Tag Archives: Trees

Cataloguing the Common Ground archive: ‘Trees, Woods and the Green Man’ and ‘Field Days’

The Common Ground archive cataloguing project is now nearing its end and the final two sections of project material – relating to the Trees, Woods and the Green Man project and the Field Days project – have been catalogued. Read on to find out more about these projects and the archive material relating to them.

Trees, Woods and the Green Man

Common Ground started work on the Trees, Woods and the Green Man project in 1986. The aim of the project was to raise awareness of ‘the importance of trees by exploring their aesthetic, spiritual and cultural value as well as their ecological importance’ (King, A and Clifford, S (eds),’Trees be Company’ (1989), p. xi). Throughout the project, Common Ground commissioned works by sculptors, artists, writers, poets and playwrights to explore themes around trees and woods. In 1989, Common Ground won the Prudential Award for Excellence in the Visual Arts for its work on the Trees, Woods and the Green Man project. Common Ground used the prize of £25,000 to commission further sculptural works, including works by Peter Randall-Page. Common Ground also collaborated with sculptors and artists to produce exhibitions about trees and the arts, including ‘The Tree of Life: New Images of an Ancient Symbol’ in 1989 and ‘Leaves’ by Andy Goldsworthy in 1989-1990. Furthermore, the project generated new campaigns and initiatives, such as the campaign to let fallen or damaged trees recover after the ‘Great Storm’ of 1987, and the initiative to develop a new calendar custom called Tree Dressing Day (you can find out more about Tree Dressing Day in our blog post: Tracing the ‘roots’ of Tree Dressing Day in the Common Ground archive). Common Ground produced several publications as part of the Trees, Woods and the Green Man project, including ‘Trees Be Company: An Anthology of Poetry’ (1989 and 2001), ‘In a Nutshell: A manifesto for trees and a guide to growing and protecting them’ (1990), and a special edition broadsheet newspaper ‘Pulp! with contributions from actors, authors, artists and cartoonists (1989)’, as well as a range of leaflets and postcards.

Promotional material relating to the Tree Dressing Day initiative (EUL MS 416/PRO/4/4/1)

Material in this sub-section of the archive includes:

  • files of assorted material relating to the administration of the Trees, Woods and the Green Man project by Common Ground;
  • material relating to the Tree Dressing initiative;
  • material relating to Trees, Woods and the Green Man arts initiatives (including artistic commissions, literary commissions, exhibitions, and events), which include papers relating to Common Ground’s work with artists such as Andy Goldsworthy and David Nash, amongst others;
  • material relating to Trees, Woods and the Green Man publications and promotional material produced by Common Ground, including ‘Trees Be Company’, ‘In a Nutshell’, and ‘Pulp!;
  • press clippings and material relating to publicity of the Trees, Woods and the Green Man project;
  • research material, including general research material about trees, reports and publications produced by governmental and environmental bodies, and research material concerning the Great Storm of October 1987;
  • and photographic material.

You can find the full catalogue description of the Trees, Woods and the Green Man section here or by clicking the image below.

This section of the archive may be of particular interest to anyone researching Common Ground’s collaborations with sculptors, artists, writers, actors, poets and playwrights, as the project involved a large number of commissions. The material relating to the commissions includes correspondence, press clippings, photographs and – in some cases – interviews with sculptors about their work.

There were several personal highlights for me in this section of the archive. I particularly enjoyed a file containing questionnaires completed by local authority tree officers, which gave insight (and some amusing anecdotes!) into common perceptions and complaints from the public about trees. The archive material relating to the Tree Dressing initiative is also fascinating, and includes correspondence, reports, and a large number of beautiful photographs of Tree Dressing events held around the UK in the 1990s. And I was excited to recognise some famous names in this section of the archive! Files concerning Common Ground’s special-edition newspaper ‘Pulp!’ include letters from those invited to contribute to the newspaper, including Victoria Wood, Martin Amis and Germaine Greer.

Field Days

The Field Days project was launched in 1995 to highlight the historical, cultural and social importance of fields, to celebrate their contribution to local distinctiveness, and to encourage people to take a more active role in their conservation. A variety of publications were produced by Common Ground as part of the Field Days project, including postcards, leaflets, pamphlets, and a book entitled ‘Field Days: An Anthology of Poetry’ (1998). A major initiative of the project was to highlight and uncover the variety of field names in the UK, and to encourage people to research, restore and celebrate the field names in their local areas. In July 1996, Common Ground was commissioned by the Department of the Environment to produce a laminated panel exhibition on the subject of Field Days for the Royal Agricultural Show, which was subsequently available for hire. In addition, Common Ground launched a Field Days poetry competition in partnership with Blue Nose Poetry, and collaborated with theatre groups, writers, poets, artists, craftspeople, photographers, and local communities to explore different ways of engaging with the diverse stories a field might tell.

