Robin Hood’s Oak, Great Horkesley, Essex

Legendary Tree (lost):  OS Grid Reference –TL 96 28

Archaeology & History

In more than twenty volumes about Robin Hood in the Northern Antiquarian library, no mention can be found of this all-but-forgotten site, first recorded (I think) in September 1637, in the boundary perambulation account of northern Colchester.  In days of olde, folk walked the boundaries annually and so the description given here follows their very footsteps – although the landscape has obviously been altered in places since then.  Because of the length of the entire perambulation their account is rather long, so I’ve cut to the piece relating to our legendary oak tree, which gives a good idea of its location.  We meet up with them at a place called Motts-Bridge, just above a place that is today called Seven Arches Farm (TL 9630 2595):

“…and so over Mott’s-bridge, and so cross the river by Nicholas Ayleward’s howse into the meadowe crossinge over to the lower ende of West-fielde, and from thence to Buttolph’s brooke leavinge the Brooke alwais upon the left-hand, and so along to Thomas Abrige (which is righte against Robin Hood’s oake). And from thence to Black-brooke under Chesterwelle and so along the Rampiers by Horkesley Heathe to the brooke that is under Langham-park-corner…”

P.H. Reaney (1935) proposes that the ‘Rampiers’ in this account is the Iron Age hillfort of Pitchbury Ramparts.

The description of its whereabouts isn’t too clear, but in a subsequent and much longer perambulation account from August 1671, some extra topographical features are mentioned.  Starting not far from Mott’s Bridge, down Shett’s Hill to Newbridge,

“and then into the Fields in the occupation of Matth. Ayleward…through a gate a little above the Bridg: and soe along to Matth. Ayleward’s Yard, crosse the River into Matth. Ayleward’s Meadowe, and crosse that Meadowe into the lower part of Westfields, neare to which is a Foote-bridge cross the river, which is called Mott’s-bridge.  And soe along through West-fields to a Gate in a lane at or neere the north ende of a Meadow of one Mrs —, now in Samuel Duglet’s occupation, which lane parts West-fields from Bergholt, as the Parsons of each Parish, whoe were both present, affirmed; and, upon a Tree standing neere to which Gate is set a crosse.  And from thence to Butolph’s brooke, leaveing the brooke allwaies  upon the left-hand; and soe along through Mr Leming’s Meadows and Woods at the ende of them to a Bridge called Thomas Abridge, leading on to Horkesley Heath, which bridge is right against Robin Hood’s Oake, that stood on the pitch of the hill. And from thence along the Naylande Roade over Horkesley-heathe to Blackbrooke under Chesterwell, which Brooke runnes crosse the way at the foote of Horkesly cawsy…”

This second account seems to speak of the tree in the past tense, telling us that “Robin Hood’s Oake, that stood on the pitch of the hill”, but we can’t be completely sure.  I presume that there’s no longer any trace of this legendary oak tree; however, considering the fact that oaks can live to an incredible age, it may be worthwhile for a local antiquarian to follow this ancient boundary and see if, perchance, any remaining tree stump might still be there.  Y’ just never know…..

There are several other place-names in Essex relating to our mythical outlaw, including Robinhood End at Finchingfield described in 1699, and a farm of the same name nearby; plus a Robin Hood’s Inn near Loughton. (Reaney 1935)  There are probably a few more hiding away in field-name records…

NB:  The grid-reference map linked to this site is an approximation.  If someone can find the exact spot where the tree stood, we’ll update its position.   

References:

  1. Morant, Philip, The History and Antiquities of the Most Ancient Town and Borough of Colchester, W. Bowyer: London 1748.
  2. Reaney, P.H., The Place-Names of Essex, Cambridge University Press 1935.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  51.920339, 0.856044 Robin Hood\'s Oak

Temple Tree, Templeton, Newtyle, Angus

Sacred Tree: OS Grid Reference – NO 31339 42894

Getting Here

The tree is at Templeton on the west hand side of the Newtyle to Balkeerie Road travelling north, just before the bend in the road at Templeton Farm.

Archaeology & History

The only written record of the tree is in Strathmore Past and Present by the Reverend J.G. M’Pherson (1885): 

Standing Proud

“After driving two miles eastward from the village of Newtyle along a most excellent level road, we enter the united parishes of Eassie and Nevay.  The time-honoured boundary-mark is a conspicuous old ash, which popularly goes by the name of the Temple-tree. Tradition cannot guess its age. It is of considerable diameter, but quite hollow from the ground upwards for twenty feet. The bark is stripped off in several parts, and the thin shell of wood exposed is quite worm eaten; here and there being quite worn through, forming a rude door and rugged windows for the weird like interior.

