document can't claim to be a definitive history
of pear growing and perry making in the UK, but
I hope to give you a flavour of the subject. If
you want to know more then there's a further reading
section at the end of this article.
document was compiled by Gillian Grafton. The contents
are as accurate as I can make them, but no liability
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History of Pear Growing in the UK
The pears cultivated in Europe are thought to have
arisen from Pyrus communis which is a native
of Europe and Northern Asia and is found growing wild
in Britain. This species probably wasn't indigenous
to Britain. There has probably been natural cross-hybridisation
in the wild between P. communis and P. korschinskyi
and P. heterophylla. In Japan and China cultivated
pears developed from P. serotina which is not
used at all in Europe. In the United States, a variey
of P. serotina, the Chinese Sand Pear, was
one of the parents of the Kieffer pear, a poor quality
pear widely used for canning.
fruits of P. communis are small, hard, gritty,
sour and astringent so it is not surprising that
there is little evidence of its use for food by
prehistoric people in Europe. Pears are not referenced
in the Bible but are mentioned in The Oddyssey.
Their use seems to have been well established at
this time. Cato the Elder wrote about pears naming
several varieties: the Volema, the Ancian Frost
Pear, the Tarentine, the Must pear and the Gourd
pear. Varro described methods of propagation of
pears. Pliny the Elder discussed pear varieties
and mentioned that Crustumian was the nicest variety
and that Falernian pears were the best for making
wine. He named a further 38 varieties varying in
colour, texture, flavour, season and keeping qualities.
He also maintained that pears were harmful to eat
raw but were good boiled with honey. Medicinally
he recommended them as poultices. Several writers
in the 16th and 17th centuries also maintained that
pears were poisonous to eat as the following quotation
from a 16th century manuscript written by monks
in Worcestershire (quoted from Williams in "The
Perry Pear"), testifies: "Peres causeth
ye colyck passion in ye bowlles, wyld peres stoppeth
and noyeth ye stomake, but ye grete tame peres byn
better usid in meates than the lyttle, and the uice
of both usid before dyner stopeth ye bely, and usid
after dyner layeth ye bely."
implies in some of his writings that pears were
cultivated in Britain at the time of the Roman occupation.
Charlemagne (circa 800) issued a list of plants
to be cultivated which included pears. In Britain
however, definite records are not available until
after the Norman Conquest. The Domesday Book of
1086 mentions old pear trees several times as boundary
markers, implying their cultivation before this
accounts in the reign of Henry III (1207-72) show
that pears were imported from France and for many
years French varieties dominated English orchards.
Pears were imported from the La Rochelle area of
France which was famed for its pears.
of Provence, wife of Henry III, developed extensive
orchards and there is a record in 1262 of the court
gardener planting six Cailhou (Cailloel) pear trees.
Eleanor of Castille, wife of Edward I, was a keen
gardener. In the court accounts for 1276-92 the
following pear types were noted: Kaylewell (Calswel);
Rewel (de Regula); and Pesse-Pucelle. Kaylewell
was a synonym for the Caillou and was seen as a
pear fit only for baking but was very popular with
the royal family at the time. Other pear varieties
noted at this time were: Martins; Dreyes; Sorells;
Gold-Knopes; Regul; and Chyrfall.
before 1388 the first important English pear variety,
the Wardon, was introduced by Cistercian Monks at
Wardon in Bedfordshire. It was widely used for pies,
which became known as Wardon pies.
fruiterer to Henry VIII, introduced pears from France
and the Low Countries in 1533 for planting at Teynham
in Kent. There had been a deterioration in orchard
management until the revival of growing in the 16th
century. William Turner mentions this revival and
the introduction of new varieties in his Herbal
of 1568. Gerard (1597) showed that the number of
pear varieties had increased since the beginning
of the century and claimed that one friend of his
had 60 high quality varieties in his orchard and
perhaps as many again of lesser quality ones. He
illustrated 8 pears, the Jenneting; the Pear Royall;
the Quince Pear; the Katherine; the Saint James;
the Burgomet; the Bishops; and the Winter Pear.
He mentioned wild or hedge pears inculding the Great
Choke, the Small Choke, the Wild Hedge Pear, the
Lowsie wild and the Crow pear. He said that many
of these pears were harsh and bitter and others
of such a choking taste that they could not be eaten.
These pears were often used for making perry.
the start of the 17th century new varieties were
being constantly introduced from Europe. Parkinson
described 65 varieties most of which seem to have
been recent introductions. Few of the varieties
he mentions are grown today. Those that are include
the Gergonell (now known as the Jargonelle), Catherine,
Winter Bon Chrétien, Windsor and the Bergamot.
