Croome Estate during the First World War
Fruit growing in the districts around Pershore and Evesham in Worcestershire had its origins in the 18th century, and the area's fame grew throughout the 19th century. From the 1870s the 9th Earl of Coventry extended the fruit plantations and orchards on his estates centred at Croome and around Pershore.
In 1880 Lord Sudeley, at Toddington, Gloucestershire, began planting a large-scale jam farm: 500 acres stocked with all kinds of fruit trees and bushes. He entered into an agreement with T.W. Beach, a renowned jam manufacturer based in Brentford, to turn the fruit into jam and a farmstead was converted into a jam factory. Lord Coventry apparently spent some years in the 1880s trying to establish a similar enterprise.
Croome Estate Private Jam Factory
In 1889 a newspaper reported that the 'profitableness of "jam manufactories" is beginning to be recognised', and that the Earl of Coventry had started to build his own jam factory in Pershore. His land agent had visited Lord Sudeley's enterprise at Toddington, and by April construction of the Croome Estate jam factory was planned next to Pershore railway station (now the Veterinary Surgery) with a frontage of 84ft; each one of four copper pans were 'capable of reducing 50 lbs of fruit to jam in from 10 to 15 minutes'.
It was intended to be a small-scale private factory; his tenants would supply some of the fruit, the rest coming from Croome Farm which had for several years been planted with fruit trees and orchards. Previously, fruit had gone to waste because it could not be transported quickly enough to somewhere where it could be processed.
© Copyright Susanne Atkin 2015. Contents not to be copied or otherwise reproduced without permission.
Under Beach Management
Research about this phase of the Earl's jam factory is still ongoing, and much of the material is fragmentary and often confusing. During the 1890s, the T.W. Beach Company took the lease of the Croome Estate factory, and T.W.'s eldest son by his second marriage, William Arthur Beach, was appointed as manager, and came to live in Coventry Terrace, Pershore, one of two terraces (the other was Deerhurst Terrace) built by the Earl to house workers at the jam factory.
In 1904 Lord Coventry made a 'further agreement' with William Beach (now managing director) to manufacture jams and jellies using the Croome name. By 1907 the T.W. Beach company had moved from Toddington to Evesham (the Toddington enterprise was taken over by the Deakin company). William Beach was now facing competition from his half-brother running the larger-scale factory at Bengeworth, Evesham. In 1908 William Beach's Croome Estate company went into liquidation; rumours that he had re-labelled jars produced by the Bengeworth factory couldn't have helped. The contents of the Pershore Station factory appear to have been sold in 1910; part of the building was later occupied by a merchant until the outbreak of war.
The Vale of Evesham Fruit Preserving and Pickling Company (later known as Vale of Evesham Preserves) opened a preserves and jam factory, also in 1889, on Pershore High Street just a month or so before the Earl's at Pershore Station; the Company converted the old Atlas [Iron]Works into what became known as the Pomona Works. [A new Atlas Ironworks was constructed in 1883 on Station Road, opposite the railway station.] For a while, both the Croome Estate and the Pomona factories produced prize-winning jams at shows. Then in 1914 the Pomona's manager, Arthur Beynon, established the Central Market at the Pomona Works, the second fruit market in the town, the first being the Pershore Co-operative Fruit Market formed by 400 fruit growers in 1909.
William Deakin's company was based in Wigan; in about 1907 he took over the Toddington jam-farm from Beach. In 1911 he moved into the house known as Mount Pleasant (Pershore Hall) and bought up surrounding land for fruit plantations. He had held government contracts to supply the army with jam in his Wigan factory during the Boer War, and these contracts continued during the Great War. In 1916 he had 300 women employed in fruit picking in the Pershore area; he also built a canning factory about 4 miles from Pershore at Norton.
The Great War
Jam was considered to be a useful source of energy for people on the home front, and for soldiers in the trenches who often turned the empty tins into hand grenades. The government decided that pulping stations had to be established all across the country to process, on an industrial scale, every scrap of fruit and vegetables during a time of food shortages, including at the Pomona Works. The Croome estate building at Pershore railway station had not been used as a jam factory for some time, but in 1915 was leased by the Huddersfield Fruit Preserving Company as a pulping station. Fruit pulp could be kept for several months before being made into jam when the circumstances, and sugar supplies, allowed.
Jam was not a cosy tea-time treat during the war: ingredients might include marrows or other vegetables, or salt as a substitute for sugar. At least it was something to spread (thinly) on the equally disgusting wartime bread
The reasons for the failure of the Earl's scheme perhaps include its small scale in what became an increasingly commercialised industry, with local competition from established companies such as T.W. Beach and Deakin; perhaps William Beach's management was another factor.
I would love to hear from anyone who has family memories of someone who worked at the jam factories in Pershore, or who was involved in fruit-growing or fruit-picking in the Vale of Evesham (during any period but particularly during the First World War).