Tuesday 11 February 2014

Sopwell skyline features

Sopwell residents have been out visiting tall structures which dominate our skyline. The gasholders near Homebase and the Cedar of Lebanon in St Stephen’s field. One about to disappear and the other very much alive.

A few of us had the privilege to be invited by National Grid and the demolition contractors, Brown and Mason, to see the progress of the demolition of the gasholders - no longer called gasometers it seems. After quite a long induction on health and safety, we were kitted out with protective gear to go out to watch the metal being cut away piece by piece by oxyacetylene welders. Our guide explained how the demolition contractors worked from the top down, removing panels section by section, layer by layer. The metal is sent off daily for scrap. One of the gasholders is almost gone and the other has a large hole cut away in its side which exposed the three telescopic layers. The work should be finished by April when the site will probably be used for retail. It certainly isn’t suitable for housing. The whole experience was very interesting and it was good to capture these moments of history for the project. The skyline is going to look so different when they have gone.

And now to our other feature, the cedar tree. We met with David Alderman of The Tree Council. It was a mixture of good and bad news. It is not as old as we think. It’s a mere 250 or so years old in his estimation. Cedars of this type are very fast growing so that is why we thought it was a lot older. Apparently, when cedars first came to Britain in the 17th century, they were not that hardy and were all wiped out by 1743 when there was a terrific storm. People planted a hardier species after that and ours is one of them. David described it as a cluster tree, multi-stemmed, and so it looks big with all the branches off the several trunks, a bit like a hedge. On the other hand he said it was a fine specimen: a champion category 3 tree no less! It is big in volume and David described it as classic. He was pleased with its condition: there was only one branch which looked damaged and this had a hole in it which was likely to have been made by a woodpecker.

So for the record, the measurements of the St Stephen’s cedar are: height: 19m, girth: 8.3m at 0.4m, crown spread west-east 30.8m and crown spread north-south 29.4m. David dated it as being planted c1750 but we shouldn’t be too disappointed as it was still a very fine specimen and, out of 2,000 they have recorded, it is in the Top 50 for Britain. Regarding its status as the largest cedar in Hertfordshire, this is all dependent upon whether a tree survives at Beechwood Park School, Markyate. Until this is confirmed our tree at our slightly reduced girth of 8.3m at 0.4m is second largest. It is still something to be proud of.

Regarding the Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn story, David said that this may have started by the Victorians who liked to exaggerate rumours. However, quite often trees were planted to commemorate an event so it could have been planted because of the visit by the pair of them to St Stephens. Or, it could just have been planted to replace one of the less hardy cedars – the dates are right. We will never know the true story, but the pair of them were around our area and they may well have done some canoodling under a tree in the vicinity. Henry used to hunt there and Anne was known to have visited Sopwell Nunnery.

RIP the gasholders. Long live the cedar.

Sandy Norman