Walking around the village, it is apparent that the area once common land, Lynch Green, has few large old trees. Most of the trees which are there have been planted by the occupants of the houses built in the past fifty years. Old trees which do exist, the oaks along Mill Road and New Road, and those at the corner of Wiffen's Loke, off Lynch Green, may have been planted to identify the boundaries of properties.
The Forestry Commission has published a leaflet, Estimating the Age of Large and Veteran Trees in Britain, and using this leaflet, it is possible to make a calculated guess as to the ages of these trees. They have girths of about 3m and could be 140 years old. However, the calculation assumes that the trees measured have grown steadily, without being trimmed or pollarded, and are not diseased.
If growth has been restricted, then the figure calculated could be an underestimate, and they may date back to the time of the Enclosure in 1800. Two very old oaks can be found in the village. One is what must be the last of a row of pollarded trees along a boundary at Lyngate Farm. It is now a hollow, ivy covered remnant, but with a girth of 5.3 m could date back to 1657 or earlier. The best specimen of a veteran oak in the parish can be found in Suckling Lane which runs to the south of Hethersett Hall between Ketteringham Lane and Station Lane. It is a fine tree, 5.5m in girth, dating back to 1635.
Kett's Oak, on the other hand, according to James Grigor writing The Eastern Arboretum in 1841, had a girth of just 1.65m but it was in a poor condition and was held together by an iron band. This band was replaced in 1912 by the owner of the land, James Alfred Back, and there has since been an infilling of concrete to strengthen the trunk.
Now if the tree under which Robert Kett assembled his men in 1549, before the march into Norwich, was of any significant size, it must have been a mature specimen of at least 100 years of age. The calculation would estimate such a tree to have a girth of 2.2m. In the next 100 years, by 1649, it should have increased its girth to 3.8m, if no damage had taken place — and yet we read that in 1841 it was actually smaller than this. So, either this was not the famed tree of Robert Kett or else it had been damaged so drastically in the first 200 years of its life that its growth had subsequently been greatly restricted. Maybe for the romantics we should assume that the latter is the case.
In the past, men of property, would landscape their gardens by planting trees. There can be found in the grounds of Whitegates, three large specimens: at the front of the house an evergreen holm oak and a cedar of Lebanon, and at the rear by the car park a fine oak tree The cedar and the oak are estimated to have been planted about 1882, and it is possible that the holm oak was part of the same planting scheme.
The grounds of Wood Hall, the Priory and Hethersett Old Hall all contain ancient specimens which can be linked to the owners of the properties. Wood Hall already had some significant trees in the grounds when Rev. William Andrew bought Mr Burton's estate in 1841.
The oldest measured in 1999, dating back to 1721, is an ash tree in the meadow behind the house. The ash trees along the boundary ditch to the west and north were difficult to access and may well be a similar age. Gardening was the vicar's hobby, and he may have planted some of the oaks in the grounds and the woodland area to the north soon after taking up residence.
The Priory was the home of the Buckle family untl 1845 and they may have planted the evergreen cedar which grew at the front of the house. Described by Grigor in The Eastern Arboretum in 1841 as being forty feet tall and the "finest specimen of this tree we yet met with". In 1972, an article in the Eastern Daily Press about the Priory described a swamp cypress, "now twice this tall".
This tree was blown down in the gales of 1987, and the stump is all that remains today, the roots lying just under the surface of the lawn, causing some unevenness for the lawnmower, typical of the species. It is unlikely however, that this is Grigor's cedar as the swamp cypress mentioned in 1972 is deciduous and not evergreen. Another tree which suffered in the 1987 gales was the large oak by the front gate.
Probably this tree gave the house its former name of "The Oak". In 1829, the Rev. T. S. Buckle exhibited a seedling apple grown in his own garden at Hethersett and a Norfolk Pippin, at the first meeting of the Norfolk and Norwich Horticultural Society, but these are no longer there. Other interesting trees in the grounds today, include a cedar of Lebanon, dating from around 1842, two hundred-year old oaks, a gingko, and Scots pines.
At Hethersett Old Hall, the most striking tree which can be seen from the road, is a large copper beech in the lawn opposite the main entrance. This has been estimated as being around 260 years old, and along with a black mulberry and a number of other trees, oak, beech and ash, would have been growing there before Norgate took possession of the estate in 1795. The horse chestnut in the courtyard at the rear has been dated at 1822. The glasshouse range, where Thomas grew the grapes shown in Norwich in 1829, has been demolished, though there are traces on the south-east side of the old potting shed.
These trees are "living history" and what a story they could tell if they could speak !