Wednesday, 5 December 2012

What was the Gartree?

Leicestershire folk all know the name ‘Gartree.’ There is the old Roman Road, called Gartree Road, and there is a Gartree High School in Oadby. There is a Gartree Prison and a huge area of land known locally as the Gartree Hundred. But what is Gartree?

The Gartree (or Gore Tree) was an oak tree situated to the north of the Roman Gartree Road and west of the ancient ridgeway running north to south, between Shangton and Illston-on-the-Hill. The oak was arguably the most important landmark in the ancient local landscape. Ancient oaks were always held in high regard to the pagan elders of this country. Druids would worship the oak tree and hold their ceremonies in amongst their clutches. The Gartree oak is thought to be one of these sacred trees as we know that it was a meeting place for the elders of the Gartree Hundred area, way before the Anglo-Saxons arrived in Leicestershire. This sacred meeting place even pre-dates the Roman invasion and hence the Roman road that was named after it.

Gartree Road (image source: www.leicesterchronicler.com)
Local landowners would gather around the Gartree oak to record their goods and make trading deals. We know from records that between at least 1458 and 1750 the hundred courts met at the oak until they decided to move them to the Bull's Head in Tur Langton, the nearest convenient inn to the ancient meeting place. This primitive, open-air court was chosen so that the sheriff could make fair judgement without the influence of spirits who haunted buildings.

If you saw the relatively recent Story of England TV documentary by Michael Wood, you would have seen the site of the tree and even a remnant of it. Sadly, the ancient oak fell in the 1960s. The area of land is now private and inaccessible without the landowner’s permission. But to mark its importance in the local landscape, a replacement tree has since been planted and can be viewed from the road. Hopefully there will also be an information board and signpost erected soon.

The replacement Gartree (image source: www.thisisleicestershire.co.uk)

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