Publications and promotional material produced for the Field Days project (EUL MS 416/PRO/11/2/7)

Material in this sub-section of the archive includes:

  • assorted papers relating to the administration of the Field Days project, including correspondence, project outlines and project planning papers; project reports; funding applications; papers relating to Field Days publications produced by Common Ground, including drafts; papers relating to field names; papers relating to field events; and research material press clippings, and notes;
  • promotional material and publications produced by Common Ground for the Field Days project, including flyers, postcards, leaflets, press releases, pamphlets and books, as well as papers concerning the content, design and printing of publications;
  • papers relating to the Field Days panel exhibition, which was first displayed at the Royal Agricultural Show in 1996 and subsequently went on tour and was available for hire;
  • papers relating to the Field Days poetry competition in 1997, which was organised by Common Ground in collaboration with Blue Nose Poetry;
  • material relating to arts initiatives concerning fields and the Field Days project, including responses from artists interested in being involved in the Field Days project and wishing to be added to Common Ground’s ‘of visual and performing artists, craftspeople and photographers who are interested in expressing and celebrating / documenting the cultural significance of the field in the British landscape’;
  • press clippings and material relating to publicity of the Field Days project, including promotional material, summaries of press coverage, correspondence, and two cassette tape audio recordings of radio interviews;
  • research material relating to fields, including field names and scarecrows;
  • and 18 slide storage sheets containing 35mm photographic slide transparencies relating to the Field Days project.

You can find the full catalogue description of the Field Days section here or by clicking the image below.

In the final few weeks of the cataloguing project, I’ll be looking to make the Common Ground’s general papers relating to administration, correspondence, finance and research more accessible. And I will look forward to writing to you again soon with my final blog post of the project!

By Annie Price, Project Archivist

Why not start your exploration of the Common Ground archive via our online archives catalogue today?

You can also find out more about the Common Ground archive cataloguing project by taking a look back at our previous blog posts

Cataloguing the Common Ground archive: ‘New Milestones’ and ‘Flora Britannica’

Since my last cataloguing update, I’ve been working on two further sections of the Common Ground archive. They relate to the New Milestones project and the Flora Britannica project – two very different, but very interesting projects run by Common Ground in the 1980s and 1990s. Read on to find out more about these projects and the material relating to them in the Common Ground archive.

New Milestones

The New Milestones project was launched by Common Ground in 1986 to explore ‘what places mean to the people who live in them, and…how to express that meaning in an imaginative and accessible way through sculpture’ (‘New Milestones: Sculpture, Community and the Land’, 1988, p. 15). The aim of the project was to support local communities in commissioning a sculpture to celebrate and draw attention to an aspect of their local landscape. The project involved close collaboration between Common Ground, local communities and sculptors to create permanent works of art with significance for present and future inhabitants.

Publications and promotional material for the New Milestones project (EUL MS 416/PRO/3/2/6)

The pilot phase of the project took place in Dorset, where five sculptures were produced by Christine Angus, Andy Goldsworthy, John Maine, Peter Randall-Page, and Simon Thomas between 1985 and 1988. Later, the project was extended to Yorkshire, where a series of sculptures were produced by Alain Ayers and Richard Farrington. The last sculptures commissioned as part of the New Milestones project were produced by Michael Fairfax in Somerset. A conference and exhibition about the New Milestones project was held at the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester between 16 July and 3 September 1988. In addition, a book by Joanna Morland (Project Officer) with an introduction by Sue Clifford and Angela King (Co-Founders and Co-Directors of Common Ground), entitled ‘New Milestones: Sculpture, Community and the Land” was published in 1988.

Material in this section of the archive comprises project administration files, including correspondence with local communities and sculptors; printed material relating to promotion and publicity of the project; and photographic material, including photographs of the sculptors at work. You can find the full catalogue description for the New Milestones section here or by clicking the image below.

Flora Britannica

Flora Britannica was a project launched by Richard Mabey with the support of Common Ground, which ran from 1992 to 1996. The project sought to discover the diversity and distribution of plantlife in Britain, as well as to record and explore the historical and contemporary associations and uses of plants, including information about customs, stories, recipes, remedies, and games. It had two aims: to produce a major book concerning the cultural flora of modern Britain, and to start a process of popular interest and activity at the local level, carried out by people all around the country. Invitations for people to share their knowledge of local plants were circulated on television and radio, as well as in newspapers, magazines and local newsletters. Common Ground and Richard Mabey received thousands of responses.

Publications and promotional material for the Flora Britannica project (EUL MS 416/PRO/7)

The major output of this project was Richard Mabey’s encyclopedia of wild plants of the UK, which was entitled ‘Flora Britannica’ and published by Sinclair Stevenson in 1996. Richard Mabey incorporated the information sent in by people from across the country. Other related publications published in the course of this project include two pamphlets entitled ‘Flora Britannica: The Handbook’ (1992) and ‘Local Flora Britannica’ (1995), as well as a Flora Britannica newsletter named ‘Woodbine’. In addition, throughout 1994, 1995 and 1996, Common Ground encouraged people to reinforce and renew their affections for everyday plants through initiatives the charity named ‘local floras’, which included a pilot project in Northamptonshire.

