The Cross Tree, Punchbowl Tree or Dancing Tree was a pollarded elm whose branches were at one time trained into the shape of a punch bowl. It has a history going back at least to 1790, when it was already big enough to hold tables and chairs. It grew through the base of what may well have been a very old cross to the south of the church, giving its name to Cross Street. The name ‘Punchbowl’ tree came from its shape, and perhaps from its use by James Fynes and his cronies in the 1790s as a place to sit and drink. Its use for music and dancing came a little later, when John Hancock, who had turned Mr Fynes’ house (CROSS TREE HOUSE) into an inn, made a platform within the tree and a bridge to the top of the wall of his skittle alley with a ladder so that people could dance in the tree.”
“The tree was sufficiently well known to appear in 19th century literature, for instance in R.D. Blackmore’s novel Christowell. The Rev. W.H. Thornton, Rector of North Bovey, remembered seeing the tree in its punchbowl shape about 1860, and commented that the artist F.J. Widgery had twice painted the tree with a more normal, bushy appearance (as in the Bowring Library bookplates). The tree was already ‘old’ in 1800, but lasted until it was badly damaged in a storm in 1891, and finally blown down in 1903.” It has since been replaced three times, in 1906 (on the removal of the remains of the old tree), 1912 (with a copper beech) and in 2012 (with a rowan).”
The following extracts from Treleaven’s Diary show its later use in the early 1800s.
“Wed. June 4th, 1800. In the afternoon a concert of Instrumental Music on the Cross Tree. Just at the conclusion of the performance Jack Austin rather intoxicated and shewing some feats of agility, which he was desired to desist from, but regardless of this advice, he tumbled head downwards on the broad stones that surround the Tree, and was taken up apparently dead, he remained insensible for many hours, but no fracture of any kind and is likely to do well again.”
“Fri. Aug. 28th, 1801. Cross-Tree, floored and seated round with a platform railed on each side, from the top of Mr. Hancock’s Garden wall to the Tree, and a flight of steps in the Garden, for the Company to ascend, after passing the platform they enter under a grand arch formed with boughs – there is sufficient room for thirty persons to sit round and six couple to dance, besides the Orchestra. From the novelty of this rural apartment, it is expected much company will resort there during the summer.”