1691 Worlidge listed 129 varieties of pear for the
table. De la Quintinye, the head of the French royal
gardens at Versailles, wrote prolifically on pears
and regarded the Beurré Brown (butter pear) as second
only to the Bon Chrétien. He devotes a whole chapter
to the Winter Bon Chrétien and says it is the same
pear as that which the Romans called Crustumium
until the 17th century pears had been grown grafted
onto pear stocks, or crab apple stocks, or even
hawthorne stocks. Sir Thomas Hanmer and his friend,
John Evelyn, were amongst the first in England to
realise the value of grafting onto quince stock,
which is now the preferred method of propagation.
This practice was already widespread in France and
probably originated there.
production was of particular importance during the
Middle Ages in France and Belgium. The French popularised
pears but it was the Belgians who gave serious attention
to breeding new and improved varieties. Nicolas
Hardenpont (1705-1774), a priest at Mons, introduced
several varieties among them the Glou Morceau, still
cultivated today. Dr. Van Mons, a pharmacist and
physician of Louvain, influenced by Hardenpont,
developed some 400 varieties of pear, some of which
are still grown, eg the Beurré d'Anjou.
already had a great many varieties of pears before
the upsurge in breeding in Belgium. In 1770 one
of the most important varieties still in cultivation
today was developed. It was the William's Bon Chrétien
bred by Stair, a schoolmaster at Aldermaston in
Berkshire. This pear was taken to the USA in 1797
by James Carter of Boston. It was planted at an
estate in Massachusetts and in 1817 Enoch Bartlett
of Dorchester, Massachusetts took over the estate
containing these pears and sold them under his own
name as Bartletts, not knowing the true name. They
quickly became one of the leading varieties in the
Weston, in his Flora Anglicana (1775-89) mentions
120 pear varieties, very few of which still exist
except in collections such as that at the Brogdale
the start of the 19th century Thomas Andrew Knight
began developing pear varieties. The Royal Horticultural
Society encouraged pear growing and in 1826 had
622 varieties growing in the gardens at Chiswick,
rising to 627 in 1831. Another French pear became
one of the major varieties grown in Britain, the
Doyenne du Comice, grown by the Horticultural Society
of Maine et Loire at Angers in 1849.
growing conditions, a sufficient balance of rainfall
and sunshine, restrict the growing areas for pears
in England, and thus affect the development of new
varieties. The areas in which pears were traditionally
grown (the counties of the West Midlands: Gloucestershire,
Herefordshire, Wocestershire) had the correct growing
conditions, a long tradition of orcharding, areas
of soils which were unkind to apples but which could
support the growth of even the largest pears, and
most of the indigenous varieties arose there.
first English pears of note to arise from controlled
breeding were Fertility (1875 by Rivers of Sawbridgeworth)
and Improved Fertility (in 1934 by Seabrooks at
Boreham). Conference, the most widely planted commercial
pear in England, was introduced by Rivers in 1894.
Other British pears grown on a limited scale include
Dr. Jules Guvot, and Packham's Triumph. Laxton Brothers
of Bedford became breeders of some of the country's
leading varieties, their best known variety was
Laxton Superb introduced in 1913.
breeding of some pears at the research stations
has not received the same attention as apples but
some new varieties have been introduced, eg the
Bristol Cross and the Merton Pride. By the 1980s
the number of varieties grown commercially became
very limited and Conference is now the leading variety
with smaller acreages of Doyenne du Comice and some
William's and Beurré Hardy.
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History of Perry Making in the UK
earliest reference to the use of pears for making
a fermented drink was by Pliny who said that the
Falernian variety, being very juicy, was used for
making wine. Palladius, in the 4th century, wrote
of pears being used like apples to make both a drink
and a sauce and said that the Romans preferred wine
made from pears to that from apples. He also gave
instruction on how to make perry, then called Castomoniale.
the centuries following the collapse of the Roman
empire, perry making was well established in France
but there is no evidence of it in Britain until
the Norman Conquest.
1580, Harrison said that pirrie (from the
Saxon word pirige meaning a pear) was made
from pears along with cider in Sussex, Kent, Worcestershire
and other counties. In Worcestershire the importance
of the pear was recognised by the incorporation
in the city arms of the three pears sable
at the direction of Queen Elizabeth I when she visited
the city in 1575.
are various referances to perry in English literature.
