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Rhubarb in West Yorkshire

The Whitwell family of Leeds are thought to be the first large-scale growers, and in 1877 built special sheds dedicated to “forcing” rhubarb  out of season when there was nothing else so early in the year.  As rhubarb’s popularity increased so did the number of Yorkshire producers,  centralised between Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford.  It became known world-wide as The Rhubarb Triangle because of three things.

1. This area, in the shadow of the Pennines gets plenty of  rain and  is a natural frost pocket. 

2. The massive Yorkshire coalfields provided a cheap local source of fuel to heat the sheds.

3. Earlier in 1813, Batley   Benjamin Law became the first person to organise, on a larger scale, the activity of taking old clothes and grinding them down into a fibrous state that could be re-spun into yarn. This product was called “Shoddy” as it was poorer quality than newly spun wool. In 1860 the town of Batley alone was producing over 7000 tonnes of shoddy. This was ideal for the rhubarb industry as a high nitrogen feed. It was  cheap, readily available and when laid on the soil the  nitrogen was released slowly over a three year period as the fibres break down.

This combination where a local waste product produced better quality fruit meant the Yorkshire crop was cheaper and better quality.  When rhubarb was the nation’s favourite there were  well over 200 producers , and eventually those in other areas of Britain could not compete. The railways put on special trains known as the “Rhubarb Express” trains as they  moved  the valuable fruit to markets particularly the  old Covent Garden market in London , and from there large amounts were sold on into Europe.  After the war it fell out of fashion and by the 1960’s confidence that forcing could be profitable was low and many producers sold their farms, in the main to two families who kept  the industry alive by buying  particularly good farms  when they came on the market. In 1965 this  partnership  became a company- E.OLDROYD & SONS (Lofthouse) Ltd.  and worked towards building up the industry.  

Eventually, 12  farmers in the Rhubarb Triangle applied to have the name "Yorkshire forced rhubarb" added to the list of foods & drinks that have their names legally protected by the European Commission's Protected Food Name scheme & gained Protected Designation of Origin status. 

1st March 2010 Janet Oldroyd Hulme European Commission for protected foods Following 6 years work by Janet Oldroyd Hulme on behalf of the remaining growers the commission awarded their top level status protected designation of origin (PDO) to Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb


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