The following story was reported in the Coventry Herald in October 1850:
“A singular scene was exhibited through a line of the principal streets in this city, on Tuesday afternoon last, in the removal of a full-grown tree, from the late nursery-ground of Mr. Ogden, at Warwick Row, to the Cemetery on the London Road.
“This tree, a purple beech, was planted by the late Alderman Weare when he occupied the nursery, and could not be far short of a century old. It was of splendid growth, and its beautiful proportions rendered it a perfect picture, and the admiration of all who looked upon it.
“The removal has been a work of considerable time, difficulty, and expense. A number of workmen were employed several weeks in excavating the roots. When this was done, the placing of it upon a carriage in a fit manner for transit was a most perplexing operation ; especially after the breaking down of one carriage in the experiment.
“Then came the somewhat hazardous undertaking of conveying it in an upright position along the thoroughfares – Hertford Street, High Street, Earl Street, and Much Park Street, to the Cemetery. The making of this route occupied several hours, amidst many hundreds, if not thousands, of spectators.
“There were various stoppages ; and not a few loppings off of branches became necessary, in order to prevent excessive damage to the fronts of houses, thus mutilating and depriving the tree to some extent of its exquisite symmetry ; and notwithstanding all the sacrifices made, and precautions taken, some mischief ensued, though not to any very great amount, in the breaking of windows and other defacings.
“On arriving at the Cemetery it was taken up Green Lane, where a part of the wall was taken down to admit its entry to that part of the ground destined to receive it. The result of this undertaking will now be watched with some interest in ascertaining whether so large and mature a tree can be firmly rooted, and still preserved in the flourishing beauty which has won for it so much admiration, and that high valuation, which led to the determination to transfer it from one spot to the other.”
Victorian antiquarian, Benjamin Poole, in his 1852 History of Coventry, adds the following to the Herald’s article:
“Its immense roots were embedded in the earth without delay, and ever since, whatever scientific and skilful management could do to prevent its vitality from declining, has been done for that purpose. The experiment has been watched with some interest, and up to this period (the winter of 1851) – the opinions of horticulturists are divided on the question, whether so large a tree will long survive transplantation ; – whether it can be again so firmly routed as to preserve its beauty in a flourishing condition for many years longer. It stands on a flat piece of ground a short distance from the Dissenters’ burial chapel, and will easily be distinguished when in leaf, by its dark and majestic foliage.”
For many decades the Purple Beech tree (sometimes referred to as a Copper Beech) had stood in a nursery formerly known as Sheriff’s Orchard, and belonging to former mayor, James Weare, who had served a rare three consecutive terms at the head of Coventry’s Council from 1824 to 1826. Weare (a nurseryman known by many as “Seedy”) died in 1833 at the age of 68.
By 1850, however, the part of the nursery containing the tree was entering its final decade, as plans were in place for the building of an imposing line of properties to be known as The Quadrant, which was erected in the early 1860s. One prominent tree was considered to be too good to leave behind, though, and so unprecedented efforts were made to uproot it and move it a mile or so to the then recently built cemetery on the London Road, a masterpiece designed by Sir Joseph Paxton.
As explained in the original Coventry Herald article above, the tree was taken to the cemetery via Hertford Street, High Street, Earl Street and Much Park Street. Although the London Road was not specifically mentioned it would have been the only feasible route wide enough to accommodate such a grand cavalcade.
Today, a hundred and twenty years later, the magnificent tree is still standing in London Road Cemetery, a tribute to the “scientific and skilful management” of the 19th century horticulturalists.
Our thanks to the Historic Coventry website for this interesting story.