Our choice is not one tree but a formation of trees: The Seven
were planted in 1871, nine years after the foundation of the Bristol
Naturalists’ Society in 1862 and ten years after The Downs Act (1861). The trees
very quickly became an iconic landmark in the life of Bristolians and the name
remained unchanged even after one tree was lost in 1890. For some reason, the Seven
Sisters caught the imagination of local citizens and if they were speaking in the
language of today, the landmark would be designated as ‘cool’. It still is even
though only three trees remain.
Those whose families originate from Bristol (and who were born here themselves)
recall their stories, examples of which are as follows:
I remember my
grandmother telling me how they would meet there to go walking, in fact it was a
favoured meeting point for groups to do all sorts of things. It was a more
innocent age when leisure time was used wisely; working hours had begun to ease
and activities were largely self-created. Nature walks were popular in those
days; they used to hold open-air meetings as well.
The Seven Sisters are part of my family history. I heard frequent
references to the site as I was growing up prompting me to eventually ask where
the Seven Sisters were located, which drew further rafts of joyous recounting of
fun and games linked in some way to the site. My mother used to play hockey on a
pitch by the Seven Sisters. She played on the left wing in a mixed team before
the war, which is quite surprising really but unfortunately, I can’t remember
the name of the team. I ought to research it. She played on Weston Sands as
A group had met up there on a Sunday but got distracted by activities
at Speakers’ Corner. Apparently Sir Stafford Cripps was speaking. He was a
Bristol MP (and later Chancellor Of The Exchequer) but unfortunately one of the
party was spotted by their employer and subsequently, i.e., the next day,
received a note of dismissal on the grounds that they were thought to be, ‘More
suited to outdoor activities’. There were no such things as Employment Tribunals
in those days.
The trees draw you in to their protective circle; it’s a great spot for
contemplative thought. The history they have witnessed puts things into
perspective. They’ve seen everything from Bristol Trams and George White’s Box
Kites to the Britannia and Concorde; they’ve seen airships and barrage balloons
hot air balloons and children’s balloons; plus Heinkels, Dorniers, Spitfires and
Hurricanes not mention hurricane force winds, Red Kites and Japanese Kites
...and they are still standing - unlike so many of our other landmarks.
The Downs have never been quite the same since the loss of the majestic
elms but the fragrance of the limes lifts your spirits, the magnificence of the
horse chestnuts lifts your heart and the Seven Sisters strengthen your resolve.
They speak of calmness, resistance and survival.
In summary, we have chosen the Seven Sisters because the formation is a
long-standing, well-loved, iconic Bristol landmark. The lives of Bristolians of all
shapes, sizes, ages and classes have played out under, around and above the branches
of this iconic formation of Black Pines on a site of major importance to the City
and County of Bristol, viz, the Bristol Downs.