A description by the historian Thomas Pennant (1726-1798):
Howel Sele, of Nannau, in Merionethshire, first cousin to Owen, was an adherent of the House of Lancaster. Owen and his chieftain had been long in variance. I have been informed that the Abbot of Kymmer, in hopes of reconsiling them, brought them together, and to all appearance effected his charitable design.
While they were walking out, Owen observed a doe feeding and told Howel, who was reckoned to be the best archer of his day, that there was a fine mark for him. Howel bent his bow, pretending to aim at the doe, suddenly turned and discharged the arrow full at the breast of Glyndwr, who fortunately had armour beneath his clothes and received no hurt.
Enraged at this treachery, he seized on Sele, burnt his house, and hurried him away from the place; nor could anyone learn how he was disposed of, till forty years after, when a skeleton of a large man, such as Howel, was discovered in the hollow of a great oak, in which Owen was supposed to have immured him in reward for his perfidy.
A sundial, on Nannau lawn, with a brass plate, on which is an inscription and a representation of an oak, now marks the place where once stood "the spirit's blasted tree".
The tree was reported to be twenty-eight feet in circumference and eventually fell four-hundred years later during a storm on July 28th, 1813.
“How often has not warm fancy seen the fairy tribe revel round its trunk! or may not the visionary eye have seen the Hamadryad burst from the bark of its coeval tree?.”
Pennant “Tours of Wales”, 1883 ed. Volume 3.
An 1889 print of an old engraving depicting the scene.
Within the trunk of this venerable oak (according to Welch tradition) the body of Howel Sele, a powerful chieftain, residing at Nannau in Merionethshire, was immured, by order of his rival Owen Glyndwr. See Pennant, vol.1 p.348.
The original sketch from which this this etching was made, was drawn from nature on the 27th day of July, 1813, by Sir Richard Colt Hoare, Bart. and on the same night, this aged tree fell to the ground. It was situated within the kitchen garden walls of Sir Robert Williams Vaughan, Bart. at Nannau, near Dolgelle.
The text from the print has been reproduced, including the mispellings. Image courtesy of the National Trust, see our Art page.
Then cursed Howel’s cruel shaft,
His royal brother’s blood had quaffed.
Alas! for Cambria’s weal!
But the false arrow glanced aside,
For ’neath the robe of royal pride,
Lay plate of Milan steel.”
Walter Thornbury (1828-1876) “The Demon Oak”
Excerpt from the Book “Panorama Of The Beauties, Curiosities and Antiquities of North Wales”, by J. Hemingway. Published in 1889.
In the garden* and park of Nannau there stood, within these few years, a hollow, large, and blasted oak, whose blanched and withered leaves presented in spring a striking contrast to the verdure of the surrounding woods. This oak was noticed by Mr. Pennant, when he was upon the spot above fifty years ago, in the following terms:
“In the park, there is a venerable oak, in its last stage of decay, and pierced by age into the form of a Gothic arch; yet its present girth is twenty-seven feet and a half: its name is very classical, Derwen Ceubren yr Ellyll, “The hollow oak, the haunt of demons..” With so appalling a name, this ancient monarch of the forest was held in great dread by the timid passenger; and the peasant as he passed in the gloom of the evening, would quicken his pace, and perhaps murmur a prayer for the preservation of his person from the crafts and assaults of the evil one.
E’en to this day the peasant still,
With cautious fear treads o’er the ground,
In each wild bush a spectre sees,
And trembles at each rising sound.
The final end of this celebrated oak is thus related by Sir Richard Colt Hoare: “During a visit,” says the worthy Baronet, “to Sir Robert Vaughan, in the summer of the year 1813, this aged tree, mentioned by Mr. Pennant, attracted my notice; and in the morning of the 13th of July, I made a drawing of it, in one of the most sultry days ever felt; the succeeding night was equally hot, and on the same night this venerable oak fell to the ground.”
The legend of the oak, above alluded to, is related as follows: Howel Sele, the possessor of this house, and first cousin to Owen Glyndwr, refusing to espouse his kinsman’s and his country’s cause, incurred the indignation of the warrior; and while hunting together one day, Owen observed a doe feeding, and told Howe], who was reckoned one of the best archers of his day, that there was a fine mark for him. Howell bent his bow, and pretending to aim at the doe, suddenly turned and discharged the arrow full at the breast of Glyndwr, who fortunately had armour beneath his clothes, so received no hurt. But enraged at his treachery, be seized on Sele, burnt his house, and hurried away from the place; nor could any one ever learn how Howel’s body was disposed of, til forty years after, when the skeleton of a man was discovered in the hollow of the said oak, where Owen was supposed to have immured him. In Sir Walter Scott’s notes to Marmion, (No.5, Canto 6) may be seen an interesting poem, by Worthington, on this subject, which is historical, or rather traditional, (for no authentic records remain to conﬁrm either) that differs materially from the above.
* Nannau garden is about 7 acres in extent, and will amply repay a visit. On the spot where the old Derwen stood, there is now a dial post. In front of the mansion of Nannau, is a lofty rock. called Moel Offrwm, “the Hill of sacrifice,” the summit of which is 1200 feet above the level of the sea.