Tree Gang

Tree Gang – (Southwark Council, Camberwell Borough Council


Tree Gang in Peckham Rye Park approx 1972/73 – starting from the left – Ken Baker (Groundsman), Les Nolan (Groundsman) John Smith (Groundsman) Kevin Taylor (Arborist/Groundsman) Johnny Silvester (Foreman/Arborist) Johnny Neil (Groundsman) and crouching down – Alan Charrington Tea Boy/ Groundsman


Les Nolan, Johnny Smith & Johnny Neil cleaning the roots off to make it lighter


Ken Baker & Johnny Smith

Belair Park -(approx 1970/71)

The following photos of the Tree gang in Belair Park were kindly donated by my old mate Dave Seymour, who I have known for 47 years, thank you for the pics Dave.


John Chinery (Arborist) holding chain saw, Ray Baker (Groundsman) holding Johnny Smith (Groundsman) over his shoulder and Ken Baker (Groundsman) standing behind.


“General working hours on the Council were 7.30am – 4.30pm. The Tree Gang always worked 2 hours overtime each night – Monday – Friday, so finish time was 6.30pm, also Saturday morning 7.30am – 12.30pm. I first started working on the council in 1967 when I was 15 years old, I was told by Bill Neville, who was the General Foreman, that I had to join the union, I agreed and my first day was at Honor Oak Nursery, my first wage was £4 -19 -11 for a 40 hour week, I also worked on the Sports Field for a few months, Then I joined The Tree Gang at the age of 16 and put in some overtime, my first take home pay was over £11 00”     John Chinery


Dave Seymour (Arborist) & Ken Baker (Groundsman) note the red stitching on the pocket of Dave Seymour’s overalls, L.B.S – London Borough of Southwark.

“When we took a tree down we always dug it out manually with spades, mattocks & shovels, once the roots were exposed we would cut through them with an axe, on the odd occasion Johnny Silvester would cut through some of the roots with the chain saw, it would then be pulled down with a strong rope, if it was a very difficult tree to take down we would put the winch on the tree, the winch we used was manual, it had a long handle which you would move backwards and forwards, sometimes it could take up to 3 people to pull on the handle, it could also be a very dangerous tool, if it took 3 people to tighten it up, it would take 3 people to release it, you had pull the handle back gently until it clicked to release it, then slowly let it return back, then repeat this process until it was slack. One time when we were working in Lucas Gardens taking a tree down with the winch, 3 of us had pulled the handle backwards and forwards until it just would’nt tighten anymore, Johnny Silvester told us to release it but be careful, Ken Baker said he could release it on his own, we told him he would’nt be able to, but he would’nt listen, we stood back and watched as he pulled the handle back, it clicked and just went out of control, the handle was flying backwards and forwards on it’s own with such a speed, and such a force, it hit Ken Baker on the forehead twice before we pulled him out of the way, he had a massive bump on his head, I took him to Kings College Hospital to have his head checked and luckily everything was ok.”

“Another time we was working on the housing estate along Half Moon Lane, probably around 1970, we was having trouble getting this particular tree down so we put the winch on it, the cables on the winch were thick intertwined wire, as the cables began to get tighter and tighter the tree was still not really moving,  we started to hear like a loud whipping noise, again, and again, the handle on the winch was juddering, we were behind another tree but we could make out what was happening, the cables were coming apart and strands of wire were whipping everywhere, if one of them had caught anyone of us it would have cut us in half, luckily we managed to release the winch before it all went, we got the tree down eventually.”      John Chinery


Starting from the left – John Chinery, Ray Baker, Ken Baker (Not Related) Johnny Smith & Dave Seymour. “Probably one of the best jobs I’ve ever had” Dave Seymour

jc foreman by car copy

Thats me, John Chinery (Tree Gang Foreman – Bermondsey Area) with my nephew, Mark, this photo was taken in Elsted Street, S.E 17, approx 1976,  “I was living at 8 Edward Clifford House at the time, I am leaning on my Vauxhall Viva that I paid £20.00 for, what a bargain, I hand painted it with Valspar Chocolate Brown Gloss Paint”.

Tree Gang – Bermondsey Area

These next set of photos were sent to me by Johnny Silvester, Tree Gang Foreman (Southwark) I joined the Tree Gang when I was 16 years old and worked with him on the Tree Gang from 1968 – 1975, great times, thank you for the pics John


Johnny Silvester (Tree Gang Foreman) in Brenchley Gardens


Tree coming down in Peckham Rye Park approx 1970


John Chinery (Arborist) & Kevin Taylor (Arborist/Groundsman)


Alan Charrington (Tea Boy) Ken Baker (Groundsman) Les Nolan (Groundsman) Johnny Smith (Groundsman) John Chinery (Arborist) On Kevin Taylors Shoulders, Johnny Neil (Groundsman)


Alan Sage (Groundsman) Johnny Silvester (Foreman) In the background holding ladder with someone else, can’t make out who it is, this photo was taken in Brenchley Gardens


Alan Sage holding the fishing rod, Johnny Silvester with the hat on,  I don’t know who the other person is or where this photo was taken.


