Extract from my forthcoming book on the history of fruit farming in South Cambs:
In 1900 the fruit-growing and jam making business of John Chivers & Sons began to take an interest in acquiring suitable orchard land in South Cambridgeshire, purchasing the large De La Warr estate in Haslingfield. Previously John Chivers had bought greengages from a local dealer, which had been grown on the chalk hills between Haslingfield and Barrington. The wider low-lying district had suffered very badly from frost damage. Three of the farms in Haslingfield, Grove, Green and River Farms, were retained as mixed-farming enterprises. The rest were sold off and Chivers planted greengages and Victoria plums on the southern side of Barrington hill in 1910. The Land Valuation Survey of that year records Chivers then owned ‘land and plantation’ of 45 acres on Barrington hill. In 1924 8 acres of raspberries were planted below the plum orchard.
By the late 1920s this was a mature fruit orchard of some 85 acres. The large scale 25 inch OS map revision of 1937 shows the detailed lay-out of the fruit farm. At that time the main orchard of 65 acres was set out in six rectangular blocks on the southern side of the hillside, with access lanes leading back to the storage and packing buildings. An adjacent block of 5 acres was also planted and there were three other blocks of 4.7, 6.3 and 5.8 acres on either side of the ridge.
A report on a visit to the orchard in 1929 describes a mixed orchard of plums, apples, pears, cherries and soft fruit. The largest blocks on the southern slope were greengages and plums. The orchard maintained 70 beehives to assist pollination of the plums, a grove of cherries, pear trees and blackcurrants. It was stated the bees were not used in the apple orchard, where a heavy set was undesirable. The hives were moved about the orchard by means of trucks on a light tramway. Chivers had banned the use of tar-distillate sprays at blossom-time, following evidence of their ill-effects on the bee population.
Meanwhile, in 1914 the Dreadnought Portland Cement Co. Ltd. had purchased Hill Farm, an estate of 151 acres running from the high road towards the boundary with Chiver’s fruit plantation on Barrington hill. A geological survey had revealed that large chalk deposits below the surface of the hillside were of a quality suitable for the manufacture of Portland cement. Work was started. The chimney and power house were built and the laying down of a private standard gauge branch railway line, connecting the works and future quarry to the main line at Foxton station, was completed. However the firm went bust and was liquidated in 1921. The business was bought by the Eastwood Cement Co. Ltd. in 1924. The new works and quarry came into full production in 1927, with a capital investment of £200,000 and a government grant of £100,000, eventually employing several hundred local people.
Sulphurous smells and plumes of light dust and smoke from the chimneys were experienced by the fruit pickers during the course of 1927 and in the summer of 1928 there was large-scale damage to the raspberry crop, with scorching and shrivelling of the plants facing the cement works. In May of 1929 the heavy plum blossom was seriously damaged. Chivers took legal and technical advice and, with the financial assistance of the National Farmers Union, brought an injunction against Eastwood’s to cease operations deemed to be damaging their fruit. The case was heard in the Court of Chancery in early May 1930. The Injunction was granted with a stay of 21 days to allow negotiations over compensation. Eastwood’s took the case to the Court of Appeal in July, where the original injunction in favour of Chivers was upheld. However, a further temporary stay of the injunction was granted to allow the parties to come to an agreement.
Accepting defeat, in order to have the injunction lifted Eastwood offered to purchase the fruit farm from Chivers, offering £7,000 but eventually accepting Chivers’ valuation of £13,000. The sale was completed by the end of January 1931. From that time on the orchards were maintained by Eastwood, taking staff formerly employed by Chivers, working under their own fruit farm manager. Things appear to have settled down. In 1934, at Eastwood’s expense, the fruit pickers employed by the company went on a day’s outing to Southend. In the fruit season advantage was taken of the firm’s branch railway line to deliver fruit to Foxton station for onward distribution to wholesale markets. (One wonders whether they sold any of their fruit to the Chivers Jam factory). Regular passenger trains were shunted into the siding at Foxton to pick up a waggon of plums brought in by the shunter.
In 1945 the fruit farm was visited by a party of 180 local fruit growers. The report of the visit described an orchard of approximately 100 acres of fruit, mainly plums and greengages, ‘for which this orchard is famous.’ The party, who were guided by the orchard manager, Mr Baker, and K.V. Cramp the county horticultural adviser, ‘were quick to appreciate the excellent cultivation on this heavy boulder clay and also the clear condition of the trees and enormous fruit crop.’ In his closing remarks Mr Cramp noted the heavy spring frosts which elsewhere in the district had produced a complete ‘wipe-out.’
The company had always denied that there was a persistent or general problem with emissions and that the damage done to Chivers’ crops in the late 1920s was caused by other factors such as frost, drought or insect damage. However evidence of specific intermittent damage by emissions from the chimneys was considered strong enough by two courts to support the case for an injunction against the company. The judgements given in both courts stated that the other causes cited by Eastwood had existed before 1927 and not produced the same ill-effects. The only new factor to emerge in 1927 was the cement works and the judges in both hearings felt compelled to allow the injunction. The eventual compromise allowed the works to continue and for Chivers to walk away with sizeable compensation – the £13,000 paid by Eastwood for the orchard was spent on extensions to the Jam Factory at Histon.
Given the excellent condition of the orchard in the mid-1940s, we might conclude that eventually solutions were found to this intermittent problem with emissions and the fruit farm was able to prosper. The quarry, cement works and fruit farm were taken over by Rugby Portland Cement Co. in 1962. The fruit farm survived until the early 1970s, when it was grubbed up, but this was due to market conditions which were having a bad effect across the whole district.
Full references to be be provided in the book form.
(Copyright Jonathan Spain 2016.)