Potatoes in the UK, 1870 - 1880

The Victoria and other new varieties brought out by William Paterson led the field for many years, but eventually they began to lose their vigour.

John Nicol of Forfar continued the work of William Paterson. In the early 1870s he brought out The Champion, a heavy cropper of reasonable quality with good disease resistance. Nicol thought that this was a descendant of Victoria, but was unsure. Soon this potato was widely grown in Scotland and Ireland.

Other varieties were imported from America. One of them, Early Rose, was crossed with Paterson's Victoria by James Clark of Christchurch, and this produced Magnum Bonum, released commercially by Suttons in 1876. This was an excellent cropper with good disease resistance, and it was to became the leading variety grown in England.

There followed several wet seasons of blighted crops, culminating in the disastrous year of 1879. A committee was formed to investigate the production of new varieties which might turn the situation around. The committee's report includes a paragraph expressing the following

    All potatoes have degenerated in their disease-resisting powers. A variety takes 4 to 6 years for its establishment, and may be expected to degenerate in twenty years. The production of new varieties is of national importance.
The botanist J.G.Baker made a study of the genus Solanum, to see if wild American potatoes might be used to improve the stock. He recommended doing crosses with Solanum Maglia from the Chonos Archipelago, and with the Uruguay wild potato, Solanum Commersoni.

This was done.

Crosses from the first of these produced varieties which were inferior in appearance, yield and quality to those already being grown.

Crosses from the second were unsuccessful.

Many years later (1902) a breeder in France carried out the cross successfully but the varieties produced had poor cooking quality.

ND / summarised from Grubb & Guilford, 1912 / Diversity website

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