Another of the various items we have acquired through Internet trading sites, is a page from The Sketch. This was an illustrated weekly newspaper, mainly covering the aristocracy and high society. It was published from 1893 until 1959 by the same organisation that produced the Illustrated London News – itself another valuable source of articles for local and family history. It carried regular features on royalty and the aristocracy, theatre, cinema and the arts and was always well illustrated with photographs. Continue reading
One of the many places that we can find surnames of interest, is in the wording of printed advertising and business stationery. The first of these tends to have a better survival rate as the magazines and newspapers in which they appear may be preserved for historical interest and for the articles they contain. There is a very active market in old pages from newspapers, and they are often found framed and used as decoration, particularly in public houses where there is a historical theme. We have acquired a number of such items, including the page about Lily Lindfield, the dancer, described later in this issue. Continue reading
The ruined house shown in this photograph was in Grand Avenue, Lancing, Sussex and had been the home until a few days before being bombed, of my mother, Emily Lindfield, my brother Peter and myself. We were evacuated at the outbreak of war to my mother’s parents (the Braben’s) house as my father anticipated London being attacked by aerial bombing. He moved us back to London, all being quiet, the Blitz had not yet commenced. Continue reading
In my father’s house there was a photograph, which fascinated me. The picture showed a family in a country garden. The man is standing, holding the hand of a little girl and the woman is seated, with a baby on her lap. Although he is not smiling, the man’s face appeared good-humoured to me, the woman looked more severe. But what stole my attention and always brought me back to gaze again, were the elaborately-fashioned dresses of the woman, the child and the baby. How had these country folk come by such clothes and who had made them? It was not until many years later that I was to learn the answers to these questions. The people were Hasted Lindfield and his wife, Mary Miles, taken in 1872. The infant on the lap was, in fact, a boy and my grandfather, also called Hasted. Mary’s distinctive features were to be handed down through several generations of Lindfields. Continue reading
Continued from the previous issue: Part 1
Extracts from the Index
- Walter Francis LINFIELD, #4597, administration 27 November 1877
- Administration of effects of Walter Francis LINFIELD late of 138 Drummond Road, Bermondsey, Surrey, licensed victualler, died I November 1877 at 138 Drummond Road granted at Principal Registry to Mary Ann LINFIELD of 138 Drummond Road, widow, relict., less than £450. Continue reading
The formal portrait shown above depicts Worthing Councillor Frederick Caesar Linfield and his family, c. 1892. Frederick was the youngest son of William and Anne Linfield of Worthing, and was born on 23 September 1861. His name has appeared several times in previous issues of Longshot,1 and include stories about the disastrous fire which severely damaged his work premises in 1889 (he was a corn merchant) and his enthusiasm for the telephone, when he became one of the first people in Worthing to have it installed in 1886.
Frederick was actively involved in local politics, and became one of the first councillors at Worthing when the borough was incorporated in 1890. Promoted to Alderman in 1893, he was Mayor of the town between 1906 and 1908 and remained on the council until 1915. He then moved with his wife to London to pursue his political ambitions, which eventually saw him elected as Liberal Member of Parliament for Mid-Bedford in 1922. During the First World War, he worked in the Ministry of Munitions Inventions Department and was awarded the MBE. In 1924, he was a member of an East African Parliamentary Committee, which visited Northern Rhodesia, Nyasaland, Tanganyika, Uganda, Kenya and Zanzibar.
Frederick married Kate Ayres, a dressmaker on 10 April 1884. They had two sons and two daughters. She is shown in the photograph with their eldest son, Frederick William (grandfather of our membership secretary, Barry Linfield) born 23 January 1885, and their daughter Beatrice Kate, born in 1888. Another son, Herbert John (Jack), was born on 24 July 1892, and another daughter, Mary Gertrude, who was born in January 1896. Sadly, they lost both their daughters in 1896, Kate at the age of 7, and Gertrude at 9 months. Their little gravestones can still be seen at the cemetery in South Farm Road, Worthing.
Kate died in February 1929; Frederick lived another ten years, and died on 2 June 1939 at his home in Balham. He was buried in a grave next to his wife at the South Farm Road Cemetery.
