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New Consultation For The Chest Hospital

March 15, 2023
by the gentle author





The Bethnal Green Mulberry, September 2022


Long-standing readers may recall how I once visited the palatial Victorian London Chest Hospital next to Victoria Park as a patient to have the capacity of my lungs measured when recovering from pneumonia. On a return visit, upon the day the hospital was shut down and sold off for redevelopment, I was introduced to the historic Bethnal Green Mulberry planted by Bishop Bonner in 1540 and the oldest tree in the East End.

After a five year campaign, under the patronage of Dame Judi Dench and with the magnificent support of you, the readers of Spitalfields Life, we stopped developers Crest Nicholson digging up this tree and proceeding with their overblown proposal which offered too small a proportion of affordable housing and retained too little of the existing buildings.

Defeated, they sold off the site to Latimer Homes (part of Clarion Housing Group) who committed publicly to ‘retaining the mulberry tree in its current location’ and ‘providing more genuinely affordable homes that meet local need.’ This was a result and now we must hold them to it.

The new development proposal for the London Chest Hospital site is to be revealed next week at public consultation on Wednesday 22nd March 6pm-8pm and Saturday 25th March 11am-2pm at Bethnal Green Methodist Church Approach Rd, E2 9JP. Readers are encouraged to attend.

Last September, Clarion Housing Group invited me to pay a visit to the Bethnal Green Mulberry, now protected by a ring of fencing with a sign declaring ‘Tree protection area. Keep out!’ and under the supervision of a designated arborculturalist. It was an emotional moment to encounter the old tree again, years since I first saw it and after so much grief expended to save it.

Laudably, the developers now declare a commitment to ‘Create the most sustainable scheme possible.’

Walking around the site, it was obvious that several buildings are of significant quality, even beyond the listed main hospital building. In particular, I was struck by the handsome Edwardian terrace of nurses dwellings at the rear of the hospital which would only take refurbishment to be put back into use as flats for single people. Yet it was indicated to me that this is likely to be demolished, even though it is obvious that the ‘greenest’ building is one which already exists. So I think the imperative now is to maximise the repurposing of the extant buildings.

These handsome Edwardian nurses’ dwellings could be refurbished as flats for single people but instead are likely to be demolished.

Terrace of nurses’ dwellings at the London Chest Hospital



Those who contributed £100 or more to our fighting fund to save the Bethnal Green Mulberry in 2020, were eligible to saplings grown as cuttings from a scion of a Mulberry planted by William Shakespeare. Unfortunately, the cuttings we took in 2021 failed due to a fungal infection that affected the tree then. Now the tree has recovered, we are going to try again this spring and we will keep you posted.

Read more about the Bethnal Green Mulberry

The Bethnal Green Mulberry Verdict

The Fate of the Bethnal Green Mulberry

The Bethnal Green Mulberry

A Letter to Crest Nicholson

A Reply From Crest Nicholson

The Reckoning With Crest Nicholson

A Brief History of London Mulberries

7 Responses leave one →
  1. March 15, 2023

    It’s a worry isn’t it? The tree looks so vulnerable. I hope people keep an eye on it. I agree that the Edwardian terrace would be perfect to refit but otherwise leave the exterior unchanged. We have a Worcester mulberry, planted by Sir Edward Elgar, that sits in a small front garden of a bungalow. It used to have a little plaque stating its origin but that was removed at some point. Every year, it drops its fruit onto the pavements and people complain about the mess, so I really do fear for its future.
    Is there anything now that your readers can do to help the Bethnal Green mulberry?

  2. Paul loften permalink
    March 15, 2023

    London Chest saw off the Crest
    And GA has saved the day
    Five hundred years here stands a tree
    Yet another battle it will see
    Fierce and proud is this Mulberry
    So many lives this place has kept
    And yet with one brush away it’s swept

  3. March 15, 2023

    ‘Working alongside Tower Hamlets Council’ is the most worrying aspect for me, the same Council who approved the previous atrocious scheme.
    As custodians of many historical buildings in the East End, Tower Hamlets Council have proved they have no interest in preserving them.
    I have no doubt that the wonderful Edwardian nurses dwellings will be swept away at the wave of a Planning Officer’s pen.

  4. Milo permalink
    March 15, 2023

    Here’s hoping it all goes well but it is rather an ominous sign that the nurses dwellings are deemed unnecessary to proceedings. You’ve got to keep an eye on these buggers haven’t you?

  5. Emma permalink
    March 15, 2023

    So pleased the tree is being protected. Too many of our ancient sites and tradition seem to disappear. Fingers crossed new cuttings will take so we can keep the Mulberry legacy going!

  6. Cherub permalink
    March 15, 2023

    The Edwardian terrace is very attractive and it would be a good idea if it was refurbished and used for single key workers – like nurses who are training or at the lower end of the salary scale.

    There is not enough affordable housing for key workers in towns and cities, especially in London where a tiny studio can cost upwards of a thousand pounds to rent. Some of the places I have seen in recent news stories have been worse than the bedsit I lived in 40 years ago and that is really saying something because the place I lived in was a dump. Thankfully I knew I’d only be there 6 months as I was in the process of looking for a flat to buy.

  7. Marcia Howard permalink
    April 6, 2023

    Yes, the tree must be saved, as well as the former hospital. I hope refurbishing the nurses homes is also part of the plan.

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