By Bicester historian Paula Hessian.

IN WESTON we have many properties named after trees – Oak, Pear, Yew, Hazel, Fir, Walnut, Lime, Elm, Willow and Holly – I may have missed some!

In addition, one field is called Row of Trees Ground: trees have been used to name places for hundreds of years, they were, and still are, significant landmarks.

Edward Norreys of Weston Manor wrote ‘ elm-tree in the west corner of the orchard was planted in the year 1672 and was the bigness of a walking cudgel when planted…the elms in the warren were left suckers about 1682…’.

During the nineteenth century, those who damaged trees or undergrowth in pursuit of game or to harvest nuts or gather firewood could expect to be fined or imprisoned if caught as all the parish, including the trees, belonged to the manor. Specific mention is made of ash, oak and hazel.

In 1874 Captain Bertie of Weston Manor planted a Cedar of Lebanon – it is still there today and in the early 20th century it was noted that a willow stick left in the ground became a large tree.

The existence of trees has always been recorded, from oaks planted in the 11th century, to Edward Norreys in the 17th century and his descendant Captain Bertie 200 years later.

More recently, various species have been used in plantings to commemorate coronations, jubilees, and individuals.

We once had elm and beech trees lining the road through the village, a spinney of firs in the south of the parish and trees in the school garden – apple, lilac and nut trees.

The apple may have been a remnant of a pre-war Women’s Institute scheme to bulk purchase trees on behalf of members, certainly some apple trees from that scheme survive in my garden.

During the 19th century, the local paper reported farm labourers and their families being treated to ‘…plentiful supply of tea, cake, bread, butter, jam etc…’ under the ‘…spreading branches of a brave old oak in a meadow…’

So more written evidence of the importance of trees within the parish.

But Weston is also renowned for one particular tree. This tree is not in a meadow, nor is it part of a hedgerow. It stands on ‘no-man's-land’ between the road and one of the old ponds in the village.

Children would ‘…walk round the tree, never touching the ground because we stepped only on the roots…’.

This venerable oak is thought to be over 300 years old and is regularly monitored by specialists from Cherwell District Council and Oxfordshire County Council.

They are well aware of its age and its vulnerable position beside a busy road. It is also important to wildlife – owls nest here and it is also a bat roost.

This tree is important for another reason - tradition has it that it will only survive if at least one child is born in the village each year – nowadays born in the John Radcliffe to a village family has to suffice.

Using church records, which began over 400 years ago, there has been at least one baptism each year in all but 14 separate years. How did this tradition start?

I can trace it back through generations to the 19th century when Weston’s oak tree would already have been about 200 years old – how far back does the tradition go?

I wonder if there was a tree, prior to the present one, maybe one of those planted in the 11th century which died when there had been no births….who knows?