The Rivers Nursery site has had a continuous history of cultivation of horticultural material stretching back to the seventeenth century.
Thomas Rivers, born at Sawbridgeworth in 1798, was responsible for consolidating the reputation of the nursery that his grandfather founded. Although renowned for rose culture, Thomas Rivers major interest was fruit production and the breeding and introduction of new varieties, particularly during the period between 1850 and 1875.
He was responsible for the introduction of 31 peach and 16 nectarine varieties for glasshouse production, over 20 plum varieties, 6 pears and various apricots, cherries, raspberries and strawberries. He remains famous for his plums today.
Unfortunately, the nursery closed towards the end of the 1980s. The Friends of Rivers Nursery Orchard is a Rural Enterprise Project involving local people who are interested in this site. Currently work is being carried out which will :
Bring the orchard back into production and develop a Community Orchard .
Improve the meadow areas for wildlife.
Develop the site as a community and educational resource for local people.
The Rivers Nursery site is private land owned by East Hertfordshire District Council. Access to the site for activities organised by the Friends of Rivers Orchard is by invitation of the District Council as landowner, and no public rights of access are implied.
There are retrospective articles in the local paper by Kenneth Cook and others on Rivers Nursery and its eminence and other articles in Hertfordshire Countryside Magazine.
Diana Richards and Susan Clark, Rural Enterprise Project Officer, team up to establish the Rivers Nursery Site as a community facility – a Community Orchard.
Support and finance is gained from local and national government bodies: MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries), Countryside Management Service, Sawbridgeworth Town Council, East Herts. District Council as well as bodies such as Common Ground, Herts. and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, Rural Action, Agenda 21.
Rivers Nursery Site Management Plan is drawn up by Susan Clark
There is on-going contact with local press to gain community involvement and support
Volunteers become involved for the first effort: clearing the ground for a beech hedge.
Research into methods of restoration and the environmental benefits of community orchard sites is carried out.
East Herts District Council financial support is gained for laying a new beech hedge to mark and protect orchard site.
Wassailing at Rivers Nursery Orchard begins; this traditional blessing of the trees continues annually.
A Newsletter is produced for Friends of Pishiobury Park and Rivers Nursery Orchard.
Contact with Brogdale Horticultural Trust is established; information on Rivers varieties held in the national collection and help with identification of the varieties surviving in the Rivers Orchard area is given.
There is participation in wider arenas to gain further contacts and information and disseminate information about what had been achieved at the Rivers site: seminar on ‘Orchards for All’ sponsored by Hertfordshire Orchard Initiative.
First Apple Day at Church House, Sawbridgeworth, takes place.
Application for Ford Conservation Funding.
Award of £1000 as runner-up for Heritage Category in Ford Conservation Awards
Family Art Day in Rivers Nursery is led by local artist Mary Bishop.
Animated Guided Walk is presented by Harlow College Performing Arts students.
A Rivers Archive is collected.
Visit to Kew to look in Kew Archives for correspondence with the Rivers family growers: Kew sends photocopies of relevant letters.
An Orchard House is constructed at Audley End to the specifications of Thomas Rivers’ design of 1856.
The Friends of Rivers Nursery Orchard apply to East Herts District Council for a Major Arts Award. The grant application is successful.
Chief surveyor of East Herts District Council reports on current status of the land: the land is owned by East Herts District Council at the moment, the extra land parcel after the Hospital was built having been turned over by the developers to the Council for public use. However, if the Friends of the Rivers Nursery Orchard or others do anything to contravene the Green Belt Law, the developers have the right to take the land back. In 2009 the developers have the option to buy back the land from East Herts for £1.
Year-long Arts Project supported by East Herts District Council
Celebrating Rivers Nursery Orchard: A Year of Verse and Music 2002 – 2003
Nine poets are specially commissioned for the Project.
The children at Sawbridgeworth’s two primary schools, Reedings and Mandeville, are involved.
A poetry competition is launched on the theme of fruit and orchards which, thanks to our web page, draws entries from all over the country and from Australia, France and Italy.
The commissioned poetry is linked with other arts. Music is commissioned for three poems; a group designs an installation in the Orchard using fruit as material; an anthology of the verse is produced with a cover design depicting two of the major fruits developed by the Rivers fruit breeders.
The East Herts and West Essex Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers begin the process of weaving a tapestry, with fleece dyed by natural sources – bark, fruit, fungi and flowers – from the Orchard with the dye colour set by wood ash from the Wassail bonfire. This tapestry, like the verse anthology, will be an enduring outcome of the Arts Project.
