The Whistler – April 2013

THE ENGLISH ELMS by Carol Ann Duffy


Seven Sisters in Tottenham,

long gone, except for their names,

were English elms.

Others stood at the edge of farms,

twinned with the shapes of clouds

like green rhymes;

or cupped the beads of rain

in their leaf palms;

or glowered, grim giants, warning of


In the hedgerows in old films,

elegiacally, they loom,

the English elms;

or find posthumous fame

in the lines of poems –

the music making elm –

for ours is a world without them…

to whom the artists came,

time upon time,

scumbling, paint on their fingers and


and the woodcutters, who knew the


was a coffin’s deadly aim;

and the mavis, her new nest unharmed

in the crook of a living, wooden arm;

and boys, with ball and stumps and bat

for a game;

and nursing ewes and lambs, calm

under the English elms…

great, masterpiece trees,

who were overwhelmed.


The poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, wrote this poem in 2010 about the decline of the English elm caused by Dutch elm disease. The centuries old healthy elm tree at Seven Dials is one of the survivors of the disease which destroyed millions of elms throughout the UK in the 1970s.

Brighton houses the National Elm Collection and is home to rare ancient elms, including the Preston Park Twins, reputedly the oldest remaining English elm in the world, and the hollow veteran at Brighton Pavilion, which was planted in 1776.



We elect local councillors to look after local interests and do their best to preserve and improve local services for residents. Do they always get it right? No – and that’s why there are local elections every few years so if people don’t like what the politicians have done, they can vote them out and start again, hoping that another set of promises made will be kept. As Jim Gowans reported in his Pavement Clutter piece in the February edition of The Whistler, the elm tree was to be removed as part of the improvements to the Seven Dials. In answer to Della’s question in her letter in the Letters section, “Does anyone else see anything horribly wrong with a Green council deciding to chop down an ancient Elm tree at the Seven Dials?” – it seems that a lot of people thought that it was wrong.

Brighton is the home to the National Elm collection. Valedictory messages posted on the tree changed to pleas for it to be saved from the chop and Tom Druitt and Stephen Hendry set up camp in it, with local residents taking guard below it. As the protest drew attention, some councillors and even the local MP suddenly twigged that the last healthy elm tree at the Seven Dials (two others had previously succumbed to Dutch elm disease which wiped out millions of elm trees in the 1970s) was to be felled.

It seems that people power is breaking out all over the Seven Dials. With the Exeter Street Hall now safely in the hands of the community after a magnificent campaign to raise the funds to buy it, it just goes to show how powerful passion for a cause can be.

Local politics matter and are the very best reason to get out and vote in local elections. Voter turnout in the May 2011 council elections was 41%.

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