Dendrochronology: Martin Bridge

Dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) is now an established science in Britain. Progress has been rapid over the last 40 years or so, and most parts of the country now have well-replicated oak chronologies against which to date oak timbers. Some parts of the country are more difficult than others, for example in East Anglia the oaks have in the past grown to sizes suitable for large structural timbers in 50-60 years, whereas a similar sized timber in, say Worcestershire, might contain 150 rings. This is important because the patterns of varying ring-widths need to be firmly matched against the reference material in order to be sure of establishing the date. With short sequences several statistically significant matches may be found which are not at the correct position. In practice, dating occurs when a new series is matched (both by comparing visual plots and statistically) consistently against a range of independent data sets. However, as more work is done the success rates even in areas such as East Anglia are getting higher and higher.

To find out more about how the work is carried out click on What is involved?

I first became involved in dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) in 1979 after graduating in Botany from Bristol University and taking up a CASE Research Studentship at Portsmouth Polytechnic funded by the Science and Engineering Research Council, in collaboration with the Ancient Monuments Laboratory of the Department of the Environment. After completing my PhD in Jan 1983, I went to New Zealand for a 1-year post-doc position working on kauri (Agathis australis). Auckland Tree Ring Laboratory. After lecturing in Ireland I worked at the City of London Polytechnic (later London Guildhall University) in various capacities for 11 years. During this time I researched pine stumps in the Rannoch area of Scotland as well as dating oak timbers in Britain and France, and initiating a dendro project in Newfoundland. In 1998 I became Lecturer in Dendrochronology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, and in February 2003 this became a part-time post, whilst for the remainder of my time I work with the Oxford Dendrochronology Laboratory. I have recently left UCL, but continue in the ODL. I spend much of my time carrying out contract dendrochronological dating, mostly for Historic England, but also for County Councils, Museums and individuals.

In October 2007 I was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London (FSA).

I have also worked on a number of timbers from the Tudor warship Mary Rose, independently proving that a number of timbers were inserted after the launch date (1511) - the most significant timber being a frame below a gun-port which was still a living tree in the Spring of 1541 - a short time before the ship sank in 1545.

To look at some of the papers and other articles I have written in more recent years, click on Publications. I have decided to list many of the structures I have dated on these Web pages so that the information is available to a wider audience (but this is one of the bits that needs rebuilding). Many of these details have appeared in the annual publication Vernacular Architecture - the format of their lists having changed several times over the years. Hence in this initial posting, the details appear with varying degrees of information. I hope one day to bring them all into a common format. Sites will be listed by county. To look for dated buildings, go to County List (not updated for a while - will get there eventually!)

Anybody wishing to know more about any of these projects should look at my publications, including those for Historic England (reports), or contact me at

Readers may also be interested in the English Heritage Guidelines on Dendrochronology, available on this link:  EH GUIDELINES (this link may be out of date now, but they are still on the web, awaiting update)

I also serve on the committee of the Essex Historic Buildings Group (current Chairman) and I'm a member of the Suffolk Historic Buildings Group

Last updated May 2023