Explore Braunton - The Most Biodiverse Parish in England

The Cross Tree

The Cross Tree stood at the cross-roads in the centre of the village and was fondly regarded by the village community. It was the site of all open air gatherings and activities. It was a place for entertainment, meetings and a spot where travelling salesmen, quacks and craftsmen of all sorts could set up their pitch. Many people met and gossiped under the tree and it was something of a local institution. Sadly though, as the motor car became more widely used it was decided that the Cross Tree was in the way of the road and plans were made to cut the 300 year-old elm tree down.

The End of the Tree

On 7th February 1935, people flocked to see the end of the once proud tree.  They gathered to watch and to help dig a trench around its roots, before putting a rope around the trunk. A modern tractor was then employed to pull the tree down and at once the children swarmed over it, proudly posing for photographs of them sitting in top of the trunk. Everyone agreed it was a sad time though and a slab was placed in the pavement, which read “Here stood Cross Tree 1935”. Unfortunately the slab was not placed on the exact spot where the tree once stood, but it has provided conjecture for amateur historians ever since. The presence, or absence, of the tree from archive photographs has been useful for dating their origin.

John Lerwill's Website

Much more about the goings-on under the Cross Tree, as well as a wealth of memories about Braunton are provided on John Lerwill’s web-site, which describes life as experienced by the late A. H. Slee in his 'Victorian Days in a Devon Village', which was privately published in 1966. His book recorded the period since his early childhood in the 1880s. One excerpt goes as follows:

“The village barber's shop in Caen Street was of particular interest. It was the gathering place of young and old, especially on Saturday mornings. Hung on the wall was a large printed card: "No haircutting after 12 o'clock on Saturdays." The rest of the day the barber was kept busy giving the weekly shave to farm hands and sailors. Here all the local news and gossip was disseminated and the members of the Parish Council were ridiculed for what they had done and condemned for what they had left undone. One could get a haircut for 2d. and a shave for ld.

It was worth the price of a haircut and the long wait attending it to hear the conversation: sailors talking about their voyages, the fishermen talking about the "gurt salmon" they had caught; the farmers complaining about the "terrible bad times" and the cripples talking about the various concoctions for their rheumatics... I shall always remember the revolving brush our barber used after a haircut. When about to perform our barber called his niece into the saloon and, whilst she turned the wheel, the barber held the revolving brush with both hands and ran it over the victim's head.”

explore braunton, the most biodiverse parish in england - a north devon aonb project