Tag Archives: Trees

Richard St. Barbe Baker, Man of the Trees

To mark National Tree Week (24th November – 2nd December) we celebrate the life of Richard St. Barbe Baker (1889-1982), the founder of the ‘Men of the Trees Society’ now known as the International Tree Foundation.

A Hampshire man – his great-grandfather had been Rector of Botley in William Cobbett’s time – Baker grew up at West End in a house appropriately named ‘The Firs’. There he helped his father, John St. Barbe Baker, in the tree nursery that he had established after turning his hobby of growing trees into a business following a financial setback. In the book My Life, My Trees Baker described how as a child he explored the extensive woodland nearby, an experience which had a profound effect on him, influencing his decision to dedicate his life to promoting a greater understanding of the vital role of trees in the natural environment.

His father’s involvement in the Evangelical Movement was another important influence and on leaving school, Baker combined his interest in forestry with missionary work when he fulfilled his ambition to move to Canada. There he attended Emmanuel College, Saskatchewan University, and also worked the land as a ‘homesteader’ in preparation for which he had learned to shoe horses in Southampton and practised pioneering in Burridge.

West End c.1904 Rare Books Cope Postcard WES 91.5 CHU

After three and a half years he returned to Britain to take up a place at Cambridge to read Divinity but his studies were interrupted by World War I in which he was commissioned in the Royal Horse and Field Artillery. Wounded three times, his poor health saw him stationed at the Swaythling Remount Depot, before he was invalided out in April 1918. On his return to Cambridge he took the Diploma in Forestry and on being appointed Assistant Conservator of Forests in Kenya began the conservation work for which he became so well known.

Richard St. Barbe Baker Among the Trees (1935) Cope 96 BAK

Baker was ahead of his time in recognising the role of trees as protectors of the environment and the necessity of replacing those which had to be felled for timber, fuel or simply clearing land. After achieving success in this in Kenya, he established the Men of the Trees Society and following a period of five years conserving forests in Nigeria, spent the remainder of his long life working for the Society. Travelling the world he campaigned for the preservation and restoration of forests and the afforestation of desert areas by writing articles, books and scientific papers, also giving popular lectures and holding discussions with government ministers and heads of state. Through his efforts billions of trees were planted as more and more people were persuaded of his view that ‘unless we play fair to our land the Earth we cannot continue to exist’.

Richard St. Barbe Baker My Life My Trees (1970) Cope 95 BAK

In later years Baker often returned to Hampshire, notably in June 1958, when he undertook a ride of 330 miles through Hampshire, Surrey and Sussex, in emulation of William Cobbett. During the nineteen days in the saddle, he spoke to thousands of schoolchildren with the aim of raising their awareness of the environment. The completion of the ride was marked with a lunch for Cobbett’s descendants which he saw as a way of mending relations between the families, his great-grandfather and Cobbett having fallen out.

When visiting the later owners of  The Firs, Baker spent time reminiscing about his childhood and recalling the first woods he knew. There he had recognised that trees maintain ‘the balance between beauty and utility’ and came to believe  that ‘in the sanctuary of the woods we may breathe deeply, exhaling all thought which is not creative and inhaling the breath of life.’

Richard St. Barbe Baker Green Glory (1949) Cope 96 BAK

Baker’s work was recognised by the award of an honorary doctorate from the University of Saskatchewan in 1971 and an OBE in 1978. Following his death in 1982 at the age of 92, he was also remembered locally with a memorial plaque and road naming at West End, and something he would undoubtedly have appreciated, the planting of a grove of thirty trees by The Men of the Trees at Hatch Grange.

A number of Baker’s books can be found in the Cope Collection and a small collection of his correspondence with Grace Mary Mays is in the Archives and Manuscripts Collections MS 92.


