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Ancient Tree Compass

My most recent project that I began this Autumn, and one that has expanded from my original Tree Compass project is the Ancient Tree Compass.  I had been wanting to get back to a regular monthly walk with my family, which we've been doing since 2014.  I decided that setting the walk around a local ancient tree would be a wonderful idea.  A local friend suggested visiting a tree from each point of the Compass across Yorkshire. Using the map on the Woodland Trusts, Ancient Tree Inventory.  Unfortunately we had terrible stormy weather and lack of daylight time to be able to do that apart from in September. But will definitely be trying to do that in 2024. Instead we are visiting ancient trees in easier reach of home.

Akay Oak

In late September we took at trip to the very far reaches of West Yorkshire to Sedbergh.  Which is in fact in Cumbria, although still classed as the Yorkshire Dales!  Confusing.  Whilst there we found a walk that happened to have an ancient tree on the route.  The Akay Oak. The Akay Oak is thought to be 700 years old, and can be found on the ruined grounds of Akay Manor.  The manor and land have an interesting history  which you can read about in this article.  The area also having connections to the textile industry.

Black Mulberry - Temple Newsam

In November we took advantage of a break in the stormy weather to find an ancient Black Mulberry at Temple Newsam.  This is our closest ancient tree logged in the Ancient Tree Inventory.  I had no idea what a Black Mulberry was, or what it looked like.   We found the tree easily from the map, right outside the house.  This tree is classed as a Tree of Special Interest and marked as ancient, but it doesn’t say how old it is.  It’s fallen, but still very much alive.  As I began sketching the tree, taking note of its beautiful heart shaped leaves, and incredible contorted trunk and branches.   Lots of thoughts began to whir around my head.  I knew that Silk worms feed on Mulberry leaves, so wondered if maybe it had been planted for that purpose.  Whilst we were there my husband also recounted a story he had heard from a colleague that the nursery rhyme ‘Here we go round the Mulberry Bush’ had its origins in a nearby prison, where the female inmates would walk around a Mulberry Bush on their exercises.  

When we returned home I had a whole list of unanswered questions and enquiries that the encounter with this tree had sparked.

I found out that.

The Romans brought Black Mulberry to the UK originally to cultivate their fruit and for their medicinal qualities.

But Black Mulberry were more widely introduced into Britain by King James I in the 17th century.  James encouraged all landowners to plant Mulberries, in order establish a silk industry in the UK.  The only problem was the Mulberry that were imported were the wrong kind, as silk worms eat White Mulberry not Black. The history of the silk industry is fascinating in itself.  Mulberries are rare in the UK, and many of those that survive are logged and protected (more on what that protection means another time) . There are lots of Mulberry trees in London, and many of them have had their struggles over the years to avoid being felled.  Looking at the map there are actually a few Mulberry trees near where I used to live in Camberwell, on Denmark Hill and over in Ruskin Park.

The story my husband recounted turned out to be true.

'Local historian R. S. Duncan suggests that the song originated with female prisoners at HMP Wakefield. A sprig was taken from Hatfeild Hall (Normanton Golf Club) in Stanley, Wakefield, and grew into a fully mature mulberry tree around which prisoners exercised in the moonlight.[6] The mulberry tree died during 2017 and was cut down and removed on 19 May 2019. Cuttings were taken during the 1980s and have grown into mature trees. Further cuttings taken from these trees will be replanted at HMP Wakefield to replace the mulberry tree.' - Wikipedia

The Wakefield prison tree was Tree of the year in 2017.  I love the story of this tree, and that it was so honoured that they had the foresight to take a cutting of the tree.

This doesn't shed light on my Temple Newsam Black Mulberry though.  An internet search brought up some interesting articles about other Mulberry trees being planted at Temple Newsam over the years.

In 1973 an actress called Judy Geeson planted a Mulberry in another spot outside the house.  This was part of a national program called 'Plant a tree in 73'  


'aimed at encouraging the population to participate by planting trees during the 1973 'National Tree Planting Year'. At the time a new, virulent strain of Dutch Elm Disease was sweeping the country, killing millions of trees.' - Wikipedia

Judy was chosen to plant the tree because she had starred in the 1968 comedy 'Here we go round the Mulberry Bush'!

It also happens to be the 50th anniversary this year of the campaign, and the Tree Council had a National Tree Week, and planted trees to celebrate.  What a serendipitous coincidence.


Mulberry trees were also planted on two other occasions over the years at Temple Newsam, to celebrate the connection between Leeds and our twinned city in France Lille.

Tempsy Mulberry.jpg

This tree doesn't look far from our ancient Black Mulberry, but I don't recall seeing a tree in the spot.  I will be taking a trip back to find out more.  I also wonder why they chose a Mulberry tree? Is it a connection to the silk industry again?.  The Huguenot, French protestant silk weavers migrated over to the UK after being persecuted in France. The First refugees to enter en masse to the UK.  Most of them settled in London, but did some of them travel to Leeds?.  Leeds played a huge part in the textile industry, but mainly wool.

This still leaves me with lots of unanswered questions, and I am eager to find out the history of this tree. So my next step will be to contact the house, and see if they know anything. Maybe there are paintings or photographs of the tree, or information on who planted it.

I would also love to have a go at making ink from the leaves and Mulberries, and finding a twig that I can draw with to add to my collection.


The sketches I made on our first visit below were made using my Oak gall ink and my more recent Bukthorn ink.  This  always feels so special, especially with these two particular inks.  Oak gall ink would have been used at the time this tree was planted, and Buckthorn was a rich source of Sap Green watercolour.

An encounter with this tree has lead me on a wonderful trail of discovery.

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