West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
 
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Pontefract Memories and Recollections

CABBAGE CUTTERS


By RAYMOND BROOK

Looking at the title of this article you may question what the name implies. But if you had lived in the Old Church district of Pontefract during the pre war years, you would know that it was the name given to local residents in that area.

The "All Saints Church" was, and still is, referred to as the Old Church and consequently the surrounding area was dubbed Old Church, boasting an Old Church district Post Office.

In this small district of Pontefract, from the bottom of Baghill, encompassing the Booths and either side of the church, down to the Bondgate area, the term cabbage cutter was endowed on the local people. This was because of the number of market gardeners who dwelt there and also quite a good few of local people were allotment holders, growing their own vegetables, and as in the case of our family, hawking the surplus from door to door each weekend.

Situated near to The Fox public house, Earnest and Sconner Carter lived, from where they ran quite a decent sized market garden business. In the spring of the year they harvested large quantities of cauliflowers, which were often sent by rail to various markets. Other growers were also cutting and marketing their spring cauliflowers, some who grew on a small scale would sell their produce from their carts at weekends on their regular hawking rounds. There were also several fruit and vegetable wholesalers who brought and distributed produce to local shops, notably Sainter’s, Colly’s and Briggs who were based in Pontefract and bought extensively from local growers. Each of the growers had their own strain of seed, having selected one or two of their best cauliflowers, and these would be left in the fields for months, until the seeds were mature, standing out amidst the other newly planted crops. Each grower thought they had the best seed strain and so guarded it jealously, though if the truth be told, it was all very much alike. One thing I do know for certain is that the produce then was far more superior to much of the stuff that is sold today, the cauliflowers were larger and as white as snow, all being grown with generous quantities of manure, unlike today when only chemicals are used for crop growing.

Of course vast quantities of cabbages were grown all the year round, as well as autumn cauliflowers and sprouts, the latter often harvested from the plants in mid winter when they were covered in frost and snow. Catch crops of spring onions and radishes were grown and marketed during the summer months.

Working in the fields was a back breaking job in those days, as everything was harvested by hand. Many days were also spent hoeing and earthing up the crops, but it gave employment to a number of men and provided casual work for a few women in the summer months, pulling and bunching the radish and onion crop.

The smaller growers were struggling and had their backs to the wall at this period of time, and one after the other ceased to trade. Jim Spence of the Bar House who was a cross between a farmer and a market gardener was declared bankrupt during the war years and ceased farming. If he had been able to hold out for a year or two, he would have survived, as subsidies were introduced. The term ‘feather bedding’ became a well-used phrase, as food growers became substantially richer with these handouts which continue to a great extent to this day.

Most of the arable land that was used for the growing of the crops, notably around the ‘Cobbler Lane’ was eventually sold off as building land.

And so the post war years have seen the demise of the market gardeners of the Old Church, with the land now smothered in houses instead of cabbages, and the Old Church cabbage cutters are now very thin on the ground. Often when we meet a previous fellow ‘Old Churcher’, which I may say is becoming quite rare, we remark, "There’s not many of us left now"….and that’s a fact!

Raymond Brook


 

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