Watch out for your bottom if you go out this morning because in Sussex today (29th May) is known as ‘Pinch-bum Day’ although in the rest of the country it is ‘Oak Apple Day’.
During the English Civil War, in 1651 the future King Charles II was pursued by the Roundheads south across England following his defeat at the Battle of Worcester. During his escape he hid at Boscobel House, Shropshire, the home of a supporters, brothers William and Richard Pendrell.
Cromwell’s troops, in hot pursuit were soon on the scene, so Charles had to escape and spent the day hiding in an oak tree in the grounds of the house. In the words of the King, the oak was ‘a great tree which had been lopped some three of four years earlier and had grown very bushy and thick. It was an ideal hiding place.’ Charles was exhausted and fell asleep in the tree but luckily he was accompanied by Colonel William Carless who had to regularly pinch the future King on the bottom to keep him awake.
Despite a £1,000 bounty on his head, the 21 year old Charles managed to evade the Parliamentarian Army, dodging from town to town over the next few weeks, eventually arriving in Sussex. He passed through Chichester and Arundel but was nearly caught by Roundheads as he crossed Bramber Bridge. The small royal party arrived at Brighton via a circuitous route to evade Cromwell’s men. They passed Devils Dyke where it is said they were given sustenance by a local miller at Cuttress Mill. Apparently when the Parliamentarian army found out, a Roundhead Captain named Kneel-To-God Blades (wow!) burnt down the mill.
The King then passed through Lewes, calling in at Southover Grange and then to Ovingdean Grange where the King stopped whilst Lord Wilmott rode ahead to check that arrangements in Brighton were sound. The King later rode to Brighton where he lodged at the George Inn in West Street. The Inn later changed its name to the King’s Head but it was demolished in the 1990s. The site is now a Travelodge. (just down toward the sea from the clock-tower) The route taken by the King is now remembered as a Long Distance Footpath – the 615 mile Monarchs Way which runs from Worcester to Shoreham via Boscobel and Arundel. Its symbol is of course a crown in an oak tree.
Passage to France for the was arranged on a coal-ship The Surprise, belonging to a Captain Tattersall and the fugitive King made his way from Shoreham to Fecamp disguised as a soldier. On arrival the King travelled to Paris to stay with his Mum (Queen Henrietta Maria) The royal voyage is still remembered each year by the Sussex Yacht Club who arrange a race from Brighton to Fecamp.
When the monarchy was restored in 1660 the 29th May (the King’s birthday) was declared to be a public holiday ‘to be kept forever as a day of thanksgiving‘ People were asked to attend church to give thanks for the Royal survival. Members of Parliament (each wearing a sprig of oak) would visit St Margaret’s Church, Westminster and The Book of Common Prayer even included the words of a special service.
Across the country people wore a sprig of oak in their hat or lapel to remember the great day. Anyone not wearing a few leaves of oak were liable to be cruelly pinched on the bottom or slapped with some stinging nettles. This was a tradition in Sussex and was mentioned in the Sussex Express as recently as 1947. People would be expected to hang a sprig of oak from their front door or they could find their houses pelted with eggs. The day the day was also known as ‘Shick-Shack Day’ and in some villages children would claim a reward from the owners of houses not bearing an oak garland. They would chant at the owners “Shick-Shack penny a rag, bang his head in Cromwell’s bag, badness to this house will stay before the next 29th of May.” A shick-shack (or a shig-shag) was an old name for the oak.
Oak Apple Day became a public holiday and many pubs were named the Royal Oak after this escapade. One of those pubs was in St Mary’s Lane (now Station Street) Lewes but unlike the others this one was actually owned by a member of the Pendrell family who owned the original oak tree where King Charles hid. John Martin Pendrell who was born in Alfriston in 1779 owned the pub in the 1820s.
The Alfriston Pendrell family were certainly descendants of the original family as they enjoyed an annual pension and permission to hunt on the Royal estates. One of John’s sons (John Richard) was born in 1803 in Seaford and was a Police Constable in the East Sussex Constabulary in the town.
Today Oak Apple Day is rarely remembered although apparently members of the Pendrell family still claim their annual reward. Chelsea Pensioners still wear a sprig of oak today as they remember King Charles as their founder. Traditionally each pensioner was given a plum pudding decorated with an oak leaf.
Watch out if you go out today – if you are not wearing an oak leaf you may get your bum pinched!