Where did all the oak trees go?

On the way home from my Derbyshire drawing trip I visited Little Moreton Hall, a Tudor timber building near Congleton in Cheshire, managed by the National Trust.

If you like old buildings and enjoy the sensation of stepping back in time to past ways of living, you’ll be blown away by this place – I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Made of oak

Standing for 500 years and seemingly moving slowly for most of them, the building is so wobbly and warped it’s hard to believe it could still be surviving. The quality of craftsmanship from the people who built it is everywhere to see, but the most striking thing is the sheer quantity of oak.

It’s easy to imagine how quickly a wooded landscape could be stripped of trees when you look at the vast quantity of oak in a building like this. Many of the timbers, planks and panels are made from very large trees. They are so beautiful, strong and glowingly rich in figuration. My dad was a woodturner and furniture maker and I’m sure he would have marvelled at the quality of the timber. Much as I admired the wood myself, I couldn’t help but feel sad that we have failed to make this kind of timber production sustainable, resulting in only a very few precious old trees being preserved.

old oak tree
Ancient oak at Chatsworth park

Many of my favourite oaks are probably 500+ years old but they are rare survivors. They’ve been conserved by historic accident rather than design and we are only just beginning to understand the complexity of the ecosystems they support. I’d like to think that at some point we could have buildings this beautiful made from sustainable timber as well as a richly tree’d landscape too.

Find out more about our ancient trees

Read more about Little Moreton Hall