Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Shenley Church End’s Holy Thorn – 1

Shenley Church End is a Buckinghamshire village which now forms part of Milton Keynes.  The village possesses a Glastonbury Thorn First School, a Holy Thorn Lane, and, rather hidden away off the Lane, a Holy, or Glastonbury, Thorn.  The thorn is a straggly bush rather than a tree, and appears to have about four rather slender trunks.  This probably indicates that it is, indeed, ‘ancient’, the original trunk having split and rotted away, leaving younger trunks.  Judging by the spacing of the trunks, this disintegration of older trunks could have happened several times.

According to an anonymous telephone call received on 23 November 1992: ‘There’s a Glastonbury Thorn in Milton Keynes; it’s been there for years.  It’s said to have grown from a staff planted by the Pilgrim Fathers before they sailed on the Mayflower.  Everywhere they stopped on their way from Glastonbury they are said to have planted one of these thorns.  It always flowers at midnight on Christmas Eve, never before, never after.  I’ve been the night before, and there are no flowers; I’ve been the night after, and there are no flowers, but on Christmas Eve you can physically see them open.  It’s at Shenley …  They wanted to root it up, and build houses, but, after a battle, we’ve got it protected, there’s a fence round it’

The association of the Shenley Thorn with the Pilgrim Fathers seems to be an example of folk history at its least accurate.

Today the Thorn is protected by a metal fence, but otherwise appears to receive little care or attention.  When it was visited on 30 December 2019, it had no flowers, but a lot of flower buds; perhaps waiting to open on Old Christmas Eve, 6 January, the other traditional time for Holy Thorns to bloom.  One twig had the remains of four or five  flowers which had lost their petals.  The trees in Glastonbury usually retain some fruits while they produce their winter flowers, but the Shenley bush had no fruit.

There were no signs to suggest that the bush had been visited recently, or, indeed, in recent years.

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