The Clerk at the Lodge

Friday 19th May 2023

A Tree of Knowledge

In the opposite corner of the Museum Gardens to the Lodge, on high ground beside the Hospitium, a small orchard has been newly established.  Among historic Yorkshire varieties of apple trees stands a sapling with Lincolnshire origins, a descendant of the tree at Woolsthorpe Manor which in around 1665 famously tossed one of its apples in the direction of Sir Isaac Newton, inspiring his theory of gravitation.  Aptly, this young tree is dedicated to the memory of Professor Jim Matthew, distinguished physicist at York University, YPS Chair and President and my “boss” for five enjoyable years.  I was privileged to attend the unveiling of the memorial plaque to him in late April.

This was not the Society’s first encounter with Newton’s apple tree.  At least two groups of members have visited Woolsthorpe Manor, and in 2014 Dr Richard Keesing of York University gave us a splendid lecture on Newton, gravity and the apple tree.  He had himself obtained a cutting from a descendant of the Woolsthorpe tree, which now flourishes outside the Physics Department and provides apples for pies which have been enjoyed over the years by Jim, his colleagues and students, although this old variety of apple requires quite a lot of sugar.

But the tree’s fame extends well beyond the scientific community.  A piece of its wood is inlaid, among other segments marking the history and heritage of the United Kingdom, into the Diamond Jubilee State Coach, used just two weeks ago to carry King Charles and Queen Camilla to Westminster Abbey for their coronation.  This newest of royal coaches seems to have so much caught the imagination of the public that I overheard a shopper at my bus stop enthusing to her companion: “It’s even got a piece of William Tell’s apple tree”.  It may be that on this occasion the King and Queen would actually have preferred their conveyance to remind them of an apple being securely balanced on top of a head, rather than the Law of Gravity.

There is more information about the new orchard in the Gardens and the Newton apple tree in our May Newsletter.  Members should either have received this recently via email or should receive a paper copy shortly.  Non-members may view it here.