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Sykes Timber’s Notre Dame Oak.

Sykes Timber’s Notre Dame Oak.

The Forests of Northern France, including the Forêt Domaniale de Bercé, has been used for timber since the Neolithic. The Gallic Celts (AKA the “Gauls” or the “Carnutes”) who lived and traded across a broad region of Northern France, occupied the area from approximately 6000BC until the dominion by the Romans after the “Gaul Wars” approx 50BC. The Romans declared the Canute Forest an area that should belong to nobody. Today most ancient forests are state-owned national parks and tourist destination including museums of traditional woodworking industries that thrived from the different deciduous hardwoods in this area in the middle ages.

The first official state management of state Forests was appointed by King Louis XIV to Jean-Baptiste Colbert in the late 1660’s
Oak was planted alongside Beech trees so that they would be forced to compete for light and grow tall and straight with a large useable main boule. The idea being to create a wealth of suitable timber for the production or trade ships and warships. The last timber taken from the Forest of Berce for boatbuilding was in 1926 and as there is no longer a demand for the same level of timber for boatbuilding, the Forests are generally allowed to grow more naturally.

On 15th April 2019 the Fire of Notre Dame destroyed the majority of 13th Century Oak beams making up the structure of the roof and the spire. A decision was made to remake/repair the roof as it was, rather than several proposed contemporary remodelling’s of the structure. This required a large commission of very high quality, old growth Oak trees and rare permission was granted for the use of the state ancient Forests due to the overwhelming national importance of Notre Dame Cathedral. Approximately 1500 Oak trees are required that are straight, approximately 500 – 1000mm wide and up to 18 metres tall.

The current stock of Oak we have is timber for the Notre Dame project. A mill that we have close ties with was commissioned to saw some of the largest beams for the structure as they are one of a very small number of mills in France that have a carriageway long enough to be able to handle 18 metre plus Oak logs. In producing the beams there is a lot of material that is cut off just to be able to get to a large solid section, so although our Notre Dame stock is “offcuts” they are still extremely large pieces for any woodworking applications. The mill wanted the pieces to go to someone that would appreciate the historical relevance of this stock and to supply it to a project that would do it justice and give it a good home.