World War II

Maiwand Lion in the Forbury Gardens, Reading

There is one astounding feature about Reading’s “Dig for Victory” campaign, the Parks Committee resolute refusal to allow the Forbury Gardens to be used in any way in the growing of food. Approaches from the Allotments and Small Holdings Committee were constantly rebuffed. The initial suggestion was for use as a demonstration allotment in 1940 (1), later to use some beds for salad and vegetables in 1941 (2), again to use part for a demonstration allotment in 1944 (3).

Demonstration allotments were allowed at Palmer Park, Prospect Park and John Rabson’s Recreation Ground. The individuals who were to cultivate the allotments were granted £5 for seeds and to occupy the allotment rent free for a year (4). The Parks Committee agreed the use of two acres of Prospect Park and four acres Palmer Park for allotments (5), although later it was reported that Palmer Park was not suitable (6). Other parks were also brought into use as allotments and this continued after the end of the war and serious consideration of the end of allotments in parks did not take place until 1948.

  No. of Plots No. of Tenants No. Untenanted Unsuitable
Gosbrook Road 111 109 2
Christchurch Road 63 63
Prospect Park 274 245 29(trees and air raid shelters)
Henley Road 92 85 3 4(trees)
TOTAL 540 502 3 35

Table 1: Allotments in Parks. Allotments and Small Holdings Committee minutes 19 April 1948 (7).

The Parks Committee wanted the parks back by 25 March 1949 (8), but it was not just a local matter for agreement within Reading Borough Council. The Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries was considering the matter (9). While waiting for this, the committee agreed that:

(i) it would not grant any new tenancies on permanent allotments, (ii) that these plots would be let to park allotment tenants, (iii) as these allotments were released the land would be returned to park, and

(iv) vacant park plots would not be relet (10).

Prospect Park allotment tenants were given notice ending on 30 September 1949, and protested to the Council (11). The return to parkland was completed with an agreed cost of £779 for re-instatement of grassland (12).

The use of Prospect Park had not passed unchallenged, Reading Allotment Society Ltd protested to the Allotments and Small Holdings Committee that they disapproved when there were vacancies on Norcot Allotments which they managed (13).

Aside from the use of parks as allotments many other provisions were put in place to increase food growing. This was from a starting point of pre-war unfulfilled demand for allotments. Reading had embarked on planned building programmes in Coley Park and Whitley which conflicted with the needs of allotment provision in terms of space and also in relation to the value of the land that they might be trying to acquire. At one point, the Finance and General Purposes Committee was to be asked if it would consider the purchase of land at Coley at building land price (14).

War preparations were in hand before the declaration of war on Germany on 3 September 1939. The Town Clerk reported to the May meeting under the heading, “AIR-RAID PRECAUTIONS ACCELERATION OF CIVIL DEFENCE MEASURES” (15). In July they dealt with the organization of committee meetings “…DURING THE PRESENT WAR”. The same meeting agreed to insert an advert in the local press making the public aware of, “….the importance of food production and the fact that application for plots can be made to the Council’s Land Agent and the Reading Allotment Society Limited.”(16).

The first Committee meeting of the war was 2 October. There is a heading in the minutes “WAR TIME FOOD PRODUCTION IN ALLOTMENTS AND PRIVATE GARDENS”. Under this item, the Town Clerk submitted communications from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries which included the “Cultivation of Lands (Allotments) Order 1939”. This empowered the council to take over land and encourage the production of food on allotments and in private gardens by setting up a Horticulture Committee (17). Over the war years, the Horticulture Sub-Committee reported regularly on in its progress. A Horticultural Adviser, Mr Cobb was appointed, having offered his services. He had been a senior lecturer at Reading University (18). Under a year later, Mr Cobb moved on and was replaced by a panel of advisors (19).

A multitude of organisations at a local, Berkshire County Council and national level are mentioned in war-time minutes and the local press including:

  • Berkshire County War Agricultural Executive Committee
  • Home Food Production Corps
  • Urban Co-operative Cultivation Clubs
  • Reading Horticultural Traders Wartime Committee
  • Federated Horticultural and Allotment Association of Reading (20)
  • National Allotments Society Limited (21)

The Federated Horticultural and Allotment Association of Reading was founded as part of the “Dig for Victory” campaign. The first meeting was 30 October 1940 with the Mayor Councillor McIlroy as Chairman (22). The Association organised the first Victory Garden Show in September 1941 at the Market Hall in the Cattle Market. Produce was sold in aid of the Red Cross and St John Fund (23). Shows continued annually throughout the war and after the war ultimately became the Reading Show.

