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The Whitechapel Mulberry

April 30, 2015
by the gentle author

In a narrow hidden yard behind the Good Samaritan public house at the back of the Royal London Hospital grows the ancient Whitechapel Mulberry. Roy Emmins, the sculptor, who has lived in the flats next door for more than thirty years told me about it and opened the locked wooden gates to usher me inside this week.

Overshadowed on three sides by high walls, the yard is barely used by residents but – in the middle of the day – it functions as a sun trap, and this is sufficient encouragement for the Mulberry to flourish. Entering the quiet of the yard and leaving the clamour of Whitechapel behind you, it is astonishing to encounter the venerable Mulberry sequestered there, like a mythical beast lurking in a secret den. At six feet above ground, the twisted trunk divides into three branches, angled like a candelabre and lifting up the crown towards the light. Of indeterminate age, gnarled and supported by props, the Whitechapel Mulberry still produces fruit and Roy remembers harvesting the crop with his father to make wine thirty years ago.

Once we had paid due horticultural homage , Roy took me upstairs to show me the new water features in his rooftop sculpture garden and introduce to me to his three-legged cat, Sid, who has joined the household since I last visited. From here, we were able to peer down upon the Mulberry from above and raise our eyes to enjoy the view across the Whitechapel rooftops on a perfect spring day.

The Whitechapel Mulberry

The Whitechapel Mulberry seen from Roy’s roof garden

Looking east from Roy’s roof garden

Sid, Roy’s three-legged cat, dozes in the spring sunshine

You might like to read more about Roy Emmins

Roy Emmins, Sculptor

On the Roof with Roy Emmins

and Mulberry Trees

The Oldest Tree in the East End

The Haggerston Mulberry

The Dalston Mulberry

11 Responses leave one →
  1. April 30, 2015

    Wonderful that there are so many of these ancient trees still hidden away in quiet places. Valerie

  2. Peter Holford permalink
    April 30, 2015

    Have you got enough now for a Mulberry Forest? They just keep turning up. It’s somehow reassuring that enough people over so many years have chosen to keep these trees. Don’t let British Land know about them.

  3. Sarah L Baldwin permalink
    April 30, 2015

    After delighting in this latest London Mulberry, I went back to look again at your piece on Mr. Emmins’ work (where I was pleased to find a message I’d left two and a half years ago).

    Dear Gentle Author, I hope that one day you’ll be given a Key to the City. You have given all of us keys to the wonderful hidden pockets of the city, and I am so grateful.

    Sally

  4. Sarahc permalink
    April 30, 2015

    I love this tour of the mulberries -

  5. April 30, 2015

    I too love all of this and the special three legged cat, it’s wonderful how these trees survive and how cats seem to manage so well on three legs. Thank you again GA.

  6. Sharon Carr permalink
    May 2, 2015

    A hidden forest of mulberry trees, rooted in neglected, forgotten corners of Spitalfields, minded by their committed custodians like sculptor Roy and his 3-legged cat. O Gentle Author, I am much heartened that, so far, there are some scraps of London that remain unchanged albeit modified but still flourishing. Thank you for these timely little reminders that you post and may these continue to remain untouched by those cynical property developers who lurk outside.

  7. Barbara permalink
    May 2, 2015

    Wonderful discovery !

  8. Patricia Celeveland-Peck permalink
    May 6, 2015

    It may be a bit off TGA’s usual circuit but there is ( or used to be…) a very old mulberry in a tiny secret garden sandwiched between the walls of Greenwich Park. It was known as the Dwarf Orchard and was a mysterious wilderness until a few years ago. Now I believe it has been stripped and re-landscaped and opened as The Queen’s Garden. The history is very interesting – and the mulberry was often referred to as ‘the oldest in London’ ( but so are several others)
    Still G.A it might be one for your collection…

  9. Michael Bundy permalink
    May 31, 2016

    Possible opportunity here for a silk-growing industry in Spitalfields. I wonder no-one else has thought of it !

  10. Margaret Keith permalink
    May 31, 2016

    So delighted to hear about this old Mulberry tree. From 1960 to 1966 I lived in Stepney Way in the Luckes nurses home behind the Royal London Hospital, as a student nurse and then SRN. Frequented the “Sammy” many times and never knew about the little yard behind with the Mulberry tree. Thank you for letting us know about it. I remember the flats next door. Many changes since my time. Your cat Syd looks so contented. I have a grey one called Friday. Good wishes from Cornwall.

  11. Peter Shead permalink
    May 31, 2016

    We used to have a large Mulberry tree in our back garden at 162 Albion Road, Stoke Newington. bigger than this one …big enough to build a seating platform at the top. The very week we moved out the main branch fell off…Must have been an omen…

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