It is hard to imagine today that Kings and Queens and the aristocracy would have passed this way over the years. The Thursday volunteers have been working to restore the look of Old Copse Drive, in the shadow of the past – a once prestigious carriageway that is today in parts reminiscent of a swamp. It was created in 1813 when John William the 7th Earl of Bridgewater decided to build the road from Aldbury to give access to his new Mansion via Thunderdell Lane, and since then it has had a chequered history. Groundsmen working on the Estate in the 19th century would have had to defer to any passing dignitary, by doffing their caps!
On the 8th July 1889 the Shah of Persia and his Queen having spent the day at Ashridge, left for their next port of call at the Rothschilds at Halton by Tring, and would have no doubt used this carriageway along with their entourage. It would have been a showcase route lined with evergreen laurel and rhododendrons and specimen trees, with not a fallen branch or leaf in sight. One particular tree would have stood out as a talking point – the Wellingtonia pine from California introduced into England in 1854, still standing in the avenue. The other planted trees are unknown to us since they were stripped out by over zealous timber merchants between 1925 and 1930, after the N T had purchased the property but before it was actively managed. It was planned to replace the trees with an oak and beech avenue, but this seems not to have materialised . Instead an avenue of wild cherry (Gean) was planted and some still stand today, sixty feet tall and well past their sell by date – they were planted for their delicate white spring blossom and autumn colour. There have been strange additions of box and laburnum also planted over the years.
When Walter Rothschild wanted to pay a visit to his aristocratic neighbour at Ashridge he would no doubt ride over from Tring Park with his equipe zebra four-in-hand, thrusting along Old Copse Drive in the early 1900’s when the carriageway was at it’s zenith.
In the Summer of 1934 the newly arrived Trust “hoped to hold a tree-planting ceremony in the autumn, to inaugurate the re-planting of a new avenue of oak and beech along the Rhododendron Drive in Old Copse, and to re-open the once beautiful drive to the public”. The pretty lodge building and the distinctive gateway were probably created at that time. More recently a line of Swedish Whitebeam was planted along the drive and for some obscure reason they ended up being pollarded – why pollard a Sorbus intermedia? The Trust have now concluded that they look so ugly and out of place that they must be removed later in the year – more work for the volunteers.
Thanks to Richard for his contribution to the post.