Leeds nostalgia: Headingley’s ‘Shire Oak’ sappling planted not far off

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Dateline: October 8, 1918: Culled from the pages of this very paper 100 years ago today, a fascinating slice of local history relating to Headingley and Roundhay, but principally the former, which it was claimed had a much longer claim to heraldic nobility than the latter.

Headingley was first owned by Walter Paytefen, ‘Lord of Headingley’, who came over in the train of William the Conqueror and who assigned lands to the ‘Lacles’, who were chief lords of a large estate. Thereafter, the land passed to Kirkstall Abbey and after that the Archbishop Cranmer. In the reign of James I they were bought by Sir John Savile and afterwards passed to the Cardigan family, the land being sold off circa 1874 for housing and so on.

The article points out Headingley once had a moor of its own but about 1767 it was enclosed and cultivated, adding: “Headingley nowadays can boast of no memorials of antiquity, except the Oak, whose age may be calculated at over a thousand years.”

Said oak gave its name to the wapentake of Skyrack (or ‘Shire Oak’). Beneath its branches, important meetings were held in far off days. These meetings were called ‘wapentakes’ or ‘wapenshaws’. It is thought the word translates as ‘weapon touch’, a tradition of men of power who met there touching the heads of their peers with spears or swords as a mark of respect and loyalty, a token they they would join arms in common cause.

Of the tree, the article states: “A sapling from the old Oak has been very properly planted between it and the church and is not getting to be a sturdy tree.” It adds the tree had stopped baring leaves several years earlier.