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  • Writer's pictureLondon On The Ground

A quartet of carved clergy: the Bishops' Tree at Fulham Palace

Four wooden Bishops await visitors to the gardens of Fulham Palace.

The Fulham Palace Four

Environmental sculptor Andrew Frost carved them from a dead cedar tree in 2007.

Originally, three of the four were perching in or on the trunk of the cedar of Lebanon. Possibly because the trunk could no longer support them, two of them have taken up discreet new positions among the surrounding foliage.

This makes them harder to spot, but it is worth the short stroll up to and past the old tree trunk on the edge of a small wooded area to find them.

Most of the bishops are beyond the Bishops' Tree

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The Bishops' Tree, as the carvings are collectively called, was commissioned in 2007 by Dolores Moorhouse. She donated it to Fulham Palace in memory of her husband, Peter, and their enjoyment of the Palace and its gardens.

Peter Moorhouse memorial plaque

The four figures portray former residents of Fulham Palace, which was the home of the Bishops of London for more than 1,300 years until the 1970s.

The oldest among them is Edmund Bonner, Bishop from 1539 to 1549 and again from 1553 to 1559. He gained a reputation as a cruel persecutor of heretics under both Henry VIII and Queen Mary I. Between these two monarchs, he fell out with Edward VI and spent time in both the Fleet Prison and Marshalsea Prison.

Bishop Bonner

Bishop Bonner, dressed as a monk, is now the only one of the four still in the tree, forever confined to a carved niche in its dead trunk. With his stern expression, he is doing his best to live up to his image as 'Bloody Bonner', fortified by a goblet of wine in his right hand (or is he about to conduct Communion?).

Henry Compton was Bishop for 37 years and seven months from 1675 to 1713 (the longest serving Bishop of London until the 20th century, when the episcopacy of Arthur Winnington-Ingram lasted 38 years and four months).

Bishop Compton was a keen botanist, who introduced a large number of overseas species of plants to England. As a result, Fulham Palace became one of the most significant botanic gardens of the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

It is fitting, then, that Henry Compton is now portrayed enjoying a peaceful moment's repose in his former gardens.

Bishop Compton

He appears to have nodded off while reading a weighty tome and after emptying a goblet of wine, still clutched in his right hand. Just above his head are a yet-to-be planted pot plant, a trowel and what look like the fruit of some exotic tree.

Sleeping, or practising a sermon?

Beilby Porteus, Bishop of London from 1787 to 1809, was a leading figure in the campaign to abolish the slave trade. He was also a Church of England reformer and a fervent advocate of Bible reading.

In Fulham Palace gardens, we find Bishop Porteus leaning on a tree stump, on top of which is an open book.

Bishop Porteus

He is not looking at the book, so either he has been distracted by something more interesting in the garden, or perhaps he is looking up at passers-by while reading the Bible to them. Next to him is a precariously stacked pile of books, a reference to the collection that he left to establish Fulham Palace's library.

Mandell Creighton was a leading historian and Cambridge University professor, with a successful second career in the Church of England. Bishop of London for only four years from 1897 until his premature death (aged 57) in 1901, he had been tipped as a possible Archbishop of Canterbury.

Bishop Creighton

As might be expected of a man of great intellect, Bishop Creighton is holding a book in one hand. However, more surprisingly, he is holding a bottle aloft in his other hand, apparently showing off that he has emptied it. Dressed in his bishop's mitre and robes, he is standing up against a tree (perhaps he needs the support after his libation).

At the base of the cedar tree trunk is a wooden throne with the crossed swords emblem of the Diocese of London. Perhaps the four bishops take it in turns to sit on it when visitors have left the garden.

There is also a smaller throne, maybe a nod to the medieval tradition of appointing a Boy Bishop at Christmastime from among the choirboys of St Paul's Cathedral.

On the other side of the trunk, there is a cat lying on top of a pile of books, one of which reads LMAAXIINIM along its spine. These carved letters, and those visible on other parts of the work, are thought to be references to the Moorhouses' memories.

It would be quite easy to stroll past the Bishops' Tree without noticing it on a visit to Fulham Palace, so be sure to stop by the quartet of carved clergy and their priestly paraphernalia.


Only one bishop is still in the tree

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