Mr Gould, the Land Agent who managed Reading’s allotments reported to the committee in 1916, “I have been seriously considering whether I shall not have to resign my office as your Agent, chiefly on account of all my clerks having been called up for military service.” (1). He resigned at the next meeting in December and the council advertised for a replacement (2). The war, declared on 4 August 1914, had been going on for over two years and would continue for another two (3).
Initial and immediate concerns on the outbreak of war were dealt with at the September meeting in 1914 (as usual there had been no meeting in August). Under the heading of “European War – Provision of Work for Unemployed”, the Town Clerk made the committee aware of the need to look for work that could be done under the Unemployed Workmen Act 1905 (4). The making of some part of Grey’s Farm suitable for allotments was suggested (5).
Reference is again made to Grey’s Farm in 1915, this time in relation to Belgian Refugees who might make use of some of the land not already let (6). As a result of the war, a large number of Belgian Refugees arrived in Great Britain, including Reading. 635 refugees were registered in Reading and when they returned home in 1919 a plaque was presented to the Borough of Reading (7).
Later in 1915, the committee considered a resolution from Glasgow Corporation to petition the government to establish colonies of smallholdings near industrial centres. These were expected to be required because of the, “…great number of maimed men who will be in this country after the war…” and also those who, “…on the declaration of peace, will be desirous of taking on an open-air life…” (8).
Early in 1916 the committee was directed by a letter from the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, to the need to produce food (9). The matter was referred to a sub-committee that reported in the following month on three questions.
i) Was there any unsatisfied demand for allotments and could more land be provided?
ii) Was any land suffering due to the absence of men on military or munitions service and “..whether persons can be found who from patriotic motives would assist in cultivating the land.”
iii) Were there any causes of poor cultivation such as a need for manure?
Reporting back, the sub-committee indicated some unfulfilled demand in Caversham and west Reading and some possible solutions. At that time, there was not thought to be a problem with uncultivated land but it was suggested that if this were to arise, the University of Reading be asked to assist. There was no deficiency of manure. Recommendations were made that Manor Farm allotment holders (by far the largest allotment site under council management at this time) met the Committee to discuss supplies and produce disposal; that the University of Reading cultivate a model plot at Manor Farm and that an allotment prize fund be established (10). The meeting was reported in the Berkshire Chronicle of 3 March 1916 under the headlines, ““Reading Allotments”, “Unsatisfied Demands”, “Important Proposals for Organisation”” (11).
At national level, at the end of 1916 a Minister of Food Control, Lord Devonport was appointed. The produce of particular interest were wheat, oats and potatoes. A poor wheat harvest in North America in 1916 and disruption of imports by German submarines required increased production at home.
Berkshire Chronicle 15 December 1916 carried a letter from W.M.Childs with the headlines – “UTILISING SMALL GARDENS”,“WHY EVERYONE SHOULD USE THE SPADE”. This gave notice of a meeting on Wednesday 27 December at the University College carrying the message that people should be raising vegetables in their gardens. (12).
On Friday 22 December 1916, the same issue that carried the advertisement for a Land Agent to replace Mr Gould, also carried a notice under the Defence of the Realm (Consolidation) Regulations 1914. This informed the readership that the local authority could take possession of land and requested applications from those who wanted to undertake cultivation. There was also a letter from “WAKE UP READING” asking if Reading Parks should be used for allotments (13). Although the use of parks was considered it was not approved by the committee (14).
Mr Howlett’s Offices on the corner of Queen Victoria Street as they are today
Mr Charles John Howlett took up the reins as Land Agent in January 1917 and this coincides with a new phase on the Home Front.
As well as encouraging production, reduction in consumption was also expected. Bread rationing was introduced in February 1917, sugar rationing in December 1917, meat and fats in London and the Home Counties in in February 1918 and elsewhere in April. The content of the Berkshire Chronicle through 1917 covered food supply issues; for example in November the front page headline was “THE FOOD POSITION IN READING” (15).
