Great Trees of Derbyshire Archive

Veteran oaks at Chatsworth, Kieron Huston Veteran oaks at Chatsworth, Kieron Huston

Read the stories and legends associated with our ancient trees

Betty Kenny Yew

Location: Shining Cliff Woods
Grid Ref: SK 334534
Access: Full Public Access

In Shining Cliff Woods are the remains of an ancient yew (possibly around 2000 years old) known as the Betty Kenny Yew.
Betty's real name was Kate Kenyon; she and her husband Luke lived and worked in Shining Cliff Woods as charcoal burners in the late 1700s. Betty and Luke made their home inside the spreading branches of the ancient yew, most probably a dwelling using the tree as its main structure with a turf roof. The couple raised eight children in the shelter of this tree. Local legend has it that the babies were rocked to sleep in a hollowed out branch (bough) of the yew tree, and because of this it is believed to be the origin of the nursery rhyme Rock-a-Bye Baby:
Rock a bye baby on the tree top,
When the wind blows the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks the cradle will fall,
And down will come baby, cradle and all.
This story has made the tree famous and it now even has its own trail/walk through the woods. It keeps people coming to see it even when there’s not much left of it to see; the poor state of the tree today is due to fire damage caused by vandals in the 1930s.

Will Shore’s Tree

Location: Oker Hill, near Matlock
Grid Ref: SK 274612
Access: Permissive footpath from Cross Green, Grid Ref SK 271612

Legend has it that two local brothers planted a sycamore tree each on this hill before going their separate ways. One prospered and his tree survived, whilst the other brother failed and his tree died. A Wordsworth sonnet written in 1829 is dedicated to this tree:

This pleasing tradition was told me by the coachman at whose side I sate while he drove down the dale, he pointing to the trees on the hill as he related the story.
'TIS said that to the brow of yon fair hill
Two Brothers clomb, and, turning face from face,
Nor one look more exchanging, grief to still
Or feed, each planted on that lofty place
A chosen Tree; then, eager to fulfil
Their courses, like two new-born rivers, they
In opposite directions urged their way
Down from the far-seen mount. No blast might kill
Or blight that fond memorial;--the trees grew,
And now entwine their arms; but ne'er again
Embraced those Brothers upon earth's wide plain;
Nor aught of mutual joy or sorrow knew
Until their spirits mingled in the sea
That to itself takes all, Eternity.
Another story has it that Mr Shore had actually planted the trees to provide the wood for his coffin!
A 0.5km country walk along the permissive footpath follows the ridge of Oker Hill to Will Shore’s Tree, taking in a mosaic of grassland types and offering panoramic view of the countryside from the ‘Trig Point’.

Bess’s Oak

Location: Hardwick Park, near Chesterfield
Grid Ref: SK 454640
Access: National Trust Property with Public Access

Among the many veteran oak trees in Hardwick Park, there is one named after Bess of Hardwick (real name Elizabeth Hardwick) whose family home was Hardwick Hall and who was the richest woman in England after Queen Elizabeth I. She was said to have known this tree, and with a girth of 5.6m it is just possible that this tree is old enough to have been around when she was, although it would have been a sapling and she would have been a very old lady!

Vernon’s Oak

Location: Vernon’s Oak Farm, Sudbury
Grid Ref: SK 153362
Access: On private land but tree is visible from public access

With a girth of 6.3m this ancient oak tree is likely to be well over 400 years old and would have been around at the time of Queen Elizabeth I. The name is likely to come from the Vernons of Sudbury, who owned the estate from the early 16th century - lots of things in Derbyshire are prefixed with ‘Vernon’s’ as they were a very influential and widespread family.

Old Man of Calke

Location: Calke Park NNR, near Melbourne, South Derbyshire
Grid Ref: SK 362228
Access: National Trust Property with Public Access

At an impressive 10 metres round and potentially over 1000 years old, this old oak is Derbyshire’s largest known tree. It is on the National Trust’s Calke Park Estate in South Derbyshire and was officially named in 2004 following a competition, when Calke was designated as a National Nature Reserve because of the importance of the site for veteran and ancient trees and the wildlife they support.

Morton Chestnut

Location: Morton, Derbyshire
Grid Reference : SK 408601
Access: Full public access

Legend has it that in the 19th century a stage coach overturned on the bend at this location and a horse chestnut tree was taken from the churchyard and replanted in the triangle of land at the junction of Higham Lane and the B6014 to commemorate it.
This tree is one of ‘The Great British Trees’. These were 50 trees selected by The Tree Council in 2002 to spotlight trees in Great Britain in honour of the Queen's Golden Jubilee.

