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Here We Go Round The Mulberry Tree

January 14, 2018
by the gentle author

Nurses dance round the ancient Bethnal Green Mulberry in the grounds of the London Chest Hospital, 1944 (Courtesy of the Royal London Hospital Archives)

Regular readers will be familiar with the argy-bargy over the ancient Bethnal Green Mulberry at the former London Chest Hospital. Developers Crest Nicholson want to dig it up to plonk a block of luxury flats on the site, even though there is plenty of room in the grounds to move their proposed building and save the Mulberry which is subject to a Tree Protection Order. Subsequently, more than five thousand people have signed a petition asking Crest Nicholson to spare the tree.

Despite this, Crest Nicholson have submitted their planning application to Tower Hamlets for permission to uproot the Mulberry Tree and go ahead with their overblown development, which includes hideous ‘heritage-style’ additions to the listed hospital building and a disappointingly small amount of ‘affordable’ housing. Readers are strongly encouraged to write objections before the closing date of Tuesday 16th January and below you will find a helpful guide to how to object effectively.

In their haste – before they had even submitted their application for the development – Crest Nicholson obtained permission last spring to dig up the tree from Tower Hamlets Senior Arborcultural Officer, Edward Buckton acting ‘under delegated powers’ without any consultation of councillors, until it was quashed at Judicial Review in the High Court in a judgement confirming the waiver was granted unlawfully.

Over the past year, Crest Nicholson have contrived some ingenious attempts to discredit the history of the tree which is widely believed to have been planted by Bishop Bonner in the garden of his Bishop’s Hall that occupied the site of the Chest Hospital in the sixteenth century.

The first misdirection was a report commissioned from planning consultants ‘Tree: Fabrik’ who conveniently dismissed any notion that the Bethnal Green Mulberry is a veteran tree, suggesting instead that it is a more recent planting which might easily survive being dug up and moved out of the way.

Local heritage campaigner Tom Ridge paid for legal action at the High Court out of his own pocket and commissioned Chartered Arboriculturist Julian Forbes-Laird, expert witness in matters arborcultural and the technical editor of the British Standard for tree protection, to make his own survey of the Bethnal Green Mulberry.

Forbes-Laird’s report as submitted to the High Court makes compelling reading. “I identify the Mulberry as a veteran tree,” he wrote, “I cannot understand how any reasonable arboriculturist could conclude otherwise.” He quotes Gascoigne’s map of 1703 confirming the location of the Bishop’s Hall and describes the commemorative inkwell kept at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel. Dating from 1915, this inkwell has a brass plate explaining it was made from a branch of the Mulberry beneath which Bishop Bonner sat while deciding which heretics to execute, confirming that the tree was already considered to be ancient over than a century ago.

In response to a feeble claim by the developer that concrete found among the roots proves the recent origin of the tree, Forbes-Laird points out that the Romans used concrete to build the Pantheon. He confirms, “there is no evidence that the Mulberry stands upon modern made ground, meaning that it could, indeed, be as old as is believed.”

Most sobering is Forbes-Laird’s conclusion, “Overall, I consider that the intended tree works offer very little chance of the tree’s survival.” Thankfully, Tom Ridge won his Judicial Review and, in a Consent Order sealed by the High Court in July, the permission was quashed.

Nevertheless, Crest Nicholson have persisted in their campaign of misinformation. At their exhibition last summer, they produced a leaflet discrediting the history of the Bethnal Green Mulberry and – demonstrating astonishing arrogance and disingenuousness – they reproduced my photograph of the tree without permission in their publication and on their display panels.

In this leaflet, Crest Nicholson report the results of another ‘scientific’ survey they have commissioned, this time Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) which again – surprise, surprise – delivers their desired conclusion, claiming the earth was not disturbed prior to 1855. However, they ignore an illustration in the Illustrated London News of June 28th 1851 which shows the fully grown Mulberry tree.

Yet it is Crest Nicholson’s justification for digging up and moving the tree because it is in ‘poor quality soil’ which plumbs the depths of nutty desperation. If the Mulberry has flourished for centuries, what could be the problem with the soil? Have Crest Nicholson and their expensive horticultural consultants never heard of compost? The developers helpfully assure us they have taken cuttings to replace the Bethnal Green Mulberry if they kill it by digging it up, which is a bit like the British Museum saying they have bought new pots to replace their ancient Greek vases if they get broken. ‘Never mind, it was only an old one!’