The photograph on the front cover shows his mother, Anne Linfield who was the only daughter of Benjamin Julius Caesar of Godalming. Her brother was the famous Surrey and England cricketer, Julius Caesar whose tragic life has been the subject of a previous article in Longshot.2
Incidentally, I have a couple of interesting items that belonged to this lady: the first is a very worn kitchen spoon, which she had apparently used all her life for cooking, whilst the other is her fascinating birthday book. This little document provided a very valuable piece of genealogical information since it records the date of birth and death of her father-in-law, Henry Linfield who was born on 4 May 1796, and died in Brighton on 5 November 1873. Henry moved about quite a bit during his life, and when his children were born in the 1820s he was working as a gardener (perhaps a market gardener) in Croydon. But where did he come from?
Having the date of his birth proved an extremely useful clue. It was whilst researching the parish registers of Nuthurst in West Sussex that I discovered that a Henry Linfield was baptised on 12 June 1796, son of James and Elizabeth Linfield. Could this be him? The baptism date would fit perfectly. Henry lost his wife in 1826 during childbirth, so I wondered whether he may have remarried. Through trial and error, I managed to find that indeed he had: in 1842, he married a widow, Harriet Ann Plumridge, a bootmaker’s daughter, in Middlesex. I was convinced this was the right marriage because the informant on Henry’s death certificate was H.A. Linfield. But crucially, the marriage certificate gives the name of Henry’s father, ‘James Linfield, deceased’. I’ve still to find a census entry for Henry, which should confirm his place of birth as Nuthurst.
Henry had obviously left Nuthurst as a young man to “seek his fortune elsewhere”. Agricultural depression was severe in Southern England after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, and remote rural parishes like Nuthurst could only provide a modest living for a limited number of people.
1 Family History from Old Newspapers, by Malcolm Linfield Longshot Vol 1 No 1 (May 1992) pp 18-19.
Roots and Cuttings, by Alan Lindfield Longshot Vol 3 No 1 (May 1994) p. 35.
William and Anne Linfield of Worthing, by Malcolm Linfield Longshot Vol 2 No 1 (May 1993) p. 27.
2 The Caesar Connection Part 3: The Tragic Life of Julius Caesar, by Malcolm Linfield in Longshot Vol. 5 No. 1 (Aug. 1996) pp. 11.
Of all the various records available to the family historian, wills and probate records are among the richest sources of information. Not only do they contain such details as the addresses and occupations of the deceased, but also the names and relationships of children, spouses and other relatives. They may be the only records that confirm these relationships in a single document.
Wills and administrations in England and Wales from 1858 are at the Principal Probate Registry, Somerset House in the Strand, London, where the Indexes may be consulted free of charge. They are also now available in many of the local record offices. There is one set of volumes for each year. Copies of wills and administrations may be obtained at a very modest cost, and some such copies are held by the Lin(d)field One name Group. Information from the Indexes and from the documents themselves has been used in compiling the database, and in most cases the database number is shown following the name on each entry listed below.
Prior to the Married Women’s Property Act of 1882, all the possessions of a married woman were legally the property of her husband and hence wills for married women are rarely found in that period. Widows and spinsters, on the other hand, may have left wills.
Extracts from the Index
- Elizabeth LINDFIELD #5443, proved 2 June 1865.
- Will of Elizabeth LINDFIELD (wife of Henry) late of 8 Sussex St, Brighton, died 10 October 1864 at 8 Sussex St, proved by oath of said Henry LINDFIELD of 8 Sussex St, bricklayer, sole executor, effects less than £200.
- Henry LINDFIELD, #75, proved 15 June 1865
- Will of Henry LINDFIELD, late of Horsham, farmer, died 21 December 1864 at Horsham, proved at Chichester by oath of Alfred Aldridge of Horsham, solicitor’s clerk, one of executors, effects less than £2000.
- Thomas LINDFIELD #4632, proved 22 Dee 1865
- Thomas LINDFIELD late of Hove, licensed victualler, deceased, died 7 Nov 1865 Hove, proved Lewes on oath of Edward LINDFIELD of Hove, licensed victualler, one of executors, effects less than £1500.