Participation in the Home Food Production Corp was possible by joining a local horticultural or allotment association (24). East Reading Horticultural Association was formed in 1941 in response to the campaign. A meeting had been held addressed by Professor Nicholson (Convener of the Horticultural Advisory Panel) (25) and this led a week later to the first committee meeting. Allotment representatives were appointed for:

  • Wokingham Road, Holmes Road, Anderson Avenue
  • Dixon’s Meadow
  • Bulmershe
  • Shepherd’s Hill

But were still required for King’s Road and Culver Lane Allotments. (26)

East Reading Allotment Association featured in Berkshire Chronicle demonstrating the spraying of potatoes against blight at Dixon’s Field Allotments in July that year (27).

The engagement of the public during World War II, in initiatives such as “Dig for Victory” and exhortations to participate are documented in the Berkshire Chronicle, in notices, adverts, photographs, reports and letters.

There were special weeks such as a “Dig for Victory” Week, with a public meeting at the Olympia led by Maurice Healy K.C. A BBC broadcaster in the early war years (28), he was one of the many celebrities who visited Reading to address meetings and open horticultural shows and exhibitions (29).

Previously the Olympia on London Street

There were two “Dig for Victory” exhibitions at Reading Museum and Art Gallery in 1940. The curator reported, “A great deal of preparation and upkeep were embodied in the “Dig for Victory”. You will see that we have co-operated with the local branch of the Ministry of Information and are continuing to do so.” (30). The Allotments and Small Holdings Committee recorded their thanks in May 1940 (31). Later exhibitions included, in April 1942, the Royal Horticultural Society’s Food Production Exhibition. This was opened by Commander A.B. Campbell, something of a national celebrity for his radio appearances on the Brains Trust (32). He spoke, praising the work of the merchant navy and was quoted, “We must give them more space by digging for victory.”. He repeated this message at a public meeting at the University and commented on Reading as follows, “….famous for horticulture, was in an ideal position for the growing of food stuffs. Residents had every opportunity to obtain expert advice. Ladies as well as men could play their part in the “Dig for Victory” campaign.”(33). Berkshire Chronicle carried a short piece each week by Roy Hay (34). He visited the exhibition and the Chronicle reported his opinion under the headings, “READING GARDENING EXHIBITION, “DIGGING FOR DEAR LIFE””, “It was not so much a question now of digging for victory; it was a case of digging for dear life.”. He had noticed that there were too many well-kept lawns at a time when the food situation was growing more serious (35).

Later in the same year, in September 1942, a letter from the Chairman of the Allotments Committee was published, exhorting the public to apply for allotments. His appeal was to able men and women, but, “…also our “teens” boys and girls.”. The timing of the letter was to allow the ground to be prepared before the frosts (36).

A school “Dig for Victory” poster competition was organised in 1941, with prizes of 10s 0d, 7s 6d and 5s 0d (50p, 37 1/2p, 25p) (37). In the event, the entries were so good that eight consolation prizes of 2s 6d (22 1/2p) were awarded (38).

The 1943 Victory Show, which took place at the Promenade, was addressed by C.H.Middleton, the BBC broadcaster most associated with “Dig for Victory” (39). He also presented the Corporation Challenge Cup won by East Reading Horticultural Association for a display of vegetables and the Federation Challenge trophy to Huntley & Palmers’ Allotments Association for a display of garden and allotment produce. He had nice things to say about Reading gardeners, “Reading was “the cradle of good gardening”, and concluded with the slogan “Sow, grow, hoe, show, crow!” (40)

C.H.Middleton Gate at the BBC Written Archives in Caversham

In parallel with the need to grow food was the need to preserve food, especially fruit in jam. In 1940, under the heading “Sugar for Jam”, notice was given of the need to register by 20 April if sugar was required for jam. Sugar was only available if the fruit had been grown on an allotment or in a garden (41). The next year an extra sugar ration of 2lbs (0.9kg) per person was allowed, provided that the sugar was used to preserve fruit. The Berkshire Chronicle went on to include a column in the same issue about how to preserve fruit (42). In August there was an advert from the Co-operative Preserve Works in Coley, that they would by all fresh fruit delivered in quantities over 7 lbs (3.2kg) and pay government controlled prices, cash on delivery (43).

