Food Memories - A History Of Growing | Incredible Edible Todmorden | Blogs

Food Memories - A History Of Growing

Last update: 26.02.09 First posted: 27.01.09 by in

John webster and Thomas Sutcliffe

The tall man at the back is John Webster who was a newsagent in Cornholme. Bottom right is Thomas William Sutcliffe.

Photo courtesy of the daughter of Thomas Sutcliffe, Mrs Dorothy Cox.

The following is Rachael Babar’s notes from her inital interviews. It’s rough and ready but fascinating

I have interviewed 8 people now, and I have listened to some fantastic stories. Just to give you all a taster of what I have been told, I made some notes based on some of the recurring themes. If you know anyone who is good to interview, let me know I am happy to interview someone for 10 minutes or 2 hours, depending on how much they have to say! If people don’t want to talk they can write something down or just send in a recipe or memory.

Food Memory Themes

1. Necessity is the mother of invention (and creativity and achievement):

The memories go back to the fringes of the first world war. Times were hard. During the first world war people thought England could starve, and land was brought into cultivation that had been used mainly for hay for the past 70 years (with some exceptions some other crops were grown eg in 1898 including oats).

Allotments were created because of necessity, and crops were grown because of necessity. For example in the first world war, second world war, and depression era. There were allotments at Walsden in 1912, perhaps created after the 1908 allotment act? But more came into existence during the first world war eg at Pudsey, the Cricket club and along the railway embankment. In the same way pasture land was ploughed and a variety of crops were sown even right up on the Moor top, with quite a lot of success although the results were not good enough to continue in more prosperous times, but during the first half of the 20th century -there were a lot of hard times (two world wars and the depression in between). People also had private gardens, and when times were hard they took spare patches of land into cultivation. There were hen huts everywhere, apparently, I hear from many sources (also a photo as proof). People were better off when they lived further out and had access to land, but even people in the built up parts had links with the farms, eg one lady’s Aunty worked on a farm, and got some illegal eggs as a present during the second world war (and nearly got caught by the warden!).

The hard times meant hard work and hardship, but they also meant people helped each other and achieved a great deal through ingenuity and creativity.

Hard Work -including the kids

Farmers children recall hard work that never stopped, that they helped with from an early age taking horses to be shod at the Smithy on the way to school, hay making, keeping 50 chicks in an incubator at the bottom of the bed, preparing poultry, packing eggs, clearing snow. It never stopped. They used to walk miles on a regular basis – everyone did.

In their spare time(!) children did a little stockkeeping or foraging themselves or did odd jobs for other farmers.


Mass participation:

Lots of people did it – everyone did it, people took over little unused plots of land it was a way to supplement the food supply and income eg go over to Aunty so and so and buy a lettuce and some cress.

Helping Each Other:

Farmers giving stuff to Mum as dad was away in the war, to help feed the children

Farmers fundraising for the war effort

Market-traders and others slipping a bit extra in the parcel for Granny

Swapping: If you give me some bantams i’ll give you some of my hens etc etc

Fun, community picnics and harvest festivals

  • bananas with faces on remembered years later by big strapping men in pub
  • making cups and saucers out of clay out the stream and baking them in the side oven
  • toffee and cream
  • drinks of milk direct from goat and shell-less eggs


Wild Food: Bilberries, blackberries, (for jam and pies) watercress, rabbits, pigeon, hedgerow herbs, dock pudding, nettle beer, rhubarb wine, bottled veg, medicine, wood.

Farms: kale, turnips, oats, carrots, sheep, ducks, hens, goats, calves, pigs, milk, eggs – and horses, and hay.

Milk carried by hand or cart or even sledge and poured into a jug.

Gardens and allotments: Lettuce, rhubarb, plums, pears, apples, carrots, potatoes, peas, beetroot, tomatoes, hens, ducks.

Inside the house: cress on a flannel

Baking day Mum’s delicious food including meat and potato pie, bread

School dinners arrive

Recipes: celeriac, mock duck

Fish day at the chipshop

Wartime Potato and onion pie


How to make a sheeps head last for many meals

How to make a delicious Christmas dinner out of leftovers

How to get living chicks from a rubbish heap

How to make a few coppers selling berries around doors

Choose the butcher with the biggest hands and get more meat!

Saving eggs and apples


What happened to Larry the lamb?

The horse that leaned on you for a laugh

The horse that liked music

The vicious cockerel

The milkman’s horse that stopped at all the houses where the milkman chatted

Evolving Tradition – looking to the future:

In the first half of the 20th century there were many more producers and traders (4/6 milkment in the Cornholme area alone, 26 vegetable sellers on the market). Now things are different… what does the future hold?

