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.

Copper Beech, The Friary

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.


The remains of the diseased beech tree in 2011

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.

Mysterious photos!

According to my daughter, receiving a mysterious box of photographs in the post, ‘is how horror films start’…

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…

Friary School 1Friary school 5

Friary school 3

5 thoughts on “Photosynthesis

  1. Hi Kate,
    I wonder whether Joan knows about the book, ‘ Hyacinths and Haricot Beans ‘ by Jean Bird about the Friary School.
    The Monks Walk Group is joining with residents of Chapter House to revive the garden,which has got quite weedy, after the gap in our care during building works. We’ve already had two preliminary meetings.


  2. Great blog entry. I attended the friary school. It was still used for 1st and 2nd years (year 7 and 8s in new money) up to at least 1985-86 before it was closed and those year groups incorporated into the eastern avenue site.


  3. Hello Kate,
    Joan advises that the copper beech that was cut down due to disease is the tree she remembers. She said the tree had a tall straight trunk, not forked as in the tree trunk of the existing copper beech. On the internet I found a street view image of the copper beech dated 2011, before it was felled and this is the tree she recalls. We hope Joan’s copper beech will grow up to be as beautiful and memorable as those beside the Monks Walk in Lichfield.
    Regards, Claire.


  4. Hello Lorna,
    In 2017, as a result of your recommendation, I searched on the internet for a copy of Jean Bird’s book ‘Hyacinths and Haricot Beans‘ to buy. More than a year later, I found a used copy, ordered it from England, and arranged for it to be posted to New Zealand. I gave it to Joan, who absolutely loved it, and after reading it, she posted the book back to England for her older sister to read! Thank you for the recommendation. The book was much enjoyed by the sisters.


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