Been catching up on messages (I’m sorry if I still owe you a reply!) and saw I’d recently received a lovely email from Claire who leads a volunteer group called the Heritage Gardeners in Glenside, New Zealand. Claire told me that the group had recently planted a tree in honour of Joan, their longest living gardener. The tree is a copper beech, chosen as Joan has fond memories of one in Lichfield at The Friary, where she attended school between 1938 and 1948. On the Glenside blog, it describes how Joan recalled the school being next to an ancient hairpin shaped path known as the Monks Walk and having to pass a huge and beautiful copper beech tree on a lawn to get there. Joan also recalled how the tree’s catkins were painted gold and silver and used as decorations at Christmas. You can read the full blog post here
Of course, Claire was wondering whether Joan’s original copper beech was still standing 70 years on and 12,000 miles away, and if anyone knows the history of it. The first question I could answer immediately. Well, after a five minute drive to the Friary anyway.
The lawn is now a car park but from Joan’s description this seems to be the right tree. I will send the photographs to Claire and Joan to be sure, as there was another beech tree at the edge of Monks Walk which was lost to a fungus known as Meripilus Giganteus back in 2011, and replaced by a walnut tree.
As to the history of the tree, it was surely planted by one of the former owners of the Friary, which had become a private estate following the dissolution of the Franciscan Friary in 1538. In 1920, the estate was gifted to the city by Sir Richard Cooper and the following year, a girls’ school took up residence. It was renamed the Friary in 1926, and the school was based at the site until 1975, when the school relocated to Eastern Avenue, and there are some wonderful memories of the school on the comments on this post.
By coincidence, I received a mysterious box of old photographs in the post a couple of weeks ago. They’d been found during a house clearance and though there are very few clues as to who the people in them are, there are a few which suggest there is some connection to Lichfield, including an school photograph of The Friary which looks as though it dates to the mid-twentieth century.
It’s proving incredibly difficult to photograph, probably because it’s been rolled up in a box for half a century, and so I’m just posting a couple of sections here, to see if anyone can date it more accurately or add anything at this stage. It really would be quite a coincidence if it dated to Joan’s time at the school! When I have better light and more patience, I will post the whole thing, along with the other mystery photographs as I’d love to be able to find a proper home for this box of memories. At the moment however, I’m stumped…