Monthly Archives: September 2012

Victoria Road

The Gate on Victoria Road


Victoria Road allotments are on an exceptionally steep slope and a challenge to the tenants, some of whom have terraced their plots.

The allotments are located behind Caversham Primary School which opened on 11 January 1938. The school was newly built to accommodate pupils from Harley Road and those over 7 from St John’s School. The land including that on which the school was built appears on 1913 maps as allotments. Before that, the 1898 map, it is a blank open space.

Caversham Primary School, football team photo with allotments behind.
From the archive of Caversham Primary School.

At some time the land was acquired by the council for building a school. In 1932 the Education committee asked the Allotments and Smallholdings committee to rent and manage the site in the meantime (1). It was not long before tenants were given notice to quit, early in 1933, as building was to start (2). This may have been premature as the committee note again in 1935 that building was about to start (3). A couple of months later the committee were looking for other land in Caversham to replace the site when it was lost (4). One tenant, Mrs Edwards who occupied plots 24 and 25 was allowed to stay as the area was not immediately required for the new school (5). Once the school was built, 100 poles (10 full plots) remained that had not been required. This was retained as allotments and a budget transfer of £2 was agreed between the two committees (6).

The School Log Books report that the school opened on 11 January 1938 and was able to accommodate 490 children, but had only 410 in the first week. The official opening by the Mayor was on 11 February 1938 (7).

View across the site

Most of Caversham became part of Reading in 1911 (8) and from that time allotments in Caversham become of interest to the Reading Borough Council Smallholdings and Allotment committee. At the time the allotments of Caversham were extensive, but none of the names mentioned in those early minutes remain. Committee members in a surge of energy and activity made on-site visits and inspections.

There are now 7 allotment sites in Caversham:

Ardler Road


Caversham Court

Grove Road

Henley Road

Oakley Road

Victoria Road

Of these Grove Road and possibly Victoria Road existed in 1911.

Hedges and shrubs on the edge of the site


No. of plots: (9) 28
Full plot equivalent: (9) 16.2
Date allotments established: before 1913
Date taken on by Council: 1932
Previous use: open land/ farm
Status: (10) Temporary


 (1)    Allotments and Smallholdings committee minutes 22 February 1932. R/AC1/3/50. (BRO)

(2)    Allotments and Smallholdings committee minutes 16 January 1933. R/AC1/3/53. (BRO)

(3)    Allotments and Smallholdings committee minutes 11 March 1935. R/AC1/3/59. (BRO)

(4)    Allotments and Smallholdings committee minutes 20 May 1935. R/AC1/3/59. (BRO)

(5)    Allotments and Smallholdings committee minutes 11 November 1935. R/AC1/3/62. (BRO)

(6)    Allotments and Smallholdings committee minutes 11 April 1938. R/AC1/3/68. (BRO)

(7)    Caversham Primary School logbooks available on-line at

(8)    Caversham Park Village and parts of Emmer Green were added in 1977.

(9)    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.

(10)  Reading Borough Council 2005 Allotment Plan.

© Evelyn Williams 2012

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World War 1

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”., 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

PDF here: 20 World War 1

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A Note on Allotment Measurements

In these chapters, the “full plot equivalent” of 10 poles has been adopted as a comparative unit of area measurement. Until recently this was the standard allotment size. Currently most newly let allotments, such as my own, are five pole half plots (1).

Allotments and Smallholding committee minutes often refer to areas of allotment sites in acres, roods and poles. To convert these to the “full plot equivalent” and for the purposes of totalling allotment areas, I have used the following conversion factors (2).

An acre = 160 poles (or perches) = 16 full plot equivalents.

An acre = 4 roods.

A rood = 40 poles = 4 full plot equivalents.

Sunset over my allotment.

When I first visited my new allotment, five poles didn’t look very big. A blank earth canvas stretched out before me. Once the weeds started growing the area expanded and I wondered if it is ever going to be manageable. I have now got used to these seasonal fluctuations in the size of my allotment, which will be familiar to other allotment holders.



(1)    In metric measurement 10 poles is 250 sq m, five poles is 125 sq m.

(2)    Information on conversion and area units of measurement are widely available on the internet.

PDF here: 19 A Note on Allotment Measurements

© Evelyn Williams 2012

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