tree_graphic.jpg (6140 bytes)   SEVEN SISTERS - A HISTORY


The story of the Seven Sisters tradition is a fascinating one. No-one knows for sure how far back the story goes, though 600 years is probably a good bet.

Exactly who carried out the first planting is a bit of a mystery. One version has it that seven sisters from a local family, who were due to go their separate ways, planted seven elms to commemorate their time together and leave a lasting souvenir in the area. Another version has it that it was the seven sisters of Robert the Bruce who carried out the first planting. Their father had an estate in Tottenham (Bruce Castle) so this would appear to be appropriate.

However, there are no records to show that either one of these versions is the right one. So it is possible that the first group of elm trees on the site may well have sprung up on their own - elms can grow in circles naturally – or they could have survived from a much bigger wood

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Either way, the trees were there long enough to become an identifiable feature known as the Seven Sisters and eventually gave their name to the surrounding area.

The first links with a specific group of trees probably goes back considerably further. Some accounts have that in Roman times there stood a group of seven elms surrounding one walnut tree. This could have denoted its use as a pagan temple, from where the name Page Green is said to have come.
What is definitely a matter of public record is the planting that took place in 1852 to replace the group that had stood there for 500 years. Seven sisters from the McRae family did the honours and the tradition was born. Unfortunately the trees didn’t last long and were in turn replaced in 1886, this time by the Hibbert sisters, another local family.


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A report in the Tottenham Herald at the time headlined ‘an interesting Ceremony at Tottenham’, describes how 2,000 people turned out on a muddy March day to watch the ceremony. The ground was said to be ‘as soft as butter’ after days of rain and snow, with people sinking in up to their ankles.

A huge cheer went up as each sister in turn helped to plant one of the trees. Speeches were made, each sister was presented with a brooch in the shape of a spade, and then the official party went off to the nearby Seven Sisters hotel to celebrate.
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The next official planting took place 70 years later in 1955, with the added excitement being generated by the fact that the BBC filmed the whole event. Television was relatively new at this time.

Seven sisters from the Basten family each planted an Italian poplar, although this time they weren’t in one group but dispersed four at one end of Page Green and three at the other.

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In 1996 the tree planting ceremony was repeated and seven hornbeams were planted in a circle on page Green at Seven Sisters. This time the planting was not by one family of seven sisters but several local families of seven sisters

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The following Extract has been taken from ‘Reminiscences of Tottenham’ by Mrs. J. W. Couchman first published in 1909.

“At the top of Page Green on the east side of the High Road, there stood a remarkably handsome clump of seven trees, planted in a circular form, and called the Seven Sisters.
In the middle there stood a walnut tree, which it is said never increased in size, though it continued annually to bear leaves. The prevailing opinion in Bedwell’s time ( the Rev. William Bedwell was Vicar of Tottenham from 1607 to 1632) was that someone had suffered martyrdom on this spot , but of this there is no authentic account, nor is there anything satisfactory as to the original planting of these trees to be met with, but it appears they were at their full growth in Bedwell’s time and may be considered to be in 1818 upwards of 300 years old. The walnut tree was not cut down for a good many years after the others. I remember my father having it done, and then the seven daughters of Mr. MacRae planted seven other trees in the middle of the green; they are now living, one is a sapling. A few years ago Mr. Hibbert’s seven daughters planted seven other trees at the end by the High Road”


The following extracts have been taken from ‘The History of Tottenham’ by Fred Fisk published in 1913.

Seven Sisters’ Trees. The original trees were supposed to have been planted by seven sisters, but there is no reliable record of either their origin or early times; and as there appear to be at the present time many conflicting statements and traditions connected with them, the following account has been written and compiled from a collection of items culled from many sources.
A correspondent writing to the ‘Oracle’ 1876, and asking for the early history of these trees, got this reply, ‘That these trees flourished in Bedwell’s time, 1631, and in his History of Tottenham gives an account of them’ then follow lines of poetry which are accredited to Bedwell but were written by Heraud, and taken from his Poem on Tottenham.
The only account Bedwell gives of these trees is in writing of the Three Wonders of Tottenham, and says ‘ The first of this rank is a walnutte tree; standing in the middest of a tuft of elms, set in the manner of a circle, beneath the Hermitage, on the end of Page Green, by the middle of Stone Bridge. This tree hath these many yeares stod there, and it is obserued yearely to liue and beare leaus, and yet to stand at a stay, that is to growe neither greater nor higher. The people do commonly tell the reason to bee, for that there was one burnt upon that place, for the profession of the Gospell. But who it was and where it should be done, they cannot tell and I finde no such thing in our stories vpon record, and therefore I do not tell this for a truthe’

There are further extracts in Fred Fisk’s books from other famous Tottenham Historians Coleraine, Dyson and Robinson which follow the same theme. He also gives an account of the planting of replacement trees first by the daughters of J. McRae esq. in 1852 and then the new trees planted in 1886 by the Misses Hibbert, the only family of seven sisters known to be living in Tottenham at that time.


The spade used for the four planting ceremonies is at Bruce Castle Museum along with other commemorative objects.

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Pictured Right;  A display of ceramic tiles at 'Seven Sisters' underground station which depicts the origins of the name.

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We acknowledge that extracts of this history have been taken from an information leaflet first issued by Bruce Castle Museum, Tottenham

Article prepared by Alan Swain - February 2012

Background image - Etching of Seven Sisters from before 1800

Updated -January 2014 to include photograph of the historic spade used to plant the 'Seven Sisters' Trees.


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