During the 1970s and 1980s the countryside around Cambridge was transformed by the devastation of Dutch Elm Disease. Thousands of trees died and relatively few survive in or around the City. Amongst those that did not perish were the group of Huntingdon elms (Ulmus x hollandica `vegeta') in Queens' College Grove. Two of the trees in particular which remain have grown into magnificent specimens. They were probably planted in the late eighteenth century and are the tallest trees in the Grove.
The original specimen tree of this type was raised from seed in Hinchingbrooke Park, Huntingdon, in 1760. It has a rapid growth rate and has been known to reach over 30 metres tall and 150 cms in girth diameter. The first known distributor of the type was from a nursery in Brampton, just south of Huntingdon. However the type grew in the wild some time prior to this and some conspicuous trees around East Anglia may be descendants of these earlier trees. The first known avenue of Huntingdon elm was presumed to be planted at Brooklands Avenue, south of the University Botanic Gardens. Three trees survive in the Botanic Gardens as well as two at Churchill College and two on Butt's Green. There are also four trees growing in the grounds of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries on the junction of Brooklands Avenue and Shaftesbury Road, more than likely natural sucker growths from one of the original first plantings on Brooklands Avenue.
The Elms in the Grove from the top of Cripps.
Photo: Jonathan Holmes
The two large trees in Queens' have been noticed by the Tree Register of the British Isles which recently sent a representative to measure them. One of these trees was measured at 41 metres (135 ft) high and 108 cms (11 ft 2ins) in girth and the other at 43 metres (141 ft) high and 123 cms (12 ft 8 ins) in girth. These trees are then the two tallest living of any species of elm on record in the British Isles. The 43 metres tree is the second tallest ever recorded in history of this type and the 41 metres one the third tallest. The tallest (and also the broadest) ever recorded was at Magdalen College, Oxford and was measured in 1911, shortly before it blew down, at 44metres (143 ft) high and 274 cms (28 ft 3 ins) in girth. As this tree was said to have been planted in 1610, 140 years before this variety of tree is supposed to have been introduced, the TRBI expert is dubious about its claims and thinks the Queens' trees may well be the tallest ever Huntingdon elms.
From a letter to the Garden Steward by Mr Peter Bourne, Tree
Register of the British Isles.