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