Outside Hanch Hall is an ancient chestnut tree on a godcake. That’s what our Warwickshire neigbours call a grassy triangle at a road junction because of its resemblance to a sweet pastry filled with some sort of preserve. Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase traffic jam. Anyroads, this tree has intrigued me for years, it clearly of being of some age and significance. Records and maps reveal that the tree marks the parish boundary between Kings Bromley and Longdon.
In 1887, the Walsall historian Duignan estimated its age as three hundred years old and in 1894, the tradition of beating the bounds of the former was resurrected. After lunch underneath the spreading chestnut tree, where I’d like to think Staffordshire oatcakes were eaten on the godcake, a number of small boys in the party were instructed to climb up and were passed between its boughs. I’ve found an even earlier record of the tradition in the Staffordshire Advertiser in May 1838, detailing a perambulation of the boundaries of the manor of Longdon, which began at the Chestnut Tree and I’m sure it dates back centuries further still.
Local folklore tells the tale of a Victorian postman called Mr Lyons who had to pass the tree on his way to deliver mail to the village of King Bromley. On several occasions he reported seeing the ghost of a dog, pacing around the trunk. Faced with disbelief, he invited sceptics to go and see the pawprints of the giant hound for themselves. Local historian J W Jackson, who always claimed he didn’t believe in ghosts but was always ready to fire up his mystery machine regardless, went to investigate and found freshly trodden tracks around the trunk, although inconclusively concluded that, ‘What had made it, we couldn’t say’. I am sure that there is no connection between these events and the notice of a one pound reward in the Staffordshire Advertiser in October 1837 for anyone giving information to the shepherd at Hanch Hall leading to the recovery of a ‘rough, grizzled sheep dog (Bob)’.
Since posting the story about the mailman and his encounter with the demon dog on the godcake, several people have contacted me to say they’ve heard that the chestnut was a ‘Hanging Tree’, used to execute criminals. One even claimed that bones had been found in an adjacent field. Perhaps that’s what Bob the non-ghost dog had sniffed out?
Clearly a belief in this tree being a place of execution has grown from somewhere, but as yet I’ve not discovered anything to corroborate this. I do however know for that it’s not the only big, old tree at a junction to be labelled a ‘hanging tree’. Outside the now demolished Baswich House at Weeping Cross on the outskirts of Stafford, a tree also known by that grim epithet was believed to have been planted in 1832 to replace a gallows which once stood on the spot. When it was struck by lightning in 1975, the borough council decided to sell off chunks of its trunk for a quid a piece. Who says money doesn’t grow on trees?
Lichfield Mercury 25 November 1938
Burton Chronicle 18 October 1894