Wednesday, 1 June 2011

My World - The Arbor Tree - Aston-on-Clun

In the village of Aston-on-Clun in the beautiful South Shropshire Hills the very ancient custom of Tree Dressing survives to this day. Where once was the village green, opposite these cottages on the main route through the village, stands the Arbor Tree, which each year on Arbor Day, the 29th May, is dressed with flags; originally these were flags of the Commonwealth, but these days a few other flags are added.

A local land-owning family, the Marstons, reinstated the custom in the 18th century, on the occasion of  the marriage on 29th May 1786 of Mary Carter of Sibdon to John Marston of Aston-on-Clun. A large rice pudding also used to be eaten by the villagers, but this ceased in the 19th century.

Apart from acquiring things like phone lines the village has probably not changed very much since Mary Carter came here as a young bride.

The custom of tree dressing is ancient. The shrine of the Celtic goddess Bride was a tree and trees used to be dressed in her honour. When, in the fifth century, the daughter of a Celtic chief founded a church near a Bride tree at Kildare in Ireland, she became known as Brigid and was later venerated as a saint.  Tree dressing was revived in 1660 when Charles II proclaimed 29th May, the day of his Restoration, as Arbor Day to commemorate his concealment in the oak tree as Boscobel. At first, almost every village had its arbor tree.

Aston-on-Clun, referred to as Eston in the Domesday Book and so-called, because it lies east of the Clun, is today thought to be the last place in England to still have an arbor tree.

When the Marston Estate was sold in 1951, the tree, a large black poplar reputed to be over 270 years old, was given to the village. The old poplar was felled by a storm in 1995. The current tree, already a good sized one, is from a cutting taken of the old poplar in 1975.

My belated contribution to That's My World


  1. that first ohoto has so many echoes of corners just like that with farm buildings and public houses. oh boy this is so golden for me. steven

  2. Very interesting, Friko, and it took me a second or two to realize just how long ago 1975 actually was — plenty of time for a tree to grow.
    Beautiful photos of a wonderful village.
    — K

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

  3. I love the age and timelessness of the villages and the customs. I think many of my past lives were lived there and even though I have never been in this life, they feel like home to me.

  4. you have places with such cool names...and neat architecture and spillways...and tree dressing, never heard of it but sure sounds neat...

  5. For very personal reasons, the photos of the two flags hit me straight in the gut. Funny how hits to the gut come right where we never expect them ...

  6. Friko, following my usual pattern, I have just now had a catch up on reading this and your previous posts.

    Each of them is so well written, with well chosen photographs alongside, and again make me want to tell you how happy I am to have connected with you over the air waves.

    It truly is good to find life worth living, and each us will have our own challenges to to otherwise younger blissful carefree approach to our accumulation of birthdays. Perhaps it's a bit of a cliche to say that we are write our own biographies, but there is some truth in it.

    The tradition of the arbor tree and its homage to all the rings round the trunks of all the trees from years way, way back is another reminder of how each of us, amimal or plant, does have a place in the world.

    Friko, I will try to keep those lofty sentiments in the forefront of my mind as the hot weather of 2011 descends upon NYC, and I wait for the next subway train on the concrete platform of a station whose un-airconditioned scent is less than pleasing.

    All in the mix. xo

  7. Hello dear Friko so nice to read your work again. I have had lots of things going on and blogger problems was one of them. I have not gotten around to visiting like I would like. In the middle of a project for charity and busy crocheting and creating other things to sell. I must have lived there in another time since I get a nostalgic feeling when I read your posts. Blessings dear sista.

  8. Lovely photos! Mmm, large rice pudding.

    I like the way the speedway road just whips between the old old - I imagine some ancient Rolls Royce, hurtling dangerously through the sleepy street.

  9. Your pictures are so clear, it feels like you can reach out and touch the buildings. The area looks very special.

  10. wonderful

    Aloha from Honolulu

    Comfort Spiral




  11. I want to live in the brown building in the first picture. The one with the few and irregular windows.
    It might be a barn. I don't care. I want to live in it.

  12. Hello:
    How very fascinating. Of course we know Aston village through visiting but we had no idea whatsoever of the tree dressing. What a lovely tradition and how good that it survives to the present day.

    Could you not now reintroduce the rice pudding?!

  13. Nice post.

    I do believe I've been here, many moons ago. When my step-brother was working in Shropshire, we would travel about the county quite a bit, during visits.

  14. All you need is a couple of 'cosy' murders and you have an episode of Midsomer Murders. They are usually centered around a festive age-old tradition aren't they? Some sort of village fair and people drop dead in bunches ;-)

  15. I too have never heard of tree dressing. How cool! What a beautiful village!
    Love the buildings and the bridge!!
    So sad that the original tree was toppled.
    Have a great weekend

  16. How quiet is this village? Not an animal, a person, a car.

  17. There is no end to the beautiful little villages in your part of the world !
    The deserted streets are rather sad , though . Not that I expect to see farm workers trudging along in homespun smocks these days , but doesn't anyone go out in the midday sun anymore ?
    That said , all European villages are as quiet during the week now .

  18. It's a beautiful place, Friko! Thank you for sharing it with me.

  19. Friko, thank you for sharing the story of Bride. I love these old stories and I love even better how the chuch and monarchy turned the stories to their advantage. Canada's maple leaf looks at home in the popular leaves. Not sure about the stars and bars. Our native popular has a leaf shaped like a tulip. Hence its name 'tulip popular.'

  20. So that's where our word for la jeune mariée comes from! I'm not being a snot, using the French term - it's just that there's no other English word for bride than bride, is there??
    So nice of you to put the Maple Leaf first. I want to live in this village but would probably end up with the same complaints as you.

  21. A lovely spot, Frinko and your images are so clear and enticing. It made my heart go pit-a-pat to see the tree dress in a Canadian flag.

  22. What a lovely custom (and a lovely village.) I only wish there were a picture of the large rice pudding.

  23. This looks magical to me. No revisionism needed.

  24. Your story and pictures are wonderful, Friko, an antedote to the depressing world news of these days. Thank you.

  25. Tree dressing – that is a great custom. I enjoyed looking at your photos, especially the bridge. We don’t get to see too many old houses around here because they are torn down – sometimes to make place for new malls or new house subdivisions.

  26. Lovely photos and story Friko. What a wonderful part of the world you live in. So tranquil.

    Anna :o]

  27. Your luscious forays into your
    nearby environs and into
    history are always informative,
    colorful, and so you.
    Your image of the foot bridge
    over the creek is really
    stunning; one of my favorite
    subjects too, bridges, but
    living here in the colonies,
    we do not have structures
    that were built when Drake
    was but a wee duck.

  28. That is a delightful custom. I wish it were widespread.

  29. Fascinating--the story, the tree, the village. All of it. Thanks so much, Friko!

  30. For information: The old Arbor Tree blew over in 1995, not 1975. The sapling used was taken from the tree in 1975 (a 20 year old sapling).

    Very nice photos, thank you - Rosie Evans, Arbor Day organiser

  31. Sorry, I see now that your dates were right, so sorry... If anyone out there is interested, we are desperately trying to find someone to carry on organising Arbor Day in Aston on Clun. Anyone living near, and wants to help, please email. If no-on comes forward, Arbor Day will fold, and as this is the only village left in the UK to continue this unique ancient tree festival, the custom will die out.


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