Leeds nostalgia: Roots of old oak run deep

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This week’s ‘Tardis’ picture shows the old oak tree in Headingley before it collapsed into ruin and now, with its modern replacement, which is set back some distance from the site of the original tree.

The oak, which lends its name to both nearby pubs - the Original Oak and the Skyrack - is said to have stood since Roman times. They say an oak tree takes 300 years to grow, 300 to flourish and 300 to die, which would still leave it a little short of Roman times but it is nonetheless acknowledged to be very old.

BLEND: David Clay

BLEND: David Clay

It was certainly there in Medieval times. The Skyrack Wapentake was an open-air meeting of leaders, where they would thrash out deals and solve disagreements. The word ‘skyrack’ is thought to derive from ‘siaraches’, which meant ‘bright oak’, while ‘wapentake’ refers to weapons, which formed a central part of the meeting, weapons being brandishes and counted when voting on new laws.

In Saxon times, Yorkshire was divided into three ridings, or ‘thriddings’, meaning a third of a shire and they were further subdivided into hundreds or ‘wapentakes’. Hundreds denoted areas of land - possibly, in the past, it was an area deemed able to support 100 households or 100 men-at-arms. The word ‘wapentake’ is thought to derive from an ancient custom practised among newly appointed lords of the manor and existing landowners, whereby the new chief would meet existing men-at-arms and each would hold forth a spear or ‘weapon’, which they would then ‘tac’, or touch, which gives us the term ‘waepuntac’, which was corrupted to wapentake.

The tree was in a state of decay for many decades but its sanctity was preserved and a fence built around it. It finally collapsed on May 26, 1941, not long after being hit by a car.

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