Today I’ve planted a gooseberry bush. There is a first in one’s life for everything. For now it’s straggling, but I look forward to a rich harvest, and gooseberry crumbles and fools and ice cream in years to come. I read that gooseberries and gooseberry bushes were especially popular among cotton-spinners in late 18th century Lancashire, which may in a minuscule way explain why we had one in my North Cheshire edge-of-spinning-country garden in the 1950s. I have I believe a silk-weaver in my Lancashire (Leigh) family tree. But I’ve yet to find a cotton-spinner.
Cotton mills were well-established in Manchester by the early 19th century. Up to 80,000 people gathered in St Peter’s Fields at the time of the Peterloo Massacre. Spinning had been industrialised on a massive scale, and there would have been no space for vegetable patches, and no gooseberry bushes.
High-rises don’t allow for small spaces out back. They remain emblematic of an older, more stable and (as we imagine it) quieter life, preserved now maybe in smallholdings and the gentle art of pottering.
The apple tree, the gooseberry bush and the rhubarb patch: part of old England…