The foul weather sweeping across Britain over the Christmas holiday season took its toll at Lydiard Park with the loss of several large trees – including an ancient walnut, the oldest tree in the park which was felled by the extreme gusts on the evening of 22 December.
The veteran had been identified on old maps as growing in 1750, when Swindon was a hamlet with a population of about 1,000 people living on the top of a hill two miles and a couple of hours walk away.
Children and teenagers who climbed and explored it over many years will be saddened to see the tree destroyed. Pollarding meant that there was a large platform had been created about 10 feet off the ground where branches had been cut back. Apart from the human use, the tree was a major eco-system in the park, home for a wide range of birds like tits, black caps, nuthatches and woodpeckers, as well as bats, who feasted on the vast insect life breeding in its trunk and branches.
In its last years the tree was 5.25 metres in circumference and somehow survived the first world war when walnuts were felled to build wooden gun carriages. The fine tree pictured by Anjelica Ferrari a few weeks it came down. Read her blog or catch her on Twitter
Lydiard Park head gardener Simon Brooks, above, said tests on the tree suggest that it could have been planted around the year 1700. "We’re not sure for definite when the tree was planted as the drawings in the earlier part of the 18th Century are not completely clear.
"It’s very sad to see such a spectacular tree in such a state of destruction on the ground. It’s core had become increasingly hollow from decay and it was slowly deteriorating because of age. We enclosed the tree about a year ago to protect the public and to try to prolong its life, but it was in an exposed position and we knew it was vulnerable to extreme weather.
"We’ll be clearing away the debris once we’ve dealt with essential work elsewhere in the park which has been caused by the weather and will review what to do with the stump. There is some growth and there is potential for regeneration, but it’s not often a successful long term strategy. We might also be able to propagate living material; retaining the genetic thread on the same site is something we try to do."
Denise McCoy from Grange Park, below, who walks her old English sheepdog Bluey every day in the park, said: "It’s such a shame to see the tree on the ground. Perhaps we didn’t realise how important to the look of the park it was until it was broken. It will leave a big empty space."
Simon and gardening colleagues have been kept busy thoughout the Christmas shut down pulling down broken branches lodged at a high level so they don’t suddenly fall on passers by.
A mature sycamore had to be felled from the base because was high level tree surgery was too dangerous, and a large chestnut toppled over completely because the waterlogged root plate could no longer hold it up in the high winds.
• Swindon now has a population of around 200,000
Lydiard House was the home of the St John family for more than 500 years. They inherited the house through marriage, when Margaret Beauchamp married Oliver St John. Margaret was a powerful, wealthy woman. In her second marriage, she married John Beaufort and was grandmother to Henry VII.
In Medieval times, there was a deer park and manor house at Lydiard Park.