Orchards in Prestwood
Orchards grew as a major economic activity of the neighbourhood of Prestwood in the second half of the 19th century and through the first half of the 20th century. This was in response to the extension of the railway to High Wycombe and Great Missenden, providing quick and ready access for fresh fruit to major markets in London and the Midlands. Before the advent of the trains, fruit-growing was part of the self-sufficient domestic economy of local farms, all of which would have had a small group of fruit-trees close to the farmhouse, mostly for home consumption. During this time a number of local varieties were developed and these provided the foundation for the expansion of orchards to occupy whole fields in the late 19th century.
By the early 20th century the centre of Prestwood was dominated by orchards that were so concentrated that char-a-banc parties were organised from London in spring for people to admire the sight of a profusion of trees dressed in white blossom. In the second half of the 20th century competition from abroad with faster and widespread transport and mass fruit production from a smaller number of farms, led to the demise of the small local orchard as a viable economic proposition.
Most of the former orchards in Prestwood were built over in a major expansion of the population of the village in the 1960s to 1980s. Remnants survive at Collings Hanger Farm, Andlows Farm, Greenlands Farm (now Woodlands), the Polecat Inn, and further afield at Little Kingshill (Old Orchard), Cobblershill & Holmer Green. Isolated trees from former orchards also survive, mostly in gardens.
Kiln Common Community Orchard
Prestwood Nature have been working to preserve some of the old varieties. In October 2008 Prestwood Nature they established a community orchard next to the allotments in Greenlands Lane.
The site was part of Kiln Common in the 19th century, small meadows and a brickyard abutting cottages on the north side of the village. The area was surrounded by orchards (mainly cherry) in the early 20th century. They were destroyed in the expansion of Prestwood in the late 20th century as a residential area, the allotments comprising the only surviving green space, owned by the Stoke Mandeville and Other Parishes Charity, from which it is rented by Great Missenden Parish Council.
Local residents were invited to sponsor an old variety of tree found in the Prestwood area which had been grafted onto suitable root stock. The photo shows members of the Prestwood community planting their trees.
Most of the original trees have survived with just a few having to be replaced. The trees, particularly the apples have demonstrated that the older varieties produce much tastier fruit than the modern supermarket offerings.
The aims of the orchard are to:
- provide a living monument to the time when Prestwood was a centre for fruit production, esp. cherries
- provide a means of preserving old fruit varieties otherwise in danger of becoming extinct, especially varieties associated with the local area
- involve local residents in creating, maintaining and celebrating part of our heritage
- ensure orchards as a wildlife habitat are not lost from the area
- act as an educational resource to inform the public about the wide variety of fruits that were once grown and encourage interest in preserving them.