- The characteristics traditionally ascribed to various species of tree differ sharply, and will be found under the name of each species. Certain themes, however, can be applied to any that is locally famous (Thomas, 1983: 21619). The most widespread is a claim that it is the tallest, largest, or oldest of its species in the country; the great ages mentioned are probably exaggerated, especially for *oaks and *yews. *Origin legends are also common; some claim the tree was planted by some famous personage, others that there was something sinister or miraculous about its growth. It may be supposedly sprung from a seed laid in the mouth of a dead man, as is said of an elm in the graveyard at Kingston-on-Sea in Sussex (JS), and a sycamore growing out of a tomb at Clavering (Essex); or from the stake thrust through the corpse of a murderer or a suicide, as is said of a beech called 'the Amy Tree' at St Mellion (Cornwall), and certain elms in Bedfordshire and Gloucestershire (Folk-Lore 56 (1945), 307; Palmer, 1994: 43).Naturally, these are among the many trees said to be haunted. In Hertfordshire, the churchyards of Aldenham, Chesunt, Tewin, and Watford each contain (or formerly contained) an old tomb split apart by one or more trees, said to be that of an unbeliever who declared that if there really was a God, or a life after death, a tree would sprout from his or her tomb (N&Q 11s:8 (1913), 425).Some individual trees had an important social and symbolic role as landmarks, assembly points, or boundary markers, since they 'were older than any of the inhabitants, and they symbolized the community's continued existence' (Thomas, 1983: 216); large *oaks were, and are, particularly cherished, and often served as markers for *beating the bounds. Links with real or imagined history are numerous - the Boscobel Oak where Charles I hid, the New Forest oak from which, allegedly, the arrow glanced off to kill William Rufus, *Herne's Oak in Windsor Great Park, the stump of one in Hatfield Park where Elizabeth I heard news of her accession, the 'Remedy Oak' at Wimborne St Giles (Dorset) where it is said Edward VI used to sit to touch for the *king's evil.
A Dictionary of English folklore. Jacqueline Simpson & Steve Roud. 2014.
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