Letting history take root.

Bath is a city of trees and this is certainly the time of year to view them at their best. However, while London Planes may tower above The Circus, there are three much more humbles tree specimens currently pleasing one local lady.

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Audrey’s still a volunteer greeting visitors to Bath Abbey.

Audrey Woods is a great lover of Bath’s history and heritage. She has just retired after forty years as a member of the Mayor of Bath’s Corps of Honorary Guides and has always enjoyed telling people about the city’s Georgian and Roman past.

Tours that have often involved pointing out some of the many brass plaques above doorways which indicate where some of the big names of history may have lived or visited.

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An example of a commemorative plaque erected to mark the home of Elizabeth Linley.

Not all the plaques are quite so grand. Three much more modest examples lie in front of three trees planted to remember a group of  early 20th century visitors who helped make history –  by standing up and fighting for their rights.

We’re talking about the Suffragette Movement which campaigned for votes for women in the years leading up to the First World War.

Bath was not a major centre of protest and had little of the activist displays seen in London and other cities but it did play its part in helping some of the women involved in this fight for equal voting rights.

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Rose Lamartine Yates planting a tree with Annie Kenney looking on, taken by Col Linley Blathwayt of Eagle House, 1909 © bathintime.co.uk

Audrey told me about the Blathwayt family – who lived at Eagle House in Batheaston – and who offered their home to suffragettes who wanted to recuperate from the harsh treatment they received when imprisoned for their political activism in support of votes for women.

Many of them were force-fed when on hunger strike to protest against their conditions.

At Eagle House the suffragettes were encouraged to plant a tree in the grounds. There were sixty planted but this historic arboretum made way for a housing estate in 1960 – although one towering Austrian Pine does remain.

A view of the arboretum at Eagle House 1909. © Bath in Time

Audrey said that former B&NES Councillor and Heritage Champion Bryan Chalker – having found out about the story – had helped arrange to have     three new trees planted – back in 2011 – to commemorate the suffragettes at Eagle House. They were sited in Alice Park, Royal Victoria Park and Bath Spa University.

Since then Audrey has been keen to ensure the saplings and their story was not forgotten.

She had no idea if the tree at Bath Spa University was still alive, was unhappy about the condition of the tree in Victoria Park and worried about wire encasing the fir in Alice Park.

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The tree in Victoria Park has been moved to a more prominent site but Audrey took this photograph while the plaque was still in the old position.”I found it very moving – last December – when l found someone had taken time and trouble to find a sliver of wood and write. ‘Thank you ladies’ on it “. © Audrey Woods

This week her concerns have been laid to rest. She took a tour of the three sites with the Mayor of Bath, Cllr Paul Crossley and last year’s Mayor, Cllr Will Sandry.

The tree in Victoria Park has been moved to a new, more prominent, site at the entrance to the Botanic Garden – where it has pride of place.

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The commemorative tree at Bath Spa’s Newton Park campus. © Audrey Woods

The tree at Newton Park is in fine health  and, at Alice Park,  Audrey only allowed the Mayor and former Mayor to pose for a picture after she’d ensured the plaque – in front of the young fir – had been polished. A friend called Joy Roberts had seen to that!

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L to R. The Mayor of Bath, Cllr Paul Crossley and former Mayor, Cllr Will Sandry with the tree at Alice Park. Complete with shiny brass plaque and NO wire enclosure. © Audrey Woods

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