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Three Ancient Mulberry Trees

May 25, 2015
by the gentle author

Mulberry Tree at the Tower of London

This is London’s most spectacularly-located Mulberry tree, yet I wonder if anyone notices it growing in a quiet garden on the east side of the moat which everyone walks past in their haste to enter the Tower.

It is the latest in my ongoing-project to photograph London’s ancient Mulberry trees, that started inadvertently when I photographed the oldest one in the East End in the grounds of the London Chest Hospital in Bethnal Green and has grown as readers have written with further suggestions. Since I photographed my first Mulberry a month ago, they have come into leaf – offering a luxuriant foliate contrast to those bare branches of April.

Mulberry trees seem to attract stories, though I have been unable to discover anything about this intriguing specimen at the Tower of London which has chosen to keep its stories close. Down in Deptford in Sayes Court Garden, within the former garden of Diarist & Gardener, John Evelyn’s house, an old Mulberry tree is claimed to be a gift of Peter the Great.

The story can be dated to 1850 when Peter Cunningham’s ‘Handbook of London’ refers to “a tree said to have been planted by Peter the Great when working in this country as a shipwright.” Meanwhile in 1883, Nathan Dews’s ‘History of Deptford’ quotes Alfred Davis writing in 1833,“A forlornly looking, ragged mulberry tree, standing at the bottom of Czar St, was the last survivor of the thousands of arborets planted by “sylva” Evelyn in the gardens and grounds surrounding his residence at Deptford.”

John Evelyn’s correspondence confirms that he had Mulberries growing in his garden in Deptford as early as the mid-sixteenth century and propagated varieties through grafting, while recent DNA sampling of the surviving tree has revealed it to be a unique hybrid. Two years ago, the tree lost a major part of its trunk and concerns have been raised for the survival of this magnificent four hundred year old Mulberry marooned and forlorn today in a neglected municipal park.

At the top of the hill in Charlton, grows a venerable black Mulberry that is believed to be contemporary with the nearby Jacobean Charlton House, 1608, and is portrayed upon John Roque’s map of 1741. Selected as one of fifty Great British Trees by the Tree Council in 2002, it is a noble guardian – waiting patiently at the entrance to the splendid old house through four centuries. With its unusual brick church, expansive park, walled gardens and spectacular views back to City, this is a worthwhile pilgrimage for the dedicated dendrophile.

Mulberry in Sayes Court Garden, Deptford

Sayes Court Garden

Mulberry at Charlton House Park, Greenwich

Charlton House Park

Charlton Church

With grateful thanks to Karen Liljenberg for her research about the Deptford Mulberry

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Dan Cruickshank’s Spitalfields Photographs

May 24, 2015
by the gentle author

Dan Cruickshank took these photographs – many of which are published here for the first time – between 1969 when he first came to Spitalfields and 1977 when he led the campaign to stop British Land destroying Elder St. “I did it to document the buildings that were here then,” he explained to me in regret, “but sometimes you’d go back the next Saturday and there’d be virtually nothing left.”

Barrowmakers in Wheler St

Baker in Quaker St

Quaker St and Railway Dwellings

Junction of Bethnal Green Rd & Redchurch St

Weaver’s House at the corner of Bacon St & Brick Lane

Weavers’ houses in Sclater St, now demolished

Weavers’ houses in Sclater St, only those in foreground remain

Weavers’ houses in Sclater St, now demolished

Corner of Sclater St & Brick Lane

Houses in Hanbury St, now demolished

Houses in Hanbury St, now demolished

Old House in Calvin St, now demolished

Elaborate doorcase in Wilkes St, now gone

Brushfield St

Brushfield St, buildings on the right now demolished

Brushfield St, buildings on the right now demolished

Buildings in Brushfield St, now demolished

Brushfield St, buildings on the left now demolished

Looking from Brushfield St towards Norton Folgate

Selling Christmas trees in Spital Sq

Spital Sq with St Botolph’s Hall

Folgate St with Dennis Severs’ House in the foreground, houses in the background now demolished

House in Folgate St, now demolished

5 & 7 Elder St during squat to prevent complete demolition by British Land

Partial demolition of 5 & 7 Elder St

Rear of 5 & 7 Elder St during partial demolition

Inside 7 Elder St

Douglas Blain of Spitalfields Trust reads a paper in the loft of 7 Elder St after the roof was removed

Alleyway off Folgate St

Photographs copyright © Dan Cruickshank

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Tower Hamlets Council Planning Committee will make a decision on Norton Folgate on 21st July so you have until then to object. Click here for your guide to how to object.

The Revival Of The Vegetable Sermon

May 23, 2015
by the gentle author

In 1729 Thomas Fairchild, celebrated Gardener of Hoxton, left money for an annual Vegetable Sermon to be preached at St Leonard’s Shoreditch in celebration of Horticulture and next Wednesday 27th May at 7pm, after a lapse of more than forty years, this is to be revived with a lecture ‘On Flowers‘ by distinguished Ecologist & Writer Dr Rupert Sheldrake. Admission is free.


Next time you visit Columbia Rd Flower Market, once you have admired the infinite variety of plants on display, walk west until you come to the Hackney Rd. Directly ahead,  you will discover a small neglected park and burial ground where, on the right hand side of the gate, is this stone which commemorates Thomas Fairchild (1667-1729) the Hoxton gardener.

Thomas Fairchild was the first to create a hybrid, making history in 1717 by the simple act of taking pollen from a Carnation and inserted it into a Sweet William in his Hoxton nursery, thereby producing a new variety that became known as “Fairchild’s Mule.” Everyone who loves Columbia Rd Market should lay flowers on this stone for Thomas Fairchild, because without his invention of the technique of hybridisation most of the plants on sale there would not exist. Yet when I went along with my Carnations in hand for Thomas Fairchild, I found the stone overgrown with moss that concealed most of the inscription.

Apprenticed at fifteen years old in 1682 to Jeremiah Seamer, a clothmaker in the City of London, Thomas Fairchild quickly decided that indoor work was not for him and decided to become a gardener. He had to wait until 1690 when he completed his apprenticeship to walk out of the City and up past Spitalfields to Shoreditch – where, in those days, the housing ended at St Leonards Church and beyond was only fields and market gardens. Thomas Fairchild found employment at a nursery in Hoxton, up beyond the market, but within a few years he took it over, expanding it and proceeding to garden there for the next thirty years.

In Hoxton, he kept a vineyard with more than fifty varieties of grapes, one of the last to be cultivated in England, and his nursery became a popular destination for people to wonder at all the exotic plants he grew, sent as specimens or seeds from overseas, including one of the first banana trees grown here. By 1704 he was made a freeman of the City of London as a member of the Worshipful Society of Gardeners and in 1722 he published, “The City Gardener. Containing the most experienced Method of Cultivating and Ordering such Ever-greens, Fruit-Trees, flowering Shrubs, Flowers, Exotic Plants, &c. as will be Ornamental and thrive best in the London Gardens.”

Drawing upon Thomas Fairchild’s thirty years of experience in Hoxton, it was the first book on town gardening, listing the plants that will grow in London, and how and where to plant them. He took into account the sequence of flowers through the seasons, and even included a section on window boxes and balconies. This slim volume, which has recently been reprinted, is a practical guide that could be used today, the only difference being that we do not have to contend with the smog caused by coal fires which Thomas Fairchild found challenging for many plants that he would like to grow.

When he died in 1729, it was his wish to be buried in the Poor’s Ground of St Leonard’s Church in the Hackney Rd and he bequeathed twenty-five pounds to the church for the endowment of an annual Whitsun sermon on either the wonderful works of God or the certainty of the creation. This annual event became known as the “Vegetable Sermon” and continued in Shoreditch until 1981 when, under the auspices of the Worshipful Society of Gardeners, it transferred to St Giles, Cripplegate, but the first of a new series of a Vegetable Sermons commences at St Leonard’s next Wednesday 27th May at 7pm with a lecture by Dr Rupert Sheldrake, ‘On Flowers.’

Thomas Fairchild presented his hybrid to the Royal Society and, although its significance was recognised, the principle was not widely taken up by horticulturalists until a century later. In Thomas Fairchild’s day grafting and cuttings were the means of propagation and even “Fairchild’s Mule,” the extraordinary hybrid that flowered twice in a year, was bred through cuttings. Hybrids existed, accidentally, before Thomas Fairchild – Shakespeare makes reference to the debate as to their natural or unnatural qualities in “The Winters’ Tale” – yet Thomas Fairchild was the first to recognise the sexes of plants and cross-pollinate between species manually. Prefiguring the modern anxiety about genetic engineering, Thomas Fairchild’s bequest for the Vegetable Sermons was an expression of his own humility in the face of what he saw as the works of God’s creation.

