The Community Orchard & Nature reserve that we lease from Cornwall Council is on an area of about 30 acres. The area that leads up to the top of the Penbeagle hill is about 27 acres and we hope to get this area recognised as a Nature Reserve to protect it into the future. 15 acres of this land was given to the people of St.Ives by Ernest Harris Best in 1943 (he died in 1957). The rest of our land belonged to the Bolitho estates which was sold together with the Penbeagle Farm in 1943 to the St Ives Town Council.
His brother Dr Palemon Best had gifted 6.5 acres of land to the town to be used as an 'open space' when he died in 1927 and this area became the Palemon Best Recreation ground, site of the skatepark, playground and football pitch that is right next to the orchard. The Palemon Best Charitable Trust was formed to make decisions on how it's used and it is maintained and owned by St Ives Town Council.
The larger area left by Ernest Best remained unused until the formation of the St Ives Community Orchard and Nature Reserve in 2013. All this land was originally owned by St Ives Town Council but in a reshuffle of councils, the orchard & nature reserve area become owned by Cornwall Council. See maps.
All the Palemon Best land and Ernest Best land was leased and farmed between 1950 and 1980 and used to be called Penbeagle farm. Viv Stratton grew up working hard on the farm from age 8, where they grew hay, potatoes, broccoli and beans and farmed chickens, pigs and cows. (see Penbeagle farm history) Luckily for us all, Viv planted many hundreds of trees on the Hill; Oaks, Sycamores, Ash, Holly, Beech and Birch Trees in the early 80s. He also recorded the wildlife for many years and recently walked with us up Penbeagle hill showing us where the Best's summer house and garden were and the granite rocks at the top of the hill where they used to play as kids. They called these rocks 'The Shoe' and 'The Sphinx'. He has always hoped that this area would become a recognised Nature Reserve. Here are photos of Viv Stratton and his Mum and Dad in the hayfields (the field just above the skatepark).
The land has happily remained untouched since 1980, used mostly by dog walkers and enjoyed by the wildlife, the trees have thrived but it has become very overgrown with brambles and bracken. The area that is now the Orchard became totally covered in brambles and bracken and it was here that a group got together and planted aprox 150 fruit trees in 2013 and the idea of a Community Orchard was started. (aprox 50 fruit trees were planted around the park area, in the daffodil field and next to and above the skatepark and the rest in the orchard area)
In 2018 to our excitement we discovered some amazing Boundary stones at the very top of the hill which showed some of the history. The inscription reads: Boundary Stones E & P Best 1922 and Boundary Stones EH Best JP.Dr P Best 1926. We are not sure what these dates represent as Dr Palemon Best died in 1927 and Ernest Harris Best best left 15 acres of this land to the town in 1943 (he died in 1957).
The trees were originally part of a community project of PEN's (Penwith Environmental Network) that Stephanie Hirtenstein and Dylan Keating created called Penwith Edible Forest and the money was raised from a local food grant. Half of the trees were planted in Penzance on a community site they managed at the time called Love Lane Wildlife Garden and are still there. The rest of the trees were planted at Castle gate but when Dylan moved to the States, a new location needed to be found for the trees and Gavin Nicol from the Steeple Woodland group suggested this area.
Once they had the backing of the St Ives Town Council and Palemon Best Trust, Gavin Nicol from Steeple Woodland Group, Stephanie Hirtenstein from PEN, Rachael from Cornwall Council and Dan Richardson from Duchy college started clearing parts of the site before running the community planting days in late winter 2013. A variety of apple, pear, cherries, plum and quince were planted in the orchard area and around the entire park. Further native trees donated by Steeple Woodland group / Rupert Manley (originally donated by E-forests) were planted on the border in 2014. Rupert Manley also laid the foundation of plans for the future formation of a Nature Reserve on Penbeagle Hill towards Carnstabba Hill to ensure it remains in its current wild and natural state. Penbeagle is derived from ‘Penn’ head, top and ‘begel’ hillock, tump, so it means ‘top of the hill’.
Joshua Quick was the initial project manager who ran a few large work parties to clear the land and wrote a management plan which advises that the orchard is maintained using the design principles of Forest gardening. In 2015 Elise Langley offered to take over as project manager (as Joshua had become involved with a new project Wild St Ives) and together with a few keen people in St Ives, formed a community group, the 'St Ives Community Orchard & Nature Reserve Group'.
The orchard now has weekly work parties, has planted many new fruit trees and has yearly Apple Day, Wassail & other events as well. It now also has a cob oven (for baking pizza and other things), a shed & beehives. As the trees were initially planted on land that was covered with brambles & bracken, the first couple years have been a constant battle to stop them completely smothering the trees and it's been a lot of hard work to achieve mostly grass instead of mostly brambles & bracken.
In Sept 2016 the orchard received an official lease from Cornwall Council for 6 years, hopefully with the option to renew for many years after that. The group have also received funding from the St Ives Town Council, St Ives Community Fund, St Ives Ladies winter Darts League & Tesco Bags of Change, which has allowed us to buy more trees, tools & build a shed on the land as well as donations from other sources.
Here are a couple of earlier pictures as the orchard was starting up. Further below is more history of the Bests.
Barnoon cemetery has headstones giving the dates for the Best family -
- Palemon Best M.R.C.S. L.S.R.C.P. 13/6/1927 59
- Ernest Harris Best 5/5/1957 87
- Arthur Harris 2nd Lt. R.F.A. killed in France 25/3/1918 21
- Annie Harris 10/1/1939 77
- Mary Gertrude 28/7/1949 85
- Clara 4/8/1951 74
- Caroline Elizabeth 21/1/1955 79
- Mabel Bertha 14/8/1962 82
- William Harris Best physician 5/4/1866–7/5/1946
- Katie Vincent wife of Ernest Harris Best county magistrate 16/5/1942 68
Thank you Melanie Frankell for accumulating the Best's history for us.