Stamford History: The Bowthorpe Oak
‘Mighty oaks from little acorns grow,’ as the saying goes. And that’s certainly the case with The Bowthorpe Oak near Stamford, which is thought to be the oldest tree in England, with over 1,000 years of heritage…
‘Mighty Oaks from little acorns grow;’ in other words, great things come from small beginnings. Set in the picturesque village of Manthorpe stands Bowthorpe Oak, one of Britain’s greatest trees, so large, it’s impossible to think it began life as no more than an acorn!
The Bowthorpe Oak is an ancient survivor that may well have witnessed more than 1,000 years of English history. It is likely to be the oldest oak tree in England and one of the oldest in Europe. The first references to the tree date back to the 1760s.
Due to the tree’s great stature and age it has been a visitor attraction for hundreds of years and there are records of past residents using the tree to entertain their guests, with tea parties being held inside the hollow trunk. The 1760’s squire of Bowthorpe is said to have smoothed out the tree’s hollow trunk and created a room inside the oak in which he could entertain as many as 20 guests at a sit-down dinner.
However the oak was around long before the sociable Squire of Bowthorpe decided to use it as a dining room. At one time the famous tree was even said to have had a ceiling built with a pigeon loft above and door fitted.
Until recently livestock would take shelter in its ancient interior and many cows, chickens, sheep and horses could be seen grazing in and around the tree.
However, the current owners have now fenced of the tree which does limit access, but it is needed to preserve the tree and ensure there is no compaction that can damage the roots. As many individuals in their later years can confirm, with advancing age comes expanding girth. The Bowthorpe Oak is the biggest Penduncalate Oak by girth in the UK and has slowly expanded to achieve a most impressive girth of 43.6 feet (13.3 meters). Only two Sessile Oaks have a marginally larger girth, but their trunks are rather more ruined by time.
It is the measuring of trunk girth which indicates the age of the tree. As the tree is totally hollow the growth of the outer shell of wood is the means by which it’s measured.
An old source – a notation by Mr Howell at the back side of a gravure of the tree of 1804 – states that the tree was hollow and had a girth of 37ft (11.3m). It is this slow growth of girth which has made several historians think the tree could be 1,000 years old.
The old oak has three chains fitted for support. Over 100 years ago the first chain was fitted and then a second was added in 1978 along with this some pruning work carried out to remove dead branches. The third was added around 12 years ago.
In 2002 the tree council in celebration of The Golden Jubilee of her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II designated The Bowthorpe Oak one of 50 Great British Trees in recognition of its place in the national heritage June 2002.
The Bowthorpe Oak sits on Bowthorpe Park Farm and is an attraction for all nature lovers and tree enthusiasts to admire its girth and imagine all the history this iconic tree has seen.