Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

William Hutchinson, Aldenham atheist

In 1913 three Hertfordshire graves were noted as having trees growing from them as a result of atheists being buried therein.  Postcards of these graves were produced as early as 1907, but the associated legends do not seem to have been recorded until six years later.

Two of these graves, that of Lady Anne Grimston, at Tewin, and of an unknown lady or farmer, at Watford, have been mentioned elsewhere on this website.

In the churchyard at Aldenham three sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) trees grew from the grave of William Hutchinson (d.1697) and his wife Margaret (d.1706).  It is said that William declared his disbelief in the resurrection, and ordered a heavy stone tomb enclosed in iron railings; if a tree grew from the tomb future generations would know that there was a life after death.  Perhaps the iron railings, which prevented the grave from being mown or grazed, encouraged the growth of trees, but certainly early in the twentieth century it was considered sufficiently interesting to feature on postcards.

In 2001 the trees were still present, ‘although much shorter as they have … been lopped’.  However, when the churchyard was visited in 2015 they could not be found, and what was thought to be their remains was a ivy-covered stump.

The Watford fig tree died in the 1960s, leaving the trees on Lady Anne’s grave as the only remaining ones.

Images:  main, postcard posted 1907; inset, what is thought to be the remains of the tree, October 2015.

Updated 28 December 2021.