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Badsey’s Wellingtonia Tree

Pat Goldstraw's photograph of the tree being felled in 1980.
Pat Goldstraw's photograph of the tree being felled in 1980.

wellingtonia-tree.jpgIt is more than twenty years since Badsey's Wellingtonia tree was felled. The Wellingtonia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) is known in America as the sequoia, or 'big tree'. The sequoia was discovered in 1841 growing on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada's, in California. It was possibly a sapling from one of these giants which was bought over to England in the 1850s and planted in the garden of the Pool House, the fine Georgian house which stands to the north of the church in High Street (now two semi-detached houses, 23 & 25 High Street).

During its 130-year life, the Wellingtonia, managed to tower above the church reaching a height of 116ft. It was a focal point in the village and could be seen from many miles. In fact during the last war it was used by pilots using local aerodromes as one of their positional markers. Its downfall came in 1978 when the prolonged drought led to rot setting into the lower part of the trunk. An inspection of the decaying tree two years later sealed its fate, and the tree was felled by Richard Coles of Chipping Campden in November 1980.

On several occasions local men had climbed the tree, usually clandestinely, to attach a flagpole to the crown of the tree. In 1935, Phil Sparrow and ‘Buster’ Mustoe climbed up to fix a flag to the tree-top to mark the silver jubilee of George V. In 1953 Les Williams ascended the giant tree to tie a broomstick holding the flag to the top branch to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, while Reg Welch and Bert Evans stood watch below. And finally in 1977, for the Queen's silver jubilee, Lol Bindoff, Clint Evans and Mick Williams fixed a 37ft pole holding the flag to the tree, with David Caswell in attendance at the base of the tree [thanks to John Hall for confirming the identity of these four]. Below is a poem by Norman Cleaver of this final ascent of the tree called Hoisting the Jubilee Jack.

The Round o’ Gras was the place where this great climb was planned,
To put a flag on top of this fir tree so grand,
"It will never be done," said Buster Mustoe,
Lol said, "Get us a flag and we’ll have a go."

So, in the early hours of the seventh of June,
With Badsey High Street lit by the silvery moon,
A group of young men came to conquer the tree
To put a flag on the top for all Badsey to see.

They approached the great fir, tall and dark in the night,
To stand at the bottom is enough to give you fright,
But with one thought in mind, with flag and with stick
Into the branches sprang Lol, Clint and Mick.

The wind it did howl and some branches crack,
But not one in the party dared stop or look back,
Hand over hand they climbed into the night,
Every muscle and nerve pulled taut and stretched tight.

Slowly they climbed towards the tree top
A few feet from the summit all three had to stop,
Lol said, "I’ve had enough, let's get back to the ground."
Clint shouted, "Not ruddy likely, we're still heaven bound."

They finally made it and the royal deed was done,
The flag was on high, awaiting the sun,
With a look on his face of real satisfaction,
To reach the ground safely was now their main attraction.

Another of the party just walked ‘round and round’,
They said his fag butts littered the ground,
The birds in the tree tops all held their breath,
As they watched these three climbers dicing with death.

Finally reaching the bottom, they at last won their bet,
For this was a night they would never forget,
The night they climbed this great fir tree,
Put a flag on the top for the Queen’s Jubilee.

(The flag on this final climb stayed aloft for 3 months before a couple of passing steeplejacks fetched it down at the request of the owner of Pool House, Mr. A. M. C. Lewis.)

Flags fly from the tree and the church for the Silver Jubilee in June 1977.
Flags fly from the tree and the church for the Silver Jubilee in June 1977. Photograph kindly loaned by Chris Helm.
The tree is in the centre of this photograph of the High Street.
The tree is in the centre of this photograph of the High Street.

Richard Phillips, 2003

Postscript:  In 2014, after reading Norman Cleaver’s poem, Michael Barnard did a painting from memory of the occasion when the Union Jack was hoisted at the top of the Wellingtonia tree.

See also:

Letters from Don Wasley (1918 - 2000) and Roy Page about life in Badsey and Aldington with an account of climbing the tree in the 1930s.

Silver Jubilee, 1977 - The Day in pictures

Letter to The Evesham Journal from Mrs Stewart about climbing the tree

Letter to The Evesham Journal from Mrs Wood and Michael Barnard about climbing the tree