The Doodle Oak
The Doodle Oak was a celebrated tree, one of the two stoutest trees ever measured in England, with a circumference of 18.2m. It started to grow in about 950 AD. Leaves last grew in 1858, making it 908 years old when it died.
A very old and a very large tree
The actual tree no longer exists but the Forest contains the fenced-off remains of the Doodle Oak, in the NW corner, on the edge of Elman's Green. It is believed that the tree began growing about 950. It is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 and by 1630 was a significant landmark. It was thought to be one of the largest trees (by circumference) in England.
An engraving from 1807 shows a tree with a short, stout trunk topped by a spreading crown, suggesting it had been subjected to some form of pollarding earlier in its long life. This was the so-called "Giraffe-pollard-cut high", a common Tudor practice.
("Original Hatfield Broad Oak", plate 45 from Young, A. 1807, General View of the Agriculture of the County of Essex 2)
It is estimated that the main trunk was about 13m long and about 1m in diameter. Leaves last appeared in 1858.
Further investigation of the stump
The stump was investigated in 1949 by Maynard Greville who found 850 annual rings.
The origin of its name is the source of many stories. It may be related to the word “dool”, meaning boundary. Another suggestion is that it may have been the “oak of doom”. The most likely explanation is that the tree was shaped like a “doodlesack”, the sack of a bagpipe, on account of its very stout base.
How about Hatfield Broad Oak?
This village lies about 3km south of the Forest but it is thought that the “Broad Oak” of the village name is a reference to another tree, rather than the Doodle Oak.
The Doodle Oak lives on
The Doodle Oak may live on, as a young oak tree, to the right of the original Doodle Oak, is thought to be a coppice shoot, attached to the old root. This tree is now taking on the same shape as the original Doodle Oak, so this too may live for another 900 years.
The Doodle Oak Gate
Confusingly, the Doodle Oak Gate is at the other end of the Forest, on the southern boundary, well away from the site of the tree. It takes its name from an old public house, now a private residence, which used to be adjacent to this entry point.
The present record holder
The largest remaining ancient oak in the Forest is tucked away in a scrub along the southern boundary of the Forest, appropriately about 0.5km west of the Doodle Oak Gate. It is an ancient oak pollard, but probably has not been cut for about 150 years.