Potatoes were a key crop and in April the Chronicle carried a photograph of the queue for potatoes at a shop in Cholmeley Road (16). In March the following year, it carried a quarter page advert headed “Potatoes in 1918”. This pointed out the deficit of 15,000 tons of potatoes in Berkshire’s production (11,100 tons) and consumption (26,100 tons) in the previous year. “Lord Rhondda and Mr Prothero appeal to every man who has a farm, a garden or an allotment, to plant more potatoes and make the County SELF-SUPPORTING.”(17)
In January 1918 a visit from a Board of Agriculture and Fisheries inspector indicated that land available should be increased by 50%. Mr Howlett was asked to advertise in all four papers (18). Just before the end of the war, the committee heard on 4 October 1918 that there was now one allotment for every four houses in the borough which was higher than the national average (19).
With the war over, allotment holders had possession of land for at least two years, unless it was needed for building or other purposes. The committee returned to the needs of demobilised servicemen.
A useful table is included with the minutes of the February 1920 minutes showing the number of allotment holders and acreage (20)
Table 1: Allotment Statistics from 16 February 1920 Smallholdings and Allotment Committee Minutes
By mid 1922 only around 13 acres of “war-time” allotments remained of which just over 6 acres were allowed to continue in use for the time being (21).
New challenges appeared for the allotment committee between the wars with a phase of land acquisition and lease, including some of the allotments still in use today such as Henley Road.
The War Memorial at the Forbury, one of Reading’s war memorials.
The Land Agent appointed during World War I, continued to serve through this period and World War II, retiring on 25 December 1947. The thanks of the Committee were recorded (22).
(1) Smallholding and Allotments Committee Minutes, 16 November 1916. R/ACI/3/18. (BRO)
(2) Smallholding and Allotments Committee Minutes, 14 December 1916. R/ACI/3/18. (BRO)
(3) This chapter does not set out to be an authoritative consideration of the history of the war, but to cover those aspects that are relevant to Reading’s allotment history. In relation to World War 1 in Reading and nationwide, see Bibliography for some secondary sources that were found useful.
(4) Distress Committees were set up under the Act in each borough to find and fund employment for unemployed workmen.
(5) Smallholding and Allotment Committee Minutes, 3 September 1914. R/AC1/3/12. (BRO)
(6) Smallholding and Allotment Committee Minutes, 14 January 1915. R/AC1/3/14. (BRO)
(7) The plaque can be seen in the Reading People and Places gallery of Reading Museum. There is also a downloadable factsheet “Belgian Refugees in Reading”. http://www.readingmuseum.org.uk/albums, accessed 10 August 2012.
(8) Smallholdings and Allotment Committee Minutes, 14 October 1915, R/AC1/3/14. (BRO).
(9) Smallholdings and Allotment Committee Minutes, 13 January 1916, R/AC1/3/16. (BRO).
(10) Smallholdings and Allotment Committee Minutes, 10 February 1916, R/AC1/3/16. (BRO).
(11) Berkshire Chronicle 3 March 1916.
(12) Berkshire Chronicle 15 December 1916. Dr William Macbride Childs was Principal of University College Reading from 1903-1926 and then its first Chancellor when it became a University.
(13) Berkshire Chronicle 22 December 1916.
(14) Smallholdings and Allotment Committee Minutes, 26 February 1917, R/AC1/3/18. (BRO).
(15) Berkshire Chronicle 30 November 1917.
(16) Berkshire Chronicle 27 April 1917.
(17) Berkshire Chronicle 22 March 1918. Lord Rhondda was the Food Controller and Mr Prothero the President of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries.
(18) Smallholdings and Allotment Committee Minutes, 8 February 1918, R/AC1/3/20. (BRO).
(19) Smallholdings and Allotment Committee Minutes, 4 October 1918, R/AC1/3/20. (BRO).
(20) Smallholdings and Allotment Committee Minutes 16 February 1920, R/AC1/3/24. (BRO)
(21) Smallholdings and Allotment Committee Minutes 15 May 1922, R/AC1/3/28. (BRO)
(22) Allotment Committee Minutes 15 December 1947, R/AC1/3/98. (BRO)
© Evelyn Williams 2012
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