Approaching the Dark Arch, the long curved tunnel, from Aberford you pass by a beech tree on the right which was grafted by a talented woodman many decades ago to form the letter "N", (story here ) However a little further towards the tunnel are the remnants of two once mighty beech trees which are peculiar in that they have been cleverly crafted to form a spread of boughs into a saucer or bowl shape roughly eight feet from the ground. It is not immediately obvious why this may have been done, except I imagine for decorative effect, but a recent purchase of a postcard titled "The Aberford Ash", caused me to reflect on the location and a visit brought out that the area once featured many large trees. Moreover continuing in a line from the two existing trees are the well rotted stumps of three more large trees, each with a girth of around twelve feet or more.
There must have been a line of trees forming a kind of canopy of which only two remain and these have grown out of their original shape and have been so chopped up that it would not be obvious of the intent of their [Gascoignes] original design. The postcard having mention of the tree as "The Aberford Ash" suggests it to be a well known local feature lost to memory with the passage of time. The rotting stumps continue from the two extant trees towards the tunnel and it is the last one which may be a candidate for the location of the tree from the postcard.
Looking closely the tree is surrounded by a trelis and from an earlier excursion to Seaton Delaval Hall in Northumberland I recall there being a resplendent weeping ash in the recently restored gardens of the hall, thought to be over 270 years old. Similarly the Aberford tree would have been of high a status, likely to be found within the gardens of a country mansion house. The trelis forms a kind of espalier to support the cascading down branches, giving the whole thing a manicured form.
If the tree from Seaton Delaval is around 270 years old then certainly the Aberford Ash would be of a similar age or possibly older looking at the girth of the trunk. So that takes us back from say the early part of the twentieth century [postcard published around 1920's ] minus 200 years, say, gives us circa 1720, so it could easily have been planted during the period of Sir Edward Gascoigne.
My research indicates that prior to the Dark Arch being built [1811-12] there was an entrance with an adjacent lodge to the Hall off Parlington Lane [Proposal for a Waggonway and Canal plan by George Dixon 1774 for Sir Thomas Gascoigne, original at Lotherton Hall, see here ] now lost beneath the Dark Arch. Therefore it is possible that the grounds to the hall were laid out beyond the area now contained behind the estate wall which abuts the north side of the tunnel and extends both east and west along Parlington Lane. Thus the ash tree and the other feature beech trees might well have been set out along the roadway as it approached the house. Then retained over the many years the roadway became a route for the coal traffic and later the railway.
Photographs of the weeping ash in the gardens at Seaton Delaval Hall, Northumberland taken in 2013.