Stamford's Lost Apples

In the 1850s Stamford became an important centre for apple growing and breeding. As the stage-coach trade declined and the town fell into an economic slump, many residents were desperate for work. The area’s fertile soil and good transport links lent themselves to apple production, particularly in the fields around Ketton. At the same time Stamford found itself home to three avid apple breeders; solicitor Thomas Laxton, nurseryman Richard Brown and Burghley head gardener, Richard Gilbert, who between them introduced many new varieties.

Saint Mary's Street, Stamford

Only six of these varieties - Allington Pippin, Barnack Beauty, Brown’s Seedling, Lord Burghley, Peasgood’s Nonsuch, and Schoolmaster - are available today. The rest are lost completely or remain unidentified in old gardens like Waterfurlong.

We know the names of 30 lost varieties, but with no DNA samples and only basic descriptions to work from identification is far from easy. Stamford Pippin and Welland Pippin were raised by Thomas Laxton early in his apple-breeding career. Stamford Wonder, Brown’s Seedling and Wharfland Beauty were all introduced by Richard Brown, whilst Richard Gilbert raised varieties with wonderful local names, such as Saint Mary’s Street, The Post Office and The Butcher.

The Lost Varieties

American Wothorpe Prolific 1883

Andrew's Invincible 1883

April Beauty 1899

Carlton Seedling 1888

Cooper's Ambition 1883

Dalton's Exquisite 1883

Duke of Glo'ster 1883

Duncombe's Seedling 1883

Gossling's Codlin 1883

Holme Apple 1934

Lady Lennox 1851

Lavender's Seedling 1897

Martin Cecil 1933

   

Pat's Seedling 1883

Pride of Easton 1883

Richard Gilbert 1883

Rowell's Captain 1883

Rowell's Lieutenant 1883

Rowell's Middy 1883

Saint Mary's Street 1883

Scarlet Pippin 1883

Seacliff Hawthornden 1883

Sell's Bainton Seedling 1883

Sell's Prolific ?

Shillaker's Seedling 1889

Stamford Gem 1903

 

Stamford Pippin ?

 

Stamford Wonder 1903

 

The Butcher 1883

 

The March Queen 1883

 

The Parcel Post 1883

 

The Post Office 1883

 

The Woodman 1883

 

Toogood's Seedling 1896

 

Welland Pippin 1867

 

Wharfland Beauty 1880

 

Winter Striped Pearmain 1883

With grateful thanks to the Stamford Community Orchard Group for this information. Date shown is year of registration - some varieties are considerably older than their registration year. 

Why Have So Many Old Varieties Been Lost?

The problem is certainly not unique to Stamford – far more apple varieties have been lost than remain in existence – and, like most things, it involves several factors.

 

Many old apples were bred to be kept over winter, in fact some like Allington Pippin were bland and unpalatable when first picked, developing richness and flavour only after months of careful storage. Refrigeration and mass food importation made these qualities largely redundant. Other varieties would not store at all – some spoilt within a few days, others bruised too easily for commercial production. Tydeman’s Early Worcester is an example of the former, Peasgood’s Nonsuch of the latter. Many varieties cropped biennially or even less frequently; a brilliant crop one season might be followed by a year or two of little fruit whilst the tree rested.

 

In order to make a profit, fruit farmers needed varieties that lent themselves to intensive cultivation; apples that cropped heavily and consistently, were robust enough to travel without bruising and could be picked unripe and kept in cold storage. As dessert apples from New Zealand and South America became available year-round consumers stopped thinking of apples as a seasonal crop to be looked forward to and lost touch with the varieties local to their area.

 

Meanwhile, supermarkets were responding to changes in the nation’s cooking and eating habits. As people did less home baking the demand for cooking apples fell and as sugar consumption rose, so did customers’ preference for new and extremely sweet eating apples, such as Gala and Pink Lady, instead of varieties with more complex flavours, like Ashmead's Kernel or James Grieve.

 

Combine all these factors with decades of declining interest in fruit and vegetable gardening and it becomes easy to see why so many old varieties fell by the wayside.

Copyright © Karen Meadows 2018

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