At one time, Damson trees lined the road through Ruyton from the Platt Bridge to Shotatton and from The Cross to Wykey. The trees could be found in every garden and hedge in our village and also across North Shropshire. It was said the cottagers reckoned to make enough money to pay their rent and rates from selling the fruit.
The name and origin of the Damson comes from its origins in Damascus. The trees either arrived in Britain with the Romans or were brought back from The Lavant, modern Syria, by the Crusaders. There is even a variety still known as the Damascene of Worcester. Damson stones are found around Roman Camps in England and the Ice Man, frozen in the Alpes 5000 years ago, carried the fruit in his bag. Damson stones have also been found in the Viking Yovik Centre in York. It is thought some cross pollination with our native sloe may have occurred to produce a tree that now prefers our cool temperate climate, with plenty of moisture, rather different from its Middle Eastern homeland.
In Westmorland, now Cumbria, the hedgerows are full of damson trees but here in Ruyton they tend to be more garden trees. Although they are relatively short lived, often only half a century, they happily reproduce from suckers and seedlings under the old trees. We have a young tree here at Brownhill House which has come up where we cut a damson tree down some 30 plus years ago. Damson trees are also notoriously brittle, so it is not advisable to climb up to collect the fruit. It is said that it takes seven years for a damson sapling to produce fruit but it is a well known fact that we plant trees for future generations.
Even back in 1969 when we came to Ruyton, there were many damson trees along the Brownhill, sadly mostly all gone, but we have two trees and I put them to good use for jam and fruit juice which is enjoyed to great acclaim by our B&B guests.
In the early years of the last century Ruyton and other villages in north Shropshire, the damson blossom was a real tourist attraction, open top buses coming out from the towns to see the blossom. Similar to the custom in Japan today of going to see the cherry blossom during the festival of Hanami.
The damson harvest takes place at the end of August to early September when, in the past, everyone set to, picking the fruit and filling every available container, from buckets and baskets to the family tin bath and pram. The local dealer, here in Ruyton this was the Braddick family, collected the fruit, weighed it and decanted the fruit into boxes. These were then taken to the Baschurch station and put on the train to jam factories in Lancashire and Evesham. The price of the fruit varied from 9 old pence a pound in a bad harvest year when the fruit was scarce to just a `hapenny`, or half an old penny, in a bumper year. During the war, in 1944 the government pegged the price at 4 ½ old pence per pound.
Wherever damsons are grown in England, there seems to be an oral history that the skins were used to make dye, not only purple dye but khaki for army uniforms in the first and second world wars. Many people have looked into this but there just does not seem to be any written evidence to prove the stories. Damson juice spilt on your pristine white T-shirt is very annoying but the colour will not stay fast after a few washes. More likely are the stories of dying carpets in Kidderminster, felt hats in Northampton and straw hats in Dunstable – you might not want to get caught in the rain in your `titfer`, but your purple carpet should be pretty safe.
As it was not possible to source any local Damson tree suckers to be planted in the Spinney across the river from the playing field, 6 young trees have been ordered from the Westmorland Damson Association. In fact, the Shropshire Prune is synonymous with the Westmorland Damson and are similarly old varieties, so our source is impeccable.
1. The customers in The Bridge Inn customers in the 1970s
3. Welshhampton`s Damsons, Edited by Gillian Eleftheriou 2010
4. 4. Damsons in Dyeing www.jennydean.co.uk/some-interesting-dye-sources/
5. 5. Wikipedia – Damsons
Damsons are a dry fruit but rich in pectin. Always use a large pan. You can freeze the fruit and make your preserve when it is convenient.
2kg damsons, 2kg sugar, 700ml water
Simmer fruit in water until soft. Do what Delia says – cool, then get your hands in and find those stones. Add warmed sugar, put pan back on gentle heat until sugar is desolved, then boil vigorously, watching carefully and stirring to avoid sticking, until setting point reached, about 15minutes. Makes about 10 one lb jars.
Put fresh or frozen damsons in a saucepan, cover with water and wave the sugar bag over.
Bring to the boil for 5 minutes – taste, add more sugar/water – boil another 5 minutes. If OK, strain and cool. Keeps for about 5 days in the fridge before it starts fermenting but you just need to just boil up again.
| Postcard of Damson blossom on the Brownhill
||We are off to see the Damson Blossom in Ruyton XI Towns|| Damson Blossom, red tulips & cherry blossom
|Damson blossom and Daffodills in Lyth Valley, Westmorland
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