Origin and history
Lady Sudeley is one of the most attractive, early-season, English dessert apples and its name has a rather romantic origin.
It was raised around 1849 at Sharsted Farm in Chatham, Kent by the bailiff, Mr Jacobs. In the 1850s Jacobs moved to Petworth in Sussex where he set up as a ‘sheep doctor’ and taxidermist and began marketing his apple under the name ‘Jacob’s Strawberry.’
The nurseryman George Bunyard saw a dish of the fruit at a show and was so impressed by its striking scarlet and gold appearance that he immediately bought some scion wood. Bunyard wanted to re-name the fruit ‘Lord Sudeley’, after his best customer, who had recently placed an enormous order with Bunyard’s Maidstone nursery for half a
million trees and bushes. However, when shown the apple, Lord Sudeley said its colours reminded him of his wife’s favourite court dress and Bunyard therefore introduced it in 1885 as ‘Lady Sudeley’.
The apple attained a Royal Horticultural Society Award of Merit and was grown commercially in Kent, Sussex and Cornwall, remaining popular until the 1940s.
Picking, Storing and Using
Lady Sudeley is ripe between mid August and mid September. Unusually for an early variety, the apples can be kept for a week in the fridge, but go soft if stored for longer.
The fruit is medium-sized and slightly ribbed. The skin is green turning golden-yellow, covered with an orange flush and broad, scarlet stripes. The fruit almost appears to glow. The flesh is firm, yellow, juicy and aromatic.
Older residents still remember the extensive apple orchards (now sadly built on) between Grove St and Station Rd, where 'Jacob's Strawberry' grew in abundance.
George Bunyard was one of Britain's most notable nurserymen, a leading pomologist and Master of the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers. The family firm had been established in Maidstone by his
grandfather, James, in 1796.
Growth, Flowering and Pollination
The tree is very decorative and the blossom particularly pretty. It has some frost-resistance. The wood is brittle and fruit might need thinning if the branches are not to break.
Lady Sudeley is partly self-fertile but benefits from a pollinator of a different variety, such as Charles Ross, Dumelow’s Seedling or Barnack Beauty.
Lord Sudeley and the Toddington Orchard Company
Charles Douglas Richard Hanbury-Tracy, 4th Baron Sudeley, succeeded to the barony in 1877 on the untimely death of his elder brother and moved to the family seat of Toddington Manor in Gloucestershire. His wife, after whom the Lady Sudeley apple is named, was Ada Maria Katherine Tollemache, co-heiress to her wealthy New Zealander Uncle, Algernon Tollemache.
The Sudeleys inherited a struggling estate and by 1879 ambitious plans were launched to turn much of the land into commercial orchards on a scale never previously known in Britain. The Toddington Orchard Company was founded and within ten years Lord Sudeley had planted 700 acres of apples, plums, cob-nuts and soft fruit, supplied by Maidstone nurserymen Bunyard & Sons Ltd. He also commissioned two acres of steel-framed heated glasshouses from Belgium for growing grapes, peaches, nectarines and figs. In 1887 Lord Sudeley entered into partnership with the jam maker T W Beach, as in glut years plums and strawberries could profitably be made into conserves. This was undertaken on site in a state- of-the-art canning factory and the produce transported to market via The Toddington Orchard Company's own railway terminus.
Sadly, the venture failed when a combination of legacy debt, the agricultural depression and unsound investments led to Lloyds Bank foreclosing on Lord Sudeley in 1893, forcing him into bankruptcy. Lloyds’ peremptory handling of the matter remains controversial to this day.
In 1901 Lord Sudeley had no option but to sell Toddington, bringing to an end his family’s 1,000 year connection with the estate, which subsequently fell into disrepair. Toddington Manor is now being restored by the artist Damian Hirst. About 100 acres of the orchards remain, cultivated by the Harrell Family at Hayles Fruit Farm.
Copyright © Karen Meadows 2018