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Stockbridge Technology Centre and the Uniquely Yorkshire Story of Rhubarb

 Stockbridge station director F G Smith

As the rhubarb season continues for home gardeners all over the country, what most of us don’t realise is how close we came as a nation to seeing its commercial production disappear altogether. It is a tale with a uniquely Yorkshire flavour. The story of a family’s determination and the support of an organisation that is leading the UK in horticultural technology today.


Celebrity chefs as varied as Rick Stein, James Martin, and Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall all sing the praises of Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb. Indeed, traditionally grown Yorkshire Indoor Rhubarb is to the rhubarb industry what champagne is to the wine industry. War time Britain, however, began a decline that could have sounded a death knell for its production.


War time Britain’s palate was rather on the sweet side, and sugar rations were not available in the quantities needed to bring this sharp flavoured vegetable to their taste. This situation was compounded post war, when overseas trade and refrigerated logistics facilitated the trade of new and exciting tropical fruits. This spelt disaster for the Yorkshire rhubarb triangle, as the producers were massively over producing and making a loss on their production costs. Sadly, some went bankrupt, others sold up and most turned to other crops. Thanks to the tenacity of the Oldroyd family of Lofthouse, and in particular Ken, the son of the founder of E. Oldroyd and Son, some growers persevered.


To help safeguard the future of his crop, Ken sought advice from Stockbridge Technology Centre and the independent research station became involved in a range of trials in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. A high proportion of the UK’s specialist growers of rhubarb were, and still are, located within 20 miles of Stockbridge Technology Centre’s site at Cawood, near Selby. In order to safeguard the future of Yorkshire Rhubarb, scientists and crop specialists examined all aspects of production to improve both yield and quality, to offset increasing production costs and to prepare the industry for future customer demands in taste, quality, and presentation.


Stockbridge Tecnhology Centre’s first Station Director, the late Mr F G Smith, was largely responsible for the development of the outstanding varieties of Stockbridge Arrow, Stockbridge Harbinger and Cawood Delight. His work was then continued by Mr J.D.Whitwell and finally by Mr M R Bradley. As this was happening a strong link developed between the research centre and Mr. Oldroyd. He was invited to join the Advisory Committee at Stockbridge House in 1981 and was re-elected for 11 years until its re-organization in 1992. For his services to the rhubarb industry Ken was awarded the Northern Horticultural Societies highest award, The Harlow Carr Medal in 1995.


Sadly Ken, known as the Rhubarb King, died in 2007. His selfless devotion to the industry made him one of the Horticultural industries most respected and admired figures of his time. Ken left a great legacy behind, a rhubarb industry that has survived, thanks in part to his determination and dedication. Today the family company he worked so hard to build up produces yearly around 1,000 tons of rhubarb for UK supermarkets, whilst the experts at Stockbridge Technology Centre continue to share their agricultural and horticultural expertise with clients worldwide.


Select Committees

The following MP’s have been elected to chair the select committees  most relevant to our sector

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Neil Parish
Science and Technology Nicola Blackwood
Environmental Audit Huw Irranca-Davies
Business, Innovation and Skills Mr Iain Wright

AHDB launches its new structures and strategy at cereals



Horticulture explains




HDC becomes AHDB Horticulture    Video


One of the main co ordinated projects in detail



Delifresh Award

FPC Business Excellence Innovation 2015

It was a total pleasure to pick up the marvellous award for the work that has been carried out to market and distribute the fantastic LED Sunstream Tomato. Since January we have been working closely with chefs across the North to innovate and create some amazing dishes utilising the LED fruit. Education is key and bringing a tomato into a chefs kitchen in the depth of Winter and saying “you need to understand and embrace this fruit” has been a challenge. But by having such an outstanding fruit to work with has been a dream, one bite or smell of the Sunstream the chefs have fallen in love and really enjoyed creating some magical dishes.


Although the award is brilliant it wouldn’t have been possible without the dedicated hard work that the whole team at Stockbridge have put into the project, making sure every single vine is totally perfect and delivered to us with maximum inner beauty and in peak fitness. Being recognised for the work that has been done is great thing but it’s not about Delifresh, it’s about the combined effort from both parties . We are passionate about delivering the regions finest flavours into the kitchens of the North and connecting the grower to the chef, our hat is raised to the team at stockbridge and without the work over the last few months  none of this would be possible.


The Heirlooms have started and if we can replicate the passion and enthusiasm for a local product as we have done throughout winter Summer will be a fruitful time,  bring on the sun.


Many Thanks


Robert Ramsden