Twin Oaks in the Hedgerows

Gypsy burial tradition

Wash Day at a Gypsy Camp Birmingham 1905 | Warwickshire County Record Office reference PH1115/Box 1/LB1/519
Wash Day at a Gypsy Camp, 1905
Warwickshire County Record Office reference PH1115/Box 1/LB1/519
Acorns and oak leaves from a pedunculate oak | Sourced from Project Gutenberg, 'Wayside and Woodland Trees', Edward Step F. L. S.
Acorns and oak leaves from a pedunculate oak.
Sourced from Project Gutenberg, 'Wayside and Woodland Trees', Edward Step F. L. S.

I was recently introduced to the modern folk song ‘One Day’ by Martin Simpson, based on a poem by Martin Taylor, which was written on the loss of his son1. The song itself is beautiful, and I was struck by one particular verse:

The twin oaks in the hedgerow grow strong from such sadness
Grown from the grave of a lost Gypsy child
And the leaves and the long grass, they whisper your name
My Romany chavo, so dear and so wild.

Taylor is of gypsy heritage, and it seems that this verse refers to a tradition where ‘when a gypsy child is buried, it is buried with an acorn in each hand, and from the acorns grow twin oaks.’2

It’s certainly a moving image, and unfortunately I haven’t been able to find many other references to this tradition. I would be very interested to read more about it, if anyone can suggest any sources.

Warwickshire graves?

More specifically, I would be interested to know whether any such graves are still marked in Warwickshire. Travellers have lived and moved throughout Warwickshire for hundreds of years. Looking through parish registers, you occasionally find references to baptisms and burials marked as ‘A Traveller’ or ‘A Gypsy’. There is one particularly poignant entry for 12 June 1902 of a showman’s child who died at Long Compton aged only four.3 Evidently not all travellers adhered to this tradition of burial, if indeed it was practised at all in Warwickshire.

Is anyone aware of any such twin oaks in the hedgerows of Warwickshire? Granted, such trees also occur naturally, and twin oaks in some cases may have been ‘created deliberately to increase the potential yield of bark for tanning’.4 However, there may be the possibility that they mark the site of a grave. The size of the tree may even indicate the age of the site. Of course, there are no certainties and lots of guesswork, but it’s a fascinating thought all the same.

Living memory

The idea of these trees, a living and growing memorial, serves such a contrast with written documents or carved stone graves. So often the natural landscape seems timeless and ‘out of our hands’. This tradition serves as a reminder that nature also has a history. The landscape is not unchanging and impersonal, but grows from our actions and reflects the lives of those who have occupied it.

1 Mike Harding, “Monumental new song from Martin Simpson

2 James Taylor, “Martin Simpson’s New Song About My Brother

3 Long Compton Parish Register, Warwickshire County Record Office, Reel 1, DR1145/2.

4 Steven Falk, “The Trees of Warwickshire, Coventry and Solihull