I have no doubt Thomas Fairchild would be delighted by his position close to the flower market, but, as a passionate gardener and plantsman who made such an important and lasting contribution to horticulture, he would be disappointed at the sad, unkempt state of the patch of earth where he rests eternally. Given that his own work “The City Gardener”  describes precisely how to lay out and plant such a space, it would be ideal if someone could take care of this place according to Thomas Fairchild’s instructions and let the old man rest in peace in a garden worthy of his achievements.

My Pinks from Columbia Rd Market

From “The City Gardener,” 1722

Plaque by the altar in Shoreditch Church commemorating Thomas Fairchild’s endowment for the “Vegetable Sermon”

A pear tree in Spitalfields

Thomas Fairchild (1667–1729)

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The Man Beneath Trafalgar Square

May 22, 2015
by the gentle author

Henry Croft

Trafalgar Sq is famous for the man perched high above it on the column, but I recently discovered another man hidden underneath the square who hardly anybody knows about and he is just as interesting to me. I have no doubt that if you were to climb up Nelson’s Column, the great Naval Commander standing on the top would have impressive stories to tell of Great Sea Battles and how he conquered the French, though – equally – if you descend into the crypt of St Martin in the Fields, the celebrated Road Sweeper who resides down there has his stories too.

Yet as one who was born in a workhouse and died in a workhouse, Henry Croft’s tales would be of another timbre to those of Horatio Nelson and some might say that the altitude history has placed between the man on the pedestal and the man in the cellar reflects this difference. Unfortunately, it is not possible to climb up Nelson’s Column to explore his side of this notion but it is a simple matter for anyone to step down into the crypt and visit Henry, so I hope you will take the opportunity when you next pass through Trafalgar Sq.

Henry Croft stands in the furthest, most obscure, corner far away from the busy cafeteria, the giftshop, the bookshop, the brass rubbing centre and the art gallery, and I expect he is grateful for the peace and quiet. Of diminutive stature at just five feet, he stands patiently with an implacable expression waiting for eternity, the way that you or I might wait for a bus. Yet in the grand scheme of things, he has not been waiting here long. Only since since 2002, when his life-size marble statue was removed to St Martin in the Fields from St Pancras Cemetery after being vandalised several times and whitewashed to conceal the damage.

Born in Somers Town Workhouse in 1861 and raised there after the death of his father who was a musician, it seems Henry inherited his parent’s showmanship, decorating his suit with pearl buttons while working as a Road Sweeper from the age of fifteen. Father of twelve children and painfully aware of the insecurities of life, Henry launched his own personal system of social welfare by drawing attention with his ostentatious outfit and collecting money for charities including Public Hospitals and Temperance Societies.

As self-appointed ‘Pearlie King of Somers Town,’ Henry sewed seven different pearly outfits for himself and many suits for others too, so that by 1911 there were twenty-eight Pearly King & Queens spread across all the Metropolitan Boroughs of London. It is claimed Henry was awarded in excess of two thousand medals for his charitable work and his funeral cortege in 1930 was over half a mile long with more than four hundred pearlies in attendance.

Henry Croft has passed into myth now, residing at the very heart of London in Trafalgar Sq beneath the streets that he once swept, all toshed up in his pearly best and awaiting your visit.

Henry Croft, celebrated Road Sweeper

At Henry Croft’s funeral in St Pancras Cemetery in 1930

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Good News For The Marquis Of Lansdowne!

May 21, 2015
by the gentle author

Thanks in no small part to the campaign waged by readers of Spitalfields Life in spring 2013, Hackney Council refused the Geffrye Museum permission to demolish the 1838 Marquis of Lansdowne in Cremer St as part of a redevelopment designed by David Chipperfield that would have seen the pub replaced by a concrete box. It was the success of this campaign that led to the founding of The East End Preservation Society in November 2013.

Subsequently, the Geffrye responded to public opinion by creating a better scheme for development of the museum, designed by Wright & Wright which includes the Marquis of Lansdowne restored and opens up new areas of the almshouses. Yesterday this proposal was granted an award of eleven million pounds by the Heritage Lottery Fund - which is a very satisfactory result for all parties.

Perhaps no-one is happier than George Barker who was born in the Marquis of Lansdowne in 1931 and whose family ran the pub for three generations, from before 1915 until after World War II, serving the joiners, wood turners, cabinet makers and french polishers of Haggerston.

