Church history

The ancient yew tree

standing the test of time!

There are several yew trees in Tisbury churchyard, but the largest of them is very special indeed. It is thought to be the second oldest in Britain, around 4,000 years old as estimated by David Bellamy using carbon dating techniques.

In 1834 Sir T Dick Lauder wrote: “There is now standing, and in fine foliage, although the trunk is quite hollow, an immense yew tree, which measures 37 feet in circumference and the limbs are proportionately large. The tree is entered by means of a rustic gate; and seventeen people lately breakfasted in its interior.”

A measurement of 31 feet at the ground was recorded by the Rev. Henry Morland in the 1890s. A considerable amount of young growth around the trunk was noted, and this might account for the exaggerated girth recorded in 1834. Internal growth was also noted, gradually filling the cavity, for now there was only room for nine people to stand inside.

When the yew was filled with concrete in the middle of the last century, the internal growth would have been overwhelmed and lost its capacity to sustain parts of the tree. In spite of this, the yew continues to thrive and today has a full head of healthy foliage. Many churchyard yews have fallen victim to bonfires lit in their hollow centres; the Tisbury Yew at least cannot suffer that fate.