As part of the research I’ve been doing into the local history of fruit production, I came across William J. Tate’s 1899 book East Coast Scenery: Rambles Through Towns and Villages; Nutting, Blackberrying, and Mushrooming; Sea Fishing, Wild-fowl Shooting etc. which was apparently illustrated by Arthur Rackham. The book is a collection of articles contributed to ‘the columns of the Civil Service Guardian in 1890-91, and the Bristol Times and Mirror in 1897-98.’ Amongst his trips about the Eastern counties Tate and an associate visit Burnham and Southminster, and in his account of the two locales he reveals something of the fruit farming in the area in the late Victorian period.
Not only is there the oyster fishery, but the fruit growing as well. This latter is delightful to know of, and presently we make tracks in the direction indicated. We pass again into the sleepy old street Why, oh ! why, does not that boy selling dabs, just freshly caught, make the street vocal with his cries ? But, oh no ! he passes on from door to door, with almost mute solicitation. Presently he comes up to us and proffers his dabs. They are ridiculously low in price, sixpence would buy the whole lot, but our friend points out to us how difficult it would be for us to convey a string of dabs along a dusty country road, so we reluctantly decline, for fresh, nicely-browned dabs are a luxury. But lacking dabs, we must acquire fruit, and a pleasant vision rises up before us of rows of currant bushes and forests of raspberry canes and fragrant strawberry beds. We hail a youth presently, who knows his way to the fruit farms, for some other little boys and girls of whom we enquire are strangely reticent (oh, can it be that at their tender age they know the fruit farms too well, and have good reason to be silent ?), and obeying his instructions, we turn up by the gas-works, and are on the high road to the fruit farms. Here we are! In the midst of a forest of black currant bushes, and close to our feet, are great bushel baskets full of the most luscious black currants, all newly picked and shining. The fruit- farmer’s daughter, a most intelligent and pleasant- faced young lady, is permitted to accompany us in quest of her father. Before we meet with him, however, we have been provided with a couple of punnets, and the young lady shows us the finest and most luscious fruit in the forest of raspberry canes, and we are soon testing the merits of “Sir Joseph Paxton’s” and “Falstoff’s.”
Presently up comes the courteous fruit-farmer, to whom we offer our congratulations upon the excellence of his raspberries. Of course, this wet, cheerless summer has been a bad season for fruit, but he tells us that he has sent before now, in previous years, as many as twenty-six tons of currants to market and six tons of cucumbers. The cucumbers are beginning to recover a little after the recent rains, and we hope this healthy, jolly-looking fruit-farmer will have a long spell of fine weather for their ripening and development. We take leave of him and his little girl, and proceed on our way to Southminster, passing another large fruit farm, but we are somewhat pressed for time, and regret we cannot interview the fruit-farmer.
The useful remark that they ‘turn up by the gas-works, and are on the high road to the fruit farms’ suggests that they turn right off Station Road, where the gas works once stood, and head east down Western Road (Gas Road as was) on to Orchard Road (Tittyball Lane as was) and straight into the territory shown on the 1880 Six-inch OS map referred to in an earlier post. Perhaps his jolly-looking fruit-farmer and daughter were members of the Newman family?
The naming of two fruit varieties is interesting, Sir Joseph Paxton is probably Sir Joseph Paxton’s strawberry, and Falstoff’s must be:
Rubus idaeus subsp. vulgatus ‘Fastolff’
A Rubus idaeus L. subsp. vulgatus cultivar. ‘Fruit large, roundish-conical, bright purplish red, and of excellent flavour. A summer bearer.’ [Hogg – Fruit Manual p.263/1860].
An aside in journal of the Essex Field Club indicates that the ‘forest of black currant bushes’ was to be assaulted by pests within a couple of decades. In ‘The Presidential Address delivered at the Annual Meeting, 1st April, 1911’ reported in The Essex Naturalist, T.S. Dymond notes that ‘We are charmed with the variations in some entomological rarity, and meanwhile thousands of black currant bushes at Burnham-on-Crouch are destroyed by a mite whose life history would well have repaid further study.’ [the ‘mite’ in question was perhaps the aphis known as Rhopalosiphon nibis]
Trying to find out more information about Tate’s book I discovered in the Transactions of the Essex Society for Archeology and History that in 1893/4, Arthur Rackham was one of two artists recruited to illustrate Annie Berlyn’s book Sunrise-Land: Rambles in Eastern England a companion volume to the poet Clement Scott’s book Poppy-Land – Papers Descriptive on the East Coast (1886) which promoted holidays in East Anglia. Both books were put out by Jarrold and Sons, publisher of East Coast Scenery. Whether either of these books also include anything about this stretch of the east remains to be discovered, but there is a book about this part of Rackham’s career which I’ll try and track down: Arthur Rackham in East Anglia by Alison Barnes.