- Myatt’s Fields mulberry
- Brockwell Park mulberry
- Charlton House mulberry
- Greenwich mulberries
- Cadogan Place mulberries
- Timeline of London’s mulberries
- Deptford to Greenwich mulberries
- Foraging for mulberries in London
- Charterhouse mulberries
- John Evelyn’s mulberry
- Dr John Feltwell on mulberries and silk
- Lewisham’s Ladywell House mulberry
- Lewisham’s Pine Tree Way mulberry
- Spitalfields mulberries
- Chelsea Silk Farm mulberries
- Tiptree’s mulberry orchard
- 100 mulberry saplings for schools and community orchards
- Dr Johnson’s Streatham Park mulberries
- Exquisite Japanese mulberry wood
- The Forty Hall and Myddelton House mulberries
- Charlton House to Sayes Court mulberry walk
- Spitalfields mulberry trail
- Canonbury’s Tudor mulberry
- London Chest Hospital mulberry campaign
- Leytonstone House mulberry
- Boston Tea party – with mulberries
- Kew’s mulberries
- Cambridge’s mulberries
- Milton’s other mulberries
- Milton’s Loseley mulberries
- Wanstead Golf Course champion mulberry
- Dr Stephen Bowe on American mulberries
- Bedford Park mulberry
- The Poplars and the Mond family mulberry in St John’s Wood
- Kensington mulberry botany walk
- Urban Tree Festival 2020: Chiswick mulberry walk and orchard talk
- Mulberry book + Oxford mulberries, Hogarth’s House and more…
- Food for free: foraging for mulberries
- The Wanstead mulberry survives a setback
- Tree of Plenty project in Bethnal Green
- Camberwell’s mulberries
- Charlton House mulberry talk
- Save the Park View mulberry in Islington
- Morus Londinium wins European Heritage / Europa Nostra Award 2021
- Black Mulberries suffer from the bad weather
- Kensington Roof Garden mulberry
- The Lesnes Abbey mulberry
- Atlanta’s Whetstone Radio podcast with Peter Coles
- Dennis Neilson Terry’s mulberry
New series of mulberry tree walks
From the end of June through July I’ll be leading weekly walks, using London’s mulberry trees as waypoints to discover the capital’s hidden past. From Roman bathhouses and Thameside wharves to King James I’s silk project; from Chelsea’s fascinating veteran mulberry heritage to the City’s Monasteries and Inns of Temple …
More information and bookings:
Canonbury’s heritage mulberry
By Peter Coles
Canonbury, that sedate corner of urban tranquillity just two miles due north of St Paul’s cathedral, is home to more curiosities than many parts of London. Some are well known, like the delightful, exposed stretch of the New River, a project started in 1602 and completed in 1613, to bring drinking water to central London from the River Lea near Ware in Hertfordshire (see also our article linked to Sir Hugh Myddelton, who oversaw the project).
And then there is Canonbury Tower – a very unusual Tudor brick tower built between 1509 and 1532 by Prior William Bolton of St Bartholomew’s Priory in Smithfield (on the site of St Bartholomew-the-Great). The Tower was part of his redesign of the extensive 13th century Canonbury Manor, which belonged to the canons of St Batholomew’s. This once covered all of today’s Canonbury Place, including a large park and gardens, complete with an octagonal house – another Canonbury curiosity, which can still be see today in Alwyne Villas.
But few are aware that, hidden in a private garden behind the tower and the adjacent Canonbury House, is a sprawling, gnarled, black mulberry tree that might turn out to be one of the oldest in London.
A 16th century skyscraper
Canonbury Tower is fascinating in its own right. When Henry VIII seized Canonbury Manor during his Dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s, it eventually passed down to his First Minister, Thomas Cromwell, who oversaw the Dissolution. Cromwell lived here for a year before his fall from grace and execution in 1540. In 1570 the Mansion passed to Sir John Spencer, a favourite of Elizabeth I, who became Lord Mayor in 1590. In the early 1600s, Sir Francis Bacon lived here and, later, Oliver Goldsmith.
