The Greendale Oak was undoubtedly the greatest tree of the Forest to survive into modern times. By any account, this tree was a veritable monster.
As noted in the 1600s, by the eminent writer on trees John Evelyn, this remarkable specimen was reputedly bigger than the Major Oak (also of Sherwood Forest) at the same time. By the 1970s, the once magnificent tree was a shadow of its former self, and all because of human vanity.
The beginning of the end was in 1724: in an after-dinner wager, the Duke of Portland said he had a tree on his estate, which could be cut to allow the passage of a coach and six horses. The wager accepted by his guests, the Duke proceeded to have this tree carved up. A hole, six-foot three-inches wide and ten-foot three-inches high, was cut through the heart of the tree’s trunk. The girth measured immediately above the top of this arch was thirty-five feet three-inches. As well as cutting through the tree, the upper branches had to be removed in order to reduce the stress on the now much-reduced base.
The wager was won by means of a purpose-built ‘thin’ coach and the skinniest horses available. Despite this devastation, the tenacious tree survived another 250 years. Though reduced in stature, it was recorded by photographs in the 1800s and then early 1900s. It was still present, albeit as a hulk, in the 1970s. From the 1700s vandalism, the Countess of Portland had an oak cabinet made from the wood sliced from the venerable tree’s heart. This item was inlaid with pictures of the tree plus carriage and horses being driven through it.
Writer Hayman Rooke considered the tree to be more than 700 years old in 1790, and in 1797, Throsby stated it must be upwards of 1,500 years. It is sad to think how the tree would have lived several more centuries without the untimely intervention by the Duke. As the now fatally injured tree fought to survive, it was planked up inside the cut to provide more support, and had chains to hold its great branches. By the time Roger Redfern, a nature writer, was writing in 1974, he described it as ‘a tumbled heap of seasoned timber, festooned still with old chains and monstrous supports’, but he notes how the colossal stature of the original tree could still be appreciated.
λ To read more, contact the author for a copy of his book at I.D.Rotherham@shu.ac.uk
The book costs £12 + £2 p+p for readers of The World of Trees.