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.

PDF version here

5 What is an allotment


Filed under Allotments

2 responses to “What is an allotment?

  1. I’ve defined an allotment as: small parcels of land rented for nominal sums and used to grow fruits and vegetables for personal consumption. However, you are right when you say it is not easy to define an allotment. The 7 Allotments Acts (1908 – 1950) required that in order to be an allotment, a piece of land must fulfil at least five conditions:-

    (i) it must be an allotment;
    (ii) it must be 40 poles or less in extent;
    (iii) it must be used wholly or mainly for the production of vegetables and fruit for home consumption;
    (iv) it must not be used for trade or business; and
    (v) it must not be used for the keeping of pigs, or any form of livestock except hens and rabbits (Thorpe* 1969, 22).

    However, as the National Society of Allotment Gardeners pointed out in 1947, condition (i) gives ‘rise to considerable difficulty.’ Undoubtedly, my explanation has done little to clear up the confusion . . .

    *Thorpe, H., 1969. Departmental Committee of Inquiry into Allotments. Cmnd., 4166: Parliamentary Papers, London.

    • Thank you for your comment Lesley.
      I have been mulling it over for a few weeks for which apologies. It may actually get no better than “an allotment is an allotment”. What perhaps might be worth my taking on board in grappling with a definition is the difference that the passage of time might make in the understanding of what an allotment is. After all 40 poles at 8 times the size of my allotment and most plots currently being let in Reading seems vast.

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