Categories
Ancient trees Books Street Trees Urban landscape

Calling Mancunians, Glaswegians, Dubliners, Cardiffians and Urban Tree-Fanciers Everywhere!

I’m very excited to have been commissioned to write a book about the great urban trees of Britain and Ireland. Research is underway and, hopefully, I’ll be travelling all over these islands to see as many of its great trees as I can over the coming months.

Visitor Attraction: A rare and distinctive ‘Baobab’ London Plane in Canterbury

There are some towns and cities I know well, but there are many more I know less well, and so that’s why I’m asking for your help. I’d love to hear about the special trees in towns, cities and villages all over the UK and Ireland. They might be in town centres or in urban woods, they might be in parks or on estates. They could even be street trees, or glimpsed over a wall in a school or a hotel. Ideally they’ll be ones that people can visit and see for themselves just why they’re great.

I’m interested in discovering the trees that are local landmarks or historical markers, the trees that in one way or another define a place. These are not necessarily the biggest or oldest trees (but of course, I’m interested in those ones too), they will be those that have stories associated with them, or those that mean something to the people who live with them. They might be survivors from a bygone age, or trees planted to remember a particular event or a moment in history. They could be those that are threatened by a future development (some may recognise Sheffield’s Chelsea Road Elm from the top of this post), or they could be trees that have been saved by people who care about them.

London has its Planes, and Manchester its Poplars. Edinburgh, like Brighton, is famed for its Elms. Plymouth has a pear named after it, Strawberry Trees are native to Killarney, Exeter has an elm, and I’m sure other species have urban connections too. I want to find the best examples of all these species!

Outstanding in it’s (Urban) Field: A splendid Spruce in Ballater town centre, Aberdeenshire

I’m interested in the intermingled history of towns and trees too. There are grand landscapes that bring trees right into cities like Phoenix Park in Dublin, Cardiff’s Bute Park or the Pollok Estate in Glasgow. The Victorians have bequeathed their great legacy of public parks, botanical gardens and arboreta like those in Belfast, Nottingham, Birkenhead, Derby, Lincoln and Walsall. Urban growth has grown around ancient churchyards and country estates, and remarkably, woodlands survive in the most unlikely places. Towns and cities have been associated with the great plant collectors and nurserymen of the last 200 years, and their arboreal traces surely live on too.

Smaller towns and villages have great trees too, and I’ve come across the old fenced in Ginkgo in the Cotswold town of Chipping Camden, the famous Tolpuddle Martyrs tree in Dorset or a huge Cedar of Lebanon at Tredegar House in Newport. But these are, I’m sure, just the tip of the iceberg.

So, please let me know about the great trees of Truro, Lerwick, Haverfordwest, Cork, Bradford, Sunderland, Dunbar, Gloucester, Aberystwyth and Dundalk, to name just a few. These are just some of the places I’ll be looking for trees, so if you can think of any others, or know of any trees that I must see, please do let me know about them using the form below.



One For the Road: The old Ginkgo gracing the main street in Chipping Campden
Categories
Ancient trees Street Trees Urban landscape Walking

The Carlton Road Oak: Ealing’s Elephantine Tree

A few months ago, I heard the strange tale of an oak tree in Ealing which marks the spot where an elephant is buried. My interest increased when one of my Twitter friends, a former gardener, told me she had uncovered a huge bone while doing some work nearby. I realised it was the duty of any tree-regarder worth their salt to investigate, so off to Ealing, ‘Queen of the Suburbs’, I went…

Showstopper: Circus celebs of yesteryear

Back in the days when any self-respecting circus had a menagerie of badly-treated animals as part of its entertainment, great processions of clowns, acrobats, caged tigers, feather-adorned horses and semi-comatose elephants would progress slowly through towns and cities drumming up business before they pitched their big top in the local park. And so it was back in 1889, as a circus was trooping down Ealing’s Castlebar Road, when one of its four-legged stars expired. Being of such bulk, the deceased animal was buried, presumably with little ceremony, on the spot it fell: the junction with Carlton Road. Such a memorably macabre event must have impressed those who witnessed it, the fact that the story circulates to this day is testament to that. 

Today, an old and rather battered oak tree grows in the middle of Carlton Road just near that fateful junction with Castlebar Road. But was it planted as an elephant memorial?

Island Queen: The middle of Carlton Road, a very precarious spot for a veteran oak tree

The tree is a local landmark and, judging by its appearance, something of an obstacle too. Its trunk shows signs of having been whitewashed in the past, no doubt in an attempt to make it more conspicuous to speeding motorists, some of whom, it seems, may have had a tussle with the tree, which sports a few battle scars.

