Friday, 2 March 2012

Strawberry fields for Chartists

Great Dodford was the fifth and final land colony to be settled by Chartist members of the National Land Company.
But it was also the settlement with the longest record of success. Despite a difficult start, descendants of the original tenants were still making a good living as late as the first world war, growing the strawberries used to make Robertson's jams for soldiers at the front.
I was delighted to see that a groundbreaking study of the long post-Chartist afterlife of the Great Dodford land colony is freely available  on the British Agricultural History Society website, along with dozens of other articles published by the Agricultural History Review between 1953 and 2003.
Great Dodford and the Later History of the Chartist Land Scheme (PDF format, 1Mb), by Peter Searby was published in 1968, at a time when interest in the land scheme was growing. Alice Mary Hadfield published her book on the Chartist Land Company two years later.
But what is particularly interesting about Searby's study is the use of detailed reports by researchers who visited Great Dodford at the end of the 19th century to show how it had developed from poverty to relative prosperity in the post-Chartist period.
In addition to the strawberry crop, smallholders grew gillyflowers between the rows for sale at local markets. They also supplemented their earnings with early peas, beans, shallots and even garlic – which was sold to Lea and Perrins as an ingredient in Worcester sauce.
So successful were the smallholders that they influenced the new allotment movement.
Unfortunately, this proved to be the beginning of the end. Allotment holders at nearby Catshill enjoyed an earlier crop, undercutting the price of the Great Dodford growers, and a decline in the domestic nail-making industry removed the smallholders' casual workforce of pickers.
The end came as Austin expanded its Longbridge car factory, offering the men of Great Dodford a minimum of 25 shillings a week in place of the 16 shillings they could earn as agricultural labourers.
There is also a pub walk which takes you past Rosedene, one of the last surviving Chartist cottages at Great Dodford.