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  • Writer's pictureGregg Maflin

HIDDEN LONDON [8] “The Oldest Tree in London”- The Totteridge and Whetstone Yew. 2000 years old

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

In these strange times, I thought I would write and tell you a little of the nature of " Hidden London" there are great monuments all around us, but very few of us take notice of the trees that surround them.

More recently we have had time to stop and stare and reconnecting with nature when we spent a lot of time online is very important to our wellbeing. In recent years scientists have begun research into how Trees connect with each other with the uses of mycelium, fine threads of funghi that link up and connect trees and help transfer nutrients all around a forest or wood. This in a way is a network for trees to "Talk " to each other, a lynchpin in this network are “ Mother Trees ”older and more seasoned who share their nutrients with others.

In North London at the end of the northern line tube is the village of Totteridge, where the ancient church of St Andrews can be found, that can trace it origins back almost a thousand years. In the grounds of the church sits a Yew Tree that is much older. While hollowed out trees such as this are difficult to date, with a circumference of over 25ft , research has shown that likely to be around 2000 years old.

Yews are very slow growing with a low canopy and stocky trunk and often survive the elements well. This tree has some ancient legends that surround it and a "Foundling child" was discovered within the roots of the tree in 1722. At the turn of the millennium it was decided the Totteridge Yew tree would be added to the register of “The Great Trees of London” a celebration of ancient trees in all over the capital . Though please be aware this is no huggable tree ! Almost all parts of the Yew tree are very toxic , so please don’t touch the leaves or branches . Though in recent years scientists have found chemical elements in Yew that can help in the treatment of some cancers.

Closer into town and not so old, but of historic literary interest is the “Hardy Ash” in the grounds of Old St Pancras Church. Where many notable people were laid to rest in the early 1800’s, including the vampire writer Joseph Polidori and the architect Sir John Soane.

Due to the Midland Railway expansion of St Pancras Station in the mid C19th , they employed a young Thomas Hardy as architect, many years before his success as a novelist, who surveyed the burial ground and arranged for some of the tombstones to be laid in a circular pattern around a young ash tree when the graves were exhumed.

This tree can still seen in the churchyard and has a wonderful haunted look as it has overgrown the surrounding stones since then.

St Andrews Church ,Totteridge Village, London N20 8PR,

Old St Pancras Church ,Pancras Rd, London NW1 1UL

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