Morton Lime Tree

Location: Morton, Derbyshire
Grid Ref: SK40826014
Access: Public access

The lime tree in front of the Sitwell Arms in Morton is said to have been planted to commemorate the marriage of the Prince of Wales in 1863.

Thurvaston Stoop

Location: off Long Lane,Thurvaston
Grid Ref: SK24453809
Access: Access private but tree is visible from public access

This enormous ancient oak is also known locally as the Domesday tree, as it was supposedly mentioned in the Domesday Book. With a girth of 9m, it could be up to 1000 years old and definitely qualifies as an ‘ancient tree’! The name ‘Thurvaston Stoop’ indicates that as the tree grew it took over the function of the original stoop (guide post) that marked the crossing originally.
The tree is said to be haunted and has featured in a Ghosts of Derbyshire book. The landowner says that it used to be decorated at coronations and similar events.
Although it has been dead for over 70 years it remains standing, providing a valuable wildlife habitat.

Doveridge Yew

Location: St Cuthbert's church, Doveridge
Grid Ref: SK114341
Accessibility: Public access

The ancient yew tree at Doveridge is reputed to be some 1200 years old. According to local legend, Robin Hood was betrothed to his lady under its boughs. However, the lady in question was not Maid Marion! According to an old ballad supposed to be written well before Maid Marion becomes a fixture in the Robin Hood tales, Clorinda , Queen of the Shepherdesses was Robin’s paramour. Whether the story is true or not, it has certainly made the tree famous!
‘When dinner was ended, Sir Roger, the parson of Dubbridge*, was sent for in haste.
He brought his mass book and bid them take hands, and he joined them in marriage full fast.
And then as Bold Robin and his sweet bride, went hand in hand to the sweet bower,
The birds sung with pleasure in merry Sherwood, and it was a most joyful hour.’
(*Doveridge was listed in the Domesday book as Dubrige. Ballad contained in 'A History of Doveridge' by Alan Gibson 1996)
Jane Prince kindly wrote to the Trust with a story of being told when little that if you ran round the Great Yew anticlockwise 13 times the devil would jump up and grab you. She only ran round it 12 ½ times after that!

Forty Trunks

Location: The old Potlocks farm site, Willington
Grid Ref: SK 313286
Access: Private but tree is visible from public access

The magnificent cedar tree standing at the entrance to what was Potlocks Farm (just off the A5132) is known locally as Forty Trunks for obvious reasons. There were originally three cedars in the grounds of Potlock House Farm, and they were probably planted at around the same time as the house was built, over 200 years ago. At the beginning of the 19th century the species became popular for landscaping in England.

The Sheldon Duck Tree

Location: Sheldon, Derbyshire
Grid Ref: SK173687
Access: No longer standing

According to local legend, in the early 1600s, a duck was seen to fly into an Ash tree but was not seen to fly out again. This tree became known as the Duck Tree. When the tree was finally felled some 300 years later, the image of a duck was found in the grain of the wood. For a while timber boards containing the duck-like pattern were put on display in the local post-office, and postcards showing the image were sold. Later, the timber merchant who felled the tree used these boards for making a mantlepiece at his home.

Darley Dale Yew

Location: St Helens Churchyard, Darley Dale, Derbyshire
Grid Ref: SK 26686296
Access: Public access

With a magnificent 8m 31cm girth (33ft), this tree is one of the biggest, and arguably the oldest yew tree in Britain. It is reputed to be over two thousand years old! It is likely old enough to have seen the construction of the church somewhere between 899-924AD, and possibly even the Romans before that. There is a plaque on the tree, part of which reads:
‘But whatever may be its precise age, there can be little doubt that this grand old tree has given shelter to the early Britons when planning the construction of the dwellings which they erected not many yards to the west of its trunk’

Duffield Cedar

Location: Duffield Hall, Duffield
Grid Reference: SK 345430
Access: Private but tree is visible from public access

This beautiful cedar of Lebanon is mentioned in White's Directory of 1857:
“Duffield Hall, an ancient stone mansion of the Elizabethan order, four miles N. from Derby, is the residence of John Bell Crompton, Esq. In the grounds at the back of the hall, is one of the largest cedar trees in England.”
Cedar trees reach their full height in approximately 60 years, so if it was one of the largest at the time it is possible that the tree is around 200 years old. Very few cedars of Lebanon in the UK are more than 270 years old, as not many survived the exceptionally harsh winter of 1740 which killed off most cedar trees growing in Britain.