The poems and music are placed as performances within the cycle of the growing year– the October harvest festival, Apple Day, held in Church House, Sawbridgeworth; the January Wassail event in the Orchard; the May Fair blossom time festival on the Fair Green in Sawbridgeworth; the Summer Concert at Audley End, Saffron Walden, where a glasshouse to the 1856 design of Thomas Rivers has been constructed.
Visit to the Lindley Library, Royal Horticultural Society to look at the Rivers materials and the portrait of Thomas Rivers
Visit to Orchard of Herts High Sheriff, Lady Lyell.
Willow Weaving in the Orchard.
Unveiling of Tapestry started during Arts Project to commemorate 10 years of restoration work at Rivers Orchard on Open Evening 19 May, 2005
Varieties of apples in the orchard are identified by experts from the RHS and East of England Apples & Orchards Project.
The Rivers Nursery Orchard is written up for the Hertfordshire Garden Trust and a copy of the article is placed in the Hertfordshire Local Studies Archive.
Walnut Trees and replacement apple trees are planted.
Visit to John Innes Centre Library, Norwich for research on Rivers materials.
First Display of 1879 Ordnance Survey Maps of local area acquired to show the whole of the Rivers Nursery land in the 19th century
Plum varieties are identified by experts associated with the East of England Apples & Orchards Project.
A Year in Rivers Nursery Orchard
The year 2005 marks the 280th anniversary of the arrival in Sawbridgeworth of John Rivers and the start of a nursery whose influence would stretch to many corners of the modern world. This “holy grail of English fruit production” (quote from RHS Wisley) faces major challenges now, just as it did through three centuries and Friends of Rivers Nursery Orchard work today to a management plan to conserve what remains of this historic site for the benefit of all. The sector under active conservation is but a fragment of the vast areas of our town once designated as nursery land (circa. 1884).
Year 2005 kicked off with a well-attended Wassail in January when trees were ‘thanked’ for their fruit crop and wished a very productive new year. This is a custom borrowed from the West Country and what it has lost in translation over time and distance it has made up for in myth and merriment.
February followed with tree planting of celebration seedlings to replace dying trees, which was a family event. The ever regular pruning, ditching and orchard management tasks come around with increasing frequency and for people in our community wondering how to stay fit, this green gym is the perfect low cost ‘work out’ in a wonderful environment, so come along and kick off those kilos.
A biodiversity survey has been carried out and we are grateful for the first butterfly survey, which is underway. The plum crop this year was abundant allowing identification of many of the old Rivers varieties.
In September a group of fruit experts visited the orchard and commenced the work of examining the long list of unidentified apple species growing there. This task was possible due to the comprehensive numbering and labelling system, which was also undertaken this year. Each tree was deliberated on until a consensus was reached.
Outside of the orchard the Archives were on display at the May Festival and Apple Day. They not only detail the history of the orchard but also provide a rare insight to local life. Talks and guided tours to many groups were also very well received.
Apple picking day was a huge success with great support from the local community young and old and the scene in the orchard in the most beautiful autumn sunshine was straight from the textbook, and a bumper crop meant that the ‘Wassail Magic’ worked.
As we round off the year Apple Day in Church House was another special day. Organic apples were available to eat, to juice, to drink, to buy and to bake. The event focussed on drawing more people into the town for the day and the active participation of local retailers with the first ever Sawbridgeworth Orchard Sausage and the Sawbridgeworth Orchard Apple Pie engaged people right across the community. We are very grateful for the people who come from far and wide to support us, the regular loyal band of volunteers, East Herts District Council, Rural Enterprise Project, local press and the local community, without which we would not function effectively. We have a duty to ensure that this nursery orchard, an environmental treasure on our doorstep, evolves yet endures for another three centuries.
Everyone is welcome to join in any of the activities, just bring your enthusiasm. For practical tasks no experience is necessary and all tools are provided. Please wear suitable clothing and bring a packed lunch if you are staying all day. The entrance to the Orchard is through the gates off Brook End, in The Crest, Sawbridgeworth
All activities in the Orchards from 10.30 am-2pm. Sunday 3rd February – Winter maintenance
Sunday 2nd March – Pruning in the Orchard
Sunday 6th April – Spring maintenance
Sunday 4th May – May Fayre in Church House: 1.00 – 4.00
2005 marked 10 years of committed vision and effort by Diana Richards of Sawbridgeworth and Susan Clark of the Rural Enterprise Project in recognising the value of the Rivers site and gathering support to restore the historic Orchard. Over this time they led a dedicated volunteer group in transforming a thicket of briar and hawthorn into viable old variety fruit-bearing trees and giving the site back to Sawbridgeworth as a Community Orchard. When Diana retired from public life in 2007, she also resigned from the Rivers group and when the Rural Enterprise was reorganized, Susan’s post as consultant for the Rivers group ceased too.
