the humble shed
The wonderful community spirit found on allotments does not detract from the fact that each plot is its own kingdom and sanctuary, full of individual expression and character. A key part of its identity is the shed, often homemade and unique in their appearance.
By-laws have traditionally generally controlled the location and erection of sheds, so as to maintain some control over the layout of the allotment site. This has certainly been the case in Surbiton and in the past the local council were strict in the enforcement if its rules, with sheds being ordered to be moved or dismantled if illegally put up. Conditions issued in 1940 included height restrictions, its positioning within the plot, materials and colouring, and its purpose - to be used for the storage of garden tools, materials and appliances only. (See image)
A shortage of materials caused by the Second World War led to ‘Anderson shelters’ - a specialised form of air raid shelter - being repurposed as sheds in Surbiton and Tolworth. After the war, the council tried to adopt a policy of supplying and erecting standardised sheds on allotment sites for a fee. The plan was detailed in trade press, with sheds set to mainly consist of Anderson shelters with a brick filling at each end. However it seems this policy was never enforced or, if it was, with not much success, with little evidence today of such sheds in existence.
Today many allotment sheds in the area are homemade, whether inherited from previous plot owners or entirely repurposed from a former function. However the proliferation of cheaper ‘flat pack’ sheds is leading to fewer and fewer bespoke and unique examples and the loss of personal character on the allotments. In a small attempt to arrest this decline ShedX lovingly recreated its favourite shed on the Tolworth Main site, and the ‘Heritage Shed’ then went on tour, visiting the V&A and Hampton Court Flower Show along the way.
“I inherited it when I took over the plot about eight years ago - I know of at least two plot holders before me. It was my children who decided to paint it and embellish it with some wooden slats from a Moroccan screen. It has sheltered us from the rain, been my secret smoking hut when I was supposed to have given up, served as a play den for the children, and has even been a robin’s home.”
Claire Chapman, owner of the shed upon which ShedX’s Heritage Shed is based.