Oak Apple Day / Royal Oak Day 2021
What is Oak Apple Day?
Oak Apple Day, or Restoration Day as it was known, is, or was, an annual English public holiday on 29th May marking the restoration of the monarchy in May 1660.
People would wear oak apples or sprigs of oak leaves, in reference to Charles II escaping the Roundhead army in 1651 by hiding in an oak tree after the Battle of Worcester.
However, the public holiday was abolished by parliament under the Anniversary Days Observance Act 1859.
Entitled Anniversary of the Revolution, the House of Commons Journal records the resolution of the bill as follows:
“Resolved, That a Bill be prepared for keeping of a perpetual Anniversary, for a Day of Thanksgiving to God, for the great Blessing and Mercy he hath been graciously pleased to vouchsafe to the People of these Kingdoms, after their manifold and grievous Sufferings, in the Restoration of his Majesty, with Safety, to his People and Kingdoms: And that the Nine-and-twentieth Day of May, in every Year, being the Birth Day of his Sacred Majesty, and the Day of his Majesty’s Return to his Parliament, be yearly set apart for that Purpose.”
Other names for the day are Royal Oak Day, Shick-Shack Day, Oak and Nettle Day, Oak Ball Day, Bobby Ack Day. Yack Bob Day, Pinch-Bum Day in Sussex (yes, really!) or Bumping Day in Essex.
The Free Dictionary quotes the Oxford English Dictionary as saying the etymology of Shick-Shack Day is:
“… this day takes its name from a corruption of shitsack, a derogatory term for the Nonconformists, Protestants who did not follow the doctrines and practices of the established Church of England. It was later applied to those who did not wear the traditional sprig of oak on May 29.”
Others say a shick-shack is simply another old English name for an oak apple.
Pinch Bum Day derives its name from people having to show their sprig of oak to show their loyalty to the king otherwise have their bottoms pinched.
The Royal Oak Pub(s)
And have you ever wondered why there are so many English pubs called the Royal Oak? Well, the etymology originates from precisely this time when King Charles hid in the oak tree near Boscobel House to escape Cromwell’s forces. After the restoration of the monarchy his birthday, 29th May, was declared Royal Oak Day.
In fact, Royal Oak is the third most popular pub name in Britain.
Where is Oak Apple Day Still Celebrated?
Oak Apple Day is still celebrated in some part of the UK as more of a tradition or custom, or even a thanksgiving as in the case of the Royal Chelsea Hospital.
- Royal Chelsea Hospital considers the day the highlight of the year and calls it Founders Day after King Charles II who founded the hospital in 1692. Chelsea Pensioners wear oak leaves pinned to their scarlet uniforms. The gold statue of Charles II that stands in the centre of figure court is also adorned in oak leaves for the occasion
- Castleton, Derbyshire, celebrates the day as the Castleton Ancient Garland Ceremony and has a website to accompany it. It’s worth a read.
- The town of Northampton celebrates the day after King Charles donated over 1,000 tons of timber to reconstruct All Saints Church and halved the town’s taxes for seven years following the Great Fire of Northampton, 20th September 1675 which destroyed thee quarter of the town!
- Great Wishford, Wiltshire, celebrates the day but the tradition seems to have been in existence since 1603, many years prior to the restoration of the monarchy or enactment of the public holiday in 1660 – it just possibly happens to fall on the same day. Wikipedia enlightens us:
“The events of a modern Oak Apple Day include a “band” waking the villagers in the early hours of the morning, gathering oak branches from the woods at dawn, a village breakfast in the local pub (Royal Oak), then on to Salisbury, where there is dancing outside the Cathedral followed by claiming rights inside the cathedral by shouting “Grovely, Grovely, Grovely and all Grovely”. (Although the charter requires just three ‘Grovely’s, tradition demands four – “Three for the charter and one for us”.) In the afternoon there is a formal meal, and other events for villagers in Oak Apple Field.
These days, most villagers put more effort into claiming their rights than in exercising them: the handcarts used to transport wood from Grovely seem to have entirely disappeared.”
- The Commandery at Worcester also celebrates the day
- St. Neot, Cornwall, celebrates the day and has a good web page and video. A parade still marks the day with the hauling of an oak bough to the top of the church tower, where it remains all year. Old Cornwall Society branches are represented with banners and the church bells are rung, while dancing and other entertainments follow and many people attend wearing seventeenth century costume
- Upton-upon-Severn, Worcestershire, Aston on Clun, Shropshire, and Marsh Gibbon, Buckinghamshire, also mark the day