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Our Environment: Issue 23 Winter 2000

Our Environment: Christchurch City Council's Environmental Newsletter

Bishops leave fruitful legacy
No.14 in our "Still Standing" Heritage Building Series

The name of the Christchurch suburb of Bishopdale is not the Bishop brothers’ only legacy.

The Bishop brothers left a fruit legacyAcorns and seedlings which they planted in the 1860s are now landmark oaks in Greers Road. Their apple and pear trees still produce good crops of fruit.

The trees’ spacious setting provokes nostalgic thoughts of earlier days - before the price of urban land shrank the size of sections and triggered infill development.

“We shoot developers when they walk down the drive,” the present owners Gillian and John McDonald say wryly. They are the guardians of this precious remnant of history.

Mrs McDonald’s grandfather Selwyn Davies bought the land in 1921 and Gillian has lived there almost all of her life. To preserve the property’s special character the McDonalds have put it in a trust. “Hopefully it will stay as it is,” they say. William and James Bishop moved on to the land with their families in the early 1860s. Their brother Robert also owned land but it was cultivated by William and James.

James, who had worked as a gardener in England, set to work planting his section with fruit trees. His daughter Miss R S Bishop later noted: “These trees were grown from seeds sent out from England in a barrel by Grandfather Bishop.” The consignment consisted of apple and pear pips, plum and peach stones, as well as the seeds of gooseberries, currants, raspberries, strawberries, herbs, flowers and vegetables. Seeds from oaks and elms, elder, and other trees were also sent.

“In later years when the nursery stock was grown, trees and plants which owed their origin to these seeds, were sent over a large part of Canterbury…,” Miss Bishop wrote.

The McDonalds still harvest the fruit which includes a pear of the Cattilac variety, originating from 16th century stock. A cooking apple from 17 th century Russian lineage and the Astrakan apple are two other very early varieties. A medlar tree produces knobbly- looking brown fruit, which when left to ripen and soften, tastes like date. Twelve of the fruit trees were planted in the 19 th century and several experts and nurserymen have taken budwood from them to preserve the old strains. The trees are not sprayed. Traps set for Codlin moths are the only concession to modern chemical controls.

The apples are stored and used mainly for cooking. “We grow all our own fruit and vegetables,” says Mrs McDonald. “We don’t buy any.”

One of the elms and five oaks towering over the property are protected notable trees. The oaks were grown from acorns gathered in Gloucestershire’s Forest of Dean where ship builders used to select spars for the British Navy. Mrs McDonald says two of the oaks on their property have been described as among the best specimens in Canterbury. The cluster of trees was probably planted to provide shelter behind the site of the former house pictured below.

Bishopdale School, next door, planted an oak seedling from one of the Bishop oaks. The school itself was built on a large section of James Bishop’s orchard. Alongside, the street originally named Bishop Road was made an extension of Greers Road after the Council decided it was often confused with Bishop Street in St Albans. Descendants of James and Rebecca Bishop said they were grateful the family name had been retained in the name of the district and school.

Jennie Hamilton

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