Rhubarb, Rhubarb

Rhubarb Harvesting 1917

I first came across this photograph in 1982. I was a researcher at Manchester Studies, then part of the Polytechnic. We brought in family photographs and films and also went out to record oral history interviews. The films became part of the North West Film Archive. The interviews are held at Tameside library. The photographs are now part of the Documentary Photographic Archive here at the Greater Manchester County Record Office.

I came across this photograph again recently, whilst doing some research in the DPA collection. This is the Bracegirdle family in their rhubarb forcing shed in 1917. They had a market garden at Heyhead, off Ringway Rd. Local farmers and market gardeners fed the population of Manchester, bringing produce into Smithfield Market, a stone’s throw from where we are based on Marshall Street. Rhubarb was so popular that it was grown in special blacked out ‘forcing’ sheds. This meant the stems were long and tender, with less leaf and more rhubarb. It has a reputation for particular health giving properties still*.

In the early 20th century there were special railway sidings at Baguley for taking produce to market. Trains also carried what was euphemistically known as ‘night soil’* as a form of fertiliser for the market gardens.
So much rhubarb was grown in the area that it was nicknamed ‘Baguley Beef’.

I would love to know why this photograph was taken. It would have involved a professional photographer with the right equipment to get this image in a shed with no natural light.

Next time you are driving past the end of the runways at Manchester International Airport keep your eyes open. You can still see one or two of these low black sheds among the outbuildings. I don’t imagine anyone is growing rhubarb in them anymore.