Monday, 9 July 2012

Is All What It Seems To Be?

Sometimes, things aren't always what they seem to be. That's despite what some official-looking documents might lead you to believe.

Here's a small section of the Ordnance Survey map detailing Boscobel House on the Shropshire/Staffordshire border. For those of you who don't know, this is one of the (many) places where the son of King Charles I (who later became King Charles II) hid to avoid Oliver Cromwell's troops after being defeated at the Battle of Worcester n 1651.  

Initially, Charles hid in an oak tree in the grounds of Boscobel House, before spending the night hiding in a priest hole in the house itself. (And if ever you get a chance to go to Boscobel House, you'll see how small that priest hole is. Small children should be warned - the last time I was there the guide threw one down the hole to test for size - although I will say that they chose  a child who was willing to go down the hole!)

Anyway, it is the oak tree that has caught the public's imagination and, as you can see, that prestigious organisation, the Ordnance Survey, has even marked it on the map. Yes, even the dotted line represents the path you can walk today, between the house and the tree. Perhaps if Cromwell's troops had had the Ordnance Survey map with them, the course of British history might have been slightly different ;-)

As you can see from my photo here, the tree is looking a little the worse for wear now. Most of it has been lost and two huge metal strips sit tightly around its trunk holding the poor thing together. Well, admit it, if you'd been hanging around since way before 1651, you'd probably need a couple of metal strips around your midriff to keep you together!

But, a little more research will reveal that this oak is not THE Royal Oak. Despite what the Ordnance Survey map suggests, this is a mere sapling. It is believed to be a descendant of the oak tree that Charles II hid in. The reason this particular specimen looks the worse for wear is because it was struck by lightning twelve years ago.

So, next time you're looking at documents, even official looking ones, don't assume that what they are telling you is the truth. All may not be what it seems to be.

Good luck.


  1. Thanks for the reminder Simon.

  2. Another good tip for writers who are researching is not to rely solely on Wikipedia - whilst it is a good reference point you should always verify its contents via an original source, especially if you are writing a detailed factual non-fiction article.

  3. Very good point Rob. Wikipedia always needs verification. And a minor point from someone who lived in that area for a very long time - how do they know that it is a sapling from the original oak? It could, realistically, be from any old oak. However, it never ceases to amaze me why Cromwell's men didn't look up. Wonderful story though.

  4. Good advice, good reminder - thank you Simon.