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

The Anne Frank Ginkgo

If the end of the world were imminent, I still would plant a tree today.

So wrote Otto Frank, Anne Frank’s father.

Bristol’s Anne Frank tree was planted in her memory on 12 June 2009 on what would have been her 80th birthday. You can visit the tree and remember Anne at Brandon Hill Park near the Charlotte Street entrance. It can be found here.

By Unknown photographer; Collectie Anne Frank Stichting Amsterdam (Website Anne Frank Stichting, Amsterdam) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Unknown photographer; Collectie Anne Frank Stichting Amsterdam (Website Anne Frank Stichting, Amsterdam) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The tree, a Ginkgo biloba, was one of many such trees planted in memory of Anne Frank throughout the country. The tree-planting ceremony was held nine years ago to mark the 80th anniversary of her birth and took place after the city had hosted a touring exhibition in the cathedral, which attracted more than 10,000 people and 25 school groups.

Anne Frank and other members of her family were among millions of Jews murdered in Nazi concentration camps during World War II.

Jon House, Deputy Chief Executive of Bristol City Council, who led the event, said ‘Anne Frank has become a symbol of the millions who have suffered persecution throughout the world because of prejudice and hatred and the ongoing fight to challenge it that we all share. Bristol City Council has an important leadership role to play in bringing communities together and building better neighbourhoods, creating equality of opportunity for everyone and defending the most disadvantaged in our city.’

A chestnut tree behind the secret annex in Amsterdam where Anne and her family hid was one of Anne’s only links to the outside world during her years in hiding, but, by 2009 it had become diseased. This tree in Bristol, and many others like it, reminds us of the consolation and pleasure that trees can bring us, and of the tragedy that befell Anne, her family and all those who have suffered persecution. The Anne Frank trees planted throughout Britain were intended to ensure that her story is not forgotten.

If Anne were alive today, she would be 89 years old next Tuesday.

Plant a tree for Paul Dirac

The other day, as I wandered around Bristol looking at the delightful, newly planted trees so many generous Bristolians have paid to have planted, I passed No. 13 Monk Road in Bishopston – the house where Paul Dirac, the famous theoretical physicist, was born and lived in as a child. He is regarded as one of the most significant winning physicists of the 20th century.
Sadly, the line of lime and plane trees that grace the road has a prominent gap where a tree is missing. It is just outside No. 13 (which has a blue plaque). There was probably one there once, though.
The Paul Dirac Gap
Wouldn’t it be great if we could get it replaced…and perhaps build on that to plant other Blue Plaque Trees where famous Bristolians once lived and so celebrate their lives.