Today I was going to write about Ightham Mote, an incredibly beautiful and covetable house in Kent we visited twice this week. But I’ll wait til I have Zak’s photos of it. Instead I’m reminded – that’s to say, not for a second do I ever forget – that today is Oak-apple Day, King Charles II’s birthday and the anniversary of his return to London at the Restoration.
Oak-apple Day, shown by the wearing of oak-leaves, was declared a public holiday by Parliament ‘to be for ever kept as a day of thanksgiving for our redemption from tyranny and the King’s return to his government, he entering London that day.’ It was abolished in 1859, though it is still kept as Founder’s Day at the Royal Hospital Chelsea and – which I didn’t know til reading this in wikipedia just now – at a few other places, including Fownthorpe in Herefordshire, where a Heart of Oak Society have celebrated a sort of Wassail since 1660, and in St Neots in Cornwall, where an old oak bough is processed through the village and blessed at the church, before being thrown from the tower by a Tower Captain who hoists the new bough up. Until noon, villagers wear sprigs of ‘red’ or new oak and boys-love, a plant related to the sunflower, also known as Oldman Wormwood and Our Lord’s Wood. Those who fail to comply are stung with nettles. Another name for oak-apple day is Oak and Nettle Day, and you wonder what older tradition this preserves. It must be a fertility rite, which feels appropriate.
I shall leave you with words from John Evelyn’s diary for May 29th 1660, and this marvellous painting by Dirck Stoop.
This day came his Majestie Charles the 2nd to London… for such Restauration was never seen, nor so joyfull a day, & so bright.