How old is that Yew Tree

The tree in question is the yew to the east of Old Church, described by the Vicar in 1940 as having a girth of 23 feet and deemed by some “to be more than a thousand years old.” The Verger Jim Saunders and I measured our yew again not long ago and found its girth to be about 25 feet (300 inches), that is, a growth of 24 inches in 60 years or two-fifths of an inch per annum. If it has always grown at this rate, our yew is 750 years old.

But, we recall seeing a letter in a country magazine pointing out that most yews grow at about half an inch a year for about 400 years and then gradually drop back to an average of only one inch every ten years. The writer added, somewhat gratuitously, that without a record of its growth from the start and details of its location “it is very difficult to estimate the age of a large yew”.

However, it is equally difficult to resist using these figures on our girth of 300 inches; thus 200 inches at half an inch a year gives us 400 years and the remaining 100 inches at one inch per ten years gives us another 1,000 years. This handsome figure of 1,400 years more than justifies popular belief in 1940. It might in fact be an under-estimate for in 1994 new calculations carried the figure to 1,700 years.

There may be many other churchyard yews as old as this, but there cannot be many which have survived a fire, as ours did. The Vicar in 1940, Rev J. le H du Heaume, recorded in his Parish Guide that “it had a narrow escape on July 6th, 1939, when it was discovered to be on fire and, but for the speedy intervention of the Vicar and Miss Amphlett, the People’s Warden, who immediately summoned the Fire Brigade, it would have been burned to the ground and in all possibility, taken the Church nearby with it. But with the firemen’s help, the raging fire in the hollow trunk was extinguished”. And so it lived to be measured another day.

[from: Penallt Revisited]