Reviving Spalding’s heritage crop

Lincolnshire’s fields could soon be awash with tiny yellow flowers – and it won’t be oilseed rape.

Instead, the flowers will be growing from a heritage plant that was once an important crop for this district – and the county.

Angela Daymond shows a textile mural that his been dyed using woad. Photo: SG081015-211TW

Angela Daymond shows a textile mural that his been dyed using woad. Photo: SG081015-211TW

Woad – a plant grown as a source of blue dye – was produced in pockets of land certainly as recently as the late 1800s, but was eventually replaced by imported indigo.

In its heyday, hundreds of people were employed in the industry, according to artists Carol Parker and Angela Daymond.

They say the crop, used to dye military and police uniforms, was once so valuable it was known as Blue Gold.

It was Angela’s interest in natural dyeing that eventually led to a joint venture with Moulton Mill funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Angela Daymond with a woad plant. Photo: SG081015-205TW

Angela Daymond with a woad plant. Photo: SG081015-205TW

Called The Blue Mill Project, it looks at the origins of woad, how and where the plant was grown as a source of dye and its importance to the area.

The information gathered so far was shared last weekend at Woad Fest at the mill, where a permanent woad exhibition will remain.

The weekend’s displays included a woad wall hanging created by the community of Algarkirk and which will eventually have a permanent home in Algarkirk, the location for the last woad mill to close, in around 1927.

Visitors to Woad Fest were able to go home with an envelope containing woad seed that Carol produced on her allotment in Spalding.

Here's two woad balls I made earlier. Photo: SG081015-206TW

Here's two woad balls I made earlier. Photo: SG081015-206TW

She says the plant was simple to grow and resulted in a near 100 per cent success rate.

She said: “The hard bit was digging over the ground to get the weeds out, but the planting was easy. You just pop the seeds in and they grow.”

Carol says the plants grow to around three feet tall and are very hardy.

The first year’s growth produced lush leaves, and the best dye comes from the first leaves, subsequent growth producing a weaker dye.

Then came the pretty yellow flowers and then, in the second year, the seeds, and Carol ended up with around 20 tubs of seeds which were dried in her conservatory.

Visitors to Woad Fest also saw artefacts loaned by Spalding Gentlemen’s Society Museum for the display – including a woad dyed smock and woad tools.

There was also art work created by John Harrox Primary School pupils of black hand prints to represent the hands of those involved in processing woad.

Carol says: “This is not the end. We are going to carry on the research and we want people to contact us because we have only scratched the surface so far.” Visit The Blue Mill Project on Facebook or thebluemillproject.co.uk Twitter: @bluemillproject