Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Allotments - more popular than ever

The credit crunch combined with concerns as to how our food is produced has seen a revival in home grown produce. Allotments are more popular than ever, although you may have to get on your bike to find one in Swindon.

The history of allotments can be traced back over a thousand years. It appears that the invading Anglo Saxons, driven by a shortage of suitable farming land in their own countries, were less interested in warfare and more likely to plant a few drills of potatoes instead.

So it continued until revolutionary new agricultural methods saw the end of open field farming and the enclosure of common land. No longer able to graze a few animals and grow their own food, the poor were suddenly robbed of a vital source of income and a crucial supplement to their meagre diet. Those who migrated to the new, industrial towns fared even worse.

The General Enclosure Act 1845 saw the creation of 'field gardens' limited to a quarter of an acre, but this tended to be a rural initiative. It would be another forty years before the 1887 Allotments and Cottage Gardens Compensation for Crops Act obliged local authorities to provide allotments if there was deemed a demand for them.

Despite the Victorian enthusiasm for anything that kept the poor gainfully employed, the Act was unpopular and local authorities proved uncooperative. Further legislation followed and the Smallholding and Allotment Acts of 1907 and 1908 imposed a responsibility upon councils.

The demand for allotments increased both during and after the First World War. In 1919 Mannington, Toothill and Whitehill farms were bought by Wiltshire County Council and a large percentage of the land was converted into smallholdings for ex-servicemen.

Second World War blockades and food rationing saw every available plot of land utilised, including public parks and royal residences as people were encouraged to Dig for Victory.

Post war Swindon Corporation had over 280 acres of land available for allotment cultivation, including 47 acres at Rodbourne and Broome Sewage farms, which the Official Year Book dated 1946-7 states was 'available for allotments, but not acquired for the purpose.'

Rental averaged 8d per perch per year with some plots at the two sewage farms available at 6d (about 2p) while at the more desirable Broome Manor Lane site the charge was 1s (5p).

In 1946 the largest sites were at Southbrook with 64 acres and Marsh Farm with 61 acres. Gorse Hill had 35 acres available at 8d per perch while the 5 acres known as Bailey's Field in Birch Street cost 10d per perch.

In Swindon today there are 25 allotment sites with a total of 1200 plots, however most have a long waiting list.

Images - top - Holy Rood schoolboys on their way to the school allotments in Upham Road and bottom pupils from Sanford Street School preparing ground off Upham Road for the planting of potatoes from the Swindon at War archives.


  1. Great post - I had no idea about this C19th post enclose legislation creating obligation on councils to provide allotments. Fascinating how demand has continued over last 150 years.

  2. Thank you for commenting - as you say, the demand continues.