The Black Hamburgh Vine at Valentines
The first mention of the vine occurs in 1791 when William Gilpin wrote about it in his “Remarks on Forest Scenery, and other woodland views.” This was only 33 years after the vine was planted and Gilpin had spoken to Mr. Eden, the gardener who planted it, so we may assume the text is reasonably accurate.
“Among other remarkable fruit trees may be reckoned a vine belonging to the late Sir Charles Raymond at Valentine-house, near Ilford in Essex. It was planted, a cutting, in the year 1758, of the black Hambrugh (sic.) sort; and as this species will not easily bear the open air, it was planted in the hot-house; tho without any preparation of soil, which is in those grounds a stiff loam, or rather clay. The hot-house is a very large one, about seventy feet in front; and the vine, which I understand, is not pruned in the common way, extends two hundred feet, part of it running along the fourth wall on the outside of the hot-house. In the common mode of pruning, this species of vine is no great bearer; but managed as it is here, it produces wonderfully. Sir Charles Raymond, on the death of his lady in 1778, left Valentine-house; at which time the gardener had the profits of the vine. It annually produces about four hundred weight of grapes; [ approx. 450lbs or 200 kg.] which used formerly (when the hot-house, I suppose, was kept warmer,) to ripen in March: tho lately they have not ripened till June; when they fell at four shillings a pound; which produces about eighty pounds. …. A gentleman of character informed me, that he had it from Sir Charles Raymond himself, that after supplying his own table, he has made one hundred and twenty pounds a year of the grapes …The stem of the vine was, in the year 1789, thirteen inches in circumference.”
Five years later, in 1796, the Rev. Daniel Lysons mentioned the vine in his “Environs of London”. He devoted a whole page to Valentines but his comments on the vine echoed what had already been written by Gilpin. However by now “the stem is about 14 inches in girth.”
Another reference was made to the vine in 1855, in the publication “Notes and Queries” for 24 November. W. Collyns wrote that “Having made the following note of the vine at Hampton Court, and of its parent at Valentines, on a recent visit to them, … The vine at Hampton Court is the largest in Europe, its branches extending over a space of 2300 feet. It was planted from a slip in the year 1768, and generally bears upwards of 2000 bunches of grapes, of the black Hambro’ kind. The original vine, from which this cutting was taken, still flourishes in Essex, at the seat called Valentines … In 1835 it bore four cwt. of grapes, and the stem girted twenty-four inches. In one season £300 was realised by the sale of its fruit.”
Of course the Hampton Court vine is still very healthy and produces vast quantities of grapes. The Surveyor to His Majesty’s Gardens and Waters at Hampton Court in 1768 was a certain Lancelot Brown, better known today as “Capability” Brown. It would be nice to think that he came personally to take the cutting and took refreshment with Sir Charles Raymond before returning to Hampton Court. Perhaps they had a stroll around the estate, discussing possible improvements. There is no record of any payment being made by Raymond to Brown, but he may well have given his host the benefit of his thoughts on the estate, in return for the cutting.
George Tasker writing in “Ilford Past and Present” in 1901 explains what happened to the vine. “Unluckily the original stem of this renowned vine has been dead many years, but it was allowed to remain in the hothouse as a curiosity, until a few years back, a gardener was appointed who, unfortunately, knew not Valentines and its vine, but who, coming fresh from the spick and span gardens of Sandringham, where all is comparatively new, saw the dead withered stump, and promptly made a bonfire of it. …”
©Georgina Green, 2002
Some years ago a cutting was taken from the Hampton Court vine and planted in the kitchen garden at Valentines, where it thrives.