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St Albans' Verdun Tree: A Mystery From Our Collections Solved

Posted on: 21st November 2016 By: Amy Warner

We were interested to read a recent article in local newspaper the Herts Advertiser about the unveiling of a plaque to recognise the Verdun Tree at Waxhouse Gate in St Albans. This tree, planted on January 18th 1976, was grown from a conker collected from a horse chestnut tree on the battlefield of Verdun in France in 1916, during the First World War. This was apparently the only tree to survive the tragic battle which destroyed the rest of the landscape. For more information you can read the full article.

Seeing this article brought to mind some photographs from our collection which had previously been something of a mystery. The negatives, which come from the St Albans Review and Observer Photo Archive, were in an envelope labelled simply "Tree Planting 1976". The Review archive is a fascinating time caspule into often wierd and wonderful events that went on in St Albans, predominantly in the 1970s. However, given the fast turnover of news stories and photographs, most of which were never expected to be needed again once the story went to press, the descriptions on the negative envelopes are often brief and cryptic, and the images contained within don't always give many more clues!

However, seeing the more recent news photos covering the unveiling of the new information panel at the Verdun Tree on Remembrance Day 2016 (which is also the centenary year of the Battle of Verdun), the similarity was uncanny. Checking the dates, these also matched up, and thus a little mystery from our collections was solved!

We have also shared these photographs on our Facebook page if you would like to see them there.

Further Reading:
If you are interested in learning more about the remarkable trees of St Albans, of which there are many, local author Kate Bretherton has written a book on the subject, and created a self-guided walk as well. You can find details of how to purchase the book and directions for the walk on her website.

Research into the history of the Verdun Tree of St Albans was conducted by Bryan Hanlon of St Albans Civic Society. You can find out more about the work of the Civic Society on their website.

Learn more about the Battle of Verdun, 1916: