This engraving from Worcester City’s collection, originally featured in the 1857 Illustrated London News, shows a jubilant scene in Upton-upon-Severn on the 29 May, one of many held nationwide.
Floral garlands of seasonal flowers, handkerchiefs and “all teaspoons which can be collected” were hung aloft for the festivities. Oak leaves and oak apples (oak galls) decorate buttonholes and processional poles and joyous celebrations, dancing and dining celebrated the restoration of the British Monarchy.
Oak Apple Day (commemorating the restoration of Charles II on 29 May, 1660, also his birthday) was celebrated by Royalist and Parliamentarian alike. The day does not celebrate a single victory of one army over another; it is symbolic and final end to hostilities and Civil War. It was an outpouring of relief and joy that nine years of bitter hostility and uncertainty were finally at an end. A nation that had been torn in two was finally able to heal.
We celebrate much more than Charles II and Monarchy on Oak Apple day. We celebrate the joy of an entire nation embracing lasting peace.
This article in the Illustrated London News on May 30, 1857 said that the custom would ‘in all probability soon be swallowed up by the awfully business habits of modern times’. Certainly Worcestershire was one of the last counties to celebrate the day.
The article explains the ceremony in more detail:
‘Early in the morning, ropes are stretched across the street, upon which are hung garlands, composed of all such flowers as are in bloom, and many are the speculations of the garland makers for weeks before as to whether __? and laburnum will be in their beauty by that time. The garlands are also ornamented with coloured ribbons and handkerchiefs, and all the teaspoons which can be collected are hung in the middle. Maypoles, though less common, and large boughs of oak are pressed(?) into service.
‘A benefit club meets on this day, and walks in procession (with band and flags) to church; after which they make a progress through the town, with music playing and colours flying, finishing up with a dinner – that bond of amity with Englishmen.
‘All this may be very obstructive to business; but we cannot see smiling faces – proofs of joyous hearts – without wishing that our national habits allowed of a few more such general rejoicings, never minding whether they took their origin from the triumph of Royalist or Republican.’