Sandy’s Garden ... the Royal Oak

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For many years, I was a member of the Denny Toastmasters Club, which metamorphosed into the Denny Speakers Club when the British clubs parted company with the American parent organisation.

The Denny club met fortnightly on Wednesdays – and, I hope, still does, although reports on the meetings no longer appear in the columns of the Falkirk Herald.

The club’s venue was the Royal Oak Hotel in Stirling Street, Denny, which describes itself as ‘‘an old coaching inn located on the original north road, now the A872, seven miles south of Stirling’’.

The proprietors don’t say how old the hotel is, but it has a fine old name – the Royal Oak – and, as we approach the nowadays largely forgotten Royal Oak Day, or Oak Apple Day, it seems appropriate to look at the origins of the hotel’s name. And to do this we need to recall some events of English history.

The English Civil War was fought between Rroyalist forces loyal to King Charles I and the Roundheads, a republican group led by Oliver Cromwell.

After several Roundhead victories and the execution of Charles I on January 30, 1649, Cromwell declared Britain a republic called ‘The Commonwealth’, bestowing the title of ‘Lord Protector’ on himself.

But the Royalists continued to fight and, although they lost the Battle of Worcester in September 1651, when the future King Charles II is said to have escaped from his pursuers by hiding in an oak tree near Boscobel House, they eventually won the war.

In May 1660, the monarchy was restored when Charles II entered London to claim his throne.

The new, royalist Parliament appointed May 29 as a holiday in England to commemorate the restoration of the English monarchy and ordained that this day, the King’s birthday, was “to be for ever kept as a day of thanksgiving for our redemption from tyranny and the King’s return to his Government”.

Celebrations – in England, or course – to commemorate the event often entailed the wearing of oak apples or sprigs of oak leaves; and for many years it was the custom in parts of England to wear gilded oak apples – which are, of course, a kind of gall - to mark Royal Oak Day or Oak Apple Day and to show their loyalty to the monarchy.

Aanyone who failed to wear a sprig of oak risked being thrashed with nettles.

This custom has almost entirely died out in recent years. Royal Oak Day, or Oak Apple Day, was formally abolished in 1859, despite the assurance of a century earlier that it was to be observed as a holiday “for ever”. But the incident commemorated in its title remained alive in the public memory by virtue of the number of public houses and hotels called the Royal Oak including, rather curiously, since the original incident was peculiarly English, the Royal Oak in Denny.

But here is a curious coincidence of dates. Our present Queen came to the throne on February 6, 1952 and her coronation took place on June 2, 1953.

Just days after the date of the now-defunct Royal Oak Day – May 29 – we are being invited to celebrate a different royal event, Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee.

And it seems that, with rather less reason than was the case when Royal Oak Day was an English celebration, the Jubilee will be greeted more joyfully in England than it will in Scotland, the nation which, in 1603, provided the first monarch to rule the combined kingdoms of England and Scotland. I might just go to the Royal Oak for a drink to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee!