Bethnal Green mulberry trees
Copyright: Royal London Archives
In east London, mulberry trees were often grown in garden markets, and in monastery, school, and hospital gardens. Probably the most notable, and possibly the oldest black mulberry tree (Morus nigra) still standing in the area, and which has a preservation order on it, is at the former London Chest Hospital. Mulberry – Tree of Plenty has focused on this tree, as well as five others in Bethnal Green: Morus nigra in Victoria Park, likely to date back to the opening of the park in 1845; Morus nigra in St Margaret’s House garden, Old Ford Road which could date back to the building's construction in early 1800s; two Morus alba specimens at Mulberry House, Victoria Park Estate, one planted recently, and the other as old as the Estate; and Morus alba on Fremont Street to the north of Victoria Park.
The mulberry has been known in England since Roman times. In the early 1600s King James I ordered the planting of thousands of mulberry trees in the hope of creating a British sericulture (silk growing industry). Unfortunately, this was not successful in part due to the local climate and to planting the black mulberry tree which produces a poorer quality silk than the white mulberry. In east London, mulberry trees were frequently grown in market, monastery, school, and hospital gardens.
The trees have been highly valued over the years for their links to food, nutrition and medicine. The juicy berries are rich in antioxidants and vitamin C, and extracts from the leaves, bark and root are believed to have significant medicinal properties including helping to reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and pain relief. The Spitalfields physician Nicholas Culpeper noted in his book The Complete Herbal (1652):
“The bark of the root kills the broad worms in the body. The juice, or the syrup made of the juice of the berries, helps all inflammations or sores in the mouth, or throat, and palate of the mouth… The leaves beaten with vinegar, are good to lay on any place that is burnt with fire.”
Learn more about these fascinating trees in the film: Mulberry – Tree of Plenty: A Walk in Bethnal Green with mulberry tree expert Peter Coles (Morus Londinium) and local mulberry campaigner Jaime Rory Lucy. And discover the mulberry trees of Bethnal Green for yourself on a walk of the area using the guided map below. As you go, keep an eye out for the mulberry symbol on some of Bethnal Green road signs.