The Famous Altrincham (or Altringham) Carrot
Gone but not forgotten
The Altrincham Carrot, also often referred to as the "Altringham Carrot" was a very popular carrot variety in the UK in the early 19th century but is was not long lasting as its length ultimately mitigated against easy cropping and marketing. Although it was often listed in Victorian seed catalogues, but by the 1920's its popularity waned and virtually disappeared from commercial listings.. It is said to have originated in Cheshire, North West England, in the early nineteenth century. This is a rare example of an English carrot gaining widespread popularity in France where it was renamed Carotte Rouge Longue d’Altringham.
In 1836 the seeds appeared for sale in the Journal of Agriculture by Thomas Gibbs, seedsman to the Royal Agricultural Society of England. It was only one of three carrot varieties listed.
Another early official records dates back to 1842, when it was listed in Carter’s Catalogue. In 1876, D. Guiheneuf described it in The Garden as “an English variety, readily distinguished from any other. It is said to have originated about 60 years ago in Altrincham, a village in the vicinity of Chester.”
The seeds are no longer available commercially. Fortunately the UK Heritage Seed Bank in Warwickshire has 42 packets of Altrincham carrot seeds, not for retail sale. They have kindly provided some historical reference material here.
It is probably a variant of the Long Orange Belgian variety. There was also a contemporary variety called "Manchester Table" which is probably related. It has been referred to as red-rooted, but also others mention a bright orange carrot with green crown. IT is also seen in some books as purple topped see below. It is always referred to a a very long variety (well over 20 inches long, about 2 inches diameter at the crown). There are also references to the fact that the top section of about 2 inches grows above the ground (hence green coloured). Could also be named a "Green Top Carrot".
Some historical references
Chris Hill’s ‘Random Jottings printed in the Altrincham History Society Journal, published 1999
Transactions of the Horticultural Society of London 1822:
Altrincham Carrot from a place of that name in Cheshire (UK) where it was probably originally grown. It is also known as the Superb Carrot, also as the Green topped Carrot, from the top of the root, which to the extent of about 2 inches grows exposed above ground, being of a green colour. If its place in the above arrangement were to to be decided by its length of root, it ought to be classed amongst the Long Carrots, but its mode of growth is different from all those, and its flesh, which is very sweet, as well as brittle, assimilates more like the Horns. The leaves are long; the root attains a very great size, and tapers gradually by a small tap root; its surface is rather irregular, and wrinkled; the flesh is of bright orange colour, with a small dark-coloured heart, showing some faint marks of yellow.
In 1828 Robert Bloomfield reported in the New England farmer (Volume v.7) the following carrots were grown: Altringham, Early Horn (for table), Blood Red, Lemon and Long Orange.
Rural Recollections; or, the progress of improvement in agriculture and rural affairs George ROBERTSON (of Irvine.) January 1, 1829
"There has lately been introduced here an uncommon large species called the Atringham Carrot. In some instances it has grown to the length of 26 inches, 12 inches in girth at the thick end and weighing more than 5 pounds. Two pounds in weight is not uncommon and one pound is an ordinary size. It is also a remarkably fine table carrot, of a deep red, sometimes to the very core."
British Husbandry Exhibiting the Farming Practice in Various Parts of the United Kingdom,John French Burke · 1837
The Field and Garden Vegetables of America Containing Full Descriptions of Nearly Eleven Hundred Species and Varieties; With Directions for Propagation, Culture and Use. Boston, Crosby and Nichols 1863,Fearing Burr Jr.
"The Altrincham Carrot measures about fourteen inches in length, by two inches in diameter. It retains its thickness for nearly two-thirds its length: but the surface is seldom regular or smooth; the genuine variety being generally characterized by numerous crosswise elevations, and corresponding depressions. Neck small and conical, rising one or two inches above the surface of the soil.
Skin nearly bright-red; the root having a semi-transparent appearance. Flesh bright and lively, crisp and breaking in its texture; and the heart, in proportion to the size of the root, is smaller than that of the Long Orange. Leaves long, but not large or very numerous. According to Lawson, it is easily distinguished from the Long Orange by the roots growing more above ground, by its more convex or rounded shoulders, and by its tapering more irregularly, and terminating more abruptly. It is, however, exceedingly difficult to procure the variety in its purity, as it is remarkably liable to sport, although the roots grown for seed be selected with the greatest care. It is a good field-carrot, but less productive than the Long Orange and some others; mild and well flavored for the table, and one of the best sorts for cultivation for market.