Material in the Flora Britannica section of the archive comprises project administration files; correspondence; papers relating to the pilot project in Northamptonshire; papers relating to publications and promotional material; and press clippings and publicity material. You can find the full catalogue description for the Flora Britannica section here or by clicking the image below.

A particular highlight of the archive material relating to the Flora Britannica project are the thousands of letters about local flora from people around the country. These letters contain fascinating details about biodiversity and the cultural connotations of plants, and the correspondents often enclosed related material, such as photographs or pressed flowers. Common Ground originally organised this correspondence alphabetically within office transfer spring files, which were stored vertically. This is not suitable storage for these papers, so for preservation purposes, these files have now been repackaged into 66 acid-free folders within 10 boxes, and all rusty fastening have been removed. In doing so, I hope this valuable resource will be available for people to consult in years to come. You can see the repackaging process in the photographs below.

Photographs showing the repackaging process of correspondence in the Flora Britannica section of the archive

The cataloguing of these sections of the archive were completed between November and December 2019, and descriptions of all the files are now available on our online catalogue – do go and have a look! Since January I have been cataloguing material relating to Common Ground’s Orchards project and Field Days project. Pop by again soon for the next update on the cataloguing project!

By Annie Price, Project Archivist

Why not start your exploration of the Common Ground archive via our online archives catalogue today?

You can also find out more about the Common Ground archive cataloguing project by taking a look back at our previous blog posts.

Tracing the ‘roots’ of Tree Dressing Day in the Common Ground archive

In December 1990, the arts and environmental charity Common Ground introduced a new annual custom which it called ‘Tree Dressing Day’. ‘Tree Dressing Day’ was envisioned by Common Ground as a day for people to decorate and celebrate trees in their local area. It was to be held on the first weekend of December of each year, neatly coinciding with the already existing National Tree Week. As the first weekend of December 2018 approaches, I delve into the Common Ground archive to find out how it all began…

Promotional material in the archive relating to ‘Tree Dressing Day’

Common Ground started work on its Trees, Woods and the Green Man project in 1986. In a leaflet preserved in the archive, the charity explains the meaning and purpose behind the project:

‘They [trees] have been our friends through the ages and they have helped us make sense of the world. They are important economically, socially and ecologically and they are deeply part of many cultures. They need our help now, not just in the tropical forests, but here in the street and down the lane…Common Ground’s work around Trees, Woods and the Green Man is trying to give information and ideas to help you to look at the trees around you and think of ways to involve yourself and others in celebrating and caring for them. Make every tree a wanted tree.’ (Reference: EUL MS 416/PRO/4, File 2.1)

The project resulted in a variety of activities and events, including publications, exhibitions, and artistic commissions. It was also from the Trees, Woods and the Green Man project that the new calendar custom ‘Tree Dressing Day’ emerged.

‘Tree Dressing Day’ files in the Common Ground archive

Early research by Common Ground into the custom of dressing trees revealed that it had existed for centuries in many different forms all around the world. This inspired the charity to launch its own ‘Tree Dressing Day’, providing advice and encouraging people to decorate trees in their neighbourhoods. The first ‘Tree Dressing Day’ was celebrated in 1990, and the custom has proven to be sustainable, with celebrations continuing to the present day. The success of the initiative and Common Ground’s enthusiasm for it are indicated in a report dated February 1993, in which Common Ground writes:

‘There is excitement among us that we may have begun the reinvention of a tradition in which young and old, professional and amateur, all cultures and places city and country can share. And in which the seeds of the social and public celebration of trees…becomes an easy first step to long term shared commitment and care’. (Reference: EUL MS 416/PRO/4, Report on Tree Dressing Day in 1992, File 1.4)

The Common Ground archive contains a significant amount of material relating to ‘Tree Dressing Day’, including correspondence, reports, press releases, photographs, research material, promotional material and press clippings. It even includes some decorations that were used to dress trees! This section of the Common Ground archive will be catalogued in the course of the next two years, making this exciting material much easier to discover and access.

Archivist Annie showing Sue, one of our volunteers, decorations in the Common Ground the archive that were made by the UK Asian Women Conference for ‘Tree Dressing Day’ (c 1992 or 1993)

Find out more about ‘Tree Dressing Day’ on the Common Ground website, which also includes some lovely images.

Why not start your exploration of the Common Ground archive via our online catalogue today? Simply search ‘Common Ground’ or the reference number ‘EUL MS 416’.

You can also find out more about the Common Ground archive cataloguing project by taking a look back at our previous blog posts.

By Annie Price, Project Archivist

Cataloguing Update! [December 2020]

The archive material relating to Tree Dressing Day has now been catalogue. The material relating to Tree Dressing Day includes project proposals, event information forms, correspondence, reports, press releases, promotional material, press clippings, photographs, and research material. You can browse record descriptions on our online catalogue here.