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Allotment History – A Brief History of Allotments in the UK

Published: 27/11/2020 By Richard Bennett

Allotment History – A Brief History of Allotments in the UK

We love allotments. The charm of them, the history of them, the rewards we take from them make us happy to be alive. But do you actually know what an allotment is?

The oldest allotment site in the UK is in the Wiltshire village of Great Somerford. These were created in 1809 by Rev Stephen Demainbray who asked King George III to spare six acres of land for the benefit of the poor of his parish.

To fulfil the need for land, allotment legislation was enacted. The first fully codified law was the Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908, then modified by the Allotments Act 1922 and subsequent Allotments Acts up until the Allotments Act 1950.

Under the Acts, a local authority is required to maintain an "adequate provision" of land, usually a large allotment field which can then be subdivided into allotment gardens for individual residents at a low rent.

Allotment sizes are often quoted in square rods. The average rent for a ten square rod (250 m2) plot is around £22 a year. Each plot cannot exceed forty square rods (1000 m2) and must be used for the production of fruit or vegetables for consumption by the plot-holder and their family or flowers for use by the plot-holder and their family. The council has a duty to provide sufficient allotments to meet demand.

During the World War I, Germany’s blockade caused food shortages which increased the demand for allotments. The Railway Companies were big land owners at this time and parcels of land were often allotted to railway workers and this is the reason that you will often see allotments by railway lines today. Following the Great War there was a decrease in demand for allotments and this, combined with increased demand for building land for housing reduced the number of allotments.

When World War II broke out, Britain suffered food shortages once again. The pressure was greater than that of the First World War and even public parks were pressed into use for food production. It was at this time the famous Dig for Victory campaign helped keep the country fed, and fed well, whilst the war was fought. Food rationing kept the demand for allotments and home grown foods high until the end of the war although rationing continued until 1954.

Since then, there has been a decline in allotment numbers. Following the peak of 1,400,000 in 1943 there was a sharp decline in allotment provision to around 500,00 in the 1970s. The decline continued but during the late 1970s, there was a huge upsurge in interest in self-sufficiency and home food production epitomised by the television series The Good Life which ran from 1975 to 1978.

For many people, the Covid-19 pandemic and the UK lockdown restrictions have highlighted the value of having a local growing space, as well as much-needed social contact and allotments still remain very popular.

Bassetlaw District Council has over 20 allotment sites in use at the present time in Retford and Worksop. Besides the District Council, there are other providers of allotments throughout Bassetlaw. Contact your local parish or town council to find out if there are any allotments in your area and reap the benefits of home grown produce, far cheaper and tastier than shop bought examples.

Bassetlaw Parks and Open Spaces 01909 534525 or email parks@bassetlaw.gov.uk