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A grand old friend

August 15, 2011

Author: Chris Lee – Volunteer garden guide.

The Guinea Oak

When I’m giving guided tours of the gardens at The Vyne, I introduce our visitors to our ‘oldest resident’.  No, not the buggy driver, but an English Oak (Quercus robur) tree.  It stands next to the Summerhouse, and is at least 606 years old – well, it was at least 600 years old when I joined as a volunteer six years ago.

We wait for a few moments for some traffic to pass by to show how close the road is to the tree.  I say it that way round because the tree has been there a lot longer than the road.  When the road was laid, the workmen did a lot of damage to the tree’s roots,  so much so, that the tree began to fall towards the road – a fact that is visible best from the side by the Summerhouse.  When that happened, the tree was propped up by two metal posts and a lot of the wood was cut off – it is now stable.

In the 19th century, a timber merchant was passing, saw the tree and wanted it for its wood.  He went to the family and offered £100 for it.  Although this was a lot of money in the 19th century, they declined.  He went away, but came back the following day and offered 100 Guineas (a guinea was worth £1/1shilling, or £1.05 in decimal currency, so a total of £105).  “Well, it’s gone up £5 overnight, so we’ll keep it!” they said.  And that’s how the tree got its name: “the 100 Guinea Oak”.

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