From the middle of the 18th century enclosure combined with rising population led to rural poverty. Various initiatives aimed to offer land to the poor so that they were better able to provide for themselves but these initiatives had little impact until the 1830’s. Then fear of unrest as soldiers returned from the Napoleonic wars, bad harvests in 1829 and 1830, and growing poverty meant that support for allotments grew: particularly in the South and Midlands. By 1850 there was one allotment plot for every 320 people in England.
In Alnwick, 18th century maps had shown Crofts and Garths on each side of Clayport. Then in 1848 the Duke laid out more than 200 plots, providing one for every 36 people, or every six households in the town.
A visit to Alnwick by The Cottage Gardener in 1852 reported on three main allotment sites: the Clayport Allotment to the west of town; Leeks field (on Denwick Lane) to the east; and Ratten Row to the north. They also described allotments provided for pupils of the Duke’s School in Green Batt. Allotment holders were growing “mangold, swedes, potatoes, curled kale, carrots, onions, drumhead cabbage, and various little matters, as rhubarb, and such conveniences”.
Nationally, the pressure for more allotments abated as the economy improved in the 1850s and 1860s, but towards the end of the century interest re-awakened, partly under pressure from the National Farm Labourers’ Union. In Alnwick, by the 1870’s there were allotments off Dispensary Street and on Hope House Farm (later known as the Duntern Allotments).
The introduction of County Councils in 1888, and Urban and Rural Districts in 1894 brought changes in local government. Legislative changes from 1882 to the first world war required councils to ensure there were sufficient allotments. In particular the Small Holdings and Allotments Act of 1908 established a framework for the modern allotments system.
By the start of the First World War Alnwick had another allotment site off Wagonway
Road, which later became St James Allotments. Between the wars the present site at St George’s Crescent was laid out.
By the end of the first war there were 1.5m allotments nationally. However, once hostilities ceased much of this was reclaimed for recreational use or housing, and it became more difficult to acquire land for allotments. By 1939 the number of plots had reduced, despite efforts to promote cultivation of allotments by the unemployed during the recession of the 1920s and 1930s. Following the outbreak of the Second World War, the government launched the Dig for Victory campaign to create 0.5m new allotments. By 1944 it was estimated that there were 1.75m plots across England and Wales. Again, once hostilities ceased, the number quickly fell back as temporary plots reverted to their original use.
Post-war demand for housing in Alnwick meant that the number of plots reduced by around a third. Allotment sites off Clayport, and Dispensary Street; and parts of the sites at Wagonway and the Dunterns were lost to new housing. By 1965 the number of allotments nationally had halved, and the Ministry of Land and Resources set up a committee to investigate. The Thorpe Report was published in 1969, and recommended that each council should provide a minimum of 15 full size plots (10 poles each) per 1,000 households. However numbers continued to fall through the sixties.The decline in allotments slowed during the seventies but then regained pace, and has continued since. ( “The Good Life” was originally screened from 1975-78).
The number of allotment plots in Alnwick peaked around 370 between the two world wars. Today there are around 180 plots. This is the lowest number since 1850: less than half the number of allotments in Alnwick at the peak. In comparison, recent national data suggests that across England there is roughly one allotment for every 200 people (every 80 households). Today the provision of allotments in Northumberland is around twice, and in Alnwick roughly four times, as great as the national figure.
Extract from Alnwick Civic Society Newsletter: August 2016 <here>