The journal “Annals of agriculture and other useful arts” carried a series of reports on visits to East Kent, a visit to Fredville on July 6, 1793, was described as follows:
“Call on John Plumtree, Esq. of Fredville, who very politely shews us his famous oak, called Majesty -, measure this tree; 4 feet from the ground the circumference is 31 feet ; it is supposed to contain from 36 to 42 tons of timber. Two branches separated from this tree about four years ago, in a calm day, which contained three tons of timber. Another oak, called Beauty, 14 tons of timber ; girt, 4 feet from the ground, 16 feet 4 inches, is 63 feet high, perfectly straight, and a beauty indeed !—From hence to Denne-Hill (in Womenswold parish).—Much corn, very poor, and full of weeds. See a South Down flock of very inferior kind. Return to Betshanger. Day’s ride 14 miles”.
“But “Majesty”, the most wonderful of all these trees, has, eight feet from the ground, a circumference of twenty-eight feet four inches—and at twenty-eight feet from the ground fifteen feet six inches. It has one arm which contains sixty-eight feet eleven inches— another sixty-four feet two inches—a third, sixty feet nine inches, and several others of nearly equal dimensions. The total contents of thishuge bulk of timber are thirty-six tons twenty-eight feet four inches, bark not included”.
A few years later Jacob George Strutt’s “Sylva britannica : or, Portraits of forest trees, distinguished for their antiquity, magnitude, or beauty or, Portraits of forest trees, Drawn from nature” published in 1830 recorded , “Nearly in front of the family mansion of John Plumtre, Esq., in his park at Fredville, in the parish of Nonnington, Kent, is a group of oaks known by the names of Majesty, Stately, and Beauty. Seldom are three trees so different from each other in individual character, and so interest- ing altogether, to be found in such near proximity.
“Majesty, which, as its name denotes, is the largest, is somewhat more than twenty-eight feet in circumference, at eight feet from the ground, and contains above fourteen hundred feet of timber. Stately, the next in point of size, is a noble specimen of the tall oak ; the stem going up straight and clean to the height of seventy feet. The girth, at four feet from the ground, is eighteen feet ; and it contains about five hundred feet of timber. Beauty, at an equal height, is sixteen feet in circumference, and its solid contents are nearly the same. Altogether these three graces of the forest form a group immediately within sight of the house, which, for magnificence and beauty, is not perhaps to be equalled by any other of the same nature ; awakening in the mind of the spectator the most agreeable associations of the freedom and grandeur of woodland scenery, with the security and refinements of cultivated life”.
In 1890 £.100.00 was offered for “Stately” to be felled and used as timber, a huge amount for a tree at this time an agricultural labourer would have earned about £.25 to £.30 a year, but the offer was fortunately declined.
In the mid-1920’s Lillian Boys Behrens wrote that Fredville House had once stood at the end of a long avenue of trees but that at the time of writing only a few oaks remained. She said that two of the largest oaks near to the house known to have been flourishing in 1554 were recorded as “The Ancient Bear’ and ‘King Fredville Oak’ . The later appears to be an alternative name for “Majesty”, and “The Ancient Bear’ for either “Beauty” or “Stately”. Mrs. Boys Behrens also offered her opinion that Fredville’s gardens also contained the finest magnolia tree in England.
“Majesty” had a large bough broken off on its east side in 1924, and has within the last year or so undergone some minor surgery. “Beauty”, “Stately” and another old oak tree known as “Staghorn” are still standing although a bit worse for wear.
‘“Majesty”’ is the largest surviving maiden oak in the United Kingdom and is listed as such in the Guinness Book of Records. Estimates of “Majesty’s” age vary from 450 to 1,000 years old, however if ‘King Fredville Oak’ was the old name for “Majestie” this indicates that the tree was of considerable age in 1554, making the higher estimate the most likely.
The Majesty Oak is featured in World Tree Story, for more information about this book, please go to www.indiegogo.com/projects/world-tree-story/x/6442094
The “Step Tree” and other chestnuts.
In the 1930’s Dr. Hardman, a noted East Kent historian recorded the memories of Richard Jarvis Arnold of of life in Nonington in the 1880’s & 90’s. Mr. Arnold, a blacksmith born in Nonington but who later lived and worked in Walmer, recollected: “The trees of Fredville Park were well known. In addition to the old oak there were some large chestnuts. One was called the ‘Step Tree’ and had some steps affixed to it. In the upper part of the trunk and branches 12 or 20 people could sit”.
It was said that members of the Plumptre family often had tea on the platform in the “Step Tree” in the years before the Great War, the tree is still there but is now unfortunately showing its age.
The programme for an excursion by Kent Archaeological Society to Nonington in September, 1936, noted that: ‘The well known ‘Majesty Oak’ is close to the terrace (of the house); it is 38 ½ fee in girth (4 ½ feet above the ground) and may be 1,000 years old. At a little distance is the chestnut avenue in which the ‘Step’ tree and two others are notable. Further in the park (near Sheerway Gate) is the famous horn beam, which has a ‘spread’ of over 100 feet; and perhaps this is the most notable of all. It is possibly 500 years old’.
It was reputed that a company of soldiers could take shelter underneath the hornbeam’s spreading branches, possibly this was discovered when the East Kent Rifle Volunteers mustered in Fredville Park in 1872. Unfortunately the horn beam has long gone, and I can find no pictorial or written details concerning it.