This initial fundraiser aims to raise sufficient funds to explore practical ways to conserve and restore the WW1 Memorial Trees on Western Road in Sheffield. The broader goal is to being people together out of the adversity of Sheffield's street tree furore and form a community-led vehicle for improving and increasing street trees across the city.
54 mature trees remain in situ, of 97 originally planted on April 4th 1919. 23 of these have been identified for removal, and while they would be replaced with new trees, the community feel strongly that retaining them would be a far better solution. However, it appears that retaining them will cost additional funds. The City Council are claiming that just on Western Road this amounts to c.£300,000. This figure is disputed. We dispute it. Funds raised will enable thorough designs and costings to be produced by independent design and cost consultants.
The aims are:
- Conserve mature memorial trees currently earmarked for felling, where this is possible, via remedial landscaping or highways engineering work
- Restore remaining memorial trees to a sustainable state via pruning and crown reduction.
- Restore the avenue to its original 97 trees by replacing trees lost historically with the largest feasible specimens of matching species
- Use this project as a focal point to engage residents and interested parties positively in establishing a community tree trust and working to improve and increase the cities street-level trees.
The memorial trees, 97 in all, were planted during April 1919, along western Road and Gillott Street, now known as Mona Avenue. Western Road Council School, now known as Westways School, stands on the corner of the two streets. Local press of the time records that the avenue on Western Road alternated between Sycamore and Plane trees. Some were replaced with common lime, others with Ash. The trees on Mona Avenue were of a more varied mix of species.
The intention of the memorial was to “commemorate the self-sacrifice of four hundred and one former pupils who have served in the war, sixty-four of who have been killed and twelve been awarded distinctions,” as well as to commemorate the war efforts made by former girl pupils of the school, some of whom were recorded as having served in France, by “beautifying the district,” in the hope that they would “beautify streets and beautify lives.” (Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 5/4/1919).
The plantings were in the main carried out in the week commencing 1 April 1919 by pupils of the school, including 11-year-old Bessie Line. On 4th April 1919 a ceremony was held, attended by councillors, the clergy, and staff and children of the school.
On this date, there was a dedication ceremony which included a procession of the school children along the street carrying flags, ready for the final trees to be planted in the area immediately outside the school. Local press articles of the time name those carrying out these final plantings as Miss M Maxfield, Reverend Pearson, Councillor J Kaye, Messrs Quine and Morris (“Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Schools”), headteachers Mr Cotton, Miss Hassall and Miss Corner, and each of the head boys or girls.
Some time later, a carved stone was embedded in the wall of the school, with the inscription reading: “The trees in Western Road and Gillott Street were planted in grateful appreciation of the part taken by former pupils of this school in the Great War 1914-1919”.
There was also a carved wooden dedication in the school hall which bore the names of the boys of the school who had served in WW1. Local residents further recall that the wooden memorial tablet was also put in place in the school hall and remained there until a building refurbishment in the past 10 years during which several historic artefacts were removed, their subsequent whereabouts unknown.
Local residents recall that regular commemorative parades and processions by local youth groups such as scout and boys brigades were held, and that these continued into the 1970’s.
An independent Arboricultural Survey commissioned by residents in 2015 gives an insight into the history of maintenance to the trees. "We know that the tree was regularly pruned until the 1960’s from photographic evidence, when it seems that all trees on the road were regularly pollarded. This was common practice in the north of the UK until around the mid 1970’s when generally pollarding stopped and trees were allowed to mature naturally.", "does not appear to have had any major pruning or management work since the 1980’s or even earlier … No recent significant pruning wounds were evident and whilst I did not survey other trees on the road, I did drive up and down the road and my feeling is that none of the tree population has been actively managed during this period."
A photograph of the Memorial from 1967 shows the signs of pruning as described in the excerpt above:
In creating a memorial landscape planted by children, located on the walking route to and from the school, the community of 1919 had a clear intent to create a lasting and growing memorial which would have a profound effect on the children and help them deal with the loss of their peers. The creation of the memorial included an effort to create an imposing avenue of trees which could be greater appreciated due to the sloping topography of Western Road. The physical setting of a residential road, not a main thoroughfare, provided a balance between being owned and appreciated locally, whilst having a wider significance from the school catchment and as part of several key walking routes between the district centre of Crookes and the inner city. Whist the avenue is typical of highways planting in Sheffield, there are no other examples we are aware of of such extensive and established memorial avenues.
Why can't this work be done by the council?
Residents have been campaigning for several years to press for the memorial trees to be retained through the council's Streets Ahead programme.
Streets Ahead Project is a government funded PFI (Private Finance Initiative) project to resurface all Sheffield city roads and pavements, install new LED street lighting etc. It also includes an element of highway tree management. This involves removing trees which are dead diseased or dying, or which are damaging the highway to a degree which cannot be remedied by application of a number of engineering and arboricultural ‘solutions’.
Based on its initial survey, the council’s contractor, Amey plc, proposed that 23 of the mature trees on Western Road should be removed. 3 due to disease, the remainder due to damage to kerbs and to ramping up of pavements to an extent which they say cannot be remedied within the level of resources provided for within the PFI contract. Whilst this has been disputed by campaigners, an impasse has been reached.
A door to door survey was carried out by local councillors Craig Gamble Pugh and Anne Murphy in November 2016 and over 60% of households were spoken to, face to face. Of these, all expressed a view that the memorial trees were important to them. All but 2 strongly felt that the removal of the large proportion of mature memorial tree stock would be out of keeping with the intent of the memorial.
Please support this community led campaign and donate today.