Michael Plain sharpening a saw

Early photo of the Tree Gang, Johnny Silvester is sitting on the log, I think the person with his shirt sleeves rolled up and wearing a light coloured sleeveless jumper is George Seager, he was Tree Gang Foreman before Johnny Silvester.

Tree Gang working in Dulwich Village in the late 197os



(above) Johnny Silvester – Tree Gang Foreman



The above photos taken in Dulwich Village courtesy & copyright of J. Silvester

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19 Responses to Tree Gang

  1. gayle seager says:

    I was so surprised to see this photo of the tree gang, my father was george seager, who sadly passed 10 years ago, he often spoke fondly of johnny sylvester.

  2. Dawn Seager says:

    George Seager is my dad he sadly passed away 10 years ago but he talked fondly of his years with the tree gang and Johnny Slivester was a name he mentioned often, it was such a lovely surprise to see his photo on here my mum still lives in Herne hill and me and my sister still live locally . we would love to get in touch with anyone who knew members of the tree gang ..And would it be possible to get a copy of this photograph.

  3. John Chinery says:

    Hi Dawn & Gayle, So sorry your Dad passed away, I have sent a copy of the photo you requested

  4. Carolyn Grabarek says:

    In the photo of the early tree gang my dad is on the far right. He was Len Wells, sadly no longer with us but it was lovely to see this photo, I remember Fred Chinery and Johnny Silvester from those days too.

    • John Chinery says:

      I’m sorry to hear that you have lost your Dad Carolyn. My Dad, Fred Chinery is 86 now and Johnny Silvester is the same age, they were great times working on the council. If you have any photos/cine film of your Dad on the Council that you would be willing to add to this site or any street views of East Dulwich or the surrounding areas, that would be brilliant. This site is a labour of love for me, I am trying to build up a history of the Council and surrounding areas and also looking for any help I can get to make it as interesting as possible for anyone that might be interested. Best Wishes, John Chinery

  5. Linda Botley says:

    What a really great site you have made. My brother Andrew Prankard introduced me to this site.
    My dad was in the tree gang unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be any photos of him his name was Alf Prankard, my maiden name was Linda Prankard. I do remember going to Fred’s bungalow with my dad, also remember fondly Lennie Wells, Johnny Silvester. My first husband worked in the tree gang with Johnny his name is Arthur Gosden who still works for Southwark. We lived in Silvester Road East Dulwich. Sadly both my parents have since passed away, so all we have left is photos and old memories of the tree gang.

    • John Chinery says:

      Hi Linda, I remember you living in Silvester Road at the bottom end, and at Heber Road School and Thomas Calton School. I also worked with Arthur Gosden on the Tree Gang, they were good times. I remember your Dad very well, I used to ring him from time to time for a chat and to see how he was, he told me he still lived in Barry Road, I asked him if he had any photos from when he worked on the council, he said he didn’t, he told me he used to go to The Fox on the Hill pub on Sundays for dinner, I was sorry to hear he had passed away and I am sorry for your loss, my Dad Fred Chinery passed away in May 2015 aged 87, I don’t remember you coming to our Prefab in Underhill Road though, I must have been out. Glad you like the website, if you have any photos of your Dad on the council or yourself at Heber Road/Thomas Calton with your memories and you are willing to share them you can always upload them to this site, that would be great, I’m always trying to add new photos/memories as and when

  6. JEFF WEBBER says:

    You must have taken a load of pictures John and it is good to see pictures of your dad he was okay we got on well together i used to fall over laughing at some of the strokes we pulled i will remember him with fond memories and often wondered if he was still around but i read he was not so rest in peace Fred.
    I knew all the guys in the nursery and most of the parks fellers i bet you are wondering who i am well Jeff Webber cems and crem Best regards mate

    • John Chinery says:

      Hi Jeff, I have never forgotten you, you worked in the cemetery, Bob became a grave digger, and I was on the Tree Gang with Johnny Silvester, my Dad was always talking about you and always said how well he got on with you, I came over to your Mum & Dads house in a Bellingham a few times when me Bob knocked about together, you helped me get a Volkswagon Beetle once, something you always had, it was from a mechanic friend of yours, I think he was German, also I was good friends with your brother Bob and went to his wedding & reception when he married Cheryl, they had a house in Tonbridge, and your other brother John worked with me when I was Tree Gang Foreman down in Bermondsey, nice to hear from you Jeff, take care mate, all the best, John

    • Michael Mills says:

      Hi Jeff,

      Did you know Vic and Jack Simpson, two bothers who were gravediggers in the 1960s?

