Artists paint Sheffield war memorial trees threatened with felling for Armistice Day event

Artists at work on Western Road, Crookes
Artists at work on Western Road, Crookes

Artists and residents have gathered to mark Armistice Day by drawing and painting war memorial trees on a Sheffield street.

More than 100 people signed up to the art session which saw them given one of the 53 memorial trees on Western Road, in Crookes as the subject of their work.

The avenue of trees were planted in 1919 to honour former Westways School pupils who died during the First World War and some are earmarked for felling under the Streets Ahead contract.

The event kicked of with a silent procession made up of ex-service personal, Westway Primary pupils, residents and the participating artists along Western Road.

They made their way to a memorial plaque outside Westways Primary School for short service and a two minutes silence was observed and wreaths were laid.

The event was led by the Street Tree Art Sheffield, STARTS, group and artist Dan Llywelyn Hall, who visited the street in August to paint some of the trees due to be felled under the Sheffield Council contract.

Artists at work on Western Road, Crookes

Artists at work on Western Road, Crookes

He said: “I was concerned to learn of the plans to fell healthy trees which make up the recognised living war memorial on Western Road.

"Earlier this year I made a series of drawings of several trees on Western Road in order to draw attention to the trees imminent plight.

"I thought of the Armistice event as something that could engage a wider community and broaden the message.

"Sitting with the trees ,observing whilst drawing, helps you appreciate their individuality.

Artists at work on Western Road, Crookes

Artists at work on Western Road, Crookes

"Each tree was planted to represent an individual. They are more than living street furniture.”

Dan was commissioned to paint portraits of the last First World War veterans, Harry Patch and Henry Allingham, and has a continuing interest in preserving the memory of the war.

He added: "Next year will see the centenary of the end of World War One.

"I believe it is important to keep alive the memory of those who fought and died.

"A mature living, recognised war memorial such as the unique one on Western Road has a nationwide significance that we must fight to keep and maintain."

Among those who attended and took part in the art project was Marie Miller, who has lived on Western Road for 27 years.

She said: "I am so angry. I was horrified when I heard about the plans to cut down the trees.

"I thought they were talking about cutting one tree down. I couldn't believe it when I found out how many."

Mrs Miller said the trees were a huge influence on her decision to buy a house on the street.

"I used to visit a friend who lived on the top of the road and I loved the road because of the trees," she said.

"The First World War connection is a big thing but for me it's about the trees.

"For me it doesn't matter if they are memorial trees or not. If this was in London then this wouldn't be happening."

Sheffield Council's parks department is working with the Royal British Legion on plans for a series of monuments to honour the city's war dead.

Although the future of trees in Western Road is yest to be decided, the council says it has recognised people’s passion for commemoration, however, and wants to create new memorials in the city’s parks and open spaces so they are unaffected by any future highway works.

It has promised to plant about 300 new trees in time for the centenary of the end of the First World War next year.

Paul Johnson's uncle, Walter Johnson, is one of the men the trees are planted in memory of. He died in service in Belgium on December 23, 1917.

Mr Johnson, from Walkley, said: "The trees are a living war memorial and should stay.

"I would be very sad if they were to be cut down.

"I think if they had been treated and looked after as a war memorial from the beginning then it would never have come to this."

Lee and Jane Armstrong signed up with their daughter Esther, seven, to draw a tree close where they live on nearby Slinn Street.

Esther, a year three pupil at Westways Primary, said she loves the trees and playing in their leaves during autumn.

Mrs Armstrong said: "I've always read the plaque and realised the importance of the trees.

"It is brilliant that so many people have turned out to support the cause.

"The council needs to think about the people who they were planted for and the thought behind that."

Today's art event runs until 4pm.

A selection of the finished pieces will be included in a large exhibition encompassing art inspired by trees throughout the whole of Sheffield.

The exhibition, part of national Tree Week, is being organised by STARTS and supported by the Woodland Trust and runs from November 24 to December 3.