Damsons To Dye For

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What a difference a week makes.  We went back to the orchard on the Shropshire/Herefordshire border [see Damson Surprise] and the damsons had ripened nicely and were now perfect for picking.  We filled another crate which we took to the Houghton Project where the damsons were washed and frozen ready for jam-making.

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Walking round the orchard we were intrigued as to why the owner had planted so many damson trees.  We counted over a dozen. Damsons have always been a popular culinary fruit and in the past had been much in demand by the jam industry in that area, but perhaps a clue lies with another of their qualities.  

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Damson skins make a good dye. There are many references to their use on a small scale by the textile industry before the introduction of artificial dyes.  Different fixing agents alter the colours that can be produced. Amonia creates a khaki colour and during the First and Second World War it is claimed that some army uniforms were dyed with damsons.

Ludlow, just up the road from the orchard where we were picking damsons, had been a thriving centre for glove-making.  There is anecdotal evidence that owners of smallholdings and cottage gardens in that area planted damson trees to provide a dye for these gloves.  The pulp would  have been sent off to the jam factories. This would have provided a small additional income for these families.

Who knows why these particular damson trees were planted, perhaps the owners just loved damson jam.

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