- Rebecca LINFEILD (sic), #14861, proved 12 Jan 1866
- Will of Rebecca LINFEILD late of Hampton Wick, Co. of Middlesex, spinster died 24 Dee 1864 Hampton Wick, proved at Principal Registry by oaths of Robert LINFEILD of Hampton Wick, gent., the brother and Jane LINFEILD, spinster the sister, the executors, effects less than £3000.
- John LINDFIELD, #4097, proved 29 November 1866
- Will of John LINDFIELD, formerly of Duchess of Kent public house, Liverpool Rd, Islington, county of Middlesex, but late of the Black Prince public house, Walworth Rd, Walworth, Surrey, licensed victualler, deceased, who died 5 November 1866 at the Black Prince, proved by oath of Ruth Robinson of Black Prince, spinster, one of executors, effects less than £1000.
- Ralph LINFIELD, #1568, proved 28 March 1866
- Will of Ralph LINFIELD late of Wakefield, county of York, ironmonger, deceased, who died at Wakefield 25 February 1866 at Wakefield, proved on oath of Sarah LINFIELD of Wakefield, widow and relict., sole executor, effects less than £2000.
- Thomas LINDFIELD, #964, proved 22 July 1867
- Will of Thomas LINDFIELD, late of 19 Stanhope St in parish of St Pancras, county of Middlesex, deceased, who died 27 May 1867 at 51 Hampstead Rd, in the county of Middlesex, proved by oath of Elizabeth LINDFIELD of 19 Stanhope St., widow, relict and sole executor, effects less than £450.
- Henry LINFIELD, #14877, proved 4 Sept 1867
- Will of Henry LINFIELD, formerly of 2 Mathon Place, Richmond Rd, Islington, in the county of Middlesex, railway clerk but late of 14 Bromley Terrace, Poplar, county aforesaid, oilman, who died 8 May 1867 at 14 Bromley Terrace, proved at Principal Registry by oath of Eliza LINFIELD of 14 Bromley Terrace aforesaid, widow, relict, and Robert Hassell Walker of 5 York Terrace, Tunbridge Wells in Kent, lodging house keeper, the executors, effects less than £200.
- John LINFIELD, proved 16 Jan 1869
- John LINFIELD, late of 27 Botolph Lane in City of London, died 16 December 1868 in the River Thames opposite the Customs House, proved at Principal Registry by oath of Sarah LINFIELD of 27 Botolph Lane, widow the relict, and sole executor, effects less than £200.
- Henry LINDFIELD, #4765, proved 28 July 1870
- Will of Henry LINDFIELD, late of St John’s Common, Keymer, butcher, who died 23 Mar 1870 at St John’s Common, Keymer, proved at Lewes by oath of Aaron Moon of Rotherfield in county aforesaid, builder, William Moon of Hastings, in county aforesaid, carpenter and Alfred Scrase of Keymer, butcher the executors, effects less than £100.
- Mary LINDFIELD, #14914, proved 25 April 1870
- Letters of Administration (with will annexed) of the personal estate and effects of Mary LINDFIELD late of 53 Harmood St, Kentish Town in the county of Middlesex, widow, deceased, died 19 March 1870 at 53 Harmood St, granted Principal Registry to Elizabeth LINDFIELD of 151 Stanhope St, St Pancras, widow, the guardian of Frederick LINDFIELD and Louisa Lavell LINDFIELD, minors, the universal legatees on attaining the age of 21 years named in said will she the said Elizabeth having been first sworn, effects less than £600.
- George LINFIELD, #38, proved 23 November 1872
- Will and codicil of George LINFIELD, late of Horsham, county Sussex, yeoman, died 23 August 1872 at Towerhill, Horsham, proved at Chichester by Jane LINFIELD of Horsham, widow, relict, one of the executors, effects less than £2000.
- Mary LINFIELD, #16102, proved 12 May 1873
- Mary LINFIELD late of 5 Euston St, Euston Square, Co. Middlesex, spinster, died 21 April 1873 at 5 Euston St, proved Principal Registry by James LINFIELD of 43 Marlborough Rd, Old Kent Rd in Co. of Surrey, gent, the brother and sole executor, effects less than £1500.
