By William Watson
(The following article is an extract from a report being prepared for the City of Worcester. We are glad of the opportunity to present it to Worcestershire's naturalists and it may well come as a surprise to many readers to learn that Worcester City was an important fruit growing area in the 19th century. The orchard and old tree remnants are important sites for the City's remaining wildlife and they and other parts of Worcester's Greenspace often contain more wildlife that much of the surrounding agricultural countryside).
The survey of Worcester's orchards and the report was commissioned by Worcester City Council, Technical Services Department on the recommendation of the Project Greenspace Officer. It is the first orchard survey and report to be commissioned within the city. Much of the information is new and emanates from detailed survey work in the field.
There are approximately 20 orchards within boundary of the City of Worcester. There are as many fragments of previously intact orchards which contain five or more trees in the city. The orchards are spread throughout Worcester, and all the orchards are located within the existing Green Network.
Nineteen different orchard sites were visited throughout the city. in total 223 trees were recorded and their condition assessed. Management recommendations are provided for each site and maintenance advice is provided for every tree referenced in the report. This information will be used in future plans to heighten awareness of these important landscape features, help prevent further losses of orchards and orchard trees.
Thirty two individual varieties of apple tree were identified from the 19 orchard sites. In addition to this 9 individual varieties of pear and 5 individual varieties of plum were identified during the course of the survey.
A wildlife survey of the orchards was also carried out. Important grassland swards worthy of conservation management were found at six of the sites. Mistletoe, a parasitic plant with a local national distribution, was found growing on 26 apple trees. The orchards were also shown to be valuable habitats for birds, beetles and butterflies.
Orchards have cultural and often historic landscape significance. They are valued by local people for recreation and wildlife they contain, particularly in an urban setting. This report demonstrates that Worcester's residents have a high estimation of their orchards.
The report has also drawn together other references to fruit growing within the city. Worcester was once at the centre of commercial fruit growing within the three counties. This report reminds us of the pivotal role the city played within this fruit growing region,
At the turn of the 19th Century there were hundreds of acres of fruit nurseries within the city boundary. Eight international varieties of apples and two varieties of pears have either been raised or introduced from Worcester nurseries, including the world famous Worcester Pearmain. The City's crest incorporates three Worcester Black Pears. This variety of pear is believed to be very close to the varieties that the Romans introduced into Britain.
The counties of Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire have always been famous for their fruit production. Worcestershire in particular has a very long association with the growing of fruit trees. There is no variety of soil or situation, surface or aspect, throughout the county without its orchard plantation (Pitt W. 1813). Stanley Baldwin referred to the county as 'the land of heavenly spring'. At that time of year there is nothing in the world to surpass the beauty of England, and the blossom of the Worcestershire garden (Mee, A. 1938). The pear, above all other fruit, is one of the most majestic of trees for both its blossom and autumn foliage. It seems highly appropriate therefore, that the county of Worcestershire should select a pear tree on a hill for the county arms. The City of Worcester's crest also features fruit in the form of three Worcester Black Pears. This also reflects the city's long association with the cultivation of apples and pears. With seven international varieties of apple and two varieties of pears, either having been raised or introduced by Worcester nurseries, Worcester can rightfully claim to being at the centre of this world famous fruit growing region.
Varieties of culinary apples have been widely grown in Britain since Roman times but pears were far less grown. It is believed that both fruit were gradually introduced or re-established by monastic orders.
During the Medieval period the majority of Worcester's hinterland was owned by the Priory belonging to Worcester Cathedral. It is probable that the monks of Worcester and Evesham Priories re-introduced apple and pear cultivation to the county. By the I ith century apple growing was known to be widespread in the county. This led Robert of Gloucester, in the reign of Henry 111, to sing the praises of the fruit of Wircestre. In Middle Ages apples were far more often planted in hedgerows and probably on the edge of woodland rides than in formal orchards (Morgan, J & Richards, A 1993). This was because grafting was not employed and propagation of fruit relied upon raising apples from seed. This was a hit and miss affair and in many instances it would have been a waste of valuable pasture. Grafting of fruit was not widely employed again until the 15'h and 16th centuries and then probably only by specialist growers. It was during this period that orchards were supposed to have increased rapidly in the county (Gaut, R.C 1939). By the beginning of the 19th century the practice of planting grafted trees in formal orchards became more refined with the introduction of better rootstocks and new varieties of fruit.
