London Planes on Narrow Quay

In the early ‘70s, Great Britain was in the throes of the calamitous spread of a new virulent strain of Dutch Elm Disease which would eventually kill nearly all the 25 million mature elm trees and change the face of the English countryside forever.


In the face of this devastation, the government launched  National Tree Planting Year  in 1973, with the slogan ‘Plant a tree in 73′ . The scheme was supported by the Forestry Commission and the Crown Estate who donated thousands of trees which were planted by local authorities, schools, businesses and voluntary organisations.  The Tree Council was established in 1975 to build on the momentum generated by this campaign.

In Bristol, the Civic Society worked closely with the city council and over the following years, 2000 urban trees were planted. One of the architects of this bold urban plan was the council planner Frank Kelf (February 5, 1925 – August 28, 2013) who was instrumental in persuading a cash-strapped council to invest in this major undertaking.

The centre of Bristol post war was a rather neglected space, particularly the dock area.  Narrow Quay runs along the left bank of St Augustines Reach in the heart of the city.

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Bristol Archives ref 40826/DOC/40:  City Docks: The ‘Rosedene’ at Narrow Quay : 1960

In the 1950s, Bristol’s role as a port was in decline and slowly the cranes and warehouses fell into disuse and many were demolished, leaving a neglected and ill-used post-industrial landscape. The photo shows the quay in 1975.

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Demarco Digital Archive : Opening of the Arnolfini Art Centre : 1975

An exhibition of “Ideas for Bristol” was run at the Bristol Museum and one idea for planting trees on Narrow Quay was shown from BCC’s Urban Design team.  Peter Floyd was then chairman of the Civic Society as well as having been a city civic planner.  Peter successfully gained the support of the businesses fronting the quay who provided the funds to buy ‘extra heavy standard’ trees able to deter vandalism. This photo by John Trelawny-Ross, city conservation officer, shows these substantial trees in Sept 1978 .

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Bristol Archives 4512/Of/12/21 : Bordeaux Quay(sic) John Trelawny Ross 1978

Here is the avenue in September 2019 forty years later, with Peter Floyd, recently honoured for this and other contibutions to Bristol.

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The trees have grown remarkably well.  With perhaps only one which may be a replacement, all the original trees remain and appear in good health. The chart shows the growth of the trees over about a 7 year period:

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There is quite a range of girths, perhaps reflecting trauma in early life or differences in the ground in which they are planted.  The average girth of 221 cm would (using our age calculator) suggest an age of 59 years. In fact they were planted about 43 years ago although perhaps already 10 years old when planted.

The avenue is mapped here on BristolTrees

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