The Elephant Tree, or the ‘Carlton Road Oak’, is actually one of four trees – three other oaks on the verge just across the road are in much better shape – forming a row suggesting they mark a boundary, now long forgotten. They are clearly old, maybe veterans of several centuries. So, the Elephant Tree must have been here when the circus was passing all those years ago, and the death of a hulking great pachyderm on an Ealing street has been conflated with an equally memorable tree that also happens to grow in the middle of an Ealing street, into a single super animal-arboreal memorial.

Gang of Four: The Elephant Tree is one of a row of veteran oaks

But how did the tree, elephantine in appearance, come to be in the middle of the road? If it is part of a boundary row, it could be that a lane always went past it, and even forked at the grassy triangle known as Tortoise Green (what might be buried here I wonder?), but perhaps in the past the tree was not dislocated from the Green. It’s likely that road widening over the years has resulted in its isolation, along with its rather diminished canopy and swollen and battered trunk. It is remarkable that the tree has survived in this position, not only because of the knocks it has sustained, but also because of the pollution and the compaction of the ground around it.

Roadblock: Explore Carlton Road on Google Maps to get a closer look at the tree and to see how the local environment might be improved by shutting off the street

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the road could be narrowed to a single fork at this junction? Or, better still, blocked altogether – the residents of Carlton Road would surely appreciate the lower levels of traffic that would result in it becoming a cul-de-sac?


Road Hog: The Carlton Road Oak in all its battered yet resilient glory

Circus elephant image from Alison Marchant on Flickr.

The Carlton Road Oak features in my new book, London Tree Walks, signed copies of which are available from yours truly.

Categories
Ancient trees Books Urban landscape

London’s Great Trees – Virtually

On Saturday, I made my second foray into live video presentations with the virtual launch of the Great Trees of London Map, recently published by Blue Crow Media.

In normal times, a launch event might have consisted of a convivial evening in an independent bookshop lubricated with free-flowing wine, but our new reality forced us online instead. I presented a series of images of London’s greatest trees and talked about why they have been included in the map. All without a drop passing my lips.

Here, for those who missed it, is a video recording of the event.

At that independent bookshop, the publisher would be selling the object of the launch with a discount to those who ventured out for the party. I’m pleased to say this tradition continues, and Blue Crow Media are selling the map online with a 10% discount and free postage until midnight tonight (20th April 2020). Click here to purchase, using the code PAULWOOD10 at checkout to claim your discount.

I said this was my second attempt at a live video presentation. You’ll have to take my word for it that the first, a virtual tour of the trees of Hackney, was a great success, but it will have to remain semi-mythical… However, if you would like to join other virtual (and if you’re reading this after mid-2020), real-life events I have lined up, see my events page.


If you’d like to buy a copy of the new edition of Great Trees of London Map, it is available from Amazon, direct from Blue Crow Media and from me too! Just click the button below to buy a signed copy.


Categories
Ancient trees Urban landscape

The Buckland Yew – Dover’s ancient tree

Marooned in the midst of a Victorian industrial landscape in an unlikely corner of Dover – the famous, unassuming town where I grew up – is an ancient European Yew tree (Taxus baccata). It lies in the valley of the river Dour (pronounced ‘doer’) from which the town takes its name. This name has a celtic root (like the Welsh word for water – dŵr), and is an echo of a place that was here even before the Roman port of Dubris.

The Yew grows in a churchyard once hidden behind the Buckland paper mill. Demolition of the mill, apart from a large brick Victorian shed screening the site, has exposed the river Dour that ran under the mill complex for more than a century. The flattened fenced-off ground is paved with factory floors and the rubble of former walls. Dereliction has allowed the Dour to become a haven for Moorhens who make a living among the newly luxurious growth of aquatic plants, bringing to mind a pre-industrial water meadow landscape with a flint church nestling next to a ford in the river.


Google’s Satellite View: The river Dour meanders through the paper mill site with Buckland churchyard to the left. The Buckland yew is a dark green blob next to the church.

The locked and somewhat shabby church of St. Andrew’s, Buckland, sits in its graveyard of greening gothic monuments – including those to former mill owners – occupying a sliver of land between the mill and a steep nineteenth century railway embankment.

