Major Oak (Sherwood Forest)

From International Robin Hood Bibliography
Coordinate 53.204616, -1.072424
Adm. div. Nottinghamshire
Vicinity Near Edwinstowe, in Sherwood Forest
Type Natural feature
Interest Local tradition
Status Extant
First Record 1790
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The Major Oak.
Sherwood Forest – An Introduction To The Major Oak
The Major Oak, Sherwood Forest

By Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2016-05-16. Revised by Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2022-04-22.

The Major Oak is a large English Oak (Quercus robur) near the village of Edwinstowe in Sherwood Forest. At least since Walter Scott's Ivanhoe was published in 1820, this tree has been connected with Robin Hood. Thus Wikipedia notes that "[a]ccording to local folklore, it was Robin Hood's shelter where he and his merry men slept."[1]

Weighing an estimated 23 tons, the tree has a girth of c. 10 metres and a canopy c. 28 metres' circumference. It is believed to be 800 to 1000 years old. Since the Victorian era its massive limbs have been supported by an elaborate system of scaffolding. The Major Oak was voted "Britain's favourite tree" in a 2002 poll, while in 2014 it was voted "England's Tree of the Year" by a public poll arranged by the Woodland Trust.[2]

In 1790 the tree was described as follows by the antiquary Hayman Rooke in his illustrated pamphlet on remarkable trees in Nottinghamshire:[3]

There is, about five miles from Welbeck, on Sherwood Forest, and in the Duke of Portland's manor, a beautiful wood, or rather grove, consisting of above ten thousand old oaks, with birches intermixed, from whence it is called Birchland; the whole occupying a space of about eighteen hundred acres. On the north side of the great riding is a most curious antient oak, which, before the depredations made by time on its venerable trunk, might almost have vied with the celebrated Cowthorpe oak, for size [...] It measures, near the ground, 34 feet 4 inches in circumference; at one yard, 27 feet 4 inches; at two yards, 31 feet 9 inches. The trunk, which is wonderfully distorted, plainly appears to have been much larger; and the parts from whence large pieces have fallen off are distinguishable; the inside is [p. 14:] decayed and hollowed out by age, which, with the assistance of the axe, might be made wide enough to admit a carriage through it. I think no one can behold this majestic ruin without pronouncing it to be of very remote antiquity; and might venture to say, that it cannot be much less than a thousand years old.[4]

Rooke was a retired major, and it was this fact together with his description of the tree that caused it subsequently to be named the Major Oak.[5]

The Major Oak is shown on the map of the 1841 tithe award for Edwinstowe, and the tithe award schedule includes a plot of land described as "part of forest [...] road to Budby & Major Oak".[6]

By 1914 someone had decided that the Major Oak ought instead to be named the Queen Oak, and it is indicated under that name on 6" O.S. maps prepared during the period 1914-38.[7] This attempt to rename the famous tree was obviously not very successful.


MS sources

Printed sources



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