Prison’s ‘nursery rhyme bush’ cut down

Image copyright HMP Wakefield
Image caption The mulberry tree had stood for hundreds of years but died in 2017 due to beetle infestation and canker

A 19th Century tree thought to have inspired a well-known nursery rhyme has been removed from the grounds of one of Britain’s most notorious jails.

HMP Wakefield’s mulberry died in 2017 – a year after it was shortlisted as a Tree of the Year contender.

The tree, considered by some to be the origin of Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush, was cut down on Tuesday.

But it is set to be replaced after a staff appeal tracked down a cutting taken from the original 30 years ago.

Its replacement was grown in the 1980s in the garden of a retired member of staff, who has since died.

His widow was made aware of the appeal for tree cuttings and was “delighted to assist with this project”, the prison said.

The original mulberry died through beetle infestation and canker, a Prison Service horticulturalist found.

Excerpt from Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush

Here we go round the mulberry bush

The mulberry bush

The mulberry bush

Here we go round the mulberry bush

On a cold and frosty morning.

Prison officer Simon Richardson, who helped to remove the dead tree, said: “It became a project because [the mulberry] is so important to Wakefield prison, it’s instrumental in the place, everything revolves around it.

“Unfortunately it’s dead, but the aim is to replace it – we’ll have one here where the original was and possibly another one at the other end of the jail so everyone can see it.”

Cuttings will be taken from the 30-year-old mulberry and attempts will then be made to propagate a new tree.

He added: “I was very apprehensive coming to work this morning because it’s part of history and the jail, it’s something to be proud of.”

Image copyright HMP Wakefield

From crimes to rhymes

  • HMP Wakefield was originally built as a house of correction in 1594
  • In later centuries female prisoners were said to have danced around the tree and it is locally believed the women invented the nursery rhyme to keep their children amused
  • Another possible interpretation is that “cold and frosty” Britain struggles to produce silk, with mulberry trees a key habitat for the cultivation of silkworms
  • The prison’s staff diner is called “The Mulberry” and the HMP Wakefield crest includes an image of the bush
  • An adjacent road in Wakefield is named Mulberry Way
  • In 2016, HMP Wakefield’s mulberry was shortlisted by the Woodland Trust as a “Tree of the Year”

HMP Wakefield, a Category A jail housing some of Britain’s most notorious criminals, is the largest high security prison in the United Kingdom and western Europe.

It has housed several high-profile murderers including Harold Shipman, Britain’s most prolific serial killer, who took his own life there in 2004.

Tom Wheatley, HMP Wakefield governor, said the tree had “been a part of the prison for hundreds of years”.

“The tree is in a really poor state, it’s rotten the whole way through, and we just thought it was fitting to replace it with a cutting from the original tree so we can keep the mulberry alive at Wakefield prison,” he said.

“It’s on the main route that prisoners take each day to go to work in workshops, so four times a day most prisoners walk past it and they’ll notice it’s not here any more.”

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