Ulmus Londinium

An elm adventure from Somerset House to "Albertopolis"

Forty years ago it was impossible to walk through a London park or the British countryside and not notice, marked against the horizon, the unmistakable outline of the elm tree. But in the 1970s millions of elm trees were lost to Dutch elm disease, transforming London's landscape.

But unknown to many Londoners, the elm lives on to provide important habitats to many other species, and in the capital's history.

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In spring elms are easy to spot - look for the bright green blossom - when it falls they call it "Spring Snow" in elm-dense Amsterdam! You can also identify them by their often grey-brown bark with deep fissures and asymmetrical leaves with jagged edges.

The map was created for the Ulmus Londinium installation at Somerset House, that closed in March 2016, created by Stables and Lucraft and The Conservation Foundation.

Our first stop takes us north from Somerset House, past Holborn and up Southampton Row to Gordon Square in Bloomsbury... off we go! Share your adventure with @ConservationFdn

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1. Gordon Square's dwarf elm

The square is home to a marvellous weeping dwarf wych elm by the southern entrance, whilst the plaque on the wall of number 51 reveals it's home to the early 20th century bohemian Bloomsbury Group, including Virginia Woolf. Whilst living here Virginia wrote Mrs Dalloway in which she writes of walking past the elms of nearby Regents Park:

"the excitement of the elm trees rising and falling, rising and falling with all their leaves alight... so proudly they rose and fell, so superbly"

Later, Virginia moved to the Sussex coast, now home to the largest population of elms in England, and when she died her ashes were scattered beneath an elm in her garden.

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2. St Pancras churchyard

Tucked behind St Pancras rail station you'll find an 18th century church with, among other things, magnificent weeping Camberwell elms. The churchyard is also home to John Soane's mausoleum, which inspired Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's design for London's famous red telephone box, and the Hardy Tree, surrounded by gravestones, moved by a young Thomas Hardy.

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3. Regents Park's Japanese elms

Metres from the Sicilian marbled Ready Money drinking fountain on the Broadwalk stands a grove of Japanese elms. With a greater resistance to Dutch elm disease, these elms are also good hosts for rare wildlife including White-letter hairstreak butterflies. They can grow up to 35 metres tall and turn wonderful colours in early autumn.

If you stroll south down the Broadwalk you'll find a Caucasian elm that came down in storms used as a climbing frame in Marylebone Green Playground.

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4. The Huntingdon Elm

Over 100 years old, the huge Huntingdon elm tree at the top of Marylebone High Street has survived the development of London, the spread of Dutch elm disease, and World War Two bombing raids. It can be found near the peaceful Memorial Garden of Rest where a church, which was not as lucky in the war as the elm, once stood. Wrapped in lights, the elm shines at night.

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5. Replanting Marylebone's elms

London's streets were often planted with elms which is reflected in some 150 elm-related street names in the capital. Recently, the W1W initiative undertook to replant Marylebone’s street trees, including numerous elms. Home to many poets and artists, one of the new elms was planted on Bolsover Street where Lord Byron took shade under two large elm trees. Twenty-eight elms have also been planted on George Street (down Marylebone High Street and on the right) and more in Seymour, Bryanston and Mansfield Streets.

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6. Tyburn Gallows & Speakers Corner elms

In the 12th century the branches of a large elm, the Tyburn Tree, were used to hang the convicted and was a major landmark at the time. Close to a busy route into London, the hangings showed passing travellers the power of the law. In the Marble Arch traffic island a plaque marks the site and Tyburn Convent can be found nearby.

Now, nearby, is a bastion of free speech, Speakers Corner. Here the elms live on, with a grove of disease resistant "New Horizon" elms accompanying the Sunday morning debates. More elms can be found to the west.

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7. Great Exhibition & Hyde Park elms

On the southern side of the Old Football Pitches, near the tennis courts, you'll find a plaque commemorating the site of the 1851 Great Exhibition. The proceeds from this led to the creation of "Albertopolis" - the cultural quarter of Exhibition Road and its museums. Hyde Park has long had elms and the uproar when two were to be felled for the exhibition led to the huge trees being incorporated within the glasshouse (picture).

Across the fields, off Rotton Row and by the north east corner of the tennis courts you can find a number of elms still standing, as well as behind the plaque near Alexander Gate.

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We hope you've enjoyed your adventure through some of London's elm heritage, but there's plenty more to discover!

Share you adventure on Instagram and Twitter with @ConservationFdn and visit Elms Elms Elms on Facebook.

You can download a PDF map to reveal more, and find out about The Great British Elm Experiment.

Created by © The Conservation Foundation
Map technology © MapBox
Supported by the Mayor of London
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