The Women’s Institute took an important lead in fruit preservation and opened a centre to everyone whether they were members of the WI or not (44). The jam making that received the most press attention was the Fruit Preserving Centre that opened in McIlroy’s Department Store in 1942 (45). Later in the year there was a full report on a successful season (46).

Previously McIlroy’s Department Store

The need for food extended beyond the growing of vegetables, consequently restrictions on the keeping of pigs, hens or rabbits in gardens or on allotments were suspended in 1940. Readers were encouraged to consider their neighbours if they intended to keep these animals (47).

There were a plethora of horticultural shows. Some shows, run by allotment societies and local businesses had been taking place before the war but there were some new ones. The Victory Garden Show has already been mentioned. It was held at the Cattle Market, the Promenade and then at Huntley & Palmers’ Sports Ground on Kensington Avenue. Another new show was held under the auspices of Reading Trades Council, Reading Labour Party and Reading Co-operative Party. The first was held on 7 September 1940 (48). The 1944 show was attended by Ian Mikardo, the prospective Labour Party candidate for Reading (49). From 1941 the Reading Borough Special Constabulary held a Horticultural Show and Fete. In 1942 it was held at Cintra, (Suttons Recreation Ground) and had a full page in the Chronicle advertising the event (50).

It was during the second world war that several of Reading’s  allotments today were brought into use under council management:

  • Ardler Road
  • Caversham Court
  • Mockbeggar
  • Newcastle Road

Many sites were brought into use under the Cultivation of Lands Order by issuing notices of entry. The use of this land as allotments continued, subject to any other requirements such as housing until over ten years after the end of the war.

MAF was not in favour of the immediate release of land, stating in February 1946 as reported in the minutes, that permission would not be given to, “… release wartime allotments except in cases where land is urgently needed for a purpose such as housing, which can be shown to carry in the national interest an even greater priority, than food production….” (51). In 1947, MAF replaced the Dig for Victory campaign with Dig for Plenty (52). In November 1950, MAF informed the Council that temporary allotments could still be kept until 10 December 1951 (53). Year by year extensions continued until 1956, when MAF wrote saying that it would not be justifiable to hold land after the end of 1957 except in the most exceptional circumstances. By that time only two large sites remained at Elgar Road and Whitley Park Farm (54). The Council entered into a tenancy agreement with the University for Whitley Park Farm paying £31 10s 0d (£31.50) per annum, and with Co-operative Wholesale Service (CWS) paying £38 per annum. There was also a small piece of land (0.62 acres) adjoining Christchurch Meadow owned by the University for which they agreed to pay £4 per annum (55). The Elgar Road allotments were probably lost at the end of 1960 (56).

The date on which World War II on the allotments of Reading ended could be one of many. However the end of the Horticulture sub-committee at the end of the 1951/52 mayoral year would be a good date. The Horticultural Advisory Panel disbanded at the end of March 1946 (57). The MAF Dig for Plenty campaign had replaced Dig for Victory in 19447 (58). The Land Agent duties (apart from financial duties such as the collection of rents) and Horticultural Instructor duties were combined in the post of Horticultural Officer in 1947 (59). On 25 December 1947 the Land Agent, Charles Howlett who had served since the middle of World War I retired (60).

In another way, the war was over for Reading’s allotments before VE day on 8 May 1945. The minutes after VE day and VJ day on 15 August are strangely flat after the activity of the previous years. With some foresight the Horticultural sub-committee produced a report on “Post War Planning of Allotments” in October 1944. They reported in this that 45% of the holders of war-time allotments wanted to continue after the war. The report continued, “We feel, however, that some efforts should be made to provide enthusiasts with allotments within as reasonable a distance from their homes as possible, and that the only method is to divide the borough into four districts and provide allotment sites in each.” (61).

