Tuesday, 8 May 2007

The Wilberforce Oak

by Charles Pooter

On Saturday we went for a drive in the countryside. It was one of those drives where you choose a general direction but don't make any exact plans. As is usual on these kind of excursions, I just kept a look out for "foot path" signs and stopped when I saw one where the surroundings looked pretty and interesting. On our first stop we had a look around some of the woods near the village of Keston, traditionally in Kent, but now annexed into the London borough of Bromley. As we walked around, we came across signs directing us to the "Wilberforce Oak". Intriguing, I thought to myself, I'm sure I've heard that name a lot in the media recently. After a short walk up a hill we found the oak, now somewhat destroyed:

The Wilberforce Oak

(Apologies for the quality of these photos by the way: I didn't have my real camera with me so had to use my mobile phone). Opposite the oak was an ancient looking stone bench with an engraving on it:

Stone bench near the Wilberforce Oak

The engraving had been eroded but was still just about legible:

“At length, I well remember after a conversation with Mr. Pitt in the open air at the root of an old tree at Holwood, just above the steep descent into the vale of Keston, I resolved to give notice on a fit occasion in the House of Commons of my intention to bring forward the abolition of the slave-trade.”
What a coincidence that we should happen upon this monument so near to the bi-centenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act! The Oak is in the grounds of the Holwood Estate, which was the residence of Pitt the Younger. Pitt and Wilberforce were lifelong friends, having met at Cambridge University. Wilberforce would often visit Keston and Holwood and sit in deep thought upon the stone bench which now bears the quotation from his diary. I imagine the view helped in his contemplations:

View from "above the steep descent into the vale of Keston"

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