Even though we lived in a south western suburb of Birmingham I felt a strong connection to nature. A chain-link fence ‘protected’ us from the wilds of neighbouring Welsh House Farm, it was a thrill to climb through a gap in the fence, to enter a secret world and to explore the overgrown fields and tumbledown buildings. Life in the grove was pretty uneventful, until one day I was woken up by the sound of unearthly screams. In one swift movement I threw back the bri-nylon sheet, blanket and candlewick bedspread and jumped out of bed.
Cool early morning light shone down the wall from beneath grey cotton curtains emblazoned with red, green, blue and yellow steam trains. Cautiously I peeped out between the curtains, by now the screaming had turned to an unpleasant chugging noise like an impatient lawn mower. I opened the curtains to find a scene of peace and quiet in the back garden. “Eeeeooow zzzzzow” I ran into my brother’s bedroom, the noise was louder, I still couldn’t see anything. I retrieved my slippers and ran to the front door, it was wide open. Gingerly I went out into the hallway of the building. The sounds were deafening, rebounding from wall to floor to ceiling, up and down the stairs making the painted metal balusters sing.
One of the neighbours was standing in the doorway to the front of the flats, I squeezed past her to join my mother and younger brother standing among a disorderly group of onlookers with silent faces gawping at the source of the noise. Just beyond an army of battered, yellow, monster JCB diggers, that weren’t there yesterday, a man wielding a smoke breathing chainsaw was slicing into the bark of my beloved horse chestnut tree. With wide movements he was making cuts into the side of the defenceless tree that had provided tons of conkers for us to collect, pickle, skewer and thread onto strings. In what seemed like a few moments a gruff voice told us to keep back. Obediently we shuffled back a couple of inches. There was a creaking and groaning followed by “snap, whoosh, thunk, rustle” as my friendly giant lay gracefully down.
By tea time the tree’s tangled branches and strong protective trunk lay lifeless on the ground, ready to be loaded onto trucks and taken away. On the following day the diggers removed the stump, churning up the surrounding grass in the process. By the end of the week calm had returned to the grove, however the diggers stood ominously in the spot where I used to evade capture in games of hide-and-seek. A foreboding washed through me as I wept for the loss of my friend.
Five images of Welsh House Farm by Nicklin, Phyllis (1961) (Unpublished images) University of Birmingham: Welsh House Farm