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Bramley's Seedling

Origin and History

Bramley's Seedling is the definitive English cooking apple and its popularity once earned it the nick-name ‘King of Covent Garden'. Unsurprisingly, it is one of the most popular Waterfurlong varieties. 

The original tree was raised in 1809 when Mary Ann Brailsford, a young girl from Southwell in Nottinghamshire, planted some pips left on her mother's kitchen table. In 1837, after the Brailsford family had left Church Cottage, one sapling finally fruited, bearing unusually large, fine apples.




The fruit is large and handsome, squat in shape with five rather distinct knobs at the crown. The skin is green tinged with light red and striped with darker red, and develops a greasy feel when stored. The stalk is unusually 



merit in 1876. By 1944 nearly two million Bramleys were growing in the UK alone. Theoriginal tree endured being blown over in a storm in 1900 and has survived for more than 200 years, although it is sadly now infected with deadly honey fungus. 

Mathew Bramley (left) and Henry Merryweather (right)

It was nurtured by the new occupant, Mary Ann's son-in-law and local butcher, Matthew Bramley, and spotted in 1856 by 17 year old plant nurseryman, Henry Merryweather. Matthew Bramley agreed that Henry could take scions and grow them in his family's nursery on the proviso they were sold under the name Bramley's Seedling.

Henry Merryweather exhibited the apple at RHS shows, where it received huge admiration and an award of

Matthew Bramley (left) and Henry Merryweather (right)

Bramley's Seedling by Alan Buckingham
© Alan Buckingham

Picking, Storing and Using

original Bramley tree, Southwell

Bramley is best used between November and February.Bramley’s high level of acidity means it cooks to the light and fluffy purée called for by many traditional English recipes. In most other countries cooks prefer apples to keep their shape when cooked and this is the reason Bramley is less well-known abroad than other English cooking apples we have largely forgotten at home. The fruit can be pressed in early autumn to make a crisp, dry juice.   

The original Bramley tree at Church Cottage, Southwell. The cottage has recently been purchased by Nottingham Trent University in the hopes of prolonging the life of the tree, which has deadly honey fungus.

Although Bramley is widely available in the shops, the home-grown fruit is immeasurably superior. Left to its own devices, Bramley develops a red flush and sweetens on the branch. However, in response to consumer preference the supermarkets demand pure green apples from their suppliers, who have no alternative but to pin down the branches to shield the fruit from the ripening effect of the sun. As one former commercial orchard worker explained to the journalist and environmentalist George Monbiot 

“ They told us to pick it unripe, when it was as appetising as a cricket ball and you'd need a pneumatic drill to get into it."(1)

Growth, Flowering and Pollination

Bramley's Seedling trees are extremely vigorous, being at least a size larger than most other apple varieties on any given rootstock. They have attractive crimson blossom and are unusually long-lived. Bramleys are easy to grow, the only complication being they need two different pollinating apple trees nearby. This is because Bramley is a triploid variety with three sets of genes instead of the more usual two. 


Keswick Codlin, James Grieve, Newton Wonder and Barnack Beauty are examples of good pollinators.


(1) Fallen Fruit, George Monbiot, The Guardian, 30 October 2004 


Copyright © Karen Meadows 2018 

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