Back in 1847, the journalist Alexander Somerville had walked the lanes of Chorlton looking for evidence of potato blight, that disease which had destroyed the crops in Ireland, and was already in parts of northern Derbyshire.
He didn’t find any but recorded his conversations with some of our local farmers, one of which was James Higginbotham whose land included a strip along what is now the Rec on the corner of Beech Road and Cross Road.
Look at any old maps from the mid 19th century and you are struck by the number of orchards across the township. Most would have gone to the markets, but some would have been turned into cider and perry and drunk at home.
So it was of particular concern to James Higginbotham that in the June of 1847 his apples and pears were doing well. As he said to Somerville who dutifully reported the conversations,
“The insects had made great havoc among the fruit in the adjoining orchard during the hot sunny days of May and the first week of June but the cold of last week and the rain of this had come in time to save still a good quantity. He pointed to his Rose of Sharon apple trees which had bloomed so profusely as to be wonderful; they had been invaded by a terrible army of insects, and had hardly been able to maintain the conflict; but the myriads of diseased invaders wrapped in their winding sheets of cobwebs and laying upon the ground, where the rain had carried them, showed how beneficial the cold and rain had been. There was still a goodly show of apples left, and the Rose of Sharon branches were again fresh, beautiful and healthy. The Newbridge pears clustered upon the trees as if the invaders of the orchard had never been.”*
And I am indebted to Mary Pennell of the National Fruit Collection** who kindly dug out some information about both crops. “Newbridge – is in fact a ‘perry pear’. It is also known as ‘White Moorcroft’. Rose of Sharon – an apple variety that was exhibited from Cheshire in 1934. Unfortunately this is the only record for this apple but at least we know that it did at least exist at some stage.” All of which is very exciting, well to me anyway.
Our Newbridge pears are harvested from the first to the third week in October about the same time as the Rose of Sharon apples. Now what for me is revealing is that here we have the first evidence that along with cider our farmers were growing perry pears and must have been making perry. And for anyone unsure, perry is made in much the same way as cider.
So there you have it, and tomorrow I think I shall pursue the story but in the meantime you can look again at the Newbridge pear and pear tree. And reflect that some of the fruit trees which are there in our gardens may be have links to those seen by Somerville and farmed by Higginbotham.
Pictures; Newbridge pears and pear tree from the National Fruit Collection
*Manchester Examiner, Saturday June 19th 1847