A much-loved tree which has stood for around 100 years faces the chop as part of efforts to protect a 15th century church.

Norwich City Council has revealed the historic Tree of Heaven outside St Peter Hungate, in Princes Street, has died and will have to come down.

Norwich Evening News: The tree is believed to date back to the 1920sThe tree is believed to date back to the 1920s (Image: William Warnes)

The city council said it had been "monitoring" the situation for several years and made the difficult decision to fell it "due to its proximity to a historic building" and the risk to the public from falling branches.

The branches were subsequently cut back yesterday, to ensure public safety, but it is currently unclear as to when the tree will come down.

"The loss of any mature tree is devastating," said Green city councillor Ben Price. 

Norwich Evening News: Green city councillor Ben PriceGreen city councillor Ben Price (Image: Norwich Green Party)

"But all trees have a lifespan. What's really important is that we have a good understanding of the stocks in Norwich and that we are looking ahead at replacing these beautiful mature trees.

"Central government funding to biodiversity has been woefully short and the incoming government needs to show they care and will invest for years to come."

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The Ailanthus Altissima was named the Tree of Heaven because its tall upward growing branches seemed to reach for the sky. 

Norwich Evening News: The branches were cut back on WednesdayThe branches were cut back on Wednesday (Image: Denise Bradley)

The species was originally introduced from China in 1751 and the tree outside St Peter Hungate is believed to date back to the 1920s. 

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"This is hugely important to the area," said Richard Eagleton, chairman of Friends of Elm Hill. 

"It's very sad to see such a mature tree go, but I am sure the council will do the right thing and replace it with something worthy of the space."

Norwich Evening News: Richard Eagleton, chairman of Friends of Elm HillRichard Eagleton, chairman of Friends of Elm Hill (Image: Richard Eagleton)

"It is a very appealing attraction," added Patricia Durbin, who lives off Princes Street and walks by the tree on her way to work.

"We need nice things like this in the area.

"It's important the council replaces it with a very pretty tree."

Norwich Evening News: Princes Street local, Patricia DurbinPrinces Street local, Patricia Durbin (Image: Submitted)

A spokesman for the city council confirmed it will now work with the Historic Churches Trust to place replacement trees for the church grounds. 

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However, it is understood any replacement species will not be a Tree of Heaven.

A history of St Peter Hungate

The grade I listed cruciform church sits at the top of Elm Hill in Princes Street. 

It has a capped tower which dates back to the 15th century and the whole church was completely rebuilt during the middle 30 years of the 1400s. 

Norwich Evening News: The tree at full height outside St Peter Hungate Church, pictured in 2009The tree at full height outside St Peter Hungate Church, pictured in 2009 (Image: Newsquest)

The chancel collapsed after the Reformation and was rebuilt in the early 17th century, although the 15th century windows were reused, meaning the majority of them are still original. 

The famed Paston family - who owned land across Norfolk in the 15th and 16th centuries - owned a house in Elm Hill and worshipped at St Peter Hungate. 

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It was declared redundant in 1936 and became the first church to nationally be repurposed as a museum of church art.

This closed in 1995 and, following a period of private occupation, it passed on to the Norwich Historic Churches Trust in 2006. 

Since 2009, it has been the home of Hungate Medieval Art - an exhibition space celebrating Norwich's medieval heritage and art.