WESTONBIRT



Westonbirt is a small hamlet near Tetbury in Gloucestershire. Until recently it was a parish but is now joined with the neighbouring parish of Shipton Moyne. I believe that the small church which used to be used by the girls of Westonbirt School for morning prayers is now wholly in charge of school for use as a chapel. It was in the nearby village of Shipton Moyne that the Estcourt family had their estate. Their great house was left derelict many years ago and demolished in 1964 but Desmond Estcourt, last in a line that went back to the Normans, continued living elsewhere on his estate. An item in The Times dated 24/10/1996 tells of his sorrow at having to sell the land which has been in his family for nearly 700 years (it was first occupied by his family in 1303) and 28 generations. The tree-lined drive of the house featured in the BBC producton of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

The manor of Westonbirt came under the control of the Holford family in 1665 when Richard Holford, a 29 year old bachelor of Lincoln's Inn was issued with a licence to marry Sarah Crew, aged about 16 and being in the care of her aunt, Jane Struttey of Westonbirt, her father being dead.


WESTONBIRT SCHOOL

At present the hamlet is known for its school and the arboretum. The school building, shown in the picture, dates back to the mid 19th century, but only became a school in 1928. At first it was a boarding school for girls but for many years has taken a large number of day girls. It has a strong musical tradition and is well known for its caring atmosphere.

The arboretum was originally planted by the same Holford family that owned the house which is now the school. It is now owned and run by the Forestry Commission. It covers an extensive acreage. Considerable changes have been made especially in areas such as Silk Wood which was fairly wild in the early 1970's. There is a well established visitor centre. A visitor could not hope to see all there is to see in a day. Planting commenced in 1829 but the planting did not take place in an area devoid of trees. Richard Mabey in his wonderful book Flora Britannica has this to say when he is discussing the lime family

...... But by far the most impressive stool is at Silk Wood, next to the Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire. It consists of 60 sizeable trees growing in a circle 48 feet in diameter. It used to be assumed that they were unconnected individuals, planted or accidentally grown as a circular grove. But DNA 'fingerprinting' of the trees has shown that they are part of a genetically identical clone, whose parent tree - originally at the centre of the circle - no longer exists. Oliver Rackham and Donald Pigott, one of the world's leading authorities on limes, have estimated the clone's age as at least 2,000 years, by assuming that coppice growth was harvested at 25-year intervals as it grew outwards from the mother tree. But there is now private speculation that it may be more than 6,000 years old - which, if it were to be regarded as a 'single' organism, would make it probably the oldest living thing in Britain, born in the summertime of the limes and outstripping any of the ancient yews.

Highgrove, the estate of Charles, Prince of Wales, lies between Westonbirt and Tetbury. Tetbury is the nearest (small) town about 3 miles distant. It consists mainly of antique shops.

Last updated 22/06/2002