Elfin Oak – London, England - Atlas Obscura

Elfin Oak

This ancient oak plays host to carvings of magical elves, gnomes, witches, and other creatures prominent in local folklore.  

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The Elfin Oak is the sculpted trunk of an ancient oak tree in Kensington Gardens. The gnarled oak was moved to the gardens in 1928 as part of a push to improve London’s public spaces and royal parks. It was previously located in an area that is now Richmond Park for almost 800 years. 

Soon after its move, a sculptor, Ivor Innes, was asked to sculpt the Oak trunk. This began the tree’s magical transformation that would take place over the next two years. Inspired by the fairy lore surrounding Kensington Gardens, Innes worked brightly colored fairies, gnomes, elves, and animals into the wood of the ancient tree. They were crafted to appear as if they were living within its hollow trunk and climbing its branches.

By the time the project began, Kensington Gardens had already gained a reputation for legends of fairies and other folklore. This reputation was strengthened by J.M Barrie’s story Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. Innes maintained the carvings for decades, but by the early 1960s, comedian Spike Milligan noticed the tree was in a poor state and deteriorating. Milligan felt so saddened that he personally funded a repair and restoration project on the figures and the trunk itself.

In 1996, Milligan began a campaign to fundraise for a second restoration that would ensure its permanent survival. After successfully raising the funds, the carved figures were delicately repainted and the entire tree was coated in creosote, a wood tar to protect its dead wood from insect damage. A concrete floor was also added to the tree’s base and a year later, the Elfin Oak was declared a Grade II listed structure. 

The oak remains in good condition and is sheltered and protected by a metal cage and roof. After almost a century, the oak remains a magnificent and magical sight for children and adults alike.