Spirit of Trees 3

This afternoon I went up to Calderstones Park to take a look at the ‘Spirit of Trees’ in Harthill Copse, a ‘live’ art installation celebrating the life of trees, produced by UrbanCanvas and the children of Broadgreen Primary School as part of  Liverpool’s Year of the Environment Celebrations, 2009. I created a certain of mayhem by arriving with the dog, who was immediately mobbed by the kids, who abandoned their artworks.

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This from the programme notes for the event:

Over 4000 years ago the first scousers settled in the suburbs of Liverpool. They were famers who worked the land and respected the environment. They built magnificent stone clad tombs and decorated them with beautiful fine art carvings featuring spirals and strange symbols.

The Calderstones, now housed in the Harthill Greenhouses, Calderstones Park represent some of the oldest rock art ever found in the north west of England….the land around the Calderstones is still being farmed to this day and at Harthill Allotments in Liverpool’s Year of the Environment; this is our inspiration for The Spirit of Trees. Internationally renowned artists UrbanCanvas together with over 30 children from Broadgreen Primary School will be decorating over 50 trees in Harthill Copse, part of Harthill Allotments…..the works will be temporary using coloured earths, chalks and environmentally friendly paints, we will be drawing on inspirations from ancient cultures and civilisations from around the world.

Spirit of Trees 3

We have no proof but we suspect that ancient cultures marked the trunks of trees with strange markings and art to mark out territory or simply to evoke the spirits of the woodland and nature….the ancient Celts used to bury food under trees in the Autumn in thanks for a good harvest……..today we celebrate the coming October and Winter and the closing of Liverpool’s Year of the Environment with The Spirit of Trees….if trees could talk what tales would they tell?

The aim of the event is to highlight the role of allotments as centres of green thinking, creativity and learning for the whole community and over 4000 years of working the land…..the ‘grow your own’ philosophy and healthy living together with the value of ‘wild’ spaces set aside for nature….tiny woodlands matter

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Harthill Copse, where the event took place, is tucked away in a corner of Harthill Allotments in Calderstones Park. The tiny reserve has been created on two plots after a campaign persuaded Liverpool City Council to preserve the area for nature. The reserve is home to mature trees and thousands of native British bluebells, wild narcissus and snowdrops have been planted. Gardeners have also introduced red campion, nettle-leafed bellflowers, greater stitchwort, foxglove and agrimony to the copse. A variety of nest boxes, bat boxes and a bird-feeding station are dotted around the woodland. More than 30 bird species, including goldcrest, nuthatch, lesser spotted woodpecker and a family of bluetits, have been recorded along with foxes, stoats, woodmice, short tailed voles and hedgehogs. Catherine McMahon, who helps looks after the copse with fellow allotment holders, said: ‘It is a fabulous place. There are about six volunteers who look after it. It is all about improving the biodiversity of the site’.


Afterwards I strolled over to have a look at the Calderstones, looking sadly neglected in their dilapidated greenhouse, behind a padlocked entrance. The Calderstones are six sandstone blocks of varying size which originally formed part of a small megalithic tomb, the tumulus of which, together with other stones, was removed early in the nineteenth century. The public once had access to the  stones, displayed in the Harthill Botanic Greenhouses before they were destroyed in the early 1980s.

In the neolithic period (c.4,500-2,500 B.C.) there was a shift to a more settled farming economy. Whereas much of south west Lancashire consisted of  areas of boulder clay, with heavy woodland, lakes and bogs, the Allerton area had much better-drained soils overlying an elevated bed of sandstone. This land could be cleared more easily, enabling farming and small settlements to become established.

The ‘Caldway’ stones are first recorded on a map drawn up in a dispute between Allerton and Wavertree regarding the township boundary. At this time the burial mound, of which the stones were part, was still intact. Following the boundary dispute, little is known about the Calderstones until the 18th century when the site was partially destroyed.

