Allotments are us
ALLOTMENTS have been in existence for hundreds of years, with evidence dating back to Anglo-saxon times.
But the allotments we know of today have their roots in the nineteenth century, when land was given over to the labouring poor for the provision of food growing. This measure was desperately needed as a result of rapid industrialisation of the country and the complete lack of a welfare state. The Allotments Act of 1887 made it possible for local authorities to acquire land for allotment use, but because of resistance at local level the Smallholding and Allotments Act of 1907 was introduced to force councils to provide allotments where there was demand.
By 1914 there were between 450,000 and 600, 000 allotments in England, and fuelled by the First World War and the increased need for homegrown produce, by 1917 allotments totalled 1.5 million. As the battle weary soldiers returned home at the end of the hostilities the demand for allotments remained high, but unfortunately much of the land that had been requisitioned for the growing of food in the war years was returned to its original purpose, often recreational land, and the interest in allotments began to decline. Measures were taken to protect plot holders and some were offered compensation to vacate their plots, and ten years after the war had ended there were less that 1 million allotments left.
However the outbreak of a world war once again changed the situation. In 1939 there were 819,000 allotments recorded under cultivation, and with the experience of the First World War still fresh in the memory, the national press coined the phrase “Dig for Victory”, a slogan soon adopted by the government. New allotments were created wherever possible, including the Royal parks in London, and because of the duration of the Second World War allotments experienced a renaissance.
Thanks to John Ashmore who responded to the article “Workmen of the Black Country” on December 5, we can celebrate those Black Country types who worked the allotments in our neck of the woods. A picture we showed in the original article of Darlaston diggers taking a rest from the sand pits was in fact the diggers at Dangerfield Lane allotments in Darlaston (see immediately above). John told us the chimney on the left-hand side is the stack at Courts factory who were leather burners.
The picture at the top of the page is also of Dangerfield Lane Allotments Club in Darlaston, probably taken at an earlier date, a wonderful group of family, friends and neighbours, when keeping allotments was at the height of its popularity. The photograph on the left-hand side shows allotment keepers in Wollescote showing off their prize spuds in what looks like a competition with the mayor in attendance.
Dangerfield Lane Allotment Club, Darlaston, in the early years of the 20th century
Wollescote spud growers showing off their prize harvest
Dig for Victory poster from WW2
Black Country allotment workers