Posts Tagged ‘pears’

Pear Woodhall in October 2007

A noble pear tree, it reached a height of 22m and a girth of 2.7m when measured in October 2007. It was felled in September 2017 when in full leaf and crop because its main trunk was deemed unsafe. By the time I saw the sawn up timber it was too late to make any good estimate of age. Centre rotted trunks are difficult anyway, especially the seemingly common star shaped brown rot pattern of Rosaceous trees. There were readable sequences of annual rings exceeding 120 years to the red rot centre; some outer-most rings were very close, perhaps another 50 or so years should be added.

I had known the tree for 40 years (we arrived as neighbours in 1979), and it never seemed to change. For me its interest was initially in its size, then, what was it doing in this garden, why was it planted, by whom, how was this vast crop used? Some of these questions were answered in time, by visiting the Suffolk County Council archives, by eating the pears and talking to local people.

The house is a listed farmhouse built around 1500 (flanked by two later and grander farms, Rectory and Abbey Farms), no more than 20 acres and a few rights to graze cattle on the adjacent Great Green; a small farmstead, one of 8 or 9 round the common. A tough unpredictable living, made worse after 1856 when the common was enclosed, and all that the house received was a few extra acres. Some land was sold, probably to survive, until just 4 acres remained. The farm became a smithy, the land worked intensively as a market garden selling produce taken by trap to two nearby market towns: asparagus, soft fruit, pears, apples, damsons, cobnuts and cherries … were documented in the Diss market archive in 1900. Right up to the 1960’s, a sequence of market gardening families made their living here. Its only recorded name other than Smithy was Rayners, the name of its tenant in the 1890’s.

When I first investigated the house was called Woodhall. Still present then were 26 fruit and nut trees, in a great range of ages; a few apples on post WW2 semi-dwarf rootstocks, large cherry trees and apples, an unidentified fig, several cobnut stools, a clump of Shepherd’s bullace. A huge moribund Blenheim Orange, a centuries-old cobnut stool, a multi-stemmed damson, and two old baking pears, one broken down wreck identified as Uvedale St Germain, the other was our 22m giant. The newest family arrived in 1985, the old pear was hung with a tyre on a rope for the children, the entire area gardenified into mown grass below the scatter of trees. The old pear was tied up with wires to support its highest branches by professional arborists. I spent hours trying to identify the fruit and nuts. The large pear tree defied identification. Clearly it was not a melting fleshed buttery pear, but delicious poached in red wine and, even by December, also eaten fresh sliced into a salad! It too was brought into the modern age; I propagated it so that I could have one too.

Woodhall pear

The fruit of pear Woodhall is best harvested late October/November and keeps until early December/early January. This is not a soft sweet beurré pear, but firm fleshed. It can be eaten raw, juicy but crunchy, and is good in salads, excellent cooked in wine, very good roasted with vegetables or meat, or fried as slices and as fritters. It has a thin layer of stone cells near core, but these are easily removed. Most of the crop from the old tree was picked off the ground, but as these pears were still hard when collected, they were rarely badly bruised. Centuries ago a firm fleshed pear like this could have been called a warden or warden pear because it kept a long time and so resembled the Medieval Warden baking pear.

By 2000 it had become clear that big old pear trees were a feature of Suffolk and Norfolk clay-land farmsteads, and that, while these big trees had diverse fruit this same clone was present elsewhere. Propagations of the Woodhall tree increased and new trees proved to be very productive, but pear identification is always difficult due to the lack of well-documented varietal descriptions, so the name Woodhall was considered temporary. By 2016 DNA fingerprinting of the National Fruit Collection’s  (NFC) 350 varieties made possible testing to see if this pear matched any of these. In 2016 the test was carried out via the Fruitid DNA scheme and Woodhall did not match any NFC variety.

Then comes September 2017. The tree was felled as being unsafe; branches always fall from old trees; the trunk was hollow. The owner asked an arborist for an opinion, and as we all know arborists come in different flavours. This one recommended felling it to the ground and grinding out the stump. Another might have said – it’s an ancient and spectacular tree with years of life, make it safe by removing the branches that may split away, reduce to it to a condition that is safe, retaining the main body of tree; hollow trees do not need to be destroyed to be safe. It was after all in full leaf and fruit and only the non-live heart-wood was affected. Its loss removed a small world of dependent wildlife. Its owner felt the loss too!

In the end I asked that the cut stump be left so there is the possibility of a shoot from the base to continue the tree and to save from maceration the aconites and ghost flowers (Ornithogalum nutans), the Suffolk orchard speciality that had been planted around its base. And if no new shoot does arise we have recently grafted trees and can return this same clone to Woodhall.


Paul Read


All that remains of the ancient pear tree in October 2017


This article was originally published in the ‘Orchards East’ Newsletter, Spring 2018′; reproduced here with permission.

The picture of the pear tree in fruit at the top of this piece appears also and as an example of a very old tree, nearly 200 years old, yet regularly fruiting, in The Book of Pears (2015).


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Keswick Codlin, an early cooking apple variety that arose in North West England

I am a farmer in the south Pennines (I have recently taken over the farm from my now retired parents) and am looking to plant some more apple and pear varieties best suited to our climate. I’m hoping to plant around 15 – 20 trees in 2018 and look forward to using this resource to research what varieties to get. If there is anyone reading this based in the North West who has the time to offer advice to someone such as myself please do feel free to get in touch. Our farm website has our contact details on: www.cronkshawfoldfarm.co.uk.

Dorothy McCarthy

And please post your suggestions and comments below and we will pass them on.

We asked Hilary Wilson to give us some suggestions which are posted below – Comment number 3. Hilary  is a great authority on the apples  of the North West and has spent many years identifying and searching for varieties that do well in her native Cumbria, where she also farmed.