- William LINDFIELD, proved 13 March 1873.
- Administration of effects of William LINDFIELD late of Southwick, Co. Sussex, labourer, widower, died 25 December 1872 at Southwick granted at Chichester to Eliza Brazier wife of Thomas Brazier of 7 Rock Rd, Southwick, daughter and one of the next of kin, effects less than £100.
- Peter Stanford LINFIELD, #1413, proved 7 September 1874
- Will of Peter Stanford LINFIELD late of 10 Canonbury Terrace, Islington Co Middlesex, gent who died 11 August 1874 at 10 Canonbury Terrace, proved Principal Registry by Elizabeth LINFIELD of 10 Canonbury Terrace, widow, relict and sole executor, less than £12000.
- John LINDFIELD, #4758, 4 September 1875
- Will of John LINDFIELD late of Olive Branch Inn, Silwood Street, Brighton in Co. Sussex, licensed victualler died 2 August 1875 at the Olive Branch Inn, proved Lewes by Lucy LINDFIELD of the Olive Branch Inn, widow, relict and one of the executors, less than £450.
- Eliza LINDFIELD, 24 February 1876
- Will of Eliza LINDFIELD formerly of St John’s Common but late of Chailey, widow who died 30 October 1875 at Chailey. Proved Lewes by Charles Tulley of St John’s Common, farmer, one of the executors, less than £100.
- Elizabeth LINDFIELD, #3100, proved 2 March 1876
- Will of Elizabeth LINDFIELD late of 151 Stanhope Street, Hampstead Road, Co Middlesex, widow, died 28 January 1876 at 151 Stanhope Street, proved at Principal Registry by James Vaughan of I Southampton Street, Fitzroy Square, gent, sole executor. Less than £600.
Continued in the next issue: Part 2
Over the years, I have been very fortunate to acquire a fairly large collection of old photographs, not only of the Linfields but also of my grandmother’s family, the Ballards. Many of these photographs go as far back as the 1860s and are obviously very precious heirlooms. It is remarkable that so many have survived, and I am immensely grateful to those relatives in previous generations who had the foresight to ensure their preservation.
A few of these photographs are interesting to a much wider audience since they relate to events of local historical significance. For instance, there is a formal group of various people including nurses and patients outside the front of a building (see Figure 1, centre pages). Two of the patients are children, and they are sitting on the laps of nurses seated along the front row. I could also recognise my great-grandfather,Arthur George Linfield (1859-1938) and his younger brother, Frederick Caesar Linfield (1861-1939), one time Mayor of Worthing and Liberal Member of Parliament.
Figure 1: the temporary hospital set up by the Worthing Methodists at the ‘Hollies’ in 1893. Arthur George Linfield, Fruit Grower is standing (holding chair) second from the right. His brother, Alderman Frederick C. Linfield, Corn Merchant, is standing in the middle row, 5th from the left, with his right hand resting on a chair.
But why were they there? The picture was apparently framed at some point, so it was obviously a picture of some importance to its original owner, Arthur Linfield. I have concluded from the evidence that it probably shows one of the temporary hospitals set up at the time of the Worthing typhoid epidemic (see article: ‘The Worthing Typhoid Epidemic of 1893’, Longshot Vol. 4 No. 2, December 1995). Some of the patients are wearing caps, presumably to cover their bare heads, loss of hair being one of the effects of the fever or the drugs being used. The Methodists set up a number of hospitals in response to the crisis in the town, and the presence of my great-grandfather and his brother would indicate that this was one of them. Interestingly enough, the building is still there: called the “Hollies”, it stands at the very top end of Worthing High Street and was built about 1810 using the local yellow brick. It also features in the backgound of what is arguably the best known photograph of the Worthing typhoid epidemic, which shows people collecting water from a large portable tank – all the mains water was contaminated (see Figure 2, centre pages). I am currently trying to identify the other people in the photograph.
Figure 2: one of the 200 gallon portable water tanks set up to provide Worthing’s inhabitants with fresh drinking water. The ‘Hollies’ can be seen in the background; Peggy Champ always thought that the figure standing on the opposite side of the road, looking towards the tank, was her grandfather, Arthur Linfield.
