Rare pictures of fruit picking on England’s green and pleasant land

Harvest time has always conjured pastoral images of England’s green and pleasant land, and these rare pictures unearthed from the archive do nothing to dispel it.

20th January 1937:  Workmen carrying rhubarb pots at a nursery farm at Rumney, near Cardiff (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
20th January 1937: Workmen carrying rhubarb pots at a nursery farm at Rumney, near Cardiff (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

But they also illustrate the changing nature – both human and mechanical – of crop picking over the past century.

For centuries, farmers and gangmasters have relied on overseas workers for the harvest gathering. Migration from Ireland was once essential to meet the demands of the land that the local workforce alone could not accommodate.

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Besides, the seasonal nature of the work and the backbreaking effort involved has not always appealed to British workers from non-agricultural backgrounds.

June 1925: Children have a break during strawberry picking in the Cheddar Valley. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

As recently as the early 20th century, whole families on their holidays from the cities were sometimes roped in, while before the Gangs Act of 1867, children were a cheap source of labour for the masters.

In recent times, produce has been picked and packed mostly by Eastern European hands, on a scale far more industrial than we can see here.

But this year there is a new challenge. With many migrant fruit pickers unable to travel to Britain, a campaign is afoot to persuade workers displaced from pubs, shops and bars to “pick for Britain”.

The need is so acute that the Government is reportedly taking inspiration for its campaign from the Women’s Land Army that worked the fields during the Second World War – though the new force is unlikely to be as gender-specific.

1st April 1914: Lady Gwendolen Guinness watches students making rhubarb jam at the Rupert Guinness Training Farm for Women, Hoebridge Farm, Woking. The school is designed for women of the educated classes who intend to emigrate and join brothers and husbands working overseas. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

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circa 1900: Men gathering strawberries in Hampshire. (Photo by F J Mortimer/Getty Images)

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25th April 1962: Market gardener A Halling using ex-surplus army metal pyramids to force rhubarb at his market garden near Broadway, Worcestershire. (Photo by Maeers/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
1st July 1932: A fruit picker at a strawberry farm in Colchester, Essex, with a large basket full of strawberries which will be sent to the Bournville chocolate factories near Birmingham. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
4th June 1935: A fruit picker tasting a strawberry at a farm in Cheddar, Somerset. (Photo by Burchell/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
18th September 1956: Men picking 'fertility' pears from well-laden trees on Bax Farm, Tonge, Kent. (Photo by Harry Todd/Fox Photos/Getty Images)