Introduction: The Great Oaks of Sherwood Forest

Romantic Associations with Robin Hood.... and more

The Major Oak in Nottinghamshire's Sherwood Forest is justly famous, both for its size and mythological associations with Robin Hood.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Introduction: The Great Oaks of Sherwood Forest' page

The Major Oak, pictured around 1900. Visitors used to be able to go inside the oak as Robin Hood is supposed to have done

Every year visitors flock to the tree and the nearby Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre in their thousands, but how many of them, I wonder, are aware of the many other notable oaks in the forest?

What about, for instance, the Greendale Oak, or the Seven Sisters Oak, or, even more curious, who now remembers anything of the oak known as Robin Hood's Larder?

Sherwood today, with its areas of scrub, pasture, and intermittent woodland, may hardly seem to warrant the title forest, but, in its heyday it was considered one of the finest tracts of woodland in all England .

A survey of 1609 found 49,909 mature oak trees in Sherwood and while by the late 18th Century, a quarter of these had been lost, many of the most significant trees survived to become prized possessions of the great Dukery houses of Welbeck, Rufford, Newstead and Thoresby.


Robin Hood's Larder or The Shambles Oak 

Mention is made, for example, of the tree known as Robin Hood's Larder (or The Shambles Oak), now decayed, which was a hollow oak with hooks inside.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Introduction: The Great Oaks of Sherwood Forest' page

Robin Hood's Larder or The Shambles Oak, photographed in the early 20th century

Tradition has it that the hooks were used by Robin Hood to hang the sides of venison he plundered from the forest (hence the name Shambles Oak).

The tree would certainly have made a fair-sized pantry, but unfortunately it is not possible to determine whether it was old enough to have been around in Robin's day - it was set on fire by picnickers in 1913 and finally blown down in 1962.


The Major Oak (See picture at top of page)

Another hollow tree with Robin Hood associations which is still very much with us today is the Major Oak near Edwinstowe.

The Major Oak is reputedly the largest oak tree in England and its statistics are impressive. At ground level the bole measures 90ft in circumference and at a height of 5ft the trunk is 40ft round.

The giant boughs (now in constant danger of collapsing under their own weight and supported by iron chains and posts) once covered an area of 200 square yards.

Until comparatively recently it was possible to enter the hollow trunk, but the passage of endless feet compacted the ground so much that the roots were becoming starved of moisture and the tree was dying.

It has been calculated, however, that the gash in the trunk is large enough to accommodate 12 men standing and legendary tales have been told of Robin Hood outwitting his pursuers by taking refuge there.

Many people assume that the Major Oak takes its name from its great size, but in fact it is named after Major Hayman Rooke, a noted local antiquary, who first described it in 1799.

A few years earlier in 1790 he had published Descriptions andSketches of Some Remarkable Oaks in the Park at Welbeck which remains a primary source for those interested in Nottinghamshire's noble oak trees.


The Greendale Oak

One of the trees described by Rooke is the Greendale Oak, his engraving of which is reproduced here.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Introduction: The Great Oaks of Sherwood Forest' page

The Greendale Oak in the park at Welbeck pictured in 1790 by the noted local antiquary Major Hayman Rooke. Note the aperture in the trunk, wide enough to allow a coach and horses to pass

Although sadly no longer surviving, in its heyday the Greendale Oak was even larger than the Major Oak - so large in fact that in 1724, the 1st Duke of Portland was able to win an after-dinner bet that he would be able to drive a coach and six right through it.

The tree was duly hollowed out and the bet won, and in 1790 Hayman recorded the measurements of the arch as 10ft 3ins high by 6ft 3ins wide.

Sadly, however, the Duke's folly dealt the tree a fatal blow. Even by the time of Rooke's measurments the oak appeared to be dying and had to be supported on crutches. It was a remarkably slow decay and it is within living memory that the crumpled remains were finally removed from Welbeck's southern prospect.


The Duke's Walking Stick

The loss of such legendary oaks as the Greendale from the forest is undoubtedly sad, but elsewhere there are instances of ancient trees which have rejuvenated themselves.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Introduction: The Great Oaks of Sherwood Forest' page

The original 'Duke's Walking Stck' as depicted by majoy Hayman rooke in 1790

The oak known as 'The Duke's Walking Stick' in the park at Welbeck (named because of its unusually tall straight trunk devoid of branches) has self-seeded and produced a 'Young Walking Stick' currently rising to match its predecessor.

The orginal tree, records Rooke, was 111ft 6ins high, calculating that it weighed 11 tons.  "It may be doubted", says Rooke, "whether this admirable tree can be matched by any other in the kingdom".

With the demise of the original the name was transferred to a different tree closer to Welbeck abbey which (in 1850) was noted to be similarly 'straight as a pike staff' and nearly 100ft tall, there being fullu 70ft of exposed trunk before the first branches were reached.


The Parliament Oak

On the edge of Clipstone Forest beside the A6075, the so-called Parliament Oak now survives as a mature offshoot from the bole of the original. There is a singular legend which gave the tree its name.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Introduction: The Great Oaks of Sherwood Forest' page

The Parliament Oak drawn by Major Hayman Rooke

It all centres around King John who, in the 13th Century, was a frequent visitor to Sherwood residing at the royal hunting lodge in Clipstone whose remains are now known as King John's Palace.

In 1212, while hunting in the forest, the king was informed of a revolt among the Welsh and, anxious to disrupt his sport as little as possible, he hastily summoned a parliament to meet under this tree.

The parliament resolved to execute 28 Welsh hostages being held at Nottingham Castle .

They were hanged in a row from the castle ramparts after which, it is said, John returned to Clipstone to dine and finish his sport.

The Porter Oaks

So called from their having been a gate constructed between them.  Hayman Rooke gave the dimensions in 1790 as one being 98ft tall with a circumference of 38ft at ground level, the other being correspondingly 88ft by 34ft.


The Seven Sisters

So called from its having had seven stems or trunks issuing out of one stool.  Hayman Rooke (1790) gave its height as 88ft, with a circumference of 34ft.

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