Three people in my life have to date quoted a nice story at me, with various endings – the ecomentalist:
After the giant oak beams in the New College’s great hall rotted out, the Dons of the college were at a loss to source replacement oak timbers of sufficient size. The college forrester came to the rescue — it turned out that when the New College was built, 500 years previous, the Dons of the college had planted oaks in Oxford’s forest. Now, 500 years later, they were ready to be harvested and put into service in the great hall. The modern-day Dons thanked the forrester, chopped down the trees and sold the forest.
So they called in the College Forester, who of course had not been near the college itself for some years, and asked him about oaks. And he pulled his forelock and said, “Well sirs, we was wonderin’ when you’d be askin’.”
Upon further inquiry it was discovered that when the College was founded, a grove of oaks had been planted to replace the beams in the dining hall when they became beetly, because oak beams always become beetly in the end. This plan had been passed down from one Forester to the next for five hundred years. “You don’t cut them oaks. Them’s for the College Hall.”
A nice story. That’s the way to run a culture.
…and so forth; I like the tale too, and lean towards preferring the inspirational managing for the future theme, but apparently in truth it’s all embroidery:
This story regards the replacement of the oak beams in the college dining hall, and is occasionally given as an example of admirable forward planning. In its mythical form the story is often attributed to the anthropologist Gregory Bateson and may be found in a number of places:
* Brand, Stewart How Buildings Learn Viking, 1994
* McDonough, William A Centennial Sermon: Design Ecology Ethics and The Making of Things
When the college archivist was asked about this story she came back with the following information.
In 1859, the JCR [Junior Common Room–basically, the students] told the SCR [Senior Common Room–sort of like faculty] that the roof in Hall needed repairing, which was true. (As an aside, at this time, there were few enough people that Hall contained a grand piano; this can be seen in the Joseph Nash watercolour of the hall illustrating the Introduction to the Treasures pages.)
In 1862, the senior fellow was visiting College estates on `progress’, i.e., an annual review of College property, which goes on to this day (performed by the Warden [the head of the College]). Visiting forests in Akeley and Great Horwood, Buckinghamshire (forests which the College had owned since 1441), he had the largest oaks cut down and used to make new beams for the ceiling.
It is not the case that these oaks were kept for the express purpose of replacing the Hall ceiling. It is standard woodland management to grow stands of mixed broadleaf trees e.g., oaks, interplanted with hazel and ash. The hazel and ash are coppiced approximately every 20-25 years to yield poles. The oaks, however, are left to grow on and eventally, after 150 years or more, they yield large pieces for major construction work such as beams, knees etc.
…originally cited at http://www.new.ox.ac.uk/NC/Trivia/Oaks/ but which appears to be gone.
I wonder if they can do me a new knee?
See also the book in Google Books