The Astor Cut, Lord Astor’s Country Mansion at Cliveden, The Profumo Affair, The Fieldbrook Stump

This blog started several years ago when I first found out and obtained access to the Digital Archives of the Bancroft Library at Berkeley University. I was wandering around the sections relating to logging in Mendocino County when I came across these two photos:

Slice of a very large slice of a very large tree

Same large slice on a specially built freight car

I put the picture into my “maybe, someday bank.” We, The Mendocino Model Railroad & Historical Society, were given some old plate glass images. After discussion among the members we concluded that a University Libtaty might be the best place for them. So, off I toddled to the Humboldt University Library in Arcata. The Librarian Lady was very pleased with our gift of the glass plate photos. After I told her what my “job” was she asked if I would like to peruse their stash of logging photos.  Would I?

In the middle of the files was this photo:

The Astor Cut being loaded

Surely it was the same slice of a huge tree? I asked the Librarian if she knew anything about it. “Yes,” was the answer. “It’s the Astor Cut.” Alas, that was all she knew. So armed with a copy of the above pic I wended my way back to Fort Bragg quite happy with my days work.

Intrigued as all get out I spent a LOT of time trying to get to the bottom this story. I finally found it in the March 6th 1895 edition the Chicago Tribune.

Chicago Tribune Header

In the text it says that Lord Astor bet the then Prince of Wales that a slice of California Redwood would be large enough to seat 45 persons around. Here’s the page with the whole story. The Lord Astor story is in the middle right hand corner:

Page from the Chicago Tribune with the Lord Astor Bet

The slice was sent from San Francisco to London where, somehow, it was taken to Lord Astor’s estate at Cliveden on the north bank of the Thames. When it was unloaded, surprise, surprise it wouldn’t fit through the front door! The round/slice was placed by the Thames. I have been unable to find out if the bet was settled.

Cliveden. When I lved in England Cliveden was the scene of a spy/sex scandal called the Profumo affair. The Profumo affair was a British political scandal that originated with a sexual relationship in 1961, between John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War in Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government, and Christine Keeler, a 19-year-old would-be model. In March 1963, Profumo’s denial of any impropriety, in a personal statement to the House of Commons, was refuted a few months later with his admission of the truth. He resigned from the government and from Parliament. The repercussions of the affair severely damaged Macmillan’s self-confidence, and he resigned as Prime Minister on health grounds in October 1963. The reputation of the Conservative Party was damaged by the scandal, which may have contributed to its defeat by the Labour Party in the 1964 general election.

When the Profumo–Keeler affair was first revealed, public interest was heightened by reports that Keeler may have been simultaneously involved with Captain Yevgeny Ivanov, a Soviet naval attaché, thereby creating a possible security risk. Keeler knew both Profumo and Ivanov through her friendship with Stephen Ward, an osteopath and socialite who had taken her under his wing. The exposure of the affair generated rumours of other scandals and drew official attention to the activities of Ward, who was charged with a series of immorality offences. Perceiving himself as a scapegoat for the misdeeds of others, Ward took a fatal overdose during the final stages of his trial, which found him guilty of living off the immoral earnings of Keeler and her friend Mandy Rice-Davies.

This picture of Christine Keeler, which was splashed across the front page of Britain’s largest selling tabloid, really hyped the interest of the proletariat. For the time the pic was considered very risque.

Christine Keeler

The scandal also “inspired” a movie called “Scandal.”

Poster for the Movie “Scandal”

The theme song “Nothing Has Been Proved” was written and produced by Pet Shop Boys and sung by Dusty Springfield

It took me over two years to persuade wife Sarah that the gardens at Cliveden were worth a visit. Today Cliveden is a hotel. Rates are around one thousand pounds a night. You do get breakfast and a ride to and from Heathrow in a Rolls Royce for your money!!!!


