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Carluke's Strawberry Man

Many of us know of Carluke’s connections with strawberry growing and the resultant jam factories, but how many know the name Robert Reid, a native of the parish born in 1902 who went on to be known worldwide where strawberries are grown? His family were involved in fruit growing for several generations back in the nineteenth century.


Robert Denholm Reid was born in the hamlet of Orchard in 1902 and brought up at Wicketshaw Gills, the family home where the fruit grown included apples, pears, gooseberries and strawberries. His education began at Underbank School which he left in 1916, aged 14, to help on the family farm in order to release others for army service.


He attended evening classes at Carluke for about six years covering diverse subjects like French, Pitman’s Shorthand, etc., gaining prizes in most. He worked full-time at home, mainly fruit growing, from 1916 until 1930. During the early 1920s he attended evening classes at the West of Scotland Agricultural College in Glasgow where he obtained passes in horticulture, agriculture, botany, chemistry etc., receiving a number of prizes.


In the early years of the nineteenth century, the main fruit crop grown was apples however around 1870 strawberries were introduced on a commercial basis. Within 10 years, the strawberry had become the basic horticultural crop in the area. Fresh fruit was sold locally or sent to Glasgow market. In an average season around 600 tons were dispatched to Glasgow Fruit Market for dessert use. Jam making facilities were built up in Carluke and Law.


By the turn of the century Lanarkshire growers were sending large quantities of fresh fruit for retail in the lucrative North of England markets. As much as 1,400 tons in a season were dispatched from local stations such as Carluke and Braidwood. The fruit growing scene altered considerably with the arrival of the Victoria plum, development of the raspberry and the introduction of glasshouses and the associated tomato production.


During much of the time when Reid worked at home, the Head of Horticulture at the “West” College was Dudley V Howells, who soon developed a close association with him collaborating in much experimental work with fruit growing and developing expertise in horticultural research methods.


In 1921 disaster struck Lanarkshire when strawberry growing was devastated by a condition, which became known as “Lanarkshire Disease” or “Red Core Disease”. An investigation was initiated with Mr D V Howells and a plant pathologist at the Department of Agriculture for Scotland. Reid was involved in many trials which initially involved the use of chemicals to try and control this problem. It later was attributed to a fungus known as PHYTOPHTHORA FRAGARIAE.


Trial of thousands of seedlings and varieties convinced Howells and Reid that the answer might lie in the production of new seedlings with degrees of resistance to the fungus. This approach of breeding for disease resistance was novel and considered with much scepticism in some quarters. Reid, Howells and the pathologist, however, put the work on an official basis and the West College offered land and facilities at Auchincruive outside Ayr and thus providing the start of Strawberry Disease Investigation in 1933.


The immediate effect was to make strawberry growing again possible when it had failed considerably. It could take up to 15 years of trials to produce seedlings showing disease resistance. Selections made from the many crosses made were gradually released to the trade. The initial selections were not named but simply known as Auchincruive No 1, 2 etc up to Auchincruive No 6.


In 1947 a new variety was released known as Auchincruive Climax. It soon became something of a legend setting new standards of cropping and quality and in so doing displacing most other varieties in the continent and many countries abroad. Soon as much as 95% of Scottish and 75% of English producers were growing it.


Unfortunately, its collapse was almost as spectacular as its rise, and within a few years it fell to a degeneration of genetic origin known as “June Yellow”.


In 1951 the Strawberry Breeding Unit became part of the Scottish Horticultural Research Institute with Robert Reid officer-in-charge. New facilities were established at Auchincruive. As a result of an intensive breeding programme, in due course new varieties were introduced. They rejoiced in the names Talisman, Redgauntlet, Templar, Crusader, Montrose, Marmion to be followed later by Saladin, Tantallan and Troubadour. All these names are associated with Sir Walter Scott, who as well as sharing an affection for the area where Reid was brought up, was the author of much of the latter’s favourite reading material.


After a lifetime devoted to strawberry growing “Bob” Reid (as he was known to many) retired in 1967. He had visited research stations in USA and Canada in 1954 and was a regular visitor to fellow workers in Europe. He maintained close contact with scientists and growers in this country as well as lecturing to growers, researchers and educationists. It is less well known that he “dabbled” in raspberry and tomato breeding.


Robert Reid received numerous honours from different bodies. In 1961 he was awarded the O.B.E. with the Queen Mother presenting it to him at Buckingham Palace. (He was particularly delighted when she referred to strawberries grown in the Royal Gardens).


An honorary lecturer in Plant Breeding at Glasgow University, he was awarded an honorary M.Sc.


Other awards came from the Royal Horticultural Society and the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society not to mention many tributes from strawberry growers throughout the land.


He died in 1986 and, in an obituary, he was described as a “modest and reserved Scotsman, not one to seek publicity but did achieve fame with his success”.


Robert “Bob” Reid was indeed “Carluke’s Strawberry Man”


(Written by Robert’s son, Denholm Reid (June 2022))




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