The Tower has some extraordinary carved fireplaces, Tudor cubbyholes and a dark, oak-panelled room with a few remnants of the paraphernalia of freemasonry. Much of the Masonic symbolism added to the wood carvings and decorations was commissioned by Spencer, who was a prominent Rosicrucian. On Spencer’s death in 1610, the mansion passed down to his son-in-law, William Compton, Earl of Northampton, who had eloped with Spencer’s daughter, Eliza, who was hiding in a bread basket lowered from an upstairs window. The Manor has passed down in the Spencer-Compton family ever since and is still owned by the Marquess of Northampton.
Spencer was a friend of Francis Bacon, the philosopher and parliamentarian under both Elizabeth I and James I, who came to live at Canonbury Manor from 1616-25. Like Spencer, Bacon was a Rosicrucian, and the first Grand Master of modern English Freemasonry. The Tower became the home of the Masonic Research Centre from 1998-2012.
The oldest mulberry in London?
Did any of these illustrious early residents plant the mulberry tree? If so, it could be anywhere between 400 and 500 years old, placing it in the ranks of the oldest surviving mulberries anywhere in England – and certainly the oldest within walking distance of the City. There are very old mulberries in the ancient orchard at Syon House, which are also thought to be 16th or at least 17th century. Old mulberries were noted there in 1548 by William Turner, the botanist and apothecary to Lord Somerset who inherited the Bridgettine monastery after the Dissolution and built a house there. But, although well inside the M25, Syon House is in Brentford, 13 miles away from the City. Meanwhile, another very old mulberry at Charlton House, which is thought to date from 1611, is 7 miles from the City.
Could the Canonbury mulberry really be Tudor and as old, or older, than the Syon House trees? It is impossible to tell for sure, without invasive analysis. But it does share many of the hallmarks of a very old tree: It has collapsed and much of the trunk is lying horizontally. Branches trailing along the ground have started to grow upwards like new trunks, some distance from the original bole. The core of this bole is hollow and split, with the familiar burrs of a black mulberry, making it very difficult to measure its girth to assess its age.
There is a black mulberry at Hatfield House that was possibly planted by John Tradescant when he was Head Gardener from 1610-15, but may well pre-date him by fifty years, as it has also been attributed to Princess Elizabeth, when she lived there before becoming queen . The Hatfield mulberry, though has been pollarded and, while hollow, is squat and not leaning or lying down. Meanwhile, Christ’s College, Cambridge has records of purchasing and planting black mulberry trees in 1608. One of these – the celebrated ‘Milton mulberry’ – survives on a mound in the Fellow’s Garden and shares several features with the Canonbury tree.
There is, then, every possibility that the Canonbury mulberry is very old – the walled garden where the tree stands features in old plans of the Manor. Prior Bolton seems to have been familiar with mulberries and may have planted one or more at St Bartholomew’s Priory, which he rebuilt. There are records of a very old mulberry tree still surviving in the 19th century, adjacent to St Bartholomew-the-Great (with remains of the Priory) and some evidence for a mulberry garden next to the Infirmary. There is a fine mulberry tree there today, although not more than 100 years old, but it does symbolise the ancient connection.
Another possibility is that Francis Bacon planted the Canonbury mulberry. Bacon was a cousin of Robert Cecil, son of William Cecil, the powerful Lord Burghley in the reign of Elizabeth I. Robert was responsible for rebuilding the Tudor Hatfield House and gardens in the Jacobean style. James I had persuaded Robert to accept the Old Palace and manor at Hatfield in exchange for the splendid Theobalds, which Robert had inherited from his father. We know that around 1611 Robert sent his gardener, John Tradescant, abroad to bring back mulberry saplings. He apparently planted around 500 at Hatfield, as part of James’s sericulture project, though only one survives today – and that is a corner feature of the Tudor knot garden, not apparently a vestige of a plantation. Robert Cecil and Bacon were not exactly on friendly terms, but Tradescant may have had a mulberry going spare for Bacon to plant at Canonbury – if there wasn’t one there already….
Thanks to Nicola and Gavin Ralston for inviting me to look at the tree. Nicola is writing her own account of the tree for the Canonbury Society, due out in March-April 2018.
London College of Fashion mulberry
Morus nigra at London College of Fashion, now over 100 years old.
