The fascinating yet tranquil Yew Tree Avenue at Clipsham is over 200 years old, consisting of 150 clipped Yew Trees in all manner of unusual shapes.
Some of the more unusual topiaries include a man on the moon and a range of animal characters. The topiary was begun in 1870 by the Clipsham Estate Head Forester, and soon became a tradition which continued through the years.
Once known as being the carriage driveway to Clipsham Hall, the Avenue, which costs nothing to visit, is now a pleasant place to sit and perhaps enjoy a picnic in the summer.
At one time hailed as a top attraction in Rutland it brought visitors to the area from all over the country. Yew Tree Avenue was first designed by Amos Alexander who asked his employer, John Davenport-Handley, if they could make the Avenue more interesting by clipping patterns and depictions of local people into the trees. It was agreed that each tree must be different and each tree should show events and people of interest.
Thus the Queen was represented in each of her jubilees and the tops of each tree were made into the shapes of various birds and animals. One important event after another was depicted, including Neil Armstrong as the first man on the moon.
However Mr. Davenport-Handley would not allow depictions of women on any of the trees, the Queen being the only exception. Family member’s names and year of birth would be topiarised, as would important events in the family such as the anchor when David Davenport-Handley went to Dartmouth Royal Naval College in 1930 and Leslie Davenport-Handley on the event of their ruby wedding. Various members of staff of the Forestry Commission have also been immortalized by having their initials on trees.
In the 1950s David Davenport-Handley let a 999 lease to the Forestry Commission and until 5 years ago the Avenue was kept trimmed and the patterns were retained. However government cuts to the Forestry Commission meant that after 2010 they could not fund the annual trimming and the trees became overgrown and diseased. Bank voles moved in and the trees suffered further. The patterns were all lost.
Over the past couple of years there has been a noticeable and concerning deterioration of Yew Tree Avenue as evidenced by the lack of maintenance of the trees themselves and the open spaces. Despite this, the numbers of both local people and tourists visiting the facility has remained high.
In the autumn of 2012 a number of people started to raise serious concerns about the lack of maintenance and the very survival of the avenue, and set out by way of letters and phone calls to attempt to get some action.
At this time an ‘interest group’ of local people was set up in an attempt to co-ordinate and get something done. At this time we started to involve Roger Begy as our Councillor and leader of Rutland County Council. It has to be said that he was very supportive of the need to preserve the avenue. Both local MPs Alan Duncan and Nick Boles were consulted and were supportive but unable to persuade the Forestry Commission to continue looking after the trees.
In December 2014 Corys Environmental Waste Ltd kindly granted £2,500 and were assisted by Rutland County Council for the trees to be trimmed and they now look a great deal better. The grass and banks have been kept tidy and the voles seem to have given up.
The interest group has now developed into the Clipsham Yew Tree Avenue Trust (CYTAT) to organize and fund work on improving the health of the trees and get the patterns back before they are lost forever.