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Kindly transcribed by

Rob GREENING

Christchurch, New Zealand.

29 May 2001

 

This is a copy of an extract from an Horticultural Journal, “Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society”

 

 

 

The Origin Of Apple Bramley’s Seedling

By A. Simmons

According to the 1944 Fruit Census of the 6½ million trees of cooking apples in commercial plantations in England and Wales, more than one-third consist of Bramley’s Seedling; and, speaking of the variety at a conference of fruit growers at Maidstone last autumn, Dr HV TAYLOR, then the Ministry of Agriculture’s Commissioner for Horticulture, said: “It is one of the finest cooking apples in existence in this or any other country and now stands supreme in all British markets.”

 

This outstanding Apple appears to have been first exhibited before the Society’s Fruit Committee on December 6, 1876, when, according to the Gardener’s Chronicle, “Mr MERRYWEATHER, nurseryman, Southwell, Notts, showed a new kitchen apple, named Bramley’s Seedling, which was highly commended.” Seven years later, at the Apple Show held by the Society in its gardens at Chiswick in October 1883, the variety received a First Class Certificate, and in a report of the show in the Gardener’s Chronicle for October 13 of that year we read: “Among the new or little-known sorts brought to the front…. Perhaps one of the best is a seedling raised at Southwell, Notts, by a shoemaker, named Bramley, and called Bramley’s Seedling by two exhibitors, Mr H Merryweather, of Southwell, and Mr H Bradley, of Hallam [sic], near that town, both of whom showed fine examples.”

 

The statement that the variety was raised  by a shoemaker, named Bramley” was in accordance with the information supplied by Mr H MERRYWEATHER at that time, and it has been repeated in various books and numerous articles, and until recently there seems to have been little if any evidence that anyone outside Southwell had ever suspected the truth, viz. that BRAMLEY did not raise the Apple and was not a shoemaker.

 

My own suspicion that there was something wrong with the orthodox story was aroused by a letter in the Gardener’s Chronicle for January 2 1943, from Mr HH Grace, of Norton Hall Gardens, Sheffield, who stated that the seedling was raised by a Miss BRAILSFORD. I accordingly corresponded with Mr GRACE and with Messrs MERRYWEATHER & Sons with a view to ascertaining the facts. It presently appeared, however, that Mr L LEFROY, who, through the exigencies of the war, has been residing near Southwell, had been interesting himself in the origin and preservation of the original tree, and in August 1944 he sent to the Editor a note upon the matter for publication in this JOURNAL. In the accompanying letter Mr LEFROY explained that the historical part of the note was based almost entirely upon verbal statements of local inhabitants, and I therefore suggested that it would be worthwhile to ascertain as far as possible, once and for all, whether the local tradition was supported by documentary evidence. Mr LEFROY very kindly fell in with the suggestion and has, with infinite pains and a judicial mind, gathered and sifted a mass of evidence of which the following is a brief summary. Mr LEFROY has very kindly deposited his notes and correspondence in the Lindley Library where they will be preserved.

 

The Mr MERRYWEATHER who first exhibited Bramley’s Seedling and distributed it far beyond its place of origin was Mr Henry MERRYWEATHER (1839 – 1932), the son of the founder of the business of Messrs H MERRYWEATHER & Sons, and the father of its present senior partners, Messrs Henry and Alfred MERRYWEATHER. The latter both recall frequent recitals by their father of his first acquaintance with this Apple. About the year 1856, he, then aged about 17, and working in his father’s newly established nursery, saw George MUSSON, gardener to the Rev Alfred TATHAM, Vicar Choral or Minor Canon of Southwell Minster, carrying a basket of particularly good-looking Apples from TATHAM’s orchard, which almost adjoined the nursery. The outcome of this chance meeting may be gathered from a speech made by Mr MERRYWEATHER in January 1929, at the age of ninety, on the occasion of his being the recipient of a public presentation, duly reported in the Newark Herald under the caption “Southwell’s G.O.M.” The report runs as follows:

 

“I [i.e. Mr MERRYWEATHER] said ‘What have you got there?’

