History of Rivers Nursery

Some historic Rivers Nursery documents collected by our (and previous) groups over the years are now available electronically in our archives.

A full history of the nursery is available in the book "Rivers Nursery of Sawbridgeworth" published in 2009 by our own Elizabeth Waugh based on our archives of the family business and interviews with family and former employees. This book are available to buy. RHSO members are available to talk about the history of the site to other local groups. Contact the committee if you are interested.

Rivers Nursery dates back to 1725 when it was established by John Rivers who came to Sawbridgeworth from Berkshire. The very significant influence of the Rivers family on the history of Sawbridgeworth is permanently acknowledged and enshrined in the town's coat-of-arms which depicts a fruit tree garlanded with attractive blossom.

Thomas Rivers (1798-1877)

Thomas Rivers (1798-1877) took over the thriving family business in 1837. He became one of the most respected pomologists of all time. He corresponded with Charles Darwin on botanical matters and worked closely with Robert Hogg, whose status in the fruit world is second to none. Thomas Rivers developed a plethotra of horticultural techniques, was an early pioneer of fruit cultivation under glass, developed many fruit and rose varieties and helped restock the Californian orange industry. He authored many books on fruit and rose culitivation that still sell today, some of which can be viewed in our archives.

His son, Thomas Francis Rivers (1830-1899), continued the introduction of new fruit varieties including the Rivers Early Peach (apple), the Thomas Rivers Apple, the Late Transparent Gage, the Czar plum and the renowned Conference Pear (introduced at the National Pear Conference in 1885). All these fruit varieties (and many others) can be found in the Rivers orchard today.

The Thomas Rivers and Son Nursery declined through the the 20th centuary and was sold at the end of the 1980s as it was no longer commercially viable due to the rise of supermarkets.

At the height of its prosperity in the late 19th century, land owned or rented by the Rivers family for horticultural purposes amounted to approximately 400 acres. It is a remarkable fact that the 21st century remains of the orchard is only one-hundredth (1%) of this figure. It is a very significant part of the 'green lungs' of Sawbridgeworth, whose residents enjoy its appeal on many levels. Every effort must be made to ensure that this haven of enormous bio-diversity attracts, and is given, higher levels of security and stewardship.

Cultivars introduced by the Rivers Nursery

The nursery developed many cultivers of fruit, many of which are still available (EEAOP provides many on dwarfing rootstock). The following is an incomplete list complied principally from Rivers Catalogues, EEAOP website and FruitID. Click the links for further information about the fruit from external sites.

* indicates good garden variety (although check polination groups)

** indicates lost cultivar


Early Rivers**Rivers Early Peach Rivers Nonsuch
Rivers St. MartinsPrince Edward Thomas Rivers
New Hawthornden*


New Large Early


ArchdukeEarly Rivers*Peggy Rivers*
Ursula Rivers*


AdvanceAlbert VictorByron
DrydenEarly RiversGoldoni
HumboldtImproved DowntownLord Napier
Prince of WalesRivers OrangeSpenser
Stanwick ElrugeVictoriaWhite Nectarine


AlbatrossAlexandra NoblesseCondor
Crimson GalandeDagmerDoctor Hogg
Duchess of CornwallDuke of YorkEarly Albert
Early AlfredEarly BeatriceEarly Louise
Early RiversEarly SilverEarly Victoria
FalconGladstoneGolden Eagle
GoshawkKestrelLady Palmerston
MagdolaMerlinNectarine Peach
OspreyPeregrinePrince of Wales
Rivers Early YorkSea EagleThomas Rivers


BeaconConference* Fertility
St. LukeSummer Beurre

Plums and Gages

AdmiralArchdukeAutumn Compote
Blue ProlificBlue RockBittern
CurlewCzar*Early Rivers Damson
Early ClusterEarly FavouriteGrand Duke
HeronLate ProlificLate Rivers
Late OrangeMallardMonarch*
PresidentPrimateRivers Early Damson
Rivers Early ProlificStintSultan
SawnEarly TransparentGolden Transparent
Late Transparent*




Rivers Late Red


Royal Hautbois