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How Railways Made Norfolk Apple Orchards Great

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Norfolk -OrchardsAutumn in Norfolk means Apples! growing Apples has long been a part of Norfolk's farming landscape - the comparatively dry conditions and long sunlight hours seemed to suit orchards rather well.

There was a time when almost everyone in Norfolk had some sort of fruit tree accessible to them, Thomas Fuller, Churchman and Historian, describing Norwich in 1662 as:

“Either a city in an orchard, or an orchard in a city, so equal are houses and trees blended in it”

The agricultural revolution saw an unprecedented increase in food production from the mid-17th Century onwards, but It wasn't until the industrial revolution and the advances in transport that large-scale production came to pass.

Norfolk Apple orchards after the railways

Before railways transporting anything far from its place of origin was uneconomical - moving anything over 20 or 30 miles by road simply cost too much. Water transport was more efficient than land but there weren't many canals in Norfolk!

Once railway transport came to Norfolk things really started happening for large scale apple orchards (and agricultural in general). Eventually Railways would reduce the cost of land transport by over 95%!

This made large-scale commercial orchards viable and profitable and, as chance would have it, the heavier clay soils of need, South and East Norfolk suited growing apples just fine.

These large orchards were mainly concentrated in two areas of Norfolk, in the west centred around Wisbech and in the East on the Broadland Rivers of the Waveney, Bure and Ant.

Norfolk Apples, Norfolk Cider

This was the period that probably the most famous of Norfolk's apple products becomes established, Gaymers cider.

The Gaymers had long being involved in Apple and cider production, Robert Gaymer (1738-1821) farmed at Banham, near Attleborough in Norfolk, and was succeeded by his son John (1770-1843) -but it wasn't until William Gaymer (1842-1936) and the advent of the industrial Revolution that cider production became a real commercial force.

In the face of opposition from his father, William developed the sales of cider from Banham, Introducing the first hydraulic press in 1870 leading, eventually, to a successful cider factory being built in Attleborough in 1896.

Norfolk Orchards Today

Norfolk is no longer a major Apple producer - by the late 20th century the UK fruit growing industry was in decline due to cheaper imports and a lack of government support - but this doesn't mean there are no orchards left to visit in the Norfolk.

In recent years a greater interest has been taken in small, community owned orchards and the preservation of local fruit varieties.

Kenninghall Orchard is owned by Kenninghall Parish Council and features an acre planted with apples, Plums, Cherry and Greengages to name but a few.

Local varieties including the apples Adam’s Pearmain, Dr Harvey, Green Roland, Harling Hero, Hubbard’s Pearmain, Norfolk beefing, Norfolk Summer beefing, Norfolk Honey Russet, and Norfolk Beauty.

Swaffham Ecotech Centre Orchard was created by the EcoTech Garden Group, who support the organic gardens in the grounds of the EcoTech Centre.

Most of the fruits are of local origin and they hope to add to the orchard until they have a complete collection.

The orchard is managed organically and the land beneath the trees has been sown with a meadow grass and wild flower mix to create a spring flowering meadow.

The orchard is open to Centre visitors all year round and the grounds are open free to all on several garden open days each year.

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By Alastair Baker at 24 Aug 2017, 00:00 AM