However, I digress. I would like to say something about an interesting album of photographs, which were taken in the early 1950s. It is, in effect, a photographic survey of the main business activities of the Sussex firm of A.G. Linfield Ltd., growers of Thakeham in West Sussex. This record is dedicated to A.G. Linfield, eldest son of the founder and the pictures were taken by his grandson, David Rucklidge. Although the date ‘1948’ has been entered in pen towards the end of the book (on a note thanking David for his efforts in compiling the album), I believe that many of the photos were actually taken in 1951 – perhaps all of them – since speaking to a former employee.
These photographs focus on the mushroom growing activities of the business during a period of rapid growth. However, what is particularly interesting is that they were taken at a point in time just beforemajor technological and cultural innovations completely revolutionised the whole system of mushroom production in the UK. All the photographs were taken at Thakeham, at Chesswood and Willmer’s nurseries, and at the Abingworth nursery which was a former dairy purchased in 1944. Although they show tractors and trailers being used to carry mushroom compost to the various growing houses, virtually everything else was done by hand. And from looking at the pictures, it must have been extremely hard work! Extensive mechanisation during the 1950s was the key to significant increases in productivity which transformed the fortunes of the family firm and made mushroom growing its most important commercial activity.
Mushrooms had always been grown by the business, in the early days as a catch crop and to keep the workers occupied during the winter months. At Thakeham a number of purpose built houses were erected as soon as the farm was purchased in 1913, and throughout the inter-war years some three acres of outdoor ridge beds were also cultivated during the Summer and Autumn. Mushroom growing was given a tremendous boost during the 1930s by the development in the USA of “pure culture spawn” which removed part of the risk and uncertainty of crop failure due to poor spawn. Previously growers had to look out for mushroom mycelium growing in old piles of manure or in stables. They would bring it home and plant it immediately in the prepared compost or into a protected bed to grow on and serve as a source for the future. This, then, was by definition a risky business: the grower would have no idea how productive his spawn would be or even what his mushrooms would look like when they appeared! If he had found a particularly productive strain, he would try and perpetuate it for as long as possible by replanting some in his special bed. Sooner or later, his strain would weaken and need replacing by a new one.
There was therefore a great diversity of strains. Colours would have varied from light tan to very dark brown. Whatever their colour, there would have been few problems selling them since the demand was always much greater than the supply, making mushrooms a luxury crop commanding a high price. Interestingly enough, the white strains, which are by far the most common varieties available in the shops today, would have been unheard of before the advent of “pure culture” spawn. Apparently it was from a pure white mutation which occurred in 1926 or 1927 on a mushroom farm in Pennsylvania that all the current white strains owe their origin.
The war years saw a virtual cessation of mushroom growing in this country. Linfields’ still managed to grow the odd crop, no doubt to take advantage of the very good prices they could fetch. But most of the firm’s activities were geared up to the production of vegetables to support the war effort, and I have a number of detailed cropping plans showing how the glasshouses and fields were being used to achieve this. During August 1943, the Minister of Agriculture, R.S. Hudson visited the business to see what was being done and a number of photographs were taken by George Garland to record this event (these can be seen at the West Sussex Record Office).
After the Second World War, Linfields’ made a concerted effort to expand its production of mushrooms and the photographic collection shows in vivid detail how this was being achieved during the late ‘40s and early ‘50s. Improvisation and the ingenious conversion of existing facilities seem to have been the order of the day. Therefore glasshouses were covered with insulated panels or sheets containing glass-fibre, and there is a sequence of photos showing this. Wire netting was used to hold down the material across the top of the glasshouses, whilst wooden lathes were used on the sides and ends. The metal frames of old army beds were used to create a three-tier system of shelving to carry the mushroom beds in the houses (there would have been an enormous surplus of these immediately after the war) whilst the supports came from Worthing’s sea defences! But there were also growing houses where the mushroom beds were made up along the floor. Many photos show some very respectable crops of good quality white mushrooms (see Figure 3 below). Even some of the vehicles were ex-army – for instance the lorry which carried the boxes of harvested mushrooms to the packing shed.