Even with recent revisions, this is a vast overblown development which damages the Victoria Park Conservation Area, offers a disappointing low level of ‘affordable’ housing and makes crude alterations to the listed Chest Hospital building. Crest Nicholson need to pay attention to the wishes of local people by saving the Mulberry tree and reconsidering their whole development.



Click here to read my feature in The Daily Telegraph outlining the  scandal of Crest Nicholson’s attempt to dig up the Bethnal Green Mulberry earlier this year

This engraving of the completed London Chest Hospital published by the Illustrated London News on June 28th 1851 shows the fully-grown Mulberry tree to the left of the main building (Courtesy of Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives)

The Bethnal Green Mulberry

In spite of bomb damage in the Second World War, the Bethnal Green Mulberry flourishes

The Gentle Author’s photograph reproduced without permission by Crest Nicholson in their leaflet and exhibition discrediting the history of the Bethnal Green Mulberry

Design by Paul Bommer

This is a simple guide to how to object effectively to the Crest Nicholson Application to redevelop the former London Chest Hospital in Bethnal Green.

Although the deadline is 16th January, Tower Hamlets Council will accept emails and letters until the Hearing of the Application, which is likely to be in March. Please send comments as soon as possible to be sure they are included in the planning officer’s report.

It is important to use your own words and add your own personal reasons for opposing this development. Any letters which simply duplicate the same wording will count only as one objection.

Be sure to state clearly that you are objecting to the application.

If you do not include your postal address your objection will be discounted.

Points in bold are material considerations and are valid reasons for Councils to refuse Applications.

Planning application PA/16/03342/A1



The level of social housing is below 28%, too far beneath the Mayor’s target of 50%.



The application proposes to demolish the Grade II listed 1860s south wing, causing harm to the designated heritage asset, and would therefore fail to comply with Paragraph 66 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990; National Planning Policy Framework paragraphs: 126, 131, 132, 133 and 134; as well as Tower Hamlets Local Plan Policy SP12.

The proposal would see the roof structure of the listed buildings unnecessarily rebuilt with new materials, involving the loss of original historic fabric when the applicant’s own survey notes that the chimneys are in ‘good condition’, and that the roof is ‘in a sound condition’. As such National Planning Policy Framework paragraphs: 126, 131, 132, 133 and 134 should be applied.



The development will damage the Victoria Park Conservation Area. The conservation area appraisal notes that: ‘Landmark institutional buildings generally sit within their own landscaped gardens, in keeping with the open character and setting of Victoria Park. The London Chest Hospital, opened in 1855, is the most significant of these buildings, in terms of its presence in the urban environment’.

The construction of large blocks beside the London Chest Hospital will deprive a landmark listed building of its open landscaped space and destroy the character of the conservation area. Paragraph 72 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990, and National Planning Policy Framework paragraphs 137 and 138 should therefore be applied when considering this application.



Deep concerns exist over the proposed digging up of the ancient Mulberry Tree and the unlikelihood of its survival if it is moved. No credible evidence has been put forward that this tree, which is subject to a Tree Protection Order, is not a veteran tree.

Paragraph 118 of National Planning Policy Framework 2012 states that ‘planning permission should be refused for development resulting in the loss of … aged or veteran trees found outside ancient woodland, unless the need for, and benefits of, the development in that location clearly outweigh the loss’

Paragraph 197 of The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 states that local planning authorities, ‘must ensure, whenever it is appropriate, that in granting planning permission for any development adequate provision is made, by the imposition of conditions, for the preservation or planting of trees’.



Letters and emails should be addressed to


you can post your objection direct on the website by following this link

You will need to register to comment

Quote application: PA/16/03342/A1

Town Planning, Town Hall, Mulberry Place, 5 Clove Crescent, London, E14 2BG

Crest Nicholson’s proposed redevelopment of London Chest Hospital

You may like to read my other stories about Mulberries

A Plea For The Bethnal Green Mulberry

The Bethnal Green Mulberry

The Haggerston Mulberry

The Dalston Mulberry

The Whitechapel Mulberry

The Mile End Mulberry

The Stoke Newington Mulberry

The Spitalfields Mulberry

The Oldest Mulberry in Britain

Three Ancient Mulberry Trees

A Brief History of London Mulberries

11 Responses leave one →
  1. January 14, 2018

    I very much hope that the uprooting of this venerable tree can be stopped. Valerie

  2. StephenJ permalink
    January 14, 2018

    As a newish reader of this magazine, I was unaware of this campaign.

