The Wyndham’s Oak
One of the few remaining hanging trees in England is the ‘Wyndham’s oak’, dating from the 1600s and of specific relevance around the time when the throne was succeeded by James II in 1685. During these turbulent times, a revolt started in support of the illegitimate son of his predecessor, Charles II, but was speedily suppressed by the infamous ‘hanging Judge Jeffrey’, who was recruited to defeat the rebels. He apparently hanged over 300 peasants in the locality and is reputed to have shouted, sworn and laughed at his victims as they were punished. Many of the supporters are known to have been hanged from the tree which stands in a now quiet Dorset parish.
Age and size: The hollow bole is 26 feet high and it measures 38 feet around the trunk. Sir Hugh Wyndham, Justice of the Common Pleas in the time of Charles II, used to sit beneath it, contemplating his cases.
Historic connections: The tree is named after Sir Hugh Wyndham, who bought Silton Manor in 1641. In 1654 Sir Hugh became a judge of the “Court of Common Pleas” having been appointed by the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell. He would return, weary from much travelling, and rest under his favourite tree, admiring the view of what was previously the Royal Forest of Gillingham. So well loved was this view that a seat was erected under the tree so that full benefit could be gained – its remains were still visible in the early 19th Century.
A hanging tree: It is possible that the tree was used for hangings after the Monmouth rebellion in 1685 but this isn’t certain. However, the nearby village, Stoke Trister is reputed to have been the home of a number of the rebels concerned so it’s definitely not out of the question.
Location Plan and directions: The tree is located behind the Church of Saint Nicholas in Silton, Dorset. You can probably access it from the churchyard but you will need to scramble over walls and fences to do so. It is best to find the footpath along Waterloo Lane (indicated on the location plan) and after a short walk the field opens up to reveal this truly remarkable tree.