Yew at South Hayling St Mary’s Church

The ancient yew at South Hayling St Mary's Church
The ancient yew at South Hayling St Mary’s Church./ Chris Gunns, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

WorldBlue  In short

Over the pathway towards the old St Mary’s Church in South Hayling tilts a giant yew tree. This ancient tree hollowed out and now has divided into several trunks that all together have a circumference of 10.06 m.

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GPS coordinates
50.7953 N 0.9769 W
Location, address
Europe, United Kingdom, Hampshire, Hayling Island, in the South Haylin, at the southern porch of St Mary’s Church
European Yew (Taxus baccata L.)
10.06 m (1998, 1.)

Map of the site

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WorldYellow In detail

South Hayling St Mary’s Church was constructed over several decades in the middle of the 13th century. Local tales tell that the church was built after the sea encroached on the ancient Saxon church in East Stoke – but there is no evidence for this. Locals knew very well how dangerous is the sea and looked for an elevated location – a knoll on Hayling Island that rises to 9 m above the sea level.

Valuable detail in the church is the chancel in Early English Gothic style.

Similar to other rural churches in the United Kingdom, South Hayling church was renovated in the 19th century – in 1869 and 1892.

Today the ancient yew at South Hayling does not have a single trunk. Long ago it hollowed out and gradually divided into several separate trunks. Some of these trunks gradually bend over the pathway towards the church. In 1916 was done extensive work to save the tree from rot. Around the tree was built a decorative metal railing and the yew tree has leaned on it since then, gradually impaling itself on metal spikes.

The branches of the tree were propped on long wooden posts long ago, in the early 20th century or even earlier.

The 1998 measurement shows a circumference of 10.06 m, but in 1999 another measurement gave a result of 11.04 m (1.). Wondermondo does not know the height of these measurements, but, most likely, the smaller result was obtained close to the ground, while the bigger – higher up. In such a case the smaller result is the correct one.

Similar to any other giant yew tree, there is a discussion about the age of South Hayling yew. Some say that it is 1000 years old, others give it 2000 years. Unfortunately, we have no clue about its real age. There is a rather high probability that the yew was planted around the time of the construction of the church in the 13th century, although, judging from its size, it has to be older.

There is also discussed the probability that the current yew tree consists of three-four united stems, which was proposed already in 1835. In such a case, a lot less time is needed for the tree (trees) to achieve its current giant size.

  1. Yew/Yews at South Hayling England, Ancient Yew Group. Accessed on December 27, 2023.

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The God Tree

The God Tree is a great read and will make people think again and again about Yews’ – David Bellamy, the Naturalist. This is the first book to take up the quest for the Golden Bough since JG Frazer’s classic study in 1915 with the discovery of the bough growing once more, as the rare adornment of a small number of ancient Yews.

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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