Fruit picking in Witchford orchards

A reproduced 1961 article on fruit picking at Dan Ward’s farm in Witchford, Cambridgeshire.

Highlighting my love of using newspapers in research, I found this article on fruit picking in the orchards of Dan Ward in Witchford, Cambridgeshire, England.

Whilst it contains a nice insight into village life and agriculture, it includes photos of, and quotes from, my Great Grandmother Louisa Pope, and her youngest daughter Audrey Giddens. So, here it is 54 years on, re-created for the web, with original headline. It was published in the Saturday Pictoral on July 29, 1961.

It’s a ‘plum’ job but you need a head for heights

Mrs M Coe with ladder
Mrs. M. Coe shoulders her ladder and sets off to start picking another tree.

In the last fortnight the fruit picking scene in the Fens has changed. Changed from the back aching grind of strawberry picking to the arm stretching task of plum picking.

So drastic has been the change, that in parts of the Fens growers were gathering in the first part of the plum harvest at the same time as Wisbech growers were finishing off ‘the straws’.

In the most southerly parts of the Isle, fruit growers have been picking plums earlier than ever before. Not only have they completed the programme of early varieties but they are well ahead of schedule with the Czars as well.

Full gang

Dan Ward inspects a plum crop
Bowls player and Special Constable, Mr Dan Ward checks over the crop.

“This year is even early by our standards”, explained Mr Dan Ward of Witchford – certainly the ‘Little Kent’ of the Fens. “We have got all the Rivers Early and some of the Pershores off and now we are well on the way with the Czars – a later variety – and by Monday we should have a full gang of about 30 on the gardens”.

But although the plums have come early in the Witchford gardens – the locals use this term instead of orchard – the crops are not as heavy as they might be. Whereas, Mr. Ward has had 40 or more pickers in other years, he will be able to make do with far less this season.

But that does not take the shine off the crops for the pickers for plum picking is obviously a time of year that they look forward to very much. When we called in at the Ward farm this week we saw them busy at it and obviously enjoying every minute of it.

But it is only at Dan Ward’s that the Witchford people get the chance to do any amount of plum pulling. There is hardly another big orchard in the district – the next nearest centre being at Wilburton. I asked Mr. Ward how he came to be a fruit grower in such an area.

“As long as people can remember the Ward family have been growing fruit in Witchford”, he explained. “My grandfather and father before owned the gardens that I have now. I think that the industry must go back more than one hundred years in fact”. Despite the fact that the land has been in the Ward family all this time, most of the trees in the orchard are young. Mr. Ward went on to explain that he has replanted several acres – getting the trees from the Wisbech area.

Not only the trees but the end product as well have connections with Wisbech. Much of the fruit comes to Wisbech before being shipped off to various markets.

Having so many plum trees in an area where fruit growing is not regarded as a major industry could present problems to some people – but not to Mr. Ward. The organisation during the peak season at Witchford is equally as good as that at Wisbech and he has his own regular pickers who come each year to tackle the crop for him.

Louisa Pope picking plums at Witchford.
Mrs. L. Pope may not look a bit of her eighty years but as she says – “you are as young as you feel and if you keep working you always feel young”. She has been working on the Ward’s fruit farms for over 50 years and really enjoys the plum picking season.

One of them is Mrs. L Pope – who has been working in the plum gardens for over 50 years. Mrs. Pope picked from the ladders at the tops of the swaying trees last year and quite expects to repeat the performance during the next few weeks. She claims that it is the outdoor life and plenty of work which keeps her looking fit and young – she is actually over 80.

Tradition

One of her daughters, Mrs. A Giddens, is following in her footsteps. As Mrs. Pope was picking from the ground when we were there, Mrs Giddens was towering above her on one of the ladders.

Audrey Giddens on a ladder, picking plums.
Mrs. A. Giddens reaches high for plums. This sort of work gives the women of Witchford a good head for heights and a chance to get out in the open air.

Monday will see the season rise to its heights. Pickers, baskets and plums will pour in and out of Dan Ward’s gardens and Witchford produce will take its place beside fruit from all other parts of the country in the nation’s major markets. So keeping up a centry-long tradition in the Ward family.

A group of plum pickers at Witchford, Cambridgeshire, in 1961.
When dinner time rolls round the workers take things easy. They find a bit of shade and have a nice quiet drink and a rest. Within minutes of this picture being taken, they were all swarming up the trees again.

Credit:

Saturday Pictoral, July 29, 1961 – Denis Chamberlain
Pictures taken by staffman Harry Naylor.

