Blog: The Churchill oak in Churchill village

Published: 18 Oct 2018

Author: Bill Nicholson
Blog: The Churchill oak in Churchill village

What have an oak tree and a Plymouth pear tree got to do with my Fellowship to the USA and Australia in 1995, where I studied the investigation of fraud? I was so grateful for the ‘chance of a lifetime’ that upon my return I became very involved with the running of the South West Association of Churchill Fellows and over the years since then have served on the committee, undertaken the role of chairman and latterly been the secretary, organising events across the region and one national event at the House of Lords.

2015 was the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Sir Winston Churchill and I became aware of a suggestion that all Associations become involved in planting 50 oak trees throughout the land to mark that momentous occasion. To my delight I found that there is a lovely village in Somerset named Churchill and, after some detective work, I was satisfied that there is a link between that village and John Churchill. He was made a Duke in 1702 and so became the 1st Duke of Marlborough, for whom Blenheim Palace was built, which much later was the house where Winston Churchill was born. What more fitting location for the planting (above) of the South West Association’s oak tree?

Meanwhile, the news that WCMT were to have an open day at Blenheim Palace on 27 May 2015 gave me the idea to present to Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill a Plymouth pear tree, and this was duly done by yours truly on the day. A photograph of the occasion is below. The location is in the grounds of Blenheim Palace (though permission to view the tree must be sought from the head gardener as it is planted in a private area). Professor Roger Motte (1975 Fellow), who had been a chairman of the South West Association and a member of the WCMT Council, made an accompanying plaque from one of the Seven Oaks of Kent blown down in 1987.

Below: the South West Association presents a Plymouth pear tree to Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill

The South West Association presents a Plymouth pear tree to Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill

So what of the Churchill oak? This was planted in Churchill village, Somerset, on 21 November 2015, by myself and a lad named Edward Hill, who is the son of the chairman of the local Open Spaces Committee. It is located on the Queen Elizabeth 11 Jubilee Field, beside Rowan Way, off Broadoak Road. Locating the tree is easy and its co-ordinates are ST451604.

The site has been designated a ‘Field in Trust’ for the use of local residents in perpetuity, and so the tree is safe from building encroachment. Local residents Terry Wilson and Kate Johns, who acts as a tree warden, help nurture the tree. The photograph of the planting shows myself and Edward with other members and friends of the Association. A short history of The Churchill family’s link to the village of Churchill can be read below.

The oak tree might survive for a few hundred years and the purpose of this blog post is to alert others to the location of both the Churchill Oak and the Plymouth pear tree, in the hope that their existence will not be forgotten. I am rather disappointed that in spite of the best efforts of the Trust, the location of other oak trees planted by Associations in 2015 are unknown. Can you help the Trust with information on the planting of other oaks, or visit the trees as described above? I do hope so.

The Churchill family and Churchill village in Somerset

The first records of the Churchill village name are to be found between 1174 and 1191, although prior to that there were certainly people living in the area.

The Church of St John the Baptist, in the village of Churchill, was largely built around 1360 and is a Grade I listed building. There was a Norman chapel on the site in 1180, from which the nave has survived in the present church. Unfortunately the church is seldom open to visitors.

John Churchill was born at Ashe House, Devon, on 26 May 1650 and married a Sarah Jennings, who was the third daughter of a Richard Jennings, who lived at Churchill Court in the village of Churchill.

Sarah Jennings was a friend of Queen Anne, the monarch who made John Churchill the 1st Duke of Marlborough in 1702. He is possibly most famous for his exploits in commanding British forces at the Battle of Blenheim in August 1704, and in February 1705 the Queen gave him the Park of Woodstock in Oxfordshire and the sum of £240,000 to build a suitable house as a gift from the Crown in recognition of that victory. The house, now known as Blenheim Palace, was built between 1705 and 1733 and is where Sir Winston Churchill was born in 1874. It is also his ancestral home.

Churchill Court as a house was first recorded in the 14th century but may have been built much earlier. The house, a Grade II listed manor house on the Historic Houses website, has been rebuilt over time and in 1652 it was bought by the Royalist Sir John Churchill (a cousin of the other John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough) for £5,900 from Richard Jennings, who had become impoverished. When Sir John Churchill died he was buried at Churchill. This is the link to the Churchill family, Blenheim Palace and Sir Winston Churchill himself.

An article about the village of Churchill appeared in Life magazine in 1940, pp87-95. My thanks to John and Jan Murray of Churchill Court, Jane Dixon of the Langford History Group, Churchill Fellow Julie Logan and W F Butler, whose book 'Churchill People and Places' provides a fascinating insight into this beautiful Somerset village and its inhabitants. The book can be found in many libraries or bought through Amazon.