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Another helping of spuds with memories on the menu

By Toby Neal | Features | Published:

Ready for a diet of more spuds?

Well we can serve up an extra helping, thanks to more feedback from our recent feature about a women potato picking gang which visited a farm near Newport in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Latest one to chip in (sorry) is Mrs Maria Bright, of Ercall Gardens, Wellington, who was a young girl when she went along with her mum and grandmother.

As we have told, the gang was organised by Mrs Ginny Darricott of Oakengates and headed for the Watson Jones' farm near Newport, doing potato picking or sugar beet hoeing, depending on the season.

Maria, who was born in 1947 at the now-disappeared Foundry Yard ("it's the site of the snooker place now") in Oakengates, went along with her mum Audrey Willis from the age of nine or 10 in the school holidays, as otherwise there was nobody to look after her, and it was normal for mums to take along the children.

"My recollection is that we went on a lorry. It was a covered lorry and had bales of straw round the outside that we sat on.

"The older children were sort of told to look after the younger children, the toddlers, and play in the fields.

"The children used to congregate near the hedge or under the hedge. We would all be sat there with everybody's coats and bags of lunch and all that sort of thing. We played around in that area.

"If it rained the farmer would throw a tarpaulin over the hedge. We would all be under that. It's very glamorous, isn't it? If it was torrential rain the workers came in as well, but if it was fine rain the workers carried on picking."

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The gang did not only head for the farm near Newport.

"We went somewhere along the A5 on the Shrewsbury road, just by the Horseshoe pub. I remember potato picking in those fields and going mushrooming at the same time."

There would be a chance for a cuppa in breaks.

"I remember the farmer's wife would come up with a bucket of black tea from the farm. You dipped your cup in. You brought sugar and milk and added it to your taste."

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Maria recalls going along in the summer holidays for three or four years and eventually had a go at potato picking herself.

"I had half a length. I was about 14 or 15. My uncle was taking me and two cousins to Scotland on holiday and I wanted some spending money. It nearly killed me. You have no idea how hard the work was."

She remembers too the ganger – gang organiser – Ginny.

"I remember she lived on her own. I remember her snuff taking. She was always ready for a laugh and a joke. She would see something funny in lots of things. She was a jolly lady."

Maria's grandmother Beatrice Harper, from Foundry Yard, was also a character.

"The funny thing about my gran is she always wore a hat. She never stepped out of the house without one. Even at the seaside she had her hat on."

Maria has ensured those memories are saved for posterity by compiling old family photos into albums with her own written commentary, as she knows from experience the value of ensuring a record is made.

"When my parents died and I was cleaning out the house I found all these photos and I hadn't a clue who they were. So I thought I would sort out mine and write a bit about them so the kids will know who they are, rather than just leave photos with no explanation.

"I'm disappointed I didn't speak to my parents a lot more and get a lot more information. I have no family from then left and there's no-one to go to to ask who this was, and when did this happen. I think that's tragic."

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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