Beds, Herts & Bucks

'Oldest' Christmas tree at Wrest Park to be decorated

Wellingtonia at Wrest Park Image copyright English Heritage
Image caption Reference to the current Wellingtonia (right) being used as a Christmas tree was found in a 1900 Gardener's Chronicle (left)

What is believed to be Britain's oldest Christmas tree is to be decorated for the first time in a century, English Heritage has said.

The 30m Wellingtonia was planted in the grounds of Wrest Park near Silsoe, Beds, in 1856 by Thomas de Grey.

It was brought into the mansion for the family's Christmas celebrations and re-planted once the festivities were over.

This year a 3ft star will be put at the top and visitors will decorate the lower branches with ribbons.

From the mid-19th Century, families would bring trees in from their garden during the festive period and adorn them with candles, sweets and homemade decorations.

English Heritage said reference to its use as a Christmas tree was recently found in an edition of Gardener's Chronicle, from June 1900.

Until then it had not realised the significance of the tree.

'Rare example'

The article said the tree was planted in 1856 and "must therefore have been one of the first introduced into this country".

"Mr Ford, the late gardener at Wrest Park... has carried the plant many times from the conservatory to the mansion, and vice versa," it read.

After growing too large to be brought indoors, it has stood in the grounds for decades.

John Watkins, from English Heritage, said it was a "rare, documented example of a tree that was decorated and replanted annually".

"Christmas trees were the height of festive fashion by the 1850s after being adopted by the Royal family as part of their celebrations," he said.

"[This tree] was planted shortly after the trend for Christmas trees began and we believe it is one of the earliest examples.

"If anyone knows of an earlier one, we'd like to hear about it."

Wrest Park is a country estate and gardens which is now owned by English Heritage.

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