Mulberry tree campaigners to take council to High Court

The Bethnal green Mulberry Tree in 1944

Nurses from the London Chest Hospital celebrate the tree sprouting three years after it was bombed during the war. - Credit: Barts Health Trust NHS archives

Campaigners  backed by Dame Judi Dench are taking the council to the High Court in a bid to save the East End’s oldest tree.

Developers want to move the Bethnal Green Mulberry Tree, which survived the Great Fire of London and being bombed during the Blitz, to make way for a block of flats.

Edmund Bonner, who was Bishop of London during the reign of Henry VIII, is said to have planted the famous black mulberry tree more than 400 years ago in his gardens next to what is now Victoria Park.

The tree was later incorporated into the grounds of what became the former London Chest Hospital, where it survived being bombed down to almost a stump in 1941 in an explosion which killed 30 people.

But Tower Hamlets Council has granted planning permission for the site to be turned into almost 300 flats.

the ancient mulberry tree in bethnal green

The Bethnal Green Mulberry Tree in the grounds of the London Chest Hospital - Credit: The Gentle Author

Developer Crest Nicholson said it will dig up and replant the elderly tree at the front of the development.

However campaigners say the move will kill the black mulberry, which is already split and scarred.

Dame Judi said: “The thought of the 400-year-old Bethnal Green Mulberry Tree being dug up to build a block of flats fills me with horror.

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“This pandemic has taught us that we should respect nature not destroy it. Please support the campaign to save the Bethnal Green Mulberry so that this beautiful old tree can live and flourish in the East End of London for generations to come.”

File photo dated 24/01/19 of Dame Judi Dench

Dame Judi Dench is campaigning to save the tree. - Credit: PA

The East End Preservation Society and chair of the East London Garden Society Geoffrey Juden have been fighting for more than three years to save the tree and have now been granted a judicial review to challenge the council’s decision to grant planning permission.

They have raised more than £10,000 to fund the legal action. Those donating more than £100 receive a cutting of Shakespeare’s Mulberry Tree, which was planted in Stratford Upon Avon by the poet in 1610. It was cut down in 1770 but David Garrick rescued a cutting which flourishes to this day.

Mr Juden said: “After three years of campaigning, we are overjoyed that our case has been granted a Judicial Review by the High Court.

“We understand there is currently a pressing need for genuinely affordable housing in Bethnal Green but we also recognise a responsibility to future generations.

Geoff Juden

Geoff Juden has been fighting for more than three years to save the tree - Credit: Ken Mears

“The pandemic has taught us we must show respect for nature and in future we should avoid building densely-crowded housing. We want the development to be done in a sensitive and humane way – so that it does not damage the historic mulberry tree and the heritage of the hospital building.”

Crest Nicholson has said it wants to bring the currently “derelict site” back to active use and there will be “extensive tree planting” in the new development.

A spokeman said: “We are committed to delivering a high quality development, including affordable housing, public amenities and environmental improvements for the local community and strongly support the council’s approach to deliver much needed housing in."

The mulberry tree will be picked up by the entire root base of the tree and “replanted it in its entirety”. Cuttings will be donated to schools and communities.

A Tower Hamlets Council spokesman said the tree would be moved to the front lawn of the new development where it could be accessed and seen by the public.

A spokesman added: “The council will be defending its decision in the High Court.”

The Bethnal Green Mulberry Tree crowdfunding campaign: