The disabled market gardener at Bragg Lane End

A long item from page one of the Wakefield Express about a severely-disabled man still working in his mid-80s. Although a poignant piece, not least because it’s written during the First World War, the idea of making substitute tobacco out of rhubarb leaves does at least raise a smile, but why does the article end so abruptly?

Wakefield Express
Saturday 17 August 1918

THE OLDEST TRADER IN WAKEFIELD MARKET.
HIS GALLANT STRUGGLE AGAINST POVERTY.
HAS WORKED SINCE HE WAS FOUR.
EXPERT GARDENING UNDER DIFFICULTIES.

Curiosity as to how a man of 85 with a crippled hand and with both legs cut off above the knee managed to look after a fairly large market garden led an “Express” representative to go in search of Mark Frost, of Bragg Lane End. He found him busily engaged “cleaning up” one portion of his garden, and quite in the mood for a chat and a smoke. Mark in very proud of the fact that though he is “86 come next January 2nd” he is still able to do something toward earning his own living, in spite of the handicap of having no legs.

In telling his own story, Mark says that he started work “twining band at t’top o’Langley,” when only four years old and in petticoats, and he appears to have been working ever since. Really, he is to-day as much up against poverty an ever his own parents were in the days that forced a child of the tender ago of four to go out to help to earn the family’s daily bread. For nearly seventy years after that – though he served an apprenticeship to the rope trade – he has worked in the pits, his last journey underground being to fetch a forgotten syphon pipe from workings under Lindle Hill. It was after he left the mine that he contracted the disease which resulted in the eventual loss, about four years ago, of both legs and one finger. Now, however, he seems pretty healthy, and is putting up a gallant struggle against both old age and infirmity. Though the difficulties must be enormous, we must say we have never seen a better-kept kitchen garden. Kind friends have provided him with specially shortened gardening tools, and, with the aid of a board and two wooden hand-grips, he is able to propel himself about the garden. As he says, he is bound to do something, seeing that the army has taken his son and 7s. 6d. “Lloyd George” is all he has to live on.

Before he happened his misfortune, Mark was a familiar figure in Wakefield, especially at the week-end, for he has attended the market two days a week ever since he was a child, and says that with his “owd grey galloway” he had “taen peys inter Wakefield Market for ower fifty year.” To-day he still attends the market, but he has to go in a wheel chair, which means that someone must push both him and the produce. His present stand is just inside the Clarence Hotel Yard, where he is to be found any Friday or Saturday. Perhaps a kindly reader will remember Mark when seeking vegetables, salad, or flowers in the market.

It was with much pride that he showed the writer his little bit of garden land, with its neat rows of healthy potatoes, celery, etc., and the remnants of what was once a particularly good flower garden – for flowers seem to have been his ruling passion – and it was only when gardeners were called upon to produce more food that he reluctantly sacrificed some of his beloved flower beds for the more prosaic growing of food-stuffs. He still, however, has a few yards of flower-producing land, and any reader who is requiring sound and healthy wallflowers guaranteed to be the much sought-after dark stock, could not do better than pay a visit to Bragg Lane End, as there are at least fifty to sixty score plants for disposal. These are not mere seedlings, but all were properly transplanted and “fit for any gentleman living, and I don’t care who gets ’em.”

It was then that he brought out his home-made tobacco, which certainly, smoked very well indeed, and to an inveterate smoker must represent a big saving in these days. It was made, he explained, of rhubarb leaves and twist scalded, rolled, dried, etc., just as tobacco leaves are treated, the twist being just sufficient to give it a “genuine” flavour.

Mark lives by himself, and he has one big trouble, and that is – he is dependent upon others when he wants to go into Wakefield or elsewhere to dispose of his produce; and he is very anxious to get a self-propelling chair so that he can get about by himself. He has already got about £6 banked towards the cost of such a contrivance, but he says the other “takes a lot of getting,” so that if there are any kindly-disposed people who would like to help a really deserving case, they could not find a more worthy thing to do than to assist poor old Mark to keep his independence, and, possibly, to set aside a little money for the dreaded winter months when he can earn nothing.

Old Mark’s is a worthy case, and a few extra orders for greenstuff at the week-ends, or orders for wallflower plants, will help to make life easier for one who has struggled through life and has worked for over 80 years. It is a long time for a man to keep going, and especially when brought to such an apparently helpless position as he was at eighty years of age. Certainly such pluck and independence are worthy of recognition.

We understand that Mr. Lewis Twigge [Wakefield florist and leading tradesperson] has taken a great interest in Mark’s gardening work, especially since he happened his misfortune. It was through Mr Twigge’s kindness three years ago that he was supplied with the special tools to enable him “carry on” with his gardening work in spite of his severe handicap. He had been able to do his work with only the first leg off – he lost this some eleven years ago – but it is the loss of the second which seemed the greatest blow of all, and the way he faced it all is very commendable. Mark has long been a most successful exhibitor at local shows.

Mark’s grandson (another Mark) private, Royal Scots Regiment, died of wounds in France on 4 June 1918, aged 19.*

* Wakefield Express, 22 June 1918, pp. 6, 8.

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