vicar leads a procession carrying last year's oak bough. The vicar blesses the branch at the Church of St Aneitus and it is thrown off the church tower. A new branch is hauled heavenwards replacing the old one. The following morning villagers wear a sprig of oak and change it for the yellow flower of artemisia boys love and a celebration begins. The punishment for not changing the sprigs of oak is punishable by being stung by nettles.
I remember as a child falling into a bed of nettles wearing only shorts (me that is not the nettles) :) and the itchiness and pain that followed, it’s hard to apply dock leaves to stings when they are all over your body.
The celebration in Northamptonshire is centred around All Saints Church in the centre of the town.
There has always been a church on the site of All Saints' since Norman times, although All Hallows, as it was then, was not the 'Mother Church' of the ancient settlement. The church we see today, however, is that built after the Great Fire of Northampton in 1675.
Yes we had our own Great Fire.
Following the Great Fire, a parliamentary commission was formed to rebuild the historic church and also the town. The Parliamentarian leanings of Northampton during the English Civil War had resulted in the razing of the castle by King Charles II after his invitation to reclaim the throne in 1660. Despite this, the Earl of Northampton, a friend and confidant of the King, persuaded Charles II to contribute 1000 tons of timber from the Royal forests of Salcey and Rockingham to rebuild the Church of All Saints. This together with the repeal of the 'chimney tax' somewhat endeared the King to the people of Northamptonshire. As a result, they and others throughout the country, contributed to the rebuilding fund.
Built in 1680, All Saints' Church dominates Northampton's town centre, and carries a statue of Charles II above its portico. The statue depicts Charles II dressed in a Roman toga, supposedly because the townsfolk did not wish for the statue to be placed there [on the church], but as Charles had helped with the rebuilding they were obliged to display a statue and this was their way of expressing their annoyance. The statue of King Charles II sculpted by John Hunt was erected on the portico parapet in 1712 above the royal coat-of-arms with the inscription 'CAROLUS II REX MDCCXII'
Underneath the statue on the full width of the frieze is the following text:
This Statue Was Erected In Memory Of King Charles II. Who Gave A Thousand Tun Of Timber Towards The Rebuilding Of This Church And To This Town Seven Years Chimney Money Collected In It.
The world and our Country along with it has changed at a rapid pace and all in probability the pace of change will accelerate in the coming years, The things we took part in as children and now look back on with nostalgia such as Maypole dancing, Harvest Festival and the like may still go on but will they survive into the future, and should we even care whether they do or not ?.
Personally I think we should cherish these things, not because of sentimentality and a perception that the past was somehow better than today, which if they could our forbears would likely disavow us of that belief pretty quickly, or because we have allegiances to a faith or institution such as religion, (which I don't) but because we are all rooted in the past in some way.
Change is good in many ways and that is the very nature of life itself, we have benefited in so many ways from positive change, but should we abandon our past and all its traditions ?
I leave you with that question.
BTW my own little Oak grown from an acorn has survived the Winter and now has leaves.