The most widely grown varieties of apple at that time were red and yellow stire, golden pippin, bland-rose, red streak and varieties of quinnings, rennets margils and pear-mains (Pitt, W. 1813).
Worcester was literally at the centre of the apple and pear growing region. The outskirts of the city, particularly St. John's, were surrounded by fruit growing nurseries from the beginning of the 19th century. There are references to several Worcester nurseymen at this period. A certain Mr. Biggs advertised the new scarlet nonpareil and the new Blenheim Orange apple in high estimation in 1807 (Pitt, W. 1813). Whilst Mr. J. Boughton of Lower Wick Nurseries is quoted in A History of Worcestershire Agriculture and Rural Evolution as advertising the new Blenheim Orange in the same year (Gaut, R.C. 1939). They must has been one of the first nurseymen to distribute Blenheim Orange as it was not in wide circulation before 1818 (Bultitude, J. 1984)
Later on in the 19th Century John Williams (1773-1853), described as being a crusty old Tory of the 18th Century school (Gwilliam, W. 1993), built Pitmaston House along the Malvern Road in St. John's. He was the most advanced of our (Worcestershire's) growers. He distributed the Pitmaston Pine Apple which is described as being a connoisseurs apple with a firm, juicy and slightly sweet, with a distinctive flavour. It was first shown in 1845. It had been raised by Mr. White, of Witley, steward to Lord Foley. Williams also raised Pitmaston Golden Pippin in about 1838 which was described as 'a very nice little fruit now seldom met' and the Pitmaston Nonparpeil (Bunyard, E.A 1920).
The other great nurseryman of the period was Richard Smith, the son of nurseryman, Thomas Smith of Lower Wick. In the 1820's Richard Smith developed what was to become one of the largest nursery businesses in the world. In its heyday in the late 19th century St. John's Nurseries covered 157 acres stretching from the Bransford Road, St. John's to Lower Wick in the south, There were 18 miles of walkways between its rows and displays. It had a 2,300 yard-long central drive lined by trees and there were two and a half acres of glasshouses: The whole operation was manned by a labour force of 200 (Grundy M. 1988). In October 1829 alone Richard Smith sold 10,000 fruit trees! He was succeeded in the business by his son, also called Richard. It was Richard Smith 'the second' who introduced the world famous Worcester Permain. It was found in the market garden of William Hales of Swan Pool, St. John's in 1872. There were two similar fruit varieties, one with a yellow fruit, the other with a red-coloured fruit. Richard Smith offered £10 for the exclusive right to remove grafts from the coloured one. He named it the Worcester Permain. It was introduced to the market trade in 1874. It received a first class certificate from the Royal Horticultural Society the following year. It is described as a brilliantly coloured apple with white firm flesh which is a little juicy and sweet with a pleasant flavour (Bultitude, J. 1984) It is still one of the most important commercial varieties in the UK and has the distinction of being the most widely used apple in the cross fertilisation of modem commercial varieties. In the 20th Century Richard Smith 'the second' handed the business over to his son Richard 'the third'. The nursery gradually contracted in size as land was sold off. In 1993 Richard Smith and Company finally ceased trading when the remaining three and a half acres was sold for housing development.
Another well known nurseryman and distributor of apple varieties was William Rowe who sold his nursery products from a shop at 65 Broad Street in Worcester as well as having outlets in Barbourne, Claines and Droitwich. His nursery was located at Barboume. His foreman, J. Carless, was responsible for raising the William Crump, which is a cross between Worcester Permain and Cox's Orange Pippin and Madresfield Court. Rowes also introduced Edward VII in 1908. Another international variety raised in Worcester was May Queen by Haywood, first recorded in 1888.
At one stage virtually the whole of St. John's seems to have been given over to growing of fruit trees and other nursery products. Other nurseries which were present in the 19th Century which appear in the Kelly's Directory or the Post Office Directory are Richard Hayes of Henwick Nursery, Hallow, John White of Rupert Villa, Lower Wick and Joseph Hill-White of 51 Broad Street and Corner Gardens. The land at St. John's was particularly suitable for the production of fruit growing due to the fact that it is located on the upper and middle terraces of the River Severn which is composed almost entirely of river sands and gravels.
