A beautiful tree surrounded by gravestones in Old St Pancras Churchyard, made famous by author Thomas Hardy, was blown down on Tuesday. The writer stacked headstones around its trunk in the 1860s, making it a poignant symbol of life among death. It since became a well-loved landmark and reminder of Hardy in the area.
According to the curator of the Wessex Museum’s Thomas Hardy exhibition, Harriet Still, the tree ‘brought out Hardy’s dark sense of humour’. While working as an architect in his early twenties, the firm where Hardy worked was commissioned to dig up and rebury a large number of graves in the Old St Pancras cemetery. This was to make way for the railway line and station that’s now King’s Cross St Pancras. The ‘Tess of the d’Urbevilles’ author then had the old gravestones placed around the tree.
The tree’s topple didn’t come as a total surprise. Camden New Journal reported that the old fella became infected with a parasitic fungus back in 2014. The mighty ash then became unstable after storms earlier this year, so Camden Council knew it was going to fall soon. To prepare for the eventual tumble, it put up a fence and cut back the tree’s crown.
The council said: ‘Sadly, the Hardy Tree was infected with a fungus in 2014 and since then we’ve been taking steps to manage its final few years. The tree was disturbed by storms earlier this year, increasing the chance that it would fall. Since then, we’ve reduced the size of the tree’s crown so when it fell it was within a fenced area to keep visitors safe.’
While we’re all sad to see it go, Camden Council is coming up with a plan to commemorate the tree and its story. It wasn’t so hardy after all. RIP old boy.