One of the most important industries in the Fareham area during the late 1800s to mid 1900s was strawberry growing. The Strawberry gallery at the museum tells the remarkable stories of the people and places involved in this business. The focal point is a scene at Swanwick Station between 1910 and 1920. A basket of strawberries is being unloaded from an original strawberry cart, ready to be loaded on to one of the trains known as "Strawberry Specials" to be transported for sale at Covent Garden or elsewhere in Britain.
A combination of gravely or sandy soil and a mild climate free from spring frosts are ideal for the production of early cropping strawberries. Hampshire Strawberries were always amongst the first of the season. Although a crop of strawberries was reported in Fareham as late as December in an exceptionally mild winter in December 1818!
"On the first of this month was gathered from the garden of HP Delme Esq, Cams Hall, Fareham, a large plate of strawberries, in high perfection - a circumstance never before remembered by the venerable gardener who has resided on the premises more than half a century" Hampshire Telegraph, 7 December 1818
Commercial strawberry growing began in this area after 1850 on land around Titchfield and Locks Heath. Between two and four acres of strawberry land was adequate to support a family throughout the year. By 1900 the land around Titchfield, Locks Heath, Swanwick, Sarisbury and Warsash had become centres of production.
Until the early 1930s, strawberries were grown in the open. The use of glass cloches helped to protect the ripening fruit. Polythene tunnels were introduced in the 1960s.
The industry flourished in the early 20th century although from the 1960s it began to decline. As many growers went out of business, much of the area previously covered by vast strawberry fields was developed as for housing from the 1980s. Today, a number of thriving 'pick your own' facilities show that the local strawberries are still among the best in Britain!
The station was built specially in 1888 for the strawberry industry. For a short time each year, it was one of the busiest in the country and extra long platforms were built to load up the "Strawberry Special" trains that departed regularly for Covent Garden market and other buyers across Britain. Small boys were employed for 3d (1p) an hour to load baskets onto the specially constructed shelves in the railway vans. By 1898, 7,000 tonnes of strawberries were sent to London alone from this area. Many more were sold locally or sent to other locations in the UK.
The Swanwick and District Fruit Growers Association was founded in 1905 and in 1913 opened a basket making cooperative. The basket factory mainly employed women in the manufacturing process. By 1949 over 60 people worked at the site but this number dropped to just six by 1964 as new materials in punnet manufacture were introduced.
Working in the Strawberry Industry The picking season was the most important and busiest time of the year, running from the end of May through to mid July. This was when local growers made the income which would pay their debts and keep their families for the rest of the year. Family, friends and neighbours were employed as pickers. Additional labour was supplied by gypsies and other casual workers. School children were given "picking holidays" to help with the work.
In 1931 the average rate of pay for pickers was 8d (approx 4p) per hour for men and 6d (3p) for women.