The Buckland Yew (Taxus baccata) in St. Andrew's churchyard, Dover
Spreading The Word: The Buckland Yew stands with some help outside St. Andrew's church, Dover

The Buckland Yew is here, pre-dating all this Victorian order, and the current church, and marking a site that may have held significance even before the arrival of Christianity. In 1880 this remarkable tree was moved 50 feet to its present spot in order to make room for a church extension. The newly moved Yew was enclosed by an iron fence – now rusting – which I remember not many years ago in good repair and with a sign giving details of the tree, its removal and its reputed age. Now a gate to this enclosure swings open allowing access to the tree and exposing the detritus of churchyard drinking among its branches and hollows.

The tree is said to be 1000 years old and like many ancient trees, the ravages of time have caused characterful limbs to convulse and fall into awkward shapes requiring several props to keep it from becoming entirely horizontal. From a distance the tree’s crown is large and verdant and it shows the typical coniferous shape of a Yew albeit broader and lower than a younger tree.

Props holding up the Buckland Yew (Taxus baccata) in St. Andrew's churchyard, Dover
Prop Forward: A series of props now hold up the Buckland Yew

The Buckland Yew has survived removal at least once in its life, it has coped with people and animals clambering on or around it, and in the last two centuries has lived in close proximity to industry and war. It shows every sign of continued vigour in what is now a quiet and gently crumbling corner of a town whose character and urban environment is set to change once again. I hope that the Buckland Yew will become a cherished feature in the new post-industrial Dour valley landscape that with imagination and good planning could emerge in the years to come.

If you’re still interested:
St. Andrews church entry on the Old Dover in Words & Pictures website
My Dover set on Flickr
The Buckland Yew on the Monumental Trees website (needs some editing!)

Categories
Ancient trees Countryside

Wyndham’s Oak: a great survivor

A couple of weekends ago I was staying in Dorset where I heard about Wyndham’s Oak, an ancient tree I felt compelled to seek out. It is a pedunculate Oak (Quercus robur) and it is ancient, maybe 1000 years old. It is a shrinking hulk in an unlikely setting but it is a local landmark and has been for centuries.

Wyndham's Oak, Silton, Dorset
Outstanding In Its Field: Wyndham's Oak, maybe 1,000 years old and once part of a Royal hunting forest

Also known as the Silton Oak, it can be found in the Dorset village of the same name. Now it stands discreetly in a meadow by the river Stour behind St. Nicholas’ parish church. It is not visible for miles around and no road runs close by, yet it is marked on the Ordnance Survey map.

Called Wyndham’s Oak after Sir Hugh Wyndham, an obscure 17th century judge and local worthy who managed to keep a low enough profile to ensure his public service career spanned the rules of Charles I, Oliver Cromwell’s interregnum and Charles II. According to the story, Sir Hugh did nothing more than sit in the shade of this great tree – undoubtedly a magnificent sight at the time – forever linking his name to the tree at the apex of its height, spread and girth.

At the time of the English restoration then, this tree was perhaps 600 years old. It may have been hollow as it is now, but it almost certainly would have been considerably larger than today’s enormous bole surmounted by little more than a toupé of branches.

Wyndham's Oak bole
Burred Bole: Centuries of growth have produced huge girth and a splendid gnarled trunk

Possibly planted as a boundary marker of the Gillingham Forest, a royal deer hunting chase favoured by King John, Wyndham’s Oak survived the forest’s destruction during Charles I’s reign adding further weight to the notion that it was so remarkable that it was intentionally saved from the sawyers supplying the needs of the King’s fleet.

The UK is Europe’s hotspot when it comes to aged timber – Richmond Park in west London supports ‘more 500-year-old trees than France and Germany combined’ – Wyndham’s oak is one of the most enduring of Britain’s many remarkable trees.

There is no obvious reason why there are so many ancient trees in this country, but perhaps the feudal system allowed trees to grow old in aristocratic deer parks unmolested by fuel hungry peasants, or perhaps Britain got off lightly from the ravages of wars that brought in their wake pressing need for fuel and shelter to large parts of the continent.

Ultimately though these survivors are testament to the great fondness we great apes have for trees.

Further reading:
• Wyndham’s Oak described on the Woodland Trust’s Ancient Tree Hunt website
• Telegraph article about ancient trees in Britain including the Richmond Park quote above
• Antiquarian description of the, even then, long gone Gillingham Forest from John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales 1870-72
• More pictures of the Wyndham’s Oak and it’s surroundings in my Flickr photoset

To find Wyndham’s Oak, go through the churchyard and out into the field beyond…