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This Week’s Guest Blogger is Geoffrey Juden the Chairman of the East London Garden Society


The Bethnal Green Mulberry Tree

The Bethnal Green mulberry tree is an ancient black mulberry tree in Bethnal Green in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. The exact age of the tree is unknown, Chartered Arboriculturist Julian Forbes Laird states that the earliest probable year of origin of the Bethnal Green Mulberry is around 1800, but it could be up to 400 years old and the oldest in the East End of London, some say it dates as far back to Bishop Bonner of the later period of Henry V111’s time.

In the archive of the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel there is an inkwell made in 1911 from a preserved slice of a tree, which is recorded as having been taken from a broken bough of a mulberry ‘reputed to be that under which Bishop Bonner went to sit in the cool of the evening’. If Bonner’s tree is not the current Bethnal Green mulberry tree, it could have been the mulberry from which a cutting was taken to propagate the current mulberry tree on this site.
The site is a conservation area, designated by Tower Hamlets council, therefore should be offered a priority when it comes to redevelopment, considering the tree is classed as a veteran tree. These days and times it is also important to promote environmental concerns when it alludes to development.

The trouble with The Bethnal Green Mulberry tree is that it is symptomatic of a malaise within our present planning system, at the same sight there are 27 mature trees to be felled, within this 27 eleven protected trees are to be felled, together with placing the entire conservation area under ecological stress.

I always believe that there is a garden in people’s minds, we may not agree with the interpretation of their garden, never less it is a person’s right to engineer their own garden. The matter of the conservation area in which The Bethnal Green Mulberry stands is that it is a natural garden, pre-ordained by at least 400 years of time. Knowing Tower Hamlets planning decision to, initially fell The Bethnal Green Mulberry Tree, with its friends in the conservation area, left the local population to raise funds to save what is an iconic natural garden from extinction, the fact that the position was moved within the council to have The Bethnal Green Mulberry Tree moved to another area to placate the local population, bore no weight as no guarantee could be given that the veteran tree could be saved. Raising over £20,000 for a judgment on the council’s decision was the only way forward, luckily it was found the council were in the wrong over this natural garden, it makes a statement, although an expensive one, that when it comes to urban green space, something which is becoming a rarity, we must all beware.

We should not have to fight to save nature, our gardens, whether natural or not, there should be a commonality of sense on the best way forward.


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