The Duchess and the tree

There’s an update to this page, following the decision not to place a preservation order on the tree.

Metal stands of seating close to medieval abbey ruin, with large tree apparently in the way

It is nice being within easy walking distance of the ‘Cultural Quarter’ – even though I don’t think much of the name. After visiting the art gallery, and having a look over the back wall of King’s Manor at the area behind it, I went through the Museum Gardens, and was greeted by this impressive sight – the seating going up in front of the abbey for the 2012 Mystery Plays. Those of us who are fans of the plays performed on wagons will probably wait for them to come round again. But I certainly thought ‘wow’ when I saw this.

There’s a tree in this area that the construction team seemed to be grappling with, and building the stands around. I am a bit of a tree-hugger, but recognise that some trees are more huggable than others. This one – which I’ve just learned is a Cedar Of Lebanon – has always seemed a little out of place. It’s near the front of the Yorkshire Museum, to one side of the building.

It might not be there for much longer, as York Museums Trust have submitted an application to remove it. The reasons are given in the documents on the council’s planning pages. Its roots may damage the sensitive and important archaeological remains connected with the abbey, and it will grow too big, and spoil the important vistas.

Apparently it was planted by the then Duchess of York – Sarah Ferguson – in the 1980s. Anyone know more?


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  1. It was planted by the Duchess of York in 1989 to mark the centenary year of the Museums Association, an organisation which was formed following a proposal by the West Yorkshire Philosophical Society at the Yorkshire Museum in 1889.

    They obviously did not appreciate how big this tree would grow and so now wish to obliterate it, but I am certain the growth could have been anticipated back in 1989 if they had given it some thought. The association with the erstwhile HRH probably makes it easier for them to have no compunction destroying it.

  2. Just found the objectives of the Museums Association in the archives. They are pretty comprehensive:

    “The aims of the new association were very wide and included the compilation of a complete index to all provincial museum holdings; the possibility of regular interchange of ’specimens’; discussions on the arrangement and classification of items; and the establishment of a collection of relevant government literature. The Association also accepted the role of representing the museums community in dealing with legislation, both national and international, which could have a potential effect on museums and galleries.”

    Certainly a worthy body to commemorate with that tree. Plus Sarah’s status had not yet plummeted in 1989, so she might have appeared the ideal candidate to plant it. Perhaps this obscured the Cassandra type warnings (if there were any) about how the tree would grow, both above and below ground, and the damage it could cause.

    I wonder what the situation would be if it had been Princess Diana, rather than Sarah, who planted that tree? I imagine there would be a lot more tiptoeing around the issue, a few more furrowed brows, perhaps talk of making something respectful with the felled wood. But instead it was Sarah, hence my hunch that there will have no compunction about destroying it. The tree would be the same whoever planted it – it would still be growing regardless. Yet I guess the perceptions around the planter, and the respect accorded to the tree’s demise, would be very different.

    One for the philosophical society, perhaps?

  3. YorkStories

    ‘One for the philosophical society’ – indeed!

    While you were adding your comment, I was simultaneously replying to your first comment –

    Thank you David. That’s interesting. York Museums Trust are no doubt glad that this commemorative tree commemorates something most people won’t care much about, and that it was planted by a member of the royal family who isn’t royal any more. If it had been planted by The Queen we would have had to keep it, even if it grew so big as to cover the entire lawned area, or when she next visited, as she does fairly often, she might be offended.

    Seriously though, much as I hate to see any mature tree felled, I’m with them on this one I think. Though a bigger issue would seem to be that it clearly gets in the way of the seating for this event and anything on this scale in the future.

    If it were a beech tree they wanted to fell I would of course be climbing up it in protest and it would be like Irton all over again … ;)

    – and, back to your second comment – yes, I too thought of the late Princess Diana, and how it would have been far more sensitive if someone no longer with us had planted it.

    Perhaps Sarah Ferguson has been asked/informed?

  4. I agree it will have to go and will probably be done quite swiftly. I don’t suppose they will even try to inform Sarah, a woman that even Princess Margaret accused of bringing the Royal family into disrepute. Yet if the planter had been Diana, I am sure the felling would be a lot slower, the branches being gathered with care rather than just bundled and thrown on the back of a truck. They might even ask a local dignatory along to oversee it and then send the best wood to be crafted into a piece of sculpture or a bench or two, rather than just sent for mulching. Either way I am sure you are right and they are breathing a huge sigh of relief that it wasn’t the Queen herself.

  5. Elizabeth Hardcastle

    The tree should go before it gets far, far too big. Why don’t people think ahead? They must have known how big it would grow (was Askham Bryan College in charge of the Gardens in those days?). If trees have to be planted, a small-ish native species with berries for the birds is ideal.

  6. YorkStories

    I think you’re right, they must have known the eventual size, and presumably also thought carefully about the location. Presumably it was reported in the Yorkshire Evening Press at the time, maybe that would shed more light on the thinking behind it.

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