Good old Wikipedia… I think I’ve found out the reasons behind the tree I photographed at Padley with coins inserted in its trunk (see this post). It seems the tree is some kind of Wish Tree, which Wikipedia describes as “an individual tree, usually distinguished by species, position or appearance, which is used as an object of wishes and offerings. Such trees are identified as possessing a special religious or spiritual value. By tradition, believers make votive offerings in order to gain from that nature spirit, saint or goddess fulfillment of a wish.”
One form of votive offering is the token offering of a coin. One such tree still stands near Ardmaddy House in Argyll, Scotland. The tree is a hawthorn, a species traditionally linked with fertility, as in “May Blossom”. The trunk and branches are covered with hundreds of coins which have been driven through the bark and into the wood. The local tradition is that a wish will be granted for each of the coins so treated.
On Isle Maree in Loch Maree, Gairloch, in the Highlands is an oak Wish Tree made famous by a visit in 1877 by Queen Victoria and its inclusion in her published diaries. The tree, and others surrounding it, are festooned with hammered-in coins. It is near the healing well of St. Maree, to which votive offerings were made. Records show that bulls were sacrificed openly up until the 18th century.
Near Mountrath, County Laois, is a shapeless old Wish Tree in the form of a sycamore tree called St. Fintan’s Well. The original well was filled in, but the water re-appeared in the centre of the tree. Hundreds of Irish pennies have been beaten into the bark as good luck offerings.
Many public houses, such as the Punch Bowl in Askham, near Penrith in Cumbria, have old beams with splits in them into which coins are forced for luck.
Thanks to Jon B who commented on my last post with some spectacular examples that he found at Malham in the Yorkshire Dales. An example of his photos is here.
A few searches on Flickr show there’s a good number of these trees around. Searching for ones in the Peak District show there’s a few around the area, including a good number at Dovedale. The example below is by orangeacid and used under the Creative Commons License.
Another search in Yorkshire show a much bigger crop, including examples of them at various locations. The impressive example below is by user Tasa_M, and taken at Hardcastle Crags in the Calder Valley. Again it’s used under the Creative Commons license.
The caption by the above user suggests the custom goes back to Roman times, but she observes, like I did with the Padley tree, that most of the coins appear to be modern 2p pieces. I’d conclude that due to the lack of pre-decimalisation coins the Padley tree was definitely started post 1970s, and probably much more recently – the photo at this page shows the tree looking much less “coined” that in my photo, and while there’s no date on it I’d suspect it’s not from too many years ago.
If anyone knows any more info then please let me know!