The Tale of Two Trees

From The Wychwood October/November 1981

Dr Gordon Scott

At the Five Ways in Shipton there is a lime tree with a seat underneath, planted by the Parish in memory of a ploughboy called Harry Turner who died in 1939. He was born in a cottage which can be seen from the tree, which grows while he sleeps. Over 100 years ago Harry went to London where he made his fortune with an insurance company. He returned to the Wychwoods, where he founded the Bowls Club which then had a green in a paddock opposite the Red Horse; he put a good many loads of gravel along Dog Kennel Lane to keep the foot path useable; he placed the original seat opposite Coldstone Farm; and at Christmas, the Shipton postmistress laid in a stock of £1 Postal Orders which he distributed where he knew they would meet needs; no doubt much more never known or long forgotten.

Harry remembered past kindness. When he started work at 12, a cruel life for a fatherless boy ill-dressed for the long days of hard winters, he worked with an old ploughman. The day came when the farmworker’s daughter was ill with chronic spinal disease and Harry in London heard about this. He bought a bungalow for her in Little Lane. I suspect that he made her a small allowance for she could not work because of her disability and the ‘parish’ aid would only have been miniscule so that but for him she would have had to move to the living death of the Workhouse.

When I came to Shipton in 1936 she had already been in her bungalow for some years. I remember that she died in Ballards Close many years later. The night before she died, she remarked to me that she had been an invalid, crippled, housebound, in pain, for 50 years. Such happiness in her life as she had been able to find, must in large measure have been due to Harry Turner. He repaid his debt to the man who had been kind to a poor boy and who probably never gave a second thought to the kindness he had done.

Fifty or sixty years ago the Parish Council planted a red chestnut tree on Shipton Green in memory of Mr John Maddox who for many years farmed Coldstone.

It was growing nicely at the side of the road when it was damaged by a car, and a few years later was struck by lightning. When it was obviously failing and not likely to come to any good it seemed sensible to have it removed, though this left the Green looking strangely bare; and the double seat was placed as Mr Maddox’s memorial, because other trees which were planted did not survive.

Also on the Green were the fountain and horse-trough erected in memory of the group of Shipton people, young and old, who perished when the migrant ship ‘Cospatrick’ caught fire at sea on the night of 17-18 November 1874. When news of the disaster reached England there was national concern and a Fund, of which Queen Victoria was an interested patron, raised a large sum of money. Shipton’s share paid for the memorial. The names of those who perished were added later, and some of their relatives still live in the village.

It seemed proper to mark the centenary of the disaster.  A shapely green beech about 15 ft. high was available and for the two winters previous was prepared for transplanting. It had been raised from a seed gathered and planted the day before its superb parent, which grew just outside the front door of the then Vicarage, was cut down because it had become dangerous. The rings on the trunk showed that it dated back to about 1700 and so it Would have been known to many generations of villagers, including those who were lost when they sought to emigrate.

The planting was performed by the Postmistress, Mrs Kate Wiggins, because she and her sister, Miss Jessie Coombes, had decided that, as she was over 80, she could not continue and must retire. In 1974 our Post Office was the oldest sub-post office in England and had always been conducted by a direct descendant of the village weaver, in whose shop it was started soon after 1840.

The tree ought not to have survived. Fortunately, it was planted early in the winter, which was exceptionally wet, so that the soil settled down around the smallest rootlets. Now it should be safe with its roots in Shipton soil as well as in Shipton history.

Gordon Scott, Snr

April-May 2021