South Reading Allotment Holders’ Association held their first Show after the end of the War, at the John Rabson Playing Field in aid of the South Reading Welcome Home Fund (62).

Memorial to the Bombing of Reading Town Centre on 10 February 1943. A lattice window from St Laurence’s Church, in the churchyard.

References

 

(1)    Allotments and Small Holdings committee minutes 20 May 1940. R/AC1/3/74. (BRO)

(2)    Allotments and Small Holdings committee minutes 10 March 1941. R/AC1/3/77. (BRO)

(3)    Allotments and Small Holdings committee minutes 7 February 1944. R/AC1/3/86. (BRO)

(4)    Allotments and Small Holdings committee minutes 20 May 1940. R/AC1/3/74. (BRO)

(5)    Allotments and Small Holdings committee minutes 9 September 1940. R/AC1/3/74. (BRO)

(6)    Allotments and Small Holdings committee minutes 11 November 1940. R/AC1/3/77. (BRO)

(7)    Allotments and Small Holdings committee minutes 19 April 1948. R/AC1/3/98. (BRO)

(8)    Allotments and Small Holdings committee minutes 19 July 1948. R/AC1/3/98. (BRO)

(9)    Allotments and Small Holdings committee minutes 18 October 1948. R/AC1/3/98. (BRO)

(10)  Allotments and Small Holdings committee minutes 22 November 1948. R/AC1/3/98. (BRO)

(11)  Allotments and Small Holdings committee minutes 20 June 1949. R/AC1/3/103 (BRO). See also the chapter on Lower Southcote where some tenants were relocated.

(12)  Allotments and Small Holdings committee minutes 19 December 1949. R/AC1/3/103 (BRO)

(13)  Berkshire Chronicle 7 February 1941. Reading Library Local Studies Collection.

(14)  Allotments and Small Holdings committee minutes 17 April 1939. R/AC1/3/71. (BRO) See also the chapter on Coley Allotments.

(15)  Allotments and Small Holdings committee minutes 15 MAY 1939. R/AC1/3/71. (BRO)

(16)  Allotments and Small Holdings committee minutes 11 JULY 1939. R/AC1/3/71. (BRO) I have been unable to find any information about the Reading Allotment Society Limited, although it was undoubtedly an important organisation at this time, leasing allotment sites and letting them to tenants.

(17)  Allotments and Small Holdings committee minutes 2 October 1939. R/AC1/3/71. (BRO)

(18)  Allotments and Small Holdings committee minutes 2 October 1939. R/AC1/3/71. (BRO)

(19)  Allotments and Small Holdings committee minutes 19 February 1940. R/AC1/3/74. (BRO). Mr Cobb was appointed Head of the Horticultural Department at Seal-Hayne College in Devon. In the 20 December 1940 edition the Berkshire Chronicle reported on his death.

(20)  Federated Horticultural and Allotment Association of Reading. This organisation continued long after the war as Reading Horticultural Federation, organising the Reading Show until 198?

(21)  National Allotments Society Limited.

This was the predecessor of the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners Ltd, rebranded from 1 June 2012 as the “National Allotments Society”. For a brief history of this organisation see Lesley Acton, http://www.newsgrape.com/a/ZspcAFfkR4a5HBeh3mIVg/the-origins-of-the-national-society-of-allotment-and-leisure-gardeners, accessed 15 October 2012.

The organisation’s website is at http://www.nsalg.org.uk.

(22)  The History of the Federation of Horticultural & Allotment Associations of Reading now the Berkshire Horticultural Federation. Notes made by Bert Cowland (former President). D/EX/1613. (BRO).

(23)  Victory Garden Show Programme 27 September 1941. D/EX 1613/1/1.

(24)  Berkshire Chronicle 28 February 1941. Reading Library, Local Studies Collection.

(25)  East Reading Horticultural Association Minutes 8 January 1941. D/EX 1482/1/1. (BRO)

(26)  East Reading Horticultural Association Minutes 14 January 1941. D/EX 1482/1/1. (BRO)

(27)  Berkshire Chronicle 4 July 1941. Reading Library, Local Studies Collection.

(28)  Maurice Healy KC (1888-1943). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

(29)  Berkshire Chronicle 26 February 1941. Reading Library, Local Studies Collection.

