Old and New Trees in Nineteenth Century Nottingham

View from General Cemetery Photo: Paul Elliott

View from General Cemetery
Photo: Paul Elliott

We are so used to the many trees in Nottingham’s streets and suburbs that it is easy to take them for granted, although the lack of city-centre green spaces is still noteworthy. Until the later eighteenth century the town was renowned for the number of its orchards and gardens and ‘graced with stately mansions and statelier trees’ so ‘few of the inhabitants could look from their dwellings without perceiving the branches of some umbrageous tree’. Trees were a ‘common feature of the street scenery’ with a ‘small cluster’ at the bottom of Woolpack Lane, two ‘venerable sycamores’ that ‘graced the open space in front of the Leather Bottle Inn’ and a ‘picturesque row of elms’ which ‘stretched along a portion of the west side of Stoney Street’ that became ‘in consequence a much frequented promenade.’ Nottingham citizens remembered these trees with affection as they became older and rarer. The historian William Wylie recollected ‘pleasant lines of willow trees on each bank’ of the River Leen’s ‘crystal stream’, a ‘majestic row of poplars’ along Parliament Street and ‘seven goodly elms’ that ‘adorned the South Parade’ and formed ‘a conspicuous feature in the market place’ which he wanted to see restored (William Wylie, Old and New Nottingham [Nottingham, 1853] 43-44, 45-6). Looking back to his youth from the early 1900s, William Stevenson remembered some of the last trees standing in the town centre until the mid-nineteenth century including the ‘tree or trees in the walled garden of Messrs. Wilson Brothers – known as the “the three-eyed Wilsons” situated on the west side of the Bromley-place entrance on Angel Row’ and removed shortly after 1850. One ‘large tree’ that ‘stood in the garden or front of Willoughby House on the Low Pavement’ and another that stood opposite which spread their branches to form ‘nearly a perfect leafy arch over the fairly broad street or roadway’ disappeared around 1840. Others including one of Wylie’s two sycamores ‘at the bottom of Hockley in the front of the old Leather Bottle Inn’ and ‘one or more’ of the remaining poplars ‘growing on the edge of the causeway on the north side of Upper Parliament-street’ near the school and what became King’s Walk, also disappeared (Nottingham Guardian [20 July, 1918]).

The Enclosure Oak Photo: Paul Elliott

The Enclosure Oak
Photo: Paul Elliott

Also looking back to the mid nineteenth century from old age, the alderman and historian Robert Mellors emphasised how much tree planting the corporation had done in contrast to the felling for timber undertaken previously, and the extent to which trees held a special place in local society as ‘our natural companions’. Before this trees were removed for improvements or repairs, some of the costs being recouped by timber sales. Mellors recollected just three trees standing where the Nottingham Arboretum was created, none at all of any size on the Forest (which was still regarded as an outlying portion of Sherwood Forest), just one on the site of the Church Cemetery and not a single specially-planted street tree. The green spaces and tree-lined avenues created by the Nottingham Enclosure Act of 1845 were an important watershed in this respect providing for five parks and three miles of ninety-foot wide tree-lined walks including Elm Avenue, Queen’s Walk and Victoria Embankment along with two four acre cemetery grounds. The jewel in the crown was the Nottingham Arboretum opened in 1852 to a design by Samuel Curtis, which contained the largest variety of trees in the town. Many trees were also planted on streets and new estates notably the Park for the Newcastle estate, and along the new Lenton and Radford boulevards. These developments prompted Mellors to claim that ‘since 1850’ Nottingham had become ‘a great grower of trees’ so much so that it had ‘atoned for the careless and destructive attitude which its predecessors for several centuries adopted’ (Robert Mellors, Gardens, Parks and Walks of Nottingham [Nottingham, 1926], 120-121).


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