Rare mulberry trees around our district could be linked to James I

Judy Dowling with the mulberry tree at Hatfield Hall.

Judy Dowling with the mulberry tree at Hatfield Hall.

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A city-born volunteer tree recorder wants to know whether there are any mulberry trees hiding within the district.

Judy Dowling has been visiting a number of the trees located across the region during the past two years to discover more about their mysterious origins.

It is believed James I of England had, in 1609, sent out hundreds of mulberry saplings to estate owners.

This was to try and start a silk industry in the UK to reduce the need to buy French silks.

Included in these is the one in HMP Wakefield – which is apparently the origin of the nursery rhyme Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush.

But after further investigation she discovered more in the grounds of a Georgian Dower house in Heath, a Wakefield high school and an old rectory in East Ardsley.

One in Hatfeild Hall, Stanley, is thought to be the oldest in West Yorkshire.

Mrs Dowling wants to find out if there are any links between the original trees sent out by James I and the others in the district – but would need to do DNA testing.

She said: “I just feel that there’s a connection because there are not many in the north of England.

“So many in one similar area is really unusual.

“It could be that some, if not all of them, are related to the one in Wakefield prison in some way.

“It has been suggested that the Wakefield prison tree originated as a cutting from the Hatfeild tree, although I’ve yet to find evidence to support this. The only way to be certain would be to get some funding for DNA testing of these trees. For this to work, they all have to be still alive.”

It is thought that an occupant of the old rectory in East Ardsley had also been the chaplain for the prison.

“The results would be conclusive, and shed some light on the history of mulberries in this area, and their importance in days past.

“They are sadly now a much neglected tree, rarely recorded or planted so its time is running out.”

Retired teacher Mrs Dowling, 64, is a volunteer for the Woodland Trust’s Ancient Tree inventory. She left Wakefield in the 1970s, but returned often to see her late mother Doreen Hardcastle, who sadly died last year. She now lives in Scotland.

Anyone can contact Mrs Dowling by email at judydowling@hotmail.com