Grantham’s Copper Beech

This is hopefully the first of a short series of blog posts about some of Grantham’s trees, and which better to begin with than the copper beech in the town centre.

Copper beech outside the Grantham Guildhall on St Peter's Hill

The copper variant of the beech arose as mutants in the wild populations where they were first recorded in Germany around the 15th century. Copper beeches are now found growing extensively throughout Europe as ornamental trees in towns and gardens and the setting of this tree – in the town centre set before the impressive Guildhall – is a typical location.

Copper beech outside the Grantham Guildhall on St Peter's Hill

It seems likely that the tree was planted not to compliment the Guildhall but as part of the parkland setting deemed appropriate for the new Isaac Newton statue erected in 1858 when the area known as the ‘wilderness’ was cleared of its trees and shrubs and replaced with well-spaced and altogether more civic trees.

The Isaac Newton statue on St Peter's Hill in its setting before the Guildhall was built
The Isaac Newton statue on St Peter’s Hill in its setting before the Guildhall was built

Copper beech outside the Grantham Guildhall on St Peter's Hill
Old photographs show many trees which are no longer extant, but the girth of this copper beech suggests that it may have been one of the originals. This photograph was taken in the summer of 1900, some 42 years after the Isaac Newton statue was erected, and a younger version of the beech can be seen substantially shorter than it is today. I think that the copper beech standing today is the smaller one with leaves, rather than the taller leafless tree behind – a tree with no leaves at this time of year is unlikely to have lasted another 114 years!

St Peter's Hll in 1900 - taken from A Pictoral History of Grantham
St Peter’s Hll in 1900 – taken from A Pictorial History of Grantham (no infringement of copyright intended)

In this next photograph, taken in the 1950’s, the tree is clearly developing into a more impressive specimen opposite the then Picture House cinema on the High Street.

St Peter's Hill in the 1950's with the Granada and Picture House cinemas on the left and the copper beech to the right. Source: Grantham Cinemas - When the Curtain Falls
St Peter’s Hill in the 1950’s with the Granada and Picture House cinemas on the left and the copper beech to the right. Source: Grantham Cinemas – When the Curtain Falls (no infringement of copyright intended)

This tree has clearly seen a lot in its time. The green upon which it is set has seen other parkland trees come and go, seen the houses to the north knocked down and the Guildhall erected in their place, seen a huge water tank placed upon the grass below during World War 2 and a bomb crater open up just tens of metres away, seen cars replace horses along the Great North Road which used to pass before it until the A1 bypass was built in 1962, and seen almost every one of Grantham’s citizens pass by for the last 150 years.

Water tank placed on the grass beneath the trees on St Peter's Hill during the war. Taken from Grantham at War (no infringement of copyright intended)
Water tank placed on the grass beneath the trees on St Peter’s Hill during the war. Taken from Grantham at War (no infringement of copyright intended)
The Belvoir Hunt on their annual boxing day meet-up at the top of St Peter's Hill with the Copper Beech in the background
The Belvoir Hunt on their annual boxing day meet-up at the top of St Peter’s Hill with the Copper Beech in the background

The tree is now set within its own enclosure, with a bark chip base to protect it from compaction and excessive wear around its root zone. It is surprisingly little vandalised for a beech tree in such a prominent position, with most of the marks simply the well-healed scars of previous branches lost. On a rainy day, the trunk develops stripes of dark and light where the water chooses to run. Mosses grow upon it and lichens etch circles upon its bark.

Rain patterns on beech bark

Beech trees can live for 300 years and this tree, which appears to be healthy and well protected is only middle-aged. There is every chance that it could see another 150 years of Grantham life pass before it yet.

Copper beech outside the Grantham Guildhall on St Peter's HillNote: Many thanks to the Grantham Library which has many books on aspects of local history as well as old photographs which allowed this short history of the tree to be compiled – an invaluable resource for Grantham!

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2 thoughts on “Grantham’s Copper Beech

  1. Rachel May 5, 2014 / 7:05 am

    I love looking at how the environment changes over the centuries, and especially with old trees. To see them when they were just little ‘uns compared to today’s majestic beasts!

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