Timber! Jesuits’ tree falls in Hampstead

Thursday, 14th October 2010


Published: 14 October, 2010

WHEN a giant tree suddenly uprooted itself and smashed through a wall into a busy Hampstead road, parents on the school-run could be forgiven for believing it was a “miracle” that no one was hurt.

Hundreds of smartly-dressed schoolchildren walk past the junction of Nutley Terrace and Maresfield Gardens on weekdays, and the roads are chockablock with 4x4s at 8.15am – the time the 50-foot tree fell like a battering ram on Saturday.

Perhaps some divine intervention had been at work – the tree, a black poplar, came from the grounds of a super mansion owned and in the process of being sold by the Jesuits of Britain.

Members of the Catholic order – a major force during the 16th-century Counter-Reformation who take vows of poverty, chastity and ­obedience – lived at 37 Southwell House, Fitzjohn’s Avenue, until July 2009 when the Jesuit headquarters was put up for sale.

On Tuesday, a woman at the door, who did not want to be named, said she was glad no one had been hurt by the tree but would not speculate whether a higher power had steered its safe descent.

Derek Farnworth, who lives in Lindfield Gardens, Hampstead, said: “I was cycling through the roads there and I came across the tree. 

“It is just completely unpredictable – the whole damn thing fell down, it was broken up and all rotten inside. Someone could have been killed.”

Brown rot, a disease that afflicts tall trees but is not visible from the outside, is believed to have caused the tree to fall.

A council spokesman said it was up to the property’s owners to look after their own trees.

Last year, three giant trees unexpectedly up­rooted themselves and smashed into the ground.

In May, a 53-year-old minicab driver was knocked unconscious by a giant lime tree in Abbey Road, West Hampstead. Two women sipping cappuccinos in the sun were pinned to the ground by its branches. 

One week later, a plane tree smashed into passing lorry in Lyndhurst Road injuring the driver. Then a 30-footer crashed into the pavement outside Parkhill Road in June 2009, yards from the Village primary school.

The council spokes­man added: “The tree in question was on private property and as such the council do not have a duty to inspect or maintain such trees. It is the responsibility of the property owner to ensure that the tree is regularly inspected and kept in healthy condition.

“Trees belonging to the council are inspected on a regular basis by trained officers and where required, maintenance works are undertaken to ensure the safety of the public.”

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