History of Border Oak


Border Oak started as a tiny acorn of an idea nearly 40 years ago...

Over the passing decades we have pioneered the revival of oak framing; introducing and mastering many new construction concepts, processes and designs along the way. We have gradually and organically built a brand that is instantly recognisable and known for its craftsmanship, quality and innovation. 

The timeline below highlights some of the crucial landmarks in our history.

From a rural enterprise in the back garden, to market leaders on the world stage.

  • 1976

    John

    John Greene saves a medieval cruck frame barn from demolition and an idea is born

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    John

    John was working as a Commercial & Agricultural Surveyor  - selling steel framed barns to farmers - and one of his clients was about to knock down an old cruck framed timber barn to replace it with a shiny new building. John had worked on many old oak frames (restoring old pubs and oak buildings with his father Reg) and knew it was an important - and beautiful - structure.  In a state of panic he rashly offered £1,000 for the timber barn, which he dismantled and transported 20 miles back to his orchard in Herefordshire.

    Patsy, John's wife, was understandably worried about the money John had paid for a pile of old wood - so John tried to rectify the situation, promising to rebuild the barn and create an incredible family home for them and their young family. Over the next couple of years John worked diligently with his brother in law Mark re-erecting the vast barn (often cursing the fact they hadn't had the foresight, or time, to survey the original structure or annotate each piece) repairing and restoring as they went. However, when John asked the planning department for permission to convert the barn into a home, the Conservation Officer - who was hugely impressed with their work and their efforts to save an early medieval structure - insisted that John add an extension to the side of the original building. Without this there would be no approval - and he stipulated that this extension must be constructed using a green oak frame.

    John knew that green oak framing had died out 250 years ago, but with a design and construction background (and a carpenter brother-in-law) he decided he would make the frame himself. Reg helped Mark and John set up a small workshop in the orchard and word quickly spread about the revival of green oak framing.

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  • 1980

    grey logo

    Border Oak is established

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    grey logo

    With the extension to the medieval barn underway, John and Mark quickly realised that other people were fascinated by what they were doing. Strangers sought them out (and this was very tricky in the days before SatNav, mobiles and the internet!) in the deep Herefordshire countryside to ask if they would undertake projects for them. John and Mark set up Border Oak officially (the logo was inspired by a beermat) and added 'Tiger' to their team as a carpenter and erector. Neighbours and lads from the village helped deliver and erect the early frames.

    Before long their work caught the eye of the media, with local news channels visiting to tell the story of the revival of oak framing (which was a refreshing contrast to the type of houses generally being built in the 70's & 80's). TV presenter Judith Chalmers even stayed the night with John and Patsy whilst filming an hour long documentary about their work.

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  • 1985

    Tinker

    Border Oak build their first Manor House in Bewdley, Worcestershire

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    Tinker

    In a pretty dell, with babbling brook and dappled shadows from the majestic oak trees, Border Oak took on one of their largest commissions to date. The three storey manor house with octagonal tower reached by a suspended bridge, was designed by John and was one of the largest oak framed homes created since medieval times.

    John project managed the complete construction of the property, alongside Mike Bound (now Contracts Director) and many carpenters and builders who still work for John.

    Merry remembers this project clearly 'My sister and I would visit the site with Dad in his old Saab and imagined we were princesses with our own Rapunzel tower. The home owners also gave us two beautiful smocked dresses for Christmas one year which we absolutely loved. And our daughters have worn them since - treasured memories of a fabulous project'.

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  • 1987

    Panel

    The Border Oak Infill Panel is assessed and approved by the Timber Research & Development Association (TRADA)

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    Panel

    Keeping a new oak frame warm and dry was always one of John's fundamental obsessions. He knew he had to devise a system that would provide insulation and prevent water ingress, but could also allow the oak frame to move and expand/contract.

    The Border Oak Infill Panel is highly sophisticated and uses a complex system of rebates, junctions and overlapping seals to enable the oak frame to be watertight, thermal and flexible. In order to reassure clients he had invented a superior application, he needed industry endorsement. The Border Oak Infill Panel was independently assessed by TRADA and wholeheartedly endorsed and commended as being the 'best practice' model.

    Since it's conception, our panel has been much imitated, but never equalled due to poor understanding of the issues and complexities of oak. It remains the best and most reliable system for exposed oak framing.

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  • 1990

    New Oak Framed Offices

    Border Oak relocates to larger premises and builds their own oak framed office

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    New Oak Framed Offices

    John, Mark and Tiger (who had been joined by a few others) quickly outgrew the workshop in John's garden (and the neighbours weren't keen on the oak deliveries!) so they relocated to a nearby industrial site behind a trading sawmills in Kingsland. They spent several years working from in a portacabin (with no loo) - designing, project managing and making frames in a small area all hours of the day.

    A few years later John heard that the main sawmills was due to close due to retirement -  John and Mark jumped at the chance to buy the larger site, complete with large workshops and the old Station office (the railway ran alongside the site, but closed in the 1960's). They sold their smaller site - with portacabin - and moved 50 yards into their location, which transformed how they made frames and enabled them to employ more people.

