Gooseberry growers worried that warm weather will hamper chances at Egton Bridge village tradition

Less than a quarter of a gram can be the difference between winning or not in a village tradition which makes the Yorkshire Show look like a newcomer and can have men in their 80s biting their nails in anticipation.

This couldn’t have been more so than last year at the Egton Bridge Old Gooseberry Society’s annual show.

For more than 200 years, members (you have to be or you can’t take part) have been growing their gooseberries in gardens, allotments, pot and sheds preparing to show them off at one of the highlights on the Egton village calendar.

When it came down to revealing the highly anticipated champion berry, the tried, trusted and tested traditional scales just weren’t up to the job.

Most Popular

    Ian Woodcock is the secretary of the society and although he has been a member for 20 years, he is still considered a maiden because he hasn’t won a trophy yet at the Egton Bridge Old Gooseberry Society’s annual show.

    Seven-time champion Bryan Nellist and Paul Bennison, both had berries weighing in at 26 Drams, 18 Grains (47.2 g) and so for once the society turned to modern weighing technology.

    Mr Nellist, who admitted he thought his winning days were over, was declared victorious after digital goldsmith’s scales proved his berry weighed 0.02g more than its competitor.

    Organisers say that “without doubt” that was the closest finish in more than 200 years of competition at Egton Bridge, near Whitby.

    Read More

    Read More
    Housing developer's plan to remove gravestones from Yorkshire village churchyard...
    Seven time champion, Brian Nellist, won last year by 0.02 of a gram in a nail biting finale to one of only two shows in the country.

    Ian Woodcock is the secretary of the society and although he has been a member for 20 years, he is still considered a maiden because he hasn’t won a trophy yet. He said: “We do get some tales of woe and there will be some this year because of the weather.

    “Because of hot weather the berries ripen too quickly and so come show day, we are a bit worried it might be a poor show this year.

    “If they are not ripe you can still show them but if they have ripened, they turn into mush, they don’t last and that is the big concern that they will be ripe too soon.”

    To be a winner, the berries – which come in four colours green, white, yellow and red – have to be in tact. While they can have marks on, they can’t be split or they will be disqualified.

    The berries presented at the Egton Bridge Old Gooseberry Society annual show are weighed on an oil-damped, twin-pan scale, which has been in use since 1937.

    “Dedicated growers, of which I am not one,” admitted Mr Woodcock, “will have umbrellas over each bush to keep the sun off them.”

    And make no mistake, Egton’s gooseberry growers are dedicated to the cause.

    The society is one of two active in the UK and one of its members holds the world record for the heaviest gooseberry.

    In 2019 Graeme Watson exhibited a berry that weighed in at 36 drams plus 12.5 grains and outweighed the previous record set in 2013 by just one grain.

    It is known that the Egton Bridge Gooseberry Show started in 1800 as reports in the Whitby Gazette in 1900 refer to it as celebrating its centenary, and such was the popularity of competitive gooseberry growing in the 19th century that there was a national publication called The Gooseberry Growers Register.

    In 1843 the register listed 148 shows. The numbers steadily increased to 168 in 1861 and 171 in 1845. But then it can be said that, the popularity of the pastime had started to decline and in 1896 there were only 73 shows and then First World War sounded the death knell.

    By 1915 there were only eight results recorded and the register stopped being published the following year.

    So what is it that makes the Egton Bridge Gooseberry Show still so popular? Since 1800 it is thought that only two shows have been missed – one was due to foot and mouth back in 2001 and the other was due to the Covid pandemic in 2020.

    Mr Woodcock said even when the committee thinks they haven’t enough members, as unfortunately the older ones have died, someone else wants to join the society.

    He said: “It is fair to say that the average age is not the bottom end but we do have some young people involved. We have the worry about members dying but we do seem to get new ones and help people out with bushes and varieties if they want to join and take part.

    “How are we still clinging on? The whole genre of growing big vegetables became a novelty but people come along and are fascinated about how big they are and did not think it possible.

    “It is quaint, it is a little show that has been going on for a couple of hundred years to see who can grow a big gooseberry, it is very gentle and people stand around chatting. It has been going on for so long it has become an institution.

    “People talk about it being the 163rd Great Yorkshire Show but pah, that is amateur!”

    However, one big change this year is that the show is moving from its home of the last 40 years and going across the road.

    Building works at St Hedda’s Primary School means the show would have been shoehorned in but Egton Estates offered to host the show in its grounds where there is space for a band, and also cover should there be wet weather.

    Mr Woodcock added: “It has some great benefits and is a nice backdrop. We are really looking forward to it and should be a good day and the estate wanted to have that link with the community too.”