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Joan Leach was a local historian, a volunteer at the Heritage Centre, a founder of The Gaskell Society, and much more besides.

 

The Mighty Oak
by

Joan Leach

 
Half an oak tree and several large branches from other oak trees were brought along Northwich Road by the recent gales. As they were probably planted when the turn-pike road was built around 1780 they were nearing their life span of 250 years - though some oaks have been dated to 800 years or more, preserved as historic shrines.

'Hearts of oak are our ships. Hearts of oak are our men'. The sturdy oak has a place deep in English affections. Forests were felled for ship building when as many as 3,000 mature trees could be used in one man o' war of Nelson's fleet, England's 'wooden wall'. One of the many toasts of Knutsford's King and Constitution club was, 'May England flourish like the mighty oak and her enemies fall like its leaves'. Oak timbers for houses were pegged together, with numbers scratched on the beams to show masons how to match up the joints, some of these can be found in the timbers on the side wall of the White Lion.  Broad Oak Lane in Mobberley had a venerable tree with a split, hollow trunk large enough to shelter courting couples but it became infested with rats and a fire lit to exterminate them finished the tree off too!

The two varieties of native oak have been augmented by three introduced species. The word acorn comes from Scandinavian for ek korn meaning oak seed, which provided winter fodder for pigs. The tree bark was used for tanning leather.

Earthquakes have made news recently. In 1883 John Philip Green died in an earthquake in Ischia, Italy,which killed thousands. He was listed as owner of Heathfield in the 1881 census but did not spend much time there, he had been a judge in India until ill health caused his retirement after which he lived mostly near Naples with his Italian wife. Heathfield Square takes its name from the house Heathfield which stood near that area, it was the home, for many years, of the Rev. Henry Green , father of John Philip, minister of Brook Street Chapel, author of the indispensable history of Knutsford and school master.

Another bonfire night has come and gone but church wardens do not now pay for ale and gunpowder and bell ringing to celebrate it as they used to. It was considered patriotic.

Marton Oak I must go in search of the Marton Oak which Alfred Coward described in his book Picturesque Cheshire published in 1903.  It was then shored up with props, wide rather than tall and used for storing farm implements in its hollow centre. It had also been used by geese. This year it was chosen as one of fifty trees nationwide to commemorate the Queen's Jubilee.

Joan Leach 11/11/02