Oak has been used as a construction material since the dawn of history and has played a central role in many cultures. It has been used as a symbol of British royalty, was considered the tree of Zeus in Greece and was sacred to the druids. Due to its natural longevity, many oak structures built hundreds of years ago still exist today. In this blog, we will show ten amazing oak structures that demonstrate the structural and decorative versatility of oak wood. All demonstrate the skill and ingenuity of their creators and will inspire anyone interested in working with oak.
10 Oak Structures
1. Westminster Hall
Located in the Palace of Westminster in London, this is the oldest building in the parliamentary estate. It boasts the most impressive use of hammerbeam trusses in British architecture, commissioned by Richard the second in 1393. At over twenty metres wide and over seventy metres in length, it is the largest medieval timber roof in Northern Europe. Its construction was funded by allowing those who had been banished from the country to buy an expensive licence to return home. With the timber alone weighing 660 tonnes, it is a testament to the amazing weight bearing capabilities of the design. A set of 26 angels bearing shields with the royal crest, all carved from one beam, are one of the most eyecatching decorations
2. The Mary Rose
Constructed in 1509 and substantially rebuilt in 1536 to add another tier of broadside cannons, the Mary Rose was the flagship of Henry VIII’s navy. One of the largest ships of her time, after rebuilding she weighed over 700 tonnes and could carry a maximum crew of 700. The Mary Rose served as a warship for 34 years and was only sunk when a freak wind tipped the ship and seawater flooded through the gunports. The wreck was raised from the seabed in October 1982 and today can be viewed in a purpose built museum in Portsmouth. The Oak beams and Oak cladding used in Tudor shipbuilding are clearly visible along with the clinker (shiplap) outer shell.
3. Chester Rows
The architectural feature that defines the public image of Chester and unique to the city. The lower story of buildings were built of stone after a fire almost destroyed the city and huge oak frames erected on top. These can be as high as five stories in places and owning a shop on the first story covered walkways was once extremely prestigious. These huge oak framed buildings are even described in the writings of Daniel Defoe as a feature of the city in 1724. There is even a theory that they were built to be easily defended from rampaging Welsh bandits. There is little proof that this is actually the case!
4. Notre Dame Cathedral
The wooden frame of Notre Dame dates back to around 1220 and is thought to have used up to 1,300 trees to construct. Each beam used came from a different tree and the intricate latticework they formed was nicknamed “the forest”. This was strong enough to support a lead roof weighing 210 tonnes at a steep 55 degree angle. While most of this was tragically destroyed in the recent fire, over 100 British estates have pledged their oak timber for reconstruction. However, much of the carved interior decoration was saved and restoration is planned to be as swift as possible.
5. The Globe Theatre
A modern reproduction of the theatre where Shakespeare staged his plays, constructed using 16th century techniques. Unlike most modern buildings, the entire building is constructed from English Oak, with no steel frame. This uses the traditional tenon and mortis joints used for the original theatre for maximum authenticity and is a fascinating example of Tudor architecture. The Globe is large enough to hold an audience of 1,500 and has the first thatched roof allowed in London since the great fire 0f 1666.
Photograph: Clive Sherlock
6. Saint George’s Hall
After a fire in 1992, several parts of Windsor Castle were renovated. In Saint Georges Hall, the architect Giles Downe remodelled the hammerbeam roof in his own neo gothic style. This reinterprets the gothic style to give a more, organic flow without excessive decoration. However, it is decorated with a series of brightly coloured shields diplaying the heraldry of The Order of The Garter. It was also designed to give an illusion of added height to the vaulted ceiling and is the largest green oak structure built since the middle ages. Also of note is the Lantern Lobby with its flowing oak columns and stepped vaulted ceiling reminiscent of Hampton Court.
Photograph: Getty Images
7. HMS Victory
Located at the Portsmouth Historical Dockyard, this is arguably the most famous historic warship in the world. Originally the flagship of Vice Admiral Nelson and the ship on which he met his death, it has been fully restored. The ship itself is a magnificent example of 18th century oak shipbuilding and appears exactly as it was at the Battle of Trafalgar. HMS Victory is now a living museum and it is possible to view the entire ship, including below decks.
8. Natural History Museum
Along with exhibits representing the different species of oak trees and information on their biology, the museum hosts a unique piece of oak themed artwork. First installed in 2009, the piece was commissioned to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth. Inspired by a sketch of a branching tree of life in his notebooks on evolution, an oak was selected from the Longleat estate. A thin slice was taken from the whole length of the 200 year old tree. This was then mounted into the ceiling of one of the galleries to create the first permanent art installation at the museum. Samples were also taken of the tree and the invertebrates living in it. These can also be viewed as part of the museum’s science exhibits.
Photograph: Mike Smith Studio
9. French Oak Chapel
In the French farming village of Allouville – Bellefosse is a chapel unlike anything you will have seen before. This village plays host to the oldest oak tree in France, thought to be between 800 and 1,000 years old. In the 1600s, the tree was struck by lightning, killing it and hollowing out the trunk. Two local clerics, Abbot Du Detroit and the village priest, Du Cerceau saw the tree and were inspired. For reasons best known to themselves, they decided to build a shrine to the Virgin Mary inside the tree. In following years a spiral staircase and shingles were added to the outside of the tree and it now hosts two tiny chapels. The tree was almost burned down during the revolution, but was saved and is the site of two masses a year.
10. The Oak House
The Oak House is located in Greets Green, near West Bromwich. It is a traditional half beamed Tudor house dating back to at least 1634. A local alderman, Reuben Farley bought the house in 1837 and presented it to the town as a museum. Local architects and craftsmen were employed to restore the house and it formally opened as a museum in 1898. In 1949 it became a Grade II listed building. Period furnishings from its original era were installed and it was reopened in 1951. For anyone with an interest in historic oak architecture or interiors the Oak House is an absolute mecca and is open to the public throughout the year.
If any of the unusual oak structures above have inspired you to embark on your own unique project, why not give us a call? We can provide a wide range of wholesale timber for any job, large or small and our team can offer advice on any project you have in mind.