Campaigners fight to save Bethnal Green Mulberry from development

A petition to save what is believed to be the oldest tree in the East End of London from development has garnered 2,400 signatures.

Image: Mauro Guanandi (CC BY 2.0)
Image: Mauro Guanandi (CC BY 2.0)

The black mulberry (Morus nigra) tree stands in what were the gardens of the now vanished Bonner’s Hall beside the current Victoria Park, and some sources claim it was Edmund Bonner, former Bishop of London and Catholic recusant, who planted it in the 16th century.

The garden later formed the grounds of the London Chest Hospital which closed in 2015. The tree now stands within a fenced-off site earmarked for development of luxury flats.

The tree was damaged by a World War Two bomb which left it with a split trunk and requiring a prop, but it is said to still give a profuse harvest of berries, and is subject to a Tree Preservation Order.

Despite this the developer, Crest Nicholson, was initially granted permission by Tower Hamlets council to prune and transplant the tree.

Local campaigner Tom Ridge successfully contested the lawfulness of the council's decision, backed up by a report on the tree by chartered arboriculturist Julian Forbes-Laird.

But amended development plans, which retain the hospital building but also the proposal to move the tree, remain to be considered by planners.

The East End Preservation Society, which launched the petition, says: "There is plenty of space within the grounds to move the building by at least ten metres and leave the beloved tree to flourish and bear fruit for future generations."

According to the developer, "A number of cuttings have already been taken and propagated through grafts and direct planting."

The website Morus Londinium lists around 280 ancient mulberry trees, both black and white (Morus alba), within the M25.

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