Botanical treasures of the Stratfield Saye estate

In October 1836 the botanist John Claudius Loudon wrote to Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, requesting drawings of certain trees on the Stratfield Saye estate for a publication on the hardy trees and shrubs of Great Britain.  His returns showed that there was a Cedar of Lebanon at Stratfield Saye said to be the highest in Britain as well as the largest Hemlock Spruce Fir; he hoped that the Duke might have some drawing of them he could copy. [WP2/43/2]

"Cedrus Libani: the Cedar of Lebanon": J.C.Loudon, Arboretum et fruticetum Britannicum vol. VIII p.396

[“Cedrus Libani: the Cedar of Lebanon”: J.C.Loudon, Arboretum et fruticetum Britannicum vol. VIII p.396]

We have several copies of the resulting publication Arboretum et fruticetum Britannicum in the Salisbury Collection.

Arboretum et fruticetum Britannicum was Loudon’s most significant work but unfortunately also the most time-consuming and costly.  It contained an exhaustive account of all the trees and shrubs growing in Great Britain including their history and notes on remarkable examples.  It included drawings of leaves, twigs, fruits, and the shapes of leafless trees as well as entire portraits of trees in their young and mature state, all  drawn from life.

The first Duke of Wellington acquired the Stratfield Saye estate in 1818 from a grateful nation following the Battle of Waterloo.  It has pleasure grounds and a landscape park of approximately 523 hectares.  It had previously been owned by George Pitt, first Baron Rivers who had made extensive alterations to the park after he inherited it.  Lord Rivers had succeeded to the estate in 1745 and, through the second half of the 18th century until his death in 1803, he made major changes and improvements.  He is responsible for the walled gardens to the north-west of the house as well as the pleasure grounds planted with their arboretum of exotic trees.

In December 1836 James Johnson – possibly the estate manager – wrote to the Duke giving him details of various trees as requested by Loudon.  The highest cedar of Lebanon was 95ft but likely to grow much higher.   The hemlock spruce is the “largest and handsomest specimen of the kind” he has ever seen.  A spruce fir growing near the cedar is 104 ft high and he also measured a “very fine” silver fir in the peasantry copse.

["The fritillaria meleagris or common fritillary": Curtis's Flora Londinensis vol. III]

[“The fritillaria meleagris or common fritillary”: Curtis’s Flora Londinensis vol. III]

Johnson also encloses to the Duke a letter from the botanist Aylmer Bourke Lambert (1761-1842) concerning the Fritillaria meleagris; according to Lambert, it is “one of the most beautiful and rarest of all the English plants”.  One of the “greatest botanical curiosities in England” and Lambert discovered it in the park at Stratfield Saye “in …abundance”. [WP2/43/105].

The fritillary is now designated as “very rare” in Hampshire.  The following is an extract from the Flora of Hampshire:

The plant’s last site in Hants is in a field adjoining the famous colony on the Duke of Wellington’s estate at Stratfielde Saye, Berks, where is is now carefully conserved.  Sadly … the fritillaries on the Hants site have dwindled until in 1982 Paul Bowman [Hants botanist] could only find four plants.  However om 1986 the Duke began scattering fritillary seeds there … the most recent records are for 8 plants (1993)

Aylmer Lambert is best known for his work A description of the genus Pinus, issued in several parts 1803–1824, a sumptuously illustrated folio volume detailing all of the conifers then known.  The Special Collections has a copy of the 1832 edition.

["Pinus Pinea": A.B.Lambert, A description of the genus Pinus, vol. 1]

[“Pinus Pinea”: A.B.Lambert, A description of the genus Pinus, vol. 1]

Many of the printed volumes referenced here are from the Salisbury Collection, a collection of over 500 books, ranging in date from the 17th century to the 20th century which reflects the passion for ordering the natural world and in this case recording the plants of a particular area, which arose during the eighteenth century and continues today.  It includes examples of national floras such as those of Spain, Germany and Russia, but the emphasis of the collection is on British floras on both a national and a local level.

National Tree Week

The UK’s largest tree celebration, National Tree Week, has been running since 1975 and launches the winter tree planting season. This week, in honour of our ‘treescape’, we take a look at the trees and forest in Hampshire through items in our University Special Collections.


King Edward VIII planting a tree at Adsdean Park, Mountbatten’s house in West Sussex, summer 1936. MB2/L17 p58

There is a long – and royal – tradition of tree planting for commemoration and celebration: in this photo, King Edward VIII wields a spade at Adsdean, Earl Mountbatten’s home in West Sussex – (note the pipe!) Mountbatten’s guests were often invited to plant trees. In April 1957, H.M. the Queen and Prince Philip planted mulberry trees in the gardens at Broadlands to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the granting of Romsey’s Royal Charter. During the royal jubilee in 1977 the Queen returned to Hampshire to plant trees at Ampfield and Woodley.