He said, ‘Bramley’s Apple.’

I said, ‘It looks like a splendid sort.’ And he replied ‘It’s a very good apple.’

I said, ‘Where does it grow?’

And he said, ‘In Mr Bramley’s garden, back of his house.’ I went to look at the tree in full fruit. I had not seen the like of it before. I asked for grafts and he said fetch what you want. I then made enquiries about this apple but could not get to hear that the wonder had got away anywhere. I set to work to get up a stock….”

 

Now on the particular day in 1856 when Mr MERRYWEATHER met George MUSSON “carrying a basket of particularly good-looking Apples,” MUSSON was coming “from TATHAM’S Orchard,” and while the original tree was growing “In Mr Bramley’s garden,” the apples in the basket had been gathered from a tree in TATHAM’S orchard, which is now the property of Messrs MERRYWEATHER, and the present senior partners knew from their childhood the old tree of Bramley’s Seedling which grew there until it was blown down about 1929. They are satisfied that it had been top-grafted with Bramley’s Seedling. So that we see that in 1856, not only was the original tree in Mr BRAMLEY’S garden “in full fruit”, but it had been in bearing for a good many years, because the tree in TATHAM’S orchard must have been top-grafted several years before 1856, and the top-grafting would not have been done until the original tree had been in bearing sufficiently long to impress the grafter with its merits. In short, in1856 the original tree in Mr BRAMLEY’S garden must have been much older than ten years from the pip and, indeed had probably been growing in that garden longer than ten years.

 

The Mr BRAMLEY concerned was one Matthew BRAMLEY, who was 76 when he died in 1871, and was therefore born in 1795 or 1796. According to the register of his second marriage, his father bore the same christian name and was a “cordwainer,” but there appears to be no evidence that the son ever followed the occupation of shoemaker. WHITE’S ‘Directory of Nottinghamshire” shows that in 1844 he was the keeper of the White Lion Inn, Easthope, Southwell, and a butcher. In 1853, his first wife, Ann SMITH, whom he married in 1823, having died, he married Mary KIRK, and according to the register he was then a butcher. Meanwhile, as shown by the title deeds, he purchased what is now known as Bramley Tree Cottage, Southwell, on November 28, 1846, and, presumably, moving into it sometime subsequently, he continued to occupy it until his death in 1871, on September 22 of which year he was buried at Southwell Minster.  It will be observed that he appears to have lived at Bramley Tree Cottage for only ten years before 1956, the year in which the original tree of Bramley’s Seedling was brought to the notice of Mr MERRYWEATHER, and that fact alone would make it doubtful whether BRAMLEY raised the Apple which bears his name.

 

Now although at various times Mr Henry MERRYWEATHER gave BRAMLEY the credit for having raised Bramley’s Seedling, and in an advertisement in the Report of our Society’s Apple and Pear Conference, 1888, said that the variety was “raised by Mr M BRAMLEY,” in his own catalogue for 1892, Mr MERRYWEATHER went into the matter more fully. He stated that the variety was “a chance seedling from pips sown by a lady named BRAILSFORD in a flower-pot. She planted it out and did not see the fruit. After her death some forty of fifty years ago, the house and garden passed into the possession of a person of the name of BRAMLEY, and this tree fruited in his time.” A similar account, omitting the flower-pot, occurs in some of MERRYWEATHER’S later catalogues. There is also a local tradition that the original tree came from a pip sown by an Elizabeth BRAILSFORD, who is referred to sometimes as “Miss” and sometimes as “Mrs,” and is said to have lived in Bramley Tree Cottage before BRAMLEY did so.

 

These two things seemed to show that the most likely source of a solution of the problem would be the title deeds of the cottage.   Upon examination they showed that in 1809 the cottage was transferred to Charles BRAILSFORD (sic) yeoman; that upon his death in1812 it became the property of his wife, Elizabeth BRAILSFORD; that when she died, on February 2, 1837, she left it to her daughters, Mary Ann HINDLEY and Diana ARAM, who sold it in 1838; and that, as already stated, in 1846 it was purchased by Matthew BRAMLEY.

