Yorkshire Diary: Chip off the old Oak

A LEEDS church is the repository for a series of rare wood carvings, including one which was fashioned from a fragment of the old Shire Oak, the famous tree which lived for hundreds of years in Headingley and lent its name to the surrounding area.

St Michael's and All Angels, Headingley is a sanctuary of peace and tranquillity up near the Shire Oak and Skyrack pubs on Otley Road, both of which take their names from the old Shire Oak tree, which collapsed in 1941.

According to local legend, the tree lived for over a thousand years and was the ancient meeting place for Saxon lords, who used it as the focal point for dividing up the surrounding shire.

Some even believe the tree was used as a look-out post by the Romans – at that time it would have formed just part of a great forest.


After it collapsed, a new oak tree was planted and a stone plaque – still visible to this day – erected to mark its passing.

Some of the fragments of wood from the Shire Oak were given to wood carvers so that ornaments could be made – only a handful are thought still to exist and one of those resides in St Michael's Church.

The carving, by famous North Yorkshire wood carver Robert Thompson, takes the form of Mary and baby Jesus and stands on a plinth in the Lady Chapel in a quiet corner of the enigmatic church.

Church treasurer Susan Youell said: "We think it's wonderful. There were three carvings made from bits of the old tree and we have one of them. It's a bit of Yorkshire history."

It is not the only piece of history either as the church is also home to a series of carvings, again by Kilburn artist Robert Thompson, whose trademark was to engrave and carve tiny wooden mice on pieces of furniture. Indeed, Mr Thompson was known as the 'Mouseman' for this very reason and his work is famous throughout the world.

"There are several mice dotted about the church in various places," said Mrs Youell. "They are fascinating to look at, all the more so because they are in places you do not expect to see them. Even now, I could not tell you where all seven are. There are some carved onto pews, some underneath shelves, there are two more at the back of the church in the children's corner and others elsewhere.

"I think it's important we celebrate such things. So many of our old buildings have been knocked down and dismantled. This is such a lovely church. Someone went to a lot of trouble to build it and make it nice and I think we have a duty to maintain it."

Margaret Ripley, who also works in the church, added: "When you go round buildings which have these carved mice in – and we are not the only one – you feel connected somehow to the past and it's like being part of a family."

There has been a church on the site of St Michael's since the 1600s but the present building, the third church to be built there, was consecrated in 1886.

Hunt for wedding church picture

Your letters

IT was my Nana and Grandad's 60th wedding anniversary on December 23 and I am trying to find a picture of the church in which they were married. Unfortunately, they seem to have picked one of the only churches that doesn't stay the same for a thousand years! None of the wedding photos show the full front of the church either.

The church was called Methodist Chapel and was on Accommodation Road in Leeds. It was rebuilt in or around 1970 and it is now called Newbourne MC.

I wonder if any of your readers might have a picture they would be willing to lend?

Damien Smith, Leeds, email: damienjamessmith1978@yahoo.co.uk, or telephone: 0113 3991256

Some happy memories were raised by the letter from Mike Forrest (Yorkshire Diary, January 1) about his cinema-going days in the 1940s in the Woodhouse area of Leeds and although a keen young picture-goer myself in those days, I never saw or recalled the Henry Aldrich films.

After checking my copy of Helliwell's Film Guide, I noticed 11 films were produced from 1939 to 1944, so somehow I did miss them.

I much enjoyed the Andy Clyde shorts and who could resist Curly, Larry and Moe – The Three Stooges? They were hilarious.

The British film connection was pretty strong too in those far off days, with George Formby, Will Hay (an all-time favourite of mine being The Goose Steps Out in 1942, with Will Hay thwarting the Nazis, of course!) and those northern favourites, such as Old Mother Riley and the great Frank Randle (Somewhere Camp, Somewhere on Leave etc).

Thinking back, however, the film comedy I most enjoyed and happily recall in those war time evenings at the local cinema was the 1942 Hope, Crosby, Lamour vehicle Road to Morocco – now Henry Aldrich would have had to have been good to beat that!

Michael Owen, Scotton, Knaresborough

I am organising a reunion for those who started at Benton Park in 1962 and who will have their 60th birthday between September 2010 and August 2011. The reunion is planned for May 2011.

Pamela Morris, bentonparkreunion@gmail.com

Guess the year

This week's question: Morrisons is a famous Yorkshire supermarket chain and was founded by the well-known William Morrison, who began the business with an egg stall in Bradford's Rawson Market. In 2009, the supermarket chain was the fourth largest in the UK. But in what year was it founded? Answer next week.

Guess the year from December 18: This week's question: Goatland Station in North Yorkshire doubles up as Hogsmeade Station in the popular Harry Potter films. In the first film of the franchise, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, it features in the final scene of the film, as the train pulls out of the station, which has also featured in Heartbeat. In what year was the enigmatic station built? Answer: 1865.

Did you know?

Did you know William Jowett (1877-1965) and Benjamin Jowett (1880-1963), manufacturers of Jowett cars, started out making bicycles? They were born in Bradford and manufactured cars between 1906 and 1954, although their first car did not go into production until 1910. They were based at Back Burlington Street, Bradford – their first car was had an 816cc flat twin water-cooled engine and three-speed gearbox. Their most famous car was the Jowett Jupiter, which smashed several records at Le Mans and in the Monte Carlo rallies.

EP 8/1/11

PIC: Simon Hulme

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