In 2012 an absolutely gigantic Black Oak tree was hit by a Fenland farmer’s plough. It had been laying buried deep beneath the peat for 5000 years.
With no budget and against all odds a team of dedicated craftspeople decided to try and preserve this Fenland giant...for the nation.
This is their story.
"We're not going to cut this".
"Don't be ridiculous what are you going to do with a 13 metre tree"?
"We're going to make a table".
"Thats the craziest idea I’ve ever heard - how are you going to lift it - how are you going to
saw it - how are you even going to move the planks after they're sawn - how are you going to
dry them - how are you going to plane them - where is this table going to go?”
"Don't know, but the question is - how difficult can it be?"
Very difficult...very, very difficult.
Despite myriad difficulties, (and no budget), companies were approached to support this unique project. Intrigued and enchanted, they said “Yes”.
A vast saw mill was flown over from Canada and assembled in the field next to the tree. The following day the tree was gently lowered onto the longest sawmill in the country.
“Nothing could have prepared us for what this astonishing tree would reveal, 10 magnificent sequential boards unlike anything seen before.” Hamish Low, Project Leader.
Sawmilling day was a good day.
These massive 5,000 year old boards just fitted onto an articulated lorry (with 10cm to spare!) and were transported to The Building Crafts College in Stratford, East London where a specifically designed and constructed 14 metre drying kiln was waiting for them. It took 18 people to lift each board into the kiln.
“9 months later we had extracted a staggering 397 gallons of water from these 10 ancient boards and reduced their weight by 1.6 tons!”
The project’s greatest challenge had been spectacularly overcome and, almost unbelievably, the full length integrity of these boards had been retained. Boards that were 13.2 metres long and 5,000 years old.
We now had arguably the rarest most valuable 10 sequential boards in the world. They are breathtakingly beautiful and without doubt a national treasure. Their like will never be seen again.
The original vision for this table was for it to sit, in all its sculptural magnificence, in Ely Cathedral and in particular within The Lady Chapel. Ely Cathedral is on high ground surrounded by fields which, very occasionally, still yield buried ancient Black Oaks.
“We hope that by having an inaugural 18 month display at the Cathedral we can raise awareness amongst local Fenland land owners of the need to preserve as much as we can for future generations”.
Clearly there is a rapidly dwindling supply of Black Oak buried beneath the peat and its emergence is finite.
We are delighted to announce that we are now ready to start to build the Fenland Black Oak table.
This will be done with the students and staff at The Building Crafts College in Stratford, East London from July 22nd until August 16th this year.
We are using the joinery workshop at The BCC which is not only long enough to accommodate these magnificent boards but it is also an extremely impressive space with a viewing gallery above.
We are confident that this will be a stunning visual spectacle.
From the arrival of the boards in London at midday on Wednesday 24th July, through the various receptions and viewing days on Wednesday August 7th, Thursday August 8th and Saturday August 10th, there will be plenty of opportunities to film, photograph, meet the craftsmen, interview them and even to stroke (!!) these 5,000 year old treasures which have an extraordinary tale to tell - of ancient high forests, of nomadic tribes, of a Fenland unrecognisable today, of a Britain linked by Doggerland to Europe - a remarkable story.
We would be absolutely delighted if you were able to attend one of the Open Workshop events, along with any guests you would like to bring.
Please RSVP by email (address below) stating which day and approximate numbers attending.
Open workshop at The Building Crafts College, Kennard Road, Stratford, London E15 1AH
Weds. August 7th 10.00 - 16.00
Thurs. August 8th 17.00 - 21.00
Sat. August 10th 10.00 - 16.00 - (other times available by appointment)
More support is needed to complete the project, please follow our progress and find out how you can help.
A gigantic 5000 year old oak tree.
An extraordinary challenge.
An unprecedented masterpiece.
A gift to the nation.
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