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the history of allotments


It's possible to trace the origins of allotments back over 200 hundred years - they derive from the enclosure legislation of the 18th and 19th centuries - and the word 'allotment' originates from land being allotted to an individual under an enclosure award (Enclosures were use by richer land-owners to stop the poor grazing their animals on common land).

The most important of the Enclosure Acts was the General Inclosure Act 1845 which required that provision should be made for the landless poor in the form of 'field gardens' limited to a quarter of an acre. At this time, allotments were largely confined to rural areas.

The modern notion of an allotment came into being during the Nineteenth Century. A lot of people from the country went to work and live in towns; there was a lot of poverty, and what the Victorians called "degeneracy" amongst the working classes.

In the Victorian scheme of things, allotments provided an alternative to drink and other unworthy pursuits for the poor. The spread of urban allotments was intensified by the growth of high-density housing, often without gardens.

The First World War prompted a huge growth in the number of allotments - from 600,000 to 1,500,000. After the War, many of the temporary allotment sites were returned to their original use.

WWII again increased the role for allotments as a major provider of food; there was a blockade from the U-boats, and many farm-workers went to the war. Allotments became a common feature in towns and cities, Dig for Victory posters were everywhere, and food production from allotments rose to 1,300,000 tonnes per year from around 1,400,000 plots - that's nearly a tonne per plot !

The end of the War again saw a diminished role for allotments and, as time passed, other pressures on the use of land have reduced the total (there are now only about 250,000). Although the biggest decline was immediately after WWII, it is still continuing today; the number of allotments has halved since 1969 (more on this).

Allotments are under the control of local councils (in our case the Parish Council). Allotments are allocated by Act of Parliament, and Councils have a legal obligation to provide the land. If Councils wish to use the land for other purposes, then they are supposed to provide land of similar quality in a suitable location. In practice pressures on Council finances means that many sites are sold for building development, but this is unlikely to happen in Eynsham because the allotment fields are beyond the ring-road, and should thus be safe from development.