Highbury South Allotment Association was founded in 1917 as part of the war effort. German U-boat attacks had disrupted shipping of food supplies, and growing produce locally became a priority. Before the war, there were around 1000 allotments in Newcastle, but by June 1918 this had risen to over 5000.
The hand-written minutes of the first AGM, held in 1918, have survived. They record the amount of peas and potatoes produced, and note that the main problems were thefts and the sale of produce, which was not allowed.
1918 - 1945
During the Depression, Newcastle Council provided plots of land to unemployed men, encouraging them to grow their own food. However, from 1934, the Town Moor and Parks Committee pushed for various allotment sites on town moor land to close. This was met by strong resistance, and was eventually seen off by the need to provide home-grown food during the Second World War.
World War two saw renewed interest in allotments, and by mid-1941 there were over 2000 ‘wartime allotments’ in the City. The ‘Dig for Victory’ effort was bolstered by the provision of lectures, leaflets, an annual Vegetable and Flower Show, and two ‘Dig for Victory’ exhibitions at the City Baths. In addition, rules on poultry keeping were relaxed, and pig clubs were encouraged. The coming of peace did not bring any let-up in official encouragement of allotment keeping.
THE POST-WAR PERIOD
Immediately after the Second World War, there were still food shortages and allotment production was encouraged. However, the period of full employment saw changes in demand. Convenience foods, modernisation and rapid economic growth led to allotment-keeping becoming unfashionable, as can be seen in the minutes from a 1961 meeting. Problems mentioned include vacant plots, the spread of weeds, excessively high structures and dilapidated fences.
Many improvements were subsequently made to the site by the Council and through our members. Hugh Smith and others built a toilet building, new drainage ditches and an attractive pond and recreation area which is used by the West Jesmond School and Community Gardens project as well as by members. The problem of low demand for allotments remained, however, and some plots were converted into orchards in order to find a productive use for the space.
THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
As elsewhere, the present century has seen a resurgence in interest in allotment-keeping in response to green ideals and concern to eat healthy foods. Highbury South now has a waiting list, with vacant allotments quickly filled despite reclaiming an adjacent wild space to create more plots. Most of the orchards have become communal, with heavy crops, particularly of apples, shared among members who have helped look after the site over the year.
Allotment-keeping is now very different to what it was when the Association started in 1917. Many members no longer grow crops in order to provide basic food for their families, but in order to enjoy gardening and to produce fresh, high quality vegetables and fruit. A vast range of vegetables, fruit and flowers are now grown. The site is open and well-maintained, a pleasant, relaxing place to spend time in, particularly in the spring, summer and autumn months.
In 2017, we celebrated our centenary with a special Annual Show.