Page 13 - Simply Vegetables Winter 2020/21
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                                  cooked and tasted but no advance decided. Also ‘Sir Benjamin Barker’ was mentioned
in the minutes of 5th November 1929
and again no advance; however, it was
sent with ‘Sir Douglas Haig’, also with no recommendation.
The inspiring Lady Thornycroft exhibited all of these apples at the RHS fruit conference in 1934 when aged 88. The descriptions
are in Taylor Apples of England Ed 3 (rev), 1946 and the Apples and Pears, Report of the Conference held by the RHS at Crystal Palace, 1934.
Lady Thornycroft sent her last apple, ‘Ruby’, to the Committee aged 89 but again no recommendation.
This research was presented by Liz Smith and Chris Bird to the RHS Fruit Vegetable and Herb Committee (“FVH”), the modern equivalent of the RHS Fruit and Vegetable Committee, on 12th February 2019 when the Committee visited Sparsholt College, complimenting us on our orchards. This quest fully engaged the Committee and resulted in subsequent follow up actions
by Dr Matt Ordidge, University of Reading, who kindly agreed to check the Brogdale accession records for the National Fruit Collection. Gerry Edwards, Vice Chairman of the FVH Committee and Chairman of
the RHS Fruit Group, forwarded emails containing further details to assist our quest. Subsequent informal meetings were held at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2019 with Gerry Edwards and Jim Arbury, RHS Fruit Specialist.
A lucky break gives a new lead....
Dr Ordidge reported in February 2019 that there was no record of any accession of
the above cultivars into the National Fruit Collection. Our focus therefore became more local – the Isle of Wight. We then had a major lucky break. Through a shared passion for fruit growing we met John Raymond, who lives in Hampshire but has close ties to the Isle of Wight, having regularly visited and taken holidays in Bembridge all his life.
On 3 April 2019, John and Liz made a reconnaissance trip to the Isle of Wight. Through John’s contacts, we obtained access to the current orchards at Steyne House. From this visit, and a review of 1930s Ordnance Survey maps held by
the Island’s Record Office in Newport, we concluded that it was possible at least seven trees could have been planted by Lady Thornycroft.
Matt Noyce, Estate Manager, and Chris Bird at Quarr Abbey, September 2019
We also extended our search wider to other heritage apple orchards in the local area as traditionally enthusiasts gave gifts of propagation material to friends and neighbours. In addition, the local farm shop shared their sources of island grown Heritage apples. These searches brought contact with Quarr Abbey whose Estate Manager Matt Noyce is coincidentally an ex- Sparsholt student, St. Cecilia’s Abbey, owners of local old orchards (for example
a private orchard in St. Helens), Bembridge Heritage Society and local apple experts including Alison Harding, author of The Isle of Wight Apple Book, 2005 and Alison’s husband, Dave Harding.
Even more interestingly, through John
on this first visit we met several of Lady Thornycroft’s descendants. In particular, we met Virginia Brown and Venetia Verey, two
great great granddaughters who provided invaluable insights and information on other possible leads/orchards to investigate.
We were later very generously lent Lady Thornycroft’s “Garden notes” by another great great granddaughter, Emily Lyle and her mother, Ann Margetson.
This precious and extraordinary book begins in 1921 and runs to 1934, containing apple growing observations, anecdotes, newspaper cuttings and her views on apple breeding pips versus grafts as well as wider horticultural observations. A fascinating record, giving more possible leads that are currently under investigation.
We enthusiastically came away from this visit having noted locations and orchards with several possibly interesting trees but unsure how we could investigate and verify them.
  Emily Lyle and Ann Margetson at Steyne House Battery with Lady Thornycroft’s “Garden notes” book, June 2019
Lady Thornycroft’s “Garden notes” book with insights from 1921 to 1934
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