The historic nature of central London is hard to miss but sometimes it’s difficult for New Worlders to appreciate the span of time which is contained in some relatively small spaces.
Take Middle Court, for instance. The London Parks and Gardens Trust website records: It is possible there have been gardens since the Knights Templar established themselves here in c.1160… Middle Temple’s gardens and buildings were reworked in mid-late 17th century when the gardens were enclosed by brick wall. In 1681-82 Fountain Court was formed and two black mulberry trees (Morus nigra) were planted here in 1887 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee.
Middle Temple has plenty of Royal connections, including the dubious King John, who used the Temple as his London headquarters (1214-5). It was from here that he issued the two charters that led to the Magna Carta, signed in June 1215 at Runnymede.
The first production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was performed in Middle Temple Hall in 1602, while the Bard used Temple Garden – famous for its roses – as the setting (Henry VI Part I) where Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, plucks a white rose and the Earl of Somerset plucks a red for the Lancastrians (thus marking a fictional start to the real Wars of the Roses 1455-87). Charles Dickens used Fountain Court as a setting in Barnaby Rudge (1841) and Martin Chuzzlewit (1844).
Find a really good write-up about the whole Middle Temple area here. (He got a private tour.) Interestingly, the Inner and Middle Temples are their own local authorities and do not come within the jurisdiction of the Corporation of London.
But back to the mulberries … in 2016 a survey being carried out by the Conservation Foundation’s Morus Londinium project identified more than 135 significant mulberry trees in London – and more were coming to light every week.
The black mulberry (Morus nigra) is native to Iran, Syria and Turkey and is grown for its fruit, while the white mulberry (Morus alba) is native to China and integral to the silk industry with leaves that feed silkworms. The Brief History of London’s Mulberries contains much information about James I’s plan for a home-grown silk industry and why it didn’t work.
But the trees were known in London long before 1609. Excavations of water-logged Roman sites in London in the 1970s found well-preserved mulberry pips, revealing that the trees were cultivated in London as early as the 1st century AD.