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29th Jun, 2022

Victorian chair could be made from Bard's famous mulberry tree

Ian Hughes 20th Nov, 2017

EFFORTS are underway to try and establish if a Victorian chair was made from the famous mulberry tree which once stood in the garden of Shakespeare’s New Place home.

Stratford businessman Tony Bird recently bought the intricately carved occasional chair which was made in 1862 for wealthy philanthropist Frederick Cosens, who had a passion for Shakespeare.

Cosens’ name is carved on the back of the chair together with a reference to the bard’s garden. He had it made because of its allegedly close association with the family of the playwright, who reputedly planted a mulberry tree in the garden of his Chapel Street home where he lived after his retirement from the London theatre scene.

The 18th century owner of New Place, the Reverend Francis Gastrell, is alleged to have felled the original mulberry tree in the 1750s.

Later many wooden artefacts began to appear which were claimed to originate from the tree. They included wooden boxes, busts and trinkets made by local man John Marshall in the 19th century. A number of the mulberry tree artefacts are in the collection of Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Trust collections officer Rosalyn Sklar said: “The chair pre-dates when we acquired the site of New Place and so we cannot add anything in terms of provenance but it is a fascinating item and we would be interested to know more about its history.'”

Worcester antique dealer David Gray, who sold the chair for a three figure sum, was also unable to shed any more light on it.

He said: “Unfortunately we are unable to throw any more light on the history of the chair.

“It was bought from a private client some years ago and we have had it at home because we thought the carving to be especially intricate and lovely.”

Mr Bird, who is also passionate about Shakespeare, is hoping to unlock the mystery of the chair.

He said: “History tells us that Frederick William Cosens was an extremely wealthy patron of the arts. He was a specialist in 17th century English and Spanish literature with a passion for the works of Shakespeare.

“He was content for his name to be on the back and was not the sort of man to have allowed his name to be associated with a chair of unverified origin.

“At the end of his life, the estate of Frederick Cosens, including his library and collection of paintings were sold at auction by Sothebys. We don’t know yet whether the chair was sold with his estate.”

A mulberry tree currently stands in the Great Garden of New Place. Planted in 1862, it was grown from a section of the tree thought to have been planted by Shakespeare.

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