King's College London
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Fruits of the earth: plants in the service of mankind

The mighty oak

View of the Cowthorpe oak in winter, with the tree showing bare branches. People pictured beneath its branchesView of the Cowthorpe oak in winterThe fold-out plate shown here is an illustration of the national tree of England, the oak, whose mighty timbers have been put to use in the construction of ships, buildings, barrels, furniture and many other items useful and fundamental to the development of human life.

Wood, perhaps more than any other natural material, has helped to shape our environments, formed and transported our goods and provided fuel for our fires.

The wood of the oak tree is known for its strength, and the oak is the symbol of many national and regional bodies. The magnificent oak tree shown here still stands today, though in a state of decay, in the village of Cowthorpe, near Wetherby in Yorkshire.

This ‘Cowthorpe oak’ – in the caption shown here mis-spelled – dwarfs the awe-struck folk of the countryside who shelter under its ancient branches. Its dimensions are described as ‘almost incredible ... its height is about eighty feet and its principal limb extends sixteen yards from the bole’.

However, even in this image from 1801, this ‘venerable tree ... once pride of the forest’ is in decline and its foliage is thin, particularly in this winter view.

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