Saturday, 18 August 2012

the Major Oak: Icon of Medieval Sherwood Forest

The Major Oak is an icon of Medieval Sherwood Forest.

Reputedly the hide away of Robin Hood, and said to be up to 1000 years old! 
 

This ancient and magnificent oak tree is at the heart of Birklands and Bilhaugh woods- crown woods situated in the 'High Forest' area of Sherwood in Medieval times.

The tree stands on the eastern boundary of Birklands wood, at the western edge of Gleadthopre open- an area of heath that separates Birklands from Bilhaugh wood.

It may well have been a 'boundary oak' of Birklands wood in Medieval times.

These two woods now form the Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve near Edwinstowe in Nottinghamshire.

It was named after Major Hayman Rooke a local antiquarian who recorded the ancient oaks of Sherwood Forest in the late 18th century.

Map regression and investigation by the author of this site: Archaeologist Andy Gaunt (Gaunt & Gillott 2011) has turned up an interesting fact worthy of note regarding Major Rooke and the Major Oak. 

A plan of the hays of Birkland and Bilhagh within the Forest of Sherwood in the County of Nottingham belonging to the crown’. Surveyed in the year 1791 by John Renshaw following an Act of Parliament in the 26th year of George III shows ‘a tree called Major Rooke’ (Nichols 1987). 

The map is preserved at the Nottingham Archives as NRO ED 4 L.

It is possible that this is the earliest reference to the Major Oak bearing that name. 

Rooke’s publication ’Remarkable Oaks’ was not published until 1790.

It was Rooke’s association with this tree and the fame it gathered following his publications that helped the link to become established. 

Previously the tree had been known by a number of names. 

It should also be noted that on the slightly later map of Birklands and Bilhaugh surveyed by James Dowland for inclusion in Rookes own 1799 publication ‘A Sketch of the Ancient and Present State of Sherwood Forest in the County of Nottingham’ the tree is unnamed (Rooke 1799). (Gaunt & Gillott 2011). 

See the Archaeology of Birklands and Bilhaugh: Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve for more details and for information on the archaeology of the woods

Before it was known as the Major Oak it was called the 'cockpen tree' because it was reputedly used to house fighting cocks. 

It has also gone by the name the 'Queen's Oak'.

The tree now forms the main tourist attraction at the Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve and is visted by millions of people.

Having stood for nearly a thousand years, it has seen its fair share of history and certainly deserves the title of iconic.

(More to come on the other ancient named an famous oak trees of Medieval Sherwood Forest soon).



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