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A royal tree's remains that leave a lot to the imagination

By john workman  |  Posted: November 05, 2012

The Green Man of Wightwick Manor.

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W i G H T W i C K Manor in Wolverhampton is one of the Black Country's most famous houses, built by Theodore Mander of the 19th century industrialist family, and his wife Flora, daughter of Henry Nicholas Paint, a Canadian MP, in the late 19th century. The building was constructed in two phases in 1887 and 1893, and in 1937 was presented to the National Trust under the Country Houses Scheme, by the incumbent at the time, Sir Geoffrey Mander.

The hall's beautiful grounds cover 17 acres and contain a sumptuous array of large trees, formal gardens, and a less regimented area with a pool and a mixture of shrubs, all designed by Alfred Parsons and Thomas Mawson. Planting probably carried on apace throughout the years immediately after the Manor's construction, but there was still room for more, especially when there was a royal party in town.

On 23rd July 1900 the Duke and Duchess of York (who became King George V and Queen Mary in May 1910) were guests of the Manders (Theodore Mander was the Mayor of Wolverhampton at the time) and no doubt enjoyed afternoon tea with a gathering of the great and the good from the area.

But the afternoon wouldn't have been complete without the royals leaving something behind to remember their visit by. So just before posing for the official photographs taken by Wolverhampton photographer Bennett Clark in front of the Manor's grand façade, the Duke and Duchess were invited to plant two trees, a purple-twigged lime by the Duke and a copper beech by the Duchess, at a fair distance from the Manor but close enough to be enjoyed in the years to come. Fifty years later, on the anniversary of the tree planting, Sir Geoffrey (The Mander family had continued to live in part of the Manor) sent Queen Mary cuttings from the trees, together with copies of the official photographs that had been taken half a century before, and the Queen is said to have recalled the visit very well.

This year, after one hundred and twelve years of being part of a magnificent vista at the end of the south terrace garden, the tree the Duke planted unfortunately blew down. But the Duchess of York's copper beech continues to bloom, and once again this autumn has been resplendently dressed in a multitude of golden hues.

But what of the Duke's tree, blown down in its prime, and then cut and sliced into segments like a banana? These formed a pile of wood at the end of the south terrace, neatly sprawled out over the ground like a pack of cards, and no doubt waiting to be carried off and put to use; hopefully for something far grander than just firewood.

The cuttings in the foreground, with Wightwick Manor as the backdrop, was in itself eye-catching, but after further study the remains of the old purple- twigged lime began to reveal some unusual characteristics.

Emerging from the pile of wooden debris was the image of a nose and upper lip with a mouth slightly open, and marks in the wood looking like an eye that completed the full profile of a face.

It is open to interpretation whether the face belongs to an animal or a person, but here at the Bugle we have named it "The Green Man of Wightwick Manor", the kind of image that would have sparked a great deal of interest in the dark ages when the appearance of such a face was primarily interpreted as a symbol of rebirth, or renaissance, representing the cycle of growth.

The way some of the sliced pieces of trunk had been left piled up against each other created another image that resembled two soldiers from ancient times taking up defensive positions in what could be described as their last stand.

The soldiers are leaning back at an angle to stave off an attack from arrows or the onslaught of charging horsemen, their outstretched arms holding imaginary shields, their heads protected by helmets, and their arms and shoulders clad in armour not dissimilar to that worn by English soldiers shown in the famous Bayeux Tapestry.

It is of course an imaginary process, but this interpretation of these particular pieces of wood takes us back to the moment in history when the Anglo-Saxons were defeated by the Normans at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

jworkman@ blackcountrybugle.co.uk

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