Much of the farmland in our local area around Wakefield, is used to grow our three local specialities, cauliflower’s, cabbage and rhubarb, which is unique to this area. 

The area is surrounded by rhubarb forcing sheds and some of the largest producers of these crops, Westwood and Oldroyd at Lofthouse and Dobsons of Carlton supply some of the large Supermarkets locally, with these products.

Although forced rhubarb growing has declined over the years in most parts of the country. The continuing growing of rhubarb has taken place in the Wakefield, Leeds, and Morley areas, since 1877.

The uses of the rhubarb plant have been many and varied. It as been used for medicinal purposes, used as an ornamental garden plant and as a fruit for canning, for bulking-out jams and when forced, it can be found for sale in grocers’ shops and supermarkets in its red and golden headed form for stewing and making into pies..

In the 1820s it was discovered that it was possible to ‘provide artificial conditions for growing rhubarb plants out of season.

The traditional forcing sheds which are now so characteristic of the industry were first used in the West Riding in the 1870s. and many market gardeners went in for forced rhubarb cultivation.

Rhubarb growing always flourished more in the area between Wakefield, Leeds and Morley, than anywhere else in the country, This is now known as, “The Rhubarb Triangle"

There were a number of reasons for this, the type of soil unique to this area, a ready source of cheap coal for heating and a good transportation system to the markets.

The rhubarb plant needs lots of water to allow it to flourish, and our local clay tends to hold the moisture in the surface soil well; free drainage is essential. Ashes were used to help with the drainage of the soil and these were spread on land used for rhubarb cultivation.

Ample supplies of horse manure, shoddy, a by-product of the wool trade, refuse and sewage sludge, were needed and readily available to sustain the rhubarb crop. Rhubarb in fact also needs acidic conditions so soot from the local engineering, colliery and brickyard furnaces was readily available too. 

Rhubarb also needs frosts to create the conditions in the root which can lead to the forcing of tender growth in dark, wet and warmed sheds.

So far as markets for the produce were concerned, there were the ample local markets and shops and a ready market in London.

Special trains ran to London, every night between January and March each year, laden with boxes of rhubarb for Covent Garden Market.

These boxes were taken to our local stations on the Leeds-Wakefield-Kings Cross route, to be loaded on to a train called the Rhubarb Special, sometimes two trains were needed, dependent on the tonnage carried. Railway trucks were loaded at Morley Top, at East Ardsley, Lofthouse, Stanley and Wakefield Stations, and a train collected the trucks into one load for London.

This practice ended in the late 1950s

By kind permission of the late Charlie Walker.

Rhubarb Memories  Des Ashton talking with Mike Hooley.

Having  16. Forced rhubarb sheds the area, Lingwell Gate Lane, Lawns Lane and Grandstand Road was the hub of the rhubarb triangle. 

When the forced rhubarb was ready it was pulled, by candle light, and taken into a tying shed. This shed is were a secondary quality stick of rhubarb was tied to a prime stick of rhubarb. 

These combined sticks were stacked and secured in modified orange boxes and the name of the grower was nailed on the end of the box. When all were ready the boxes of rhubarb were loaded onto horse drawn or hand carts and taken to Lofthouse Railway Station Goods Yard and loaded into railway vans. 

An early evening a train, called the rhubarb train, picked  up the rhubarb from Morley, Ardsley , and then Lofthouse station on its way to the London market.

I remember taking rhubarb to the Goods Yard with my dad, taking rhubarb which your gran would have tied. Your mother Nelly would often be there in the porters cabin and you in the pram.

At the Lofthouse Goods Yard there was also a facility for unloading pigs into a pen. The pigs were then herded up Lingwell Gate Lane, to the Farm Stores Ltd (bacon factory) for processing.

                                      The winds of change

Gone are the rhubarb fields that were in the Lingwell Gate Lane, Lawns Lane and Grandstand Road area, covered over by a massive industrial estate, and of all the forced rhubarb, only  3  sheds are now forcing rhubarb in that area, others are still standing, but are used for storing things.

Thermostatic controlled heaters have replaced the coal fired long brick flues. The rhubarb is now pulled using dim electric lighting.

Gone is the tying the sticks together, no more sore fingers, the pulled rhubarb is now packed into special, easy to handle, cardboard boxes, with the name of the grower clearly printed, and is packed as Prime Rhubarb or Seconds. No more rhubarb train, it goes by road transport to the London Market.

Your dad' s job at the Lofthouse Station Goods Yard will have been long gone. 

In 2018 “The Wakefield Rhubarb Festival”
was re-named  “The Wakefeild Festival of Food, Drink and Rhubarb"


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