How the people of Havering-atte-Bower tried to save their ancient elm tree

Early 1900s tinted postcard, showing the great elm and stocks

Early 1900s tinted postcard, showing the great elm and stocks - Credit: Andy Grant

A feature of the village green at Havering-atte-Bower, over a period of many centuries, was the ancient elm tree that stood next to the stocks and whipping post.

During the 17th century in many villages, local meetings were often held under a great elm tree on the village green.

An effect of early 19th century enclosure was the loss of the village green and it is known that Havering Green was more extensive than at present.

Although there was enclosure of "common waste" in Havering, it was fortuitous that this part of the village green was not victim to it. During its long lifetime, the great elm that stood on the south-east corner of the village green had been struck by lightning on numerous occasions.

By the late 19th century, large splits had developed in the trunk. Like many such ancient trees, it was not unusual to see brickwork and concrete infilling built into the splits.

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In order to do this an arboriculturist would have cleaned out all the rot, painted the inside with pitch, then bricked-up the gap. In conjunction with this, iron bands would be used fitted around the trunk to prevent splits from opening up further.

It was often the case that local residents did not want to lose their ancient tree, so it was thought that these measures would strengthen the trunk and guard against the infiltration of diseases.

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By the turn of the 20th century the site had become a local beauty spot, where sightseers posed on the stocks or around the tree.

As time went on, more and more brickwork was necessary to support the tree and soon the trunk was more brick than wood. By the time the local artist, Louis Burleigh Bruhl, had captured the picturesque scene as a watercolour painting in 1909, the tree was virtually beyond saving.

Protective wooden railings had been installed along the road to help prevent horse-carts from damaging the tree as they negotiated the corner.

The stocks, whipping post and a cage were mentioned as early as 1670, when it was reported that they were decayed. Presumably they were replaced around that time but it was recorded around 1829 that they needed attention, again requiring replacement due to decay.

The two-person stocks from 1829 would be the ones most older residents would be familiar with. However damage by vandals to the stocks necessitated another replacement in 1966, retaining the original iron fittings.

In 1928, the council surveyor was sent to assess the state of the tree and stocks, reporting that the tree was probably around 500 years old. He went on to say that it was still alive and that Miss Pemberton-Barnes had recently installed two iron bands around the trunk and had it refilled with bricks and concrete.

It was further suggested that a concrete kerb be installed along the road and that the stocks be enclosed with a four foot high unclimbable iron fence.

These measures were evidently undertaken but inevitably the elm tree had to be taken down in the 1960s because it was considered as a risk to safety.

A second historic tree in Bedfords Park is often confused with the one on the village green. This was the “Queen Anne Oak", an ancient oak tree that stood to the side of Bedfords House and the deer enclosure.

It has been contended that Queen Anne (ruled 1702-1714) sat by this tree on her visits to the estate. There is also an allusion to a Queen Anne’s Well, but it is unknown which Queen Anne either are named after.

Nonetheless, efforts had consistently been made to keep the tree alive, including bricking around the base of the tree and bracing it with metal belts.

In the late 1980s the Mayor of Havering planted a replacement oak tree close by with a plaque which commemorated its predecessor.

* More Andy Grant articles can be found on the Romford Memories Facebook group

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