The Great Vine, Vitis vinifera ‘Shiva Grossa’ (synonym- Black Hamburg), is over 240 years old
It was planted under direction of Lancelot 'Capability' Brown in 1769 from a cutting taken at Valentines Mansion, near Wanstead in Essex. In his book ‘Vines and Vine Culture’, A F Barron mentions several large famous vines, none of which now survive except the one at Hampton Court. He says that in 1887 it was already 1.2 metres (4’) around the base. It is now 4 metres (12’) around the base and the longest rod is 36.5 metres (120’).
The Vine is grown on the extension method where one plant fills a glasshouse. Although considered unusual today, in Victorian times it was thought that a larger crop was produced this way. The average crop of black dessert grapes is about 272 kilograms (600lbs), however in the autumn of 2001 it was 383 kilograms (845 lbs) and the best crop ever. The grapes are usually ripe after August Bank Holiday and are sold during the first three weeks of September.
Although Queen Victoria did not live at Hampton Court Palace, the grapes were sent to the Royal Household at Windsor or to Osbourne House on the Isle of Wight. It was King Edward VII (1901-1910) who decided that the grapes were no longer required by the Royal Household and could be sold to visitors.
Later they were sold in small wicker baskets at St.Dunstans, the home for soldiers blinded in the 1st World War. In the 2nd World War German P-O-W’s were given the annual task of thinning out the bunches of grapes and people came from far and wide to buy the fruit.
The Vine grows on the site of the first greenhouse built at Hampton Court
It is thought that there have been five or six glasshouses on the site throughout its history. In the early 1900’s a three-quarter span wooden glasshouse was built which was a new shape and quite different from that that existed before as it incorporated a viewing area for the public. In 1969 it was decided that a new glasshouse was needed. By that time the Vine had become so entwined that the only way forward was to build a new aluminum glasshouse over the top of the old wooden one. The dormant vine was protected by polythene sheeting and the old glass and its supporting wooden frame was removed, leaving the iron framework of the 1900’s structure and the Vine in place.