The First Willow, c.1800 (© Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum)
One unusual – indeed, unique – part of Lichfield’s Johnsonian heritage, in which the Society takes a keen interest, is Johnson’s Willow. This famous tree, which stands beside Stowe Pool, owes its name to Samuel Johnson’s fondness for it. Near the tree was the parchment factory run by Johnson’s father; later in his life, Johnson often passed the Willow on his way to visit his friends the Aston sisters, who lived at the two large houses on Stowe Hill.
Although the original tree (shown above) blew down in 1829, its site has since been occupied by its descendants. Today, Johnson’s Willow is cared for by Lichfield District Council, in consultation with the Johnson Society. In recent years, the Fourth incarnation of Johnson’s Willow had been suffering from extensive decay; sadly, this led to its being felled on 8 October 2021. The Johnson Society had, however, been working closely with Lichfield District Council to safeguard the future of this most historic tree, and a new, Fifth Johnson’s Willow, grown from a cutting of its predecessor, was planted on the same site beside Stowe Pool at a ceremony on Tuesday, 2 November 2021. The ceremony included the reading of a new poem about Johnson’s Willow by Sarah Dale, which was the winning entry in the Johnson Society’s recent Willow poetry competition. Sarah’s poem can be read here; pictures of the planting ceremony can be viewed here.
A leaflet issued by the Society, giving more information about Johnson’s Willow, can be accessed (and printed off) here.
The Fifth Willow after its planting on 2 November 2021 (photo © Stephen Brierley)