    I have always liked these trees though never realising their significance.

    One of the things that I always enjoyed is the fruit, which if I happen to be around when ripe, gorge on. It is one of those fruits that can never be sold, it does not travel. It is a guarantee that if one is to be caught scrumping, you will not have a leg to stand on, the crimson staining being a major piece of damning evidence.

    I also like the way they always seem to be held together with bits of wood, nuts and bolts and rope. There is an interesting example at Lesness Abbey in Abbey Wood. In Beckenham and surrounding areas, there are several that I frequently make a beeline for when walking.

    They seem to hold the same reverence for people as yew trees, which I have travelled far and wide looking for. I even have a fallen piece of the Ankerwycke Yew sitting on the floor in my house, whose significance for me was that it is rumoured that the Magna Carta was sealed beneath its branches, when it was already 1500 years old. It sits on the opposite bank to the Runnymede memorial, within walking distance of a place that King John was known to stay in.

    Anyway, petition signed.

  3. Peter H permalink
    January 14, 2018

    Petition signed
    May their machinations come to haunt them
    and they be they be hoist with their own petard.

  4. Greg Tingey permalink
    January 14, 2018

    Is it just me, or do I find the address to which one’s onjections should be sent deeply ironic?
    Town Planning, Town Hall, Mulberry Place, 5 Clove Crescent, London, E14 2BG

    P.S. I trust you have got an apology from Crest N over the misuse of your photograph?

  5. Marina permalink
    January 14, 2018

    I have duly registered my objection with the Tower Hamlets council. May the developer’s greed and folly be nipped in the bud!

  6. Leana Pooley permalink
    January 14, 2018

    Thank you so much for letting us know in such detail about the threat to this tree and about its history. Ancient trees should be listed in the same way that rare old houses and cathedrals are protected. I was fascinated by the “professional” opinions produced in favour of uprooting this tree. I was reminded of a time in the late 1970s when I was sueing, on behalf of my young son, the oil companies over the high levels of lead in petrol. I and my two fellow litigants were amazed to discover that a paediatrician at a well-known London hospital was prepared to give evidence on behalf of Shell, BP and Associated Octel (suppliers of lead) that lead – particularly when breathed in from pushchair-level – posed no danger to infants and young children. We have lead-free petrol now so I hope that this wonderful mulberry tree will live on to fight another day.

  7. Mary permalink
    January 14, 2018

    Has this tree been recorded on the Woodland Trust Ancient Tree Register and are the Woodland Trust aware of the threat?
    If not, it needs to be done quickly just to give it a bit more protection/publicity.
    I have looked at their website and am unable to establish this as I am not sure of its exact location. Apologies as I live a long way from this and unable to do it personally.
    Where is the Mayor of London in all this?

    I absolutely detest the way big businesses in this country are allowed to ride roughshod over every planning rule and politicians promote their green credentials and champion affordable housing whilst secretly colluding with each other.

  8. Lucy permalink
    January 14, 2018

    A “survey they have commissioned which again – surprise, surprise – delivers their desired conclusion” sounds familiar.

    The campaign to save Vittoria Wharf found the same, the Mayor of London commissioned a review (by TfL) on the Fish Island Bridges which concludes – surprise, surprise – that they should go ahead, even with its weak transport arguments. Before this review was even published, the plans for the Mayor’s demolition of Vittoria Wharf to build the footbridge were already well advanced. But Vittoria Wharf still stands and the fight continues

  9. January 14, 2018

    Recentlyy developers local to me jsimply ust cut one down, damage done and too late for any thing useful to be done.

  10. January 14, 2018

    You have, of course, sent a hefty invoice for the use of your photo, having first checked to see if they are also using it online or anywhere else? If you haven’t thought of this already, it’s a bit of a PR cockup on their part; it might be embarrassing for them if this found its way to the news media…

  11. Eddie Johnson permalink
    January 15, 2018

    Is there no end to the power and corruption of property developers hand in hand with council authorities who completely ignore the wishes of the people, they are a law unto themselves. Surely we can no longer put up with having no voice in these matters.

    Eddie Johnson (I have signed)

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