Figure 3: Inside one of the greenhouses – now a mushroom shed!
Many of the converted glasshouses had previously been used for growing tomatoes, an important wartime crop. Not all the adaptations were quite as successful: there is a photograph inside a glasshouse showing how black polythene was suspended over the tomato support wires in order to exclude the light. However, the material is riddled with holes (perhaps this was deliberate – to provide some light and ventilation!)
Not all the mushrooms were grown in these adapted structures. There are a number of pictures showing some of the purpose built houses, typically half-round in shape with curved asbestos panels forming the roof. The oldest buildings were situated at Jack Willmer’s nursery; built during the early years of the First World War, these originally had a thatched roof (excellent for insulation) and were too low to support any form of shelving – so the mushroom beds were laid out along the floor. I have some early photographs taken in March 1917 of a crop of mushrooms being harvested in one of these structures. Since mushrooms do not produce chlorophyll, they do not require light; and as they grow best in cool temperatures with a reasonable humidity, glasshouses are not ideally suited for their cultivation. However, this did not prevent growers’ using them during the colder months to obtain the odd crop of mushrooms – especially with the prices they could command.
During the late Forties and throughout the Fifties, Linfields’ were very much the leaders in their field. By obtaining the best advice then available from international experts and adopting the latest technology, Linfields’ were able to expand their production to levels previously unheard of. By 1957, they were producing 7.5 million lbs per annum, having purchased Lyons Farm nurseries in Worthing from H.A. Pullen-Berry the previous year. Some 4 acres of glass were converted to mushroom production in a matter of months.
There were two major developments during the early Fifties that enabled Linfields’ to make such rapid progress: (1)the adoption of new cultural methods, and (2) a sophisticated system of mechanisation. Both were inspired by a formidable duo who revolutionised mushroom growing after the war, Dr. Jim Sinden of Penn State University and Mrs Erica Hauser of Gossau in Switzerland. Dr Sinden first came to England in 1947 when he addressed a meeting of growers in West Sussex. However, before considering these developments and their impact in more detail, we need to take a closer look at the old growing system so admirably illustrated in the album.
Some 136 photographs have survived in total; unfortunately, a small number have disappeared and probably fell out when the original adhesive started to break down. The opening sequence was taken at Willmer’s nursery, showing a panoramic view of the site and some close-ups. The buildings are all shapes and sizes, but the very low ones must have been the originals built about 1914. One picture shows what initially looks like an old steam locomotive – in fact it a portable steam boiler, used to sterilise the mushroom houses between crops. It may also have been used to inject some steam into the houses immediately after filling to boost the compost temperature – this would speed up the “sweating-out” process to eliminate or reduce any lingering insect pests or moulds. The high compost temperatures in the middle of the beds (ideally around 140 degrees F) would drive out any pests, which could then be eliminated in the room by another injection of steam or a fumigant. The pictures are not in any particular order, but the whole production process – from compost preparation to the packing shed – is fully shown.
Introducing some form of order to the processes depicted in these photographs takes us initially to the compost shed. The whole business of growing mushrooms starts here where the various “ingredients” – traditionally stable manure and wheat straw, from a time when there were plenty of horses – are formed into a heap which is liberally soaked with water. This encourages vigorous bacterial activity, causing the heap to warm up which begins to soften the straw. A few days later, the stack is broken apart and the compost re-formed into windrows, originally quite wide (I believe up to 12 feet across) but reduced by Sinden to dimensions of 6 feet in height and 6 feet in width. In 1951, the composting at Thakeham was carried out under cover in a large shed at Town House Farm. A couple of barns were also used for this purpose. The photograph below (Figure 4) was taken inside the main compost shed. The whole process then took about 28 days, during which time the stack would be “turned” a number of times to ensure a relatively homogenous end product in which all parts reached the desired temperatures.
Figure 4: inside the main composting shed at Town House Farm
When the compost was ready, it was conveyed to the growing houses by tractor and trailer – loaded, of course, by hand. A “gang” of seven men – working on piece-rate – carried out all the filling and emptying of the mushroom houses.
