Discovering, Preserving and Presenting the History of Gringley-on-the-Hill, Nottinghamshire.

CELERY

Some of you will know that the area around Gringley was once famous for growing celery.  If you enjoy celery it’s worth knowing that it was in Nottinghamshire that celery was first popularised as a food in Britain and we have the Duke of Marlborough to thank for this.

Celery (Apium graveolens) is a marshland plant that has been cultivated since antiquity. It is a member of the parsley family. Other vegetables in this family include carrot and parsnip. It grows best in in a cool climate where soils are deep and fertile. It originated in the Mediterranean region and was used by early civilisations for medicinal purposes; it was said to sooth the nerves, control hysteria and promote restful sleep.

Celery was probably introduced as a food in France in 1623. It was mainly used first as a flavouring, as the early types were very pungent. The late 17th and 18th centuries saw improvements of the wild types of celery making its stalks better for use in salads.  Gardeners also found that growing celery during cooler parts of the year tended to reduce the pungency. By the middle of the 18th century celery was enjoyed as a food by the more affluent people of northern Europe and its use grew rapidly after then.

History has many unintended consequences and the history of celery is no exception. Use of celery in Britain arose from the very complicated War of the Spanish Succession. One of the major battles of this war was the battle of Blenheim in 1704, when the allied armies under the control of the Duke of Marlborough defeated the French and Bavarian alliance on the banks of the Danube in southern Germany. 

The French leader at Blenheim was Marshall Tallard, a French aristocrat and also a Duke. He was taken prisoner after the battle, became a POW and was sent to England.  So what should they do in the 18th century with a POW, a 52 year old French Marshall and aristocrat? (There was still a degree of loyalty between European nobles, even when they were enemies).  Well, they found a very nice place for him to spend his imprisonment, in Nottingham, close to the castle….

Nottingham Castle ceased to be a royal residence by 1600, was badly damaged during the Civil war and destroyed at the end of the war. After the restoration of Charles II in 1660, the castle ruins were taken over by Henry Cavendish, 2nd Duke of Newcastle.  He built the ‘Ducal Palace’ on the site between 1674 and 1679. The Duke already had his beautiful family seat at Welbeck Abbey so what was the attraction to him of the site of an inner-city ruin?

Many of you will be familiar with Nottingham as an important industrial city.  Until the start of the industrial revolution around 1780, Nottingham, then a town, would today be called a garden city, a very desirable and fashionable place to live. The re-development of the castle site was a great opportunity for Henry Cavendish to build a pleasure palace, a venue for lavish entertaining away from Welbeck.  So Nottingham became associated as a place for fashionable, wealthy people to live and rub shoulders with a duke.

The main route from Nottingham centre to the Ducal Palace at the castle follows the line of Middle Pavement, Low Pavement and Castle Gate.  Fashionable, society incomers built fine houses along these streets and here you can still see the best examples of Renaissance/Early Georgian buildings in the city. Newdigate House, built in Castle Gate in 1675 is one of the best examples. It still exists and houses the United Services Club and (until a few weeks ago) one of Nottingham’s best restaurants, The World Service. Well worth a visit when things get back to normal.

After the Battle of Blenheim, Marshall Tallard was sent to Newdigate House to serve his sentence between 1705 and 1711. Being a French aristocrat and a sensible man, he settled down there to live a happy and useful life amid his former enemies.  Apparently he enjoyed his time in Nottingham and Nottingham people enjoyed having him there. He was living in a modern house with all the mod cons of the day, in a fashionable area close to a Ducal Palace.  What’s not to like! Daniel Defoe wrote that ‘his small but beautiful parterre, after the French fashion’ was one of the beauties of Nottingham.

His courtesy and innate goodness soon made him popular and he gave us a number of innovations.  He invited visitors to his house and taught the ladies how to prepare salads (not well-known in England at that time), to make white bread and he taught the men to grow roses.

The greatest gift we owe to him is celery. He had known the plant in France and sadly missed it in England where its use was unknown. During his walks around the river marshes close to his house he found celery growing wild. He had the plants transferred to his garden, which still remains, and cultivated them there. Had he been in an isolated part of the country it may have remained a local event.  Within the fashionable society of Nottingham, this new innovation in food soon spread and became part of our diet, providing a rich source of vitamins and minerals.

In our area the rich soil from the reclaimed land arising from the drainage of the Carrs and around the river Idle is ideal for growing celery. Gringley and Everton Carrs were well-known producers and a report tells of celery being transported to Beckingham station being available for sale in Sheffield the next day.  There is a street in Clarborough called Celery Meadows. Today in the walled garden at Clumber Park they grow the locally-derived variety of celery the Clayworth Prize Pink.

So what happened to our local celery business?  A clue may be found in a report in the Sheffield Independent, 28 August 1855 ‘Sheffield MP praises local celery’, on the speech by Mr FJS Foljambe MP at the fourth annual Worksop Cottagers’ Floral Society:

‘  . . .  in going round the show Mr Foljambe (who is very fond of a garden) had seen some very creditable and excellent specimens produced from allotments and small gardens.  He did not think it would ever be a source of any great profit because if it was universally adopted, if vegetable and fruit growing were generally in operation, the competition would be so great they would knock down the prices, as they saw it in the case of celery growing in this neighbourhood, where he was told the increased growth had lowered the prices nearly one half.  There were many acres of celery grown by the side of the Idle and at Clayworth and Gringley-on-the-Carrs the cultivation was more than in small gardens, because there were many acres of celery grown, some of the sticks being as long as the stick he held in his hand, and for which there was a great demand in the Sheffield market, but he thought when a certain limit was reached prices would go down, and not be as remunerative as before; but it would always pay a labouring man or artisan to be able to grow fruit and vegetables for his own family consumption . . . ‘ 

Quick-Braised Celery (courtesy of Delia) for Quick-Braised Celery
(serves 4-6)

 INGREDIENTS

1 Head of celery, trimmed, de-stringed and cut into 3 inch pieces
25g butter
1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced
75g carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
225ml vegetable stock
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Salt & Pepper

METHOD

1. Melt the butter in a (lidded) pan.  Cook onions for 3-4 minutes
2. Add carrots and cook for 2 minutes
3. Add celery and cook for 5 minutes
4. Season with salt & pepper, pour over the hot stock and place lid on pan
5. Simmer for 20 minutes
6. Take off lid and continue to simmer to thicken the liquid
7. Serve, sprinkled with parsley.

ENJOY!

 

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