 

In view of the statement in Mr MERRYWEATHER’S 1892 catalogue, coupled with the local tradition, the title deeds seemed to make it practically certain that the lady who sowed the pip from which ‘Bramley’s Seedling’ came was the Mrs Charles BRAILSFORD, who resided at the cottage from 1809 till her death in 1837. But a chance clue led to correspondence with Mr FW HINDLEY (born 1863), of Healing, near Grimsby, and his brother, Mr Charles HINDLEY (born 1859), of Sidmouth, who are grandchildren of Mary Ann HINDLEY (nee BRAILFORD). It transpired that their father Richard Brailsford HINDLEY (1821-1900) was for many years Deputy Clerk to the County Magistrates at Newark, and that in the early ‘seventies he took his elder son, Mr Charles HINDLEY, then a boy, to see the tree behind Bramley Tree Cottage and said “that is the Bramley Seedling; my mother planted an apple in the ground and that is the result” – or words to that effect. It also transpired that Mr Richard BRAILSFORD HINDLEY’S other son, Mr FW HINDLEY, recalls frequent statements by his father as to the responsibility of the former’s mother for Bramley’s Seedling, and in particular Mr FW HINDLEY remembers such a statement being made on the occasion of his parents’ golden wedding celebrations in 1894, which included the consumption of an apple pie made from Bramley’s Seedling apples supplied by Mr MERRYWEATHER.

 

So it would appear that Mr MERRYWEATHER’s “lady named Brailsford” and the “Miss Brailsford” of local tradition, was Mary Ann BRAILSFORD, elder daughter of Charles and Elizabeth BRAILSFORD, who was baptized at Southwell Minster on May 20 1791, and who also appears in the Minster’s registers as having married, firstly, John BUCKLOW, of Newark, on May 20 1813, and secondly, Richard HINDLEY, farmer, of Holme, near Newark, on July 26, 1820. It would also appear that as Mr MERRYWEATHER and local tradition agree that the lady’s name was BRAILSFORD, the pip (or whole apple) was inserted sometime before Mary Ann BRAILSFORD’s first marriage in 1813, but after 1809, the year in which she went with her parents to live at what is now called Bramley Tree Cottage, i.e. when Miss BRAILSFORD was a girl between the ages of 18 and 22. Assuming that the tree took ten years from the sowing of the pip to come into bearing, it would first have fruited between 1819 and 1823 i.e. after Mary Ann BRAILSFORD had left home, but while her widowed mother, Elizabeth BRAILSFORD was still living there. So perhaps the credit of having “raised” Bramley’s Seedling should be shared by both the daughter who inserted the pip (or whole apple) and her mother who at least refrained from uprooting the seedling during its unprofitable youth, when its ultimate value was questionable.

 

Bramley Tree Cottage, which has been given its appropriate name by its present owner, Mr William MOUNTNEY, is No 73, Church Street, Southwell, and stands immediately north of the Bench Mark 90 in Church Street on the 1919 1/2500 O.S. map. The adjoining Apiary House, No 71, is also the property and residence of Mr MOUNTNEY, who attached to Apiary House the greater part of the garden of No 73. So the original tree of Bramley’s Seedling, which is still alive, and was formerly in the garden of No 73, is now in the garden of No 71. Mr Thomas COXON and Mr Joseph KEETLEY, born in Southwell in nearby houses in 1865 and 1862 respectively, are both confident as to the identity of the veteran tree, with which they have been familiar all of their lives. It fell over about thirty years ago and its condition in 1922 is shown in Fig 37, which is reproduced through the courtesy of Mr WJ STODDART.

 

Unfortunately a hedge which has grown up since 1922 makes it impossible to secure an equally good illustration of the present state of the tree, the trunk of which is in contact with the ground up to a point about 5 feet from its base. At that point the trunk has a girth of 61 inches, and the first limb above it has apparently taken root. At 9 feet from its base the trunk has a girth of 42 inches. The tree is still in good health, with the usual tendency to biennial bearing. Specimens of its fruit were exhibited at our Society’s Fruit Conference at the Chrystal Palace in September 1934. Owing to a treasured but overhanging Victoria plum, part of the tree is now too shaded to permit healthy growth, but surgical attention recently given by Mr LEFROY should, however, prolong its life for many years. A large number of snags have been removed and the surfaces coated with a bituminous preparation. The recumbent trunk is hollow, and on its upper surface contains one large and a number of smaller holes. The edges of the holes have been cut back to live bark and the hollow trunk has been filled with molten crude wax from the oil wells of the neighbourhood. The molten wax runs into all crevices like water before setting like candle wax, and is covered with a skin of bitumen/asbestos material (black putty) manufactured for roofing repairs. It is hoped that bark may grow over the wounds, and that this filling treatment will in the meanwhile remain weatherproof.

 

It is usually stated that Bramley’s Seedling was introduced by Messrs MERRYWEATHER in 1876, the year in which the variety appears to have been first exhibited in London. It will be remembered that it was in 1856 that Henry MERRYWEATHER met George MUSSON with the basket of apples and that the former then “set to work to get up a stock”. It seems very unlikely that he would have waited twenty years before selling any trees. Unfortunately, the earliest of Henry MERRYWEATHER’s catalogues now existent is that for 1880, but it seems certain that he listed the variety before 1876; for in his catalogue for 1888 he quotes from a local farmer’s testimonial “I have known this variety for 26 years and planted it extensively”.

 

Reverting to Matthew BRAMLEY, in spite of a careful search no trace has been found of any issue of either of his marriages.

 

For almost the whole of the above information I am indebted to Mr LEFROY, without whose assistance I could not have obtained it, and I tender him my cordial thanks.

 

[End of extract]

 

 

From Brenda in Hampshire…

 

“I have visited Bramley Tree Cottage and not only seen the tree but was kindly given 2 apples from the original tree. Nottingham University has "cloned" the tree so that an identical tree is now growing to ensure that it carries on.  A good beer and sandwich can be obtained in the adjacent Bramley Apple public house!!”

 

 

 

From Kerrie in Brisbane, Australia

 

I, too, have visited Bramley Tree House (pictured below), and was bold enough to knock on the front door! The kind lady who lived there was running short of time, as she had to go out… but still made the effort to show me the tree in her back yard & allowed me to take pictures.

 

 

 

It is located at 75 Church St, Southwell, Nottinghamshire, England

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The blue plaque near the front door reads:

 

THE BRAMLEY

APPLE TREE

was grown from a pip by a young lady,

Mary Anne Brailsford between 1809 & 1815.

It was thought it came from an apple grown on

a tree at the bottom of her garden (now No. 75).

One seedling produced very fine apples in 1837

when the new occupier was Mr. Matthew Bramley.

A local gardener, Henry Merryweather, later

obtained permission to take cuttings from

the tree and it was duly registered

as the Bramley Seedling.

 

*Supported by the

Heritage Lottery Fund

 


Another plaque is positioned at the foot of the tree.

It reads:

 

THE TREE COUNCIL

IN CELEBRATION OF

THE GOLDEN JUBILEE OF

HER MAJESTY

QUEEN ELIZABETH II

has designated

THE ORIGINAL BRAMLEY

one of fifty

GREAT BRITISH TREES

in recognition of its place

in the national heritage

JUNE 2002

 

Supported by National Grid

 

 

 

 

This photo is of the original Bramley Seedling Apple Tree in July 2005.

Unfortunately, it shows the tree was in desperate need of a prune. It seems that although plaques were made for fifty “Great British Trees”, no sponsorship was organized for pruning or looking after them. One would not expect an elderly resident who happens to own the house to prune the tree herself, surely? I have written to the Tree Council regarding this matter, with no current reply.