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Yew at Mamhead St Thomas Church

WorldBlue  In short

At the remote, little known Mamhead St Thomas Church grows an enormous yew tree. The upper part of the tree was sawn off long ago but this giant stump is lively, with countless branches rising up from it in all directions.

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GPS coordinates
50.617 N 3.5123 W
Location, address
Europe, United Kingdom, England, Devon, district of Teignbridge, Mamhead, southwest from Mamhead St. Thomas Church (located in a private property)
European Yew (Taxus baccata L.)
9.6 m (2012, at 0.15 m height, 1.)

Map of the site

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WorldYellow In detail

Mamhead is a large private estate in a picturesque area near the sea. In its park is located the local church – St Thomas the Apostle Church. This church was built mainly in the 15th century (Perpendicular Gothic style) with some earlier details from the 13th century.

The church is closely surrounded by trees and one of these trees – a yew south-west of the church – is exceptional.

This yew tree has a giant trunk that has a circumference of 9.6 m. Contrary to most other yews of such size, Mamhead Yew has a single trunk that is not disfigured by a giant hollow or divided into several parts.

The trunk rises to a height of some 2.1 m – and then it suddenly divides into countless small branches.

The top of Mamhead Yew was sawn off long ago, most likely in the 19th century. According to local legends, the pulpit in the church was made from the wood of this tree. It is possible that its upper part was disintegrating and branches were damaging the monuments in the churchyard.

In 1940ies the tree was further damaged by lightning but it recovered.

The yew tree is linked to the great Scottish writer-biographer James Boswell. “Parochial Memoranda” in 1776 reports:

The chief difficulty experienced by Boswell in carrying out his literary work was inability to conquer the propensity for liquor, and so, when staying with (his friend Rev. William Johnson) Temple at Mamhead, he took an oath under the churchyard Yew never to get drunk again. He admitted later, that “his promise under the solemn yew was not religiously kept, because a little wine hurried him on too much”


  1. Yew/Yews at Mamhead England, Ancient Yew Group. Accessed on December 29, 2023

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WorldYellow Recommended books

Yew: A History

The yew is one of the most fascinating and versatile life forms on Earth, botanically rich and intriguing, and culturally almost without comparison. This impressive study of the yew reveals that in history, mythology, religion, folklore, medicine, and warfare, the yew bears timeless witness to a deep relationship with mankind. It is the tree that Darwin often rested beneath and under which he wanted to be buried.

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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