Watercolour view of Broadlands and Romsey, n.d. MS 62 Broadlands Archives BR Map 142.

Earlier owners of Broadlands were also concerned that trees should enhance the beauty of the pleasure grounds. After a ‘perfect hurricane’ in March 1842, Samuel Hereman, head gardener at Broadlands, wrote to Viscount Palmerston to report damage to a great many trees:

“One of the large elm trees in the pleasure ground immediately behind the dairy yard fell, broke down the cow shed, where the cows were, and took off a piece of the garden wall, but I am happy to say all the cows escaped unhurt. The large tree in the stable yard near the kitchen entrance to the mansion fell and took down with it all the wall from the small door leading through the shrubbery to the ashes and faggot shed immediately adjoining the brushing room.  The tiled roof of the stables is considerably deranged, many parts quite stripped.  The fine Cedar of Lebanon close by the large doors entering into the pleasure ground at the east front of the mansion lost two of its largest limbs, which in their fall, broke down the wooden fence and wall, and drove the coping stones to a considerable distance.  Besides these many of the finest trees have lost very large branches and others have been torn up by the roots both in the pleasure ground and park…” [BR114/5/17/1-2]

The Broadlands estate papers show that Palmerston was keen to replace these losses – in November that year Hereman listed more than 200 shrubs and trees ‘arrived from London’ including ‘40 Lombardy Poplars… 6 Leucomb [Lucombe] Oaks… 40 Pinus Pallasiana’ [pines] and ‘6 Upright Cypress’ trees [BR114/6/53]. One of the more exotic trees to be planted was the Monkey Puzzle tree.  In May 1842, Palmerston was sent a small box containing two cones of the Araucanian Pine from Colonel John Walpole in Chile.  “You will often have heard of the beauty of this tree in its conformation and I know of no one of the species which can rival it for size and proportions.  I send you these seeds because from the applications which I have directly and indirectly received from English nurserymen I have reason to think that they have not yet become common…”[BR114/5/37-8]

By May 1843, Hereman had carefully planted the seeds in the vinery, the melon yard, and the new greenhouse at Broadlands, exactly following ‘the last directions given in the Gardener’s Chronicle’ [BR114/8/17]. By this date the practice of managing and planting woodland was becoming more scientific, aided by the growing number of publications offering advice. Timber after all was a valuable resource for estate owners. Early examples among our rare book collection at Southampton include: The Manner of Raising, Ordering, and improving Forrest-Trees by M. Cook, published in 1676; and A sure method of improving estates by plantations of Oak Elm Ash Beech and other timber-trees, by Batty Langley, 1728 [Rare Books Perkins SD 391].  William Cobbett – the famous farmer and political commentator who lived in Hampshire – also wrote The Woodlands, a treatise that was serialised in the Political Register between 1825-8.

So trees have been associated with both profit and pleasure down the ages. Some are even visited as tourist attractions, famous due to their size or age. You might have seen the ancient Knightwood Oak near Lyndhurst, thought to be from 450 to 600 years old, and probably the oldest oak in the New Forest.  Other local trees acquired notoriety for more amazing reasons:


The Hampshire Wonder or The Groaning Tree being a full and true account of the Groaning Tree, in the New Forest, near Limington in Hampshire, which has been heard for some time past by thousands of people, who come from all parts to hear this amazing and portentous noise, by P.Q. M D. F.R.S., London, 1742, Cope 97.58.

The Groaning Tree apparently stood ‘about two Miles distant from Limington in a solitary part of the New Forest’. It was a famous elm tree ‘which has been heard to groan like a human Creature in the Agonies of Death, for several Hours together’…. ‘the amazing Groans which are now every Day heard to proceed from its Trunk; and these indeed are so terrible and shocking to human Nature, that few who hear them have Power to stir from the Place till proper Cordials have been administred to revive their sinking Spirits and confounded Imaginations.’

Enjoy National Tree Week!