Orchards and Fruit Growing

In the end the enclosure was an economic success story. The drained lands were rich and productive, and the population of the village doubled in a generation. Although some continued to keep cattle, the heyday of dairy farming and cheese making was over, and many turned to arable. The effective end of cattle raising came with the cattle plague of the 1860s which wiped out much of the remaining heard. This was a particular blow to many of the smaller farmers, and as they struggled to find a new source of income the Cottenham landscape yet again entered a new phase.

As we have seen, the Greensand ridge in the southern part of the parish was especially suited for growing fruit trees; apples, pears and plums all did well. Cottenham had many smallholders with just a few acres, and this labour intensive form of cultivation was ideal for them, enabling then to get a good income by exploiting their holdings to the maximum. By the end of the nineteenth century many orchards had been planted, and eventually a high proportion of the greensand was covered in them - see map [link to orchards map].

The establishment of Chivers jam factory in Impington encouraged the production of other soft fruit, including strawberries, raspberries and gooseberries. Soft fruit production peaked in about 1920 at about 600 acres (including 200 acres of strawberries), while there were about 900 acres of orchards at their high point in the 1940s.

With all these orchards in bloom, spring was the time to visit Cottenham for a spectacular display, but it was not to last. Foreign imports, changing tastes and increasing wages set British fruit production on an almost terminal decline from the 1950s. By 1990 only 85 acres of orchard remained (see map [link to orchards 1990 map], and more has been lost since . The few remaining orchards are a valuable reminder of this phase in the village's history, and there are still many remnant trees, along the edges of fields or in the gardens of new developments.

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