The Welsh Have No Use For Orchards!
The Welsh Have No Use For Orchards nor Gardens!
(The Welsh) have no use for orchards nor gardens’. So said Gerald of Wales, the 12th/13th century historian and archdeacon of Brecon.
We described in the previous two issues something of the background and history of the sweet apple – so did Wales really miss out? You will often come across old farmhouses called Ty’n y Berllan (the house in the orchard) and apples feature prominently in Welsh mythology. In the Mabinogi collection, Pwyll’s men are ordered to ‘wait outside the court in the orchard’. King Arthur’s Avalon derives from the Welsh ‘afallen’ or apple tree.
The Welsh king, Hywel Dda, set out in the 10th century the values of different assets and a sweet apple tree was worth 60 pennies, equivalent to 60 lambs or 15 pigs. There are many references in the Middle Ages to apple-growing whether in poetry, land-use records or folk traditions. There were 12 acres of orchards on the lands of Llanthony Priory and even this far back vines, pears and other Mediterranean fruit were grown. St Donats featured orchards which were ‘fair things to behold’. The Physicians of Myddfai (visit our Welsh orchard to find out more) praised the medicinal value of apples.
By the end of the 18th century the colourful Iolo Morganwg was compiling a list of 147 apple varieties then growing in Glamorgan and Gwent. From the large country houses to the small peasant cottages, apple trees could usually be found and all the way from Glamorgan to Anglesey. By 1899 there were 6,500 acres of orchard recorded of which 4,000 were in Monmouthshire. Love spoons were often carved in applewood and the old custom of wassailing was celebrated. Even David Lloyd George was praised for the quality of the apples he grew. Many varieties were of Welsh origin such as Cissy and St Cecilia. Others like Morgan Sweet were a favourite with the miners (which they enjoyed with Caerphilly cheese) as the juice, which was tangy yet sweet, was refreshing when working down the pits.
All of these can be sampled in our Wenvoe orchards with St Cecilia judged the top apple this year. Did Gerald of Wales get it right? What do you think? Much of the information here is taken from a little book called the Apples of Wales by Carwyn Graves, published in 2018 and a great read if you find the topic interesting.
And finally, just to get the little grey cells working, where are the ruins featured in the photo and what is the connection with this article? A clue for you – it is less than 10 miles from Wenvoe.