Skip to content

History of Whipsnade Tree Cathedral

The Nave looking to the Chancel at Whipsnade Tree Cathedral, Bedfordshire
The Nave looking to the Chancel at Whipsnade Tree Cathedral | © National Trust Images/David Sellman

This incredible tree cathedral, made from trees, shrubs and plants, was created after the First World War in the spirit of 'faith, hope and reconciliation' and is the Whipsnade Tree Cathedral that you see today.

Leaving a legacy

Born in 1898, Edmund Blyth served in the infantry in the First World War and suffered the loss of dear friends Arthur Bailey and John Bennett, who died in the March retreat of 1918.

Edmund initially purchased two cottages in Whipsnade to be used as holiday homes for poor London families.

By 1930, another First World War comrade, Francis Holland, had been killed in a car crash and Blyth felt that all his friends deserved something more worthy in their memory. That autumn, he and his wife drew his inspiration from a visit to the unfinished Liverpool Anglican Cathedral.

'We talked of this as we drove south through the Cotswold Hills on our way home and it was while we were doing this, that I saw the evening sun light up a coppice of trees on the side of a hill. It occurred to me then that here was something more beautiful still and the idea formed of building a cathedral with trees.'

– E.K. Blythe, 1940

He wanted to create a lasting legacy for his comrades-in-arms who were no longer with him. From 1930–1939, with the help of just one man, Albert Bransom, Mr Blyth began planting.

Left untended

On the outbreak of the Second World War, Edmund Blyth returned to his regiment. The young plantation was left untended for eight years until he returned from the military government of Berlin in 1947, to re-join his family law firm. In the intervening years, the site had become overgrown.

After the Second World War work started again, although the years of neglect had left the tree cathedral very overgrown. Regular assistance in the clearance was given by Gerald Wallsam, who is commemorated in Wallsam Way. Another dedicated assistant was William Baldwin.

Services start

By 1952, enough of the resulting undergrowth had been cleared to hold ecumenical services. In 1960, a generous legacy enabled Mr Blyth to present the plantation to the National Trust, with a covenant allowing trustees of the Whipsnade Tree Cathedral Fund to continue its upkeep and organise services.

Memorial to his son

The only change to the original plan has been the addition of the hornbeam avenue from the car park. This was in memory of Mr Blyth's son Tom who managed the Tree Cathedral after his father's death in 1969, until his own death in 1978.

Managing the site

After Gerald Wallsam died in 1983, the endowment fund was reorganised, enabling the present high standard of maintenance to be developed.

In 2023 National Trust took over full management of Whipsnade Tree Cathedral.

Whipsnade Tree Cathedral in Bedfordshire, created following the First World War

Discover more at Whipsnade Tree Cathedral

Find out when Whipsnade Tree Cathedral is open, how to get here, the things to see and do and more.

You might also be interested in

Sheep grazing at Dunstable Downs, Bedfordshire

Dunstable Downs and Whipsnade Estate 

Spectacular views of rolling chalk grasslands and a seemingly endless sky in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Dunstable, Bedfordshire

Fully open today
Overhead view of an octagonal table with the figure of Silenus, a drunken follower of Bacchu, in The Library at Claydon House in Buckinghamshire


Learn about people from the past, discover remarkable works of art and brush up on your knowledge of architecture and gardens.