When we got to Cliveden Sarah found the gardens, the garden shop and the gift shop to be very interesting. I spent the time asking where we might find The Astor Cut. No-one had a clue!!! I bought a map – nada. Out of desperation I went to the garden’s entrance and asked the old guy on the gate. He knew. “You come from California to see that bloody lump of wood?” I assured him I had even if my wife had not. “Go down that path about a mile till you come to a statue, take a right and go down it till  you’re on the bank of the Thames and it’s on your right. ” As I turned to go he said, “Don’t fall into the bloody river – there’ll be no-one there to pull you out.”

Well a mile is a long way if you are an old geezer recovering from a bout of chemo. Despite Sarah’s protestations I wasn’t giving up. Finally we could see the statue. Just before the statue we stumbled on a gap that enabled one to look back to the house.

A view of Cliveden in the distance

In front of the gap was a copy of a painting of what we were looking at:

Painting of Cliveden

The painting was obviously made before the siderow grew and when Cliveden really was Lord Astor’s Stately Home. We soon came to the Statue:

One of Lord Astor’s ancestors

We ploughed oin down the path and almost immediately we found a path leading off to our right. It wasn’t a well trodden path so we were somewhat sceptical about whether we were going the right way. The good news was that we were going down. When we reached the bottom we could see the River Thames through the overgrown vegetation. The Astor Cut?

There were  no signs. Sarah saw a trail off to the side and after a short torturous walk ……… TA DAH!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Astor Cut under a rusting corrugated roof

If you look at top right of the above photo you can see a light blue patch – that’s the River Thames. Then, it being England, it started to rain. So we left.

When I got back here to Fort Bragg I decided not to write this blog up until I had one more question answered, “Where did the slice of Redwood come from?” I had no leads.

A year or so later I got a break. Brother Sean lives in England and takes a newspaper called “The Independent.” He sent me a link to an article that appeared in “his” newspaper. The article was entitled “Reborn – the giant tree felled as a result of a bar-room wager”. The top of the article had this picture:

The Fieldbrook Stump in California not long after it was felled in 1890

Here’s an extract from the text ……. “It would have been the biggest tree alive today had it not been so ignominiously felled in 1890 – reputedly to satisfy a drunken bet about making a table big enough to seat 40 guests from a single slice of tree-trunk. But after a century of being left for dead, a giant redwood that grew as tall as a 30-storey building over the course of nearly 4,000 years in northern California is about to be reborn as a clone planted on the coast of Cornwall. Scientists have managed to cultivate cuttings from the Fieldbrook Redwood Stump, which is 35ft in diameter, and 10 of its clones are now growing as knee-high saplings in the plant nursery at the Eden Project, near St Austell, as part of an ambitious plan to propagate and replant some of the oldest trees in America and Britain.

The Fieldbrook stump is a Californian coast redwood. It is said that the Fieldbrook tree was felled under the orders of William Waldorf Astor, a wealthy American living in Britain, who became embroiled in a bar-room bet about making a table seating 40 from a single cross-section of a tree. Lord Astor certainly had a giant tree slice imported to Cliveden, his stately home in Buckinghamshire, but when he was alive he vowed to sue anyone who repeated the story. “He probably realised that killing something that was nearly 4,000 years old for a bet didn’t really reflect very well on him. There’s not much dispute that the Fieldbrook stump and the redwood slice at Cliveden is the same tree, but it would be fun to carry out a DNA test to prove it.”

4,000 years. Where did that come from? I found another article which, I think gets nearer to the real age …… “Between 2011 – 2017, Pacific Horticulture Society published a caption that Fieldbrook was 3,500 yrs. old. But Humboldt State Univ. researchers around the same time, only ascertained 2,520 yrs. as the oldest coast redwood (Redwood National Park). A Times Standard article quoted the Fieldbrook as 1,175 yrs., possibly from the crosscut “cookie” held at Blue Ox Millworks in Eureka. An edenproject tv on Youtube had video with a man suggesting 4,000 yrs. … The numbers soon teeter like the AT-ST Scout Walker in Star Wars! An artist printing growth rings from it’s piece, wrote 1,275 years on a web page; probably a the real count from wood imprint

Hmmm – so now I knew the name of the stump. I have found out that you cannot visit it because it is on private land. Bummer!!!!!!