The Oak in Natural History, History and Literature

Course summary

  • Sat 16 Jun 2018
  • 9:45am-5:00pm
  • Rewley House, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 2JA
  • From £66.50
  • Course code O17P207BIJ
  • 01865270368
  • Applications being accepted

The Oak in Natural History, History and Literature


The oak is the most well-known of Britain’s native trees and the chosen symbol of the National Trust.

To the British the term ‘Hearts of Oak’ is steeped in the way oak products helped to shape the nation.

This multidisciplinary day school will start with an illustrated lecture on the place of oak in legend and in the history of Britain. No other tree has more references to great events, royalty and even daring outlaws.

Many people are unaware that we have two, very similar, native species of oak in Britain. The natural history session (profusely illustrated) will explain how to tell the two apart and look at the wide range of birds, insects, flowers, fungi and lichens associated with the oaks and their woodlands. Many species are only found on oak while others are part of the intricate habitat that is oak woodland.

The management of oak woodlands is part of our woodland heritage and the many uses of oak are an integral part of our history. The supposed shortage of oak led to the setting up of the plantation movement and the deliberate planting of new woodlands. The lecture on the uses of oak will be wide ranging; from cathedral roofs to barrels, from wheel spokes and wooden warships to charcoal and not forgetting the tanning industry and its dependence on oak bark.

The final session will look at the way the oak has been portrayed in literature. From Shakespeare’s Burnam Wood to G. K. Chesterton and Ted Hughes – the oak is a favourite subject.

Class members are asked to bring a copy of their favourite poem/ prose extract to share with the group – note this is voluntary, no one has to read if they don’t want to!

Programme details

9.45am Registration

10.00am The oak in history and legend

11.15am Coffee / Tea

11.45am The natural history of oak and its woodlands

1.00pm Lunch

2.00pm The uses of oak

3.15pm Tea / Coffee

3.45pm The oak in poetry and prose

5.00pm Course disperses

Recommended reading

Hemery, G. and S. Simblet, The New Sylva Bloomsbury 2014

Tyler, M., British Oaks – A Concise Guide Crowood 2008


Accommodation is often available in Rewley House for those who wish to stay on the night before a course. Please contact our Residential Centre on 01865 270362 for details of availability and prices.


Tuition Fee (includes Tea/Coffee): £66.50
Baguette Lunch: £4.70
Full Lunch: £13.50


If you are in receipt of a state benefit you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees.

If you do not qualify for the concessionary fee but are experiencing financial hardship, you may still be eligible for financial assistance.

Concessionary fees for short courses


Dr Patrick Harding


After seven years of teaching evolution and ecology to undergraduates, Patrick Harding spent 20 years organising the science Continuing Education programme at Sheffield University. Free-lance since 1996, he has written eight books on topics such as Christmas fungi, flowers and trees, led study tours to Turkey, Finland, Slovenia and the Canaries, and taught at centres throughout Britain. He appears regularly on television, and lectures to a wide range of societies. Patrick is a professional botanist and a keen amateur gardener.

Dr Thomas Hesselberg

Director of Studies

Dr Thomas Hesselberg’s research focuses on behavioural ecology and comparative biomechanics of invertebrates primarily using spiders and their webs as model organisms. In particular, he is interested in how behavioural plasticity has evolved to cope with the constraints imposed by a relatively limited brain capacity and with the biomechanical constraints imposed by morphological and external environmental factors as well as silk material properties.


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