The Marquis of Lansdowne

George Barker was born in the upper room of The Marquis of Lansdowne in 1931. It was his family home, spanning three generations of Barkers – his grandfather William who came from a village in East Anglia at the end of the nineteenth century, his mother Lilian who ran the pub alone through the war and opened up every day during the Blitz, and lastly himself, the one who got a grammar school education and a Masters degree in Maths and has lived for the last fifty years in a beautiful house in Chorleywood.

No infamous killer took his victim to The Marquis of Lansdowne for her last drink. Charles Dickens did not visit The Marquis of Lansdowne and base a character in one of his novels upon a local eccentric discovered propping up the bar. In fact, the story of The Marquis of Lansdowne is a more important one that either of these, it is that of the working people who lived in the surrounding streets, for whom it was the centre of their community and meeting place for their extended families. In this sense, it is a quintessential East End pub and the history of this place cannot be told without reference to these people.

Haggerston has changed almost beyond recognition in recent decades and, all this time, The Marquis of Lansdowne has remained as the lone sentinel of a lost world. Yet when George Barker told me the story of his family and the life they led there, he brought that world alive.

“My earliest memory is of being a kid playing on the street, everybody played on the street in those days. A couple of times, I went into the Geffrye Museum and we collected caterpillars in the gardens. They used to have a playground with swings and a place to play football at the back of the museum.

I was born at The Marquis of Lansdowne in February 1931, but my family’s involvement with the pub goes back to the beginning of the century. My grandfather William George Barker told me that the Barker family came from a group of villages near Ipswich, moving to Hoxton at the end of the nineteenth century. He came to London in 1899 and worked as a barman for a year in the East End before becoming a policeman for twenty years.

Frederick Daniel Barker, my grandfather’s brother, was licensee of The Marquis of Lansdowne until he died of TB in 1919, when my grandfather took it over from Frederick’s wife Mary Ann. Then, when my grandfather died in the thirties, my father George Stanley Barker took it over until he died in 1937 when my mother Lily ran it. She remarried in 1939 and, as Lilian Edith Trendall, she held the license until 1954 when her husband Frederick Trendall took over after her death. I think they all made a living but it wasn’t a terribly easy life.

We had a side bar and then another one on the corner we called the darts bar, as well as the front bar and the saloon bar. Even then, there were redundant doors which meant that at one time the pub was divided up into more bars. The saloon bar had upholstered bench seats and bar stools, but the other bars just had wooden benches with Victorian marble-topped tables. The curved bar itself was in the centre, spanning all the divisions with a tall central construction for display of spirits and optics, and the beer pumps were in the front bar. I remember, as you came in the side door from Geffrye St, the wall had a large decorative painted panel advertising Charrington’s Beer and there were mirrors at the rear. The pub windows were of etched and cut glass, and above the main door was an illuminated panel with the words ‘Toby Beer.’ It was a Charrington pub and a wagon came with dray horses to deliver once a week from the brewery in Mile End. Further down Cremer St was the Flying Scud, a Truman’s pub, and the Star & Pack, a Whitbread pub.

On the Geffrye St side of the building was a kitchen which was – in effect – where we all lived, and an office. Above the kitchen was my bedroom, with a window looking onto Geffrye St and the railway arches. On the first floor at the corner was the front room where we didn’t go very often, and the main bedroom – where I was born – was on Cremer St, divided from the front room by a construction of wooden panels, as if it once had been one big room. All the arches were coal depots in those days. It was brought by railway every morning at six thirty and all the coal men would be filling sacks, and bringing their horses and wagons to carry it away. But it never woke me up though, because I got used to it.

In those days, on one side of the pub was a terrace of houses and on the other there were three shops. I remember Mrs Lane who ran the sweet shop next door and Mrs Stanley who had a cats’ meat shop where they sold horsemeat. In the thirties, there was a couple of fellows making springs for prams in the building across the road which became a garage in the nineteen forties. I recall there was a baker’s on the other side of the street too and H.Lee, a big furniture manufacturer, on the corner of the Kingsland Rd.

My mother, Lily, ran The Marquis of Lansdowne singled-handed through World War II. It was heavily bombed in the surrounding streets and, when there were raids, she took shelter in the spirit cellar which had been reinforced with stanchions. She had grown up in the area, and most people knew her and she knew them, and they had been to school together. She was quite an outgoing woman who enjoyed a bit of banter and a lot of chat with the customers. She was the daughter of James Wilson who ran the scrap iron yard opposite across Cremer St under a couple of arches. He started the business there and he had a place in Tottenham, so he left his three sons to run it.

