Retired canon finds lost historic apple

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THE SYKEHOUSE russet will be the talk of Britain's apple enthusiasts as they gather in Yorkshire today.

A variety of the fruit that took its title from a village of the same name north of Doncaster, for all the world it seemed lost - one of 3,000 varieties to have gone as property developers bulldoze the orchards in which the Victorians proudly cultivated about 6,000 types of apple.

But now, two weeks after The Independent reported its apparent demise, news has arrived of its rediscovery by a retired canon from West Sussex.

Donald Johnson of Westbourne, near Emsworth, whose zest for rare apples was nourished in the Victorian garden he once inherited at a vicarage near Chichester, says he was asked to "keep an eye out" for the yellowy green Sykehouse, with its firm, russeted skin and plump pips. He has established its existence in three gardens - one in Oxfordshire and two in the Doncaster area.

Mr Johnson's revelations coincide with the first national gathering of apple enthusiasts at the College of Ripon & St John in York, where a database project to record old orchards will be launched today. The Northern Fruit Group is seeking a pounds 30,000 heritage lottery fund grant to fund this project.

The former clergyman's pleasure at the discovery is slightly dimmed because he is yet to find the Petworth Nonpareil, a variety native to Petworth, West Sussex. "I've been several years searching but I've not found it yet," he said.

But the Sykehouse was "like an old friend, living 40 years ago and now back again," he said. "It's a homely looking apple," he added, "not too big and with a good deal of russeting." The apple, which is believed to date from 1780, was described by the expert Edward Bunyard as "a nice little fruit" in his 1920 tome on the subject.