“Large branches spread out, half dead-and-alive, with some foliage, scantily furnished with the life-giving root-sap. Could it speak it would tell of many a strange incident in its vicinity or underneath its arms. Its appearance might almost take one back to the time when the Templars left the neighbourhood; thus fixing its curious appellation”.

Sadly the tree described in the above quotation from 1885 has perished, but, just as it was not growing at the time of the Knights Templars’ local involvement, it is not unreasonable to speculate that it was a daughter of an ash tree that had formed a parish boundary marker of the original estate at the time of the Templars or even before.  And now a daughter tree of that venerable 1885 tree grows in its place, the Temple-tree of the present day.

Various writers have attested to the Templar presence in Meigle, indeed M’Pherson writes:

“When the Knight Templars were in pomp…they had considerable interest in Meigle, several lands in the parish still being known as the Temple Lands. We prefer this derivation to the common one of templum, any religious house”.

In describing the now famous Meigle Pictish stones in the New Statistical Account, the Reverend William Ramsay (1845) writes;

“…A more satisfactory account of them has been suggested by Captain T.P. Mitchell, …He considers them as neither more nor less than the monuments of the Knights Templars, who unquestionably had a burying-ground at Meigle”.

While Mitchell was wrong in his attribution of the carved stones, he was clearly aware of the continuing memory of the Templars.

Modern research has shown that many of the Templar estates and lands in Scotland remained as separate fiscal entities within the Hospitaller lands up until at least the Reformation, which may explain the enduring Templar nomination of our tree.

Note: The tree formed the 19th century boundary of the parishes of Eassie and Nevay to the north, and Newtyle, both in Angus.  We must assume the Templar lands boundary has been incorporated into the later parish system.

Note: This is not a clooty tree – please treat her with respect.

References:

  1. Rev William Ramsay, Parish of Alyth, The New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1845. 
  2. Rev J.G. M’Pherson, Strathmore Past and Present, S. Cowan & Co: Perth, 1885. 
  3. Robert Ferguson, The Knights Templar And Scotland, The History Press: Stroud 2010

© Paul T Hornby 2020, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.572946, -3.119094 Temple Tree

Crown Tree, Keillor, Perthshire

Legendary Tree (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NO 27279 40789

Getting Here

The Crown Tree, shown on the 1865 6″ OS map

The site of the tree may be seen from the north side of the Kettins to Newtyle road, just before the Perthshire-Angus boundary sign. It stood on the south-west side of the dip at the far end of the field, next to the raised causeway.

Archaeology & History

Nothing now remains of the tree.  The Ordnance Survey name book gives the following description, attested by Hugh Watson of Keillor, Thomas Mole of Denside and Charles Wood of High Keillor:

“[Situation] About 32 chains NE of Keillour. A large tree situated on the farm of Keillor. It is traditionally stated that Barons held their court under this tree, also that criminals were executed on it. Whence the name.”

Crown Tree stood left of the dip in front of the causeway

The tree was about 160 feet to the south-west of the boundary between the parishes of Kettins and Newtyle, on the Kettins side, both of which parishes were historically in the county of Angus, so it was likely also to have been an ancient boundary marker. Keillour, with the Parish of Kettins is now in Perthshire.

Based on the evidence of the 25″ OS maps, it seems the tree was felled sometime between 1900 and 1921.

Reference:

  1. Ordnance Survey Name Book, Forfar (Angus) Volume 52, 1857-61

© Paul T. Hornby, The Northern Antiquarian 2017

 

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  56.553481, -3.184489 Crown Tree

Wallace’s Oak, Larbert, Falkirk, Stirlingshire

Legendary Tree:  OS Grid Reference – NS 847 836?

Also Known as:

  1. Wallace’s Tree

Archaeology & History

The archaeology and traditions ascribed to this ancient tree (exact position unknown) is based on words that were first penned two hundred years ago.  It was thankfully recorded with a reasonable description when William Nimmo wrote about the great Sir William Wallace in the second edition of his Stirlingshire (1817) work.  Known about in oral tradition by local people, Nimmo told how:

“Torwood was a place where he and his party, when engaged in any expedition in this part of the country, often held their rendezvous, and to which they retreated in the hour of danger.  Here is still to be seen an aged oak, well known by the name of Wallace’s Tree; which seems to have been, even then, rotten and hollow within, and is said to have often afforded a lodging to him and a few of his trusty friends. It is supposed to have been one of the largest trees that ever grew in Scotland.  It is now almost quite decayed; but, from its ruins, appears to have been of an uncommon size. The remaining stump is no less than eleven or twelve feet in diameter. It stands upon the summit of a small eminence, which is surrounded on all sides by a swamp.  A rugged causeway runs from the south through the swamp, and leads up to the tree.  Some other vestiges of the stonework are discernible, surrounding the tree in a circular form, and leading to the conjecture that this oak is of a very high antiquity; and that, having been much frequented by Druidical priests, amongst whom the oak was sacred, the causeway had been laid for their approach to it, and the performance, underneath its branches, of religious rites.”

