31st January 2021
On 16 January Morus Londinium's Dr Peter Coles gave an online talk to the Charlton Society on The Mulberry, in celebration of the veteran black mulberry tree in the grounds of Charlton House. The Chalrton tree, one of the Great Trees of London, is all that survives of several hundred mulberries that formed a plantation to support James I's 1609 project to begin sericulture (raising silkworms and reeling the cocoons into silk thread) in England. The tree probably dates from about 1611 when the House was completed for Sir Adam Newton, tutor to James I's son, Henry, Prince of Wales.
Although the tree may not be the oldest in the country, as has been claimed, it is certainly one of the oldest in Greater London. There are probably over 200 mulberries surviving from James's silk venture in England (several in the gardens of Cambridge and Oxford Colleges). Despite initial support and investment, the project soon failed because of the long, freezing winters at the time, a lack of know-how on raising silk worms, the need to wait years before the mulberry saplings could be harvested of their leaves each Spring, and a decision to shift the whole enterprise to the new colonies of Virginia and Georgia.
A shortened version of Peter's talk can be found on the Charlton Society website.