Thompson states that "it derives its name from a place called Altrincham, in Cheshire, Eng., where it is supposed to have originated. In seedsmen's lists it is frequently, but erroneously, called the Altringham."
The book listed the following varieties:- Altringham, Long Red Altringham, Early frame. early half-long scarlet. early horn, Flander's large pale scarlet, Long orange, Long red, Belgian long yellow, Long surrey. Long white. New intermediate purple or blood red, Short white, Studley white Belgian, White Belgian horn. Images below some of the other varieites referred to.
|Altrincham||Long Red Belgian Carrot||Early Horn Carrot||Early Frame||New Intermediate|
This early 19th Century variety is listed in Carters Catalogue for 1842 and described by D Guiheneuf in The Garden (May 1st 1876) as “An English variety, readily distinguished from any other. It is said to have originated about 60 years ago in Altrincham, a village in the vicinity of Chester.” It produces cylindrical, orange roots 20-50cm long that taper towards their end. The crunchy, mild-flavoured flesh makes it ideal for the table.
Journal of Royal Agricultural Society 1858 reports that “The Altrincham Red Carrot won first prize at the Birmingham Show”.
Album Benary. (Erfurt) 1876
Identification (left to right):
Album Benary (1819-1893): alte Gemusesorten, 1876
[Facsimile, text in German], tab.IV, carrots, no.9
Top row -
1. Long Orange Belgian, green top;
Bottom row -
7. Earliest red Duwick, for forcing;
"Pamphlets on Vegetables - Carrots, Mangles & Wurzels" - James H Gregory 1882 (American Publication) -
"Altringham - This is a carrot of excellent quality for the table, the flesh being of a rich orange colour, crisp and sweet, but as a cropper it is inferior to the Intermediate or Long Orange varieties and hence is but little cultivated." (Image below left)
Handbook of Domestic Cookery 1882 – Carrot Salad (image below right)
More historic reference material here.
From "The Origin and Distribution of the Western Cultivated Carrot " - 1961, Dr Otto Banga -
"Nearly all of the Nearly all modern varieties of carotene carrot can be traced back to the Long Orange and the Horn carrots. The origin of the English variety Altringham is not exactly known and it may be possible that Long Red Coreless is a descendant of Altringham."
From "The Main Types of the western Carotene Carrot and their origin" - 1963, Dr Otto Banga
"The Altringham originated in England, distinguished by its long, thin root and narrow shoulders.. It was very long and its colour was described as exceptionally good. It might be an orange selection from a very long yellow Belgian variety, which I found pictured in a painting of 1553 (see below). It which might have come to England in the 16th century, but real proof is lacking. According to Vilmorion-Andrieux & Co the original Altringham disappeared in the 19th century.
Possibly the yellow variety was introduced into England by Flemings during the reign of Queen Elizabeth in the 16th century (William Rhind 1844, L H Bailey 1947), and developed there to the orange form in the course of the following centuries. When and how this change in colour was effected is not known, but it must have been before 1834.
At one time this variety was highly appreciated because of its high yielding capacity and its good culinary qualities. But as stated above, the variety disappeared. Evidently, its length was impractical. I would be interesting to know what this variety has contributed to the qualities of later varieties. Nothing is known about it. As the Rouge longue sans coeur (Long Red Coreless) has some characters in common with the original Altringham, it may be a shorter selection from this variety." (Curator's note - Banga guessed correctly! modern genetic research has proved that orange varities were developed from yellow ones)
|One of the earliest depictions of an orange carrot, in works of aert - Pieter Aertsen Christ in the Home of Mary and Martha 1553 (oil on panel, Height: 126 cm (49.6 in). Width: 200 cm (78.7 in, location Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam). This is the painting referred to above. detail right. Click on main image to see a larger version.|
The UK Heritage Seed Library, operated by Garden Organic (website here) kindly provided the following information and historical listings, which is much appreciated and acknowledged. Please do not not reproduce this information without proper referencing. Photos (below) also compliments of Heritage Seed Library at Garden Organic.
