Apple trees: 'Cox's Orange Pippin'

by James Alexander-Sinclair

In the summer of 1825 Mrs Cox was sitting in the garden - probably enjoying the sun and, perhaps embroidering a sampler or engaged in some similar 19th Century pursuit...

Hand holding a 'Cox's Orange Pippin' apple hanging from the branch of a treeA long, long time ago when I first started writing a blog for, I wrote about the French naturalist, Philibert Commerson. It was, I stated at the time, episode one of an occasional series about interesting gardeners. I hadn't realised that it was going to be quite this occasional but here, two-and-a-half years later, is episode two.

Richard Cox was born in 1776, worked as a brewer in Bermondsey until his retirement to Colnbrook (Berkshire) in 1820. To keep himself amused Mr Cox did a bit of farming and looked after an acre or so of garden.

In the summer of 1825 Mrs Cox was sitting in the garden - probably enjoying the sun and, perhaps embroidering a sampler or engaged in some similar 19th Century pursuit. Her attention was distracted by an extremely industrious bee working away at a particular blossom on one of their apple trees. Intrigued and a little captivated by this particular bee's tenacity she marked the spot with a piece of ribbon.

As summer turned to autumn, the fruit ripened and Richard Cox took the pips from the apple marked by his wife and sowed them in the garden. Most did not survive but two seedlings flourished. One became the very first specimen of 'Cox's Orange Pippin', which is probably the most popular apple available today. (The other was the first example of 'Cox's Pomona': not as well known, but still a good dual-purpose apple.)

The descendants of this tree were propagated by a local nursery (Messrs E.Small & Son) and became available to the general public in 1840. Obviously these things need time to grow and fruit so we then have a hiatus until 1857. On October 24th that year the RHS held their Grand Fruit Exhibition and, according to the report:

"In the class of single dishes of dessert apple the first prize was awarded to Mr Simpson (gardener to Lady Molyneux) for 'Cox's Orange Pippin', a medium sized, warm looking, brownish-red variety with a yellow crisp flesh of most exquisite flavour."

There was then a bit of an uproar as the 'Cox's Orange Pippin' was an unknown variety that had appeared from nowhere to trounce such favourites as the 'Ribston Pippin': similar to an unseeded beginner suddenly winning Wimbledon at the first attempt. But soon it became terribly popular and at the 1883 National Apple Congress no fewer than 183 out of the 231 exhibitors showed examples of 'Cox's Orange Pippin'.

Sadly, neither Richard nor Ann Cox lived to see their apple come to glory. Richard died in 1845 - you can visit his grave if you ever happen to be passing Harmondsworth churchyard. The original tree was blown over in a gale in 1911.

Mildly interesting point: if you shake a pippin then the pips will rattle.

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Gardeners' World Web User 04/02/2010 at 19:38

I've just eaten my first own grown cox's apple and it was the best apple i've ever eaten, hoping for many more this year.

Gardeners' World Web User 04/02/2010 at 20:46

Could we have advice on runing this Cox's Orange Pippins and also how to deal with the white clusters which invade our tree?

Gardeners' World Web User 06/02/2010 at 11:04

My Cox's Orange never fails to produce quality and quantity year on year. I winter wash in frost free conditions in January or February and mulch with garden compost in early Spring.I apply a grease band after the winter wash process. My tree only requires light pruning which is done Sept/Oct, the other important thing is to water well in dry periods

Gardeners' World Web User 08/02/2010 at 17:54

Leicestershire: The white clusters are probably wooly aphids than can be rubbed off or, if you are a bit squeamish, blasted with a jet of water from the hose.

Gardeners' World Web User 03/06/2010 at 21:53

we had lots of apples on our trees last year but not many this year. did i prune it too hard?

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