Allotments and their History

Wednesday October 20th 2021

The Lowestoft Allotment Project

At the meeting of The Oulton Broad and Lowestoft Horticultural Society held on October 20th, 2021, April Beale and Susan Steward spoke about The Lowestoft Allotment project. The theme for Heritage Open days 2021 was “Edible England”. April and Susan chose to explore the history, place and value of allotment gardens in Lowestoft life.

They have sourced information from books and records that remain at Lowestoft library and “The Lowestoft Journal” but have been thwarted in their efforts to obtain an appointment to view records moved from the Lowestoft Record Office to “The Hold” in Ipswich. They have spoken to allotmenteers about the past, the present and their hopes for the future.

The first record of an allotment garden is in 1809 in Wiltshire. During the 19th century enlightened Victorians recognized that many people both in towns and the country faced poverty and needed to grow their own food. Councils began to buy land and create “field gardens”. The first allotment Act was passed in 1887. Further acts were passed in 1908, 1922 and 1950 and remain the basis of law by which allotment land can be used and protected from being sold off. After WW1 there was a need to build homes for heroes and provide land for men to grow vegetables for their families. The need continued throughout the depression of the 1920’s, WW2 and the continuance of rationing for many years. The 1950 Act allowed for bees and poultry to be kept on allotments. However, by the mid 1960’s life was changing, shopping at supermarkets, home freezers, convenience foods and the start of a national decline in interest in allotment gardening that persisted through the 70’s and 80’s. By 1998 the “New Labour” parliament had an enquiry that recognized that regeneration work was needed. Interest increased and Ray Bedwell told us later that at one time there were 300 people on the waiting list for an allotment in Lowestoft.

Ownership of allotment land has passed to various councils but with very little money invested. Locally allotments are now the responsibility of Lowestoft Town Council. South Lowestoft has far fewer allotments per head of population compared to North Lowestoft so people may be waiting 2-3 years. A standard allotment is 10 rods, a rod, pole or perch being 6 feet in length. But some allotments are half this size and some a quarter of the size. Not everyone hopes to grow enough vegetables to feed a family of four for a year from their 10-rod plot. Many just wish for a space to grow vegetables and flowers.

There are statutory allotments (council owned land), temporary allotments and allotments on private land. An example of a temporary allotment might be where land has been bought for use as a cemetery but can be used for cultivation till such time that it is needed for burials. Kirkley cemetery is surrounded by allotments known as Blackheath Road, Kirkley, Wilmington and Isolation! There were workplace allotments. Many allotments are near railway lines and were for the use of railway employees. The YMCA Trinity Shine Community allotment at Water Lane has been well used by nursery age children and their parents and visited by residents of local nursing homes. The project has won a national award. There is a Mindfulness Allotment at St. Margaret’s Road

April has an allotment at St. Margaret’s Road. April and Susan are speaking to allotmenteers and recording their stories, anecdotes and what the allotment means to them. There are recurrent themes. Susan shared with us a book published in 1988 “The Allotment, its landscape and culture” written by David Crouch and Colin Ward. The authors write about five metaphors that sum up the values of allotment gardens.

The Compost Heap

Recycling, growing, looking after the world.

The Home Freezer

Something to spare, something to share, something to recycle, something to store.

The Shed

A refuge from the rain but also a refuge from reality, a place where you could imagine yourself elsewhere, a place to escape to.

The Shovel

Digging and physical exercise is good for you and brings an awareness of space and surroundings

The Seed

The future is about young people getting involved with gardening and working the land involves caring and sharing space.

There was an opportunity to look at the books, photographs and maps brought by April and Susan. Ray Bedwell had a long association serving on the committee of The Lowestoft and District Allotments Association. He had some notes and stories to share. He shared his bag of records including the minutes book going back to 1917 and copies of various deeds. He had intended to take them to the Record Office but was advised to hold on to them till such time that these records could remain in Lowestoft. Now, he has entrusted these records to April and Susan to further their research. April and Susan consider that they have scratched the surface, there is more history to discover.

