Monday, September 04, 2006

Jefferies' tree at Coate Water immortalised by plaque

PRESS RELEASE

A new wooden plaque will be unveiled at Coate Water at 12 noon on Sunday 10th September, as part of the Heritage Day celebrations, to commemorate an oak tree that was immortalised by Richard Jefferies in his boys' adventure story, Bevis [1] first published in 1882.

The 'Council Oak', as Jefferies described it, is an ancient tree growing alongside the eastern shore of Coate Water lake near the children's sand-pit. It is a place of pilgrimage for devotees of Jefferies' writing.

Richard Jefferies, born in 1848, was raised at Jefferies Farm - now a Museum - some 500 metres from the tree. Bevis reflects Jefferies' own childhood adventures around Coate. In the book, the tree was the meeting place for local boys to plan their council of war that led to their mock battle in the nearby field, on Day House farm, named the 'Battlefield of Pharsalia'. The tree was chosen because "it was known by everyone. It grew all alone in the meadow, and far from any path, so that they could talk as they liked". Coate Water was called the 'New Sea' by Bevis.

The tree's position was marked on maps published in various editions of the book.

Around 1990, this magnificent oak tree suffered from a natural and rare condition known as 'limb drop' whereby it lost its crown.

Another victim of age was the wooden plaque erected next to the tree made by Cyril Wright, a long-standing secretary of the Richard Jefferies Society.

The new plaque was made by students at Dorcan Technical College under the supervision of teacher, Ivan Kirk. The school has added a dedication to teacher, John Venables, who was instrumental in getting the plaque accepted as a project. His sudden death this year came as a shock to all.

Ray Morse, Vice-chairman of the Richard Jefferies Society, said:

"John Venables was energetic and full of enthusiasm to help when I asked if his students might make a new plaque for the tree. The 'Council Oak' is part of our literary heritage. The new memorial plate not only acts as a marker but celebrates the passing of a great local writer as well as friends old and new".

John Price, the Chairman of the Richard Jefferies Society, will welcome friends of Richard Jefferies and Coate Water to the unveiling ceremony at 12 noon on Sunday and read a relevant extract from Bevis. The Jefferies Museum will be open later from 2-5pm.

- ENDS -

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Editor's notes:

[1] BEVIS: CHAPTER XIV - THE COUNCIL OF WAR opens:

"I say!"

''Battleaxes - '' "St. George is right 'Hold your tongue." 'Pikes twenty feet long." 'Marching two and two." 'Do stop." 'I shall be general." 'That you won't." 'Romans had shields."

'Battleaxes are best." 'Knobs with spikes." 'I say - I say!" 'You're a donkey!" 'They had flags - " 'And drums." 'I've got a flute."

'You!" 'Yes, me."

'Hi!" "Tom." "If you hit me, I'll hit you." "Now." "Don't." "Be quiet." "Go on." "Let's begin." "I will" - buzz - buzz - buzz !

Phil, Tom, Ted, Jim, Frank, Walter, Bill, "Charl," Val, Bob, Cecil, Sam,Fred, George, Harry, Michael, Jack, Andrew, Luke, and half a dozen more were talking all together, shouting across each other, occasionally fighting, wrestling, and rolling over on the sward under an oak. There were two up in the tree, bellowing their views from above, and little Charlie ("Charl") was astride of a bough which he had got hold of, swinging up and down, and yelling like the rest. Some stood by the edge of the water, for the oak was within a few yards of the New Sea, and alternately made ducks and drakes, and turned to contradict their friends.

On higher ground beyond, a herd of cows grazed in perfect peace, while the swallows threaded a maze in and out between them, but just above the grass.

The New Sea was calm and smooth as glass, the sun shone in a cloudless sky, so that the shadow of the oak was pleasant; but the swallows had come down from the upper air, and Bevis, as he stood a little apart listening in an abstracted manner to the uproar, watched them swiftly gliding in and out. He had convened a council of all those who wanted to join the war in the fields, because it seemed best to keep the matter secret, which could not be done if they came to the house, else perhaps the battle would be interfered with. This oak was chosen as it was known to everyone.

It grew all alone in the meadow, and far from any path, so that they could talk as they liked."

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