A number of the volunteers who had been working in the Rivers Orchard have regrouped, ratified a constitution and have set our sights firmly through specific aims on saving the Orchard for the Community and ensuring its further development. We have also chosen a different name to reflect our goals: the Rivers Nursery Site and Orchard Group (RNSOG).
Future Protection of the Rivers Nursery Site & Orchard
Our focus for the future as we go forward with the new grouping is divided into several key areas: Preserving & revitalising the site: Everything from maintenance, to raising awareness and lobbying through the media. Orchard Use: Involving the local community in events and improving access to the site for events as well as using the site as a cultural and educational resource. Robust Protection of the Site: RNSOG acting as a unit to liaise with interested parties and stakeholders to identify the best way the site can be managed and protected. Mapping of rare varieties of fruits and plants & creating a directory based on ongoing biodiversity studies. Identification of unique elements of the site and landscape with an emphasis on permanent statutory protection. RNSOG will seek to be an active partner as a planning consultee and to consult in other land ownership issues. Communication: Developing and consolidating our contacts with national and other key fruit groups and organisations and building strategic alliances to ensure that as group we are well informed on local and national issues that have a direct impact on the future of the site. Archive: Developing the Archive which stores historic and current items and increasing access to this valuable collection which is an equally important tool in getting the public informed of the importance of the site.
We are hopeful that these goals can be met with the help of East Herts and the interest and support of the local community. We are prepared to put in the work necessary and hope that new helpers will join us, not only in the maintenance of the site but in carrying out other aims. We would particularly like to welcome the skilful new volunteers who joined us this past year, who have undertaken all sorts of activities from pruning to making cider to doing research. Activities that are not only worthwhile but good fun!
Kate Yarnold, Chair
Rivers Nursery site is private land owned by East Herts District Council. Access to the site for activities is by invitation of the District Council as landowner and no public rights of access are implied.
A Year in the Orchard
In 2007 we continued with our annual maintenance plan and as the seasons for clearing, planting, cutting, pruning, picking and ditching came around with increasing frequency we express gratitude to our regular bunch of hard working volunteers who turn up rain or shine to assist with the tasks in hand. In March we were delighted to receive as a gift from East of England Apples & Orchards Project (EEAOP) 33 x 2 year old fruit trees to gap up some areas where we had lost trees.
These varieties included some of the special Rivers & Hertfordshire originals such as Rivers Nonsuch and Rivers Early Peach, & pears namely, Summer Beurre, Princess, Magnate, Saint Luke. Our volunteers turned up on cue to get them in the ground, all the trees are thriving and we will take good care of them. We are very grateful to EEAOP for this valuable gesture of support for our group.
Outside of the Orchard on 27th & 28th of April we attended the International Society of Arboriculture UK and Ireland meeting at Capel Manor and this was a very interesting meeting as we met many people from Planning Departments and were making the case for the protection of old orchards. Apple picking day was a huge success with great support from the local community young and old and we are grateful to Cam Valleys Orchards at Royston for processing our apple juice this year. Talks and guided tours to various individuals and groups continued through the year and this support and interest provides confidence to keep the project going.We attended the Apple Day annual event at Audley End and in return we were able to get the loan from EEAOP many of Brogdale’s special Hertfordshire Heritage apple varieties. We then had those on display at Apple Day in Church House which generated very good interest and another very special day in 2007.
Special thanks also for another comprehensive butterfly survey carried out by Charmaine Cooper for us again this year. Extracts from this will soon be published. We are very grateful for the people who come from far and wide to support us, the regular loyal band of volunteers, East Herts District Council, local press and the local community. A special mention goes to those around the country and the area with expert skills and knowledge who lend us their time and expertise and are passionate as we are about saving this important site.
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Further information: Hazel Mead 01279 724503 44 Ash Groves, Sawbridgeworth, Herts CM21 9LN Kate Yarnold 01279 723617