Market Gardening Heritage
Autumn 2018 – Spring 2021
Market gardening shaped the landscape and economy in the Vale of Evesham from the 19th to mid-20th century, but due to much of this heritage and knowledge being lost a project has been underway to record, share and celebrate it before it’s too late. The key focus of this two year National Lottery Heritage Fund project is memories and buildings.
In order to preserve a record for future generations, a survey has been carried out of surviving market garden buildings, three ‘hovels’ restored as heritage sites, local memories recorded and a programme of public events and displays held. Early in 2021, the project’s digital resource pack for local schools will be launched, followed by a reminiscence pack, touring exhibition and final open day. These events have been postponed from 2020 and will hopefully be held in the spring, once safe to do so.
At one time, most of the population around Evesham and Pershore were employed in market gardening, and a wide variety of vegetables, fruit, herbs and cut flowers were sold at markets up and down the country. As all gardeners know, a shed is essential for storing equipment, produce and providing shelter. Market gardening was no exception: rows of timber, corrugated iron and occasionally brick built structures once lined the ends of their grounds. Generally built to market gardeners own design and requirements, each was unique in both design and function. Alongside doubling up as temporary accommodation for hired hands, some were also used for keeping racing pigeons or brewing homemade alcohol, and one even served as a monthly barber’s shop!
Since the rise of commercial horticulture and decline of market gardening during the latter half of the 20th century, these small buildings, locally known as ‘hovels’, have been slowly disappearing – it is thought that over 80% have already gone. A survey to record surviving hovels within 20 Vale parishes is almost complete, thanks to the work of dedicated volunteers. Once collated, the photographic and written information gathered will be added to the publicly accessible Historic Environment Record for Worcestershire.
The project is being run by Worcestershire Archive & Archaeology Service, in partnership with Cleeve Prior Heritage Trust, Vale Landscape Heritage Trust, Worcestershire Farmsteads Project and Cleeve Prior Parish Council, thanks to £68,700 of funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) and £5000 from Historic England.
The Cleeve Prior Hovel
The project has focused on many aspects of market gardening in the Vale, but no more so than a tiny shed discovered in the corner of a field in Cleeve Prior, still full of the old artefacts left by the last occupier some thirty years ago. The shed, better known as a “Hovel” was last used by a local man Edgar Wheeler, and the project has interviewed many friends and relatives to build up a picture of the man himself. Please follow this link to hear some reminiscence’s of his cousin, and a little girls’ memories of Edgar.
Reg Wheeler knew Edgar well and tells further stories of his life
We hear further accounts from Gillian Gould of her family and her childhood days in Cleeve Prior living opposite Edgars market garden and hovel. Gillian then goes on to tell us who were the Market Gardeners, and where their Market Gardening strips were located.
It was important throughout the project to share with the community the story, especially when we were looking for more information about Edgar Wheeler, whose Hovel in Cleeve Prior has now been restored as a time capsule. We were very generously supported in this role by the Cotswold & Vale Magazine , who ran a series of articles over a two year period.
There were three interesting articles, reproduced here by kind permission of the Cotswold & Vale Magazine, who retain the copyright:
Here’s something a little unusual for #WorldPoetryDay – a chance to hear the old Evesham dialect, Asum Grammar. Curious? Have a listen! See if you can work out what these market gardeners have got mixed up with a sunny tropical island…
The Cleeve Prior Hovel has now been set up as a time capsule with all the old artefacts cleaned , catalogued and put back in their original positions
We can see from the following link a panoramic view of the interior of the hovel
We can also see a view from outside showing the artefacts in place
The hovel is now open to be used by schools as an educational resource
Below is an outline of market gardening and agriculture in Cleeve Prior to be used as a resource on such project days
We would like to share with you further oral Clips from the Worcester County Council online Market gardening exhibition: www.explorethepast.co.uk/
Grown in the Vale:
The variety of produce that was grown in the Vale of Evesham was astonishing. Market gardeners had small patches of land dotted about the area where they lived, either rented or owned, and often in the same family for several generations. Here, our interviewees Reg, Mike, Karen and Andrew paint of picture of what is was like.
Produce picked in the Vale of Evesham one day could be sold in Glasgow, Southampton or London the next. We’ve collected many memories of the efficient system of collecting fruit and veg from the growers, and transporting around the country, via road and rail. Here are Mike, Francis, David and Henry.
Many of the people we have recorded worked on the land as children, every weekend and through the school holidays. Here are the memories of Karen, Francis, Reg and Bob.
Changing Times, Changing Tastes:
An enormous variety of produce was grown in the Vale of Evesham, and local growers were adept at responding to changing times and changing tastes. David, Karen and Geoff recall demand rising and falling for certain products in the 60s and 70s.
Whilst there’s still a lot of growing going on in the Vale, the number of market gardeners making a living from the land has declined dramatically. Our interviewees put this down to a multitude of things. Here are the thoughts of Henry Karen, David and Geoff.
Best Job in the World:
Looking back on their lives, most of our interviewees couldn’t imagine doing anything else. They agree that it was a hard life, back breaking work and long hours often in awful weather. But despite this, as Francis says, it was ‘the best Job in the world’. Here are the reflections of Mike, Karen, Henry and Francis.
Over the past Decades other projects have taken place where local residents have recorded their recollections of their life in the vale.
Thanks to the British Library collection we have access to the memories of the poet Michael Edwards
In the above clip, Mike describes the landscape around Cleeve Prior and reflects on changes in the local agriculture over his lifetime. He also recalls the games that he used to play as a child. The Littleton’s refers to the villages of North, Middle and South Littleton just to the south of Cleeve Prior. Evesham is a town to the southwest of Cleeve Prior and Honeybourne a village to the southeast.