I predicted that Twiggs-Way would get us off to a good start in the Year, and she certainly did, with her highly entertaining talk "An incitement to Early Marriage - A History of the Allotment".
The 1922 Allotment Act's definition "An area of land not exceeding 40 poles, cultivated by the occupier, for growing fruit and vegetables for consumption by him and his family." From time to time hens, ducks and bees were also allowed!
The early history of allotment started in the 18th Century around the time of the first enclosures, when rural labourers suddenly had a lot less land to grow food for their family and to feed their livestock. This meant potentially a lot more peopl4e in extreme poverty who would have to go "on the parish" - and extra expense nobody wanted.
In 1819, a Public Act empowered the Parish Wardens to let up land for the "promotion of industry amongst the poor". They could grow their won food and not rely on parish relief. Between 1831 and 1845, as part of the general Enclosures Act, 1/4 of an acre was allotted to poor families to rent.
Farmers were generally not in favour of this, as they imagined their workforce would be too tired to work for them properly! That with a very small piece of land, they would be slightly better off and get married early and of course have far too many children. So it was decided it would be a much better idea to rent allotments to the ill and elderly! (Difficult to believe?)
Landlords had no statutory duty to provide land for rental, and it they did it had strings attached - mostly moral ones. If you had an allotment, you had to attend church on Sunday (your only day off) and you couldn't dig it after 9am! If you got drunk, or transgressed, then you had your rental agreement terminated. Social control at its best.
Urban-suburban allotment was much less contentious and political. The huge growth of suburbia at the end of the 19th century gave rise to "guinea plots"(their cost) which the new middle-class home-owner could rent. They were more upmarket, they could be fenced, and flowers could be grown. Yes, flowers - a privilege denied the rural labourers. An allotment was fashionable.
By 1915 and the Great War, the conception of an allotment had changed. They were now a weapon against the blockading German army and their sinking of precious cargoes of fruit and vegetables. The number of plots grew from 405,00 to 1/2 million by the end of the war, a result of the huge propaganda campaign to encourage people to grow their won food: we would not be starved into submission. In the itner-war years, the Government lost interest, as they now wanted land for building, but changed their minds again in 1940. Parks and public palces were dug up, and even the moat of the Tower of London was a huge allotment!
"Dig for Victory"ands "Enlist in the Allotment Army"were common wqar cries. The propaganda and availability of land meant that one in five families had a plot. Since the 1950's allotments have gone in and out of favour. In the mid-sixties, the Torpe report advised that allotments should be "designer"in concept and for the leisured middle-classes, with a built in social scene. This did not take off, but by the seventies, the "Good Life"movement was developing, and to the good, old plots survived.
Currently, they are again "trendy", encouraging wildlife, bio-diversity, organic food, and they keep developers off brown sites.
Recently, the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) awarded a gold medal to "an allotment"at Chelsea! They've come a long way.
Next month's meeting: Tuesday 19th February - Mr Cotton talking about Climbers and Wall Plants. Everyone welcome.