Ickworth Park, in its own right, is one of Suffolk’s landscape wonders. Yet it also contains some of the finest ancient trees in the area.
The Tea Party Oak – so called because school children from Horringer village would historically hold tea parties beneath it – is at least 800 years old. This marks it as one of the county’s oldest surviving oaks. Squat and gnarled, its heartwood long decayed, this venerable tree can be found standing alone south of Ickworth Lodge.
Another tree in Albana Wood is roughly 600 years old, while an ancient beech in Dairy Wood is as impressive an example as one might find anywhere in England.
Trees were often objects of pre-Christian devotion, their ritual significance living on in the names of parishes such as Halghetree or Hallowtree near Ipswich, or Hessel (hazel tree) in East Yorkshire. Following the conversion, missionaries maintained the significance of these trees by preaching beneath them. One such example of a ‘gospel oak’ is at Polstead; now barely a tree stump, the oak was reputedly used by the c. 8th missionary St Cedd. Until recently an annual service commemorating St Cedd’s preaching was held nearby.