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The Rhubarb Triangle: from Rail to Road. A Template for UK Seasonal Produce in the Twentieth Century?

Recorded on 18 November 2021

Speaker: Owen Carlstrand (York)

The origin of this talk is a 2020 Masters dissertation at York University using the West Yorkshire Forced rhubarb industry as a case study into the demise of rail transported seasonal produce and the growth of both road and the power of retailers over suppliers. 

For many years West Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb growers, a small and independent group of market gardeners, used the railways, originally Great Northern and later the London and North Eastern and eventually British Railways, to transport their produce, largely to London. They used a developed and effective rail system enabling them to access the lucrative but distant London wholesale markets with a next day guaranteed delivery before the advent of universal trunk road transport. 

The talk examines this traffic and the eventual transfer by the growers to long distance road haulage. In common with recent work it also touches on whether the swing of power from manufacturer to retailer, although significant in the development of centralised distribution chains, played any significant role in the demise of the so called Forced Rhubarb traffic. 

It furthermore looks at the extension of this methodology to a case study examination of UK seasonal produce and hence develop a sustainable PhD project on this subject. The project would follow in the footsteps of work which has examined these aspects from the perspective of a number of foodstuffs, in particular, milk, fish, confectionery and meat, all large and powerful industries. The PhD will though examine a number of small, seasonal but locally significant industries and their route from almost total dependence on the railways to reliance on road transport and domination by supermarkets.

IHR Seminar SeriesTransport & Mobility History