Monday, 7 September 2015

Watching the grapes and thinking about the harvest of 1847

The rapes in 2015
Now it would be fair to say that the weather has not been good.

A fact that led me to post “Things I have not done over summer” which included, not applying sun tan lotion or eating al fresco and concluded with the observation that we were still running coal fires in early July and set one going just a few days before the end of August.

And that matters because I am looking at our grapes which need a lot of sunshine if they are to ripen.

I planted the vine over a decade ago but it was only in the last few years that it has really taken off.

Last year proved a bumper crop but the grapes were smallish so a lot hangs on the sun in September.

This may seem a silly Chorlton affectation but it matters as I like our grapes.

But historically how the summer turned out was of uppermost importance.

The summer of 1847 promised to be a good one which was an important consideration for a rural community and a good starting point for our story.

After all 96 of our families were engaged in some form of farming and so a good harvest would put food on the table, guarantee work for the many and help the village through the dark cold winter a head.

the grapes from 2014
Equally important for the sixteen families who made their living as tradesmen and retailers the harvest was central to their fortunes.

Only the gentry might be more relaxed at the weather.

But even they would have been aware of the distress and possible social unrest which might follow a bad year in the fields.

Three years before there had been a bad summer, which had meant a meagre hay crop and even more disastrous harvest.  The following year had proved little better and this further aggravated the poor condition of the livestock.

And while the cycle of bad summers was broken in 1846 leading to a plentiful harvest, the potato blight which had first appeared the year before now devastated the crop and led to the first famine year in Ireland.

We were luckier.  It had been a very dry and cold winter and less than an inch of rain fell through January, March, April and July and the summer months proved to be very hot.

So I shall return to the grapes and stories of harvests here in Chorlton.

Pictures, grapes from the vine, 2015 and 2014 from the collection of Andrew Simpson

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