In 1896 the Daily Post printed this letter:

‘About twenty years ago, my gardener, John Peers, who was a member of an old local family, a most trustworthy, honest, and intelligent man, who died a few years ago at over ninety years of age, informed me, in reply to questions I asked him as to local antiquities, customs, and conditions of the neighbourhood, that he had begun his work on Calderstones Farm as a boy of about fourteen years of age. He remembered the Calderstones well, before they were set up in their present position. The roads at that time were narrow country lanes. At this place there are four cross roads, and the stones lay upon a large mound at the roadside, high above the road, on (as far as I could make out the position) the south side. Only a few of the larger stones could be seen lying flat near the top, partly buried in the earth, and a few of the points of the other stones. Upon this mound, in the summer, after work, and on Sundays, the boys and men from the neighbouring farms would come and lie in the sun. It was the fashion for the boys to cut their names and initials on the stones, and the patterns of their boots. He had marked his own foot upon the stone. He well remembered the mound being destroyed. They were widening the road about the time it was done away with. When they dug down into it they found more of the stones, and the marked ones were among them.

In 1845 Joseph Walker of Calderstone House had an  enclosing wall for the Calderstones built near the entrance to his carriage drive. Today, this low circular wall still lies at the junction of Calderstones Road and Menlove Avenue (between the lodge and the entrance to the Park, the former carriage drive). The precise site of the mound is unknown, although it is generally acknowledged that it stood very close to Walker’s circular wall.

The Calderstones remained inside Walker’s wall for 109 years, weathered and eroded by industrial pollution, until 1954, when the City authorities decided to remove them for cleaning and preservation. The exposed surfaces of the six surviving stones had now considerably deteriorated, and were discoloured by soot. The markings  were analysed and latex moulds were made of the stones and carvings, which both enabled a precise record to be made and also highlight other worn carvings which were not previously visible. The carvings were placed into six categories; spirals, concentric circles, arcs, cup marks, cup and ring marks and footprints. There is also evidence of post medieval and modern graffiti. Several of the carvings are similar to examples found in Anglesey and Ireland. The similarities indicate the possibility of the cultural influences spreading from Ireland to this region via North Wales around 4,000 years ago. The footprint carvings are more unusual however, and are rarely associated with megalithic tombs. Several date from the Bronze Age and examples are known in Ireland, Scotland and Scandinavia, although the closest similarities are found on a tomb in Brittany.

It is fairly certain that the Calder Stones were part of a burial mound, a tumulus in the form of a passage grave. Construction and arrangement of the tombs varied on a regional basis and it appears that Calderstones is again most comparable to those found on Anglesey and the Boyne Valley, all which date from the neolithic period. The mound appears to have been quite high and may have been similar in appearance the two burial sites on Anglesey, known as Bryn Celli Ddu and Barclodiad y Gawres. Both sites are passage graves and the latter possesses similar carvings to those on the Calderstones.

In 1964 the six stones were moved to their present site in the Harthill Greenhouse vestibule in Calderstones Park where they were erected in random order.

These stones are probably older than Stonehenge.  Surely they deserve to be displayed more prominently and in a more fitting manner?


4 thoughts on “The Spirit of Trees and the Calderstones

  1. Thanks for the blog Jerry….good to have you come down and look around…the trees look great, thanks to all the kids for getting invovled….should be a piece in the Liverpool Echo next week and City Mag….the free city council magazine!

  2. Hi Jerry,
    Sorry i wasn’t able to talk with you more but as you saw the event was really busy with the pupils from Broadgreen Primary. You’ve taken some lovely shots and we really appreciated you coming along to the event. The real star of the show was your lovely dog who insisted on captivating the children. Many thanks for some great photos and insight history into the Calderstones! Will keep you posted of any further creative happenings in Harthill Copse :0)

  3. In a recent post, Phillip Battle reports that the copse is under threat and likely to be chopped down, strangely as the result of moves by a Green councillor and her supporters (http://philipbattle.wordpress.com/2010/01/26/green-party-harthill-copse/#comment-12). I’m really sory to hear about this, having enjoyed the brief time I spent in the copse last summer. What are the reasons behind this? If it’s the shortage of allotments (there are long waiting lists, for certain) then there’s plenty of waste land in the city crying out to be put to a useful purpose – see my post here: https://gerryco23.wordpress.com/2009/07/13/radical-nature/

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