Bridport & West Dorset News, Views, Videos & Curiosities

Hunt for Thomas Hardy’s lost Dorset cider apple

I AM hoping for some help regarding my hunt for an old cider apple tree called Bockhampton Scarlet.

Thomas Hardy mentions this tree (although he calls it Bockhampton Sweet) in one of his novels.

Claire Tomalin, on page 19 of my copy of her biography of Thomas Hardy, says: ‘He was in charge of the garden, growing fruit and vegetables – carrots, onions, parsnips, broad beans and potatoes; in the autumn there would be Gascoyne Scarlets, Golden Pippins and Bockhampton Sweets on their apple trees and cider to be made.’

She got this information from  a book called Hardyana by J Stevens Cox 1964. She also quotes from a letter written by Mary Hardy listing vegetables growing which is to be found in the Museum H.1975.316.22.

The Bockhampton Scarlet was listed in the RHS Journal No.25 as exhibited in 1900 but there are no further records and I can’t find it listed in the Brogdale collections. There is one listed in 1904 as Bockhampton Beauty but no recent records.

My plan is to start a small cider orchard. It would be wonderful to find this tree and even more wonderful if it happened to be growing locally in Dorset.

The National Apple Register describes it as: Size, large; Shape, intermediate to flat, truncate-conic; Skin, yellow-green flushed deep red; flesh soft, yellowish; Flavour, subacid [good dessert]; Season, very late [February onwards].

If anyone knows anything at all about it please would you contact me.

Ruth Whitty works in Green Skills & Garden Industries at Kingston Maurward College near Dorchester and is the co-ordinator for ‘Apple Day’.

Tel: 01305 215183

Email: ruth.whitty@kmc.ac.uk

Editor’s Note: Ruth said to me: “I thought how lovely it would be to find out it was still growing round here. Apple trees live for more than 100 years, so it’s possible.

“It might just be spotted somewhere, with the leaves now falling, and with this particular apple staying on trees so late. It might be visible.”

It’s not a variety that was spotted during all the research that was done into Dorset’s cider history by Liz Copas and Nick Poole, but who knows? Liz and Nick re-discovered 20 ‘lost’ Dorset varieties of cider apple; there might still somewhere be one more.

As for the question of whether there was ever ‘a Dorset cider’ see the video above with Nick Poole, founder of the West Milton Cider Club, supremo of Powerstock Cider Festival, and maker of West Dorset Real Cider.

A companion video with Liz Copas can be seen by clicking on this link: ‘Was there ever a Dorset cider, part 2?’