Expansion of the business

The following years saw a steady expansion in the business and soon many acres of neighbouring properties bought by Mr Bellis were under strawberry cultivation and he was compelled to look to the markets of the border towns for the sale of his produce. But this meant hard work and early rising.

At 3 a.m. he and members of his family would be up and about loading baskets of the berry into shandries (Wooden Cart) for Chester where the fruit was transferred to the railway for Birkenhead. On arrival at the port, where there was then no landing stage, the baskets were unloaded on to hand-carts and trundled down the slipway to a waiting paddle steamer for shipment to Liverpool. And then it was a quick return to Holt for more picking and dispatching.

In 1878, Mr Bellis recorded with pride, ”there was to our credit in the bank, £2,000, and we borrowed £4,000 to buy our Wrexham Road Farm”.

Along the years improved road transport, including steam wagons, was supplemented by special trains which left Wrexham every evening loaded with the fruit and by morning this would be on sale in most North-West towns. In some weeks more than 50 tons of the berry would be dispatched in this way. And in order to keep an eye on sales, members of the Bellis family would travel on the train in a reserved compartment.

This was the age of the strawberry dodger when hundreds of men, women and children and often whole families from the towns and cities, in season, converged on Holt for an escape into the country. They were drawn from all sections, professional men who had hit hard times and others who had become drop-outs either through drink or family troubles – solicitors, doctors, architects and tramps. And while they crouched over the plants, children armed with wooden clappers walked up and down the rows scaring off the birds.

Wrexham Board of Guardians anticipated this influx with dread for some of these visitors arrived in the town before the season opened in anticipation of being taken on in the strawberry fields and they had to be accommodated in the workhouse. And those who disliked institutional care made a nuisance of them- selves by spending the nights in fields and hedges bordering the road to Holt and spent the daytime begging from house-to-house.

Where did the strawberry dodgers live? Or see our gallery.