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The ‘Helping Hand tree in Bideford, Devon

Nestled in the heart of Bideford, Devon, stands a beloved local landmark known as the ‘Helping Hand’ tree—a testament to both community spirit and artistic ingenuity. As we delve into the story behind this iconic tree, let’s also uncover the rich history and charm of Bideford, a historic harbour town steeped in maritime heritage and literary significance.

Exploring the ‘Helping Hand’ Tree:

1. Preservation Efforts:
Years ago, the construction of Bideford Quay threatened the existence of mature trees along the riverbank. Amid public outcry, one individual stood up to protect the “Wonky Conker,” leading to efforts by Torridge District Council to preserve the tree.

2. The ‘Helping Hand’ Art Installation:
Renowned local artist John Butler was commissioned to create ‘The Helping Hand’—a metal prop cleverly disguised as a log wrist with an oak hand and fingers. This artistic endeavor not only provided support to the tree but also served as a memorial to Samuel Mayhew, funded by his wife, Mrs. Mayhew.

3. Artistic Process:
Mr. Butler meticulously crafted the hand, using oak lengths bolted together to form the fingers, palm, and thumb. The metal prop, anchored into the ground, supported the branch while the sleeve concealed it, creating a seamless integration of art and nature.

4. Community Engagement:
Torridge District Council’s initiative not only preserved a healthy tree but also showcased local art in a public space, fostering a sense of pride and community involvement. The ‘Helping Hand’ tree stands as a symbol of environmental stewardship and artistic creativity.

5. Visitor Reactions:
Reflecting on the installation, locals reminisce about the day when community efforts prevented the tree’s destruction. The hand carving, with its unique portrayal of breaking through brick paving, evokes fond memories for residents and visitors alike, adding to the charm of Bideford.

Discovering Historic Bideford:

1. Maritime Heritage:
Bideford, once Britain’s third-largest port, boasts a rich maritime history evident in its picturesque quay and historic harbour. Visitors can explore independent shops and sample local produce while soaking in the town’s maritime ambiance.

2. Architectural Gems:
The town features a charming old bridge spanning the Torridge, dating back to 1535. Renowned author Charles Kingsley found inspiration in Bideford for his novel Westward Ho!, contributing to the town’s literary significance.

3. Quaint Streets and Shops:
Bideford’s narrow streets and small shops exude old-world charm, offering a glimpse into its storied past. While the town’s architecture may have evolved, its quaint appeal remains, inviting visitors to wander and explore.

4. Literary Connections:
Bideford’s association with Charles Kingsley and his novel Westward Ho! adds to its allure, with the nearby town of Westward Ho! bearing the distinction of being named after a literary work—an ode to Kingsley’s legacy.

5. Explore North Devon:
As a gateway to North Devon, Bideford offers visitors a delightful blend of history, culture, and natural beauty. Whether strolling along the quay, crossing the historic bridge, or immersing oneself in its literary heritage, Bideford promises a memorable experience for all who visit.

As you embark on a journey to Bideford and encounter the ‘Helping Hand’ tree, may you discover the charm and history that make this coastal town a cherished destination in Devon.

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