How To: Have your ancestor’s headstone cleaned and stood back up (Part One)

Article detailing the first two steps in exploring how to get my great great grandparents’ headstone cleaned and re-stood in a UK churchyard.

If whilst doing the graveyard shift of your family history research, you find one of your ancestor’s headstones in a less-than-favourable condition, what can you do about it?

This article might help you if you’re in the UK and thinking of having a gravestone cleaned up, repaired, or re-stood up.

My Great Great Grandparents’ headstone toppled over at some point in 2011 or early 2012. It had always seemed sturdy, so this came as a surprise. I wonder whether it might have been helped on its way down? I’ll never know.

John and Elizabeth Dewey gravestone laying down in 2012
John and Elizabeth’s gravestone in 2012 – may have fallen over as long ago as 2011.

When the headstone fell backwards, it landed partly on the kerb stones of the grave behind it, but fortunately it appears that neither grave sustained any damage.

During the 00s, the church had a tidy up of their churchyard, and this included removing the kerb stones from the grave in order to help them mow the grass (don’t think they asked!). This would have probably have contributed to the gravestone’s instability, as it was never designed to stand on its own. Also, the grave stands in Cambridgeshire, and therefore with the heavy clay soil, it is prone to movement.

John Freeman Dewey and Eliabeth (née Boulter) grave in 1990s
The grave of John and Elizabeth, complete with some kerbstones, in about 1996.

Step One: The Church

My first step was to email the church to find out how to go about having it re-stood and possibly cleaned. I received a friendly and helpful email back from the Canon to say that the church is not involved in that process but that I should contact a stonemason directly as they would then do the necessaries.

Understandably the Cannon asked that, if I did go through with some work and the stone needed to be removed (perhaps for cleaning), that it would be best to keep her and/or the churchwarden in the know, so that its removal doesn’t suddenly trigger a search for a missing headstone.

So, next step is the stonemason for an idea on costs and feasibility of cleaning it.

It’s worth bearing in mind that some lichen in the UK are protected by law, so I’m hoping that this will not be an issue here – and that I can bring this headstone back up to how it would have looked in 1943 after John Dewey’s burial.

My reasoning for contacting the church first was down to a couple of conversations i’ve heard over the years about being charged by the church for setting a stone in place. No fee has been mentioned – perhaps an indication that the Cannon would be pleased to see a tidier graveyard.

Step Two: Contacting the Stonemasons

After Googling for stonemasons in the appropriate county, I emailed 3 of them to ask for rough ideas of prices for both the re-standing and cleaning parts, and included a link to the photo of the grave laying down.

Essentially I have a few questions about the whole process:

  • Cost for re-standing
  • Cost for cleaning
  • Insurance – what happens if the stone breaks whilst in their care?
  • Marker – does a grave get a marker to a) mark the position of the grave and b) alert any visitors to the grave as to where/why the stone isn’t there?

Admittedly I haven’t asked the last two questions yet, but as I don’t have a massive budget, I want to know that I have the first two options covered first.

… to be continued….

Surname Saturday: DEWEY

The Dewey surname is my closest linking ancestral name after my own surname.

There are many Dewey name bearers in the world – including a decimal system for libraries and a cartoon duck.

My own branch have lived in the county of Cambridgeshire, England since at least the 1700s, inhabiting the villages of Wentworth, Wilburton, Witchford and Witcham.

The earliest ancestor that I have confirmed so far was Thomas Dewey, who in 1768 married Elizabeth Covell at Witchford’s church of St. Andrew (this is where my own name comes from!). The couple had at least 3 daughters and a son George, and it is this son who travelled to Witcham where he married Mary Long in 1790. Sadly by 1807, Mary had died. This led to George heading to Wentworth to re-marry to a Mary Payton and continuing his family. In all, he fathered at least 11 children – 6 with his first wife.

George’s first child, William born in Witchford, is my ancestor and he married Ellen Markerham of Waterbeach. The couple set up home in Witchford where they had 6 children – 5 of them sons. The Dewey family grew and soon those children were having children and grandchildren themselves – continuing to grow the family throughout the county.

Variants

The surname has many variants: Dewey, Douay, Duey, Doway, Dowee, Doweay, Dewe, Dowey and Dewy, although as literacy rates improve, the surname generally ends up as Dewey or sometimes Dewy.

Dewi?

It is believed to be of Welsh origin, from the River Dewi area, although none of my ancestors have revealed their Welsh connections yet.