The sign at Newcastle Road Allotments
I have a tenancy agreement with Reading Borough Council for my allotment. This agreement sets out my responsibilities as a tenant and the council’s responsibilities as my landlord. It also deals with when rents are due, how and when notice is to be given by either party, and grounds for termination of the agreement. The legislation governing the agreement is The Allotment Acts 1908-1950.
Taking the framework of rules used by Robert Ruegg, which forms a chapter in “Breaking New Ground” (1), an analysis of current rules and the Reading 1908 rules (produced in 1910) was carried out (2). In Ruegg’s framework, the rules fell under three headings, Administrative, Practical and Behavioural.
The 110 sets of 19th century rules and agreements analysed by several contributors were largely from the middle decades of the nineteenth century (3). The latest were two sets dated 1873 (Upwood Field Allotments and Saxtead Allotments) (4) another “pre-1879” Brixton Deverill (5); the earliest 1825 (Balsham Allotments) (6). The agreements were from a wide variety of landlords and a wide geographical spread. The analysis included two sets of rules from Berkshire (Windsor and Wargrave) and three from Oxfordshire (Shotover Park and Finmere at two different dates).
The framework of rules holds good over almost two centuries. The basic requirements of the relationship between allotment tenant and allotment landlord are simple and clear. Conclusions that can be drawn from the data are that the current rules show a strong similarity to those of 1910 (a century ago). This is primarily because the legal framework for the letting of allotments by local authorities at the beginning of the twentieth century, starting with the 1908 Allotments Act, did not include the “behavioural rules” that were incorporated into many of the earlier agreements. These were from a very diverse private and public, landlord or manager base in a different cultural and economic environment (7). Nevertheless, at a detailed level they give a very interesting picture of earlier allotment history and the timeline to today’s allotments.
Chart 1. Rules Framework, frequency distribution from analysis of 110 sets of rules.
Ruegg, Robert (2010) ‘Allotment Rules’ p157, in Burchardt, J & Cooper, J (Eds) Breaking New Ground: Nineteenth century allotments from local sources, 2010, FACHRS.
The 1908 Act repealed and consolidated previous allotment legislation. The Act restricted the eligibility criteria for local authority allotments to “the labouring population”. This criteria appears in the 1910 rules but the wording was removed by the post World War I Land Settlement (Facilities) Act 1919. The removal of this restriction is a fundamental and modernising change in public allotment provision.
Developments in Reading council rules over time include the inclusion of new rules in the “other” category of the requirement to display the allotment number and a ban on the use of hoses and sprinklers. Some of these rules appear on the signs at allotment gates, but the pattern is not universal.
Restrictions on use of my allotment are minimal except in relation to buildings and livestock. The erection of sheds is allowed on application. It should not be used for anything not connected with the allotment and in particular, “..the Tenant shall not store any motor vehicle thereon.” Keeping of livestock is again on application and restricted. In relation to both these restrictions policy has shifted over time.
In the 1910 rules, application was only required for erecting any building except a “…summer-house, a tool-house or a pigsty.”. In reviewing committee minutes, there was an example of application for permission to park a car in a shed on Goddard’s Farm allotments. This was deliberated on, permission given and a charge of 5s (25p) a week was decided on, only for the application to be withdrawn (8). In the late sixties the committee rejected a request to provide car parking spaces “for the residents of the neighbourhood” at Scours Lane (9). Given Reading’s parking problems it is probably just as well that this is prohibited.
In 1950 the committee restricted pig keeping. Where the land was suitable for cultivation, a pigsty for a maximum of four pigs only would be allowed (10). Two years later, pigs were only allowed on selected allotments of which Bulmershe is the only one remaining (11). In 1965 only one plot per person was allowed for pigs or chickens, on Caversham “C”, Bulmershe or “land unsuitable for any other purpose” (12). The current rules include a limit on the number of chickens that can be kept and in any case the keeping of pigs, chickens and rabbits requires the permission of the Head of Leisure.
There is a requirement and expectation that an allotment is for the personal use of the allotment holder and family and not to be run as a business enterprise. Hence, there are rules on “no underletting” of the plot and the 1910 rules did not allow use as a market garden. Reading rules are silent on the sale of produce. In 1998 a select committee recommended that rules on selling produce be considered on a site by site basis (13). Commercial exploitation does not seem in keeping with the allotment ethos, but an active debate is taking place on this topic (14).
Because of the increase in demand, Reading Borough Council in 2008, limited the number of plots that an individual could hold to two and decided that preference would be given to Reading Borough residents in areas of high demand (15). These criteria are not itemised within current rules. The 1910 rules required the applicant to disclose any other holdings of land and there was an overriding limit of five acres of allotments. There was also a residential qualification of living within the Borough.
(1) Ruegg, Robert (2010) ‘Allotment Rules’, in Burchardt, J & Cooper, J (Eds) Breaking New Ground: Nineteenth century allotments from local sources, 2010, FACHRS. Detailed data is available on the CD that comes with the book. The rules framework and analysis is a development of that in “The Allotment Movement in England, 1793-1873”, Jeremy Burchardt.
(2) County Borough of Reading. RULES with respect to Allotments. Reading Borough Library, Local Studies Collection.
(3) A few are undated or imprecisely dated. Robert Ruegg also cautions the difficulty of absolute precision in dating.
(4) Upwood Field Allotments, Upwood and Raveley; Saxtead, Suffolk.
(5) Balsham Allotments, Cambridge.
(6) Brixton Deverill, Wiltshire.
(7) Ruegg uses the following categories: public, church, private landlords, peers, allotment societies and charities.
(8) Allotments and Smallholdings committee minutes 6 April 1936 and 15 June 1936. R/AC1/3/62. (BRO)
(9) Allotments and Smallholdings committee minutes 26 June 1968. R/AC1/3/143. (BRO)
(10) Allotments and Smallholdings committee minutes 20 March 1950. R/AC1/3/103. (BRO)
(11) Allotments and Smallholdings committee minutes 21 July 1952. R/AC1/3/112. (BRO)
(12) Allotments and Smallholdings committee minutes 15 November 1965. R/AC1/3/139. (BRO)
(13) Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee of the House of Commons. Fifth Report 1997/98. The Future of Allotments. This recommendation was based on the matter not being appropriate for national legislation. The report is available at: accessed 13 October 2012. Key points are summarised in Paul Clayden, The Law of Allotments, 5th edition. Sweet & Maxwell.
(14) For a review of the arguments, see “Selling Allotment Surplus: Is it Legal? Is it Right?” http://www.organiclea.org.uk/resources/publications/, (2007) accessed 13 October 2012.
(15) Reading Borough Council cabinet minutes 14 April 2008. Committee minutes library: http://committee.reading.gov.uk/TROVEPROGS/TROVEIIS.DLL?/LO=25230588/LI=Committee+Minutes+Library/RW=1366/RH=768/CD=24/HU=http:++www.reading.gov.uk+council+councillors-and-committees+committees+committee-minutes-library+
accessed 11 October 2012.
© Evelyn Williams 2012