Ramsbury’s Famous Tree
For centuries, Ramsbury was famous for its elm. This ancient tree, standing in The Square at the heart of the village, was such a feature of Ramsbury life that it needed no further description. It was simply “The Tree” (a title which has now been passed to its successor). It was so well-known, that it was adopted as a logo by the Ramsbury Building Society.
However, while early photos show it in rude health, by the 1920’s when this photo was taken, the Tree was in noticeable decline.
The old Tree was a wych-elm and was first mentioned in a report in 1751, by which time it must have already been a well established tree. This would make it well over 230 years old at the time of its eventual demise in 1983. In its prime, it was reputed to have touched the buildings on all sides of the Square. This photo from circa 1909 seems to show the Tree in fine health, although perhaps reduced from its former size.
Eventually, as the years wore on, it succumbed to old age, becoming a gnarled and stumpy shadow of its former glory.
In 1983 it was finally declared to have died. Many villagers wanted to keep it, dead or not, where it had stood for so many centuries but, in two referendums which threatened to split the village, it was decided to replace it.
Dutch Elm disease had ravaged the native populations of wych and field elms and so the new Tree was chosen to be an oak. A stout sapling from Epping Forest was duly planted in 1986 and still graces the Square to this day. Ramsbury once more has it Tree.
Like all good trees, the old Tree had its share of legends. Long ago, Old Mother Toogood lived in the village. She was, by all accounts, a cantankerous old woman with no family or friends who had a knack for speaking her mind and for making enemies. But a witch? Well, they were simpler times, inhabited by simpler folk who had no other explanation for the milk souring or the chickens failing to lay.
Stories differ as to whether she lived in a hollow in the Tree, was imprisoned in it, or was buried under it. But however it was, Mother Toogood was said to have cursed the village, prophesying that if the Tree died, so would Ramsbury.
Fortunately for us all, nothing has come of this curse and Ramsbury continues to be a thriving community of friends and neighbours. And maybe the legend of the witch and the Tree was never anything more than a misunderstanding of “wych-elm” (which has nothing to do with “witches” and everything to do with “wicker”. No, not “Wicca”, “wicker”. Pay attention at the back!)
But records note that the day the new Tree was planted was marked by a frightful storm, with thunder, lightning and lashing rain. Perhaps Mother Toogood was having her say after all?