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PostPosted: Mon Mar 09, 2009 9:49 pm
by Robin Fawcett
"The square plates and wooden bowls used on the ships in Nelson's time were made from timber from the Rowan Tree."

I saw this on another forum - any comments ?

Re: Rowan

PostPosted: Mon Mar 09, 2009 10:35 pm
by robin wood

Would you like any other comments?

I would post back on said forum asking for some source or evidence, this sort of tosh should not be spread around the internet.

Re: Rowan

PostPosted: Tue Mar 10, 2009 1:26 am
by Mark Allery

here is the poster for HMS victory by the woodland trust,

I imagine that this might be the source. I remember thinking it a little unusual when I read it by the ship, but promptly forgot about it. Incidentally there is an excellent carpenters workshop on board complete with shavehorse and drawknife etc.

I enjoy turning Rowan (or quick beam, witchen, mountain ash or 'fowlers service tree' which I believe in Latin becomes sorbus acuparia or something like that?) and make quite a lot of rounders bats and handles from it. It is plentiful on the heathland commons around here, but grows individually rather than in stands and it is said to be bad luck to fell a Rowan (don't ask me why). Much of it is small wood although good for spindles straight trees are quite rare so it's hard to believe it was used widely throughout the navy. Not so good as firewood, it spits unless very well seasoned, but it doesn't rot as quickly as birch does. That's all I know, except that we once made fabulous Rowan jelly from bags of berries we picked near Stiperstones one year,



Re: Rowan

PostPosted: Tue Mar 10, 2009 8:42 am
by Andy Coates
I'm glad Robin W said that!

I was tempted to say something similar on the "other" forum...but as forum admin I felt I should leave it to somebody else.

I'll suggest they read "the" bowl book.

Re: Rowan

PostPosted: Tue Mar 10, 2009 10:37 am
by robin wood
I have written several times to the curator and interpretation team at Victory telling them that their square meal story is total fantasy. The etymology of the phrase is clear and well known it started in late 19th C America at the same time as fair and square, square deal etc. and has nothing to do with the English Navy. Whether Victory originally had square plates I do not know, the ones on display are repros. All the archaeological evidence from all the ships I have studied points to round dishes and plates being the norm.

On another note, over the last 25 years a high proportion of Victory's original oak has been cut out removed and replaced with Iroko, the ship is rigged with black polypropolene, it is all very sad to me and particularly so because of the very high visitor numbers (350,000 per year) that get told the spurious stories about square meals, sailors on the fiddle etc and understandably at a site of such national importance you would expect to believe what you were told.

The use of wood in ships makes for a very interesting study and could make a great poster, I am surprised the Woodland Trust make such an appalling poster. Was there a birch besom on board? or records of purchase? Why for hazel do they talk about hoops on casks and picture a bucket even labeling it a "food cask", and one with only one hoop which would fall apart at that? Is that really a picture of a Victory carpenters axe? I very much doubt it, looks more like 20th C fireman's axe to me. "some of Nelson's finest pieces of furniture would have been made from yew" what exactly does that mean? it is made up twadle as far as I know none of his furniture survives. More interesting to say longbows on the Mary Rose were made from yew but by Victory's time they were gone. I am sure many folk on this forum could have written good copy for that poster and am astonished not only that whoever at the woodland trust wrote it did not know better but that they did not bother to do the brief research that could have made it useful.

Re: Rowan

PostPosted: Tue Mar 10, 2009 11:01 am
by axel
If you want mis-information just have a gander around wikipedia!

Re: Rowan

PostPosted: Tue Mar 10, 2009 12:11 pm
by Robin Fawcett
Don't knock Wiki - you can always challenge things you don't think are true. Have a look at this . . .

I have heard the story about the Oak on Victory being replaced with Iroko. Why wasn't English Oak used ? There is a company which makes things from Victory Oak (even down to using sawdust in resin).

I think to qualify they bring on a load of Oak timbers and leave them on deck overnight !

Re: Rowan

PostPosted: Wed Mar 11, 2009 1:36 pm
by Robin Fawcett
You can lead a horse to water . .

"I have it from the Victory Museum plus at least one other source that Rowan was the timber used for these items. I am seeking other confirmation but it could be that the properties of this wood (including the witchcraft aspect) lent itself to this particular use. I will agree that the bowls would not have been fashioned on a power lathe but a treadle lathe was in existence around then or perhaps very soon after."

Was Nelson into witchcraft ?

Re: Rowan

PostPosted: Wed Mar 11, 2009 5:10 pm
by Bob_Fleet
Paul Kendall - LINK
In the British Isles the rowan has a long and still popular history in folklore as a tree which protects against witchcraft and enchantment. The physical characteristics of the tree may have contributed to its protective reputation, including the tiny five pointed star or pentagram on each berry opposite its stalk (the pentagram being an ancient protective symbol). The colour red was deemed to be the best protection against enchantment, and so the rowan's vibrant display of berries in autumn may have further contributed to its protective abilities, as suggested in the old rhyme: "Rowan tree and red thread / make the witches tine (meaning 'to lose') their speed". The rowan was also denoted as a tree of the Goddess or a Faerie tree by virtue (like the hawthorn and elder) of its white flowers.

