Rhubarb Triangle

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Rhubarb shed in the Rhubarb Triangle

The Rhubarb Triangle is a nine-square mile area of [the West Riding of Yorkshire, between Wakefield, Morley, and Rothwell famous for producing early forced rhubarb. It includes Kirkhamgate, East Ardsley, Stanley, Lofthouse and Carlton.[1]

The Rhubarb Triangle was originally much bigger, covering an area between Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield.: from the 1900s to 1930s, the rhubarb industry expanded and at its peak covered an area of about thirty square miles.[2]

Rhubarb thrives in the wet cold winters in Yorkshire. The West Riding once produced 90% of the world's winter forced rhubarb from the forcing sheds that were common across the fields there.[3]

In 2010, Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb was awarded Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status by the European Commission’s Protected Food Name scheme after being recommended by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.


Rhubarb sculpture in Wakefield

The cultivation method for forced rhubarb was developed in the early 1800s. The fields were fertilised with large quantities of horse manure and 'night soil' from the nearby urban areas and woollen waste from "mungo and shoddy" mills.

The 'forcing' method developed in Yorkshire starts with the rhubarb growing naturally out in the fields for two years, to grow and fill their roots: then they are transplanted, moved into long 'forcing sheds' in November where they are kept in complete darkness, to grow in the warmth; the stored carbohydrate in the roots beinfg transformed into glucose. This gives forced rhubarb a sour-sweet flavour.[4]

Growing and forcing rhubarb was originally done by many hundreds of small farmers, smallholders and market gardeners. In later years some growers expanded and owned many thousands of roots and extensive forcing sheds.[2] In the late 19th century early forced rhubarb was sent to Spitalfields and Covent Garden markets in London in time for Christmas and was sent to Paris for the French market. A special express train carrying rhubarb was run by the Great Northern Railway Company from Ardsley station every weekday night during the forced rhubarb season from Christmas until Easter. Up to 200 tons of rhubarb sent by up to 200 growers was carried daily at the peak of production before 1939.

In 1962, a rail strike caused the growers to look for alternative transport and the service ended shortly after. Wakefield Museum has a permanent exhibition about forced rhubarb.[2] Rhubarb became less popular after the Second World War when more exotic fruits became more available.[3]

Forced rhubarb grown in the sheds is more tender than that grown outdoors in summer. Without daylight the rhubarb leaves are a green-yellow colour, and the stalks, measuring around two feet are crimson in colour with a smooth texture. Traditionally, the pickers pull the stalks in candlelight as any exposure to strong light will stop the growth. By the end of March the harvest is over and the root stock is totally exhausted and used for compost.


The Oxford English Dictionary dates the name "rhubarb triangle" to a 1965 textbook mentioning pre-war trains called rhubarb specials that ran from the West Riding rhubarb triangle to London and it was mentioned in the Guardian newspaper in 1986.[5][6]


Outside links

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  1. Markham 2005, p. 118
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Rhubarb Triangle, Morley Archives, 17 August 2014, https://www.morleyarchives.org.uk/our-heritage/articles/the-rhubarb-triangle/, retrieved 26 February 2022 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Working Lunch, BBC, 7 February 2006, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/working_lunch/4685636.stm, retrieved 21 February 2010 
  4. Mackay, Mairi (19 February 2008), Rhubarb, Times Online, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/food_and_drink/real_food/article1358524.ece, retrieved 21 February 2010 
  5. "Rhubarb Triangle" (Subscription or UK public library membership required), Oxford Oxford English Dictionary Third Edition, http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/165353, retrieved 10 November 2010 
  6. Robinson 1965, p. 128
  • Bell, Richard (2009), Walks in the Rhubarb Triangle, Willow Island Editions, ISBN 978-1-902467-18-4 
  • Markham, Len (2005), The Wharncliffe Companion to Wakefield & District, Wharncliffe, ISBN 1-903425-89-1 
  • Robinson, Harry (1965), Geography for business studies, MacDonald & Evans