During the severe lockdown caused by the pandemic many residents took advantage of the fine weather to rediscover the town’s footpaths. A favourite route has been the Ock Valley Walk with the chance of spotting a muntjac deer or the invasive signal crayfish in the river Ock.

In the past one area which was criss-crossed by footpaths was Conduit Field, historically part of Lacies Court farm and better known today as Albert Park. Two main footpaths crossed this large open field: the ‘Old’ Shippon footpath and the Conduit Field footpath, named after the 16th century octagonal stone Conduit House still standing in Park Crescent. Both paths are featured in the Abingdon Parliamentary Enclosure Award of 1842 and were quite substantial, being six feet wide.

The footpath to Shippon ran from Bath Street across the north-east corner of Conduit Field towards the old Turnpike Road, the present Faringdon Road, emerging near the junction with Spring Road. On the Enclosure Map the course of the Conduit Field footpath almost mirrors the line of the present Park Road before shooting north to intersect with the Shippon Footpath. The importance of these footpaths can be gauged by the Corporation’s response to the potential closure of the Shippon path by the Enclosure Commissioners in 1841:

The Town Clerk instructed to inform the Inclosure Commissioners that the Council would regret to see the path leading across Conduit Field from the top of Boar Street by the Lonesome Tree to Spring Road stopped up.

Official opposition led to the realignment of the footpath to follow the line of present-day Park Crescent. Today the lane behind Abingdon School is the last vestige of this footpath.

The Conduit footpath is of interest because of the reference to the ‘Lonesome Tree’, an elm which was obviously considered to be of sufficient importance as a landmark in the area. It is featured on the Enclosure Map, and on the first edition Ordnance Survey map of 1875 where it can be seen near the Park Road/Victoria Road junction, encircled by a seat.

The origins of this tree have been the cause of much speculation. Town historians have taken different views on its origins. It was even said to be seven centuries old and reputed to be the setting of St Edmund’s vision of the Christ child. James Townsend writing in 1910 described it as the last of a great row of elms which ran west from Stratton House in Bath Street. Forty years later, Agnes Baker, writing for the North Berks Herald, stated it was the terminus of a ‘lost’ footpath. This path ran from Barton Court via the top of the Vineyard, through the old Fitzharrys Manor emerging into Bath Street just above The Gables, a former small farm. The construction of the AERE estate at Fitzharrys is said to have obscured the route but today a footpath exits the Fitzharrys estate almost opposite the old lane behind Abingdon School. According to Agnes Baker the footpath followed this lane and crossed the site of the park to the ‘lonesome’ tree which at the beginning of the 20th century stood in the garden of 46 Victoria Road.

On Monday 1st October 1979 the Oxford Mail headline ran: ‘Death comes after 700 years. One of the most famous landmarks in Abingdon – a 700-year-old elm tree – is to disappear.’ The tree was felled a fortnight later on the 15th October. Local residents held a wake on the 13th October when a special ode composed by the classics master from Abingdon School was read out. Tree surgeons worked from 8.30am till mid-afternoon to remove it. The girth of the tree measured approximately 5.5 metres (18ft 3ins.). Oxford University Forestry Department estimated its age to be 237 years, but the calculation was apparently distorted by treatment for Dutch elm disease. This disease had been first identified in Britain 1927. In 1973 a more deadly strain killed more than 25 million trees in the United Kingdom.

Elms appear to have been a particularly popular tree in the area. In 1896 the new road giving access to the south side of St Michael’s Church was described in the Abingdon Parish Magazine as passing through ‘an avenue of well-grown Canadian elms’ and in 1921 a row of seven elms known as the ‘Seven Sisters’ was recorded in the park.