Lambeth Tree Planting
Arboreal Tyndale

Report by Rowland Whitehead
June 2005

The sun shone brightly over south-east London, birds twittered from the trees in one of the city’s largest private gardens, the noise of passing traffic was muted and 18 members of the Tyndale Society were treated to a rare, indeed unique, occasion. His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams and our Chairman, Prof. David Daniell, jointly, and with appropriate skill, heaped rich Anglican soil over the roots of Davidia involucrata, trod in well the earth around the stem and wished this five foot high sapling a long and happy future.

The thought of planting a tree in Lambeth Palace garden occurred to me a year or two ago. Why not! Others have done it. Trees are very permanent things, they don’t walk away and they can be a reminder to future generations, maybe a hundred Sir Rowland Whitehead planting Handkerchief tree years hence, of an occasion, an individual or a cause. In William Tyndale we have all three.

Derek Fullarton, Administrative Secretary to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Alistair Cook, the Garden Manager, Sue Madden, his assistant, Malcolm Playford, gardener and Sarah Williams Head of Public Relations — there seemed to be quite a lot of people involved. All were helpful, all were charming and the logistics were sorted out very quickly. We were told that Dr Williams would be delighted to have a ‘Tyndale Tree’ in the garden and he would personally participate in the planting. Dates were suggested and agreed.

The question of what tree to plant was rather trickier. There really is no particular tree associated with Tyndale. He does mention the oak tree but only in the context of the ‘Ivy of Catholicism growing up and smothering it’ — not, we felt, exactly the way it should be at Lambeth. Finally we settled on the ‘Handkerchief Tree’, Davidia involucrata in its Linnean state, which is rather an unusual and very beautiful tree flowering in Maytime. The tree is somewhat of a ‘one off ’ since the genus contains one species and is the only member of the family. Suitable for Tyndale, we thought.

The Handkerchief Tree gets its name from the huge white bracts that accompany the clusters of quite small inconspicuous flowers. In years to come we hope that we will have opportunities to see the Tyndale Tree in flower. It will be spectacular.

Dr Williams and his wife greeted us and we were happy to introduce to them Nicholas Tyndale who is a fourteenth generation descendant of Tyndale’s brother. The Lambeth gardens were looking beautiful and the temptation to sink into a deck chair, surrounded by ten acres of green heaven and watch the red tops of the double-deckers quietly slipping past beyond the wall, must be considerable … but the Anglican Church, and particularly our Archbishop, has a busy schedule. We are thus all the more grateful to Dr Williams for the time that he gave and the enthusiasm he displayed at our ceremony.

David Daniell spoke of the pleasure this planting afforded the Society and the significance of having such a tree in memory of William Tyndale in the gardens of Lambeth Palace. ‘Tyndale must be smiling down on us from Heaven’ he said. Dr Williams reminded us of Tyndale’s mission and some background to Père Armand David, the French missionary who brought back a specimen from China of the tree which bears his name. He then said a short prayer for the Church, the man whose memory we were celebrating today and, indeed, also for the well being of Davidia involucrata.

The Archbishop’s spadework was deft and while Sue Madden, the Assistant Garden Manager, held the tree upright in its hole a very large quantity of soil was transferred. Our Chairman then took over followed by Nicholas Tyndale. After some necessary treading in we all returned to the Palace for refreshments with Dr Williams and his wife. There was, with us, a happy feeling that due and lasting tribute had been paid to one of England’s greatest men.

This ceremony on behalf of the Tyndale Society, the first tree planting ceremony in the Lambeth Palace Garden by the present Archbishop, took place at 4pm on Friday 10 June 2005