The coming of the railways in the early 19th century changed how quickly perishable foods could be transported to market.  This transport innovation, combined with the enclosure of the common fields and the growth of small-holdings, had an enormous impact in Hampshire.

The soil and climatic conditions in south east Hampshire made the locality ideal for strawberry growing.  The villages of Sarisbury, Hedge End, Botley, Curdridge, Swanwick, Warsash, Durley and environs became a magnet to seasonal agricultural workers during the short strawberry harvesting season.  “Being a rural area, the cultivation of strawberries and market gardening continued for many years to be the main stay of village life.  Even until the Second World War, it was common to hear strawberry pickers arriving on foot from Southampton at 4.30 or 5 o’clock in the morning.” (The changing face of Hedge End, Hampshire: Part 2 by Joyce B Blyth).  Children skipped school and joined their parents working in the fields.  An industrial school camp at Sarisbury Green provided extra pickers. Carts queued at local stations waiting to take the crop straight to London to the markets there.  Local businesses, friendly societies and growers’ associations sprang up to serve the needs of this seasonal crop.  For example, the Swanwick and District Fruit Growers’ Association was formed in 1905 and in Swanwick and District Basket Factory went in to business in 1913.

In 1928, 2.34 million baskets of strawberries were sent out of local stations in south east Hampshire, the majority from Swanwick and Botley. To accommodate all the increased strawberry traffic, extra sidings were built at Botley station.  The same can be said of other local villages.  In her book ‘The Strawberry Village, a personal view of Hedge End’ M V Pharo states that “Swanwick had its siding for strawberry traffic enlarged in 1896/7 and kept it in use until 1966.  Horse drawn strawberry carts sometimes lined up for over a mile in late afternoon.”  Hampshire Archives and Local Studies holds some interesting photographs showing the impact the strawberry harvest had on the local community.  In the early 20th century photograph below you can see strawberry carts queuing at Swanwick for the ‘Strawberry Special’ train to Covent Garden (Ref: 70A00/14/1).

strawberry carts

Other documents show that the local school masters were concerned about the effect the harvest had on school absenteeism rates!  On 21 Jun 1880, C H Liddell, the schoolmaster at Titchfield wrote to Revd W M Cosser, chairman of the School Committee stating that “The Managers ought to know that just now bad attendance has commenced & judging from previous years will continue until the latter end of October.  Out of 166 children on the Books, the Average Atten[danc]e last week was but 129; in other words 37 children were absent every time the school was opened.  This week threatens to be even worse: there are 48 children away this morning.  Strawberry picking is given as the reason.”  (Ref: 60M92/21/2).  In the photograph below taken circa 1910 in Botley, you can see children working in the fields alongside their parents, getting in the precious strawberry harvest. (Ref: 59A01/106)

children strawberry picking in Botley

Hampshire Archives and Local Studies holds some interesting material on the strawberry growing industry in Hampshire including the papers of A G Rogers of Titchfield and Warsash, market gardener (Ref: 152M88).  This collection includes things like a register of strawberry growers 1955-1966, bills for strawberries sold, soil sample reports, balance sheet for the Swanwick basket factory 1972-3 and a food inspection report from the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food (MAFF).  Within the collection there are some fascinating items, like the brochure below for fruit baskets made locally in Portsmouth (Ref: 152M88/36).

Fruit basket brochure

Hampshire Archives and Local Studies also holds the archives of Kingsley Strawberries of Headley Mill Farm, Headley, near Bordon (Ref: 184A09) and even documents about the experimentation that took place searching for the perfect strawberry at Botley Experimental Fruit Station (Ref: 39A02/3).  So if your preference is for a Madam Lefebvre, a Huxley’s Giant or even a Tardive de Leopold, Hampshire Archives and Local Studies can cater for all your summer strawberry needs!

Do come on in and see us, we’d be please to welcome you.

Rhian Dolby, searchroom team

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