Allotments during the First World War

Allotments have been with us for many hundreds of years, possibly as far back as Anglo-Saxon times. But it wasn’t until the 19th century that they began to be used in the way we recognise today. At this point land was allotted to the working poor in the countryside so that they could grow food, while in urban areas the relatively well-off used allotments as a way to escape city life. In the late-1900s the Small Holdings and Allotments Act came into force, making local authorities responsible for provision of allotments according to demand.

As the First World War progressed, it became apparent that Britain could no longer reply on imports of food from other countries, as the ships transporting them became frequent torpedo targets for German ships and u-boats. This led to a rise in the number of allotments, as local authorities allowed derelict land to be used for growing food.

The Board of Agriculture and the War Agricultural Committee were involved in helping to acquire land, although the final decision laid with the parish councils. As early as September 1914, parish council minutes show that the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries was encouraging the residents of Pencoed to cultivate gardens and allotments (Pencoed Parish Council, minute book, P131/1/2). One option favoured by the Board was the use of land near roads and railways for allotments. At Llandaff railway station, for example, land was acquired near the station and the station’s hotel (Whitchurch Parish Council, minute book, P6/64). By 1917 even this was not considered enough. In Pontyclun and Talygarn, it was recommended that the church ground be used as gardens (Pontyclun and Talygarn Parish, vestry minute book, P205CW/33).

Pontyclun church-ground

One problem the local authorities faced was that not everyone who had land that could be cultivated would willingly give it up for use as allotments. In Newcastle Parish, Bridgend, the parish council reported that a Mr Thomas repeatedly refused to give up his land, despite the local authorities pointing out to him that they had the right to purchase his land in a compulsory manner if necessary (Newcastle Parish Council, minute book, P84/15).



Another issue that surfaced was the unsuitability of some land for crop growing. In Tythegston the parish council made it clear that ‘unless the allotments were allowed to be where the Surveyor had pegged out the ground that they would have nothing to do with them’ (Tythegston Parish Council, minute book, P88/2). It would appear that the processing of applications to Glamorgan County Council by the parish councils for use of land as allotments took some time. In one instance, this led the Ynysawdre parish to contact the Dunraven estate to see if they could offer land instead (Ynysawdre Parish Council, minute book, P129/2/3). But even the Estates were not always willing for their land to be used, as the parish of Laleston discovered (Laleston Parish Council, minute book, P81/7/1).



The local authorities tried to help those who had allotments, giving advice on a variety of issues. Llanishen parish council advised gardeners to put fruit and vegetables in Kilner jars, as this would mean they would not have to use sugar to preserve them (Llanishen Parish, parish magazine, P55CW/61/31).


In Llancarfan the War Agricultural Committee asked the parish council to secure seed potatoes for allotment farmers (Llancarfan Parish Council, minute book, P36/11), although in Rhigos the Glamorgan County Council Agricultural Committee canvassed allotment farmers to invest in the potato seeds (Rhigos Parish Council, minute book, P241/2/1). Those who grew potatoes were encouraged to spray them to prevent disease (Newcastle Parish Council, minute book, P84/20).

Once the war was over, interest in allotments declined. Some land returned to its previous state, or was put to other use. But one problem remained. Some of the fields used for cricket had been converted to allotments during the war, such as the one at St Fagans Road, Ely (Llandaff Parish Council, minute book, P53/30/5). When the cricketers returned ho me after the war and wished to play again, they found that some of their playing grounds were out of use.


Many of the remaining fields were in demand, which meant that finding a vacant field for a game was very near impossible (Roath Parish, parish magazine, P57CW/72/10).

Andrew Booth, Relief Records Assistant

Thomas Harry of Glamorgan and Patagonia, revisited

Regular readers of the Glamorgan Archives blog may remember that last year, as part of our 75th anniversary celebrations, we posted a short article on a letter within our collection written by Thomas Harry, a native of Glamorgan who emigrated to Patagonia in 1865.

