Town Yetholm stands not far away across the river Bowmont from the much earlier Kirk Yetholm, which is famous as being the northern end of the Pennine Way. After the battle of Flodden in 1513 many nobles of the Scottish forces were buried there as it was the nearest consecrated ground to the battlefield.
The Town Yetholm yew tree has a local fame, and three place names here reflect this, Yew Tree Road, Yew Tree Bank and Yew Tree Lane. The yew stands in the latter, in a small fenced off space next to some allotments and abutting houses built around 60 years or so ago when extensive development of the town took place. The fact that the yew was not felled due to development schemes is a testimony to its local repute.
However, in the early 21st century the yew was in a sorry state. Decades of rubbish from the allotments being dumped around it had built up to a height of 3 metres and was suffocating the lower branches of the yew. Fortunately a retired horticulturalist moved in nearby and noticed the plight of the yew. With the help of the local farmer no less than 10 rubbish skips with a capacity of 2 tons each were removed from around it revealing that the buried branches had rotted and were removed. Since this was carried out in 2013 the yew has generated new spray on its lower sections.
In the 1980’s the yew was estimated to be 350 years old based on an available girth measurement. A reappraisal in 2016 found the girth to be 400 cm at 100 cm high and taking into account the mitigating growth factors of soil compression and suffocation, and that the yew was ‘weeping’ it is now thought the yew is around 500 years old or slightly more. The weeping is caused when the interior of the yew has begun a fungal induced hollowing process and the nutrients from the heartwood are washed out, creating a dark, wet patch running down the trunk. Yews typically begin hollowing around 400 years of age and can take many centuries to complete the process.
Research with the Town Historian also revealed something curious, there is no mention of this yew at all in the Town’s Archives which date back to 1541, the first mention of Town Yetholm as it is today. This suggests the yew predates the town and is certainly its oldest living inhabitant. Before Town Yetholm became what it is today, it was the capital of Little Egypt, where the Gypsy (or Roma) people had their Scottish capital and also their own king and queen. Whether the yew is connected to being planted by the Gypsy people is not known, but not impossible.