The Lowestoft Allotment Project

At the meeting of The Oulton Broad and Lowestoft Horticultural Society held on October 20th, 2021, April Beale and Susan Steward spoke about The Lowestoft Allotment project. The theme for Heritage Open days 2021 was “Edible England”. April and Susan chose to explore the history, place and value of allotment gardens in Lowestoft life.

They have sourced information from books and records that remain at Lowestoft library and “The Lowestoft Journal” but have been thwarted in their efforts to obtain an appointment to view records moved from the Lowestoft Record Office to “The Hold” in Ipswich. They have spoken to allotmenteers about the past, the present and their hopes for the future.

The first record of an allotment garden is in 1809 in Wiltshire. During the 19th century enlightened Victorians recognized that many people both in towns and the country faced poverty and needed to grow their own food. Councils began to buy land and create “field gardens”. The first allotment Act was passed in 1887. Further acts were passed in 1908, 1922 and 1950 and remain the basis of law by which allotment land can be used and protected from being sold off. After WW1 there was a need to build homes for heroes and provide land for men to grow vegetables for their families. The need continued throughout the depression of the 1920’s, WW2 and the continuance of rationing for many years. The 1950 Act allowed for bees and poultry to be kept on allotments. However, by the mid 1960’s life was changing, shopping at supermarkets, home freezers, convenience foods and the start of a national decline in interest in allotment gardening that persisted through the 70’s and 80’s. By 1998 the “New Labour” parliament had an enquiry that recognized that regeneration work was needed. Interest increased and Ray Bedwell told us later that at one time there were 300 people on the waiting list for an allotment in Lowestoft.

Ownership of allotment land has passed to various councils but with very little money invested. Locally allotments are now the responsibility of Lowestoft Town Council. South Lowestoft has far fewer allotments per head of population compared to North Lowestoft so people may be waiting 2-3 years. A standard allotment is 10 rods, a rod, pole or perch being 6 feet in length. But some allotments are half this size and some a quarter of the size. Not everyone hopes to grow enough vegetables to feed a family of four for a year from their 10-rod plot. Many just wish for a space to grow vegetables and flowers.

There are statutory allotments (council owned land), temporary allotments and allotments on private land. An example of a temporary allotment might be where land has been bought for use as a cemetery but can be used for cultivation till such time that it is needed for burials. Kirkley cemetery is surrounded by allotments known as Blackheath Road, Kirkley, Wilmington and Isolation! There were workplace allotments. Many allotments are near railway lines and were for the use of railway employees. The YMCA Trinity Shine Community allotment at Water Lane has been well used by nursery age children and their parents and visited by residents of local nursing homes. The project has won a national award. There is a Mindfulness Allotment at St. Margaret’s Road

April has an allotment at St. Margaret’s Road. April and Susan are speaking to allotmenteers and recording their stories, anecdotes and what the allotment means to them. There are recurrent themes. Susan shared with us a book published in 1988 “The Allotment, its landscape and culture” written by David Crouch and Colin Ward. The authors write about five metaphors that sum up the values of allotment gardens.

The Compost Heap

Recycling, growing, looking after the world.

The Home Freezer

Something to spare, something to share, something to recycle, something to store.

The Shed

A refuge from the rain but also a refuge from reality, a place where you could imagine yourself elsewhere, a place to escape to.

The Shovel

Digging and physical exercise is good for you and brings an awareness of space and surroundings

The Seed

The future is about young people getting involved with gardening and working the land involves caring and sharing space.

There was an opportunity to look at the books, photographs and maps brought by April and Susan. Ray Bedwell had a long association serving on the committee of The Lowestoft and District Allotments Association. He had some notes and stories to share. He shared his bag of records including the minutes book going back to 1917 and copies of various deeds. He had intended to take them to the Record Office but was advised to hold on to them till such time that these records could remain in Lowestoft. Now, he has entrusted these records to April and Susan to further their research. April and Susan consider that they have scratched the surface, there is more history to discover.