Fruit Farming in South Cambs: writing a history

Having spent much of 2013 and early 2014 researching the history of fruit farming in South Cambs., I have completed the introduction and first chapter. I am having a break at present before returning to work on this project in September.

I have divided the book into three sections. The first contains chapters on the origins and history of the fruits grown in the district; greengages, plums, apples, pears and soft fruits; the second section looks at the geographical development of the orchards in and around the villages and the social history of fruit growing – its impact on village life and the role of particular families in this industry. The third section looks at the economic and organisational history of fruit farming in South Cambs. from the mid 19th century to modern times. Its a story of the rise and eventual decline of a once important local industry and the reasons behind this.

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Forthcoming local history talks

Haslingfield Village Society: Haslingfield Village Hall, Tuesday 16 September, 8pm.

The Pilgrimage to Our Lady of White hill. I will be discussing the documentary evidence for the shrine and the role played by local historians in the preservation of this local tradition from the mid 17th century to modern times.

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Forthcoming publication September 2013

The Pilgrimage to Our Lady of White hill: Antiquaries, local historians and the formation of a historical tradition, by Jonathan Spain, RiverRhee Publishing. Price £6.

16-08-2013 075805

Extract from introduction:

‘There is little by way of hard historical or archaeological evidence for a medieval pilgrimage to a shrine to ‘Our Lady’ in a chapel on top of the hill which separates the villages of Haslingfield and Barrington, in South Cambs. We can point to a description from oral evidence written down in the mid 17th century, a few 15th century deeds and a Bishop’s Indulgence, some place-name evidence and circumstantial details. Around this a historical narrative has developed over the centuries to the point where the pilgrimage site has become a settled and established fact. There was a medieval shrine. This site was a centre of popular devotion and pilgrimage before the Dissolution of the Monasteries; a site of regional, even national importance (some have argued), which later became the focus of a local Marian revivalist movement in the mid-late 20th century.

What is interesting about this local tradition is not simply the analysis of the evidence and the consideration of its veracity but the way in which that narrative has been preserved and its subsequent development and modification. Or to put it another way, the tradition of a pilgrimage to a site which no longer exists could only be maintained because of the credence which successive generations of local villagers, antiquaries, historians and archaeologists have given it.

To understand this process we must understand who the ‘players’ were and what motivated them. Ultimately this is a narrative about local people preserving, indeed creating their own history. It speaks to the innate ‘antiquarianism’ of the English caste of mind – the love of antiquity and its preservation, be that ancient buildings or institutions, manuscripts or local myths and legends. It also illustrates the universal and enduring (timeless) appeal of the idea of pilgrimage; particularly in this case in association with popular devotion to the religious figure of Mary. The survival of the tradition of this pilgrimage site can be seen as testament to the endurance of pre-Reformation religious customs and practice, lying hidden beneath the reformed Protestant Church.

To add a final layer of meaning and interpretation, the research and writing of this essay has been a pilgrimage for this writer – as one who has a keen interest in the local landscape and its history – into the close inter-connected world of Cambridgeshire’s antiquarians and historians, the guardians of our past.’

If this extract sparks your interest you can order a copy of the booklet by leaving your contact details in the comment box and I will get in touch. (Your details will not be published – they will be for my reference only.)

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Allotment Diary: July 2013

Things are now moving on apace down at the plot. The onions and garlic and potatoes are looking very good. The broad beans, beetroot and chard are coming along at last. Some French dwarf beans are starting to develop. My pumpkins and squashes and courgettes are mostly well established but I will be giving them liquid feed to help them along. I have some cabbages doing rather well, under mesh netting to protect them from insects.

I have runner beans and tomatoes growing at home in the garden and on the patio (respectively) and I have just potted on some spring greens ready to plant out later in July/early August to over-winter. I aslo have a tray of leeks, which are not quite ready to ‘dib in’ to the small plot in the rear garden. So things are looking good for now. We have had some rain including at night which has helped, so I have not had to do excessive watering.

I have some additional help at the moment because my son, Nathaniel, is home from University. So we shall be tackling the big task of fencing the new plot (b).

The soft fruit bushes are loaded with fruit and we shall begin picking in a couple of weeks or so, starting with the gooseberries. We only had a few strawberries, because these are newly planted from last years runners. Next year we should get a good crop.

Our asparagus crop this year was excellent!

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Research and writing: more news

Further to my previous blog on this subject my local history booklet on the Haslingfield pilgrimage site is finished and is now with the printers. I am hoping to publish in September. This will be the first of a series of booklets on the history of South Cambs. and the Rhee valley in particular. These booklets will be marketed directly from my blog site and local outlets.

Other titles will include:

Greengage Country: fruit farming in South Cambs.

The ‘Hills’ of South Cambs: a topographical and historical survey.

The ancient tracks and roads of South Cambs.

The River Rhee and its tributaries.

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Haslingfield Allotment Diary: May 2013

I write this blog after a week of warm sunny weather, enabling much progress to be made on the allotment. I have planted another two rows of potatoes, swiss chard, more turnips and broad beans and beetroot.

I have also been busy hoeing and weeding around the fruit bushes and raspberry canes and tidying up and pruning out old decayed growth.

It has been difficult to hoe the earth to a fine tilth for small seed – the damp clay soil has dried hard in the sun. Luckily I have a small raised bed at home in the back garden which has a fine compost- based soil. So here I have sown carrots and radishes, with more to follow and of course some lettuce leaves.

All the plantings in the greenhouse are well established and will soon need potting on before planting out in June. These include my squashes and pumpkins, courgettes and cucumbers, as well as tomatoes. Apart from the tomatoes I plant these temporarily in rows in plastic troughs for taking down to the allotment, which saves on compost and effort.

Soon I will erect the cane supports for my runner bean bed in the back garden but the beans will not be planted out until end of May to prevent frost damage.

The plum blossom in the garden has all ‘set’ and the apple blossom is just coming out. Fingers crossed we don’t get a heavy frost in the next few days before it gets a chance to firm up.

Some rain is due over the next few days which is very welcome to assist seed germination both in the garden and on the allotment.

It’s been a lot of fun to be out of doors working with the sun on my back – there’s is nothing like a day spent working the land by hand tillage. The other evening I spent an hour hoeing before going over to the Queen’s Head in Newton for a pint of Adnams bitter. What could be better?

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Haslingfield Allotment Diary: April 2013

Well it’s been a long time coming but Spring has arrived !

The plots are beginning to dry out and it’s been possible to do some work. Last Saturday I planted two and half rows of main crop potatoes aswell as broad beans and beetroot. I have some ‘second earlies’ to go in today (Juliette).

I have been busy in the greenhouse too, sowing tomatoes, leeks, courgettes, outdoor cucumbers, squashes and pumpkins.

A previous sowing of turnips is just starting to show and the onions sets and garlic I put in in March are now sending up green shoots.

This year is going to be difficult because the ground is still fairly saturated and difficult to work. I am hoping for a dry May so that I can start work on my new plot, which is prone to flooding. I am going to create some raised open beds with deep ditches around the sides to aid drainage. As these dry out I will use them for the pumkins and squashes, which will suck up the moisture in the soil and provide ground cover to restrain the weeds.

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