    Border Oak grew rapidly as demand for their unique product soared and John and Mark invested every penny in a new oak framed cottage to sit in front of the Station office. The idea was to build more space to grow and create a designated design office, but also to cronstruct a living advertisment for what they could do. Luckily the site was located in a prominent position on a main road and the new oak frame garnered a lot of attention.

    It proved instantly successful.

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  • 1992

    British Hills

    An article in the Financial Times leads to a very interesting Japanese proposition.....

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    British Hills

    A reporter for the Financial Times wrote an article on Border Oak, which by chance was read by an Architect from a firm that had just secured a contract from the Obayashi Corporation (the largest construction company in the Pacific Rim) to build British Hills, an 'Olde English' village on a university campus in Shirakawa, north of Tokyo. The project was to provide student accommodation, tithe-barn housing, a craft workshop, a country-style kitchen, tea rooms and a pub. The idea being to create a 'typically English' setting where Japanese students could come to learn English and all about our customs and etiquette.

    The architects had jumped at  the chance to take on the prestigious contract, but couldn't find anyone to take on the authentic oak framing element, until they read about Border Oak and what we do on the commuter train one morning

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  • 1996

    Kirzhnev

    Border Oak build a 20,000 square foot house in Connecticut, USA

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    Kirzhnev

    It's not every day that you get asked to build an Elizabethan Manor House for a Russian in America who lives next door to Diana Ross.

    We had to organise passports for many of our builders to travel, some of whom had never left the county before. One of our roofers didn't return - falling in love with a native American and setting up a new life in the States.

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  • 1996

    Shakespeare Country Park

    Business in Japan is booming and Border Oak take on a contract for the Shakespeare Country Park, 50 miles east of Tokyo

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    Shakespeare Country Park

    95 container loads of oak frames, posts, pegs, beams and trusses are shipped 8,000 miles to form a Shakespearean/Elizabethan replica village -  a tourist attraction for day trippers from Tokyo. 

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  • 1998

    John discovers a new product called SIPs and begins devising a way to encapsulate our oak frames

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    While skiing in America John saw houses being built using large scale panels, seemingly with minimal structural support. The panels had integral insulation and were erected incredibly quickly.

    When he returned home he started searching for the product, already devising a way to use it to revolutionise the self build market in the UK.

    Luckily for John, our friends at Kingspan had acquired a factory producing a construction panel that they were considering closing or repurposing -until a chance conversation with John led to a partnership to deliver encapsulated homes and combine oak framing with a high performance advanced perimetre system.

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  • 1998

    Ishiya

    Border Oak Japan goes from strength to strength

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    Ishiya

    The popularity of traditional English Architecture in Japan continues and Border Oak are commissioned to build an oak façade for a Chocolate Factory as well as a Teddy Bear Museum, Wine Bar and Bonsai Museum.

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  • 2000

    Big Barn SIPs

    Border Oak builds new Design Offices using SIPs - the first time SIPs had been specified for use on an entire building in the UK

    Big Barn SIPs
  • 2001

    Pearmain Artist Impression

    John designs Pearmain Cottage - an externally rendered cottage with an internal oak frame with SIPs

    Pearmain Artist Impression
  • 2003

    Pearmain Cottage

    The very first Pearmain Cottage is featured on Channel 4's Grand Designs

     

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    Pearmain Cottage

    Built by Merry and Ben (John's daughter and son-in-law), the cottage inspired 1000's of self-builders and inadvertently launched our Pearmain Cottage and Border Oak Porch.  Kevin McCloud was impressed - "craftmanship, simple honest materials, modern comforts and a certain modesty - all exemplary qualities for a 21st century cottage". It also inspired Merry and Ben to build two further houses, the last one of which, Meadowmead, is used as a Border Oak Showhouse.  

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  • 2003

    COFEPOW

    COFEPOW memorial building at The National Memorial Arboretum

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    COFEPOW

    Border Oak designs and builds the COFEPOW (Children of the Far East Prisoners of War) exhibition building, a poignant memorial to the many thousands of men, women and children imprisoned or interned and those who died at the hands of the Japanese in the Far East.

    This building started a long running association with the NMA, where Border Oak have erected many buildings.

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  • 2004

    Border Oak construction systems are assessed and approved by TRADA and adopted by NHBC as 'best practice'

  • 2008

    Hut 104

    Project 104 - The Great Escape

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    Hut 104

    More than 60 years after the end of WWII, a memorial was opened on August 16, 2008 that commemorated the heroic men who tunnelled out of a German prison camp in the famous Great Escape. The memorial is a reconstruction of Hut 104, the hut from which the entrance to Great Escape tunnel ‘Harry' was started.

    Border Oak was proud to work alongside designers and builders from the RAF to faithfully reconstruct the huts from the Stalag Luft III Prisoner of War Camp in Zagan, Poland.

