The Nicaraguan Origins of Altham Oak Beams

Altham Oak’s Derek Goffin revealed this week that a Central American building project he worked on in 1987 was the tiny “acorn” which grew into today’s successful oak carpentry and wood conservation business today.

The co-operative, based by the River Calder at Altham Corn Mill, works wonders with bent wood and oak beams, providing a wide array of traditional designs – anything from the roofs of country houses to the cover for an open-air hot tub. But it was the project in Nicaragua 25 years ago that inspired founding member Derek Goffin to devote his life and his talents to oak beams.

Journeying to the country following the Sandinista revolution of the 1980s, Derek saw a land brimming with opportunities. He recalls that Nicaragua “was an exciting place to be. There was a lot of hope and more people were able to go into education and I thought I wanted to help.”

With other volunteers, he helped to build a new school and was struck by the clever techniques employed by local builders who did not have access to the hi-tech construction equipment in the developed world. Instead of using straight trees to make the roof beams, builders would cut a length of wood from a bent tree with a chainsaw.

“In this country that tree would have been discarded or sent for hardboard manufacture or fire wood,” Derek recalls – and he now uses the same method to create top-quality oak beams from bent trees in the UK.

“Most of the work we do is for people who live in the countryside, where the traditional pre-industrial style design we use fits in with the properties,” he said, although the cooperative has also worked on National Parks’ bridges.