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(Soon to be replaced by my own linocut efforts…)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

11. The Seven oaks of Sevenoaks

Tricky one this. Although at various times there have indeed been seven oaks planted in Sevenoaks, all of those referred to in records seem to be predated by the town. As recently as 1902, seven oaks were planted around the Vine cricket ground (which dates back to 1773 and is the first place in England where a game of cricket was played with three stumps instead of two). These seem to be replacements – contemporary paintings and photography from 1900 depict 'The Seven Oaks' at the same location. After the Great Storm of 1987, all but one of the 1902 trees were uprooted. The six felled trees were replaced, but after vandalism and more replanting, there are now – rather confusingly – nine oaks on the site.

Local lore states that the town was named after a Saxon chapel called Seouenaca in the grounds of Knole Park. It is possible that this name is in fact derived from the fact that seven oaks stood near the chapel in about 800 AD. (The Middle English for seven is recorded both as 'seofan' and 'seouen'.) However, it wasn't until the 13th Century that a market town is recorded as existing around the Knole estate.

And then there's Sir William Sennoke or Sevenoke, who became Lord Mayor of London in 1418 and whose life followed almost as many twists and turns as the man who replaced him as Lord Mayor the following year – Dick Whittington.
Legend has it he was discovered by Sir William de Romschedde as an orphan under seven oaks near the small hamlet of Riverhill in Kent. After serving as an apprentice grocer in London, he became first Sheriff and then Lord Mayor of London, and amassed considerable personal wealth, which he used to fund 20 almshouses as well as a free school in 1432 (originally Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, now Sevenoaks School) "at Seven-oaks". Although the school is now far from longer free, Sir William's charity still lives on in the form of scholarships.

So, to recap: there are plenty of oaks in Sevenoaks. At various times since 800 AD there have been seven in a group, varying in location from Knole Park, Riverhill and The Vine. Which ones the town are named after is uncertain – but it's unlikely, sadly, that any are still standing.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

10. The St Lawrence Lime

There are many reasons to love cricket. For start, there are few other games where you can watch a single match for five days solid and still celebrate the fact there's no result. This is a sport that inspires batsmen to selflessly walk before being given out, while accepting mental disintegration as a legitimate tactic. But rather than going into all the game's many and various idiosyncrasies, let's just concentrate on one: the St Lawrence Lime.

Faced with a tree growing in the middle of a pitch, any other sport would do one of two things: move the pitch, or chop the tree down. But cricketers think differently. So when Kent County Cricket Club's home ground was founded in Canterbury in 1847 (then called Beverley, but latterly changed to the St Lawrence Ground), it was built around a local lime tree.

Obviously, having a tree the wrong side of the boundary can pose a few practical problems, but Kent's players soon settled on the rule that a shot striking any part of the tree was worth four runs. A bonus if the ball trickled into the tree's substantial undergrowth, but a bit annoying if its 120ft height obstructed an otherwise clear six. (The only player since the war to successfully score a six over the tree was Carl Hooper of Kent and the West Indies, in 1992.)

Sadly, in January 2005, high winds finally brought the tree down. However, the club had already been working on a successor, since the St Lawrence Lime had been found to be suffering from heartwood fungus. In March 2005, the fledgling tree was moved within the boundary to take up its rightful place in cricketing folklore.