• New yew image for the historical archive

    I have just acquired a new image for my historical archive that has sparked a bit of research and resulted in some fascinating information.

    This is a real photographic postcard from 1913 (as per postmark on the reverse) and shows Yew Tree Farm in Cart Lane, Grange-over-Sands in Cumbria. A young man and young lady pose in front of what appears to be one of two front doors. The dominant feature and almost certainly the reason that A & L Slingsby (of Grange-over-Sands) took the photograph are the three towering yew trees in front of the house. Much like similar plantings elsewhere the threesome were supposed to represent The Holy Trinity, conferring spiritual wellbeing and good fortune upon the household, and being yews they symbolised longevity of life and eternity of the soul. Look a lot further back to pre-Christian times and the yew was a sacred totem of pagan cultures. So perhaps this family had got all eventualities covered. Clearly these trees were already quite old by 1913 - hard to be exact because regular topiary may well have restricted or slowed down growth.

    My first port of call was Google Street View and I was delighted to find that the house still exists, as do the three yew trees. The house now has an extra floor added and the trees have been trimmed down to about half their height and manicured into neat cylindrical forms, so no longer any sign of shaggy unkempt tops, which were probably only there in 1913 because ladders weren't long enough to trim all the way up.

    Next stop - the inventory of Listed Buildings, and fortunately Yew Tree Farmhouse and Yew Tree House (this explains two front doors) are there. Building believed to date from 1740 (largely because of this date having been carved in the stone lintel above the left-hand door). So, if the yews had been planted in 1740 that would have made them a little over 170 years old in 1913. Looking at the size of them this is just about feasible.

    In front of the right-hand front door stand a young couple. Who are they? At this point Jan got the bit between her teeth. A Google search for Yew Tree Farm now produced a reference to the Sedgwick family who were living there in 1913. Their youngest living son, George, who would have been 20 years old in 1913, is sadly listed as one of The Fallen in The Great War. He was a lance-corporal in the The King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment and perished 18th June 1917 (aged 24) at Arras. He is listed as the son of William and Hannah Sedgewick. The couple in the photograph are far too young to have been William and Hannah, but close inspection of the young man shows he could quite possibly have been 20 years old. Was the lady his fiancee or perhaps even his wife? We know his brief obit. listed him as the husband of the late Mrs. E.E. Sedgewick (clearly she died prior to him). Further information from family bios. on the Allithwaite WW1 Stories website then reveals that George had two older brothers - Richard (born in 1888) and William (born in 1891) and two sisters - the oldest Hannah, known as Nancy (born 1896). So it is just about possible that the couple could be one of the brothers with his older sister, or perhaps one of the brothers with his own intended. The picture and their pose has the air of some kind of announcement, occasion or celebration. It's all speculation, but fascinating nonetheless.

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  • Found it!

    Took Jannie back to Hall Wood this morning as I wanted her to see the amazing display of daffs & while we were walking round she spotted the cut end on the oak log from where that strange slice of wood came that I popped on the blog entry before last. So now we know for sure it's all oak, but I'm still puzzled as to why I cannot see growth rings in the young wood. Maybe if I sand it back a little more and put some oil on it I can see better.

    Bearing in mind that the wood was bone dry a couple of days back and then we had a bit of a storm last night take a look at the state of the paths. Molly, our older Scottie not hugely impressed. Flossie just ploughs through the lot.

    Also stumbled upon these rather splendid fungi - Turkeytails or Turkey Fans (Trametes versicolor) I think.

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  • Another great wood for wild daffodils

    For some years now I've been tootling down to the woods around Dymock and Kempley in Gloucestershire to photograph the wild daffodils, slowly extending my range of different sites and finding wild daffodils not just in ancient woodland, but also old orchards and pastures. This has to be the best place in the country to admire these delicate little blooms which, so far as I'm concerned, always outshine their bigger garden cousins. There's something rather special about the sheer scale of the colonies; wondering how long it took them to colonise these sites - hundreds of years almost certainly, maybe thousands, wondering how many have been lost due to destruction or conifer overplanting of ancient woodland as well as so-called agricultural improvement. Thank goodness the penny has dropped with landowners these days, who realise the significance of such rare plant communities. Of course they are protected too under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

    Earlier this year you'll see from an earlier blog entry that I paid a visit to a wood previously unexplored in spring. I had found some rugged old small-leaved lime stools last year, but had no inkling of the wild daffodils. At the beginning of March my second visit hinted at the glories in the offing, so a couple more visits in the last few days finally revealed a great display. Hall Wood is right on the Herefordshire/Gloucestershire border and all the indications show it to have ancient roots. Among the daffs. there were plentiful primroses as well as a few early wood anemones and bluebells.

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  • What's going on here?

    Yes, what is going on here? Out in the woods the other day and came to a corner where someone had just felled a very large oak. Lots of lumps sitting around & nearby I picked up this strange little slice of a branch. It appears to be a very old, very dark piece of heartwood almost completely surrounded by relatively young growth and particularly thick bark. The old wood has very clearly defined annual rings - about 30 of them, while the creamy sapwood shows barely any decypherable rings. If this is all oak then it's very strange. My next thought is that, even though the outer bark does look very like oak perhaps this is a cut through a huge stem of ivy that has encircled and 'captured' the oak branch. The bark certainly looks more like oak, but big stems of ivy can sometimes develop quite rugged bark patterns. I tried to find where this cut might have come from, but to no avail.

    Any thoughts gratefully received.

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  • Discovering a superb hollin in Cumbria

    Up in Cumbria last week and managed to grab a bit of decent weather for quick walk around the lower reaches of Wasdale. Walking up the track towards Easthwaite Farm, near Nether Wasdale, we were confronted by a small, enclosed holly woodland immediately before the farm. Clearly a planted and regularly managed hollin, although not for many years of late, this would have provided a plentiful supply of highly nutritious winter fodder for the livestock. Usually the holly was mashed or crushed to reduce the prickliness - after all that's how the tree evolved to protect itself from browsing beasts.

    I caught up with the farmer in the farmyard and asked permission to walk up into the field above the hollin to take a few shots. He couldn't remember the wood being harvested for its feed within his living memory, although they often cut a few boughs for Christmas. Holly grows very slowly and these trees are seriously old. There is also much evidence of coppicing in the past. At a rough guess I would say this little wood might easily be 200 years old. What is so fascinating is that it has survived intact for so long. A new fence has recently been installed along the top of the wood, preventing livestock from entering. I told the farmer what a remarkable bit of agricultural history this was & I think he was impressed, so long may it survive.

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