The Best Oak Trees

When the Oak stands alone, it is a spreading rather than an elevated tree: in that situation the timber is more compact and firm, and the crooked arms of the trees are better adpated for ship-building than when the trees are close together. In thickly planted groups, the oak will reach a height of eighty or a hundred feet before it begins to decay; and in some of the choicer trees, forty, fifty or even sixty feet may be found without a single lateral branch, and of such diameter that they will sqare, even at the smaller extremity, to eighteen inches or two feet. These are as well adapted for beams and planking as the others are for crooked timbers. In order to secure a proper supply, for both maritime and domestic use, we need them in both situations.

The trunk of the detached oak acquires by far the greater diameter, some of the hollow old trees having a diameter of as much as sixteen feet in the cavity, and still a shell of timber on the outside, sufficiently vigorous to produce leaves and acorns.

John Evelyn counted, in the sections of some trees, three or four hundred concentric rings or layers of wood, each of which must have recorded a year's growth.

Some celebrated oaks are worth mentioning:

  • The King's Oak, fifty feet high before a bough or knot appeared, and the base of it squared five feet entirely solid.
  • The Queen's Oak, straight as a line for forty feet, then divided into two immense arms, and the base of it squared to four feet.
  • The Framlingham Oak (Suffolk), used in the construction of the Royal Sovereign, was four feet nine inches square, and yielded four square beams, each forty-four feet in length.
  • An oak felled at Withy Park, Shropshire, in 1697, was nine feet in diameter, without the bark; there were twenty-eight tons of timber in the body alone; the spread of the top was one hundred and forty-four feet.
  • Dr. Plott mentions an oak at Norbery, which was of the enormous circumference of forty-five feet. When it was felled, and lying flat upon the ground, two horsemen, one on each side of the trunk, were concealed from each other. The same author mentions an oak at Keicot, under the shade of which four thousand three hundred and seventy-four men had sufficient room to stand.
  • The Boddington Oak, in the vale of Gloucester, was fifty-four feet in circumference at the base.
  • Damory's Oak in Dorsetshire was the largest oak of which mention is made. Its circumference was sixty-eight feet, and the cavity of it, which was about sixteen feet long and twenty feet high was, about the time of the Commonwealth, used by an old man for the entertainment of travellers, as an ale-house. The dreadful storm in the third year of the last century shattered this majestic tree, and in 1755, the last vestiges of it were sold as firewood.
  • An immense oak was dug out of Hatfield bog. It was a hundred and twenty feet in length, twelve in diameter at the base, ten in the middle, and six at the smaller end where broken off.

    summarised from "The Library of Entertaining Knowledge - Timber trees" (1829), pub. Charles Knight, Pall Mall.

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