Nimmo may have a point here.  Not necessarily of druids (although druidic traditions and reality is known from many old tracts to have continued in many of the hidden places in Scotland), but certainly in relation to the paved track leading to a what may have been a recognised moot-hill, on top of which this great oak once stood.  Great trees and ancient meeting places were held in high esteem, not only in the legends of druidism and more established animistic pantheons, but in the recognised pragmatism of local tribal gatherings, in Scotland, Wales, England and in traditional cultures all over the world. (Gomme 1880) The traces of stonework leading to the hill strongly implies an archaeological site in the paving alone; but moreso, as an important site in the traditions of the Scottish people.  The fact that these stone ruins were still visible when Nimmo visited the site in the latter-half of the 18th century in the context he describes, implies it may have been the remains of a possible crannog; or a moot hill; or even, with its great oak surmounting, a sacred grove!  In my mind, it was probably being used as a gathering place long before William Wallace and his men gathered here…

In 1880, a 3rd edition of Nimmo’s Stirlingshire was published and edited by R. Gillespie.  Herein were additional notes about Wallace’s Oak that had been uncovered by Mr Gillespie.  Although he’d visited the place,

“Not the smallest vestige…of the Wallace oak remains. Even the ” oldest inhabitant” can say nothing of it save what he has gathered from tradition.  Sir Walter Scott, in his Tales of a Grandfather, speaks of having seen some of its roots eighty years ago; and recently we were shown a treasured morsel of the tree in the Chambers’ Institute at Peebles. Wallace, undoubtedly, often chose the solitude of the Torwood as a place of rest for his army, raised and roused to oppose the tyranny of Edward.  Here he concealed his numbers and his designs, sallying out suddenly on the enemy’s garrisons, and retreating as suddenly when afraid of being overpowered. While his army lay in these woods, “the oak” was his head-quarters. Within it, the illustrious hero generally slept, the hollow trunk being huge enough to afford shelter both to himself and one or more of his associates.”

When John Gibson (1908) came to write about it, he told that “Wallace’s Oak, which stood on another part of Woodside (low Torwood), has…vanished.” No roots, no lingering trunk—nothing.  But although the tree has long since gone, William M. Stirling pointed out in 1817 that,

“A young tree is pointed out in the neighbourhood, as having sprung from an acorn of Wallace’s Oak.”

If and when we can locate the old toll-house of Broomage at Larbert, we get much closer to identifying the exact location of this long lost oak.  Then, perhaps, a commemorative plaque should surely be placed there to remind people of their great history, and included on tours of sites relating to Sir William Wallace.

References:

  1. Gibson, John C., Lands and Lairds of Larbert and Dunipace Parishes, Hugh Hopkins: Glasgow 1908.
  2. Gomme, George L., Primitive Folk-Moots, Sampson Low: London 1880.
  3. Nimmo, William, The History of Stirlingshire (2nd edition), John Frazer: Stirling 1817.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

 

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  56.031823, -3.851130 Wallace\'s Oak

The Maypole Tree, Little Paxton, Huntingdonshire

Maypole & Ritual Tree (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference TL 18831 62757

Getting Here

Imposing trunk of The Maypole Tree, right background
Imposing trunk of The Maypole Tree, right background

The road layout of the village has changed since the destruction of the Tree, but its approximate position was on the north side of the present High Street, at the junction with the east side of St James’ Road.

Archaeology & History

The Little Paxton Maypole Tree was a very late survival of a tradition where Mayday revellers danced around an actual tree rather than a symbolic tree in the form of a maypole.  It was described as “a tall straight elm tree” that stood in front of what was then the village Post Office, and from what may be the only surviving photograph, it appears that only the very substantial trunk survived of what was clearly a very old tree.

The 1887 6" OS Map, showing the Maypole Tree outlined in red
The 1887 6″ OS Map, showing the Maypole Tree outlined in red

A Miss Ethel Ladds, who had been born in Little Paxton, recalled in the early 1940s:

I remember the old tree very well, it was always called ‘the Maypole’, but I don’t know any more about it, except that they used to dance round it“.

