The Elfin Oak - London's 900-year-old Whimsical Tree
Updated: Jun 4, 2022
If you ever questioned London's magic, get ready to change your mind. One of London's hidden gems and often called the oldest tree in Hyde Park, The Elfin Oak is an ingenious sculpture made in 1930 from the hollow log of a 900-year-old oak tree.
Located near the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens, the ancient trunk was carved and decorated with painted figures of miniature fairies, elves, gnomes, and small animals, creating the impression that the fantastical creatures are living in its bark.
The stump was sourced from a tree that originally grew in Richmond Park but was donated by Lady Fortescue and moved to one of London’s Royal Parks in 1928 as part of George Lansbury's plan to improve the public spaces within the British capital.
The Elfin Oak’s designer was Scottish illustrator Ivor Innes. He spent two years engraving 74 figures of the "Little People" into the trunk, closely following the natural features of the tree.
Among the recognizable characters are Huckleberry the gnome, Wookey the witch, the Green Woodpecker, elves Groodles and Grumples, and even Brownie, Rumplelocks, Dinkie, and Hereandthere while being caught stealing eggs straight from the crows' nest.
In the 1930s, the Elfin Oak was the source of inspiration for a children's book authored by Innes’ wife Elsie and illustrated by him. In it, Elsie wrote: “for centuries now it has been the home of fairies, imps, elves, gnomes, and pixies. In the nooks and crannies, they lurk or peer out of crevices and holes, their natural doorways and windows. It is their hiding place by day, their revelry place by night, and when the great moon tops the bare branchless tree the Elfin Clans come out to play and frolic in the moonlight.”
The Elfin Oak was featured on the inside cover of Pink Floyd's 1969 album “Ummagumma,” with guitarist and lead singer David Gilmour pictured in front of the legendary tree. Following a campaign for its restoration initiated by comedian Spike Milligan (a lifelong fan of the tree), in 1997 The Elfin Oak was officially declared a Grade II listed structure.
Hopefully, it'll be strong enough to stand the test of time and delight many future generations. Have you visited it?
📍 Broad Walk, London W2 4RU
🚇 The closest London Underground Station to the Elfin Oak is Queensway Station, on the Central line.
*All photos were taken by Ina/WithinLondon unless stated otherwise. _____________________________
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