At the northern end of the Brymbo Heritage Site stands a towering sandstone wall stretching for around 8o metres. The imposing structure is a monument to industrial resolve and ingenuity and was constructed during the 19th century to both retain the land behind it and in order to load (charge) the furnaces. Coke and Iron ore could be lowered from above into the white heat below feeding the insatiable flames of industry.
However, the ‘Old Number 1’ furnace stands silent, its companions long gone, having been dismantled in the 1930s. When the adjacent furnaces were removed, the large brick buttresses were added for extra support creating the bays which can be seen today. The wall having lost its purpose is now inhabited by nesting birds and opportunist seedlings.
As part of the Brymbo Orchard Project the bays were identified as a perfect location for the ambitious project to graft a museum orchard of all Welsh Pear varieties onto three trees. During the day the thick walls backed by tonnes of soil are bathed in sunshine creating a warm microclimate against the stone, perfect for growing pears.
The trees were planted in 2017 and will eventually be trained in tiers as an espalier, about every 6 feet, until it reaches the top of the wall. The rootstocks are ‘Pyrus Communis’ or wild pear providing the required vigour, with ‘Beurre Hardy’ providing the structure. As the tiers produce laterals these will be bud grafted with different rare varieties such as ‘Gwehelog Red’ or ‘Rhydlydan’. Every tier will have several different varieties making each tree a unique collection.
By preserving old and rare varieties the project aims to help create living gene banks which can be utilised in the future. This fits in with the ethos of the heritage site as a whole, preserving out industrial past for future generations. However, the process has not been solely about preserving old and rare varieties, but also about learning new skills. As part of the project training was provided in bud grafting, as well as the aftercare required to make them thrive.
The walls have also provided the ideal temporary nursery for our apple grafts destined for one of our school community orchards. What the 19th century workers choked in dust and deafened by the sounds of industry would have made of our tranquil reinvention of their walls is hard to imagine. Hopefully the espaliers will create an impressive new feature which will also be around for generations.