A Welsh settlement, known as ‘Y Wladfa’, was established in Patagonia during the mid-19th century. The first Welsh settlers, 153 in number, set sail for Patagonia on board the clipper Mimosa. They arrived in Puerto Madryn on 28th July 1865, exactly 150 years ago today. Amongst them was Thomas Harry.



When Thomas Harry wrote his letter home in 1873, he was a single man, living and farming at Tan y Castell Farm and struggling to make a living on the harsh Patagonian plain. In our article we appealed for information from anyone who knew what became of Thomas Harry. Did he stay and thrive in his adopted country, or did he return home to Wales? We received a number of responses, and this is what they revealed.

Thomas Harry was brought up in Laleston, Bridgend, but by the time he was 18 he was working underground in Mountain Ash and living with his Aunt, Mary Jones, the sister of his mother, and her husband and their family. Others from Mountain Ash on board the Mimosa included John and Elizabeth Jones and their daughter Margaret; whilst Mary Jones, Thomas’s aunt, gave birth to a son John on board.

Although Thomas Harry was still a single man when he wrote the letter home which is now held at Glamorgan Archives, he later married Jane Jones, widow of Eleazor Jones, and together they had three children. In an account of Anglican baptisms performed in 1885 we read of Luther, Arthur and Mary being presented to the Reverend Hugh Davies at Trelew for baptism on 26th March by Thomas Harri and Jane Jones of Tan y Castell. The family house was destroyed in the great flood of the Camwy Valley in 1899, but was rebuilt on the foundations and called Granja del Castillo in honour of the original home.

Today there are some 50,000 Patagonians of Welsh descent, a small number of whom are still Welsh speakers. Amongst them are Thomas Harry’s descendants. The Harry family also continues here in Wales.

A photograph of those who sailed on the Mimosa, taken 25 years after their arrival in Patagonia, can be viewed on the People’s Collection Wales: Thomas Harry is pictured standing, fifth from the left.

We would like to thank Rita Tait for much of the information used in compiling this post. Rita’s maternal great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Harry, came from Colwinston and was a first cousin to Thomas Harry.

Thomas Harry of Glamorgan and Patagonia

Our 75th accession in 2005 was the papers of Thomas Harry of Patagonia (ref.: D376).

Thomas Harry was the son of David Harry of Tranch, near Laleston, Bridgend. He lived briefly in Mountain Ash before emigrating to Patagonia in about 1865.

A Welsh settlement, known as ‘Y Wladfa’, was established in Patagonia during the mid-19th century. The first Welsh settlers, 153 in number, set sail for Patagonia in 1865 on board the clipper Mimosa. Today there are some 50,000 Patagonians of Welsh descent, a small number of whom are still Welsh speakers.

By 1876, Thomas Harry had established a new life in Patagonia as the farmer of 200 acres in ‘Chupat Colony’, otherwise known as Chubut. His papers comprise one letter, in which he asks for news of his family back home in Wales. He writes to Anne Jenkins, ‘ever since I came to this place about 11 years ago I have not heard a word from any of my relations’.


Thomas Harry's letter, p1

Thomas Harry’s letter, p1

Thomas Harry's letter, p2

Thomas Harry’s letter, p2

The letter also gives details of Thomas Harry’s new life in Patagonia, where he lived at Tan y Castell, still a single man, the owner of 30 head of cattle – 9 of which were milking, 6 horses, and 40 acres of corn. Despite his apparent success, he writes that ‘I have lived here four years and have not received the reward for my labour yet…’ and states that ‘If my brothers should feel like coming out I should not advise them to come…’

It seems that life was hard in Patagonia for those early Welsh settlers. We have no further details of Thomas Harry here at Glamorgan Archives; we don’t know if he stayed and thrived in his adopted country or whether he returned to Wales. If anyone does know what became of him, we would very much like to find out.