Cider Musings

Isaac Newton and apples.

Isaac Newtown was an early Fellow of the Royal Society.

His theory of gravity is well known to school boys the world over. Most is true but some apocryphal features have crept in. Firstly he was not hit on the head by an apple. He watched apples falling at his Lincolnshire house Woolsthorpe Manor near Grantham in late summer 1666.

He was there having retired from London because of the plague. The tree in question was a Flower  of Kent, a culinary apple mainly green with a red tinge. The Flower of Kent was an early named variety and was mentioned by John Parkinson a famous botanist who was contemporaneous with Shakespeare now celebrating 400 year. It is a shy cropper so we were in luck Isaac saw one fall. The tree and the story is well documented. Amazingly the tree is still alive despite being blown over In 1820 in a storm.  Pilgrims came to see it lying in the orchard. Sketches were made of it and the broken wood was used to make snuff boxes and small trinkets.  However, it remained  rooted and re-grew strongly from the base.  This is the tree you can still see at  Woolsthorpe Manor.  The tree using dendrochronology has been confirmed as being of the right age, and the Tree Council has certified it as one of 50 Great British Tree 


Although it is not known if Isaac Newton made cider it is recorded that he bought a lot of apple trees from Ralph Austen of Oxford a renowned cider maker and nurseryman. 

Many grafts have been taken over the years and sent globally. One into space with NASA astronaut Piers Sellers who was born in the UK for the Royal Society on Atlantis in 2010.

We have several trees growing in NZ derived from the original tree. This has an interesting history.

A letter written in 1976 by Dr. Mervyn Probine, then Director of the DSIR's Physical and Engineering Laboratory in Lower Hutt, was discovered in a drawer at the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (now GNS Science). 

The letter said the "Newton tree" was a 'Flower of Kent' variety, which died in 1814.

"Before it died, however, grafts were taken from the tree and the resulting progeny was planted in Lord Brownlow's kitchen garden at Belton.

"From this tree at Belton, trees at East Malling Research Station were propagated in 1940 from grafts."

Another strain was  was grafted directly from the tree at Woolsthorpe to Kew Gardens 

Probine said it it was nor lear which strain was sent to NZ 

This letter says the tree was  gifted to DSIR with the scion in 1957, after the International Geophysical Year – an international scientific project to mark the end of the Cold War – the British National Physics Laboratory NPL decided to share cuttings from Newton's tree with scientific agencies around the world. Sir Ernest Marsden was the Director of the DSIR at the time. 

The Lower Hutt tree was planted by a Mr. J.B.C. Taylor on Arbor Day 1957. Mr J B C Taylor was a research scientist at the facility then called the Dominion Physical Laboratory Department of Scientific and Industrial Research who published this research article on 1st July 1955 titled "An electronic strong-motion seismograph" in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America (1955 45(3): 179-186 

Callaghan Innovation national property manager Mike Williams said the tree was dug up sometime after 1976, but a further cutting was taken and it was replanted in the courtyard outside A wing Robertson Building.

"However, that has since been dug up also and cuttings from this have been scattered all around the site.".

I visited the site in September 2021  

This tree dates from 70s having been grafted from the original.

This trees has been grafted on too. And now there are a dozen trees on the campus, plus others in the Wellington Botanic Gardens and other cities in NZ including Invercargill where Awarua Satellite Ground Station manager Robin McNeill has one. In 2013, when the provenance of the trees growing in Lower Hutt was tested,  McNeill was gifted his branch. 


Above photo of a remaining apple on the DSIR tree today. 20th September. 

Now Spring I returned to take this photo in blossom 

I was privileged to obtain 2 cuttings which I will graft on to grow in Beau Vista Orchards in the Wairarapa. They have been placed in cold storage for a few weeks for the root stock I will graft them onto  becomes fully active. 

Now grafted onto M793 rootstock at the orchard in late October 



Probine's letter  goes on to say "I am told the fruit is "bloodly awful"to taste" 

I am grateful to Angela Offord Personal Assistant at Callaghan Innovations for providing me a copy of the letter and related material. 

And now in late February the apples are nearly ready.