World Love a Tree Day: the Cheapside Plane Tree

As we celebrate World Love a Tree Day (16th May), there's no better time to appreciate the beauty and importance of trees in our lives. From providing shade on a hot day to purifying the air we breathe, trees play a vital role in sustaining our natural environment.

On this day of appreciation for our leafy friends, we took a closer look at one of London's most iconic trees - the Cheapside plane tree in the City of London. This iconic tree has stood in Cheapside for over 300 years, and its story is intertwined with the history of London.

the Cheapside plane treeAbove: walking down Wood Street you can see the branches of the tree stretching out over the street

A Living Piece of London's Past

Believed to have been planted in the late 17th century, the Cheapside plane tree is one of the oldest and largest trees in the City of London. It is a testament to the resilience and adaptability of nature, as it has survived several centuries of urban re-development and pollution.

The square where it stands was the site of a medieval church (St Peter Cheap) that burned down during the Great Fire of London.

Cheapside plane treeAbove: the tree from below, as seen at the start of Spring this year

Nobody knows quite how many years this tree has stood overlooking Cheapside, but it is thought to be the oldest tree in the City of London, or at least one of the oldest!

A literary tribute to London's iconic Cheapside plane tree

Although the true age of the tree is unknown, the corner of Wood Street is referenced in William Wordsworth's poem "The Reverie of Poor Susan," which was written in 1797. 

At the corner of Wood Street, when daylight appears,
Hangs a Thrush that sings loud, it has sung for three years:
Poor Susan has passed by the spot, and has heard
In the silence of morning the song of the Bird.  

'Tis a note of enchantment; what ails her? She sees
A mountain ascending, a vision of trees;
Bright volumes of vapour through Lothbury glide,
And a river flows on through the vale of Cheapside.

Green pastures she views in the midst of the dale,
Down which she so often has tripped with her pail;
And a single small cottage, a nest like a dove's,
The one only dwelling on earth that she loves.

She looks, and her heart is in heaven: but they fade,
The mist and the river, the hill and the shade:
The stream will not flow, and the hill will not rise,
And the colours have all passed away from her eyes!

Wordsworth doesn’t mention a tree directly but speaks of a songbird hanging – possibly from a tree’s branches. In the poem, “Poor Susan” reminisces about her past and recalls memories of hearing a thrush sing in the early morning.

An image published alongside an 1855 article in The Newport and Market Drayton Advertiser shows the tree at a great height, shadowing over the buildings below to suggest it had been there for many, many years.


The wood street plane treeAbove: The Cheapside plane tree (1855)
image copyright The British Library Board


Where to find the Cheapside plane tree

Today the tree enjoys listed status, protecting it for generations to come. It continues to provide a home for a variety of wildlife, including birds and insects, and is a popular spot for visitors to relax and enjoy the shade.

The Cheapside plane tree on wood streetAbove: the tree on the corner of Wood Street

To get to the Cheapside plane tree, head to Cheapside in the City of London. The tree stands in front of the One New Change shopping centre, at the corner of Wood Street. You can take the underground to St. Paul's station or Bank station and walk from there.

Next time you're in the area, be sure to take a moment to visit this historic tree and appreciate the wonders of nature in the heart of the city.