A second centenary of a Black Country mayor’s ‘Green’ tribute to those who fell in the First World War has come around.
On March 31st, 1920, pupils of Bingley Street, St Mark’s and Brickkiln Street Schools planted plane and fir trees in Walford Avenue, off Bradmore Road, in the second plantings of a scheme by Mayor Councillor Thomas Austin Henn to plant 1,000 trees in Wolverhampton.
In his mayoral address on November 10, 1919 he said he would ask for money to plant 1,000 trees chiefly in streets “which were drab and dreary monotony.”
He said it would cost £1,200 – nearly £61,500 in today’s prices – with Wolverhampton people, particularly pupils, parents and staff of schools, raising the money.
The plantings in Walford Avenue, which was actually a new road created as part of a Wolverhampton Council housing scheme, came nine days after first plantings on March 22 – in All Saints – as pupils elected by fellow pupils at All Saints, St Joseph’s and Dudley Road Schools planted 30 trees in All Saints Road.
The logbook of Brickkiln Street Schools for March 31st, 1920, says: “The mayor and party arrived at 2.15 promptly. The three departments were massed in the boys’ playground. The following programme was gone through: 1. Raising of the flag. 2. Salute. 3. Song, Homeland. 4. Song The Recessional. 5. Introduction of Mayor. 6. Speech by Mayor. 7. Song, Land of Our Birth. 8 Vote of thanks to Mayor. 9. Vote of thanks to chairman.
“Afterwards the boys and girls marched to Walford Avenue for the tree planting. Unfortunately it rained all afternoon.”
This came after the 1918-19 worldwide influenza had killed millions worldwide, and nearly 2,000 in the Black Country including 554 in Wolverhampton War had cost millions of lives and left lifelong disabilities, injuries and illnesses. However, planting memorial trees was national and international as Britain’s Roads of Remembrance Association started in 1919 – the year the mayor was elected.
Later plantings were all around Wolverhampton and continued well into the 1920s when Wolverhampton Council seemed to take over responsibility for them. As centenaries of other Wolverhampton plantings arise it is hoped to mark them.
It would have been nice to involve pupils, parents and staff of Bantock Primary –which absorbed Brickkiln but due to the precautions about the Covid-19 virus I have done a short YouTube video about the Walford Avenue plantings instead and it can be found at https://youtu.be/I9dxytfVrFE
Last month the first of 6 fruit trees were planted by volunteers and present Wolverhampton Mayor, Councillor Claire Darke, at Bantock Park along with 175 Hawthorn, Blackthorn and Hazel saplings and Wolverhampton Council says it plans to plant 4,000 trees in the city.
There are still trees in Walford Avenue but it is uncertain if any are the original ones.
I was researching Newhampton Arts Centre’s history and saw memorial trees mentioned in the logbook of Wolverhampton Higher Grade School which was on the site of the arts centre before, during and after WW1.
It led to a chapter about memorial trees in Wolverhampton’s Great War 1914-1921 – by the Wolverhampton Society. Copies are available from the society at Wolverhampton society.com or Waterstones Wolverhampton store.
A commemoration event will be held later aiming to involve pupils at a school which absorbed the school of some of the first planters who dedicated each tree to “the memory of the brave men who died to make the world freer and brighter.”
All Saints School was absorbed into Grove Primary School, in nearby Caledonia Road, and Grove head Ben Davis wants to involve present pupils in a rearranged commemoration alongside a special schools pack linking All Saints and other plantings near their school to current initiatives to plant more trees.
On March 22 this year Mayor Darke, was due at the The Workspace, All Saints Action Network (ASAN), All Saints Road, All Saints, with John Henn, great grandson of Mayor Henn.
However, because of COVID-19 five fruit trees were safely planted earlier by ASAN Chief Officer, Shobha Asar-Paul, the Mayor, All Saints Gardening Club and Ettingshall Councillor Zee Russell so that the centenary was marked.
Plantings were on the site of All Saints School – next to All Saints Church where a plaque commemorates 91 men who died in WW1. At the 1920 planting the then mayor was with his children Frank, Molly and Mr T.Wesley Henn (John Henn’s grandfather).
Trees are still in All Saints Road – a legacy of original plantings – along with others planted later in nearby Vicarage Road, Mason Street, Silver Birch Avenue and Thompson Avenue.
The anniversary came to light in a chapter written by Jim Barrow (correct) on Wolverhampton’s memorial trees in the new book Wolverhampton’s Great War 1914-1921 published by the Wolverhampton Society.