Market memories 200 years old – can the market revive (Francis boocock )

No future in farming in this valley… paid to not keep sheep, Farming family turning to dry stone walling or emigrating in the present generation

People don’t know what they are capable of until they have to do it… What the younger generation could learn from the older…

to be continued………….

And here is some more…..

Memories of Spring Gardens written by Geoff Dawson

My father rented an allotment at Spring Gardens just behind Spring’s Garage off the Halifax Road, back in the 1950s/60s. He grew mainly vegetables but flowers did take up about a quarter of the garden. From what I can remember there were three rows of allotments in the area between Halifax Road, Lower Laithe Avenue, what used to be Sandholme Iron Company and the River Calder. The middle row was separated from one side by a road leading to the iron company and a goit outlet from the old corn mill which stood across the Halifax Road, opposite to Springs Garage, on the other side.

Dad’s allotment was between the goit and the gardens belonging to Lower laithe Avenue. A wooden plank measuring about a foot wide acted as a footbridge across the goit, the goit itself being the main source of water for watering the plants. There was also a small well at the opposite end of dad’s plot but this was completely inadequate as it filled up very slowly.

The allotment next to Dad’s was rented by a man who taught dad more or less everything he wanted to know about gardening. Unlike Dad’s allotment he had the luxury of having a greenhouse where he grew tomatoes and other things which required shelter from the elements.

Many times my mother would ask me to take a bag of food waste down to his compost heap ( a five minute walk), and bring back a bag of peas but on many occasions I was stopped by other gardeners who didn’t know me and thought that I was out to raid the allotments. Many times I went home empty handed only to face up to a very angry mother.

On one occasion Dad took a bag of his own grown peas to an aunty and uncle of his. A few days later his aunty passed away and for several weeks following his uncle would remind him that his peas were the last things she ate before she died. Well everyone else survived them.

Unfortunately dad had to give up his allotment in the late 1960s following a serious road accident. But after leaving Todmorden to go linving in the nearby village of Hurstwood near Burnley he continued with his pastime but on a smaller scale.

Evidence of what was grown in the late 18th century

Taken from an 1828 Small Tithe survey

Many thanks to Malcom Heywood for drawing this survey to our attention and painstakingly copying out what it said.

‘Small Tithes’ were an ancient tax payable to the Vicar of Halifax on ‘potatoes, turnips, barren cattle, seeds, eggs, milk, cows, calves, gardens, pigs, geese, foals and bees.’

This tithes survey was made in 1828 by the vicar of Halifax seemingly to check he had been paid what he was due! It asks in the questionnaire what the situation has been as far back as those questioned can remember. Were the respondents telling the strict truth about how much they produced, or were they trying to convince the vicar that no more tithes were owed? In any case, it gives some indication of what could be found on a local farm.

Malcolm Bull’s Calderdale companion informs us that the vicar in 1828 was Charles Musgrave, who became the incumbent in the year before the survey. Bull says ‘After his induction, he had a dispute with his parishioners, over the rights and interests of the living. This ended in 1829, by an Act of Parliament, under which the vicarial tithes, mortuaries, and Easter offerings of almost the whole parish, were commuted for a yearly stipend of £1,400 paid by the townships’ He also says that there was much opposition to this new vicar’s rate especially amongst non-conformists, and that owing to difficulties in collecting a living from the parish, the living of Halifax remained vacant for some time after the death of Musgrave.

The survey does not concern itself with the ‘Great Tithes’ of corn, hay, wool and lambs which from 1535 (the dissolution of the monasteries) had been replaced by a yearly rent charge on the land going to the landowners. So the survey does not tell us about any oats which were grown, nor, surprisingly, does it mention sheep. Malcom Bull says ‘Cattle and sheep were – and still are – farmed throughout the district, although sheep farming was not widespread until the 19th century when newer breeds were suitable for the boggy, acid moorland.’ If anyone knows more about the history of sheep farming in Todmorden, then please – write in.

Evidence Given in the Tithes Survey

John Barker – Lower Ashes – Stansfield – farmer.

Age 67 Always lived in Stansfield.

He grew no potatoes except two loads a year.
A few turnips I the garden.
No seeds or eggs.
I have all along sold milk both new and old
I have kept cows sometimes five, six or seven.
Now and then I brought up a calf – I always had a garden but did not sell produce.
I had no pigs, geese, foals or bees.
Only one plough at a time.

