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History of Ashmead's Kernel

© Christine Leighton, 2004. Christine is an Archivist and Gloucestershire Orchard Group member. leighton.archives@virgin.net

Rosanne Sanders, The English Apple, states:

This apple was raised in Gloucestershire by Dr Ashmead in about 1700 and the original tree was still in existence during the early 1800s in Dr Ashmead’s garden.  However, it was destroyed when the ground was re-allocated for building.

Whilst there seems little doubt that this apple did indeed originate in Gloucestershire, there is confusion as to the identity of “Ashmead”. I contacted the archivist at the Royal Botanical Society, Kew, (0181-332-5414) but they had no trace of a botanist called Ashmead.

Next I tried the Royal Horticultural Society Archives (80 Vincent Square, LONDON, SW1 2PE; 0207-821-3600) to see if he was a known horticulturist.  They said that on the National Apple Register he is listed merely as “Dr Ashmead”.  They suggested I could write in for further information.  I did so and, although they sent various copies concerning the apple, they did not give any further information about the man Ashmead. I then consulted Mr Brian Frith, a well-known local historian, and he supplied the following notes.

There is considerable disagreement concerning the origin of the apple Ashmead’s Kernel.  In the Journal of Horticulture, 17/9/1874, there is a note stating that the exact period when it was raised was in some doubt, and it goes on:

…the late Mr Hignell, an eminent orchardist at Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, informed me that the first time he ever saw the fruit of Ashmead’s Kernel was from a tree in the nursery of Mr Wheeler of Gloucester, in the year 1796, and that the tree in question had been worked from the original, and was at that time upwards of thirty years old. … I find that it was cultivated in the Brompton Park Nursery in 1780, at which time it was received from Mr Wheeler, nurseryman of Gloucester.”  A note added “The original tree grew in the garden of Ashmeade House, Eastgate Street, Gloucester, now occupied by Mr T. Taynton, solicitor.”

In an undated xerox sent to me of Apples by John Bultitude, and referred to by my correspondent at the time (now forgotten as regards name!) as the ‘standard work on apple identification’, there is a brief section on its history which stated “Raised by Dr Ashmead in Gloucester, England; probably originated in about 1700”.

In John Scott’s catalogue of 1874 (2nd edition) it is stated:

It was raised in Gloucestershire about 1860 by a Dr Ashmead.

In E.A. Bunyard’s Handbook of Fruits, 1920, it is given as:

Origin, raised by Dr Ashmead, of Gloucester, about 1720.

A Mr Jack Briggs, of 25 Church Lane, Whittlesford, Cambridge, writing to B.C.F. [?Brian Frith] in 1980 implied:

The earliest reference to Ashmead’s Kernel must fall between 1805 and 1821, since the R.H.S. publications start from the earlier date and the 1821 reference is from a German source which must undoubtedly have drawn on the R.H.S. publications for its British lists.

The Revd Samuel Lysons of Hempsted Court gave a lecture in Gloucester entitled ‘What has our county done?’  (See Gloucester Journal, Sat 9 Feb 1861)  During the course of his talk he stated:

The celebrated Ashmead Kernel, so well-known to apple eaters, was first introduced by William Ashmead, sometime clerk of this city, who planted the first tree near Clarence Street.

This William Ashmead lived in a house on the north side of the Eastgate Street/Barton Street junction, in between what was  known as Dog Lane (now gone) and Clarence Street.  This was the house later known as Ashmead House, with its garden extending down, parallel with Clarence Street, for quite a distance.  It was later lived in by a number of well-known local worthies, but was later replaced by the Gas Offices for many years, and the site of the house is that which is now occupied by the clothes store ‘Primark’.

William Ashmead, an attorney at law, became a freeman of the city in 1747 and later town clerk.  He died “at his house in Barton Street” on Tuesday 1st January 1782.  His widow advertised the property for sale in the following April as “the messuage, gardens and piece of meadow ground desirably situated in and near Barton Street”.

As with almost all persons named Ashmead(e) who lived in Gloucester, they seem to have originated from either Charlton Kings or Cheltenham (see the registers of the freemen of the city of Gloucester, 1641-1838, edited by John Jurica).

But who was the “Dr Ashmead” so frequently referred to?  The only Ashmead so far found who was a doctor seems to have been a certain Francis Ashmead, ‘chirurgeon’ of Cheltenham, who married a Susanna Dymock of Gloucester (St Michael’s parish), 24 June 1699.  Their son, Francis Ashmead, later a mercer in Gloucester, was baptised 7 May 1700 at St Michael’s, Gloucester, but further information concerning his [?the father’s] activities in Gloucester are lacking, but we know that he died in Mitcheldean, 12 Feb 1729/30, aged 55. It would seem unlikely that this man is the one who originated the Ashmead Kernel.  Far more likely is the William Ashmead who lived in the house in Gloucester which had a suitable garden for such a venture, and which has for long been suggested as the place where the particular apple was produced.

Consulting the Gloucester Record Office card index I found:

Gloucester Record Office
  • Francis Ashmead, mercer, who died 21 May 1730 or 1738 (Monumental Inscription, St Mary de Crypt, Gloucester)
  • Susannah, mother of Francis, mercer, died 12 May 1758, aged 83 (Monumental Inscription, St Mary de Crypt, Gloucester)

Additional notes from the Rt Hon. the earl of Selborne, an apple expert

It seems that the confusion about “Dr” Ashmead was created by Robert Hogg:

Fruit Manual, Robert Hogg (5th edition, 1884) This delightful apple was raised at Gloucester about the beginning of the last century, by Dr Ashmead an eminent physician of that city.  The original tree existed within the first quarter of the present century, in what had originally been Dr Ashmead’s garden, but was destroyed in consequence of the ground being required for building.  It stood on the spot now occupied by Clarence Street.

Hogg was also editor of the Journal of Horticulture, and is the source of most subsequent quotations such as in Bunyard, Bultitude, etc.

A more authoritative source is Hugh Ronalds Pyrus Malus Brentfordiensis of 1831.  He describes Ashmead’s Kernel as follows:

Pyrus Malus Brentfordiensis, Hugh Ronalds An excellent table apple. The original tree is in the garden of Mr Griffiths of Gloucestershire, where the apple was raised by Mr Ashmead his predecessor.  Mr G. informs me that the tree is a hundred years old and that it still continues to bear tolerably well. It is about the size and shape of a Nonpareil, a brown russet mingled with green, and a little faint red on the outward side.  A very nice crisp fruit, in perfection from December till February.

Everyone seems to agree that the site of the original tree was near Clarence Street, Gloucester. Was Mr William Ashmead’s house later occupied by a Mr Griffiths?

Postscript

Mr Frith has confirmed that Mr Griffiths, a solicitor flourishing in the 1820s and 1830s, lived in a house previously occupied by Mr Ashmead.

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