For example Gerard wrote, in 1597: Wine made
of the iuce of Peares, called in English Perry,
is soluble, purgeth those that are not accustomed
to drink thereof; notwithstanding it is as wholesome
a drinke being taken in small quantities as wine;
it comforteth and warmeth the stomacke, and causeth
a good digestion.
in 1629, referred to the Choke pear which in his
time applied to any wild, very astringent type of
pear: The Perry made of Choke Pears, notwithstanding
the harshness and evill taste, both of the fruit
and juice, after a few months, becomes as milde
and pleasante as wine. In 1652, Samuel Hartlib,
encouraging the greater planting of orchards in
England, suggested that Normandy should be taken
as an example: There are two wayes of making
Cider and Perry; one by bruising and beating them,
and then presently to put them in a vessel to ferment
or work of themselves. The other way is to boil
the juice with some good spices, by which the rawness
is taken away and then to ferment it with some yeast
if it work not of itself.
considered that the White Horse-pear made a perry
of a quality similar to cider and gave special mention
to the Bareland pear. Worlidge, in 1691, said that
the Red and Green Squash-pears, the John-pear, the
Green Harpary, the Drake-pear, the Mary-pear, the
Lullam-pear, were all good for perry, but the most
esteemed were the Bosbury and Bareland pears and
the White and Red Horse pears. He also said that
the Turgovian pear yielded the most superlative
perry and lamented that it was not more widespread.
pears need sunshine and warmth - more than is provided
by and average English summer. The dependance on
good weather produces wide variations in vintage
quality from year to year. This variation and the
habit of some perry makers of using dessert pears
(leading to a thin, tasteless perry) led to perry
being held in low esteem in many areas.
of variety is very important. At one time it was
said that no seedling pear should be grafted until
it had cropped and the quality of its juice had
been determined. Many new varieties were propogated
only on one or two adjacent farms or only over one
or two parishes within a district. This localisation
meant that varieties predominant in one parish were
unknown a few miles away.
varieties have a more widespread distribution. Some
are of high vintage quality and have been renowned
for over 300 years, eg Arlingham Squash and Taynton
Squash. One of the most important is the Barland
pear, reputed since the 17th century for the treatment
of kidney disorders. The Green Horsepear, the Red
Horsepear, and the Huffcap are also widely distributed.
first indication of distribution from a commercial
nursery is the variety Holmer, introduced by Knight.
This variety appears to have been raised and distributed
by the Kings's Acre Nurseries at Hereford in the
early 1800s. Other varieties of more recent origin
are the Moorcroft or Mlavern Hill pear, the Rock
and the Harley Gum.
widespread varieties are general purpose types.
Many of the pears grown in the 1600s, though astringent,
were used for eating and cooking and the surplus
sent to the mill. These include the Thorn Pear,
the Hastings, and Brown Bess. In the 19th century
these were joined by the Cannock and Blakeney Red.
of pear varieties is very confused. Some varieties
change name as they are planted in adjacent parishes
and districts, for example the Rock variety is known
as Mad Cap in the parish of Arlingham, Black Huffcap
in Highnam, Brown Huffcap in Tibberton and Red Huffcap
in Newent. In a similar manner pears have aquired
the same or similar names in disparate parishes
despite being completely distinct varieties. An
example of this is a pear generally known as the
Red Pear; in most of the country you will be given
the correct variety, but in Blakeney the pear called
Red Pear is in fact the variety Blakeney Red, a
quite distinct variety. The confucion in naming
reflects the restricted distribution of most varieties.
The definitive study of this confusion which defines
the accepted names for varieties according to the
International Rules of Botanical Nomenclature, is
that of Williams and Faulkner (reference at the
end of this document).
pear varieties have a special charm. There are over
100 perry pear varieties in Gloucestershire covered
by over 200 names. The names are often vivid with
respect to the perry they produce. Some of the most
colourful examples are: Merrylegs; Mumblehead; Lumberskull;
Drunkers and Devildrink. The longest name on record
is A drop of that which hangs over the wall.
is a saying he who plants perry pears truly planteth
for his heirs which is usually meant to be derogatory,
implying that little fruit can be expected in the
life time of the planter. For most varieties this
is simply not true and the saying probably reflects
the long life span of the pear tree. Mature trees
can frequently give rise to crops of one ton and
2 tons per tree is not unknown.
history of perry development in the UK is essentially
the story of a few great men and of one highly influential
but short lived society. The first of these was
Thomas Andrew Knight, born in 1759 at Wormsley Grange
in Herefordshire. He was called the father of modern
scientific pomology. He carried out physiological
experiments on fruit trees, eg grafting, pruning,
juvenility, senescence, ascent of sap, and nutrition
requirements of the trees. Produced new varieties
by selective breeding, and wrote the Treatise
on the Culture of the Apple and Pear in 1797
which gives the first accurate descriptions of the
life histories of many of the common pests and diseases
of fruit trees, and this at at time when blights
of fruit trees were usually held to arise from lightning
or noxious air! One of his major contributions was
that he was one of the first to realise that perry
quality depended on the vintage quality of the fruit.
