Stephen Newburgh

Member Article

Selling Yorkshire Christmas trees from under Oliver Cromwell's Nose

A major Christmas tree operation is now in full swing at Newburgh Priory in North Yorkshire, where the body of the man who tried to ban Christmas is buried.

Stephen Wombwell, owner of the historic Newburgh Priory at Coxwold, and his childhood friend and business partner, Wilf Standeven, have been growing Christmas trees on the estate for the last seven years.

Now they’re ready to slowly start selling them in bulk across the north of England for the first time this Christmas.

The fact that they’re doing this below the tomb containing Oliver Cromwell’s headless body, which lies in the attic, adds to the excitement.

Stephen commented: “He came in a bit by accident via marriage into the family history. But it’s actually rather fun selling Christmas trees almost from under his nose…if he had a nose here.”

Stephen decided to begin growing Christmas trees to diversify the estate’s income shortly after he took over the running of the priory from his father who retired in 2010.

He explained: “If all goes well, I am hoping that in a few years’ time, up to 20 per cent of my income will come from my share of the business, but at the moment it’s a waiting game. We’ve had seven years of growing trees with significant outgoings each year.”

“This year we are starting small and will be harvesting and selling between 1,500 and 2,000 trees, ranging from 5ft-7ft for the cut trees and about 3ft for the potted trees. They will be distributed across the north of England and will also be available here at Newburgh and at Methley, near Leeds, part of the Mexborough Estate.

The first Christmas tree seedlings were planted in the ground in 2012 and Newburgh is fast becoming one of the north-easts biggest Christmas tree growers with 220,000 trees planted across 110 acres.

Popular non-drop Nordmann fir trees make up 80 per cent of its crop. They also grow Fraser firs and Norway spruce plus a variety of potted trees for supermarkets. They currently source seedlings from Denmark.

So far, the pair have only sold trees via their own pop-up Christmas shop in the house. However, this year is the year they start selling wholesale.

“We can do it on a slightly smaller scale this year and practice all the things that are going to get bigger in years to come,” Wilf Standeven explained.

The trees will be cut and netted in the field, then moved about a mile where they will be put into pallets and on to lorries, which will distribute them to retailers in Yorkshire. The aim is to have trees delivered within about three days of being cut.

The operation at Newburgh currently employs a couple of people but it can grow to up to 12 people when they plant up to 35,000 trees in the spring and when they get into the full swing of harvesting. The number of jobs, particularly seasonal jobs, will increase further as the operation expands.

“We’re going to become a much more labour intensive business and it will end up being quite a good source of employment,” says Stephen Wombwell.

The Wombwells have owned the priory since 1538 when Henry VIII sold it to one of his chaplains, Anthony de Bellasis, as a “thank you” for helping with the dissolution.His nephew, Sir William, converted it into a home and there followed a procession of illustrious incumbents with armies of servants and abundant riches.

Cromwell’s daughter, Mary, married Newburgh’s Lord Fauconberg and is said to have paid a bribe for her father’s headless corpse to be stolen from the walls of the Tower of London.

A vengeful Charles II had Cromwell’s body dug up, beheaded and displayed when he returned from France.

The head is now in Sydney Sussex College, Cambridge. The remains were hidden in the rafters at Newburgh and family tradition states the tomb must never be opened so no-one can verify whether Cromwell is in it or not.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Robert Beaumont .

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