The Altringham Carrot in full colour!
|The UK Heritage Seed Library hold this variety
in its collection; the catalogue description for the variety is
Carrot 'Altringham' was always (if erroneously) named this way. This early 19th century variety is listed in Carters Catalogue for 1842 and described by D Guiheneuf in The Garden (May 1st 1876) as "An English variety, readily distinguished from any other.
It is said to have originated about 60 years ago in Altrincham, a village in the vicinity of Chester."
It produces cylindrical, orange roots 20-50cm (9-20in) long that taper towards their end. The crunchy, mildly-flavoured flesh makes it ideal for the table.
|An article which
appeared in Amateur Gardening July 4th 2015 (UK), concerning what the UK
population grew in the war years.
Bad harvests and the increasing German submarine attacks on merchant shipping were causing shortages, and with price rises and uncertainty over future supply, growing your own was important in World War One. Everyone was expected to do their bit, and allotments were a mainstay for families as a means to put food on the table. This happened again during WW2. Carrots in WW2 page here.
By 1914 there were around 500,000 allotments plots and by the end of the war this had risen three fold to 1.5 million. Most of these continued to be used and became very useful again in WW2 when the UK were again threatened with starvation due to blockages by the German fleet.
The Seed Library also have a list of historical references for the variety as follows:
Introduced 1849. Taxonomy boxes, Historical variety lists. Source: Notes on Victorian gardening for the Toll House garden at Blists Hill Museum, vegetables p.3
'Long Orange' syn. 'Altringham' Referred to in JC Loudon's The Horticulturist, London 1849 “orange skin, well adapted for a main crop”
Referred to in The New Gardeners' Dictionary (1850) RW Platt “Roots larger than horn and early frame types, used for winter storage”
Fearing Burr: Field and garden vegetables of America, 1865, p.21-22 (as referred to above)
D Guiheneuf: The carrots, from The Garden, 1st May 1876. - Root slender, somewhat crimped, from 9 to 12 inches long, and from 1¼-1½” thick. In shape it is cylindrical at the upper end, tapering to a point at the lower end. In colour it is a beautiful red, with a green conical top showing about 1” above the ground. The flesh is of the first quality, deeply coloured and almost without any fibres. The heart is much reduced, comparatively speaking. This variety was much used for colouring butter before the discovery of annatto. On account of its good qualities it is often used for cooking for which purpose it is far preferable to the Surrey, but both these varieties should in all gardens make room for the more delicate flavoured intermediate kinds. Sowing should be made from March to the end of May, according to the climate and weather; heavy soils must be avoided as much as possible, the fragile character of the root making it difficult to pull. 12” drills and 4-5” between the plants are sufficient to obtain a fine crop. This variety is known also under the following names – Long Red Altrincham, Superb, Cheshire, Green Topped, Rouge Longue d’Altrincham.
Improved Long Red Altringham. Coloured illus, half natural size, with green top. Album Benary: alte Gemusesorten, 1876 [Facsimile, text in German], tab.IV, carrots, no.9
Hunter’s Catalogue (1884) Select Stock. This is by far the best carrot for field culture on deeps soil. The weight of the crop is very large as the roots are long, thick and solid, and there is very little waste. The stock offered is a splendid selection of the true Altringham variety.
Dickson’s Catalogue (1885) Altringham Large Red, extra select stock. Undoubtedly the best red carrot for field culture; it is of excellent quality and produces a heavier crop than any other red variety.
Vilmorin-Andrieux: The Vegetable Garden, (1885) p.166 - " his variety which is of English origin has been long time known and valued in France. It is a very long, slender kind, with the flesh entirely red and of excellent quality. The neck, instead of being flattened, or even hollowed, like that of many other kinds, is raised in the form of an obtuse cone. The root is usually of a bronzy or violet colour on the over-ground portion, which is from 1-2” in length. The length of the whole root is often 20” or more, and its diameter is relatively small, the length being equal to 8 or 10 times the diameter. Its surface exhibits a series of alternate ridges and depressions, having the appearance of being tightly bound round with a thin cord. This carrot requires a rich and deeply dug soil, and, from its peculiar shape, it is liable to be broken when pulled. For these two reasons it is not so generally cultivated as it deserves to be on account of its good quality and great productiveness.
