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Memorial details

Memorial type
Avenue / Tree or grove
District
South Bedfordshire
Town
Whipsnade
County
Bedfordshire
Country
England
Commemoration
First World War (1914-1918)
Maker
Mr E. Blyth (Sponsor)
Ceremony
  • Planted
    Date: 1932 to 1939
    Attended by:
Lost
Not lost
WM Reference
1682

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Current location

Whipsnade Tree Cathedral
Whipsnade
South Bedfordshire
Bedfordshire
LU6 2LQ
England

OS Grid Ref: TL 00803 18158
Denomination: Undefined

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Description
Twenty-two different types of tree and fourteen types of flowering shrub which form a 'cathedral of trees' based on the floor plan of Liverpool Cathedral Whipsnade Tree Cathedral was created in faith, hope and reconciliation by Edmund Kell Blyth (1898-1969) as a memorial to three of his comrades from the First World War. His friends Arthur Bailey and John Bennett were killed in action in 1918, and Francis Holland later died in a car crash in 1930. After leaving the Army in 1922 and joining the family firm of solicitors in the City of London, Blyth made his home in Whipsnade, an area that he loved. He converted a pair of old cottages into holiday homes for poor London families in memory of his friends, and in 1930 was further inspired to create the Tree Cathedral after a visit with his wife to Liverpool Anglican Cathedral which was then under construction. In the account he later wrote, he recalls how on the drive home through the Cotswold hills, ‘I saw the evening sun light up a coppice of trees on the side of the hill. It occurred to me then that here was something more beautiful still and the idea formed of building a cathedral with trees’. With the help of Albert Bransom (1872-1940), he started planting in 1932 and over the next seven years created the memorial which follows the plan of a medieval cathedral. The nave was the first element to be planted using poplars at 10ft intervals to give a pillar effect. In 1933 Blyth’s wife suggested that he plant two chapels to fill in the corners between the nave and transepts which became the Easter Chapel and Winter (now known as Christmas) Chapel. The latter was planned in the shape of a star with a tree in the middle. In 1935 Blyth enlarged the Tree Cathedral and turned its transepts into the present nave using Lombardy poplars again for the pillar effect with laurel for walls. He chose silver birch, called by Coleridge ‘the lady of the woods’, to represent the High Altar in the chancel because of its gracefulness. The original nave became the transepts, and the Summer and Autumn Chapels were added. In 1938 Blyth invited Mr Smith, the third generation of dew pond builders who had recently built a dew pond in Whipsnade Park, to construct one adjacent to the Tree Cathedral. This became the centre of the cloister walk. In planning this extension he found three dells in the field that had been produced many years earlier by farmers digging out chalk to lime the fields. They became the corners of the cloister walk and were surrounded by trees to indicate towers. Around the same time, the nave was extended with limes to intersect the last section of the cloister walk. A fourth dell was also surrounded by trees to create a tower which has a larger diameter in order to incorporate an existing oak. This became known as the Gospel Oak, recalling the preaching of early Christian missionaries under the trees. Next to this tower Blyth created a grand entrance, and finally he placed a Lady Chapel in the triangular space between the cloister, nave and entrance. The Tree Cathedral had just been completed in 1939 when the outbreak of the Second World War stopped all work and maintenance for the next eight years. The plantation became colonised by thorn and other self-sown trees. It was cleared during the late 1940s and early 1950s by Blyth and Gerald Wallsam, whose help is commemorated in the name Wallsam Way, the passage between the dew pond shrubbery and Christmas Chapel. In 1960 the site was given to the National Trust by Blyth’s youngest son Tom who is commemorated by an avenue of hornbeams leading to the south entrance. The Tree Cathedral has never been consecrated but its spiritual aims have been summed up by Edmund Blyth thus: ‘The Tree Cathedral has the shape of a traditional medieval cathedral, but formed of trees. Although it contains beautiful areas, that is not its primary significance, and nor is it a garden. It is managed to emphasise the vigour and balance of individual plants, in patterns that create an enclosure for worship and meditation, offering heightened awareness of God’s presence and transcendence. OCATION, SETTING, LANDFORM, BOUNDARIES AND AREA The Tree Cathedral is located in a former hayfield on the outskirts of Whipsnade, on the north side of the village with open country to the north and east. It is on level ground and occupies an area of approximately 6.35 acres. The southern boundary is defined by trees and a timber fence, and the western and north-western boundary by a thick line of hedge and trees with a post and wire fence. The north-east is bounded by trees and a timber fence, and the east by a laurel hedge and combination of timber fencing and post and wire fencing. ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES The main approach is from the south along a hornbeam avenue, planted in 1980, which leads into the porch of the cathedral. Another entrance on the north-east side leads into Wallsam Way from Sallowsprings Private Road. PLANTATION The plantation is set out in the form of a medieval cathedral in which laurel hedges denote the walls. The south entrance is flanked by towers of birch and Scots pine, and leads into the porch of oak trees. The nave is laid out east to west, and together with the chancel, has a length of 128 metres which is equal to that of St Albans Abbey. It is lined by lime trees terminating in the chancel to the east which is represented by a semi-circle of silver birch trees against a dark background of yew. The transepts were both originally avenues of horse chestnuts but those along the north transept died and have been replaced by tulip trees. At the northern end is a deodar cedar. In the arms of the cross formed by the nave and transepts are four chapels. The Christmas Chapel, in the north-east corner, is planted with Norwegian spruce; and the Easter chapel, in the south-east corner, is planted with wild cherry trees. In the south-west corner, the Autumn Circle consists of beech and field maple; and the Summer Chapel to the north-west is an avenue of whitebeam (which replaced dead elms). Directly to the south of the Summer Chapel is the Gospel Oak. The Lady Chapel, on the west side of the porch, contains an Atlantic cedar. The cloister walk is an avenue of ash trees that runs from the south-west corner along the west and north sides joining on to the deodar cedar at the top of the north transept. It is punctuated at each corner by three towers in a mixture of birch, Scots pine, beech and holly. In the centre of the cloister is a dew pond surrounded by flowering shrubs and framed by cypresses. The area between the dew pond enclosure and the cloister to the north is left unmown to encourage wildlife.
Inscription
Board: WHIPSNADE TREE CATHEDRAL Typescript: THE CATHEDRAL IS A PLANTATION INTENDED PRIMARILY AS/ A PLACE FOR THE WORSHIP OF GOD, FOR MEDITATION AND THE/ PEACEFUL ENVIRONMENT OF NATURE./ PLEASE RESPECT THE PURPOSES OF THE CATHEDRAL./ (Notice to visitors)/ THE CATHEDRAL WAS FOUNDED BY MR. E. K. BLYTH IN 1931/ INSPIRED BY THE BUILDING OF LIVERPOOL CATHEDRAL BY HIS/ EXPERIENCES IN THE FIRST WORLD WAR, AND IN MEMORY OF HIS/ FRIENDS, ARTHUR BAILEY, JOHN BENNETT AND FRANCIS HOLLAND/ ALL KILLED IN 1918. THE PLANTATION WAS BEQUEATHED BY MR./ BLYTH TO THE NATIONAL TRUST AND IS ADMINISTERED BY THE/ TRUSTEES OF THE WHIPSNADE TREE CATHEDRAL. IT NOW/ CONTAINS REMEMBRANCES OF OTHERS, WHICH ARE RECORDED/ IN A BOOK KEPT BY THE TRUSTEES.
Inscription legible?
yes
Names on memorial
Bailey, Arthur
Bennett, John
Holland, Francis
See details for all 3 names
Commemorations
  • First World War (1914-1918)
    Total names on memorial: 3
    Served and returned: 1
    Died: 2
    Exact count: yes
    Information shown: Surname, forename, year died
    Order of information: Alphabetically by surname
Components
  • Board
    Measurements: Undefined
    Materials: Wood
  • Tree
    Measurements: Undefined
    Materials: Wood
Listing information
  • Whipsnade Tree Cathedral
  • Grade II
  • This memorial is protected, and listed on the National Heritage List for England maintained by Historic England. View list entry
  • More about listing and the protection of historic places can be found on the Historic England website
  • Historic England
Condition
Trust fund/Scholarship
No
Purpose: Unknown or N/A
Responsibility
Whipsnade Tree Cathedral/ National Trust.
Reference

This record comprises all information held by IWM’s War Memorials Register for this memorial. Where we hold a names list for the memorial, this information will be displayed on the memorial record. Please check back as we are adding more names to the database.

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