London’s Gardens: Allotments for the People

The garden shed is a home away from home for John Wilson (Plot 84F) of the South Croydon Allotment Society, in London. [Source: NPR]Some of my happiest times have been spent in garden sheds, waiting for the rain to stop. I’m easily distracted by any assortment of well-oiled tools, and usually whoever took the trouble to build the shed was a pretty handy carpenter. So I was impressed to learn from the Kitchen Sisters that garden sheds become outdoor kitchens and neighborly front porches for “alottment” holders, as community gardeners are called, in London. The shed in the photo, courtesy of John Wilson (Plot 84F) of the South Croydon Allotment Society, looks positively palatial to me. In Russia it would be called a dacha; in Michigan, a deer camp.

According to NPR’s Hidden Kitchens:

Wedged between buildings, planted in abandoned open spaces and carved into hillsides, these community plots of open space began to be reserved for neighborhood cultivation with the industrialization of England in the 1860s, when rural people poured into the city.

The allotments started to flourish with Britain’s “Dig for Victory” movement of World War II, an effort to feed the starving population of London during the war. They are exploding today with the organic gardening and “good food” movements, and efforts to food self-sufficiency sweeping the country.

… Talking to people, one place kept coming up: Manor Garden Allotments, a small patch of land in the heart of working-class east London. It is more than 100 years old.

But the area has now been lost, at least temporarily. In October 2007, Manor Garden Allotments was bulldozed to make way for a path and landscaping for the 2010 Olympic Games. The 100 or so families growing food there have been moved to another site, but they are hoping to return after the games.

“You’d go past rambling old factories, down a little alleyway, behind the bus depot, lots of rubbish everywhere,” said Julie Sumner, a Manor allotment holder and organizer. But anyone opening a gate to see the River Lea, she said, would find a different scene.

“The slopes of the side of the river [were] covered with plum trees,” Sumner said.

She said the person who set up the Manor Garden Allotments in 1900 was an aristocrat named Major Arthur Villiers, who was a friend of Winston Churchill.

“He was so appalled by the treatment of working-class people during the First World War that he devoted his life to providing facilities for the poorest of the poor over in the East End. They built squash courts, swimming pools, cricket grounds.”

Villiers also saw a need for poor children to eat better food — and for their parents to grow it. Allotments were his answer.

“He always said to the people he gave the allotments to ‘these are going to be yours in perpetuity when I’m gone,'” Sumner said. Read more.

Hidden Kitchens series | Kitchen Sisters home page | More on London’s alottments

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