Updated 2 Jan 2004

The Major Oak of Sherwood Forest

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The article below appeared in the "Worksop Guardian" on 5 September 2003. It was written by reporter Chris Burton, who drove down to Dorset from Nottinghamshire with a photographer to interview John Palmer. For the time being, the article can be read on the Worksop Guardian website. Contact the woodman on

John and Rose Palmer hope this
land will become a mini Sherwood

Major Oak's 350 'babies' have new home

FROM tiny acorns a great idea has grown. The mighty Major Oak, probably the world's most famous tree, is being replicated hundreds of times over to create a new Sherwood Forest - in Dorset!

FROM tiny acorns a great idea has grown. The mighty Major Oak, probably the world's most famous tree, is being replicated hundreds of times over to create a new Sherwood Forest - in Dorset! But, while the future forest will grow on England's south coast, its roots are firmly planted in Worksop.

John Palmer, who grew up on Sparken Hill, plans to populate seven acres of Dorset countryside with trees grown from the Major Oak's acorns. Having gained special permission to collect the acorns, John makes a yearly pilgrimage to Notts to transport home masses of the Major Oak's 'babies'. "When the oaks have eventually outgrown vandalism I would like it to be open to the public like a sort of park, but I don't think that will happen in my lifetime," said John.

"The problem is I'm 63, and these trees are going to outlive me by a thousand years or so. So what I'd like to do is leave the land to an organisation that will promise to look after it forever," he said.

According to legend, the enormous Major Oak was once the hiding place for Robin Hood and his men - now supported by scaffolding and fenced off from the public, the massive tree's legacy looks set to live on for centuries to come thanks to this amazing project.

The seeds of John's idea were sown when he came to Worksop, aged five, to live with his aunt and uncle who owned Dougill's of Worksop, a drapers shop in Park Place.

He attended St Mary's RC School on Sparken Hill, then Newcastle Street Primary School where he gained his 11-plus before moving on to Retford Grammar School.

"I have tremendous memories of Worksop. I had a great boyhood there, a marvellous time," said John. "A lot of the built-up estates were just fields then, it was so pleasant looking back."

"Whenever I go back I see things as they were in the 1950s, I'm sort of living in the past whenever I go to Worksop," he said.

While living in the town, John's uncle took him to Sherwood Forest to see the Major Oak, an experience that had a lasting impression.
"What a majestic sight it was," he said. "It was the start of a lifelong interest for me."
Eventually at the age of 18, John left the town to study physics at London University, after which he started work at the Hawker aircraft company where he worked on the Harrier jet.
"Eventually I got sick of London and came down to Dorset," said John.
After retiring in 1990 at the age of 50 there was no taking it easy for John. He set himself three goals to achieve during 'life after work'.
The first was to 'do some cycling' and never one to do things by half, John biked across the whole of America and enjoyed it so much he did it again.
Next on the agenda was a vague ambition to learn about the Internet; five years later he has constructed six websites, mostly about family trees, each of which are now 'Google Number Ones' and the largest of their kind on the web.
And finally he swapped family trees for oak trees and embarked on his most remarkable mission yet.
In October 2000 John and wife Rose were visiting Worksop and decided to go and see the great tree in Sherwood Forest; while they were they there they collected some acorns.
"I took these acorns home and potted them," he said.
John started a website about his project and provoked interest from all over the world.
Last year John bought seven acres of fields near his home on the banks of the Stour - thus solving the problem of what to do with the 300-plus 'Minor Oaks', which were flourishing in the back garden of his bungalow.
Now John and Rose are in the fields every day, rising at 7am to complete at least five hours of often back-breaking work.
But it is a labour of love for the couple whose determination to see the forest completed borders on obsession.
"It's a nice place to get away from people," said John.
They have built a giant well to supply water for the precious trees, which now live in pots inside a 'deer proof' enclosure.
The well is an engineering marvel of pulleys and ropes that, with a lot of hard work, move a bucket up and down, backwards and forwards, to fill a large ceramic bath that John found discarded in the field.
From this bath watering cans are filled to water the pots.
Eccentric as this arrangement sounds, looking at the well and the two sixty-something operators grimly pulling its ropes, you cannot help but feel New Sherwood is a dream that will certainly become reality.
When the entire field has been protected from hungry deer, the trees and others like them will be planted and nurtured.
And in hundreds of years time, when visitors come to wonder at the mighty trees, they may spare a thought for John Palmer, the man whose inspiration and selfless dedication helped the Sherwood legend survive.

05 September 2003