Exhibit of the Week: American Redwood tree

Peter Rogers with the tree stump in Burnby Hall Gardens
Peter Rogers with the tree stump in Burnby Hall Gardens

As you walk around Burnby Hall Gardens, there are a variety of features which stand out. There’s the beauty of the trees, the reflections on the lake, and, in the summer months, the world renowned Hardy water lilies in full bloom.

But there’s one feature at the far end of the gardens near to the small lower lake that often begs the question: “what’s the story behind this one then?”

The Redwood tree was used as an office and den

The Redwood tree was used as an office and den

The item in question is large, very old, and is fixed into the garden surrounded by a low fence.

It appears to be a huge section of a tree trunk. In fact it’s part of a giant American Redwood tree.

So, what’s it doing in the heart of an English country garden?

The answer lies back in the early 1900s and involves Major Percy Stewart, the owner of the Burnby Hall Estate in Pocklington, and the benefactor of Burnby Hall Gardens and Museum. Major Stewart and his wife Katharine were great collectors.

They made a total of eight world tours between 1906 and 1926, and brought a variety of interesting artefacts back with them.

On one of these tours, they visited the 1909 Seattle Exhibition, and it was here that Major Stewart obtained the Redwood tree for $100 and shipped it home.

So what did Major Stewart want with this huge piece of tree?

Well, a clue lies in the photograph, because if you look carefully, you can see there’s a doorway built into the side of the trunk. It is in fact a building made from the tree.

By this time, the gardens at Burnby Hall were already becoming a feature of the estate, with the two lakes having been created, and Major Stewart wanted the Redwood to be included in the garden as an office and den.

And so, it became just this for the remainder of Major Stewart’s life and, as can be seen from the photograph, he clearly made it a pleasant retreat to spend time in.

With the formation of the Burnby Hall Gardens Trust in 1964, two years after Major Stewart’s death, a remaining piece of the Redwood building was retained in the gardens as a reminder of a fascinating and unusual curiosity that was brought all the way from from America and used for many years by this equally amazing man.

Major Stewart’s collection of artefacts gathered during his world tours can be seen in the Stewart Museum at Burnby Hall Gardens, Pocklington. Visit www.burnbyhallgardens.com for more details.