An exhibition of the elm tree's special place in the life of the Sussex coast, its built environment, art, crafts and biodiversity takes place at St Peter's Church in Preston Park, Brighton, home of the National Elm Collection, from 8 to 22 June, along with a sculpture by Keith Pettit in Preston Park. Organised by The Conservation Foundation, it is part of Ulmus Maritime, a project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Before Dutch elm disease swept through Britain, the elm was part of every landscape. Its water resistant wood was used to underpin bridge arches, elm pipes carried water, the dead were buried in elm coffins, while thousands of unlucky souls met their end on an elm gibbet. It was also a vital part of our biodiversity, with such rare wildlife as the White-letter hairstreak butterfly depending on it for survival. The seasoned wood is resistant to splitting and so perfect for cartwheel hubs and furniture. Elm poles were often used for making bows when yew was not available
Elm remedies have been used since Roman times. In days gone by it was used to treat wounds, giddiness, even leprosy and cattle were fed on elm fodder. Slippery elm bark is still used to soothe sore throats, stomachs and burns. The tree’s tendency to produce a row of suckers made it perfect for supporting vines for the Sussex coast’s vineyards, with the area still home to many.
Artists including John Constable used elms in their paintings. His “Study of the Trunk of an Elm Tree” shows the beauty of the texture and shades of the bark. George Stubbs framed his scenes with the lofty elm and local Sussex artists including Frank Newbould and David Shepherd depicted them in their paintings of the rolling landscape. Robert Browning, Rudyard Kipling and Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote about the elm in their poetry and its unique grain has inspired sculptors including Henry Moore. Local artist Keith Pettit has created an 8ft high screen made from Cuckmere Valley elms, as part of the Ulmus Maritime project, which is to be sited in Litlington Village and you can temporarily find at the 'Preston Twins' in Preston Park from Thursday 11th June.