It is thought that long ago, the tree, well placed at the head of several valleys, was decorated for the fertility rites practiced by pastoral shepherds living in the neighbouring hills.
There is ample evidence in this locality of Bronze and Iron Age peoples: the well-sited Burrow fort (Iron Age) with its adjacent plateau, overlooking the site of the present village of Aston on Clun is
These pastoral tribes worshipped Brigit, the Celtic Goddess of Fertility, who was later to become St Brigit. Her shrine was a tree on which the tribal emblems and prayer flags were kept: fertility for the family and the land being invoked. Saplings of the tree were given to young brides, we believe, to ensure a good size family.
The Saxons were the earliest settlers in Aston on Clun, followed by the Normans. The settlement flourished through Tudor times, but the district suffered badly during the Civil War period.
The massacre at nearby Hopton Castle was a notable example of the merciless feuds which had arisen locally.
In the 1660s, following the demise of Oliver Cromwell’s rigid rule, King Charles II came to power, declaring a National Holiday on 29th May, (which was also his birthday), and known as Oak Apple Day. This later became known in Aston on Clun as Arbor Day. Trees all over the country were dressed with flags, and the day was spent dancing, eating and drinking.
It is thought that villages complied with this practice as a statement of allegiance to the King.
On Arbor Day in Aston on Clun in 1786, local Squire John Marston of the Oaker Estate married Mary Carter of Sibdon.
They arrived back at the Arbor Tree to see it dressed with flags, and the villagers having fun. The Marstons were so taken with the joy of the celebrations that they set up a trust to pay for the care of the tree and the flags, until the mid 1950’s, when Hopesay Parish Council took up the task.
Slowly over many years, tree dressing was forgotten in many of Britain’s villages, especially as the tree dressing holiday had been abolished in 1859. By the mid 1950’s interest was waning even in Aston on Clun.
Tom Beardsley of Clun (‘Tom Clun’ - who wrote for many years for the Shropshire Magazine) suggested that a wedding pageant to celebrate the Marston wedding might excite local interest. Local children dressed up in clothes as worn in the 1700’s, with a procession, containing a bride, groom, vicar and villagers. This was successful, and the wedding pageant became popular.
But this was short-lived, for by the 1970’s Arbor Tree celebrations had been reduced to Tree Dressing only. It was in the Jubilee year of 1977, with a revival of the wedding pageant, that Arbor Day was revitalised. Since then, with hard work from local people, the festival thrives, and has become the popular annual event it is today.
In 1995, the 300+ year old Black Poplar tree (Populus Nigra Var. Betulifolia) fell down in a rain storm, and was replaced by a 20 year old sapling which had been taken from the old tree. That tree was 28 years old when it was first pollarded in December 2003.
Click here for a video of the new Arbor Tree being planted with John Kirkpatrick singing the Arbor Tree Song.