There are several recurring themes of protection offered by the rowan. The tree itself was said to afford protection to the dwelling by which it grew, pieces of the tree were carried by people for personal protection from witchcraft, and sprigs or pieces of rowan were used to protect especially cows and their dairy produce from enchantment. Thus we find documented instances as late as the latter half of the twentieth century of people being warned against removing or damaging the rowan tree growing in their newly acquired garden in the Scottish Highlands and Ireland. On the Isle of Man crosses made from rowan twigs without the use of a knife were worn by people and fastened to cattle, or hung inside over the lintel on May Eve each year. From Scotland to Cornwall similar equal-armed crosses made from rowan twigs and bound with red thread were sewn into the lining of coats or carried in pockets. Other permutations of the use of rowan's protective abilities are many and widespread. In Scandinavia, rowan trees found growing not in the ground but out of some inaccessible cleft in a rock, or out of crevasses in other trees' trunks or boughs, possessed an even more powerful magic, and such trees were known as 'flying rowan'.

In Scotland it is considered lucky to have a Rowan tree within sight of your front door.
This is probably why you don't want to cut them down.
I have two but one is in a tub and I'm not sure if that counts

Called the Mountain Ash its often the only tree found growing on open moorland, quite often solitary.
The Rannoch Rowan
Probably the loneliest tree in Britain is a rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) which stands in splendid isolation in the desolate wilderness of Rannoch Moor. It perches on top of a giant boulder, its windswept crown bearing testament to the extreme exposure with which it has to contend.
Remarkably, the tree has managed to maintain a hold in the crevices of its lichen-encrusted pedestal, its roots somehow seeking sustenance from a deep fissure in the rock.
This lonely rowan is now a well-known landmark on the busy A82 road.


The wood is nice to turn.
It has a brown heartwood and lighter sap wood a bit like laburnum but not so dark.
Not usually a large tree but just the right size for turning those naff mushrooms, apples and pears we all make and the two colours give some character.

They grow fairly spindly in woodland but I haven't found one long enough in our woodland to use as the pole for the lathe yet.

Just found these amazing tree pictures while looking for info.

Re: Rowan

PostPosted: Wed Sep 02, 2009 8:57 pm
by Donald Todd
The sad thing about the Rannoch Rowan is that it is surrounded by the stumps of a dead forrest. There is, or was, a Rowan in a crevice on the summit ridge of Ben Eighe, over 3,000ft above sea level: now that's what I call lonely.
The wood is peculiar and explains, to some extent, the belief of a curse if you fell it. It has a lot of figure and ray pattern in patches and dries irregularly; some will be OK, some becomes "corrugated", some bends; totally unpredictable; it's getting it's own back for you cutting it down. I wasn't the one who felled this tree! I'm one of the good guys, I grow trees, Rowan included.
I just took this pic of an aborted chair I made 8 years ago.

Re: Rowan

PostPosted: Thu Sep 03, 2009 3:09 pm
by markclay
I attended a talk by the chief conservator for the Victory who basically said that the replacement of the ships timbers with (teak I thought) was simply because the oak would shrink and rot when not wet. Problem with keeping wooden boats dry. I think Robin Knox Johnston's boat was suffering similarly until being restored and back in the water. (mind you I think that's teak so why was there a problem with that being out of the water and not the Victory?)

Re: Rowan

PostPosted: Fri Sep 11, 2009 7:19 am
by Donald Todd
I met a power turner last weekend who has used Rowan quite a bit; usually for green turned bowls. He said that although it has a very nice grain, it smells like cat's pee when you're turning it. I don't remember that.

Re: Rowan

PostPosted: Fri Sep 11, 2009 9:41 am
by RichardLaw
Donald Todd smells like cat's pee when you're turning it. I don't remember that.

I can confirm it does smell horribly, as does bird cherry (felled that by accident, whoops, trees don't always fall exactly as expected). The smell alone is enough to put you off turning it. There are a lot of Rowan trees in Strid Wood where I work, and they grow very tall, but pretty thin. I felled a group of these this year, no curse on me yet ... except something seems to have happened to my sense of smell ...

Re: Rowan

PostPosted: Fri Sep 11, 2009 9:42 am
by Mark Allery
I've turned rowan quite a lot for spindles and I quite like it - but I don't remember a bad smell either. I intend to try it for bowls as soon as I get my hands on a suitable lump this winter. Might it be that rowan growing slow and twisted in exposed locations with poor soil and water is very different from our wussy rowans down here on the South coast which are sheltered and growing in scrub woodlands?


Re: Rowan

PostPosted: Fri Sep 11, 2009 2:35 pm
by Bob_Fleet
RichardLaw wrote: I felled a group of these this year, no curse on me yet

It must just be your avatar then?