Dales Plants and Gardens 1900-1960: project methodology
- Written by Sally Reckert
‘Dales Plants and Gardens 1900-1960’ is a volunteer-run oral history project, which began in October 2007. They are recording people's memories of food plants gathered and grown during the first half of the 20th century in Swaledale, Arkengarthdale and Wensleydale.
Volunteer Sally Reckert writes about the methodology that they have developed for the project to research and record the small gardens and allotments.
‘Dales Plants and Gardens 1900-1960' is a volunteer-run oral history project, which began in October 2007. We are talking with a generation of people born before 1960 to record their memories of food plants gathered and grown by their parents in the northern Yorkshire dales of Swaledale, Arkengarthdale and Wensleydale, collectively known as the Three Dales. [For more information about each of the Three Dales, please view the individual records by clicking on the live links]
The gardens that are being recalled are small domestic gardens and allotments belonging to workers such as quarrymen and farm hands.
The North Yorkshire Dales are primarily given over to hill farming. Traditions and working life in this pastoral economy are essentially conservative. Hand-in-hand with livestock farming runs a strong tradition of non-conformism. Most of our interviewees only had electricity and running water installed in the late 1950s.
A strong tradition of self-reliance and a culture of ‘talking a good story' have given us many fascinating and humbling interviews. They are worth listening to not only for the insights they offer into how food was produced, but also for what they tell us of the character of the Dales and their people.
Why are we running this project?
Two museums, the Richmondshire Museum in Swaledale and the Dales Countryside Museum in Wensleydale, have publicly accessible land attached to them. As a volunteer gardener with both I suggested we use the land for displays of local gardens in the early 20th century.
There is no standard ‘dales garden' due to variations in climate, terrain, culture and economic tradition. The main criterion for a cottager's garden in the northern dales was that it ‘had to earn its keep'. People on very low incomes had to feed their families from what they could produce, in harsh growing conditions.
With the current pressure on food prices, a good source of information and practicable techniques is to ask a generation that still remembers how people on very low wages and without access to markets managed to grow their own food. And so we set out to ask questions.