Last week I finally got to see the black mulberry I’d heard about from several people, located behind the London College of Fashion in Lime Grove, Shepherd’s Bush. The College is opposite what was he BBC’s Lime Grove studios for years until they were demolished and replaced with housing.
Pablo, the Spanish gardener for LCF, took me into the courtyard at the back of the main building and proudly showed me the 12 metre high black mulberry, leaning at a slight angle. It produced masses of fruit every year.
From archive photos it looks as though it was planted in about 1904, as a sapling, — perhaps already 10 years old at the time.
The mulberry in 1915, eleven years after the London School of Building opened in 1904.
Pablo told me he had succeeded in growing a mulberry sapling from seed – the only one that germinated from the 25 he planted. After showing it to me, and admitting that he didn’t have the space to grow it himself…. he gave it to me! So I am now the proud owner of a Morus nigra, about 3 years old! Thanks Pablo!
Pablo with the 3 year-old mulberry tree he has grown from seed from the tree at London College of Fashion.
Hornbeam, Carpinus betulus, also known as iron wood, or yoke elm because the wood is so hard it can’t be worked easily. It was mainly used for ox yokes, cogs and cartwheels. The grown-out coppice stools like this one in Highgate wood would also have been used for firewood or charcoal, as it burns slowly and brightly ‘like a candle’. It was used for the tall, dense hedges of the original maze in Hampton Court, although these have since been replaced.
The poet John Clare was fond of hornbeam, which is one of the principal trees in Epping Forest, where he spent four years in the High Beach asylum, from 1837-1841, suffering from severe depression. He was allowed considerable freedom to walk in the forest and, indeed, in July 1841 walked out of the asylum and followed the Great York Road until he reached his home in Northborough, 80 miles away, four days later. That year, while at High Beach, he wrote Child Harold, mentioning the hornbeam:
How beautiful this hill of fern swells on.
So beautiful the chapel peeps between
The hornbeams with its simple bell – alone
I wander here, hid in a palace green.
Seeing the hornbeams, I was reminded of a three-trunked hornbeam in the Bois de Vincennes, just east of Paris, in whose shade for seven years, every Saturday morning, I learned tai chi with my friend and teacher Li Gui Sheng and fellow student and friend Claude.
Every Saturday that is, until, in a few hours after midnight on 26 December 1999, a hurricane blew down the forest. Miraculously ‘our’ tree was spared, though it took us several hours to find it amid the tangled mess of fallen trunks. About a year later we cleared a space beneath the tree again, now sporting a mass of side shoots from its trunk in an all-out fight for survival. But it wasn’t the same. The squirrels had gone, replaced by pheasants, now the forest was more like heathland or scrub. And the dog walker who had shouted after “Whisky” and “Frisky”, as we fought invisible opponents in slow motion, had found another route.
There are almost no charity shops in Paris, so people who want to pass on a pair of shoes often leave them in the street for someone to take. These shoes are photographed exactly as I found them. This series is part of a larger project called Paris Traces on abandoned objects in the streets of Paris. See also my post for 27 July 2010 , here.
Paris : black and white
Walk along Deptford Creek
A few days ago I led a group of students on the Goldsmiths MA course in Photography and Urban Cultures along the Ravensbourne River in Deptford, starting at Brookmill Park and ending at the Thames. The river becomes Deptford Creek at Deptford Bridge. It was a damp day and we arrived at the park later than I’d hoped, so the tide was already coming in. This makes the river appear to be flowing backwards (upstream).
While most of the students were off exploring the park, Cati, one of the students, from Portugal, and I struck up a conversation with two men – Terry and Paul – who were sitting on a bench gazing at the river. I’ve met Terry (on the right in the photo) before and know that he’s very knowledgeable about the wildlife in the park and around the river, as it winds through reeds and willow trees. They quickly pointed out a fox, hunting on the opposite bank as a heron also hunted at the water’s edge. A family of ducks swam up and down the river, watchful of the fox. The fox, who had an injured leg, moved slowly towards the heron. But as it came close, the heron took to the air, beating its great wings like a pterodactyl, lifting itself heavily into the air and flying downstream.