Of late years the English growers have considerably altered the characteristics of their Altrincham Carrot, and the old form difficult to find n the trade. the new form is much thicker, shorter and smoother. This is an improvements as it makes the lifting of the roots much easier." (image right from Vilmorin's catalogue 1885)
Listed in John Forbes Catalogue of Vegetable and Flower Seeds 1892, 1896 “Altringham Improved, the best for general crop, very large and fine”
Johnson's Gardeners' Dictionary (1894 edition) - syn 'Superb Green-Topped'
Toogood’s Catalogue (1922) Altringham Selected, long, well-coloured sort with slender, red-fleshed roots of excellent quality. It requires a rich, deep-dug soil.
Agricultural Botany, Percival (1926) Red Altringham possesses long, thick roots ending somewhat abruptly. The upper part grows slightly above ground and is of greenish-purple colour. The rid is pale orange red, the rather small core is yellow.
Dickson’s Farm Seeds Catalogue (1938) Undoubtedly the best Red Carrot for field culture on deep soils (Improved Altringham)
Nutting and Sons Catalogue (1942) True green top stock.
Vegetable Growers Guide Oldham (1950) This long rooted variety is old and not grown to any extent, although it is a heavy cropper and of good quality. It extends slightly about the ground and is a bronze-purple colour. The surface of the root is ridged.
Christopher Stocks: Forgotten fruits: a guide to Britain’s traditional fruit and vegetables. Random House, 2008 - Altringham, 1800s. In the nineteenth century the Cheshire town of Altrincham was surrounded by market gardens – sixteen square miles of them – producing fruit and vegetables for the seething metroloplis of Manchester, just a few miles’ heal by train. Along with neighbouring Timperley it was noted for its onions, rhubarb and carrots, of which the Altringham became the most famous. Keen-eyed readers will already have spotted that this carrot is misspelled – except it’s not, because it dates back to some time in the early 1800s, when “Altringham” was a perfectly acceptable alternative. A rare example of an English carrot gaining widespread popularity in France (under the slightly more poetic title of Carrotte Rouge Longue d’Altringham) rather than the other way around, Altringham’s most striking attribute is its enormous length – it can grow anything up to a metre (three feet) long. Unfortunately its length is not matched by its girth: Altringham is as slender as it is elongated, so despite a good flavour and excellent productivity, it has never been as widely planted as it might have been, since in all but the lightest, most deeply dug soils it tends to break when pulled. Despite this design flaw, its popularity spread throughout the nineteenth century, not just to France but also to Canada, the United States and North Wales. This elegant, deep-red carrot has one other peculiarity, in that its skin turns purple above the ground.
Market gardens, often on mosses in Dunham, Altrincham, Hale, Timperley and Sale, expanded with the advent of the Bridgewater Canal to feed the growing population of Manchester in the second half of the 18th century. The produce included onions, carrots (Altrincham Carrot), celery, lettuce, rhubarb (Timperley Early) and later on potatoes (Bowdon Downs) and strawberries. The Altrincham Carrot grew up to a metre long in sandy soil. In 1851 there were sixteen square miles of market gardens around Altrincham and Sale and eight tons of onion seed and potatoes were being sown per year. In 1910 there were 157 market garden businesses in the area.(unknown source)
Images from Otto Banga - Main Types of Western Carotene Carrot and their Origin 1963
The above information leads one to deduce that the Altrincham lost favour and therefore disappeared from seed catalogues was because it was too long rooted - growers were using a variety of soils and sought shorter rooted varieties which gave more consistent results and hence increased yield. They selected those plants which were most adapted to the growth conditions in their locality.
Clearly the Altrincham did have these characteristics (except in the Altrincham area!! - sandy soil exists there). So, although initially in the early 19th century, the Altrincham was popular as a long and tasty variety, it was however probably unreliable in comparison to the stumpier varieties arriving on the market, such as Nantes, also a long root is physically hard to harvest, difficult to handle and will suffer more breakages before it gets to market.
This would have been exacerbated by the onset of mechanised harvesting.