He published the Pomona Herefordiensis in
1811 which describes the Holmer pear and four other
vintage varieties. This book was a landmark in perry
pear history since it was the first book which included
illustrations of pears.
next and probably greatest influence on perry development
was the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club which was
famous for its Herefordshire Pomona published
in 7 parts over the years 1876-1885. The pomona
committee was lead by Dr. Robert Hogg (secretary
to the Royal Horticultural Society) as the technical
editor, and Dr. H.G. Bull as the general editor.
The members of the club became strongly impressed
with the necessity of some great effort to restore
Herefordshire to its true fruit-growing supremacy;
to call the attention of the growers to the best
varieties of fruit for the table and the press;
to improve the methods followed in the manufacture
of Cider and Perry, and the quality of these products;
and thus to improve in every way the marketable
value of its orchard products. The Pomona describes
29 varieties of perry pear. The data given on juice
composition and vintage quality are very interesting
but of limited scientific value because of the dubious
nature of the methods used. There was a chapter
on renovation of orchards and the establishment
of cider and perry factories by the Rev. Charles
Bulmer. These were taken up by his son, H.P. Bulmer
who founded the famous cider making firm in 1887.
by the Woolhope Club, the efforts of R. Neville
Grenville and C.W. Radcliffe Cooke led to the setting
up of the National Fruit and Cider Institute in
October 1903. Radcliffe Cooke was elected as MP
for Hereford and pressed the case for an expansion
of the cider and perry industry so much that he
became known as the Member for Cider. He
managed to prevent the government from imposing
a tax on cider and perry, possibly even saving these
industries as a result. His many articles were published
in 1898 as A Book About Cider and Perry.
He personally selected the perry pear Hellens Early
which is still one of the best early varieties.
the same time as the foundation of the National
Fruit and Cider Institute, the actions of Herbert
Edward Durham were having an influence. He was born
in 1866, studied science at Cambridge and medicine,
becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society. In 1905
illness forced him out of medicine and he joined
Bulmer and Co. as director of research until 1935
when he became a director of the company. In the
1920s he surveyed the perry pears of Herefordshire.
The lead labels he attached to the trees can still
be seen across the West Midlands. He established
a reference collection of 40 varieties at Bulmer's
nurseries at Broxwood. Copies of his studies can
be found in the Hereford city library.
final of the highly influential figures was B.T.P.
Barker. He was appointed director of the National
Fruit and Cider Institute in 1904 and held the position
for 38 years. He developed the Institute into a
state-funded world- renowned research institute.
He initiated the programme of research into the
scienc of cider and perry making which led to the
institute's fame. He established that the vintage
quality of pears was influenced by the root-stock,
climate, orchard management, and soil conditions.
An example of this is the Blakeney Red; grown in
the Severn flood plain, Hogg and Bull describe it
as abominable trash and fit only for the most
ordinary purposes when nothing better can be got.
However on the high land of the Royal Forest of
Dean, it yields excellent perry.
established a trial orchard at Long Ashton in 1903
which began distributing grafts in 1908. By 1917
there were 50 trial orchards in 6 counties. Fruit
were returned to Long Ashton for vintage trials.
Above all else these trials established that the
perry pear is at its best on deep loam, and that
satisfactory orchards could be established on acid
sandy soils overlying sandstone; on heavy clays
and marls; on dry gravels; and on low-lying alluvial
land. Complete failures were always obtained in
orchards with shallow soil or which was water-logged.
On the second group of soil types it was clear that
choice of variety is important. In particular, wetter
soils would not support varieties such as Barland
the late 1940s, Francis Showering, of the firm Showerings
of Shepton Mallet, developed modern perry making
processes. They developed a market for perry (sold
as Babycham) which led to them realising that there
was a need for new orchard planting. They bought
up farms around their factory in Somerset and began
a planting programme.
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These are the sources I used in the preparation of
Fruits of Britain. Their Origin and History
by F.A. Roach. Published by Blackwell Ltd., Oxford.
1985. ISBN 0-631-13969-9.
Pears edited by L.C.Luckwill and A. Pollard.
Published by the University of Bristol for the
National Fruit and Cider Institute. 1963. ISBN?
- Contained within this book is the definitive
guide to perry pear naming: Chapter III, "Perry
Pears of Gloucestershire" by R.R. Williams and
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