Memories of Meldreth Orchards
I suppose that my first recollection of an orchard in Meldreth was in the early 1940’s.
My parents, Leslie and Ruby Pepper, had in 1940, just moved into 4 Allerton Terrace, and this was probably my first excursion along Whitecroft Road. The orchard was in the area of the Howard Road housing estate, and I believe, was the property of Hubert Ellis. It was in a very overgrown condition. All that I can recall of this experience was that of trees overhanging the path and a very dark interior; rather frightening for a small child in a pushchair.
Another orchard was opposite Allerton Terrace, and, if my memory serves me correctly, was owned by the Elbourn family. As small boys, we would often gain access to it by penetrating a weak point in the hedge in order to sample some of its fruits. There were apples, plums, and pears in abundance, which when ripe would taste delicious. The orchard is now the Oakrits estate, just off Whitecroft Road.
There was an orchard along Whitecroft Road, on the western side, just past Hope Folly. Again, another orchard owned by the Elbourns I believe. This orchard was visited only once a year, at cherry picking time. I remember being sent by my mother to purchase a pound or so of cherries. At the entrance to the orchard was a trestle table with a farmhand, usually wearing a cloth cap, poised ready to serve you with these dark succulent fruits. Tall ladders rested on the trees’ thin branches, with farmhands busily picking the cherries before wasps and other creatures decided that they were well worth a visit. By the time I had walked a few yards along the road, it could be guaranteed that I would have blood red juice down the front of my shirt. Another ticking off from my mother. But you simply cannot get fruit much fresher than that.
In the High Street was an old Victorian property, The Grange, owned by Hubert Ellis and later by his kinsman, Edgar. In Hubert’s days the estate was neglected and overgrown, but after his death, Edgar cleared the jungle and one was able to see the numerous orchards which had been hidden for so many years. They were past their best as the trees had not been attended to for decades, but they did still produce a variety of fruit. At the back of the house there were two orchards, their furthermost boundary being Whitecroft Road. They provided a selection of fruits which would have been of saleable standard for the Victorians. Apples such as Coxes Orange Pippins, Blenheims, and Russets spring to mind. The orchard near the house had in it a Medlar tree, its fruit only being fit to eat when it had started to decay. The orchard nearest to Whitecroft Road became a popular attraction on only two occasions every year, and was visited by many local people and also people from outlying areas of the county. The reason for their interest was that of a very colourful display of bluebells and primroses, which were spread like a carpet over a large area of the orchard. A spectacular sight indeed. It was well worth the visit.
I am not sure how many trees must be grouped together before they can be called an orchard, but there were small collections of fruit trees on both sides of the River Mel, adjacent to Flambards Mill. I know that some of the trees on the mill side were greengage trees.
There was another orchard behind a small thatched cottage where Woolpack Way is now located. This also belonged to the Ellis estate, and extended as far as the Mel.
Yet another Ellis orchard, was behind two semi-detached cottages which stood, in what is now, Woodlands Drive. In the left hand cottage lived Mr and Mrs Marsh and in the other lived Lily and Harry Warren. I’m sure that these tenants would have benefited from the selection of fruit that this orchard would have provided.
Meldreth once had an abundance of orchards, but alas now only a handful remain.
Many of us now buy our fruit at the supermarket. How times have changed!