PICTURES: A fond look back on the halcyon days of berry picking in Tayside

© DC ThomsonBerry-picking in Tayside in days gone by.
Berry-picking in Tayside in days gone by.

Rotting crops due to labour shortages are a world away from the halycon days of berry picking in Tayside and Fife.

There was shock and dismay earlier this week when it emerged that a Mearns fruit farm lost around £350,000 because perfectly good crop was left to rot.

Berry picking was popular with Scots families right up until the 1990s.

Britain became heavily dependent on international workers in the 1990s with 90% of fruit, salads and vegetables currently picked and packed by people from overseas.

Berry picking in 1963
Raspberries being picked in 1954

It’s a far cry from the days when thousands of Scots would be transported to the fertile fields of the east on “berry buses” to earn a pound or two.

Carse of Gowrie fruit farming in 1955

For many, berry picking was a real family event, and the rich history of picking in and around Angus is now being celebrated in a new exhibition.

“Berries, Baskets and Banter” at the Gateway to the Glens Museum in Kirriemuir is giving visitors a trip down memory lane.

For many years during the summer months many school children would look forward to spending the school holidays earning money in the berryfields, in many cases, having to earn enough money to cover the cost of their school uniform.

Local fruit-picking in 1982.

Angus Alive’s museum officer, Rachel Jackson said: “Why is the display called ‘Berries, Baskets and Banter?’

“Because staff at the Angus Alive museum have been enjoying hearing the stories from visitors reminiscing about their time spent in the summer picking berries whilst viewing the display.”

Fruit-weighing in 1975, Inchture.

Farmers would lay on buses to transport the seasonal workforce from as far afield as Dundee on a daily basis.

In some cases, berry pickers were accommodated on site in huts or caravans.

Inchture fruit-picking in 1982.

People would pick into containers then carry their fruit to the edges of the fields to be weighed and then paid according to their efforts.

They were long, hard days and, by its end, most people’s hands would be stained red with the juice of the berries.

Two types of berries were harvested, those picked into baskets were the best berries and headed for dining tables.

A large number of strawberries from the vale of Strathmore found their way to Wimbledon each year.

The later crop of fruit would be picked into “luggies” which was a small pail.

These berries were not the best quality and therefore used for jams and sauces.

But over the past two decades the berryfields around Kirriemuir have almost all disappeared.

Photographs kindly on loan from members of the public show the Whitelums berry fields before the dreels were ploughed up in the 1990s.

Berry picking at Angus in the 1970s provided the inspiration for a popular play by Gary Robertson.

First staged in 2009, The Berries – Twa an’ a Half Pence a Pund, is set in the summer of 1974 amid the berry fields.

The play follows a day in the life of four Dundee ‘nabblers’ from Dundee’s Fintry housing scheme as they toil and graft under the watchful eye of their no-nonsense foreman Rab.

Gary was aged seven in 1974 when he first went to the berries with his dad and his sister.

The display can be viewed free of charge during the museum opening hours, Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm.

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