Rivers Nursery Orchard Restoration

1992 on

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.

1995 on

Diana Richards and Susan Clark, Rural Enterprise Project Officer, team up to establish the Rivers Nursery Site as a community facility – a Community Orchard.

1995 on

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.

July, 1996

Rivers Nursery Site Management Plan is drawn up by Susan Clark

1996 on

There is on-going contact with local press to gain community involvement and support

Autumn, 1996

Volunteers become involved for the first effort: clearing the ground for a beech hedge.

1996 on

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.

Jan. 1997

Wassailing at Rivers Nursery Orchard begins; this traditional blessing of the trees continues annually.

1997 on


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.

1998 on

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.

Oct. 1998

First Apple Day at Church House, Sawbridgeworth, takes place.

Feb. 1999

Application for Ford Conservation Funding.

April, 1999

Award of £1000 as runner-up for Heritage Category in Ford Conservation Awards

July, 1999

Family Art Day in Rivers Nursery is led by local artist Mary Bishop.

Oct. 1999

Animated Guided Walk is presented by Harlow College Performing Arts students.

Autumn, 2000

A Rivers Archive is collected.

August, 2001

Visit to Kew to look in Kew Archives for correspondence with the Rivers family growers: Kew sends photocopies of relevant letters.

August, 2001

An Orchard House is constructed at Audley End to the specifications of Thomas Rivers’ design of 1856.

Spring, 2002

The Friends of Rivers Nursery Orchard apply to East Herts District Council for a Major Arts Award. The grant application is successful.

June, 2002

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.

2002 -2003

Year-long Arts Project supported by East Herts District Council

Celebrating Rivers Nursery Orchard: A Year of Verse and Music 2002 – 2003

Project Activity:

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.

December, 2003

Visit to the Lindley Library, Royal Horticultural Society to look at the Rivers materials and the portrait of Thomas Rivers

August, 2003

Visit to Orchard of Herts High Sheriff, Lady Lyell.

May, 2005

Willow Weaving in the Orchard.

May, 2005

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.

Autumn, 2005

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.

February, 2006

Walnut Trees and replacement apple trees are planted.

March, 2006

Visit to John Innes Centre Library, Norwich for research on Rivers materials.

April, 2006

First Display of 1879 Ordnance Survey Maps of local area acquired to show the whole of the Rivers Nursery land in the 19th century

August, 2006

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.

Joseph Fitzgerald

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