Legendary Tree (destroyed?): OS Grid Reference – SE 614270
From Carlton, take the western Hirst Road to Temple Hirst village, then turn right once you’re in the village and go up Common Lane up for about a mile. There’s a footpath on your left leading you to the Fair Oaks farmhouse. This was the spot!
Archaeology & History
This is fascinating sounding place which marked the central point of three old township boundaries nearly 1000 years ago. I first found it mentioned in Morrell’s History and Antiquities of Selby (1867: 36-7), where this once famous tree is described in land sale transactions. Morrell told:
“At Carlton the (Selby) abbey had considerable property, which was sold to the neighbouring priory of Drax. The boundary of the property sold was a certain oak tree, called Fair-haia, in Burn Wood, which Adam de Bellaqua gave for this purpose, binding himself and his heirs never to cut it down or root it up, sub poena anathematis.”
But we found a more detailed outline in Dugdale’s Selby Abbey in Yorkshire, where the premises and townships given to Selby Abbey in the 12th and 13th centuries are listed. In the township of ‘Carleton’ (as it was then spelt) Dugdale wrote:
“Peter de Brus gave the grange here, which the monks had held of Agnes, late wife of Ranulph FitzSwain. Richard abbat of Selby granted to Robert prior of Drax all the tithe from the north part of the oak called Fair-haia, in the wood of Birne, or Berlay, through the middle of the marsh to Hundolfsweith; and from thence by the strait ditch directly to Espholm, and all the tithe from Espholme to Appletreholme, as the ditch goes to the new fosse or ditch of Carleton: and the prior granted to the abbat all the tithes on the south to the new ditch, and from thence to the river Ayre. And Adam de Bellaqua gave this oak tree, called Fair-haia, as a boundary, never to be cut down (ad standum in perpetuum et non rescindendum), binding himself and his successors never to cut it down or root it up.”
One wonders: are there any remains left of this once great tree? Has anyone actually transgressed and uprooted it in times past? Is any other lore known of it? And who was Adam de Bellaqua?
One of the most intriguing elements to this site is its name, for the word ‘haia’ literally means ‘god of the land’ — but whether we can take this meaning seriously is questionable, as it’s of Sumerian origin. However, no local dialect words throw any light on the word and it may aswell be the name of the spirit of the tree as anything else. Does anyone know owt more about this place?
- Dugdale, William, Monasticon Anglicanum – volume 3, Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme & Brown: London 1817.
- Morrell, W.W., The History and Antiquities of Selby, W.B. Bellerby: Selby 1867.
- Philpot, J.H., The Sacred Tree, MacMillan: London 1897.
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian