We’ve made a habit recently of clearing undergrowth and revealing some majestic trees in the woodland, but it’s easy to forget that this wilderness was once all part of a designed landscape; Our April Working Party uncovered more trees that help tell that story. Just to the north side of the main path through the woods we discovered a line of three mature yew trees, clearly planted in an intentional line, and with the stumps of a fourth and fifth tree nearby and to the same spacing.
Yew are something of a tell-tale species at Kings Weston; whilst their scattering may at first seem random through the woodland many relate to historic planning schemes and features. When compared with historic plans and illustrations the significance of the yews becomes more clear. The three yews we rediscovered last month run along a former boundary between the more open parkland to the east, and the long-established woodland to the west. Originally a wall formed this boundary, with a set of gates straddling the main path, but, by the 1770s this had be de-formalised and instead an iron park fence replaced it. An estate plan from this date clearly shows the planting of trees on the outer edge of it and the yews are certainly the same ones described in plan.
This is not the only instance of yews indicating lost historic features. Further along the path through the woods to Penpole Point you will encounter many more, frequently grouped around certain points. A careful comparison between these locations and an earlier estate plan of 1720 suggest that these are the remains of woodland saloons where viewing corridors were cut through the trees northwards towards the Severn and Wales beyond. Whether these yews were planted as a deliberate grove, or whether they are the vestiges of a more formal hedged circle can’t be established, but their planted locations are not coincidental.
Our next Working Party will reveal another designed feature in which yews feature prominently: an avenue of mixed yews and oaks leading from the ruins of Penpole Lodge to the Jubilee Clearing. This strip of land is a curiosity. In 1772 the park boundary appears to run just above the main path through the woods, so this elongated sliver of land between that path, the current boundary wall, and running as far east as to incorporate the clearing, is outside the woodland. By 1840 the park boundary had been pushed out to its current extent and the line of yews planted. The planting defining the clearing (along with more cherry laurel) appears to have been laid out at the same time. This may all have been the work of the last of the Southwell family to live at Kings Weston , the 21st Baron de Clifford. He was known to be a keen planter and the dates, between 1777 and 1832, and the enclosure Acts would fit this incursion onto the common land.
So next time you are walking through Penpole Wood keep an eye open, and next time you spot a yew ask yourself what it might be telling you about the lost historic landscape and the people who created it.