The St Neots Advertiser recorded that the Maypole Tree was blown down in a great gale on 24th March 1895.

Folklore

While this writer has been unable to find direct folklore relating to the Little Paxton Maypole Tree, it may be worth remarking that botanically the Elm tree is a cousin of the Stinging Nettle, the Hop and Cannabis.  Another Elm Tree used for May revels was the Tubney Elm, near Fyfield in Berkshire and recorded by Matthew Arnold, in his ‘Scholar Gipsy’.

References:

  1. C.F. Tebbutt, “Huntingdonshire Folk And Their Folklore”, in Transactions of the Cambridgeshire & Huntingdonshire Archaeological Society, Volume VI, Part V, 1942
  2. C.F. Tebbutt, “Huntingdonshire Folk And Their Folklore”, in Transactions of the Cambridgeshire & Huntingdonshire Archaeological Society, Volume VII, Part III, 1950
  3. Gerald Wilkinson, Epitaph For The Elm, Arrow Books, London, 1979

© Paul T. Hornby 2016 The Northern Antiquarian 

Little Paxton Maypole

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Little Paxton Maypole 52.250192, -0.260697 Little Paxton Maypole

Adam’s Oak, Brierley, South Yorkshire

Legendary Tree:  OS Grid Reference – SE 4280 1015

Also Known as:

  1. Adam & Eve’s Oak
  2. Wind-gap Oak

Archaeology & History

Highlighted on the 1854 Ordnance Survey map close to the township boundary line as Adam & Eve’s Oak, between Brierley and South Kirkby, I can’t find too much about this once great tree.  However the Wakefield historian W.S. Banks (1871) told us the following:

“Upon the common at Ringston Hill grows the remarkable ‘old Adam’ oak, much decreased in size in late years.  It is an ancient and large tree measuring twenty-seven feet in girth at a yard above the ground.  The trunk is hollow and the north side is broken away.  Most of the branches are also gone.  In 1868 a very large branch was blown off by the wind; but on the southerly side are still some very vigorous limbs.”

The old oak on the 1854 map
The old oak on the 1854 map

Even when Banks wrote this he said how the tree “must be many centuries old.”  In the time of King Charles II there used to be an old inn by Adam’s Oak at the foot of Ringston Hill, where the famous highwayman, Nevison (much-loved by many Yorkshire-folk because of his Robin-Hood-like character), used to stay.  The inn was owned by one Adam Hawksworth, but was ordered “to have his sign taken down for harbouring Nevison.”

Folklore

W.S. Banks also wrote of this once great tree:

“The people at Brierley tell of Nevison the highwayman lodging in it and hiding stolen treasures in it, things which probably did not happen, though Nevison’s name is connected with Ringston Hill.”

The treasure legend may have more to do with the adjacent stone circle, as we find ‘treasure’ a common motif at such places.

References:

  1. Banks, W.S., Walks in Yorkshire: Wakefield and its Neighbourhood, Longmans, Green  Co.: London 1871.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

Adam's Oak

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Adam\'s Oak 53.586119, -1.354851 Adam\'s Oak

Trysting Tree, Todwick, South Yorkshire

Legendary Tree (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SK 49751 83799

Folklore

This was one of the many sacred trees beneath or next to which, in pre-christian days, tribal councils met.  Thanks to the local historians Paul Rowland and  Lis Tigi Maguire Coyle (see ‘Comments’, below), the whereabouts of the tree has been located (contrary to my earlier idea that it had sadly died).  The local writer Harry Garbutt wrote of it in the 1940s, saying:

“The importance of Harthill in Saxon days may be adduced also from the fact that of the Three Hundreds of the Wapentake, Harthill was one.  The Hundred was the Court of local justice and government, and at Harthill would meet under the old Trysting Tree.”

The very word trysting relates to any species of tree that has importance, be it by its appearance or position, and relates to those that were used as traditional or popular meeting sites.

References:

  1. Garbett, Harry, The History of Harthill-with-Woodall and its Hamlet Kiveton Park, Arthur H. Stockwell: Ilfracombe n.d. (c.1948)
  2. Gomme, Laurence, Primitive Folk-Moots, Sampson Lowe: London 1880.

Acknowledgements:  Massive thanks to Paul Rowland (‘Comments’, below), for information pointing us to the exact spot where our Trysting Tree lived; and to Lis Tigi Maguire Coyle for the additional folklore ‘Comment’, below.  Huge thanks to you both!