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  • 2010

    Border Oak becomes the first oak frame company to be fully FSC® and PEFC compliant 

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    We adopt ethical procurement, waste minimisation and sustainable construction systems across all of our products.

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  • 2010

    Joint Managing Director Mark Hicks (John's brother-in-law) retires

  • 2011

    John Surtees Open Day

    Border Oak is thrilled to be asked by racing legend John Surtees OBE to work with him on a project

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    John Surtees Open Day

    John Surtees set up the Henry Surtees Foundation (HSF) after his son Henry was tragically killed in a racing accident at Brands Hatch in 2009. In 2011 the HSF donated a garden studio (designed and built by Border Oak) to the West Kent branch of Headway, a charity that helps support people who have suffered brain injuries.    

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  • 2011

    Border Oak becomes a Kingspan TEK Delivery Partner

  • 2011

    NEC 01

    Border Oak erects an entire house inside Birmingham NEC in four days!

    NEC 01
  • 2012

    Joe & Prince Philip

    Border Oak attend the Herefordshire Queen's Jubilee celebrations - Prince Philip is particularly interested in what we do

    Joe & Prince Philip
  • 2013

    Mike Bound

    Mike Bound, Border Oak's Contracts Director, wins 'Director of the Year' in the Family Business category at the Institute of Directors Awards

    Mike Bound
  • 2014

    Prince William opens the Border Oak shelter commissioned by the Football Association for their 'Football Remembers' memorial

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    Border Oak is commission by the Football Association to design and build an oak framed shelter for the Football Association's 'Football Remembers' memorial at The National Memorial Arboretum in honour of the 1914 Christmas Day Truce. Les from our Outbuildings team even got to meet Prince William, who said he has known of Border Oak for some time and much admires our work!

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  • 2015

    Show House 02

    Border Oak Show House is constructed in Kingsland, Herefordshire

    Show House 02
  • 2016

    Meadowmead

    John's daughter Merry and her husband Ben build Meadowmead - to act as a test house for innovative practices and details

    Meadowmead
  • 2017

    Site Overhead Photo

    Border Oak purchase additional land at their HQ to facilitate future growth and development

    Site Overhead Photo
  • 2018

    Cricx

    Border Oak forms a partnership with a company in Belgium - bringing interesting projects in from all over Belgium, France and Europe

    Cricx
  • 2020

    JDG image

    John Greene, our Director was awarded the prestigious Life Time Achievement accolade in the Homebuilding and Renovating Magazine Awards.

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    JDG image

    John Greene, our Director, has been awarded the prestigious Life Time Achievement accolade at the inaugural Homebuilding and Renovating Magazine Awards for his services to the self and custom build sector.

    The award is a wonderful accolade to receive in Border Oak's 40th anniversary.

    John started Border Oak in 1980 with his Brother-in-Law Mark Hicks, and they were originally based in a modest workshop in Johns orchard in Eardisland, North Herefordshire. John still lives in the first Border Oak home, built in the same orchard as the workshop, but is currently embarking on his second personal self build project just a couple of hundred yards away.

    John is an exceptionally talented vernacular architect by profession and has been Managing Director and owner of Border Oak for 4 decades, working alongside many family members and talented colleagues he feels are also his family. John always set out to establish a unique home building approach, with an unmatched reputation for innovation, craftsmanship, quality and fairness. He has not stopped since - diversifying and inventing whenever he can, making sure that high quality, sustainable and bespoke housing is an option for all.

    The judges wanted to recognise his unique and longlasting contribution to the entire industry - commenting that not only has he created and influenced the oak frame sector but has also forged and shaped the wider custom and self build landscape of the UK.

    Everyone at Border Oak is delighted that John has been unanimously selected as the worthy recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award - and we are all enjoying his awkward embarrassment considerably!

    Watch our video of congratulations here 

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  • 2020

    mm60

    Border Oak are awarded the Homebuilding and Renovating Best Oak Frame Supplier Award in 2020

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    mm60

    We were absolutely overjoyed to have won Homebuilding and Renovating 'Best Oak Frame Supplier' award in 2020. What makes there award even more special is that it is voted for by the public.

    In a year where Covid stopped all shows, open days etc. we were very humbled to have been awarded with it so we want to thank each and every person who voted for Border Oak, including hundreds of our lovely loyal clients and those of you who have watched and supported our journey over the past 40 years. We are very, very grateful.

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  • 2020

    farm pic

    Farm for the future - Border Oak purchase a smallholding near our offices.

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    farm pic

    As part of our larger strategic plans and are delighted to share with you our recent purchase of a traditional smallholding close to our existing offices and workshop, together with 22 acres of farmland in a nearby village. For some years now we have been looking for some land that we can bring forward as part of our biodiversity betterment, ecological enhancement and carbon sequestration aspirations. 

    The main small holding has a farmhouse, various barns and outbuildings, and 12  acres of organic apple and pear orchards. The additional farm land comprises of an old dairy farm and arable land - including a wonderful old oak tree.

    We shall be sharing our plans for the Farm in 2021!

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