2015 – present
Our vision has always been to try and preserve the full length of this exceptional tree in the form of an iconic table and to place it within the main body of Ely Cathedral as a gift to the nation. Ely Cathedral is surrounded by fields which contain the last of the subfossilised Black Oaks. We hope that by initially housing the table here we can raise awareness amongst Fenland land owners of the urgent need to preserve as much Black Oak as we can before it is lost forever.
The Jubilee Oak planks represent a unique creative opportunity, they have a surreal sculptural quality and visual impact quite unlike anything else.
It has been acknowledged by the designer/maker community that the importance of these planks requires input on design from more than one individual.
A design team of specialists in all the relevant disciplines has therefore been assembled. It is unusual for a team of designers to work together in this way and has required a great deal of respect and humility from all within the team. Particular thanks and acknowledgement to Mauro Dell’Orco for his huge creative input on design concept. Also to Tom Carter for technical support on bronze fabrication, design, patination and his astonishing CAD expertise. Thank you to Hamish Low and Steve Cook for the design development of the table from day one.
The design team started from the need to preserve a rare discovery, not the more conventional approach of satisfying the specific needs of an individual client.
There are many design challenges and considerations unique to this endeavour.
Why a table?
As a table top The Jubilee Oak is at a perfect height to be seen and touched in its entirety.
As a stand alone object a table is viewed from all angles and its visual impact is not compromised by being viewed in context with anything else.
A table has many practical functions, display, dining events, meetings, for serving refreshments etc, so as well as being a sculptural object the functionality of a table can create revenue.
This table is likely to be housed in a variety of public spaces throughout its lifetime and these public spaces are used for a range of ever changing activities, therefore the table must also have the flexibility to be multifunctional.
The design challenge has been to find intelligent and creative solutions to all these issues without compromising the full length integrity of these boards.
Ely Cathedral Chapter have formally committed to housing The Jubilee Oak table for the first 18 months after its completion.
The design team have come up with innovative, unexpected, creative and intelligent solutions to the many challenges within the design brief.
They have done so in consultation with The Fabric Advisory Committee and Chapter at Ely Cathedral thereby resolving all the conservation concerns pertaining to such an important historical building.
Most importantly the design team have remained sympathetic to the integrity of The Jubilee Oak. The planks have been retained full length and techniques developed to enable their individual shapes and character to be used and highlighted. We are calling this technique the ‘river joint’ which while reflecting this most prominent Fenland feature also enables the true story of the ancient high forests to be told at a glance.
Preserving a unique piece of our nation’s heritage.
The table understructure will be made from patinated bronze enabling the confident and multiple dismantling in stages to facilitate various functions.
Its all very well resolving the design challenges on paper but there was a need to mock up this object full size to be able to offer concrete reassurance that the table will fit in and around all the various pinch points within the main body of the Cathedral. Not only that but we had to make sure all the specifications were correct. For example how many people would it take, and how long would it take, to partially dismantle the understructure into its two halves and can those two halves be manoeuvred into The Lady Chapel. Also how many people would it take to lift a single plank and will a plank actually fit along the Processional Way and through the small door into the Lady Chapel? Understandably, no body believed us when we said that it would. But it did.
To mitigate the liability of size the two outer planks can be folded down reducing the width of the table to just 900mm. The entire table can be pushed to the edge of a space and used as a serving table or for display. As well as a practical function, in this form the table is also worthy of comment as the two river joints are spectacular when exposed in this way.
The Principle of the Building Crafts College (BCC) has generously offered the use of his joinery workshop – a space long enough for the fabrication of the Black Oak top. We hope to inspire the next generation of craftspeople by continuing to involve students from the BCC in the project.