NGR:- SK 62048 67908. In Sherwood Forest Country Park, beside Robin Hood’s Way, ½ a mile north of Edwinstowe, in Nottinghamshire, is the much-photographed ‘Major Oak’, an ancient English oak tree that has stood here for many hundreds of years and, according to legend, it gave shelter to the outlaw Robin Hood, the much talked about legendary figure of Sherwood Forest and Nottingham. According to legend Robin and Maid Marian were married in Edwinstowe Church. This giant English oak tree was originally called ‘The Great Oak’ and ‘Queen’s Oak’, but in 1806 it was renamed after a well-known military man of local repute. It has a huge girth and an equally great height though it has often proved difficult to measure exactly. The Major Oak has over the centuries been a place to meet and gather for local people, and in more recent times a place to ‘sit beneath’ and be photographed! At the northeastern side of Edwinstowe: take either of two footpaths running northwest (through Sherwood Forest) for a ¼ of a mile or so from the B6034. The tree stands on Broad Drive which is also called Robin Hood’s Way.
The Major Oak, Great Oak, Queen’s Oak or Cockpen Tree has probably stood here in Sherwood Forest for 1,000 years. This Pedunculate oak is a native English oak tree with the Latin name ‘Quercus Robur’; the peduncles being its longish stalks carrying the acorns. It is distinguished from sessile oak by its spreading rather than ascending branches, leaves with rounded bases on short stalks and acorns on long stalks or peduncles, according to The Woodland Trust (2007). Measuring the tree has always proved to be difficult. Its circumference (girth) is said to be somewhere between 30-33 feet (9-10.5m) and its height in the region of 52 feet (16m), and it weighs in at 23 tons (how did they manage to work that one out). Its canopy is said to extend outwards by 92 feet (28m); many of its large branches are now supported by wooden stakes. Down the years many local people have sheltered, and had their photo taken, beneath this famous oak tree, but back in the mists of time the legendary outlaw Robin Hood and his Merry Men hid beneath its bows – no doubt hiding from the Sheriff of Nottingham’s soldiers, or the infamous Sir Guy of Gisborne!
Garry Hogg (1968) says of the site that it is: “off B6034, half a mile north of Edwinstowe. A five-minute walk through Sher-wood Forest leads you to this extraordinary survivor. It is the largest, if not the tallest, tree in the country. It is a Samson among oaks, forty to fifty feet in girth at breast height, half as much again at ground level, its lower boughs as massive as many an oak-tree bole. A dozen and more people can be accommodated at once within its lightning-blasted shell. It is claimed to be at least six centuries old; certainly it exudes an aura of antiquity that seems to date it back well beyond the age of the baronial castle and the pele towers of the Border.”
Pat Mayfield (1976) tells of Sherwood Forest, saying: “Many people looked upon the trees within the forest of Sherwood as being immortal, and indeed they must have seemed so, for where our lives might be expected to be counted in tens of years the trees’ lives could be counted in hundreds. More especially was this so because the majority of the trees in Sherwood were in fact oaks and grew to an enormous size and age. I have heard many visitors express their disappointment at the present size of Sherwood Forest, and this must seem to them a very little forest when compared with the days of the legendary Robin Hood. What most people forget to take into account is the fact England is now much more highly populated than it was in those days, and that we have also had the industrial revolution and coal mining brought onto the scene, for which both labour and houses were required. For these reasons trees were cut down fairly extensively, and the forests which once covered the whole of central England have now dwindled to a few hundred acres. Fire, too, has played its part in the destruction of the forest, but nevertheless we do have at least some of it left to remind us of days gone by.”
Mayfield adds that: “The Major Oak, as it is now called, is reached by the footpath which starts at the Edwinstowe corner of the forest. It was once known as the Queen’s Oak, but it was re-named in 1806 after a Major Rooke. The tree is 30 feet in circumference, although many of its heavier boughs now have to be supported by chains.”
Tom Stephenson (1946) says that the Oak tree has: “Pride of place among British indigenous trees must certainly be given to the oak. Its roots are deeply buried in our history, and it is one of the few undoubted native trees of this island of ours.
“Among the early inhabitants of Britain the oak was always the object of special veneration, and druidical religious rites and primitive courts of justice used to be held under its branches. Later, the oak acquired great importance for the construction of ships. The “wooden walls of England” or “hearts of oak,” as they have been called, were all made from the tough timber of this tree, the angular branches of which were especially conveniently shaped for the frames of wooden ships.
“The oak is a magnificent, sturdy tree, and develops a huge strong trunk, firmly rooted in the ground, and massive spreading limbs. It is a very long-lived tree and some oaks seem to be almost eternal, century after century having passed over their heads and left them unchanged. Some rugged old veterans are estimated to have lived for over 2,000 years.”
Sources / References & related websites:-
Hogg, Garry, Odd Aspects of England, David & Charles (Publishers) Limited, Newton Abbot, Devon, 1968.
Mayfield, Pat, Legends of Nottinghamshire, The Dalesman Publishing Company Ltd., Clapham, North Yorkshire, 1976.
*Stephenson, Tom (Edt.), The Countryside Companion, Odhams Press Limited, London, 1946.
+The AA, The Illustrated Road Book Of England & Wales, The Automobile Association, London, 1961.
The Woodland Trust, Woodland Trees, Autumn Park, Grantham, Lincolnshire, 2007.
© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.