|Darley Dale, St. Helen's Church, Ancient Yew
In September 1863 the editor of "The Times" received
the following letter from Darley Dale's Yew tree, protesting
about the situation it found itself in.
"Sir - I am a helpless and most ill-used individual,
and my friends have advised me to make my grievances known
to you, as the most able and likely source to supply redress.
To make my tale short, I belong to that class of national property
which guide books call "objects of interest," of
which this old historic country possesses so large a share
; but I am not an old abbey, nor an old tower, nor even an
old cairn; I am simply an old tree. My residence is in a churchyard,
in a very lovely valley in Derbyshire, called Darley Dale.
From the reverence which has been paid to me for more generations
than I care to name, and from the admiration which pilgrims
from all parts of the world who come to see me bestow upon
me, I conceive that I am no common tree. My trunk alone girths
33 feet, but from within the memory of man I have stretched
my arms across one entire side of the churchyard, and forty
years ago the young urchins of the parish used to climb from
the outer wall into my branches, and from my branches on to
the church leads. My age is fabulous, and learned naturalists
now calculate that I must have been born 300 years before the
gospel was planted in this country ; in which case I was probably
associated with an old pagan building, the foundations of which
are still discovered in digging graves in my immediate neighbourhood.
If my memory did not fail me of course I could tell all about
this better than the naturalists; but age has made me somewhat
hazy in this respect, so I must leave my origin to the genealogists
to settle. Well, sir, with all these claims to reverence, is
it not shameful that in this year of grace 1863, men should
cut, break, and mutilate my poor old person in all conceivable
ways? Until tourists began to multiply and excursion trains
to run, I had scarcely a single scar, older than time and tempest
had left, on my body. But now the Snookeses, and Tomkinses,
and Joneses have begun to immortalize themselves (as is the
fashion of that race) by cutting their names all over my bark,
and on Thursday last two fellows of this tribe commenced a
still more cruel process. While one of them smoked his pipe
and watched, the other drew out a saw, and actually set to
work to cut out a great slice of my very flesh, which, but
for the lucky intervention of the clerk, he would soon have
You may believe me, sir, when I tell you that I quite dread
the sight of an excursion train: and from all that I hear,
I am not alone in these apprehensions. My fellow "objects
of interest" are crying out on every side of me and all
over the land that the Goths are coming again. Oh, sir, can
you not repel these barbarians? The foe of all abuses, will
you not make your potent voice heard to put an end to this
I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
AN OLD YEW TREE.
Darley Churchyard, Sept 15th."
The letter's publication caused some comment in the paper and a
supportive letter was received by "The Times" a
few days later from the "Two Trees on Oaker" (later One
The church historian John Charles Cox,
writing in 1876, described the yew as "magnificent" and
that it was "said to be the largest in girth and the finest
specimen in the kingdom". He noted that Ebenezer Rhodes,
when writing in 1817,
had said "that the trunk, for about four yards from the
ground, measures upwards of thirty-four feet, and that it then
assumes the appearance of two separate trees, which rise perpendicularly
from the parent trunk, and throw out their ramifications over
an area of between seventy and eighty yards in circumference".
However, in the intervening years the tree had been "shorn
of many of its limbs". Cox observed that others had estimated
the tree's girth as being thirty-three to thirty-five feet.
He added that "a measurement that we recently took,
failed to make the circumference thirty-two feet by a few inches,
and this in the widest part, which is about four feet from
the ground. Mr. Fearn tells us that there is a cavity in the
tree, about half-way up one of the trunks, that will hold seven
or eight ordinary sized men standing upright therein".
Following a vestry meeting in May 1876 a record was made
in the parish books as the yew had been enclosed "by
a very handsome iron railing". A Manchester solicitor
with no connection to Darley, one Charles Lister Esq., had
paid for the railing to protect the tree from further vandalism".
The fence, shown above, still surrounds the tree.
Although it had lost some of its limbs by 1890, R. N. Worth
believed it to be the largest and most luxuriant in the United
early twentieth century postcard at the top of the page shows
the tree in need of some tlc (tender loving care) as there
was die back in the top.
The yew, which still stands outside the south porch of the
church, has added a further 120+ years to its growth since
Worth was writing about it and is still a very fine specimen.
Church and Yew Tree, Darley Dale
1. "The Old yew tree, Darley Dale, Derbyshire". Trichromatic
P.C. by J. Welch & Sons, Portsmouth. No.2485. Not posted.
2. Illustration by Nelly Erichsen from Firth, J. B. (1908) "Highways
and Byways in Derbyshire" MacMillan & Co., London.
In the collection of, provided by, researched and written by © Ann
Andrews Intended for personal use only
 "The Times", 17
Sep, 1863. To the Editor of the Times. The letter was also
published in: Cox, J Charles (1877) - see  below.
 "The Times", 26 Sep,
1863. To the Editor of the Times.
 Cox, J Charles (1877) "Notes
on the Churches of Derbyshire Vol II" Chesterfield: Palmer
and Edmunds, London: Bemrose and Sons, 10 Paternoster Buildings;
 Rhodes, Ebenezer (1824) "Peak
Scenery" pub. London, Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown,
and Green, Paternoster Row.
Times and Chesterfield Herald", 13 May 1876.
 R. N. Worth, F.G.S., (1890) "Tourist's
Guide to Derbyshire", Edward Stanford, 26 & 27, Cockspur
Street, Charing Cross.
More on site information about Darley and the surrounding area:
Lantern Slide of St. Helens
1891 Directory, Darley
1828-9 Directory, with Matlock, Matlock Bath and Bonsall
includes Darley names
Manuscripts, Derbyshire for more information about Derbyshire
deeds, pedigrees, documents and wills
Whitworth - "Lives Which Hung by a Thread",
a magazine article about the Whitworth Sharpshooter which
now includes (Dec 2008) additional material about both Whitworth
and the development of the rifle.