Egton Bridge Gooseberry Show

Ribes uva-crispa, better known as the Gooseberry, recipient of hours of devotion

Egton Bridge, eight miles from Whitby in the North York Moors National Park, is the setting for the oldest surviving gooseberry show in the country, established in 1800. The show is held on the first Tuesday in August each year by the Egton Bridge Old Gooseberry Society.

2023 saw another great show, topped off by the presence of true gardening royalty with Monty Don in attendance. Monty is filming a new series, “Monty Don’s British Gardens” so look out for it in 2024. It would surprise nobody this year was not a record breaker for berries, even world champions can struggle with the weather we have experienced so far in 2023. There was still a good display of berries and Graeme Watson picked up his twelfth Champion Berry title.

The 2022 show produced a fine display of berries, topped off by a society first for Graeme Watson. Not only did Graeme win his eleventh title he achieved the elusive maximum score in the Champion Grower competition. The champion grower is assessed over six categories, heaviest berry in the four colours (red, yellow, green & white), heaviest twins (two berries on one stalk) and heaviest dozen. Ten points are awarded to the winner in each category down to one for tenth place. For the first year ever a grower has scored ten points in all six categories, hitting the mythical 60 out of 60. Graeme can now add this accolade to his Guinness World Record for heaviest gooseberry.

The rules of the Society can be confusing when looking at the full results. The rules are written to stop one grower walking off with all of the prizes, which is why Graeme Watson is not listed below as the winner of every category. It is only in calculating the champion grower that the rules are pushed to one side to gauge the year’s champion berry grower.

The 2021 show was a wonderful day that saw a seventh title for Bryan Nellist after tense ‘Berry Off’. After missing last year due to COVID, and the sad passing of the society chairman, Colin Gray, the 220th Egton Bridge Gooseberry Show took place at St Hedda’s School and Bryan Nellist took the title after two berries had to be re-weighed in a ‘berry off’ to determine the champion. Bryan’s berry and the one entered by Paul Bennison were both weighed at 26 Drams, 18 Grains (47.2 g). To determine the champion the berries were again placed on the balance, but the result remained too tight to call so for once the Society turned to modern weighing technology and Bryan was declared victorious after goldsmith’s scales were used to prove it weighed 0.02g more than its competitor. Without doubt this is the closest finish in more than 200 years of competition at Egton Bridge.

Bryan said “It’s just unbelievable really. I thought my winning days were over – I was hoping to get a prize, but certainly not the top one. It was a delight, absolutely.”

Society Chairman, Graeme Watson said: “We had a great show, everyone was delighted, and the weather was fantastic. There were two berries of the same weight, and the only way to split them was I had a pair of gold scales. They weigh to the hundredth of a gram, and the difference was two one-hundredths of a gram. Graeme added “I don’t think we’ve ever had a dead heat. To my knowledge, it’s the closest it’s ever been. The judges couldn’t see a difference – it was only those scales that could judge it.”

The competition received wide spread press coverage including the Guardian and the Yorkshire Post.

Graeme Watson with his record breaking berry

Overall the 2021 show was a huge success. There was a large crowd to enjoy the sunny weather and tight competition, many just pleased to be at a show after all local shows had been cancelled last year.  The local ukulele orchestra, The Eskuleles entertained the crowd with their rousing mix of popular numbers before the prizes were awarded.  In memory of Colin Gray his family have donated a new trophy, the Colin Gray Memorial Trophy, for the Champion Grower and the excitement of this year’s show is hopefully a fitting tribute to Colin’s memory.

The 2019 show was another record breaking event. Defending champion Graeme Watson produced a truly amazing berry which has regained the world record for Egton Bridge. The gooseberry was initially assessed using the society’s traditional Avoirdupois system, which logged a weight of 36 drams plus 12.5 grains (rounded down to 12 grains in the register). However, a secondary measurement taken on a set of digital scales, which can provide a more precise reading, wielded a slightly greater weight of 64.83 g; this latter weight was the measurement accepted for the record by Guinness World Records Ltd.

In 2018 the 12 visitors from the Skillinge Gooseberry show in Sweden recreated this classic old picture in the grounds of the Horseshoe Hotel, Egton Bridge.

The yellow Millennium berry beat Kelvin Archer existing 2013 record by just 1 grain. The BBC News website declared Yorkshireman grows the Holy Grail of gooseberries

In 2018 the show was graced by the presence of 12 members of the Skillinge Gooseberry Society from Sweden. Over 25 years ago their chairperson, Berit �kesson saw a small glimpse of the show on the BBC and was so fascinated that a new gooseberry show was born and 2018 saw the Skillinge Krusbïrsfestival celebrate its tenth anniversary with a visit to its inspiration.

The 223rd show will be held on Tuesday 6th August 2024 and it is free to attend and is open to the public from 2 PM. There will be music playing in the afternoon and the prize giving will begin at 6 PM. Members are reminded that berries must be with the judges by midday at the latest.