There is good evidence for pear cultivation in Medieval Worcester even if they wasn't much evidence for pear growing in the rest Britain at that time. In the Anglo-Saxon Battenhall charter of 969 there is a reference to the Manor of Pirian which is identified with the area around Perry Wood (Della Hooke, 1990). A literal translation is Manor of the Pear tree (Mawer, A. & Stenton, F.M. 1927). The 10th Century Manor of Pirian. within the city's hinterland, alludes that domestic pears were grown close to Perry Wood at that time. The Manor survived well into the Middle Ages. In 1546 Henry VIII granted the land to the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church, Oxford (Victoria County History, 1901). In 1310 one Joan, widow of John Muchegros of Worcester was accused of 'unlawfully cutting down 100 pears and a 100 apples trees each worth 2 shillings. Her fine of £20, at that time would have been equivalent to at least a years earnings!
Pear growing was widespread within the county by the 16th Century 'Worcestershire abounds in pears, yielding a kind of wine from the juice called 'pyrry' this was in great demand though like all those kinds of liquors was 'cold and flatulent! (Camdem, W. 1586).'
Varieties of perry pears which were commonly grown in Worcestershire at the beginning of the 19th century were squash, huffcap, barland and linton (Pitt, W. 1813). Veteran Worcester Black Pears are known from several locations within the county and must also have been widely grown at that time (see below). John Williams of Pitmaston House, St. John's was also responsible for introducing two of the most well known and commercially successful dessert varieties of pear, the William and the Pitmaston Duchess pear. The latter was raised in about 1865 from Duchess d'Angoulême x Glou Morceau. It is described as having flesh which is pale yellow melting, very juicy and pleasantly flavoured in a good season.
The story of the Worcester Black Pear is fascinating piece of history. It is made all the more intriguing by the fact that our current knowledge on the origins of the Black Pear and how it became to be incorporated onto the City's crest still are incomplete. It is known that the Worcester Black Pear is oldest cultivar of a type of culinary pear known as 'Warden' pears which have been grown since Roman times (Arbury, J 1997). They are culinary pears which are described as being typically hard and gritty and ripen slowly but are long keeping. The Black Pear does not originate from Britain at all and may have been introduced into Worcestershire by the Romans. The earliest reference in Britain to this variety is from Warden Abbey, Bedfordshire in the 14th Century, where it was raised by the Cistercian monks (Roach, 1985).
The exact date when pears were first emblazoned on the Arms of the City of Worcester is not known, nor is there a record of any such grant from the Herald's office. The earliest reference to pears associated with a crest is in relation to the Worcestershire bowman depicting a pear-tree laden with fruit on their banners at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. Varieties of warden pears were also supposed to have been transported with the troops as part of their food provisions because of their long lasting properties.
A story goes that when Queen Elizabeth I visited the City of Worcester in August 1575, the City Authorities caused a pear tree of this variety, heavily laden with fruit, to be taken from the gardens at White Ladies and planted by the gate by which Her Majesty was to enter the City. The Queen is said to have noticed the tree with admiration and directed that three pears be added to the Arms of the City. The story is slightly expanded by other historians, accordingly Her Majesty 'riding upon her palfrey' had to stop at the stage erected 'very comely decked' to listen to three boys 'uttering very good and delectable manner in their speeches'. The Queen in wonder and admiration that such fine fruit should remain unplucked must be the result of good management, ordered three pears to be added to the City Arms as an achievement (Drayton, M 1563-1631). It is thought that it acquired the term 'black' pear from the sable of the escutcheon on the City's coat of arms.
There are approximately 20 orchards within boundary of the City of Worcester. There are as many fragments of previously intact orchards which contain 5 or more trees in the city. The orchards are spread throughout Worcester. Significantly all are to be found within the existing 'Green Network' (City of Worcester Local Plan. 1998).
However, orchards as wildlife habitats and local landscape features have not been a high priority for planning controls. There is no reference to them as an important habitat feature within the City of Worcester Local Plan. Over the last ten years their survival has owed more to chance rather than pro-active conservation. During the course of the Wamdon Villages development in the early 1990's two orchards were lost; Little Tolladine Farm, Home Orchard and Upper Ground Orchard by the junction of Trotshill Lane and Tolladine Road. Aconbury Orchard was spared because it was within a retained area of open space within the expansion area. Many of the old orchard fragments are within St. John's. Several of the back gardens belonging to houses along the Malvern Road in St. John's still contain groups of apple trees which were once part of St. John's Nurseries belonging to Smith & Company. Housing development has been prevented from taking place on Larkhill Orchard because it is within the Worcester Structure Plan as a building conservation area and are Green Spaces within the Green Network.
Twelve orchards were visited during the course of this survey. A further seven fragments of orchards or sites which generally contained more than five fruit trees were also visited.