David photographed them loading the trailers and taking them to the various blocks of growing houses at Willmer’s and the other Thakeham nurseries. Being of a somewhat suspicious inclination, one employee was quite upset at being photographed, convinced that it was a new way of spying on the workforce! Once there, the compost was unloaded into wheelbarrows, which were pushed into the houses; either to be tipped out along the floor or forked onto the 3-tier shelves (which were initially covered with a thin layer of straw to protect the compost from drying out). The beds were made up to a thickness of around 8 inches, using wooden boards to compress the bulky material. Once the filling had been completed, the houses were shut up to allow a gradual build up of temperature – i.e. the “sweating-out” process described above. This part of composting has since become known as “pasteurisation”, “peak-heat” or “phase 2”.
Figure 5: Filling the shelves with newly made mushroom compost
Once the compost had cooled sufficiently (to around 70-80 degrees F), the beds were ready for spawning. The pure culture spawn came in the form of “bricks” (a mixture of mushroom mycelium growing in blocks of compost) which were broken up into small pieces, and pushed into the surface of the compost at regular intervals. Gradually the mushroom mycelium would colonise the beds, but in order for it to produce any fruitbodies it was necessary to cover the surface of the beds with a “casing” soil. The main functions of the casing soil are to protect the surface of the compost, to hold moisture for the growing mushrooms and supply the essential bacteria to initiate fruit body formation. It needs to be an inert material, free of contaminants and with an excellent moisture holding capacity. Peat has proved ideal, but before its universal adoption during the 1950s soil was used, preferably a clay or clay-loam subsoil which was free from pathogens.
Figure 6: applying the casing soil to the surface of the mushroom beds.
The soil for casing was extracted locally and stored in one of the barns, and there is a photograph showing a man loading it into a trailer by shovelling it through a large sieve to remove any lumps. Ground chalk was also added to the material to obtain the desirable pH. The maintenance of strictly hygienic conditions is essential in the production of mushrooms, and the trailer used to convey the casing soil had a fixed grid of piping along its base so that the material could be steam pasteurised prior to application. There are also photographs of the casing soil being unloaded into wheelbarrows and taken into the houses; once inside, it was carefully shovelled onto the beds and then smoothed out to a depth of about 1.5 inches. It was then watered.
Some 3 to 4 weeks after casing, the first mushrooms would appear. When ready for harvesting, they were carefully twisted from the soil and placed in wooden boxes. They were then collected by truck and taken to the packing shed, where they were trimmed, put in baskets, weighed and lidded. They were then removed to a refrigerated room where they were stored prior to despatch to the main markets. This was very much a luxury food, and the high price they obtained is reflected in the labour-intensive nature of their production and harvesting. But with the advent of mechanisation, substantial increases in productivity were to make mushrooms a food for everyone – although the conservative tastes of the British consumer meant that it would be a very long time before they were universally accepted. Whereas in 1950 the annual UK production was 12,000 tons, in 1980 it was estimated at 52,000.
The harvesting procedures were also radically changed to speed up the picking process – no longer were the mushrooms individually removed and carefully placed in the boxes, but “gangs” of women were employed on piece-rate to pick at speed, trimming the mushrooms as they went.
Figure 7: carefully removing the mushrooms and placing them in a tray.
The major innovations at Linfields during the 1950s were gradually adopted on the advice of the Sinden-Hauser team. They required a major investment in new machinery and practices, but the rewards were substantial. These changes can broadly be divided into a number of separate areas, but taken together they heralded a revolution in the whole process of growing mushrooms:
As a response to dwindling supplies of horse manure, Sinden and Hauser developed the “short composting” process in 1950. Not only did it make more efficient use of limited supplies, but it also saved time, space and labour.The 28 day cycle was replaced by a much shorter outdoor cycle of only 7-14 days; the process was then completed under controlled conditions indoors, which became known as “Phase 2”. However, in order to adopt the short composting method Linfields’ also had to scrap its labour-intensive shelving and switch to a tray system. Trays had first been used in America in 1934; they were introduced to the UK in 1948 and formed a crucial part of Sinden’s strategy for mechanising the whole production process. Whereas shelves were permanent and inflexible, trays could be handled mechanically on the flow principle.
