From Our Chairman, Keith Turner
Welcome to GOT’s Longney Orchard Blog – with news and views about the riverside orchards we took on in 2015. This first entry explains the background – please scroll down, or follow the menu links, to see more recent posts.
Gloucestershire Orchard Trust, after a year of fund-raising and negotiations, became the owner, in 2015, of nearly 18 acres of Severnside land, most of which contained either extant or remnant old orchards. We are very grateful for the generous donations from so many people towards the purchase of these very special orchards. The following is a short account of what makes them special.
Situated in the parish of Longney, 6 miles south of Gloucester, the most important parts of the acquisition were two ancient, but fully productive mixed orchards – Long Tyning and Bollow. Around 35 varieties of apples, perry pears and plums are represented.
Another run-down, but ancient, remnant orchard known as Middle Orchard, together with an adjacent field of old grassland, Lower Ground made up the rest of the purchase from a long established farming family.
That the orchards were very old was never in doubt from even casual examination of many of the time-battered trees. But a delve into past records has revealed just how ancient the site is – and how far back the links with its cultivation and orchard history goes.
Jim Chapman, a trustee of GOT and of the Hartpury Heritage Trust – and an avid local historian – provides this fascinating first insight into the past:
“The fields appear to date from the Romano-British reclamations of Severn salt-marshes associated with the colonia of Glevum (Gloucester). Former legionnaires retired to agricultural “small-holdings”, so the use for orchards may well have originated from that time. By 1100, orchards had become such an integral part of the landscape, that William, a monk from Malmesbury Abbey commented:
“Here you may see the high wayes and common lanes clad with apple trees and peare trees, not set nor grafted by the industry of man’s hand, but growing naturally of their own accord”
The process of reclamation of the salt-marsh in the Longney/Elmore area is more fully discussed in the 1990 transcripts of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society. It would appear that a wall was constructed along the northern boundary of Long Tyning Orchard between the Severn and higher ground to the east (still largely evident today) over which a public footpath runs.
From this wall a bank ran to the south on the eastern side of Middle Orchard and Lower Ground, securing the land from inundation. To the west of that wall, the undefended salt-marsh continued to grow silt deposits, so that it is today approximately a metre above the fields to the east.
The clear traces of ridge-and-furrow in both Middle Orchard and Lower Ground show these fields were cultivated from an early date. The enclosure award (finally ending the strip cultivation) was not made until 1815. It was only in the 1960s that the present sea defences were constructed – at which time a protective wall was built protecting the Fish House from the raised bank.
There is evidence of ridge-and-furrow also in Long Tyning Orchard, but it is likely its origins are rather different – a feature that is frequently confused with the evidences of mediaeval ploughing. Tyning is a Saxon word that signifies a fenced field and is unlikely that the orchard was never the subject of strip cultivation.
There has been some debate whether the Roman reclamations were abandoned during the Dark Ages that followed the departure of the legions. Long Tyning would appear to be evidence albeit circumstantial, of continuance. The ridges were likely to have been formed when the orchard was planted, to raise trees above the wetter surrounding soils – a common practice in the 17th and 18th centuries, so not, unfortunately, evidence of a Saxon orchard!” (Jim Chapman)
Over the next couple of years our priority will be to introduce, through gentle management, various activities to rejuvenate the trees and under sward in Long Tyning and Bollow Orchards. High on our priorities will be to do this at the same time as protecting, or enhancing, their intrinsic high ecological value. Some of the trees must be getting on for 200 years old, others are much more recently planted. This will include sensitive pruning, fencing to enable sheep grazing and finding markets for the abundance of fruit from the orchards.
We will encourage local community groups to assist us. We will also repair a lovely 19 century field barn to use as a base for our work in the orchards. Another extremely interesting building sits atop the river bank – one of the last remaining Severn fish, or salmon, houses. It probably dates back to the mid/late-1700s and we are currently gathering its history prior to making plans for its restoration. Watch this space!
In the longer term, we are looking at ways of how the Longney Orchards can play as big a part as possible in the battle to save traditional orchards in Gloucestershire – and wider afield. We have received much interest from those wanting to establish, on the unplanted areas, secure stocks of endangered fruit varieties and their genetic material for future use. Collections of cider varieties, plums and rare culinary pears are examples. The next chapter in the long life of these orchards has just begun.
Keith Turner email@example.com
Gloucestershire Orchard Trust