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"Count the thousands who have signed the petition to ‘Save the Happy Man Tree’ from destruction"

A letter from Elaine Gosnell, Resident, Woodberry Down Estate published in the Hackney Gazette and Islington gazette 30th May 2020


We sense that we are all the Custodians of this beautiful tree which has been growing on the pavement for over 150 years. In addition, my neighbours and I are distressed at the possibility of losing this tree because it means more than just one tree, it is ONE MORE TREE.

Four generations of my family have lived in Woodberry Down and contributed to community life in paid and voluntary work since 1954, at the Comprehensive School, St Olave’s church, the Jewish Youth Club, the Tenants’ Association, the Community Club and in the long campaign which saved the Stoke Newington Reservoirs and New River, now forming Woodberry Wetlands. Before the post-war LCC housing estate and pioneering school were built, large houses stood here with extensive gardens, as recalled by Council tenants in the book, Woodberry Down Memories. Now, I will share my memories with you.

When I was aged seven years, I was admitted to Hackney Children's Hospital. I was either there or indoors for about a month. My only abiding memory of my recovery is after my first day back at school, walking towards the shops and being struck by the transformation of the magnificent horse chestnut tree that stood on the corner of the Woodberry Down Comprehensive School. Spring had arrived and it was crowned in brilliant green with white candles. It also formed the backdrop in a photo taken of a friend, when covered in celebratory powder paint, we left school.

I adored my grandparents who lived on the ground floor of Nicholl House near the church. On the small lawn between their entrance and the road there was a mature London Plane tree. On occasions, my sister and I would ask to cross Spring Park Drive, step over the concrete wall and play on the lawn where at times we would find acorns and conkers from the four or more mature trees there. Further along where the lawn widened in front of Peak House, a lovely blossoming pear tree was prominent.

Outside of Martin's newsagent's and the Council Area Base in Woodberry Grove, there grew a row of Lime trees in raised beds built of grey stone bricks. My grandfather is photographed here in 1954 on his first day in Woodberry Down, having moved from Fulham.

As well as attending the Comprehensive, I later worked there writing and producing learning resources. I often worked in the first floor Media Resources Office. On numerous occasions staff would enter and remark on, and ask about, the interesting and beautiful tree which one could almost touch from this room. It was a Mulberry tree. These trees associated with the silk industry are now recognised as being significant to the history of East London. Another used to stand in the garden of a house opposite the church hall. Between the girls' gym, which remains and Woodberry Down, another very broad horse chestnut spread which had pink candles.

Living in Bewdley House until the age of four, I discovered a crab apple from a tree on the lawn at nearby Ombersley House and learnt what this was. One day unusually, my grandmother met me from the infant school. On our way to Nicholl, I found what I learned was a caterpillar, on one of the lime trees that lined Seven Sisters Road until the mid 1960s.

I stress, I had no interest in nature conservation and knew nobody who did; it was dull. Even the significance of the children's programme, 'Magpie' was lost on me - Well, I'd never seen a magpie!

I’m assured the buildings had to go in the ‘Regeneration’, but the trees? Yes, all the above trees were destroyed by Berkeley Homes in the early part of the redevelopment, fracturing my 'Sense of Place'. My neighbours and I mourn the loss of these trees. So, standing up for the Happy Man Tree, standing up to be counted, are it’s Custodians.

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