The legend of the beaumont tree
The Beaumont Tree was an ancient Elm that stood on this spot, at the Parish Boundary between Silsoe and Flitton. A legend arose that the tree grew from an Elm stake that had been thrust through the body of a Highwayman, who had been shot on the road nearby in 1751. It became the custom for locals to nail locks of hair, and toenails, to it as the Flitton Church clock struck midnight. This was to ward off the Ague, a type of malaria, once prevalent in this marshy district.
Similar practices have been recorded throughout the centuries at various sites around the country.
Local people remember climbing the tree as children in the 1950s – though this was a scion of the original, which was only a stump in this photograph from 1933. This younger tree had more recent nails knocked into it and succumbed to Dutch Elm disease in the 1970s. The tree was an important landmark in the 18th & 19th centuries and stood in Beaumont Tree Lane, which led to the London to Buxton road - now the A6.
In 2003, shortly after we opened the Two Moors Heritage Trail, someone asked me if I knew anything about the whereabouts of the Beaumont Tree. I didn’t, so asked local farmers and discovered it to be on the land of Beaumont Farm, and that Richard O’Dell who farmed there, had climbed the old elm as a child. As this elm had died of Dutch Elm disease an oak tree had been planted on the site. So in 2004 we commissioned the sculpted post to mark the site and the plaque set within it. The post shows a highwayman on horseback with gun in the air and a crescent moon.
A small section of the tree, complete with ancient nail and hair, is now kept at Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
In the year 2000 an oak tree was planted on the site, another elm being likely to die.