26 Apr


Timber from the Sycamore tree has a pale delicate hue with a fine close grain ideally suited for carving and cabinetry. It especially suited the terms of this commission – to support an octagonal alabaster tile inlaid with semi precious stones and abalone shell – which deserves to be displayed in all its finery. The design of the table came about as an attempt to reflect the cursive designs of the lotus flowers on the tile without in any way detracting from the star piece, the tile itself.

Sycamore is an invading tree species, thought to have been introduced over 400 years ago from central Europe, unless it is managed properly it can come to dominate our native broadleaf woodlands and parks because of its ability to come in to leaf quickly and hog the light. Large palmate leaves produce a dense canopy through which little light penetrates, making life difficult for our native woodland plants like bluebell, wood anemone and lesser celandine. This same property makes the tree a welcome guest in farms – their luxuriant summer foliage provides livestock and dairies with a welcome and cooling shade.

The sycamore is a survivor. A hardy immigrant to the British Isles, it can withstand salty sea spray, cold winters, shady conditions, almost any type of soil and usually flourishes wherever it grows. I too am an immigrant.

I was born under a tropic sun in Kano, NIgeria, near the southern tip of the Sahara I emigrated to Britain, never having seen snow before. The first thing anyone said to me when I went to school in Matlock was “Why aren’t you black?” I did not understand the question at all, as I had hitherto grown up as an African.

Accra 1963


I am second left from the back, and no, the lady on the back row is not the class teacher, the lady at the front is. I consider myself a pale man with a dark heart, contrariwise the sycamore is a tree, dark externally but revealing a pale heart.


It is not known when Acer pseudoplatanus was introduced to Britain but suggestions range from Roman times until as late at the 17th century. I was introduced here in 1964. I quite liked snow.

There was certainly a Sycamore in Dorset in 1834 when a group of labourers met under a sycamore and formed a society to protest against their falling wages. While trade unions were legal by this point, swearing oaths in a society were not, and the members were arrested and found guilty. The Tolpuddle Martyrs, as they were to become known, were subsequently transported to Australia, although they were released within two years. The Tolpuddle Tree has recently been dated and was found to have been around 150 years old when the meeting took place. This puts the tree, which still stands today, at around 320 years, far exceeding the common estimate of 200 years for the tree’s lifespan.

The tree which yielded the timber for this table was about 180 years old, it would have been a sapling around the time Samuel Holberry was a young man. Born 1816, he was a member of the Chartist Movement in Sheffield – an organisation set up to bring democracy, safe working conditions and fair wages to the working classes – he died, broken on the wheel in York prison in 1842 aged 26 after being involved in a plot for armed resistance against the ruling classes – betrayed by a co-worker. Visit his grave in Sheffield’s glorious General Cemetery and read the magnificent epitaph on the expensive headstone made from Brincliffe Blue stone paid for by the workers of Sheffield and chosen by his widow. He lies under the shade of many sycamore trees.

The sycamore, or Acer pseudoplatanus, is a resilient and adaptable tree, which grows quickly and seems impervious to harsh weather and pollution. It is an immigrant, like me. Perhaps being a common immigrant is not so bad, if the core of such a being produces shade for cows, materials suitable for violin backs, or a celebration table for an Indian tile?

One Response to “Sycamore”

  1. May 9, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

    Wow that was strange. I just wrote an very long comment but after I
    clicked submit my comment didn’t show up. Grrrr… well I’m not
    writing all that over again. Anyhow, just wanted to
    say superb blog!

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