      Before Vic worked as a gravedigger he never worked from when he came home from the war in 1945. Something happened to him during the war and he couldn’t be left alone, so I used to stay with him on most Saturdays while his elderly blind mother went shopping down Rye Lane (they lived at 8 Godman Road, not far fro the ‘Triangle’ and Heaton Arms).

      I understand that, when Vic and Jack retired, they moved down to Tonbridge in Kent. Also, Jack had a son called John and a wife called Alice. I also understand that Jack and Vick are long-deceased.

      All the best, Mike

  7. David Abbott says:

    Hello John.
    What a great site. My name is David Abbott. I used to live at 25 Landcroft road. I went to St johns primary school from 1961 then on to Thomas calton.

    In the older photo of the tree gang the man on the far left with his arms folded is Joe Allen. he was my Grandad. my Nan was Mirium Allen my mum is Joan Allen. we lived in landcroft road with my 2 uncles Peter Allen and Jack Allen both my uncles I think also worked on the tree gang.

    I have very fond memories of life in East Dulwich from 1957 to 1973.

    Kind Regards.


    • John Chinery says:

      Hi David, Thanks for getting in touch, Glad you like the website, good comments always make it worthwhile, if you have any photos of East Dulwich or school photos that you are willing to share it would be great to have them on the site, I set up this site for anyone that might be interested and build up a history of East Dulwich and surrounding areas of what it was like years ago before it is all lost and forgotten, any help I can get is always very much appreciated, many thanks David.
      Best wishes

  8. Murray Cooper says:

    I worked at Honor Oak in 1976. I remember at that time Fred Chart was the main man on the tree gang and I think Mark Pitman left the nursery and joined the tree gang in that year.
    My year at the nursery was a very happy time for me.

    • John Chinery says:

      Hi Murray, Many thanks for your memories, Fred Chart was actually one of the parks/estates foreman on the council and Johnny Silvester was the Tree Gang Foreman in 1976. I remember George Flowers & Les Fry very well, I worked with both of them when I started at Honor Oak Nursery in 1967 at the age of 15.

      Best wishes, John Chinery

  9. David Abbott says:

    Hi John.
    I have an early Photograph of The Tree Gang. I would be glad to send it to you to. please let me know the best way to do so.

    Best Wishes.
    David Abbott

    • John Chinery says:

      Hi David,
      Many thanks for the offer of an early Tree Gang photo, that will be great, if you click on photo gallery 2 page, at the bottom of that page is an image uploader, click the choose button which will allow you to choose the photo on your computer you wish to upload, when your photos is recognised press the upload button and it will appear in the gallery, I can then add the photo to the Tree Gang page, many thanks for your help David, it is much appreciated.
      Best wishes, John

  10. Mark Byfield says:

    How nice is that!!!
    I worked on the tree gang with Johnny Silvester for a good few years.
    I worked with Kevin Taylor ( Taty) Kenny Baker, Johnny Neil etc etc..
    Also worked with Micky Silvester his son… who I am still in contact with..
    I could go on for ages!!!
    The photos at the bottom of the page of the Turkey Oak fell in Dulwich I my photos that my dad took, I still have them and more besides.
    The Horse Chestnut tree in Fred’s garden in Dulwich I gave it a bit a a drastic hair cut!!
    I am now an Arb Officer for Bromley.

    Thanks so much.

    Mark Byfield

  11. Dawn Seager says:

    I wrote to you back in 2013 when i saw the photo of my dad George Seager,who was foreman of the tree gang, at the time my mum was still living in our childhood home in Casino Avenue, my mum sadly passed away at the start of this year,she had lived in the house for 64 years moving in when she married my dad., he had already lived there for many years before.
    When she passed this year she was the longest resident on the street. Southwark council gave us only three weeks to clear our childhood family home before handing back the keys,as you can imagine it was very tough leaving behind so many happy memories.

    • John Chinery says:

      Dear Dawn,
      64 years in the same house is amazing, god bless your Mum & Dad, I am so sorry for your loss Dawn, thinking of you & all your family at a very sad time.
      Most councils are quite heartless, they never seem to allow enough time for people to gather cherished possessions or realise how distressing it is, we were given the same amount of time when we lost our youngest Daughter in 2004, it is so unfair.

      Take care,
      Sending our deepest sympathy,
      John Chinery

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