Boscobel House and the Royal Oak
Boscobel House and the Royal Oak

From acorn to oak – the famous Civil War gem that’s re-opened to the public

England’s historic treasures are begging to be discovered, says Jonjo Maudsley, who visits the newly revamped Boscobel House in Shropshire.

Jonjo Maudsley
Wednesday 19 May 2021 09:30

Lockdown is easing and I’m on my way to The Royal Oak. No, not the pub, but the place (and story) that inspired the third most popular name for English pubs in England

The year is 1651. Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army has delivered a crushing blow to Charles II’s Royalists at the Battle of Worcester and the English Civil War has been decided. With Cromwell’s Parliamentarians swarming through the countryside, the Merry Monarch is forced to flee to Boscobel House in Shropshire

Built as a hunting lodge by John Gifford on the grounds of White Ladies Priory, the cosy manor is now leased by William Careless, who offers the king refuge in the attic.

A view of Boscobel House Credit Jonjo Maudsley PA

Charles paces around the house until one fateful evening when – with the Parliamentarians drawing closer – he and Careless are forced to abandon the house and take refuge in a nearby oak tree. Here they wait out the night, surrounded by the footsteps of their would-be captors, until the next morning.

Charles would later make good his escape to the Netherlands, thus cementing Boscobel House and the so-called “Royal Oak” into the annals of English history (and pub names) forevermore.

This is a story I learned on a guided tour through Boscobel House, the English Heritage property whose interiors have reopened to the public after a £950,000 refresh.

Original 17th century garden at Boscobel House Credit Chris Ison

A short drive from the M6, the Civil War gem is nestled in the heart of the picturesque Shropshire countryside. New additions include the introduction of rare breed animals like Tamworth pigs and Ryeland sheep to a tranquil animal farm, a play area to keep the kids busy, and a revamp of the cutesy tea room. The woodland once surrounding the Royal Oak has also been replanted using saplings propagated from the original tree.

What is most striking about Boscobel, however, is the house itself, and with a new interactive interpretation tour, I get the chance to fully immerse myself in the atmosphere of this oft-forgotten epoch in English history.

The living room in the interior of Boscobel House Credit Jonjo Maudsley PA

The house’s timber-framed exterior and oak-panelled interior have not only been carefully preserved, but augmented with immersive technology that brings the story of Charles’s escape to life like never before. Even the furniture, which had originally been sold, is being meticulously traced and restored – a key piece is an original copy of Thomas Blount’s book Boscobel, a contemporary account of the king’s escape.

And of course, the pièce de resistance is undoubtedly the Royal Oak (or rather, the grandchild of the original), which looms over the grounds and offers visitors a first-person glance at one of the most striking artefacts from the English Civil War.

But wait. What, you ask, became of Charles II? Well, after nine oppressive years under Cromwell, the English finally invited him home to resume his place on the throne, ending a dark age and starting a brighter chapter in history.

How to plan your trip

Entrance costs £11 per adult, £6.60 per child or £28.60 for a family of four. English Heritage members go free. Visit english-heritage.org.uk.