Page 12 - Simply Vegetables Winter 2020/21
P. 12

                                Apples unearthed:
The hunt for the lost apples of the Isle of Wight
 Sparsholt College holds the National Plant Collection® of Malus domestica cultivars bred and grown in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight pre-1960. The main collection
of 16 trees were originally donated by the Hampshire Federation of Horticultural Societies (“HFHS”) in celebration of its Silver Jubilee in 1987. We are actively adding additional cultivars recognised as having been first cultivated in Hampshire or the Isle of Wight prior to 1960. Amongst these are three important apple cultivars that received the RHS Award of Merit (AM), all bred by the Thornycroft family
on the Isle of Wight. These, together with dates of AMs, are: ‘Sir John Thornycroft’ in 1911, ‘Steyne Seedling’ in 1912 and ‘King George V’ in 1927.
The National Plant Collection® at Sparsholt College in full bloom, Spring 2020 (Image: Chris Bird)
Confirming identification?
With the trees presented, we have confirmed their identification through traditional methods of physical inspection of the fruit against standard texts, such as Taylor Apples of England Ed 3 (rev), 1946 and fruit identification websites such as ‘www.fruitid. com’. However, for two further cultivars on the original Silver Jubilee HFHS list that were bred by the Thornycroft family we do not have access to known living material. These are ‘Sir Douglas Haig’ and ‘Lady Thornycroft’ - but how do we find living material?
Thankfully, we have access to our current and previous students and one, Elizabeth (Liz) Smith volunteered after completing her RHS level 3 Diploma in October 2018 to help find these missing trees. Liz as part of her initial research visited the RHS Lindley Library in London on 15th October 2018 to find and confirm the fruit descriptions and also to discover when these apples were last mentioned or known in nursery catalogues.
Liz subsequently reported back that the last mention of seeing ‘Lady Thornycroft’ and ‘Sir Douglas Haig’ was in 1934 when Lady Thornycroft exhibited them at the RHS Fruit Conference at Crystal Palace.
Blanche Ada, Lady Thornycroft (1845-1936) ‘B.A.T.’
Our attention was then directed
to find out more about this leading figure of 19th and early 20th Century apple breeding
at her family estate, Steyne House, Bembridge, Isle of Wight. Lady Thornycroft was from a shipbuilding family, which included well-known naval architects. She regularly described herself by her initials B.A.T. in correspondence in Gardening Illustrated in the 1930s.
Apple breeding was only
one of her interests. B.A.T.
was a great local personality
and, as well as raising
eight children, she formed
the Bembridge Nursing
Association, built the local Girl
Guides Headquarters and was reported
in The Times as a breeder of champion Jersey cows winning prizes at Agricultural Shows. She was also a regular exhibitor at Horticultural Shows “staging a magnificent stall of fruit from her orchard”.
The gardeners and farm workers along with their families were key to her success. They were all one family, working and living together on the Steyne estate especially her Head Gardener Mr T Collister.
Lady Thornycroft and the RHS
On a follow up visit to London in January 2019, Liz reviewed all the available minutes from the RHS Fruit and Vegetable Committee from 1918-1939,
1951-1957, 1990-1993. This research showed that Lady Thornycroft (the person) sent fruit samples of ‘Sir Douglas Haig’
to the RHS Fruit and Vegetable Committee four times from 1919- 1929. No awards were made and no further information was found.
Lady Thornycroft was a
persistent lady, sending to the
Committee over ten different
cultivars in 16 years, some more
than once. We found that unnamed
apples were also sent. One of
these may have subsequently been named ‘Lady Thornycroft’ (the apple). The trail for ‘Lady Thornycroft’ and ‘Sir Douglas Haig’ then goes cold.
Lady Thornycroft ‘B.A.T.’ watering in
the garden at Steyne House, Circa early 20th Century. Used with the kind permission of Venetia Verey.
However, we have found potential new cultivars to add to our collection, these include: ‘Edith’ (the first name of Lady Thornycroft’s eldest daughter, see photo below), which was presented to the Committee 4th November 1919 but no recommendation was made. ‘Lord Roberts’ was first presented on 20th October 1925 with the request to be cooked and tasted
in the next meeting. This occurred on 3rd November 1925 where the apple was
  12 Simply Vegetables
Edith, daughter of B.A.T. and apple namesake, with her nieces Diana and June Thornycroft on the path between Steyne House and Steyne Battery, Circa 1915. Diana (holding June) is grandmother of Virginia Brown, Venetia Verey and Emily Lyle. Used with the kind permission of Venetia Verey.

   10   11   12   13   14