Potato Planting, 1913-1954
Fred White and his daughter, Muriel, ran the Flintham village shop, Nottinghamshire, from August 1911-1982. They jotted down their assessment of the day's weather along with the day's takings, in pocket-sized books, from the day they opened until 1968. After that, notes were kept on scrappy bits of paper which have not yet been sorted and catalogued. Sometimes, the Whites also added snippets of information about people and activities in the village.
As there is currently so much interest in the weather and global warming, we thought it would be interesting to look at particular days and track the weather on that day from year to year using the comments from the weather books. You can find details of 14 February on a different page, but what was the weather like on a date which moved from year to year? For example, the traditional date for planting potatoes was on Good Friday, but this date changes from year to year. In 2007 Good Friday falls on 6 April whereas in 2005 it fell on 25 March. Most years Fred White mentioned Good Friday in his notebooks, so it is possible to see whether the day was a good day for planting potatoes. But before that, here is a brief history of potatoes.
A brief history of the potato
Potatoes are not native to Britain. They come from South America and were probably brought to Europe by a Spanish explorer, Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada in 1536. The first printed mention of a potato in England was in 1596 when John Gerard wrote about them in his Catalogue. This was a list of the plants he was growing in his garden at Holborn, London.
At first, potatoes were very expensive and often fed to invalids. Some people feared the potato because it grew underground and so they were occasionally connected with the Devil. However, in the eighteenth century, people in Lancashire and the north of England began to grow potatoes on a regular basis.
South of the river Trent potatoes were not often part of the diet, although some Nottinghamshire farmers did think about growing them in 1738. Bread was the staple food for the majority of the population and much of the wheat to make bread was imported.
During the wars with France (1793-1815) wheat could not be imported and it was difficult to grow sufficient wheat quickly enough to make up the difference. So, people were encouraged to grow potatoes in their gardens and allotments. By 1845 potatoes were a familiar part of the everyday diet for all British families.
Potatoes are now widely grown. In 1989 they were recognised as the fourth most important crop in the world after corn, wheat and rice.
Was Good Friday a sensible day to plant potatoes?
Back to Fred White's weather records for Good Friday from 1913. The shop was not open and most years Fred just wrote 'Good Friday' on the day with occasional comments about the day's weather. After his daughter, Muriel, took over the shop in 1949 she continued recording the weather but stopped noting Good Friday as a special day and kept the shop open.
|1915||2 April, Very wet after noon|
|1916||21 April, Morning heavy rain, cold wind and showers|
|1918||29 March, Fine, dull|
|1919||18 April, A lovely day, very hot all day|
|1920||2 April, Fine and bright intervals|
|1921||25 March, Closed fitting new ceiling in shop|
|1923||30 March, Hot, bright and fine while 3pm then thunder storm and rain, fair evening. Smiths and Vesseys [came] from Marple|
|1925||10 April, Heavy rain till noon|
|1926||2 April, Warm, bright and fine. Lovely day|
|1928||6 April, Fine and bright|
|1929||29 March, A delightful day, hot, bright and fine|
|1930||18 April, Cold and wet|
|1931||4 April, Fine and bright|
|1932||25 March, Bright, fine, cool|
|1936||10 April, Very cold|
|1937||26 March, Heavy snow blizzards|
|1938||15 April, Fine, warm, dull, bright after 6pm|
|1939||7 April, Fine and bright|
|1940||22 March, Fine and bright|
|1942||3 April, Slight showers, shop open all day|
|1943||23 April, Dull, slight showers|
|1944||7 April, Fine|
|1945||30 March, Light showers, rough|
|1947||4 April, very bad weather for Easter holidays|
|1948||26 March, Cloud|
|1949||15 April, Finest and warmest Easter for 100 years|
|1951||23 March, Rain, heavy shower|
|1952||11 April, Fine and warm|
|1953||3 April, Fine, bright, warm|
|1954||Good Friday was not recorded after this date.|