Monday, 1 August 2011


Updated version

I almost choked over my toast and marmalade this morning when I heard an item on Today about gooseberries – pronounced said the BBC 4 programme  like Dewsbury!
A lad from Egton Bridge sounded real downcast about the plight of the luscious berry.  Egton might have produced the biggest in the world by a whisker compared with our contestants a couple of years ago. But the real fruit of the crop is grown in the heart of the Cheshire plain where the world record has been taken several times, in recent years by Kelvin Archer at the Marton show, near Macclesfield.
I don't know if it has anything to do or not with the fact that  Goostrey and villages surrounding are within sight of the massive Jodrell Bank radio telescope. But just this past week-end and several weeks still to go they are pulling some of the biggest whoppers on the planet from their bushes.
You could say when it comes to producing this monster fruit the growers around these parts are no fools!
Mid-Cheshire’s eight active shows and Egton Bridge in Yorshire – plus a competition at the Bakewell Show in Derbyshire – are survivors of a  quaint custom that has been part of the horticultural sporting scene for several centuries at least.
At its peak during the 19th and early 20th century shows were held all over the country. They were not just confined to rural backwaters but big cities staged competitions. Even London  and Manchester apparently provided some of the best of the golf-ball sized berries from urban gardens.
Now real competition when the goosegogs are weighed in pennyweights every year is largely confined to this rural enclave of Cheshire. It is claimed a north facing wall is the most succesful spot to heel in new seedlings.
And among some of the highest value homes in the land it is an entirely classless pursuit. Griselda Garner, wife of Alan Garner, the internationally famous children’s author, who lives near Goostrey, is championing the cause of the Gooseberry.
The couple’s home is now part of the Blackden Trust and Griselda says she hopes to establish a centre for every variety of Goosberry before they are lost. I am grateful to a fellow blogger who tells me that a full collection already exists in the arboretum at the nearby telescope complex but I guess it doesn't contain some of the more recent varieties.
Since 2009. the trust has presented a pottery plate embossed with name of the  top winner in memory of arguably Goostrey's greatest grower, Frank Carter, who was aborist and head gardener at JB for many years.
Veteran villagers from families of rustic stock of generations pit their growing skill against well-heeled competitors ranging from judges and doctors and other professional types to pensioners.
 There was  a wild  rumour, I guess spurious, that footballer Wayne Rooney might have been persuaded to pitch in from his posh mansion in nearby Prestbury to enter the fray at one of the local shows.
At Goostrey’s show on Saturday some of the veterans regained the championship trophies after last year’s fright when a relatively new grower and a woman to boot (you will know who if you read my previous blog) took  the title for the first time and a lot of the silver.
It was a male-dominated domain until some years ago Julie Lockett, a noted biologist, took members into the 20th century and became Goostrey's first  woman grower in her own right and then secretary.
Julie now lives  with her family in Grand Island, New York State, where she has attempted with some success to grow the fruit.
No-one will say (or can) what  the secret  recipe is for growing such large gooseberries but one thing is certain the puny types sold in supermarkets are no match for the Men of Cheshire – or even Egton Bridge for that matter ! 
I don't want to rob the Sandbach and Congleton Chronicles (with whom I began my reporting days)  or the Knutsford Guardian of their circulation so I am  providing no results or pictures. Except to say that in Goostrey, David Heath a grower of some 40 years, won the first place for the premier berry with a weight of 31 pennyweights 15 grains (variety Newton Wonder) and Tom McCartney, another grower of many years standing, had the best set of twins in the show in the Crown Inn at 54 pennyweights 08grains. The rest of the  latest episode of the Battle of the Bushes you will have to read on Wednesday and Thursday ! 

1 comment:

  1. Come on John how can you leave such a cliff hanger. Also change your font it is too small for me to read without getting the original Hooker microscope out of it's walnut box.
    Also remind Griselda Garner that there was a full collection of the Gooseberry cultivars in the arboretum at Jodrell Bank. This collection was established by Frank Carter who was the head arbosrist and Gardner there for many years. I hope that it is still in good condition. You must go over.
    there and check it out on the full moon!!!
    Your friendly botanist.