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Archive of the month

Archive of the month

The Big Tree of Wendover Road

Ref:  phAylesbury935

When looking at digitised photographs of Aylesbury on our website recently, I unexpectedly came across this photograph of a tree, its title in the data base was ‘Big Tree’. 


I was curious, why would someone take a photograph of a tree?  I needed to know more. 

My research started online: a Google search found a blog about the “Big Tree of Wendover Road” written by the Chilterns Conservation Board, in which I learned that it was an Elm tree, cut down on 7th October 1946 at the age of 200.  These details were corroborated by the legend on a Christmas card depicting the tree, held in our collection, shown here (D/X800/57).   

The Big Tree, Wendover

To figure out how significant the Big Tree was locally, I decided to use the relatively new addition to the Buckinghamshire County Council’s Peoples’ Network: the British Library’s database of digitised 19th century newspapers.  In the search screen I selected the Bucks Herald, and entered “Big Tree” in the search box, and several articles came up:

On April 10 1880 the Bucks Herald reports a tipsy driver who had fallen out of his cart, passed out drunk “about 300 yards on Aylesbury side of the Big Tree”.  The driverless horse and cart had kept going.   

On 25 August 1883 the Bucks Herald carried a summary of a meeting of the Aylesbury Board of Health, at which it was reported that telegraph wires on poles were going to be run “from the Big Tree in Wendover Road to the New Church”. 

The December 12 1885 edition of the Bucks Herald contained some discussion of repairs in “the Wendover Road from the villas to the Big Tree”, with further complaints about the state of the road including outrage at a puddle outside the New Inn.

The newspaper reported on an alleged incident of illegal horse-riding on a footpath in May 8 1886:  “between the Big Tree and the public house the Three Pigeons.”

And finally there was, on 03 Nov 1888 reported a child’s death from diphtheria in “farm cottages beyond the Big Tree”.

These articles show that the Big Tree is being used as a landmark between 1880-1888, but could I find anything earlier?  I turned to our own online catalogue, and found another lead.

The notes of Aylesbury historian George Osterfield cites the Big Tree as the location for a historic ceremony involving the town’s Mayor and Sheriff (D105/181): the carriages of both would drive out to the tree, and bale of straw would be placed on the ground between the two vehicles – enabling the passengers to pass from one carriage to the other, without touching the ground.  Sadly, it is not clear where Osterfield sourced this story.

And then there is the photograph itself – where I started. A bit more digging and I found that we don’t actually hold the original photograph from which our scan was made, it in an album stored by the County Museum.  Furthermore, the original is postcard.  This gives some more weight to the tree’s significance:  whoever took the photograph and decided to make it a postcard expected people to both recognise the tree, and want to buy it to send to others.

Chilterns Conservation Board blog: www.chilternsaonb.org/ccbmaps/543/137/big-tree.html

British Library 19th Century Newspaper database is accessible on the Peoples’ Network computers for free in the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies and County Council run Libraries throughout Buckinghamshire. 

Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies online catalogue: http://archives.buckscc.gov.uk/

Buckinghamshire County Museum: www.buckscountymuseum.org/museum/

If you have any pictures, memories or other information about the Big Tree of Wendover Road, please get in touch with me: archives@buckscc.gov.uk .