There’s a lot to be said for tree puns. Sometimes, you just have to branch out and get to the root of the issue with humour. That’s oak-ay, though (sorry). I just couldn’t help myself. Maybe I should leave? If it’s all the same to yew, though, I’d rather knot (that’s the last one) – because the story of the Allerton Oak doesn’t just transcend a century or two, but rather a full millennium.
At over 1000 years old, this powerful symbol of nature and preservation has stood as a literal pillar for the communities that have surrounded it since Way Back When. Indeed, if all of life’s a stage, then this is one wooden actor you wouldn’t dream of forcing to exit stage left.
The Allerton Oak resides in the expansive Calderstones Park – itself mentioned in King William I’s Domesday Book of 1086 – and although the oak itself isn’t granted a mention in Britain’s first official census of its population and points of interest, the sign planted at the base of the fenced-off and scaffold-laden oak reads: “One thousand years ago, Allerton did not possess a court house and it is believed that the sittings of the Hundred Court were held under the spreading branches of this tree.”
Hundred Courts were regionally administered hearings that upheld by-laws and customs of relevant areas that remained largely in place across Britain from the turn of the second millennium until the establishment of county courts in the 1800s. Whether or not justice was dealt fairly – and let’s face it, probably not – is neither here nor there anymore, but it is a sign of the reverence the oak was held in from its days as a struggling sapling. Naturally, there is some dispute over just how closely proceedings were undertaken to the oak – some local historians claim hearings were held closer to the Calderstones themselves: the 5000-year-old Neolithic burial site thought to be the oldest surviving monument in Liverpool.
The Allerton Oak remains an awesome sight. Its many gnarled limbs twist and turn in any number of directions and force the observer to walk around the whole trunk. Doing so will also get you a good look at the huge split that dominates it and popular myth maintains that the profound wound in the oak was the result of the explosion of the Lottie Sleigh – a gunpowder ship that went up into the night sky in the Mersey in 1864. Eleven tons of gunpowder blowing up at once will have been a spectacular sight for sure, but at the risk of ruining the myth, it’s… never mind. Let’s just say it’s true, hey? The Allerton Oak also played a part in the story of wartime Britain – with the oak leaf presenting itself as a symbol of strength and endurance, the friends and loved ones of soldiers fighting abroad would send the leaves and acorns from the oak as a good luck charm and with the idea of offering protection from their helpless and fraught lives back home.
In a standard display of wilful optimism, the Liverpool Echo once stated the tree will die by 2020. That was in 1970 – and the oak still stands as proudly today, as it has since nearly 1000 AD.
Pic by Joseph Viney