The Gooseberry Project
In the area around Blackden, growing gooseberries the size of hens' eggs is serious matter.
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century gooseberry societies flourished in the north of England, mainly in Cheshire, Yorkshire, Lancashire and the Midlands. These societies were formed to organise annual shows where the heaviest berries won prizes such as copper kettles and brass pans.
From a peak of one hundred and seventy one shows registered in 1845, only eleven have survived into the twenty-first century. Ten of these societies are in Cheshire and have formed the Mid-Cheshire Gooseberry Shows Association.
There are several classes within the individual shows. The variety of each berry that wins a place in the different classes is recorded. Gooseberries come in four colours: red, green yellow and white and there are many different variety of gooseberries in each colour; each with its own name. If any grower is not certain of the variety of his berry, the older and more experienced growers will consult and agree which it is. The difference between varieties can be subtle, turning on such detail as the patterns of the veins and the shape of the berry.
The skill and patience required does not attract the young, so what once was almost a rite of passage amongst the gooseberry growing fraternity has largely become a pastime for older people, mostly men.
To save and preserve this culture before it disappears, The Blackden Trust houses some of the archives of the Cheshire societies and is developing provide facilities for their study in the library of The Old Medicine House.
Growers bred gooseberry trees that would produce heavier and heavier berries, but none with more success than Frank Carter. He is renowned among gooseberry growers for developing sixteen new gooseberry cultivars. All were grown from seed on Blackden soil, many of them in the garden of The Blackden Trust.
The names of his cultivars chart both aspects of his life and reflect the date of the naming: Montgomery, Prince Charles, Firbob, Blackden Gem, Just Betty, Christine, Montrose, Mr Chairman, Bank View, Blackden Firs, Roots, Woodside, Millennium, Newton Wonder, Bellmarsh, Crystal, Jodrell.
Frank Carter was born in Toad Hall at the beginning of the twentieth century and lived all his life in Blackden. He worked at Jodrell Bank, in the experimental gardens of the Biology Department of The University of Manchester. When he retired he continued to work at the visitors' centre, and he continued to develop new cultivars. Frank's cultivars still grow the heaviest berries shown today.
To celebrate his achievements the Trust inaugurated The Frank Carter Memorial Plate which is awarded each year for the Premier Berry at Goostrey Gooseberry Show. The plates are made by the potter, John Hudson, and record the year, the name of the grower and the name of the berry, making every plate unique.
Terry Jones with Lord Kitchener
2009 Dave Heath with Bank View *
2010 Emma Williams with Montrose *
2011 Dave Heath Newton Wonder *
2012 Tom McCartney with Montrose *
2013 Peter Goode with Prince Charles *
2014 Peter Goode with Prince Charles *
2015 Peter Goode with Newton Wonder *
2016 Terry Price with Just Betty *
* Frank Carter cultivars
The Frank Carter Memorial Archive is a living archive of his sixteen cultivars. Fifteen gooseberry trees of them cultivars developed by Frank Carter have been donated to The Blackden Trust by members of the East-Cheshire Gooseberry Societies, and are now growing in the soil Frank cultivated.
Cuttings will be taken from the trees and grown on. Once we have established our nursery of trees, visitors to the Trust will be able to have specimens of Frank's trees to continue his legacy.
The grower's season starts with pruning, which is the first essential treatment of the trees to get decent sized berries. Gooseberry trees are pruned very severely to produce a fist of old wood with four or five branches of the current year's growth, fanning out from the central old growth like the spokes of a cartwheel.
The pruned branches are selected and trimmed to make cuttings. These are stuck into the soil around the parent plant.
When no frost is expected, the trees are sprayed with a winter wash. The berries need light and air to grow well, so the branches are trained with specially made supports to get the optimum spacing both horizontally and laterally.
Then a sprinkling of fertilizer is applied. Each grower has his own magic formula.
As the berries grow, the smallest are thinned to concentrate growth into fewer and bigger berries. These have to be thinned so that they do not touch each other.
The biggest berries are selected and entered into the shows.
The oral history about Frank's cultivars is incomplete. We would be most grateful if anybody could fill in the gaps in the chart below.
|Name||Colour||Story behind the name|
|2.||Prince Charles||Yellow||This berry was named to commemorate the birth of Prince Charles.|
|4.||Blackden Gem||Red||All Frank Carter's cultivars were grown in Blackden|
|5.||Just Betty||Red||Frank wanted to name this berry after his mother, Betty, but he told, Alan Garner's mother, Marjorie, that he was not happy about naming it Betty Carter. She suggested that just Betty would be fine, so Frank named the berry Just Betty.|
|7.||Montrose||Yellow||It is said that Montrose was the name of a house Frank Carter's mother-in-law admired and wanted to live in.|
|9.||Bank View||Green||Frank Carter's son, Doug, lives at Bank View in Goostrey|
|10.||Blackden Firs||White||Frank Carter lived most of his married life at No. 4 Blackden Firs|
|15.||Bellmarsh||White||Bellmarsh House, originally Bomish Farm, is on the edge of Blackden.|
|17.||Jodrell Bank||The Goostrey Growers say that Frank refused to count this berry, but they do not know why.|
slide show | click picture to view detail
A set of gooseberry scales
Blackden Gem gooseberries
(1) Blackden Gem
(2) Just Betty