Cider Musings

Holme Lacy Perry Pear Tree

The Holme Lacy Perry pear tree is an ancient tree, growing on the banks of the river Wye. Its origin is unknown but presumably was a wilding that became noted for its Perry qualities and unusual size and layering habit. Some accounts date it to medieval times it is certainly old. It is thought possibly to be connected with monastic activities in the area some 600 – 700 years ago– perhaps the oldest pear tree in Britain! Whatever the origins of this remarkable tree; it is said that the rooted branches of the tree created a canopy, in 1790, covering three-quarters of an acre. It yielded crops of five to seven tons of perry pears. It was  first mentioned   by J.C. Loudon in “Arboretum et Fruticetum Britannicum” (1838): ‘In Herefordshire, “A very extraordinary tree, growing on the glebe land of the parish of Holme Lacey, has more than once filled 15 hogsheads of perry in the same year. .... Nearly half an acre of land remains thus covered at the present time [1805]. It once covered an acre of land, and would have extended much further had nature been left to her own operations. It is now not a quarter of the size it once boasted; but it looks healthy. The original trunk is still remaining; and there are young shoots which are only yet approaching the ground, but which seem nearly ready to take root in it. The tree would completely have covered the vicarage garden if it had been allowed to remain. It is said to have been in its greatest perfection about 1776 or 1777."

The remaining tree covered in haw-frost 2010 Photo Archie Miles 

The pear tree grew in the glebe and gardens of the rectory at Holme Lacy, adjacent to the church. Other than the tree's great size, age, and productiveness, it was noted for its unusual banyan-like habit, where it had “in a strange and abnormal fashion crept along the ground, sometimes quite beneath the surface and sometimes partly above it, for it is not the roots that have thrown up suckers, but the stems [...] these can be plainly traced”. An earlier parson at Holme Lacy,  noted that a large branch blown onto the ground in a storm had taken root, and asked his gardeners to “layer” other branches of the tree in the same way.

Sketch by Edwin Lee of now-lost section of Holme Lacy Pear, reproduced in the Gardeners Chronicle - 1878

By the mid 19th century the tree was said to have been reduced in size from its 18th century extent to about a quarter of an acre, partly to stop it overshadowing the house, although it was still described as very vigorous and productive.  Hogg and Bull’s 1876 Herefordshire Pomona described the pear tree as follows:

“The tree is very curious and interesting at the present time. In the vicarage garden the group of stems is very picturesque, and several of the trees rise to a height of from thirty to forty feet. There are still nine stems on the lawn, one in the hedge, and seven in the adjoining meadow. Some creeping prostrate stems, and a few upright ones have been removed for lawn improvement. The fruit trees in the garden have a circumference of from 7 ft. to 9 ft. 6 inches in the bole, and added together, the trees give a total circumference of no less than 94 feet.”The tree is still vigorous and productive but there are concerns as the lawn is now pasture and cattle browse on it.

Photo Archie Miles 

I have not tasted the perry but from what is said it is not exceptional and certainly not as exceptional as the tree itself.

Photo - National Perry Pear Centre