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The Mulberry Tree



In the Universal British Directory compiled by Peter Barfoot and John Wilkes (of Milland House, Sussex) it states that’ The (soil) foil of Poole and its environs is particularly adapted to the culture of the mulberry….’ The fascination with the cultivation of mulberry trees seems to have been passed down through the centuries. The mulberry tree was brought to England by the Romans who used the leaves and bark for medicinal purposes. In Tudor times the trees were prized for their juicy fruit. Henry VIII was recorded as having a mulberry tree for his Chelsea Manor.

During his daughter Elizabeth’s reign there grew a national interest to inspire new industries as “projects” through the work of “projectors” and to give out patents and allow monopolies to the entrepreneurial business people creating them. This was because the cost of imports from other countries was seen not to be in the country’s best interest and besides to encourage such work would help poorer people. The new industries that began to grow out of these projects were good for creating jobs and improving the lot of hard-pressed families that could earn a living wage as a result. They included many new industries and occupations to do with the production of consumer goods, the very first ones were then beginning to be created; pin and starch making, tobacco growing and vinegar making were examples.


King James I conceived an idea of taking the silk-making monopoly away from the French to weave silk in England and save money as silk became more popular and more expensive, by growing mulberry trees and creating a silk industry in England.   He had a four acre mulberry tree garden planted near, what is today, Buckingham Palace. More to the point, in 1609, he imported 10,000 trees from Europe and requested estate owners ‘to purchase and plant mulberry trees at the rate of six shillings per thousand’. It was an awful mistake – it is thought that he was deliberately given bad advice from the French to order black mulberry trees instead of white. Silk worms can eat the leaves of the black mulberry trees which grow well in England and produce silk threads but the thread is coarse and breaks easily. But they thrive on the leaves of the white mulberry tree which is their natural food and produce the perfect silk threads with which to weave cloth. The silk project failed but the mulberry garden thrived and became a pleasure garden until demolished during the building of Buckingham Palace. James also encouraged the colonies to consider the same opportunity; he sent out seeds to Jamestown for instance, but little, if anything, came of his initiative.


In 1681 however, Charles II offered sanctuary to Protestant Huguenots who were being oppressed by Louis XIV. Many found their way across the Channel and many more came when the Treaty of Nantes was revoked in 1685. From 1670 to 1710, thousands of Huguenots settled in England, many were rich and many were weavers. Some Huguenots found their way to Poole and planted orchards of mulberry trees by which to carry on their trade. A few trees can be seen today indicating where the orchards may have been for example, there is one in the carpark off Lagland Street beside Weston’s Lane and another outside the Leisure Centre on Kingland Road.

Peter Barfoot and John Wilkes stated that their directory provides ‘a most interesting and Instructive History of Great Britain’ in the descriptions concerning many towns in the country. The first edition was published in1790 and includes the article on mulberry trees in Poole, a proposed venture started in 1719.

It states that the heath around Poole seems to have been cultivated at some time as traces of fencing can be seen which would have enclosed the fields. Also the soil in Poole and surrounding areas is ‘particularly adapted to the culture of the mulberry; where it grows fo luxuriantly that a whole foreft might be raifed from layers, without any trouble or difficulty. Our late worthy clergyman, Mr Fawconer, was given irrefragable proofs of the eafe wherewith the white mulberry might be propagated, and he succeeded in his experiments fo far as to lay claim (had he chofen to apply) to the prize offered by the Bath Society. As the many experiments which have been attempted in different parts of the kingdom for raifing filk-worms have failed through a dearth of mulberry trees, would not a trial here be an object worthy of the attention of fuch as are competent for the undertaking? – Mr Henry Barham of Chelfea, wrote to Sir Hans Sloane, that in the months of May, June and July 1719, he made, with much eafe, as good filk, in the judgement of the dealers in that commodity, as any imported; and further wrote , that worms produced from an ounce of eggs will make fifteen pounds of fine filk, which is twice as is made in Languedoc and Provence; and that experience taught him, that we may have filk worms twice over and that the mulberry tree will bear to be ftripped of its leaves twice a year, without injury to the tree or fruit. On the whole, as the materials for fo valuable a manufactuary could be realised, and children, o’d persons who are at prefent a burthen to the people could be inftructed in a day and be employed; it appears to be an improvement worthy of the patronage of the Lord of the Manor and others concerned. Should fo beneficial an improvement be introduced and found to thrive here, it could not long be confined to this fpot. But is of great confequence, that it should be begun where it is moft likely to fucceed, and where it would beft deferve that encouragement which it would be equally neceffary and expedient for the public to give.’

Obviously business opportunities offered by growing mulberry trees are hard to give up despite historical examples to the contrary. Mr Barham felt he would be doing a social service by employing children and old people as well as creating a lucrative business but there is no evidence to say whether the venture was a success or not. It is difficult to say when mulberry trees still growing in the environs of Poole were planted but they have a great age to them.


Legend of Silk


Many legends concerning the discovery of silk in China abound. Leizu, wife of the Yellow Emperor, is accredited with its discovery around the year 2629BC. The idea for silk first came to Leizu while she was having tea in the imperial gardens sitting under a mulberry bush, a wild cocoon fell into her tea and unravelled. She noticed that the cocoon was actually made from a long thread that was both strong and soft. Leizu then discovered how to combine the silk fibres into thread. She also invented the silk loom that combined the threads into a soft cloth. Soon Leizu had a forest of mulberry trees for the silkworms to feed on and taught the rest of China how to make silk. Ever since, Leizu has been worshipped as the ‘Goddess of Silkworms’ by the Chinese people.


Sources: – History of the Mulberry Trees by Pat Rick         last viewed 03/06/2018 Sherborne’s silk industry           last viewed 03/06/2018 ‘Mulberry tree in Poole damaged during works’ 10th April 2012         last viewed 03/06/2018 – the Turbulent History of the Mulberry by Widget Finn 10 September 2015         last viewed 03/06/2018 ‘The History of Yorkshire’s Mulberry trees’ by Judy Dowling Ancient Tree Voluntary Verifier 28 September 2016         last viewed 03/06/2018 The Universal British Directory of Trade, Commerce and Manufacture….       Last viewed 03/06/2018 The History of the Town and County of Poole compiled from Hutchin’s History of the County of Dorset       last viewed 03/06/2018   ‘Here we go round….’ Jenny Oliver             last viewed 03/06/2018

Were Poole People Silk Farmers by Andrew Hawkes      last viewed 03/06/2018

Just for interest –  – good article on mulberry trees in their Summer 2018 publication

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