A MAJOR Christmas tree operation is in full swing in North Yorkshire where the body of the man who tried to ban Christmas is rumoured to be buried.

Stephen Wombwell, owner of Newburgh Priory at Coxwold, and his business partner, Wilf Standeven, have been growing trees on the estate for seven years.

Now they are selling them in bulk for the first time - and it is all being done below the tomb in an attic room, which is said to contain Oliver Cromwell’s headless body.

His daughter Mary married Newburgh’s Lord Fauconberg and is said to have paid a bribe for her father’s headless corpse to be stolen from the walls of the Tower of London. The remains were hidden in the rafters at Newburgh and family tradition states the tomb must never be opened so no-one can verify whether Cromwell is in it or not.

Stephen decided to begin growing Christmas trees to diversify the estate’s income shortly after he took over running the priory from his father who retired in 2010.

He said: “If all goes well, I am hoping that in a few years’ time, up to 20 per cent of my income will come from my share of the business, but at the moment it’s a waiting game. We’ve had seven years of growing trees with significant outgoings each year.

“This year we are starting small and will be harvesting and selling between 1,500 and 2,000 trees, ranging from five feet to seven feet for the cut trees and about three feet for the potted trees. They will be distributed across the north of England and will also be available here at Newburgh and at Methley, near Leeds, part of the Mexborough Estate."

The first tree seedlings were planted in 2012 and Newburgh now has 220,000 trees planted across 110 acres. Non-drop Nordmann fir trees make up 80 per cent of its crop. They also grow Fraser firs and Norway spruce plus a variety of potted trees for supermarkets. They currently source seedlings from Denmark.

This is the first year they are selling wholesale. The trees are being cut and netted in the field, then moved about a mile to be put into pallets and on to lorries, for distribution. The aim is to have trees delivered within about three days of being cut.

They are expecting the operation to need up to 12 people when they plant up to 35,000 trees in Spring and when they get into the full swing of harvesting.

“We’re going to become a much more labour intensive business and it will end up being quite a good source of employment,” says Stephen.