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).

Newcastle-refusal-1

Newcastle-refusal-2

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).

Margam-estate-reply-1

Margam-estate-reply-2

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).

Kilner-jars

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.

cricket

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

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A small glimpse into Llanishen during the Great War

Sitting in a recent service at St Isan’s Church in Llanishen brought sharply into focus the men of Llanishen who sat in those same pews 100 years ago. They had no idea what the coming years would bring where so many would fight and some give their lives for their country.

The Parish Magazines held at Glamorgan Archives provide an insight into the families and attitudes towards the war on the home front. The first issue in the collection, June 1915, reports that:

‘No official news of Norman Ayliffe has been received; we deeply sympathise with Mr and Mrs Ayliffe’.

We know that he had in fact been killed on May 9th at the 2nd battle of Ypres. He was 21.

Collections were made for the Belgian Soldiers’ Fund, Field Kitchens and Water Carriers. Llanishen collected £177 14s 3d which paid for three water carriers.

The July issue listed 85 men in the armed forces, although only 16 were serving abroad and Private W.J.Harp was already a prisoner of war. Further online research revealed that he was a gardener, living in Wyndham Terrace, with a wife and four children, had joined the Royal Irish Regiment and been captured at the Battle of La Bassée on 20th October 1914. He was interned at Hameln Prisoner of War camp where he remained until repatriated in October 1918.

Those at home were exhorted to follow the appeal from the Insurance Commissioners to:

Eat less meat

An appeal for subscribers to the National Egg Collection Fund, which supplied eggs to wounded soldiers and sailors, was a continual occurrence. They were initially sent to the main collecting depot at Harrods in London. As well as eggs, sums from as little as a penny a week were requested and by the beginning of 1916 six dozen eggs were being sent to the Welsh Hospital at Netley. A letter of thanks was later received from the War Office:

‘for the very excellent eggs that have been received in Bolougne… they have been the greatest possible boon to the sick and wounded.’

Later that year there was an ‘Egg service’ where children were invited to bring eggs; 234 were collected, and the 1917 service collected 304. Some time later the following letter was received by one of the egg senders:

Egg letter part 1

Egg letter part 2

The Girls Friendly Society attended their Annual Festival, held in 1916 at St Fagan’s:

our party journeyed thither by motor bus…. The Preacher appealed earnestly to us women and girls to guard well the shield of our faith that we might be a help to others in this time of trial. Tea was most kindly given to the whole party in the Castle grounds by Lady Plymouth….The gardens and grounds were most beautiful and, after strolling about them, sports were indulged in until it was time for us to start our return journey at 8’o clock and it was a very contented party that returned home.’

 A small glimpse into Llanishen during the Great War.

Ann Konsbruck, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer