These photographs of Blakenall Heath, Walsall, were brought to the Bugle by Graham Morris and Malcolm Kendrick. They have been researching the history of the trees and hope that readers may be able to provide further information.
Their investigations began when Graham posted the top picture on his Facebook page. It shows last year’s Remembrance Day service at the memorial tree that was planted on Blakenall Heath in 1919.
This living peace symbol, a maple tree, is believed to have been the first of its kind in Britain and several towns across the country followed suit and planted trees as memorials to the fallen of the First World War. Here in the Black Country two notable examples are the 60 memorial trees planted in churchyard of St Peter’s Church, Cradley, in 1922 (see Bugle 1036) and the 350 trees planted in Coseley in 1928 (see Bugle 983).
A former Blakenall girl, now living in the Lake District, saw Graham’s picture and it reminded her of two photographs of tree plantings in Blakenhall that were in her family. Her grandparents, William and Jessie Ross, kept a shop directly opposite Christ Church, Blakenall Heath, and they used to have a photograph hanging there of the Peace Tree planting service in 1919.
The tree was planted by Councillor Somerfield and he is believed to be the man in the photograph with the spade. Do readers recognise an ancestor among the local dignitaries and schoolchildren gathered for the tree planting 93 years ago?
The lady has also provided Graham with a picture of her grandparents’ shop taken around 1903. It is thought that William Ross stands wearing a long white apron, next to him is his wife, while the old lady in the white apron is thought to be William’s mother. Several local children gathered to watch the photographer at work and were also captured for posterity.
Another picture of a tree planting hung in the home of the lady’s uncle but nothing is known about it.
It was clearly taken at a similar spot on Blakenhall Heath, near the church and school, but it appears to be of an earlier date. Graham and Malcolm think the tree may have been planted to mark the coronation of George V in 1911 and Malcolm believes that one of the policemen on duty could be his grandfather Harry Bates.
While the Peace Tree still stands there is no trace of this earlier tree or its railings and plaque today. Can readers tell Graham and Malcolm any more about it? Does anyone recognise anybody or can they explain the presence of the sheep in the photograph?
This being the Queen’s diamond jubilee year, a memorial stone has been placed near the Peace Tree with a plaque commemorating the tree and a simple inscription in honour of all those who over the years have fought for peace. The stone and installation work was donated by local businessman Harry Price.
For the past few years, on 11th November, local residents and veterans have joined schoolchildren for a short service at the Peace Tree, when wreaths and poppies are placed, the service conducted by Rev Paul Myers of Christ Church, Blakenall Heath. This year, Remembrance Sunday falls on 11th November, so the Peace Tree service is planned for two days earlier on Friday, 9th November, and all are welcome to attend.