Still Digging for Victory

Still Digging for Victory? (a brief history of the allotment movement)
Any mention of the word allotments is usually met with sniggers because they are, after all, about
old men with flat caps, compost heaps and giant marrows doing their bit to feed the nation in time
of war, aren’t they. Even now, sixty years since the end of the last conflict, it is difficult to get
away from the idea that allotments are just part of some great 20 th century war effort. The truth,
however, lies much further back in the history of the nation, right back to when our Saxon
ancestors cleared the woodlands as a community and then allotted the land to those that helped in
the clearance.
The communal pattern of landholding continued between the 10th and 16th centuries, but it was
increasingly in the hands of the church, monasteries or manorial lords, who granted peasants their
own strip of land in return for work on the estate. During the reign of Elizabeth I, manorial
"common" lands were enclosed. And "Commoners" were compensated with allocations or
"allotments" of land attached to tenant cottages.
The enclosure of common land carried on through the 17th and 18th centuries, made possible by
private Acts of Parliament, culminating in the General Enclosure Act of 1801. This was also a
period of great social and political upheaval, the “Industrial Revolution”, during which large
numbers of people left the land and went to work in the newly created factories. The harsh
working conditions, low pay and poor housing resulted in a number of philanthropic schemes to
improve the workers lot. Model villages and communities were created giving tenants small
gardens in which they could grow vegetables.
In 1845, the General Enclosure Act ensured that enclosures of land could only take place if part
of that land was set aside for allotments but the amount that was set aside was so little that a
further act, in 1887, was needed to ensure that Local Authorities had to provide allotments if there
was a demand for them. Even this act met with resistance and a further act (the Smallholding and
Allotment Act 1907) was needed to strengthen the law by imposing responsibilities on Parish,
urban district and borough councils.
The Allotment Act of 1908 wrapped up all the previous regulations into a single piece of
legislation – just in time for the First World War, when food shortages led to an increased
demand for allotments. This declined after the war and was replaced by a greater demand for
housing and the Land Settlement (Facilities) Act of 1919 made provision for some allotment land
to be built on.
The Second World War followed some 20 years later and, once again, there was pressure on land
use for food production. As part of the “Dig for Victory” campaign, public parks (including Royal
parks) and gardens were dug up to grow food. Once again, this demand for allotments declined on
the outbreak of peace and many of these sites were returned to their previous use. Allotments too,
lost popularity as food became a cheap commodity due to more industrialised farming techniques
and many acres were sold off for development.
The days of the allotment seemed numbered until the rise in concern over additives used in food
processing led to the “organic” food revolution, and a general rise in gardening as a leisure
activity reversed the decline and brought younger generations back to the land. The government’s
Allotment Regeneration Initiative in 2003 also sought to bring a fresh perspective to the topic by
looking at ways of improving the facilities on existing sites and attracting a wider range of
people, including disabled and younger people, to come and get green fingers.
Allotments in Folkestone
Management of the town’s allotments automatically passed to Folkestone Town Council from
Shepway District Council on the day that it was reformed in 2004, although it was impractical for
them to formally take control until the new financial year in April 2005, when the town’s
Allotments Officer (the Town Sergeant) took up his post.
There are two public allotment sites in Folkestone: Park Farm Road and Tile Kiln Lane and a
third, private, site just off Black Bull Road.
Every Town and Parish Council has an obligation to respond to requests for the provision of
allotments from six or more townsfolk/parishioners although many find it difficult to meet their
obligations because of the high cost of buying land. Similarly, many Councils with existing
allotments find it difficult to meet the costs of maintenance because of the low rate of income
from the rents paid by allotment-holders.
Folkestone Town Council, through its Allotments Officer, is keen to reverse this trend and has
already committed resources to help tidy up and improve its allotment sites in order to make them
more attractive to existing and potential plot-holders. Other aims include:
Holding regular meetings with plot-holders as part of the Council’s policy of public
consultation and involvement. The purpose of these meetings is to keep plot-holders
informed, resolve any issues and determine their needs.
Ensuring that neglected or vacant plots are made available to those on the waiting list to
ensure the best utilisation of plots.
Improving the facilities at sites.
Working with plot-holders, allotment associations and the rest of the community to
develop an allotments strategy for the future of allotments in the town.
How do I get an Allotment?
If you are a resident in Folkestone simply telephone the Council on 01303 257946 and ask to
speak to the Allotments Officer or email to to get details of
availability and the current cost of leasing one.