Monday, September 04, 2006

Jefferies' tree at Coate Water immortalised by plaque


A new wooden plaque will be unveiled at Coate Water at 12 noon on Sunday 10th September, as part of the Heritage Day celebrations, to commemorate an oak tree that was immortalised by Richard Jefferies in his boys' adventure story, Bevis [1] first published in 1882.

The 'Council Oak', as Jefferies described it, is an ancient tree growing alongside the eastern shore of Coate Water lake near the children's sand-pit. It is a place of pilgrimage for devotees of Jefferies' writing.

Richard Jefferies, born in 1848, was raised at Jefferies Farm - now a Museum - some 500 metres from the tree. Bevis reflects Jefferies' own childhood adventures around Coate. In the book, the tree was the meeting place for local boys to plan their council of war that led to their mock battle in the nearby field, on Day House farm, named the 'Battlefield of Pharsalia'. The tree was chosen because "it was known by everyone. It grew all alone in the meadow, and far from any path, so that they could talk as they liked". Coate Water was called the 'New Sea' by Bevis.

The tree's position was marked on maps published in various editions of the book.

Around 1990, this magnificent oak tree suffered from a natural and rare condition known as 'limb drop' whereby it lost its crown.

Another victim of age was the wooden plaque erected next to the tree made by Cyril Wright, a long-standing secretary of the Richard Jefferies Society.

The new plaque was made by students at Dorcan Technical College under the supervision of teacher, Ivan Kirk. The school has added a dedication to teacher, John Venables, who was instrumental in getting the plaque accepted as a project. His sudden death this year came as a shock to all.

Ray Morse, Vice-chairman of the Richard Jefferies Society, said:

"John Venables was energetic and full of enthusiasm to help when I asked if his students might make a new plaque for the tree. The 'Council Oak' is part of our literary heritage. The new memorial plate not only acts as a marker but celebrates the passing of a great local writer as well as friends old and new".

John Price, the Chairman of the Richard Jefferies Society, will welcome friends of Richard Jefferies and Coate Water to the unveiling ceremony at 12 noon on Sunday and read a relevant extract from Bevis. The Jefferies Museum will be open later from 2-5pm.

- ENDS -

Editor's notes:


"I say!"

''Battleaxes - '' "St. George is right 'Hold your tongue." 'Pikes twenty feet long." 'Marching two and two." 'Do stop." 'I shall be general." 'That you won't." 'Romans had shields."

'Battleaxes are best." 'Knobs with spikes." 'I say - I say!" 'You're a donkey!" 'They had flags - " 'And drums." 'I've got a flute."

'You!" 'Yes, me."

'Hi!" "Tom." "If you hit me, I'll hit you." "Now." "Don't." "Be quiet." "Go on." "Let's begin." "I will" - buzz - buzz - buzz !

Phil, Tom, Ted, Jim, Frank, Walter, Bill, "Charl," Val, Bob, Cecil, Sam,Fred, George, Harry, Michael, Jack, Andrew, Luke, and half a dozen more were talking all together, shouting across each other, occasionally fighting, wrestling, and rolling over on the sward under an oak. There were two up in the tree, bellowing their views from above, and little Charlie ("Charl") was astride of a bough which he had got hold of, swinging up and down, and yelling like the rest. Some stood by the edge of the water, for the oak was within a few yards of the New Sea, and alternately made ducks and drakes, and turned to contradict their friends.

On higher ground beyond, a herd of cows grazed in perfect peace, while the swallows threaded a maze in and out between them, but just above the grass.

The New Sea was calm and smooth as glass, the sun shone in a cloudless sky, so that the shadow of the oak was pleasant; but the swallows had come down from the upper air, and Bevis, as he stood a little apart listening in an abstracted manner to the uproar, watched them swiftly gliding in and out. He had convened a council of all those who wanted to join the war in the fields, because it seemed best to keep the matter secret, which could not be done if they came to the house, else perhaps the battle would be interfered with. This oak was chosen as it was known to everyone.

It grew all alone in the meadow, and far from any path, so that they could talk as they liked."

October Nature Notes

Extracts from 'Wild Life in a Southern County' related to the orchards at Wick House [Jefferies' Farm].

"Be careful how you pick up a ripe apple, all glowing orange, from the grass in the orchard ; roll it over with your foot first, or you may chance to find that you have got a handful of wasps. They eat away the interior of the fruit, leaving little but the rind, and this very hollowness causes the rind to assume richer tints and a more tempting appearance. Speckled apples on the tree, whether pecked by a blackbird, eaten by wasps or ants, always ripen fastest, and if you do not mind cutting out that portion, are the best. Such a fallen apple, when hollowed out within, is a veritable torpedo if incautiously handled. Wasps are incurable drunkards. If they find something sweet and tempting they stick to it, and swill till they fall senseless to the ground. They are then most dangerous, because unseen and unheard ; and one may put one's hand on them in ignorance of their whereabouts.

Dusky Blenheim oranges, with a gleam of gold under the rind ; a warmer tint of yellow on the pippins. Here streaks of red, here a tawny hue. Yonder a load of great russets; nearby heavy pears bending the strong branches; round black damsons; luscious egg-plums hanging their yellow ovals overhead; bullace, not yet ripe, but presently sweetly piquant. On the walnut trees bunches of round green balls-note those that show a dark spot or streak, and gently tap them with the tip of the tall slender pole placed there for the purpose. Down they come glancing from bough to bough, and, striking the hard turf, the thick green rind splits asunder, and the walnut itself rebounds upwards. Those who buy walnuts have no idea of the fine taste of the fruit thus gathered direct from the tree, when the kernel, though so curiously convoluted, slips its pale yellow skin easily and is so wondrously white. Surely it is an error to banish the orchard and the fruit-garden from the pleasure-grounds of modern houses, strictly relegating them to the rear, as if something to be ashamed of".