In a fast paced, digital, ‘influencer’ led world being a ‘sponsor’ or ‘in partnership’ with someone often means you have been paid to share a brand and/or product, in this instance, no money has changed hands, I am simply sharing a charitable project The Fenland Black Oak Project which I have been a part of, a sponsor in the true sense of the word, far longer than I have had an ‘online space’, and back to when we first knew our eldest daughter now aged 8 was on the way.
Fenland Black Oak Discovered
Back in 2012, as a newly married couple my husband received a phone call from a close family friend Hamish Low. Hamish of Adamson and Low had long worked with a timber known as ‘Bog Oak‘ and over 25+ years has been perfecting methods, as well as gaining knowledge and skills in drying this precious sub fossilised timber. On this particular call in 2012 however, Hamish was telling us that he had been contacted by a land owner about the most extraordinary timber in the Cambridgeshire Fens, far exceeding any bog oak he had come across before and he asked my husband Paul to take a trip to the Fens to have a look at the discovery.
To give some insight into what they would be looking at, lying under soil in a large field in the Fens was a large black ‘log’ which had been discovered when a farmer hit an obstacle while ploughing a field. The story however, begins 5000 years ago when an incredible ancient high forest once stood in the East Anglian Fens. With the rise in sea level, these incredible oaks of the ancient forest would fall into the silt of the flooded forest floor, which is where they have been preserved just like treasure in the peat.
In 2012, bog oak specialist Hamish Low had been alerted to one giant oak of that ancient high forest measuring an incredible 13 meters long and perfectly preserved.
“It soon became clear that, staggering though this branchless length was, it was actually only a small section of a much, much larger tree. When left ‘in the round’ these sub fossilised trees split alarmingly along their medullary vessels and completely disintegrate.” Hamish Low, The Fenland Black Oak Project
On his return from his trip with Hamish, Paul told me that he would be getting involved with what was likely to be the most incredible project; using his own knowledge of timber and saw-milling, he was going to help excavate this timber from where it lay and assist Hamish in milling the timber.
Against all odds and with the support of countless individuals and companies who also got behind the project as early sponsors, Hamish and his team successfully milled and dried ‘The Jubilee Oak’ and over the past 8 years to present day, he and the team of master craftsmen have been working to give this staggering piece of history a magnificent new legacy.
From that very day of the giant tree being discovered back in 2012, The Fenland Black Oak Project have been working tirelessly in creating a unique table for the nation. Paul and myself, as well as our daughters have been lucky enough to be involved from the very start, from excavating and milling, to creating an earlier website, as well as regularly visiting the timber while it was in the kilns and now, present day, the incredible table top itself.
The Fenland Black Oak – Excavation & Milling
A few images from discovery, excavation and the day milling and transporting the boards. Scroll down to see the progress the team of master craftsmen have made…
The Fenland Black Oak Project – Present day…
A few weekends ago, we were invited over to Hamish’s workshop to see the progress on the table top and it was just incredible.
By this stage the stunning bog oak planks had been kiln dried, had a large split from it’s fall stabilised, the underside of each plank flattened, planed to finished thickness, carefully joined together with a ‘river joint‘ and then patched to reduce the visual impact of any natural features that were too dominant.
This is project is far more than just a ‘table top’ though; this project has always had a very clear vision. Hamish’s vision, as well as those closely involved has been about preserving a unique piece of our nation’s heritage and the full length of this exceptional tree and to place the finished table within the main body of Ely Cathedral as a gift to the nation,
“Maintaining the full length integrity of these planks is at the very core of this project.” – Hamish Low, The Fenland Black Oak Project
The reason for housing The Jubilee Oak at Ely Cathedral for the first 18 months? It is Ely Cathedral that is surrounded by the very fields where these ancient forests used to stand, and where now, the last of these sub-fossilised Black Oaks lay undiscovered, until such a time as they reveal themselves. It is in displaying this table, using this precious timber in its’ entirety that those involved in The Fenland Black Oak Project can raise awareness amongst Fenland land owners of the urgent need to preserve as much bog oak as we can before it is lost forever…
“By displaying this table at Ely Cathedral we are hoping to raise awareness amongst local landowners of the urgent need to preserve as much Black Oak as we can.” – Hamish Low, The Fenland Black Oak Project
A Gift for the Nation & Exceptional Craftsmanship
There is of course another element to the project that I see as incredibly valuable; that I think those who are working on the table itself often can’t see themselves, due to their modesty about the value of their craftsmanship, and that is the lasting legacy of the skill involved in creating such a stunning piece of work.
During each stage of this project there have been the most exceptional craftsmen and craftswomen involved from the earliest discussions about design, all the way to the people hand crafting the table itself. No detail has been overlooked; gallons of water were removed from the timber while it was drying in the kilns, since then, it has had hours of time, dedication and craft poured into it, from those at the Building Crafts College, to those who get involved when the opportunity allows it.
Not to be overlooked was the amount of people who have jumped at the opportunity to offer machinery, transport, skills, support and finances to give the project a start and the belief that this would be something really special.
For me personally, one of my greatest joys is seeing our eldest daughter show such a genuine interest in the whole project. It was the morning Hamish came over with website updates for me at the end of 2012, that I had discovered I was expecting our first child, now, 8 years on, as we stood in the workshop with the table top, I watched her trace the curves set into the table top with her finger. I saw her run her hands over the beautiful river joints and planed surface leaving her hands covered in the darkest sawdust and then hold them up to her face and marvel at the dust as if it was magic glitter covering her palms and then watched as she intently explained the project to her little sister.
With this project so close to completion after 8 years of such extraordinary vision, dedication, belief, skill and support from others, I am in awe of what the The Fenland Black Oak Project has become…
A gift to the nation unparalleled by anything else and for me personally, a continued hope of what this table will symbolise and help to educate generations to come of this precious material, and exceptional craftsmanship.
For more information visit The Fenland Black Oak Project.
Please Note: I have not been paid for this post, all thoughts and opinions are my own.