William Crabtree – upper East Lee in Stansfield
Age 72 – weaver – born in Stansfield and lived all his time in it.
Never grew potatoes except for my own use, nor turnips. No seeds or eggs except for own use. I sold milk (old)
Kept cows two-four for milking
Sometimes a calf to grow up
Had a garden but made nothing of the produce
No pigs, geese or foals
I have had hives of bees.
I never had a plough.
I am the oldest farmer in Stansfield

Zachariah Law –Shade nr Todmorden
Born and lived in Longfield 61 years ago. Leaving three years ago. Whilst at Longfield had two farms lived at one 16 years, and the other for 24 years.
I grew potatoes for self and sale. No turnips.
Plenty of eggs for self and sale.
Sold milk, new and old.
1st farm – 3 milch cows and a horse.
2nd farm, 6 milch cows, 3 young cows and a horse
Had a garden but did not sell produce.
No pigs, geese, nor foals, no bees.

His father was at Croft in Langfield – weaver –
Grew potatoes for himself, no turnips, no seeds, sold a few eggs. Sold milk mainly old but a little new. Had 5 or 6 milking cows every summer and sometimes two calves. A small garden – no breeding pigs nor geese only one foal and no bees.

Zachariah Clayton lived at Nest in Erringden.
He was seventy years old and was a weaver.
He was born in Sowerby township and lived there until he was twenty-four years old when he moved to Erringden where he has lived ever since. He had lived at three different farms; Holderness, Marshaw Ridge and Holloclee bfore moving to Nest about 1825.

This is what he says about life on his farms:-

I grew potatoes but only sold any some light times.
I grew a few turnips but only in my gardens.
I never had any seeds except garden seeds for my own use and hay seeds some of which latter I have sold.
I generally kept poultry and sometimes sold eggs among my neighbours but never took any to market.
I kept milch cows (up to 5 at once)
I sold the milk new or old just as my neighbours wanted it.
I had calves – have kept and brought up two in a year besides these I sold for veal.
There was a garden belonging to each of the farmhouses out of which I sold a little fruit and some trifling matters but I did not make a practice of selling the produce of my garden.
I never bred any pigs or kept any except for my own use.
I never kept any geese – nor foals, nor hives.

John Sutcliffe
Lived at Hardhippins End in Erringden. He was sixty-seven years old and was a weaver. He had lived in Erringden all his life and was born at Wood Top Farm. His father was a farmer there and John worked on the farm. When his father died, about 1793, John continued farming the land until 1811 when he moved to the cottage at Hardhippins End. This is what he says about life on the farm at Wood Top.

I sometimes grew potatoes for my own family’s use.
I never grew any turnips.
I never grew any seeds except hay seeds.
I sometimes sold eggs, but never carried any to market.
I seldom sold new milk but was in the habit of selling old milk to milk fetchers who were regular customers.
I used to keep sometimes five and sometimes six milch cows.
I used to keep a calf now and then but not frequently and to send it into Craven during the summer for two summers to feed.
I had only a little garden.
I mostly bought a pig at the back end of a year and fed it but never had any litter of pigs.
I only used to buy one or two geese for my own family use at the back end of each year.
I never had a foal.
I kept bees now and then, never more than one in a year. I had what honey they produced as far as I wanted and sold the remainder to any of my neighbours that wanted it but never took honey to market.

As far as I know my father in all the before mentioned circumstances did just as I did as long as he lived.

David Hollingrake lived at The Bottoms in Stansfield. He was sixty-eight years old and was an innkeeper. He had always lived in the township of Stansfield never more than half a mile from where he lived then and had been at Bottoms ‘public house’ and farm for forty-four years.

This is what he says about his farming life
‘I never did anything with my land in Erringden but graze it.

I have now and then grown potatoes in my land in the township of Stansfield, for my own use, and now and them I have sold potatoes – one year I sold 80 loads of them.
Never a sack of turnips in all years put together. I have always kept geese, ducks and fowls and bred all sorts of them and had eggs.
At first I kept only two cows – they were milch cows – I kept increasing the number as my land was mproved and now I have four milch cows, two strips (stirks?) and one calf which I am bringing up. Have sold milk and butter all my time.
I have had half a score of sows at different times which have produced me litters of pigs – and I have had three litters in one year.
I have bred five foals, but only one at once.

Mystery photos,of longfield
can anyone tell us about the huts on the hillside,are they hen coops or what??

langfield postcard unitarian church: postcard

Proud Growers Cornholme School 1940

During the early war years, everyone with a plot of land was urged to grow vegetables instead of flowers in order to become self-sufficient. Cornholme Council School headmaster, John Graham, turned this opportunity into a lesson for his senior pupils by renting this allotment behind Portsmouth railway station. Later he took another allotment that covered half of Portsmouth recreation ground and pupils from the two top classes were able to produce enough food for the entire school’s dinners.

Taken from Todmorden Album 4 by Roger Birch.

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