About the Fenland Black Oak Project
In March 2012, a unique 5,000 year old sub-fossilised trunk of an ancient giant oak (Fenland Black Oak or Bog Oak) was discovered in the Fens near the Cambridgeshire/Norfolk border.
Instigated by Fenland Black Oak specialists and cabinet makers Adamson and Low and encouraged by the Worshipful Company of Carpenters, the Diamond Jubilee Fenland Black Oak Project seeks to excavate, preserve and utilise this ancient trunk.
The tree is a massive 44ft / 13.4m long with no measurable taper indicating either root or canopy. The only staggering conclusion to be drawn from this is that the tree is only a small section of a much, much larger tree.
This specimen is sound along its full 44ft length, which, along with the fact that it is impossible to know how long on Fenland Black Oaks will continue to rise out of the soil, and their fragility, makes it unique and worthy of preserving for the interest of the nation. Fenland Black Oak is one of our nation’s most important national timbers but there are no notable examples of Fenland Black Oak or Bog Oak on display in the UK at all.
Due to the astonishing degree of preservation Hamish Low of Adamson and Low decided the tree should not be cut into 12ft lengths and preserved in the normal way, but rather, the integrity of the tree should be retained by milling it full length.
Hamish Low said on first sight of this tree:
“I have been processing Bog Oaks for 20 years and when I saw this one it took my breath away, not just because of it’s size but due to the degree of it’s preservation. I actually think that this tree is of national importance because it gives us the opportunity to mill and dry planks of this unprecedented size, we can then use them to create an incredible table top 44ft long out of the nations rarest and most precious native hardwood. This will give an insight into the majesty and grandeur of these ancient high forests. In short, we can hopefully create an unprecedented masterpiece and give it to the nation to be put on public display.
It is very important that we try and do this with this tree because there will come a time when there is simply no more buried beneath the peat.”
The project is also hoping that by involving the students of the Fine Woodwork Department of the Building Crafts College, in Stratford, East London, we can help inspire the next generation of craftsmen.
This project must also help raise awareness of just how unique, important and precious this Fenland Black Oak is and hopefully encourage Fenland land owners to contact us if they excavate a well preserved specimen. Bog Oaks are very fragile and degrade very quickly when they are exposed to the elements so upon excavation it is very important to try and preserve them as soon as possible.
The Diamond Jubilee Project
What is Fenland Black Oak?
Approximately 7000 years ago a rise in sea level relative to land level caused the rivers to back up and flood the fens. Consequently, the giant trees died standing and then fell into the silt of the forest floor where many have been preserved under anaerobic conditions until now.
These colossal examples hint at the extraordinary grandeur and density of these high forests. The trees are however extremely fragile when exposed to the elements and degrade very quickly indeed.
Due to the density of these majestic forests, the first of the trees to fall having had an uninterrupted descent into the silt are in a far better condition than those exposed for longer. Many trees would have fallen on top of one another and been exposed to the elements to varying degrees leaving them vulnerable to insect infestation, fungal disease and decay before being preserved in the silt of what was once the forest floor.
The characteristic black quality of Fenland Black Oak is a result of a chemical reaction occurring between the tannins in the oak and soluble irons present in the mineral subsoil.
Fenland Black Oak has been used for small turnings and inlay details in furniture for hundreds of years, mainly because it was the only native black timber available. It is unusual to see Fenland Black Oak or bog oak used in any substantial thickness as traditional drying techniques would have resulted in a great deal of degrade.
However due to the development of artificial drying techniques and the research undertaken by Hamish Low over the last 20 years, it is possible to dry this precious material in large sections. It is then that the true nature of this rare and visually powerful timber can be appreciated.
When Fenland Black Oak is discovered and excavated, it is water-logged and fragile and can deteriorate very quickly. 12ft lengths are the norm for ease of transport, careful specialist kiln drying and use in furniture design and making. For our epic 44ft trunk, specialist sawmilling, transport and kiln drying will produce stable full length planks, giving them a weight and density comparable to the world’s most highly valued exotic hardwoods.
Research has shown that the age of most species from the East Anglian fenland basin lie between 1,500BC to over 5,000BC. Recent radiocarbon dating of current stocks has established a date of around 3,300BC. Fenland Black Oak is the only British native hardwood which is truly black. Because the preserved trees are far larger than the oaks we see today, they have formed very wide medullary vessels resulting in beautifully figured and uniquely striped quarter-sawn boards. These unique characteristics make sub-fossilised Fenland Black Oak one of our most precious and valuable native hardwoods.
What happens now?
Due to the unique nature of this tree and its importance nationally, the Worshipful Company of Carpenters is managing all financial administration transparently and the project is entirely non-profit.
We need your help!
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The Diamond Jubilee Fenland Black Oak Project brochure
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