Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Polstead Gospel Oak

An oak (Quercus) tree which grows in the grounds of Polstead Hall, near the church at Polstead, Suffolk is associated with St Cedd, a Saxon missionary.
According to tradition the saint preached under the original tree in 753 A.D. For many years it was believed that this was no more than a ‘picturesque legend’, but when the tree collapsed in 1953 a cut through its trunk revealed over 1,400 annual growth rings, indicating that the tree would have been a mature 200 year old in 753.
Since about 1910 an annual service commemorating St Cedd’s preaching has been held under the tree. This was initiated by the Rev. Francis Eld, who was Rector of Polstead from 1895 to 1921, and had a strong interest in antiquarian matters.
Following the loss of the old tree a replacement tree, reputedly self-sown from one of the old tree’s acorns, has been used, but according to a 1958 press report the service that year was held beneath a sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) tree, while the young oak was ‘slowly growing to maturity’.
Originally the service was held on the Sunday of the August Bank Holiday (the first weekend in August), but when the Bank Holiday was moved to the end of August attendance at the service declined, and the new date clashed with the holiday commitments of the Hall’s owners, so the event was moved to early September. However, by then the weather could be ‘rather chill’ and it was decided to move service to an earlier date.
In 2011 the service, which attracted a ‘slightly smaller turn out than usual’, was held on Sunday 26 July. In 2009 and 2010 over 80 people attended, but in 2011 only about 50 people turned up, however, the Salvation Army band, which provides the music, was ‘in even better form than previously’.

Image: ‘Bank Holiday Sunday in 1924, the Rev. Eric Buckley taking the service.’
Thanks to Bill Wigglesworth, Polstead Churchwarden and Local History Recorder.