The Gilded Elm

Audio recording by Peter Bourne, Elm tree expert

Preston Park, Preston Drove, Brighton BN1 6DS

Dutch Elm disease is a national disaster and much of the UK's elm population has been lost. Two elm trees were planted in Preston Park, Brighton in or about 1613. One of them, the joint oldest English elms in the world lay dead and decaying in a Brighton Council site designated for the disposal of diseased trees. Without an intervention, it would decay and finally disappear or be destroyed (burnt) to prevent it further spreading elm disease. In January 2020, Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva, was asked to take on the tree and its challenges. She was asked to develop a plan to preserve and celebrate this iconic tree, recognizing its historical, educational and environmental importance, then relocating it back on its original location in Preston Park.

Brighton & Hove hosts the largest collections of Elms and holds an important role of preserving this native species. In 2021 the remaining elm tree was shortlisted for Tree of the Year. The twins are a much loved and heralded community asset.

Elpida proposed turning the felled tree into a memorial, preserving what remained and adding a gilded interior surface, using gold leaf to act as a visual and material reference to the value of how the tree is regarded locally. Elpida has donated much of her time pro bono for the creative work as she believes so passionately in the project.

The location of the remaining elm, and the Gilded Elm is in the southwest corner of the park, one of the park’s main entry points. The Twins themselves are a signature part of Preston Park. This new reimagined and regenerated Gilded Elm provides a major new focal point for the many people who visit the park, throughout the year, as well as at signature events such as Brighton Festival, the Fireworks display, Pride, Comedy Garden and the Brighton Marathon. The Gilded Elm highlights Brighton’s role as a major host of these magnificent trees, and its continuing commitment to Brighton’s natural environment for residents and visitors.

The work to date has been funded by Brighton & Hove City Council, Arts Council England and a wide range of local business and charity supporters including Brewers Decorator Centres, Repair Care, South Downs National Park Authority, Amazon Access Solutions, Pride Social Impact Fund, and Connick Tree Care.

Supporting organisations:
  • The Artists Agency
  • The Anthony Dale Trust
  • Friends of Preston Park
  • The Living Coast
  • Dorothy Stringer School
  • Balfour Primary School
  • Urban Tree Festival
  • Site-Eye Time-Lapse Films
  • William Ranieri
  • Alister Peters
  • Marc Thomas
  • Alison Bettles
  • Peter Bourne
  • Vivienne Barton
  • James Allen
  • Nigel Riley
  • Sam Harris
  • Rob Bradstock
  • Brighton & Hove City Council
  • Arts Council England
  • Brewers Decorator Centres
  • Repair Care
  • South Downs National Park Authority
  • Amazon Access Solutions
  • Connick Tree Care
  • Pride Social Impact Fund
  • Jeremy Knight and Co.
  • Gold Leaf Supplies
  • Yates Scaffolding
  • DP Squared