The Story Behind the Picture – the Cheapside Plane Tree

Part of the HEIR database comes from Oxford University’s Plant Science Collection, which includes teaching slides from what used to be the School of Forestry at Oxford, founded in 1905. There are some obvious research advantages to having these images and being able to rephotograph them  – they show the impact of changing ecosystems and are an important resource for, for example, recording changing tree coverage or agricultural practices over the last 100 years.

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Sometimes, however, the Plant Science Collections photographs are more interesting as a social and historical record.

HEIRtagger camel boarshill came across this Plant Science lanternslide:

Plane Tree, Cheapside, London

and found out the fascinating story behind this image of a plane tree in London:

The main road in left-right is Cheapside running approx east west. The little lane opposite is Wood Street, running off north.

Today, 122 has been redeveloped into an office block. But the tree is still there (!), as is the “Glover” shop (the one with the angled front behind the streetlamp, now a cards shop). The story of the plane tree and the immediate area around it can be found here: http://www.bowlofchalk.net/things-are-afoot/nothing-plain-about-this-plane-tree

Apparently, the tree, and a bird sitting in it, inspired lines in a poem by William Wordsworth called ‘The Reverie of Poor Susan’ –

At the corner of Wood Street, when daylight appears,
Hangs a Thrush that sings loud, it has sung for three years:
Poor Susan has passed by the spot, and has heard
In the silence of morning the song of the Bird.

 Wordsworth wrote this poem in 1797: our photograph was probably taken a century later. There’s an advert on the building to the left of the tree proclaiming ‘Samuel and Gluckstein, “The Largest Tobbacconists in the World”‘.

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The company was founded in 1873, so the photograph must have been taken after that.

There’s another company’s name visible in the image:

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‘The Express Dairy Co. Limited’

George Barham’s dairy company was founded to bring milk to the capitol from the countryside via the new fast train system. Originally called the Express Country Milk Supply Company, by 1885 it was known as the Express Dairy Company Limited. Add this date to the clothing of the crowd – an old lady in Victorian dress and shawl, men in shiny top hats – and we arrive at a date of about 1890 for the photograph – unless you can tell us more?

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