Fruit Forum

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I am trying to identify a pear tree that we had many years ago in Berkshire. It was tall, old and produced knobbly little pears that were hard! But they were fabulous to eat once they had been bottled in syrup!
This was about 30 years ago. I would love to plant another if possible?

Jenny Tarrant

A possibility might be Hessle which was once planted all over Britain, in domestic gardens, market gardens and orchards.

Hessle pear

For more ideas on which variety it might be look here for photographs of some 450 pears, most of which have been grown in the UK at one time or another and now grow in the National Fruit Collection, Brogdale, Kent; also described in detail in  The Book of Pears.

Fruit Forum

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About two years ago, I attended a local apple day at Audley End, Essex, where I purchased some estate grown pears called Soleil d’ Automne. These were medium sized, barrel shaped, bright yellow with a very slight pink flush; well named, they were just like autumn sunshine. I would like to acquire a tree to add to my orchard but, inquiries at Audley End drew a blank, National Fruit Collection, Brogdale has no mention of it, as has The Book of Pears, nor can I find a nursery offering it. Is this a local naming or has it an alternative name? Any information on sourcing would be most useful.

Keith Jones

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Summer Beurré d'Arenberg

Summer Beurré d’Arenberg


I live in Hamburg, North Germany, and I am planting a heritage English orchard. I am looking for two varieties of pear which were bred by Thomas Rivers, but not Conference. Ideally, I would like one to eat ‘off the tree’ and one that would keep for a short while.
My soil is on the sandy side with woodland on the North and East side, but with a high water table (4 meters below ground level). In the very worst of the winters we can get below -12c. Spring arrives at a similar time to the UK Midlands and is as variable!

Bill Boulton

Thomas Rivers (1798 -1877) did not breed many pears, as far as one knows, and, indeed, it seems only one. He raised a great many more varieties of stone fruit – plums, cherries, peaches and nectarines. It was his son T. Francis Rivers (1831-1899) who raised the Conference pear and also Fertility and Beacon.

Summer Beurré d’Arenberg was probably raised by Thomas Rivers; it first fruited in 1863, a decade and more before his death. This ripens during September in southern England, so not really as early as the name suggests. A juicy, melting fleshed pear with a lively, sweet-sharp taste, it crops heavily, although this can result in rather small fruit.

For another pear from the Rivers Nursery, you will need to turn to those raised by his son. Beacon ripens during August, keeps only for a short time and crops heavily. Fertility is a September to early October pear, with melting flesh, sweet and lemony; it can be on the sharp side, but lives up to its name producing prolific crops. (For pictures see www.thebookofpears.fruitforum.net) They all flower around the same time as Conference, or just a little later, and in the mid-period of pear blossom time.

All these varieties of pear are growing and conserved in the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale in Kent. Scion wood – graft wood and bud wood – for propagating your own trees can be obtained from the National Fruit Collection: click here. This is probably the best way for you to get these pears, although they could be worked for you by a nurseryman in England and then sent on to Germany.

Joan Morgan



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Book of Pears 9781785031472


A long time in the making, The Book of Pears is now published. It tells the story of the pear in eight narrative chapters and contains a Directory to around 500 varieties of pear. Following the pear’s journey across continents and cultures, the chapters trace its history, the gradual emergence of its luscious textures, exotic perfumes and increasing status to that of a highly prized fresh fruit. ‘Gold to the apple’s silver, it used to be said. The pear’s role as a market fruit and international commodity forms part of the story and also the use of other pear varieties for cooking and making into the drink perry. Water colour paintings of pears by Elisabeth Dowle illustrate the chapters, plus many period images. In the Directory, which forms the second half of the book, each variety entry contains tasting notes, an account of its origin and history, a full fruit description for the purposes of identification and details helpful to its cultivation. The Directory is based on the Pear Collection in National Fruit Collection at Brogdale in Kent, UK.

The Book of Pears has a companion website, which is now also launched: http://www.thebookofpears.fruitforum.net

The website complements the book and Elisabeth’s paintings by providing photographs of almost every one of the varieties described in its Directory; impossible to include in the book itself. Together with the book, this gallery of photographs can be used to put a picture to a name and help put a name to an unknown pear. All the varieties shown on the website were photographed and grow in the National Fruit Collection (except where noted).

I hope that the book and the website will prove enjoyable and useful and that they will work well together.

Joan Morgan

The Book of Pears is published as a hard back and ebook by Ebury Press in association with the Royal Horticultural Society in the UK and by Chelsea Green in the USA. Available from bookshops, the publishers (Ebury, RHS, Chelsea Green) and Amazon.

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Class 11: Best Collection of Fruit at the RHS Autumn Show 2015 won by Adrian Baggaley

Class 11: ‘Best Collection of Fruit’ at the RHS Autumn Show 2015 won by Adrian Baggaley. Front row, left to right: Howgate Wonder, Mère de Ménage, Reverend W Wilks. Middle row left to right: Conference, Concorde, Pitmaston Duchess. Back row, left to right: Norfolk Royal Russset, Fiesta, Red Devil. The dish of Fiesta in this collection also won the E. J. White Trophy for the best single dish of fruit in the show.

For a number of years we have reported the amazing successes achieved by Adrian Baggaley at the Royal Horticultural Society fruit shows. This year he has excelled and even beaten his own records. He entered 40 classes and won 35 of them at the RHS Autumn Show on 6-7 October 2015. These included ‘Firsts’ for the ‘Best Dish of Apples’, the Best Dish of Pears’ and the  most challenging of all the ‘Best Collection of Fruit’, that is, nine perfectly matched and flawless dishes of apples and pears! To achieve this level of success, you need to be very dedicated – take a look at  Adrian’s article ‘Growing for Showing‘ on our main website.  Well done Adrian!

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