Cowthorpe, History transcription


Cowthorpe parish:

Cowthorpe, History transcription:

Page 1 (see also Photo)


This gigantic and venerable tree stands at the extremity of the village of Cowthorpe, near Wetherby, in Yorkshire, in a retired field, sheltered on one side by the ancient church belonging to the place, and on another by farm-house; the rural occupations of which exactly accord with the character of the Oak, whose aged arms are extended towards it with a peculiar air of rustic vigour, retained even in decay; like some aged peasant, whose toil-worn limbs still give evidence of the strength which enabled him to acquit himself of the labours of his youth. It is mentioned by the late Doctor Hunter, in his edition of Evelyn's Sylva; in the following note on a passage respecting the extraordinary size of an Oak in Sheffield Park: Neither this, nor any of the Oaks mentioned by Mr. Evelyn, bear any proportion to one now growing at Cowthorpe, near Wetherby, upon an estate belonging to the Right Hon. Lady Stourton - the dimensions are almost incredible: within three feet of the surface it measures sixteen yards, and close by the ground twenty-six yards: its height in its present ruinous state (1776) is almost eighty-five feet, and its principal limb extends sixteen yards from the bole. Throughout the whole tree the foliage is extremely thin, so that the anatomy of the ancient branches may be distinctly seen in the height of summer. When compared to this, all other trees are but children of the Forest. - Book III, page 500. According to this statement, it should appear that the Cowthorpe Oak was, at that time, ten feet more in girth than the Powis Oak in Bromfield Wood, near Ludlow, which measured sixty-eight feet round, and nearly forty feet more than the Swilcar Oak;

Page 2 (see also Photo)


that is, more than double the size of that tree which, as already stated, there is reason to believe is upwards of six hundred years old, and four times and one-third as large as the old oak in Langley Woods, which tradition traced for upwards of a hundred years. In 1829 it was measured by the Rev. Thomas Jessop of Bilton Hall, who thus states the result in a letter to Mr. Burgess: 'The Cowthorpe or Calthorpe Oak is still in existence, though very much decayed: at present it abounds with foliage and acorns, the latter have long stalks, the leaves short ones. The dimensions of the tree, according to my measurement, are as follow: Height 45 feet, (little more than half what it was fifty-three years ago, and then its chief limbs had been destroyed;) circumference close to the ground, (not including the projecting angles,) 60 feet; ditto at one yard high, 45 feet: extent of principal branch, 50 feet, (an increase of two feet in more than half a century;) mean circumference of ditto, 8 feet. I am inclined to think; adds he, 'that the original dimensions of this venerable plant were those given in Evelyn's Sylva. The oldest persons in this neighbourhood speak of the tree as having been much higher; and were we to take into account the angles at the base formed by projections from the trunk, the lower periphery might be made out 26 yards. It is said by the inhabitants of the village, that seventy persons

Page 3 (see also Photo)

at one time got within the hollow of the trunk; but, on inquiry, I found many of these were children; and, as the tree is hollow throughout to the top, I suppose they sat on each other's shoulders: yet, without exaggeration, I believe the hollow capable of containing 40 men. The area occupied by the Cowthorpe Oak, where the bottom of its trunk meets the earth, exceeds, as Mr. Burgess remarks, the ground-plot of that majestic column of which an Oak is confessed to have been the prototype; namely, the Eddystone Light-house, raised by the ingenious architect, Mr. Smeaton, after a model drawn from an attentive study of the principles on which Nature enables her gigantic vegetable structures to withstand, for centuries, the furious blasts that often lay prostrate in a moment the proudest works of man: sections of the stem of the one would, at several heights, nearly agree with sections of the curved and cylindrical portions of the shaft of the other; and a chamber of equal extent, or larger than either of those in the light-house, might be hollowed out of its trunk. It is undoubtedly the largest tree at present known in the kingdom, and cannot be looked upon without veneration and regard. When the huge trunk whose bare and forked arms Pierced the mid sky, now prone, shall bud no more, Still let the massy ruin like the bones Of some majestic hero, be preserved Unviolated and revered ----- Whilst the gray father of the vale, at eve,

Published about 1846 in Sylva Brittanica

Data transcribed by
Jack Parry.
from photography by Colin Hinson