The English Oak has been the ‘king’ of British Trees. Not for nothing did the botanists name it robur, ‘sturdy’, for until men devised iron cutting tools the oak resisted all attempts to fell it. Its timber later became the foremost construction material, for it was strong and durable and could be grown into the curved shapes suitable for the cruck frames of houses and the knees, or frame supports, of ships.
By the time of Elizabeth I, felling of oak trees had become so extensive that laws had to be passed to protect the tree. Later, the demands of the navy led to extensive planting of oaks in royal forests; many of the trees planted for this purpose survive today to give pleasure to the country goer.
Tall, lightly branched trees are still in demand for oak panelling and for furniture, in which the silvery grain can be displayed to advantage. The acorns were once an animal foodstuff of prime importance, feeding the pigs that were turned loose in the forests in the autumn—a right of ‘pannage’ that is still jealously guarded by commoners living in the New Forest.
Field Guide to the Trees and Shrubs of Britain