History of Whipsnade Tree Cathedral
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.
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.
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.
The present trustees continue to manage the site with the help of regular volunteers, local contractors and professional foresters, as well as rangers of the Trust’s Bedfordshire properties.