Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Noteworthy oak trees – 8

The Cowthorpe Oak which grew near the church at Cowthorpe, Wetherby, West Yorkshire, was described by Alexander Hunter’s 1776 edition of John Evelyn’s Sylva, as more spectacular than any of the oaks Evelyn had described over a century earlier:

‘The dimensions are almost incredible.  Within three feet of the surface of the ground it measures sixteen yards, and close by the ground twenty-six yards.  It’s height in its present and ruinous state (1776) is about eighty-five feet, and its principal limb extends sixteen yards from the bole.  Throughout the whole tree, the foliage is extremely thin, so that the anatomy of the ancient branches may be distinctly seen in the height of summer.  When compared to this, all other trees are but Children of the Forest.’

Estimates of the Oak’s age varied from 1,200, ‘give or take a century’, to 1,600 years.  According to some accounts the tree fell in 1950 after apparently being struck by lightning, alternatively ‘a definitive date for the final demise of the tree has proved difficult, but suffice to say that by about 1950 it had finally given up the struggle’.

Numerous illustrations of the Oak were prepared over the years, the one here is a 1840 painting by John N. Rhodes, now in Leeds Art Gallery.

Information mainly derived from Archie Mills, The British Oak, 2016.

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