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A brief history of Highbury South Allotments

Sit back and enjoy learning about the history of our site, with this blog from Secretary Bob Heyman.

Origins (1917 - 18)

Highbury South Allotment Association was founded in 1917 as part of the war effort to provide food supplies in response to German U-Boat attacks on shipping. According to John Griffiths:

"By the closing months of the war, the Council [Newcastle] had been instrumental in creating 55 allotment sites, covering 200 acres and providing 2,900 allotments ... By June 1918 there were 372 acres of cultivated land in the City, divided into 5,263 allotments, compared with a pre-war figure of 106 acres and 1,450 allotments."

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 is not allowed. The contrast with 2020 allotmenting is striking.

1918 - 1945

During the Depression, Newcastle Council provided plots of land which unemployed men could use to grow their own food. However, from 1934, "the Town Moor and Parks Committee began pressing for the removal of large areas of allotment gardens located on Town Moor land alongside the Great North Road", including the Highbury South site. This attempt to take allotments away from the people of Newcastle met strong resistance, as it would today, and was eventually seen off by the need to provide home-grown food during the Second World War and the period immediately after it.

"The Cultivation of Lands Order 1939, made on 1st September, like its 1916 predecessor enabled Councils to seize land, and by mid 1941 there were 2,170 ‘wartime allotments’ in the City. The ‘Dig for Victory’ effort was bolstered by the provision of lectures, leaflets, a municipally-sponsored 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, in the period of full employment, convenience foods, modernisation and rapid economic growth which followed, allotment-keeping became unfashionable, as can be seen in the 1961 Highbury South Allotment Association Minutes.

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 them.

The Twenty-First Century

As elsewhere, the present century has seen a resurgence in interest in allotment-keeping in response to Green ideas and concern to eat healthy foods. Highbury South now has a waiting list, with vacant allotments quickly filled despite an expansion in the number of plots through the reclamation of a wild area next to the neighbouring recreation ground. Most of the orchards have become communal, with heavy crops, particularly of apples, shared among members who have contributed to site maintenance during the year.

Allotment-keeping is now very different to what it was when the Association started in 1917. 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. An agreement with residents of Highbury which overlooks the site means that individual sheds and large greenhouses are not allowed. 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 year with a special Annual Show.

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