By Haydn Brown.
The village of Bale can be found just off the A148, which runs from Fakenham towards Cromer. There is some history here, not so much for being mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086, but for it’s famous ‘Bale Oak’, once an enormous tree with a trunk 36 feet in circumference. The Bale Oak is said to have been a gathering place for pagan worship before the coming of Christianity. Indeed, it is said the 14th century church of All Saints was built beside the oak, in a place already considered sacred. By the early 18th century, the oak was hollow and it was said that ten men could stand inside its trunk. The then Norfolk historian, Rev. Blomfield, added to the information by recording:
“A great oak at bathele near the church, its hollow so large that ten or twelve men may stand within it and a cobbler had his shop and lodge there of late and it is or was used for a swinestry.”
However, in 1795, the oak was severely damaged and was heavily pollarded, with the removed bark and some of the wood sold to the Hardy’s of Letheringsett for tanning. The tree never recovered and was deemed dangerous by the local populace; it was also subjected to abuse and this led to its removal in 1860 on the orders of the Lord of the Manor, Sir Willoughby Jones. There was said to have been much local mourning as the remains of the oak was taken in a cart to Cranmer Hall at Fakenham.
The site was replanted with a grove of 12 Holm Oaks (Quercus Ilex) and may have been planted to commemorate the Bale Oak, although there is a record of oaks being planted there in 1617. The trees have been National Trust property since 1919, and are now ‘listed’ by that body as a ‘Place of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty’. A wooden sculpture now marks the approximate position of the original Bale Oak tree, and the trees that surround it have now grown to maturity and form a screen between the church and the road.