Hidden behind an ornate brick frontage on Milman Road stands a quietly growing giant. This giant is a tree, and not just any tree, but a Californian Redwood. It is the only tree on the street with a preservation order, thanks to efforts by local legends John and Edna Tuggey.
This coniferous colossus was first ‘discovered’ in 1852 when plant hunter William Lobb investigated rumours of vast trees growing in the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range. A Victorian mania for exploration and plundering flora and fauna meant that Lobb, and other botanical entrepreneurs, were soon denuding swathes of American forest and shipping home holds brimming with saplings intended for the estates of the high and mighty.
Upon arrival in England in 1853, the new species was named the decidedly un-American Wellingtonia giganteum (now technically Sequoiadendron giganteum) to commemorate the Duke of Wellington (he of Waterloo fame) who had popped his non-rubber clogs the previous year. Rumour has it that many of the Wellingtonias dotted around Katesgrove and Reading ‘fell off the back of a cart’ en route to the Duke’s estate at Stratfield Saye in Hampshire in 1854, but they may also have ‘fallen off the back of the cart’ transporting the same species to the Bear Wood Estate near Chobham Ridge in Camberley. Enough clung onto the cart to form the now impressive avenue of 218 giants on Wellingtonia Avenue on the B3348 near Crowthorne.
Presumably cargoes of young trees were landed at Bristol or other western ports before making their way by horse-drawn cart across country to tart up the sequestered piles of the landed gentry.
The only Reading Wellingtonia listed at Redwood World is at University of Reading’s Whiteknights campus, but our Milman Road tree has another sibling just up the road next to Cintra Park. Just how many did fall off the back of that cart?
I love the idea of them being nicked or dropping off the back of these huge carts trundling through Reading and being planted where they fell, but suspect that may be anecdotal as the three sites in and near Katesgrove all have an appropriate pedigree; 9 Milman Road was the home to John Swain, a moneyed Victorian landowner and relative of brick kiln owner William Poulton, Cintra Park was part of a large estate belonging to Cintra House (now demolished), and the Whiteknights Campus was originally part of the estate of the Marquess of Blandford.
Identifiable by its stature and girth, Wellingtonias have a soft, reddish-brown, spongy, fireproof bark. Allegedly, you can punch a Wellingtonia without fear of fracturing your phalanges, or of any reprisal, but what kind of coward goes round punching pensionable trees? I gave the Cintra Park one a half-hearted jab and I can’t say it was that soft; however, if anyone else wants to verify that one, go ahead!