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July 31st 1936

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The berry pickers

The acreage of raspberries grown in Blairgowrie has greatly declined in recent years. The pattern of growing has changed too. At one time nearly all the fruit went for jam making and was stored in barrels with a solution of sulphur dioxide added as a preservative. Today, though the barrelling trade still survives, large quantities of fruit are punnetted either for canning, freezing or the fresh fruit market.

The scene described by Sandy Stewart is no longer to be found, though the method of picking for barrelling is still the same. Gothens Muir was cleared of travellers in the early 60s and at the same time huts for pickers and general standards of hygiene were very considerably improved.

Lots of folk used tae gan tae the berries - tinkers fae aa the different pairts an folk fae the toons, they went an aa. Ye got them fae aa pairts; they came fae the Black Isles, Muir o Ord, Orchy, Aiberdeenshire, an Aiberdeen, Glesgae, Stirling, Ayrshire - every country. They always came tae the berries an thats whaur ye got them - Blairgowrie an Alyth.

Thir were some places ye got bonnie green fields tae bide on, an ither times ye bud in beside the berryfields, whaur the bushes wis. They wir a guid size o fields an ye usetae get a richt dose o tents an caravans aside them.

An ye got whit they caed the Gowthens Muir. Hit was a big muir an the berryfields wis aa roon aboot it. Thir was yon bonnie bent stuff growin intae it an all the camps wis on hit, an hit wis like a toon! They come in thair on bicycles, horses, cairts, motors, vans, caravans - aa kind o things come in there, an thats whaur ye could deal if yed money.

Gowthens Muir wes oot fae Muckleour yonder on the road gaun tae Blair. When they wir drunk, the tinkers sang steady, playin the bagpipes aa nicht an singin till morning. Yed hear the pipes gaun aa ower an think it wis pipe bands wae them. Some yed get fechtin an arguin till morning - gaun at it thirsels. Some wir never sober, they wir ay lookin fer the steady drink an at nicht yed hear aa the drunk boys. Ye got rough an smooth wae them.

Whit stuck in ma mind fae that time, wes gettin enjoyment in the fields; bleggartin (getting up to mischief) in the fields an gettin fun, Wed money fer the pictures an we liket that. Then old men wae pownies an yokes come roon the fields and sellt sweeties, tea, sugar, breid an tobacca. In the big berryfields thir ustae be big concerts intae huts an big canteens o huts. At dennertime ye could go an get yer tea boilt or buy the odd thing. Only yin or two o the berryfields hed thae places. Ye got ithers again, they come roon sellin almanac cairds an some hauding oot scripture books.

The berries startit aboot July fer eight or nine weeks. It wes damn poor money tae look at. But at the good berries, if ye hung in ye could mak something oot o it. Some years ye got them better than ithers. Bad berries wes wee an they taen ye aa the time o day tae fill yer pail. Well, when things wes slack that way, ye wid see aa the auld wives oot sellin things an some o them beggin. They beggit intae Blair itsel.

Ye wir paid sae much a pun. Some o them gien a hapenny a pun, then it come three hapennies an then it come, a guid while efter that, tae tuppence a pun. Ye got wee baskets wae nae hannle on them but the bucket wes the best. Iron buckets that wes white-washed wae some kind o pent in the inside o them. Some ye got shapit like a scoop an ye got wee buckets that tied roon yer middle wae a string an hung in front o ye. Ye pickit yer berries in that. Ye taen yer big buckets an pit them up the dreel in front o ye, an ye pickit until ye come tae them. Every time ye filled this luggie - whit they caa a luggie, the wee wan - ye pit the berries in the big bucket. Every bucketfae wir weighed an ye wes paid so much a pun.

A man stood on a big stage thing wae a money box. It wes at the fit o the berry dreels an wes made o wuid wae a lot o barrels ontae it. They flung aa the berries intae thon barrels but afore that, yer buckets wes weighed on a cleek wae a thing like a knock-face ontae it (a spring balance).

Blair itsel wis busy in thae days wae a lot o folk an tinkers fae aa pairts o the country. 

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