Oak was a major resource in Britain. Look at the picture below, which shows Salisbury Cathedral in Southern England. It is a panoply of stone, a masterpiece of the mason's art. Well almost all of it. Having constructed the tower of stone the church decided to add a spire, a finger pointing Godwards to draw human minds to heaven. But the weight of stone would have been too much for the spire to bear, so they chose a framework of oak to hold the roof tiles together. Moreover, it was not just English oak, but these master craftsmen in wood, who knew the strengths of different kinds of wood, chose a judicious blend of English and Irish oak. Why? Well examination of the tree growth rings reveals that English oak has thicker rings than Irish oak does, simply because the damp Irish climate is less conducive to tree growth than the English climate is, so Irish oak is the lighter of the two kinds, rendering it eminently suitable for a high and heavy structure. English oak for strength;Irish for lightness.The oak beams have been lovingly tended for centuries,kept painted or varnished to prevent decay, just as the stone of the building has also been maintained, quite an expensive task.
"Hearts of oak are our ships,jolly tars are our men,
We always are ready...we fight and we conquer again and again"
So goes the patriotic song celebrating Britian's naval tradition. I am not enamoured by warlike songs, but it is worth mentioning for the oak of which it speaks. Britain's warships were constructed of oak, and Lord Nelson's flagship Victory, now a permanent exhibit at Portsmouth naval base was made from the wood of 6000 oak trees. Upto the advent of metal ships retired naval officers used to roam the country planting acorns to maintain the supply of wood for Britain's vessels. One officer is said to have planted 69200 acorns around the country. The oaken ships are gone, but these loyal gentlemen gave us so many trees and we can be thankful.
I prefer to put wars behind me, so descend with me into the bowels of the Houses of Parliament where all the written copies of every law passed in this England are kept. We have the oak to thank for their preservation, for since law making began in England the laws were enscribed in oak gall ink. An oak gall is a swelling on an oak tree produced by a particular species of wasp, and each gall is unique to a species. There is one type of oak gall, which when crushed makes a virtually indelible ink, and this ink is used in the venerable parchments that record the doings of parliaments.
The oak provided acorns to feed the peasants' pigs,and wood from coppiced or pollarded oak trees provided many wooden tools [see my article on coppicing.] Many of the poor in the Tudor period made a cheap flour out of crushed and blanched acorns that made up for the wheat flour that they could not afford.