Monthly Archives: November 2011

What is an allotment?


My plot on the right before I began work.

It is not easy to define what an allotment or “The Allotment” is.

There is the dictionary definition. An allotment is, according to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, “a plot of land rented by an individual from a local authority for growing vegetables or flowers” (1). Of course not all allotments are rented from local authorities, however the majority are.

There is the legal definition. Section 22 of the Allotments Act 1922 has the following definition of “an allotment garden” as ‘an allotment not exceeding forty poles in extent which is mainly cultivated by the occupier for the production of vegetables and fruit crops for consumption by himself or his family'(2). A rod is an old but persistent measurement of just over 5 metres (a cricket pitch is 4 rods in length). A “full plot” in Reading is 10 square rods, 250 square metres approximately. My allotment is a half plot of 125 square metres.

More considered, Burchardt defines an allotment as “a plot of land, not attached to a house, in a field divided into similar plots, surrounded by a common external fence but without internal partitions.” (3). Although the definition must be treated in the context of the scope of the timeline for his book (1793-1873),I like this definition because the communality that it acknowledges is very apparent when you visit allotment sites, also the privacy and separation from the rest of the world. It is a sign of the times that some modern day allotments do have additional security around individual plots. As with many things on allotments though, a prevailing style for the site emerges which I do not believe arises solely out of necessity.

Then there is the practical definition, more of which in a later chapter – what can I do on my plot?

(1) Concise Oxford English Dictionary, Eleventh edition, Revised.

(2) Quoted in Appendix II. “Modern Allotments Legislation”, of the Fifth Report of the Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs, prepared 24 June 1998.

(accessed 19 November 2011)

(3) Jeremy Burchardt, The Allotment Movement in England 1793-

1873. Appendix 2, p243.

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5 What is an allotment


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Oakley Road

Oakley Road Gate

Oakley Road is a sloping site. It is as well tended as a country churchyard.

Well tended

On reflection that is not surprising as it is next to the Victoria Road Cemetery. In 1925 the Markets and Estates Committee agreed the use of one and a quarter acres of cemetery land for allotments for a £3 per annum budget transfer (1).  The allotments are not on the 1913 Ordnance Survey map of the area but by 1932 are marked. This would appear to date their origin to the late 1920s.

One of the water tanks

I had the site to myself when I visited. The distinguishing feature was its selection of water tanks with a common theme. Water supply on allotments is a key service for tenants and water storage styles vary from site to site.

Another water tap

Reading council operates a three-tier rental structure based on the availability of water. The most expensive rentals are for sites with water within 30m of each allotment. Allotments with no water supply cost almost half as much. Investment in water supplies and their improvement was often referred to in the minutes of the council committee looking after allotments.

For example, in April 1948 the total expenditure on water supply to temporary (war time) allotments had been £1,005 13s 2d (£1,005.66) over the years 1941/42 to 1947/48. On these allotments, rents had been increased by 3d per pole leaving a deficit of £181 7s 11d (£181.40) met from the general rate fund (2). The 2005 Allotment Plan included an action to replace the water supply with self filling tanks. Here and at the many other sites that this action was proposed it has now been deleted because of problems for the less fit(3).

Another water tank



No. of plots: (4) 32 of varying sizes
Full plot equivalent: (5) 17.3
Date allotments established: Late 1920s.First appear on 1932 OS map.
Date taken on by Council: 1925
Previous use: Allocated to Caversham cemetery
Status: (6) Statutory


(1)        Small Holdings and Allotments Committee Minutes. R/AC1/3/34. (BRO)

(2)        Allotments and Small Holdings Committee Minutes R/AC1/3/98. (BRO)

(3)        November 2008 Report to the Green City and Open Spaces Forum, 19 November 2008. Allotment Provision and Plan Update. Director of Environment Culture and Sport.

(4)        Reading Borough Council 2005 Allotment Plan.

(5)        November 2008 Report to the Green City and Open Spaces Forum, 19 November 2008. Allotment Provision and Plan Update. Director of Environment Culture and Sport.

(6)        Reading Borough Council 2005 Allotment Plan.

PDF Version here

4 Oakley Road

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Lower Southcote

The Gate

This was the first site I visited while producing this book and so for that reason at least it would be special. It also has the unique feature of being reached by its own bridge across the Holy Brook, the stream that winds its way on into Reading and disappearance several miles later.

