The Great Hollow Elm, an amazing old tree, stood at the summit of Hampstead Heath, probably near to the site of Jack Straw’s Castle.
In 1653, the celebrated engraver Hollar depicted the “Great Hollow Elm Tree of Hampstead” and the engraving was depicted in Parke’s Hampstead which described the tree as “hollow from the ground to the summit […] and upwards of 42 feet high”.
At the summit the trunk appears to have been abruptly cut off and, in the hollow, a wooden stair or ladder was placed leading to a turret at the top where six people could sit.
The octagonal turret was occasionally used as ‘a school for young gentlemen’; prompting the humorous quip that this must have been the start of higher education in Hampstead.
In the margins of the engraving, notes read:
Hollar’s engraving appears to have been sold at the tree.
Miss Constance Hill, who owned nearby Grove Cottage was quoted as saying in the nineteenth century:
“A great elm encircled by a seat, and known as the village tree/ stood in the midst. That tree,” she adds, ” is still standing, but is now enclosed in the grounds of Tudor House.”