(30)  County Borough of Reading Museum and Art Gallery. Curator’s Annual Report for 1940. (Reading Museum). The curator W.A. Smallcombe remarks in the report that ARP duties had absorbed the major part of his time. The Museum and Art Gallery had been open on 331 days compared with 304 in 1939.

(31)  Allotments and Small Holdings committee minutes 20 May 1940. R/AC1/3/74. (BRO)

(32)  Archibald Bruce Campbell (1881-1966). The Brains Trust was one of the most popular radio programmes during the War and ran from 1941-1961. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

(33)  Berkshire Chronicle 10 April 1942. Reading Library, Local Studies Collection.

(34)  Robert Edwin Hay (Roy) (1910-1989). Horticulturalist, writer, radio broadcaster and founder (1964) of Britain in Bloom. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

(35)  Berkshire Chronicle 17 April 1942. Reading Library, Local Studies Collection.

(36)  Berkshire Chronicle 2 April 1942. Reading Library, Local Studies Collection.

(37)  Allotments and Small Holdings committee minutes 10 February 1941. R/AC1/3/77. (BRO)

(38)  Allotments and Small Holdings committee minutes 7 April 1941. R/AC1/3/77. (BRO)

(39)  Cecil Henry Middleton (1886-1945). Broadcaster on gardening from 1931. He was the first television gardener with a gardener with a garden created in 1937 at Alexandra Palace. Among the books he wrote was “Digging for Victory” 1942. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. See also http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/r/recording-britain-collection. The first radio broadcast 9 May 1931. accessed 28 October 2012.

(40)  Berkshire Chronicle 17 September 1943. Reading Library, Local Studies Collection.

(41)  Berkshire Chronicle 5 April 1940. Reading Library, Local Studies Collection.

(42)  Berkshire Chronicle 18 July 1941. Reading Library, Local Studies Collection.

(43)  Berkshire Chronicle 8 August 1941. Reading Library, Local Studies Collection.

(44)  Berkshire Chronicle 2 May 1941. Reading Library, Local Studies Collection.

(45)  Berkshire Chronicle 26 June 1942. Reading Library, Local Studies Collection.

(46)  Berkshire Chronicle 23 October 1942. Reading Library, Local Studies Collection.

(47)  Berkshire Chronicle 21 June 1940. Reading Library, Local Studies Collection.

(48)  Reading Citizen Mid-September 1940. Reading Library, Local Studies Collection.

(49)  Berkshire Chronicle 8 September 1944. Reading Library, Local Studies Collection. Ian Mikardo (1908-1993) was elected MP for Reading in 1945.

(50)  Berkshire Chronicle 3 July 1942. Reading Library, Local Studies Collection.

(51)  Allotments and Small Holdings committee minutes 11 March 1946. R/AC1/3/92. (BRO)

(52)  Allotments and Small Holdings committee minutes 20 March 1947. R/AC1/3/95. (BRO)

(53)  Allotments and Small Holdings committee minutes 20 November 1950. R/AC1/3/106. (BRO)

(54)  Allotments and Small Holdings committee minutes 20 February 1956. R/AC1/3/119. (BRO)

(55)  Allotments and Small Holdings committee minutes 6 May 1957. R/AC1/3/121. (BRO)

(56)  Allotments and Small Holdings committee minutes 18 July 1960. R/AC1/3/129. (BRO). The minutes record that CWS wanted the land back on 11 October 1960.

(57)  Allotments and Small Holdings committee minutes 11 February 1946. R/AC1/3/92. (BRO)

(58)  Allotments and Small Holdings committee minutes 20 January 1947. R/AC1/3/95. (BRO)

(59)  Allotments and Small Holdings committee minutes 20 October 1947. R/AC1/3/95. (BRO).

(60)  Allotments and Small Holdings committee minutes 15 December 1947. R/AC1/3/98. (BRO)

(61)  Allotments and Small Holdings committee minutes 13 November 1944. R/AC1/3/89. (BRO)

(62)  Berkshire Chronicle 31 August 1945. Reading Library, Local Studies Collection.

© Evelyn Williams 2012

PDF here:25 World War II

Remembering Joan.

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