In terms of meeting the Biodiversity Action Plan targets for traditional orchard conservation very little to date has been achieved within the City of Worcester. One of the problems is that up until now is that there hasn't been sufficient data on the city's orchards sites. The information within this report should now make it easier to protect the remaining orchards and designate the best examples. It should enable the best practice management techniques to applied to those sites surveyed. It should also be possible to apply some of the methods suggested within the report to those sites which had to be excluded from the survey.
Currently only the orchard at Homhill is included within a Special Wildlife Site. The latter is also within cartilage of Homhill Meadows Local Nature Reserve. Nunnery Wood and Perry Wood included under Sites 3 and 5 respectively, in this report, are also SWS's and LNR's but only contain scattered fruit trees. Countryside Stewardship applications have not been made for any of the orchards within the city. However, 15 out of the 19 sites currently surveyed are now contained within the Green Network. A further eleven of the sites surveyed have a local designation as Green Spaces. There has been a problem with the issuing of Tree Preservation Orders on orchard sites and fruit trees because trees grown for commercial purposes have been exempt from this process. To date the only fruit trees which have been listed are groups and individual old perry pears or wild pears growing within the hedges on Wamdon Villages (Wamdon TPO plan, 1987) and a group at Lower Battenhall Farm. However, in the latest Govermnent consultation paper (DETR report, 1998) on TPO's it is stated that the Goverwnent proposes to revise the orders to so that orchard trees no longer managed for commercial production can be protected under the Orders. If this becomes legislation a review of all orchards and fruit tree groups should be carried out with a view to their listing under the new orders.
The full report contains a detailed series of results. A site file contains both site specific results and the fruit tree file which lists individual account of all fruit trees from each of the sites visited during the course of the survey work.
In total 223 trees were surveyed from 19 different sites throughout the city. This detailed information is contained in the results section. Thirty two individual varieties of apple tree were identified from the 19 orchard sites, In addition to this nine individual varieties of pear and five individual varieties of plum identified during the course of the survey. Surprisingly only two varieties were of Worcester local provenience were found; a Pitmaston Pine Apple from the RNIB New College and Worcester Permain from several sites. The former variety has also recently been planted at Pitmaston Primary School.
It is possible to conclude that none of the orchards are currently being managed as working orchards. The vast majority of sites visited contained old fruit trees in a senescent state and as such were on average greater than 50 years of age. In some situations the fruit trees may be 100 years of age - almost certainly those in some gardens in Malvern Road and perhaps some of the apple trees at Tutnall House, and pears at Aconbury. Even more exceptional are the veteran Barland perry pear trees at Barland Orchard, Lockfields which may be 300 years of age, judging by their girth measurements. All of the extant orchards no longer contained their full compliment of fruit trees, usually because trees had died through a combination of old age, physical damage and disease.
Generally the wildlife value of orchards visited was considered to be high, because the orchard trees were old and the orchards supported other habitats such as flower-rich pasture and/or mature mixed hedgerows. Important grassland swards worthy of conservation management were found at six of the sites. Although it was beyond the scope of this survey to record invertebrate species, several specimens of the woodworm beetle Hadrobregmus denticolli were collected from Barland Orchard. This species is very local within Worcestershire. This indicates that old orchard trees with standing dead wood are very likely to support a wide range of associated beetles, bugs and other invertebrates.
A record was also made of the trees with parasitic plant Mistletoe Viscum album. The survey found it growing on 26 of the apple trees from 7 sites The orchards of Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire hold the highest national density of this plant which is usually only locally distributed outside this region. Mistletoe is an 'associated species' of traditional orchards within the Worcestershire Biodiversity Action Plan. Apple trees in particular are valuable hosts for lichens. Prominent lichen growth was present on 35 trees from ten of the sites surveyed and Physcia adscendens and Xanthoria parietina were identified from an apple tree at the YMCA. It is likely that these two species and Parmelia sulcata will be the most commonly occurring species on trees within the city because the air may be too polluted to support a wider range of lichen species.
Colin Harris of the Wamdon Villages Wildwatch Volunteers has keep a diary of birds seen at Aconbury Orchard. Over the last few years he has recorded 29 species of bird. Included within the list are Green Woodpecker Picus viridus, Fieldfare Turdus piliaris and Redwing Turdus iliacus. All three species are 'associated species' of traditional orchards within the Worcestershire Biodiversity Action Plan.
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