There was a friendly community on our doorstep, she ran the pub and her three brothers ran the scrap iron business across the road, and there was another uncle called Harmsworth who had another two arches where he ran a furniture business – one of my aunts married him. All my uncles and aunts lived within about one hundred yards of each other. They were the Barkers, the Wilsons and the Cheeks. A Barker married a Wilson and then a Wilson married a Cheek and then a Cheek married a Barker. My mother had another three children with my stepfather in the forties, and we all lived together in the Marquis of Lansdowne. There was me and my sister Eileen, plus the twins Maureen and Christine, and their younger brother Freddie.

At the age of eight, I was evacuated during the Blitz, but when I came back it was still quite dangerous so I went to stay with an aunt in Kensal Green. I never lost contact because I cycled over at weekends and moved back at the end of the war when I was thirteen.

In the fifties, the business started to drift away. People didn’t have much money and television came along, so it could be quiet on week nights but it was always busy at weekends, and for celebrations like VE Day and the Coronation we got a special licence and opened from midday until midnight. Even if people had moved away, they came back for Saturday evenings to meet with their relatives and friends. I would be serving behind the bar – probably a little younger than I should have been – and by the age of eighteen I was regularly working there. I always looked after the place when they went in holiday.

My mother died in 1954 and my stepfather took over the pub. I studied for a Masters Degree in Maths at Woolwich Polytechnic and I was away from 1954-56 doing National Service. In 1957, I left The Marquis of Lansdowne forever – I was working for Hawker Aircraft in Langley by then. I only went back occasionally after that, not too often. As people moved out, it started dwindling away and I think my stepfather sold it to a family called Freeland who had been coalmen under the arches and then he moved away too.

If it had been up to me, I probably would have become a publican but I wasn’t going to wait for everyone else to die off first and, because of the war, I went to grammar school and then to university. I haven’t been back to Haggerston since the nineteen sixties.”

George Barker in the yard at The Marquis of Lansdowne aged six in 1937

George Barker was born in the bedroom facing onto Cremer St, indicated by the window on the left.

At The Marquis of Lansdowne, 1957. George Barker on right, aged twenty-five, with sister Eileen, centre back. The other three are his half-brothers and sisters from his mother Lilians second marriage to Frederick Trendall. The twin girls are Maureen on the left and Christine on right, with their brother Freddie between them.

George Stanley Barker & Lilian Edith Wilson, married at St Leonards, Shoreditch on 7th September 1929. Lilian ran the pub after the death of her husband in 1937 until she died in 1954.

Ex-policeman William George Barker who ran The Marquis of Lansdowne from 1919 – photographed in 191o, with his wife Annie Susannah Oakenfold and son George Stanley Barker, who took over from his father and ran the pub until 1937.

20th December 1911, William George Barker is reprimanded for bring caught in pubs in Shoreditch and Spitalfields while on duty as a policeman – eight years later he became landlord of The Marquis of Lansdowne and spent the rest of his life in a pub. - “Inattention to duty and wasting his time by being off his Division and being in the White Hart Public House, High St, Shoreditch, out of the City from 3:30 to 4:50pm (1 hour & 2o minutes) while on duty on 13th instant. Also, being in the King’s Stores Public House, Widegate St, from 5:05 to 5:40pm (35 minutes) while on duty, same date.”

February 22nd 1919, William George Barker applies to leave the police to take over the running of The Marquis of Lansdowne from his sister-in-law after the death of his brother Frederick Daniel Barker. “I respectfully beg to apply to the Commissioner for permission to resign my appointment as Constable in the City of London Police Force, one month from the above date. My reason for doing so is that my sister-in-law Mrs Mary Ann Barker Licensee of The Marquis of Lansdowne Public House, No 32 Cremer St, Kingsland Rd, is unable to carry on the business in consequence of a nervous breakdown and she wishes me to hold the license and conduct the business on my own responsibility.”

May 9th 1919, Charrington’s, Anchor Brewery, Mile End, seeks a reference for William George Barker from the Commissioner of Police at Snow Hill. Presumably, the incidents of Christmas 1911 were discreetly forgotten.

Dating from the Regency era, The Marquis of Lansdowne is the only old building left on Cremer St

George Barker is delighted that his childhood home is saved

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