Heart of Oak

Early History

Fownhope Heart of Oak Society can trace its roots back to the early 1800s.   At that time, there were many Heart of Oak Societies in Britain based predominantly in the rural areas with agricultural workers forming the majority of the membership. 

The Friendly Societies provided a form of insurance to their members.  Members paid a regular subscription and in return, the society trustees paid the member or his family and dependants a small amount of money if they fell upon hard times.  This could occur if the member became ill or was unable to work and provide income for his family.  In addition, the trustees of the society could make a payment to the widow and dependants upon death of a member.

This self help arrangement was of course very important during times when there was no social security and health service. The membership was originally exclusively male.  Elected members would form the trustees and they would keep strict control over the finances.  They would agree how much payment would be made to members and under what circumstances.The arrangements of the Heart of Oak Societies could be described as an early form of trade unionism.  It was encouraged by employers as it relieved them of some of their responsibilities to their employees.

Club Walk

Most societies would have a celebration day each year when there would be a Club Walk through the village, a club dinner with speeches from local dignitaries and a fun fair with sports.  This was probably the only day that rural workers had as holiday.  It originally took place at Whitsuntide but later moved to Oak Apple Day, the 29th May.

The background and history of the Fownhope Heart of Oak Society (FHOS) is the same as all the other Heart of Oak Societies.  However, we have managed to preserve some of the traditions of the early societies and we still have the traditional Club Walk.  In the mid 1980s, changes in the regulations concerning financial institutions meant that the “friendly” status (in the context of insurance) was no longer acceptable.  The FHOS restructured its finances with the aim of preserving the traditions of Club Walk day, becoming more of a social group and enabling fundraising for local worthy causes.

In the 50s, 60s and 70s the Club Walk was followed by a Club Dinner for members at the local hotel at which the local MP and other dignitaries made speeches.  There was a funfair on Whiterdine field behind the Green Man Hotel in Fownhope.  The fair was a popular and well attended event.  People travelled from Hereford and Ross to Fownhope for the fair.  In the 80s, the fair was replaced by sports.

Decorated Sticks
Originally only men and junior members of the society took part in the Club Walk parade.  More recently all members are encouraged to take part in the parade.  Members carry sticks decorated with flowers and they would be led in the procession by members carrying a decorated oak bough and the club banner.  A local band provides suitable marching music.  There have been various bands at the FHOS club walk but more recently the AW Parker (Drybrook) band from the Forest of Dean have provided music for the walk and during the church service.  You can see some of the pictures on their website.

The art of decorating a floral stick for the FHOS Club Walk was passed from generation to generation.  The stick was normally a softwood stick and in the past, the members would carve their stick with a finial of a carved acorn on the top and would burn or carve their names or initials into the wood.

Flowers used to decorate the sticks would be those available growing wild or in the gardens at the end of May.  Flowers and foliage with woody stems were preferred to give strength to the decoration.  Bulky flowers were also preferred so that there could be a substantial display of colour and shapes.

An oak bough is still cut from the woods on the morning of the Club Walk so it can be used to lead the procession.  The bough is decorated with red, white and blue ribbons. 

Unity is Strength
The old FHOS banner hangs in St Mary’s church in Fownhope.  It has the motto “Unity is Strength”.  The picture on the banner shows a wise old man seated under an oak tree giving advice to two young men.  One has a single stick which he has broken in two.  The other is trying to break a bunch of sticks across his knee but is having difficulty since together they are stronger.  A similar picture is on the pub sign for the New Inn in Fownhope.

Fownhope Heart of Oak Events for 2020

Fownhope Heart of Oak Society Annual General Meeting will be held on 17th March

Club Walk and Sports Day - 30th May

The traditional Heart of Oak Club Walk will take place on Saturday 1st June. It will start at 10.00 am at the New Inn. The parade will be led by the AW Parker (Drybrook) Band followed by the Fownhope Heart of Oak Society Banner and members carrying their traditional decorated sticks. 

We will parade to St Mary’s Church for a stirring service of thanks and praise. The parade then moves to three locations in the village where hosts will welcome us with refreshments. We are arranging for local Morris Men to provide lively music and dancing throughout the Club Walk and the AW Parker (Drybrook) Band will perform some of their extensive prize winning concert pieces. 

We will finish with a pig roast and the Family Sports. There will be fun races for children and adults. Prizes include the famous FHOS mugs which are produced exclusively for us.  

FHOS Quiz Night - 25th April for teams of up to four will take place once again as part of the Club Walk summer events. It will take place in the Fownhope New Memorial Hall and will start at 7.30 pm. Come and try to win the FHOS Quiz Night Shield. £6 per person (to include Heart of Oak Ploughmans’ Supper and wine). 

Contact Robin Peers Treasurer – robin.peers@gmail.com – for information about the Fownhope Heart of Oak events.

Now’s your chance to visit parts of the area that you didn’t know existed!  Wind your way around the country lanes finding the answers and then return for a great Sunday afternoon tea.  If you find your way back, that is….!

You can download a 2019 Heart of Oak membership form here.

NEW You can find out about our series of historic Heart of Oak Club Walk Videos here

Visit the Heart of Oak Facebook Page here

AW Parker Silver Band  http://www.drybrookband.co.uk/

Chairman - Geoff Hardwick - geoffhardwick1954@gmail.com