Allotments, a division of land for the purpose of the cultivation of vegetables, fruit and flowers by an individual, have a history spanning 300 years in England.
The provision for allotments arose as a result of the social upheaval caused through the enclosure of the English countryside between 1750 and 1850. Although this led to the eventual extensive industrialisation that took place in the 19th century, it left small many with no source of income other than their labour and no land to grow food for their families. Approximately 10 million acres of land were enclosed during this period, leaving the poor struggling for existence.
Desperation led to the many riots and the subsequent provision of allotments. After this period of agricultural revolt the situation was still precarious and the unsettled state existed across most of the country. The size of plots was limited, in such that an individual would not be able to grow enough crops to make profits which would allow himself to become a ‘small holding’ and work his way out of poverty. It was believed that a labourer who worked 12 hours a day for 6 days a week should be able to manage ½ acre of land, including the upkeep of a pig. This was, of course, of great benefit to land owners as labourers were less likely to migrate to expanding towns in search of better-paid work.
By the 20th century, the allotment movement was very much urban based and was enhanced by the necessity to produce food during wartime. Vacant land was put under cultivation and it was estimated that there were around 1.5 million plots across the British Isles during this period. Allotments had given England’s workers a taste for cultivation and over the next few years allotments were used to combat the Great Depression.
During the inter-war years, although the demand for allotments grew, the number of sites decreased as land was re-claimed.
On October 4th 1939 the Ministry of Agriculture launched the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign. The priority was to get ½ million plots productive as soon as possible. This was simply to avoid wartime famine. By the 1940’s lawns were becoming a scarce sight as, even in affluent areas, gardens were turned over for the production of food.
As peace settled the urgency to ‘grow your own’ dwindled with greater social freedom and affluence. The use of allotments became a social pastime and only a core of dedicated enthusiasts continued to cultivate their plots of land.
Increased demand for housing and an increased value of land led to local authorities selling many allotment plots to developers. This led to the re-establishment of the ‘Allotments Advisory Body’, which in 1949 recommended a scale of provision of 4 acres per 1,000 head of population. This is known as the ‘Allotment Act of 1950’.
Many allotments became derelict during the 1960’s and 1970’s, but the 1990’s saw a reverse of this trend. With interest in organic produce, lowering ‘food miles’ and freshness; allotments have become popular once more. Allotments are under demand as a place to relax after the pressures of modern-day life and attract people of all ages and from all walks of life.