tolworth main allotment site
The Tolworth Main allotment site, now the largest in the Kingston borough with over 200 plots, has its origins in the activity of a lively and busy local figure, Thomas Dumper, at the start of the 20th Century. Representing the Tolworth ward on the council since the 1890s, Dumper was also the landlord of a pub in the area,The Red Lion. At this time Tolworth had a small number of allotment plots on the site of a small recreational ground on Alexandra Drive, but Dumper invested his efforts into creating something on a much grander scale.
In 1910 Thomas Dumper became chairman of the Recreation, Gardens and Allotments Committee within Surbiton Urban District Council (SUDC), a body which had shown great interest in the 1908 Smallholdings and Allotment Act that had obliged local authorities to provide land for such purposes. Dumper drew the council’s attention to 44 acres of land immediately south of the Alexandra Drive site: owned by an absentee landlord named Charles Scrase Dickens, the land at the time was being ineffectually farmed. The SUDC purchased the land from Scrace Dickens in the summer of 1911.
As well as recreational ground, Dumper’s ambitious plans saw this land developed into 450 allotment plots, which by the end of the Second World War were in full use. Concurrently the Tolworth and District Allotment Holders Society was founded in 1919, and itself had a great resurgence after the Second World War, launching its own magazine named The Cultivator, selling seeds, produce and small tools from a hut built at the southern end of Tolworth Main, and each year staging a produce show that was a major event in the Tolworth social calendar.
The Tolworth Main allotment site became a source of dispute between local residents and the council in 1989, which ultimately saw the local authorities back down in the face of major public opposition to development proposals. Instead the locals, led by the Alexandra Neighbours’ Association (ANA), succeeded in pushing for the creation of a Millennium Park, which divided up 25 acres of allotment land: eight acres were retained for allotment use, five acres were utilised as a wildlife sanctuary, with the remaining land leased to the Alexandra Millennium Green Trust.
The delivery of the Millennium Park project owed much to the three founding members of the ANA, whose vision was for a little bit of countryside to become a centrepoint of suburbia. They set to work, finding and restoring a number of agricultural machines which were to play a vital role in the creation and maintenance of the green, and today it is the largest Millennium Green in Greater London.
The 200+ plots on the Tolworth Main site are nearly all still actively cultivated today.
Tolworth Main is supported by the council and its agents, who allocate plots and provides many services. There is a partnership and a lively community spirit as plot holder Bob Phillips testifies:
“As with most allotment sites, it is a very friendly place, where conversation and advice are ready to hand for everyone. A proportion of allotment holders are reserved folk – liking the allotments and gardening as a means to pursue quiet, but active, contemplation. But there are also others for whom fellow allotment holders are an extension of active friendship. Tolworth Main is big enough for both sets of folks to coexist happily.”
Sadly after 96 years of operation the Tolworth and District Allotment Holders Society folded in 2014 due to lack of volunteers and local garden centres offering more competitive prices. However as part of ShedX, a group of volunteers has taken over Tolworth Main’s trading hut and its surroundings, introducing new elements of the community to suburban farming possibilities. Their aim is teach different ways of growing food and build sustainable sources of local produce, complementing the wider activity of the allotment site.