Holy Brook 

Like several other Reading sites, it is also bounded by the railway line.

A Train Passing By

Here I met Joy and Tom who have had their allotment since 1957.

Their allotment had the original number plate for Plot 65. These were introduced in 1950 (1) at a charge of one shilling (5p) to apply to all future lettings. Official number plates seem to have been discontinued, however all plots are numbered and one of the rules for my allotment is that I am responsible for, “…providing and displaying this number in a prominent position on the plot.”

Lower Southcote allotments were formally established and named in 1949 as part of the development of the Bath Road Housing Estate.

But is it Art?

Lower Southcote is prone to flooding and some areas are not let for that reason. This has always been a problem. Council allotment committee minutes of March 1955 (2), record that raising the level of the allotments was deferred until the 1956/57 revenue expenditure estimates were known. As short term measures they recommended that weeds in the Kennet be removed and that those plots liable to flooding should not be let. In 1958 the weir owned by Calcot Flour Mills overflowed and a number of tenants were compensated for flood damage (3).


No. of plots: (4) 77
Full plot equivalent: (5) 47
Date allotments established: Unknown
Date taken on by Council: (6) c.1949
Previous use: Unknown
Status: (7) Statutory


(1)        Allotments and Small Holdings Committee. R/AC1/103. (BRO)

(2)        Allotments and Small Holdings Committee R/AC1/117. (BRO)

(3)        Allotments and Small Holdings Committee R/AC1/3/125. (BRO)

(4)        Reading Borough Council allotments plans.

(5)        November 2008 Report to the Green City and Open Spaces Forum, 19 November 2008. Allotment Provision and Plan Update. Director of Environment Culture and Sport.

(6)        The allotments were previously referred to as “Bath Road Allotments”. Their status was formalised as part of the development of the Bath Road Housing Estate. The Allotments and Small Holdings Committee of 19.9.49 changed their name to Lower Southcote Allotments (R/AC1/103).

(7)        Reading Borough Council 2005 Allotment Plan.

PDF version here.

3 Lower Southcote

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I grew up in Hemel Hempstead

I grew up in Hemel Hempstead. I had been transplanted from London, a mere seedling, at the tender age of ten months.

As far back as I can remember we always had an allotment. By the time I was five, we were living in Northridge Way and from there it was only a short walk down the road and through the alley to Chaulden allotments. They are still there and I visited them at the end of the 2009/10 football season when Reading played Watford.

In my recollections, that is where my allotment experiences began. I am not sure how much we actually grew. We had runner beans, peas, blackcurrants, rhubarb, onions, carrots and potatoes. Cabbages and broad beans never seemed to do very well. It was years before organic became fashionable, even so, I don’t remember using insecticide or chemicals, but I remember manure and compost heaps.

Since leaving Hemel Hempstead I have lived many places and never felt that I would or could know anywhere as well as where I had grown up.

Like John Clare in “The Flitting”, I felt

“Here every tree is strange to me

All foreign things where e’er I go…” (1)

In carrying out this assignment, I have covered large parts of Reading on foot and by car that I had never visited before and now feel after more than ten years in the town that I am beginning to know my way around.


(1) John Clare, Selected Poetry. Penguin Books 1990. p198-205.

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2 I grew up in Hemel Hempstead

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How this project came about

The idea for this project came as the result of an e-mail exchange.

I wasn’t working and there were no immediate prospects on the horizon. At the end of an e-mail I wrote that the good news was that I was at the top of the waiting list for an allotment at Waterloo Meadows.

This provoked a response about how great it would be to produce a photographic record of all the allotments of England. This would have been an impossible and daunting project but a record of all the allotments of Reading was feasible.

And so I began to photograph Reading’s allotments and investigate their history with a view to producing a book that might be of interest to allotment owners and local historians.

My aim was to provide beautiful images – allotments are very photogenic – and uncover the origins of the allotment sites. My researches led me much further to begin to develop a local perspective on some important events in the social history of England. The book is a work-in-progress, I still don’t know everything I would like to know about Reading’s Allotments and so as my research continues I will share new discoveries through this blog.

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1 How this project came about

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