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

Trysting Tree

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Trysting Tree 53.348748, -1.254091 Trysting Tree

Druid’s Oak, Caton, Lancashire

Legendary Tree:  OS Grid Reference — SD 5297 6467

Also Known as:

  1. Caton Oak
  2. Fish Stones Oak

Getting Here

The Druid's or Caton Oak
The Druid’s or Caton Oak

Dead easy! Near the western end of Caton village, right on the edge of the main road (A683) running through the village (south-side of the road), enclosed by railings, you’ll see the remains of this ancient tree, just by the side of the stream.  Keep your eyes peeled!

Archaeology & History

The small scruffy-looking remnant of an oak standing here by the roadside in Caton village, surrounded by protective railings, is the dying remnants of the old tree, standing upon the sandstone steps which were known as the Fish Stones: a curious monument that has been listed as a protected monument by the Dept of National Heritage.  A small plaque on the side tells:

“The three semi-circular sandstone steps, shaded by the oak tree, were used in medieval times by the monks of Cockersand Abbey to display and sell fish caught from the River Lune.  The ancient oak tree, reputed to date back to the time of the druids, and the Fish Stones, have become a landmark and Symbol of Caton.”

Druid's Oak, Caton
Druid’s Oak, Caton

This was probably the local moot spot for villagers and those living in outlying farms and hills in medieval times.  No doubt a market of some sort was also once here; perhaps even an old cross, as the Fish Stones have all the appearance of some village cross steps.  I’ve found little else about this old tree, nor any folklore (but aint looked too hard if truth be had!).  There’s surely more to be said about this once sacred tree.

More sites related in folklore to druids can be found not too far away at the collapsed cairn near Bordley; the Druid’s Altar and nearby Druid’s Well on the outskirts of Bingley; the Druid’s Stone of Bungay in Suffolk and many more…

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

Druid's Oak

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Druid\'s Oak 54.075801, -2.720116 Druid\'s Oak

Fair Haia, Carlton, North Yorkshire

Legendary Tree (destroyed?):  OS Grid Reference – SE 614 270

Getting Here

From Carlton, take the western Hirst Road to Temple Hirst village, then turn right once you’re in the village and go up Common Lane up for about a mile.  There’s a footpath on your left leading you to the Fair Oaks farmhouse. This was the spot!

Archaeology & History

This is fascinating sounding place which marked the central point of three old township boundaries nearly 1000 years ago.   I first found it mentioned in Morrell’s History and Antiquities of Selby (1867: 36-7), where this once famous tree is described in land sale transactions.  Morrell told:

“At Carlton the (Selby) abbey had considerable property, which was sold to the neighbouring priory of Drax.  The boundary of the property sold was a certain oak tree, called Fair-haia, in Burn Wood, which Adam de Bellaqua gave for this purpose, binding himself and his heirs never to cut it down or root it up, sub poena anathematis.”

But we found a more detailed outline in Dugdale’s Selby Abbey in Yorkshire, where the premises and townships given to Selby Abbey in the 12th and 13th centuries are listed.  In the township of ‘Carleton’ (as it was then spelt) Dugdale wrote:

“Peter de Brus gave the grange here, which the monks had held of Agnes, late wife of Ranulph FitzSwain.  Richard abbat of Selby granted to Robert prior of Drax all the tithe from the north part of the oak called Fair-haia, in the wood of Birne, or Berlay, through the middle of the marsh to Hundolfsweith; and from thence by the strait ditch directly to Espholm, and all the tithe from Espholme to Appletreholme, as the ditch goes to the new fosse or ditch of Carleton: and the prior granted to the abbat all the tithes on the south to the new ditch, and from thence to the river Ayre.  And Adam de Bellaqua gave this oak tree, called Fair-haia, as a boundary, never to be cut down (ad standum in perpetuum et non rescindendum), binding himself and his successors never to cut it down or root it up.”

One wonders: are there any remains left of this once great tree?  Has anyone actually transgressed and uprooted it in times past?  Is any other lore known of it?  And who was Adam de Bellaqua?

One of the most intriguing elements to this site is its name, for the word ‘haia’ literally means ‘god of the land’ — but whether we can take this meaning seriously is questionable, as it’s of Sumerian origin.  However, no local dialect words throw any light on the word and it may aswell be the name of the spirit of the tree as anything else.  Does anyone know owt more about this place?

References:

  1. Dugdale, William, Monasticon Anglicanum – volume 3, Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme & Brown: London 1817.
  2. Morrell, W.W., The History and Antiquities of Selby, W.B. Bellerby: Selby 1867.
  3. Philpot, J.H., The Sacred Tree, MacMillan: London 1897.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  53.735783, -1.070682 Fair Haia