Elfin Oak

Erection date: 25/7/1930


{On what looks like an original plaque:}
An Elfin Oak by Ivor Innes

{Painted on a beam from which hangs a wee bell:}

{On a modern plaque:}
Elfin Oak originally carved in 1911 and maintained for over 40 years by sculptor Ivor Innes. With his grateful thanks also to Spike Miligan CBE and his friends whose interest and support enabled complete restoration of the wee folk, 1996. HRH the Prince of Wales unveiled this plaque, presented by the Elfin Oak Appeal Fund, 12 June 1997.

For hundreds of years, no one knows for how many, this tree lived its life quietly and anonymously in Richmond Park. When reduced by time to a giant (20 foot girth), venerable bole it was moved to Kensington Gardens, funded by Lady Fortescue.

This was brought about by George Lansbury. As an unusually active First Commissioner of Works, 1929-31, he had the trunk moved here and carved by Innes to add to the attractions in Kensington Gardens.

A modern plaque on the tree says the carving was done in 1911 but that seems to be mistaken. The Listing entry say the tree was carved at the time of the move, 1928-30. This seems most likely since, if the carvings had existed in Richmond Park, for 20 years, we feel there would be more information about the tree's presence there (such as the exact location) and probably there would have been a campaign by the locals to keep it.

The carved tree was unveiled in 1930 by the Mayoress of Kensington, Mrs Robinson. Note, she was not Mayor in her own right but was married to the Mayor, Dr Henry Robinson. Presumably a woman's touch was felt appropriate for such a child-friendly item. Another wife, the sculptor's, was also involved. In 1930 Elsie Innes published 'The Elfin Oak of Kensington Gardens' with text by Elsie and illustrations by Ivor. The Library Time Machine reproduces much of the content.

Restored in 1966 and again in 1996, on both occasions at the instigation of Spike Milligan, who actually paid for the 1966 works himself.

The best photos we have found of the little characters are at A View from the Mirror. The date of the unveiling comes from London Walking Tours, quoting 'The Western Morning News' of the next day.

In our efforts to identify the donors of the Elfin Oak and the clock tower we contacted the Kensington and Chelsea Local Studies Library. The staff there were extremely helpful, showing us their collection of ephemera for the Oak and following up some leads we had. Interestingly they have nothing on the clock tower.

The clipping from the Kensington News, 1 August 1930, is worth reporting in full: "Unveiling the Elfin Tree - Mayor’s Witty Speech - Laurels for Lansbury. The Mayoress of Kensington unveiled the “Elfin Tree” in Kensington Gardens on Friday afternoon. As explained in our last week’s issue, the tree trunk is that of a very old pollarded oak, formerly in Richmond Park. Mr Ivor Innes, the artist, has by chipping and scraping made out of the distortions of growth and grain a large number of small animals and fairies. The trunk is in the Children’s Playground and is bound to attract a great deal of interest.
The ceremony of unveiling was witnessed by a large number of people. The Mayor and Mayoress were received by the First Commissioner of Works, Mr Lansbury, the Mayoress being presented with a bouquet of flowers grown in the Royal Parks.
Sir Lionel Earl introduced the artist, Mr Ivor Innes, and the Hon. Lady Fortescue.
The First Commissioner of Works, in the course of a short address, recalled the circumstances in which the “Elfin Tree” was set up and asked the Mayoress of Kensington to unveil the tree. Mrs Robinson then removed the veil from the tree and revealed the remarkable work of the artist.
The Mayor, speaking on behalf of the Mayoress and of the children who will use the playground in which it is placed, made the following witty remarks:
By a lapsus linguae, Londoners link Mr Lansbury with leaning to the letter L. He is a lavish and lovable lawmaker. A leading and lambent light of Labour. A light hearted, laughter loving lad who likes liberal limelight, and has laid aside the lurid lore of Lenin in favour of the lenient lodestar of live and let live. The lion and the lamb lie down lengthways in Mr Lansbury and there is a lot of the leveller in him. He is no lackadaisical laggard though no less an old lag. With luck he may yet lend lustre to the Lobby of Legislature limited to Lords. Lately, he and his lieutenant, Sir Lionel, have longed to label the lower lake of the Longwater as the Luxury Lagoon where lads and lassies can lave their lissom limbs. Now we lyricise Lansbury’s log, located on this lawn by the Lodge. Lastly, may Mr Lansbury liquidate all his liabilities to L in the lease of life liberally (Loud Laughter.)
Among those present included – Alderman Sir Alfred and Lady Rice-Oxley, Mrs Percy Gates, Mrs Barrs, Mrs Gordon Bird, Councillor Miss Fraser, Councillor Miss Keeling, Councillor Brig.-General Kelly and Mrs Kelly, Councillor Mrs Price, Councillor Miss Cunningham, Councillor and Mrs Henry Goldsmith, Councillor and Mrs Arthur Hudson, Councillor and Mrs Jenkins, Mrs Kahn, Councillor F. W. Parsons and Councillor Miss Pennefather."

We believe “Sir Lionel Earl" was actually Sir Lionel Earle, (1866–1948) Permanent Secretary to the Office of Works and Public Buildings at the time. And we wonder whether "Mrs Kahn" was Adelaide, neé Wolff (1875 - 1949, London) wife of Otto Kahn (1867 – 1934). He was a German-born American investment banker, collector, philanthropist, and patron of the arts.

There is no unveiling plaque and the Kensington News article does not explain why the donor, Lady Fortescue, erected this carved Oak, nor does it definitively identify who she was, which Lady Fortescue. Our researches, together with assistance from some readers, were leading us to conclude that she was Lady Winifred Fortescue. In 2023 this was confirmed by Peter Riley, curator of Perfume from Provence.

Lady Winifred was a reasonably wealthy and creative person, but why did she erect the Oak here, and why in 1930? We think the answers might be that her sister-in-law, Lady Emily Fortescue, had  died, exactly 1 year and 1 week previously (Friday 12 July 1929), and Emily had, in 1909, here erected the clock tower in memory of members of her family. Just supposition, but we are convinced enough to give Emily as the 'Commemorated subject'. However, Peter cannot confirm this, writing "Re the Elfin Oak, I don’t think there is a connection with Emily or at least I have never come across one."

Site: Time Flies clock tower + Elfin Oak (2 memorials)

W8, Broad Walk, Kensington Gardens

The aviary-type structure to the left of our photo is the cage which protects the Elfin Oak. Coins lie on the ground inside the cage. The clock tower is topped with a weather vane including a bird with outstretched wings.

This section lists the subjects commemorated on the memorial on this page:
Elfin Oak

Subjects commemorated i

Lady Emily Fortescue

With one clue from a Council document related to the impressive Time Flies cl...

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This section lists the subjects who helped to create/erect the memorial on this page:
Elfin Oak

Created by i

Lady Winifred Fortescue

Writer and actress. Born as Winifred Beech in a Suffolk rectory. Died France....

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Ivor Innes

Illustrator and carver, from Cornwall. His wife, Elsie, wrote a book, 'The El...

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George Lansbury

Born Suffolk. Member of the Poplar Borough Council 1903 - 1940, Mayor 1919 - ...

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This section lists the other memorials at the same location as the memorial on this page:
Elfin Oak

Also at this site i

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Time Flies clock tower and drinking fountain

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