Rhubarb, Rhubarb

In 1903 John Lazenby and his two brothers, Frank and Charlie, moved from Calverley to Priestley Green, where they rented 20 acres of land (which included three fields across the Leeds and Whitehall Road), Bracken Farm and two adjacent cottages.  They began a market garden business which still continues, 104 years later.

Ernest Lazenby, John’s son (he is the child in the photograph, flanked by his father, John, and his mother, Ellen), was born in 1900 and began working full-time with his father and uncles in 1913, continuing until 1970.  However, he had already helped them in the fields while a pupil at Lightcliffe National School.  He had shown himself to be a good cricketer and footballer and was also academically able, but when he won a scholarship to Hipperholme Grammar School, he was unable to take it up because the demands of the farm had to come first.  Also, after leaving school, the long and tiring regime of growing and selling vegetables left little time for sport.  Twice a week Ernest went to market in Bradford.  He would be up at midnight, hitch two horses to his cart, travel to Norwood Green, through the woods known collectively (and incorrectly) as Judy Woods to Odsal, then down into Bradford, arriving for 4 a.m.  When he was relieved by an uncle, he rode one of the horses back to Priestley Green, arriving at noon.  His uncle later returned with the other horse and the cart.

Horses were used until after the Second World War, when the Bradford stall was given up because wholesalers began to collect the produce.  Also, in the late forties, the horses were replaced by a tractor.

A feature of the market gardens was the rhubarb forcing sheds, which were situated halfway down Lees Lane (also known locally as ‘Red’, ‘Bluebell’ or ‘Rhubarb’ Lane) roughly between the two stiles on each side of the track.  Earlier, the sheds had been opposite Syke Wells.  Thirteen thousand roots were grown in two sheds and pulled from mid-January to early April.  Two varieties were cultivated: Prince Albert (early) and Victoria.

In 1944 the five fields between the main road and Lees Lane were bought, although some of this land was sold in the early eighties.  Vegetables and fruit have always been grown without artificial fertilizers at Bracken Farm, long before the demand for organic produce became fashionable.

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