“Lost” varieties re-discovered
MAN was founded in 1993 largely as a reaction to the decline of traditional orchards and consequent loss of varieties, our main objective was to re-discover and keep in cultivation old varieties of top fruit- particularly those associated with Wales and the Welsh Marches. At our first presentation at the Malvern Autumn Fruit Show in 1995, we mounted a display of unknown apple varieties seeking help in their identification from visitors. This evoked lots of interest but only one name. We also displayed a poster of “WANTED” apples.
Since 1993 more than 30 varieties of old dessert and cooking apples have been re-found. Most are listed in ‘Orchard Gleanings’ in Apples and Pears (2014) though a few have been authenticated since, notably Bringewood Pippin, Round Winter Nonesuch, and Spring Grove Codlin. We show examples of the fruit for comparison with details from reference works (see Accreditation).
There are three chief ways ‘lost’ varieties have been re-found
- – Local campaigns have been launched by enthusiasts to find a particular apple once grown in their district. In this way Brithmawr was found in Glamorgan by Muriel Beck and friends, and Chatley Kernel in Worcestershire by Peter Weekes. These finds, and the dramatic rescue of Newland Sack by John Aldridge are documented in early MAN newsletters.
- – More often ‘lost’ varieties have surfaced by visitors bringing in unknown apples for identification at Apple Day events. It was an exciting moment at Church Stretton Apple Fair in 2004 when Tom Adams took out of his rucksack 3 small specimens of Gipsy King. By the time we had checked them with Hogg’s description the queue of visitors clutching bags of unknown apples snaked through the hall, and to avoid further disruption the show organiser despatched us to a quiet room in another part of the building. The debut of Barcelona Pearmain, brought to Malvern Show by Mary Troughton in 2007, was another ‘red letter’ event, her old tree was still bearing prolifically.
- – The third way of discovering old varieties is by arranging visits to traditional orchards. Pig Aderyn and Pren Glas were found on a visit to an old estate in St. Dogmaels; Pig yr Wydd and Marged Nicolas came to light as a result of a survey of farm orchards around Llansadwrn commissioned by the Countryside Council for Wales. When we looked around the farm orchard in Shropshire which was home to Gipsy King two other old varieties were refound: the Bringewood Pippin and Round Winter Nonesuch. Such lucky breaks more than compensate for the hours spent trying to trace elusive apples like Ten Commandments. In many cases we have arrived just in time as the ancient decrepit trees, with hollow trunks ravaged by beetles and woodpeckers, might not have survived the next great storm.
Identification can be a lengthy process and involve taking scions from an old tree and grafting young ones that can be grown on and studied in one of our museum orchards. It took over 10 years to determine that the large conical yellow green apple with its gentle red flush was indeed Spring Grove Codlin. We had strong suspicions because the source tree was found as a very old tree growing in the grounds of Elton Hall, the first home of Thomas Andrew knight after his marriage.
Confirmation that they are indeed lost varieties means that whatever name they may have been known by is not correct. Usually they also have no matching DNA entry in any database; there are exceptions, for instance when we found that the variety held at the National Fruit Collection as Bringewood Pippin was actually Sweeney Nonpareil!
A variety known locally as Carnation around Hay-on-Wye was recognized as a “dead-ringer” for Bridstow Wasp, named after the village near Ross-on-Wye. It is an excellent match to an unpublished illustration in the Cider Museum, Hereford. Intriguingly, Hogg has miss-spelt it as Birdstow Wasp, a rare slip the like of which you’re more likely to find on these pages. Even more intriguingly, the variety is well known, though of later provenance, in Ireland as Beauty of Ballintaylor; recently DNA has enabled another tree growing in Totnes, Devon to be confirmed.
Sometimes, we have had a “disappointment” when the variety we have found and identified has turned out to be a synonym of a variety whose name has an older provenance and thus takes precedence. We had that experience with Credenhill Pippin, it’s Barnack Beauty from near Stamford and several more are listed below:
While we have many successes, there is still plenty of scope for further discoveries. It has been estimated that more than 300 varieties of dessert or culinary apples have been raised or found in Wales and the Welsh Marches. One hundred years ago local nurseries stocked a wide range of fruit, e.g., the 1907 catalogue of King’s Acre Nurseries (Hereford) lists 180 apple varieties for sale; in 1908 the catalogue of Fair Oak Nurseries at Bassaleg listed 100 varieties but added in a footnote that they had another 200 on trial which would be offered for sale in due course if they proved suitable.
During its early years, MAN assisted the National Fruit Collection add several varieties to their collection at Brogdale including: Chatley Kernel, Newland Sack, Onibury Pippin, Pig Aderyn, Sam’s Crab, Sugar-loaf Pippin, Ten Commandments.
MAN has contributed to ‘re-finding’ or re-establishing a number of varieties and taken them to accreditation; the list is available here. We’re working on about another 20 for accrediting in 2020 and beyond.
Among the varieties we’ve not yet provisionally identified, those with working names, some may still prove to be traditional varieties.