Later on, further changes would be made to the composting regime when Linfields’ adapted Sinden’s ideas on “synthetic” composting, which no longer relied upon supplies of horse manure – increasingly difficult to obtain in the large amounts needed. Instead, other ingredients were used as substitutes, including pig and poultry manure, both available from other parts of the business.
Linfields’ were also the first large growers in the UK to build their own self-propelled mechanical compost turner, which was capable of doing the work of 15 men. The advantages of such a machine are obvious: a significant reduction in labour costs, whilst at the same time allowing for a substantial increase in the output of mushroom compost. By the late Fifties, there were 6 of these machines.
Another major advance was the production of mushroom spawns based on cereal grains (Sinden had taken out patents on this process in 1932 and 1937). Previously, inoculated “bricks” of manure had to be broken into small pieces and planted into the surface of the compost (see Figure 8 below). However, grain spawn permitted the development of “through-spawning” by the use of machinery for the first time. This allowed another significant improvement in time, efficiency and labour.
Figure 8: planting small pieces of spawn into the surface of the compost (1951).
(3). The Tray System.
The major advantage of trays over shelves was that certain tasks, which could only be done by hand, could now be performed by machinery. The timber boxes were fairly small to start with – presumably so they could be lifted by hand – but as time went on they became much larger (6×4 feet), so they could be carried in bulk by forklift truck.
A number of “lines” were introduced where the various tasks involved in growing mushrooms in trays could be successfully mechanised – at filling, spawning, casing and emptying. These lines all worked on the same principle: trays would be lifted on in bulk by a forklift truck at one end, where they would be de-stacked and moved along rollers. In the case of filling, these would be empty trays, which would pass beneath a swinging arm distributing the compost – carried directly from the yard by conveyor belt. Once filled and pressed, the machine would re-stack the trays at the other end, where they would be removed by forklift to the pasteurisation rooms.
On the completion of pasteurisation, the compost is ready for spawning. The trays would be loaded onto the spawning line, where a hopper containing the grain spawn would trickle it evenly onto the surface. A revolving drum would mix the spawn thoroughly through the substrate, before returning it to the trays; these were re-stacked and removed by forklift to the spawn-running rooms. In about a week, the mushroom mycelium would fully colonise the compost; the trays would then be taken to the casing line. Another hopper would distribute a layer of casing soil – a mixture of wet peat and lime – on the surface of the spawned trays before final removal to the growing houses.
Although the tray system means a lot of moving around, it enabled factory style processes to be adopted in the mushroom industry. Another important development was the introduction of purpose-built pasteurising and spawn-running rooms, where the environment could be controlled more accurately. This also had an important impact on productivity by freeing up the growing houses so a greater number of crops could be grown during the year. The 11 weeks picking cycle was abandoned in favour of a much shorter cropping period, enabling the turn-around in the growing houses to be reduced to less than 8 weeks.
And finally, when it comes to emptying the houses the tray system again has major advantages. Whereas it took several hours to empty a shelf house, a tray house can be emptied by forklift in less than an hour. Compost disposal is easy too: another line was installed where the trays could be raised and tipped onto a conveyor belt. The spent compost was then transferred to waiting vehicles where it was taken well away from the growing houses.
Figure 9: the tray system in operation c. 1960.
My intention in this article has been to show the historical value of an album of photographs which shows the mushroom growing activities at AG Linfield’s nurseries at Thakeham. Taken over 50 years ago, they are particularly interesting for two main reasons: (1) they show how the business was ingeniously adapting existing facilities to rapidly expand its output of cultivated mushrooms, but the methods being used were little different from 50 years earlier. A number of recent developments had helped to reduce the risks of crop failure – the availability of pure culture spawn was probably the most important – but essentially it was the same old growing system; and, (2) they were taken at a point in time just before major innovations completely revolutionised mushroom growing in the UK – and Linfields’, advised by Sinden and Hauser, were at the cutting edge of these developments. I have described the main changes which took place to allow a full appreciation of how the growing system was improved, making Linfields’ into a very successful business and the largest mushroom growers in the country. Various mergers in the early seventies created larger producers, but even so, Linfields’ were still producing up to 15 million lbs of mushrooms per annum.
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