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Payhembury Yew

WorldBlue  In short

The enormous Payhembury Yew at the medieval St. Mary Church is a very old tree. Now it has divided into four separate trunks around the empty place where in the past was the central trunk.

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GPS coordinates
50.8087 N 3.2946 W
Location, address
Europe, United Kingdom, England, Devon, East Devon district, in Payhembury, north-east of St. Mary’s church
European Yew (Taxus baccata L.)
10.62 m, at the ground level around the four separate trunks, 1998. Similar result in 2005.

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WorldYellow In detail

Payhembury is a small, picturesque village in the eastern part of Devon.

St Mary’s church (and inn!)

The small Payhembury church is a fine example of Perpendicular Gothic style – it was constructed in 15th – 16th centuries, its tower might be even older. The church was thoroughly reconstructed in 1895-1897. (2.) The church has six bells that were installed centuries ago.

Today these six bells are better known due to a historical church house from the 17th century, named “Six Bells Inn”. It was built to house masons of the church and now is a respected inn.

Payhembury Yew

The ancient yew tree grows in the church garden, north-east of the church, on a small mound.

It rather well discernible that the four current trunks of Payhembury Yew belong to a single plant, a male tree. The central part of the tree a longer time ago hollowed out and was gradually lost.

The tree is mentioned in “Travels in Victorian Devon, Illustrated Journals and Sketchbooks 1846 – 1870” (compiled by Jeremy Butler from Peter Orlando Hutchinson’s notebooks, see the book on Amazon below), where it was visited in 1859. Already then Payhembury Yew had four trunks and locals explained that long ago a lightning struck the tree and divided it into four parts. (3.)

The circumference around these four trunks at the ground level is 10.62 m (1998), there are also reports about a bigger circumference, e.g. 11.46 m at the height of 0.05 m (4.). The individual trunks are 4 m, 3.9 m, 3.4 m, and 2.7 m in circumference.

As it is usual, people love to guess the age of the tree. Payhembury Yew is assumed to be 2,000 years old – but there is no factual basis for this assumption. Nevertheless, the tree definitely is very old.

Most likely, the yew is significantly older than the church. There is a possibility that the yew was a locally significant landmark, possibly, a sacred tree and this was the reason for the selection of this location for a church.

  1. Yew/Yews at Payhembury England, Ancient Yew Group. Accessed on December 3, 2023.
  2. England & Wales Hardwicke Marriage Index, Marriages 1754 – 1837, Payhembury St Mary. Accessed on December 2, 2023.
  3. ONE YEW OR MORE?, Accessed on December 3, 2023.
  4. The Payhembury Yew, Ancient Tree Inventory. Accessed on December 3, 2023.
Payhembury Yew is included in the following article:

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The Ancient Yew: A History of Taxus baccata

The gnarled, immutable yew tree is one of the most evocative sights in the British and Irish language, an evergreen impression of immortality, the tree that provides a living botanical link between our own landscapes and those of the distant past. This book tells the extraordinary story of the yew’s role in the landscape through the millennia, and makes a convincing case for the origins of many of the oldest trees, as markers of the holy places founded by Celtic saints in the early medieval ‘Dark Ages’.

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