allotment maps

Allotment Map 1762 

(Map referenced from Rocque map of Surrey 1762)

Until the Victorian period, a large part of the countryside in Britain was “Common Land”.

Typically, land was owned by a “Lord of the Manor” but was available for local people to use in exchange for a portion of their crops. Manors in area included the Royal Manor of Kingston, Tolworth Court Manor, North Tolworth, South Tolworth, Chessington and the Manor of Fream.

South of the Borough, near modern day Long Ditton, Kingston and Talworth Commons stretched out adjacent to the small settlement of Talworth. Fanny Burney (1752-1840) an English satirical novelist once described a visit ‘along muddy roads across a wild common’.

Peasants would graze animals on the common pasture (grasslands) in the grazing season and grow crops on thin, unfenced strips of the lands called ‘selions’ in the growing season.

People were only growing to feed themselves and their families – not to sell – so they did not need to farm more than these thin strips.

Allotment Map 1871

(Map Referenced from OS Map)

However, things changed dramatically with the enclosure movement. This sought to divide the countryside into the larger fenced fields we would recognise today.

The government and landowners thought that this would make farming more efficient. They were proved right, but a major downside was that peasant farmers were shut off from the common land on which they had raised crops and livestock for generations.

These landless peasants could labour on the new large-scale farms, or move to the cities to find work in the new Victorian industries. Crucially, working people were now working for wages to buy food rather than growing it to feed themselves. Victorian Britain was a harsh era to live in if you were poor. Whether in the towns or the countryside, unskilled work was usually physically gruelling and badly paid. In the 1880s, an ‘agricultural depression’ meant the situation went from bad to worse. The risk of farm workers starving to death became a serious possibility. However, poverty was not just a problem in the countryside, it also affected people living in towns and cities.

Allotment Map 1910

(Map Referenced from OS Map)

 

Farm owners could not afford to increase the wages they paid to their workers. The only way they could help was to give the workers pieces of unused land so they could grow their own food. To help urban workers, some factory owners and railway companies also provided their employees with plots of land. These were the first allotments. The workers were not especially happy about this as it gave them an extra chore to do on top of their tiring work.

Tolworth, Surbiton and Kingston were not facing the scale of poverty of the industrial cities. However, even here, at the turn of the 20th Century some allotment provision had been established on Lord Lovelace’s estate in Tolworth. However, this was not enough. In January 1908, Surbiton Urban District Council received a petition from 10 allotment holders asking for new land. The following spring the Council began to consider the purchase of land for new allotments.

Allotment Map 1940

(Map Referenced from OS Map)

During World War II, plans were made for food rationing and the campaign to grow food at home started again. The government wanted to ensure potential recruits were healthy and the population at home was well fed.

The government sought to encourage people to use these new allotments – as well as their own gardens – to grow vegetables to increase the food supply. The campaign became known as the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign. Dig for Victory aimed to provide support for growers through official pamphlets, local talks and encouragement in newspapers.

The government gave permission for local councils to take over unoccupied land and open up temporary allotments wherever possible. This time, Surbiton jumped into action. A town meeting was held in September 1939 and the council agreed to search the Borough for possible new allotment sites immediately. Many residents were eager to offer up their land to help. For example, Miss Wilson, who owned land behind Woodlands Road, stated ‘I feel I should like to do something to help the Nation…’ The council also started targeting the gardens of unoccupied houses. By the end of the War the Borough had 1,689 allotment plots.

Allotment Map 1950

(Map Referenced from OS Map)

This map from 1950 depicts the true legacy that the government’s Dig for Victory had in the local area. Allotment space had been greatly increased in the Borough and it wasn’t until the latter part the 20th Century that allotment space decreased.

More women were working and people began to enjoy the benefits of new self-service supermarkets, convenience food and home freezing. These changes helped reduce people’s dependence on allotments, which were still seen by many as a symbol of poverty and a haunting reminder of the hardships of war.

Allotment Map 2018

(Crown Copyright and database rights 2019 Ordinance Survey)

TODAY there are 22 allotment sites made up of 1,200 plots in Kingston Borough.

As the area has grown more diverse, the range of vegetables grown on allotments has evolved. One long standing allotment holder told how: ‘two of my neighbours are from Hong Kong. And they have introduced onto the allotment Chinese vegetables. Yau mak choi looks a little bit like a long narrow spinach and it’s absolutely delicious.’

As allotmenteering grows every more popular, people wanting to cultivate their own plots are often put onto lengthy waiting lists. This shows a strong demand for allotments in the area and might suggest that new sites are created.