General Allotment History

The word "allotment" originates in land being allotted to an individual under an enclosure award. The first recorded enclosure was about 1654-1658, but the period from 1760 to 1818 saw 3,500 Enclosure Acts of Parliament. In the first half of the 19th century some attempt was made to provide allotments in the Enclosure Acts, but it was not until the General Enclosure Act of 1845 that a determined effort was seriously undertaken.

That Act required that the Commissioners should make provision for the landless poor in the form of "field gardens" limited to a quarter of an acre.

By 1850 it had become widely recognised that allotments were parcels of land to be cultivated by a labourer, in his spare time, and for the provision of food for himself and his dependants. At this stage allotments were virtually confined to rural areas.

The urban allotment development was beginning to emerge, as evidenced by the "guinea gardens" brought into use on the outskirts of Birmingham as early as the second half of the eighteenth century. These however gradually disappeared as the outward spread of the city led to them being closed for building purposes.

Between 1850 and 1900 other parcels of land were developed in Birmingham and received the name of allotments. The value to health for people in sedentary occupations, living in houses often with no gardens of their own, was also coming to be recognised in the urban environment.

The first statutes establishing allotments were aimed mainly at provision from charitable sources, and it was not until the Act of 1908, which consolidated all previous legislation, that for the first time local councils had a statutory duty to provide. This Act was to become the basis of allotment law.

The pressure for urban allotment provision increased as a result of the spread of closely packed housing development almost entirely without gardens, but intensified with the outbreak of war in 1914. During the period 1914-1918, the number of allotments rose from some 600,000 to 1.5 million.

At the end of the War, the national demand for allotments diminished and many thousands of acres, temporarily requisitioned, were returned to their original use. However, the demand for allotments from returning ex-servicemen continued unabated particularly due to the economic conditions and the Land Settlement facilities Act of 1919 was aimed at helping them. This Act finally deleted reference to "labouring poor", and made it clear that all members of the community were eligible to take up allotment gardening.

Two separate and countervailing pressures were now being exerted. On the one hand, allotment holders were becoming increasingly worried by their lack of any secure tenancy agreement, and on the other, the owners of requisitioned land were pressing for its return. The Government therefore issued the Allotments Act 1922 which introduced an "allotment garden" limited in size to .25 acre and protected tenants by laying down periods of notice.

The next stage was the Allotments Act of 1925, which required local authorities to recognise the need for allotments in any town planning development, but its main provision was to establish the "Statutory" allotment by enacting that any piece of ground purchased by a local authority for allotment purposes could not be converted to other purposes without Ministerial permission. This was to become, and has continued to be a corner-stone of current allotment legislation.

A further significant step was the passing of the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Act of 1931 which, impelled by the growing economic depression, had some success in slowing down the rate at which emergency, or wartime, allotment land was being returned to other uses.

The outbreak of the Second World War saw the setting up of yet another government drive to grow more food, and the "Dig for Victory" campaign launched in 1940 and strengthened by wartime defence legislation. This saw an estimated annual production from allotments at 1,300,000 tons. At the end of the War the situation was similar to 1919 as food shortages maintained the pressure for the maximum amount of home production.

The result of demands for more and more building land saw the re-establishment of the Allotments Advisory Body which in 1949 recommended a scale of provision of 4 acres per 1,000 head of population. This resulted in the Allotment Act of 1950, the last allotments act to pass into law.

Allotments were originally provided for use by the landless poor to enable them to feed their families. The modern need is to ensure that land is still made available for the present and future generations to enjoy fresh and healthy produce, and benefit from the ability to take fresh air and to exercise and enjoy the environment.

Some notable dates

 1760 – 1818 Over 5 million acres of land were enclosed, depriving the landless poor of rights over common land.

1782 Act Passed enabling guardians of the poor to enclose up to 10 acres of waste land for the poor house.

1790 Private Members bill to give small allotments to the poor, failed.

1796 General Enclosure Bill, which provided for land for the poor failed.

1800 Attempts to introduce allotment legislation failed.

1806 Great Somerford (Wiltshire) Enclosure Act was the first to set aside land as allotment for the labouring poor.

1819 Act empowering parish wardens to let up to 20 acres of parish land to individuals. This was increased to 50 acres in 1831.

1833 42% of all parishes in England and Wales had allotment schemes.

1845 General Enclosure Act made a serious attempt to provide 'poor's' allotments.

1873 Act improving the management of allotments under Enclosure awards.

1876 Act compelling Enclosure Commissioners to set aside land for the poor.

1882 Allotments Extension Act required land held for the poor to be let as allotments.

1883 7 counties provided allotments in almost every parish.

1886 An Allotments Bill was held in abeyance pending a by-election in Spalding (Lincs) and in 1887 an ‘allotments’ candidate was returned defeating a strong conservative candidate.
Immediately the Bill was put through its remaining stages and became law.

1887 Act compelling local authorities to provide allotments where a demand was known to exist. However such obligatory provision only came into force where allotments could not be obtained at a reasonable rent by private treaty.

1890 Default powers to provide given to county councils.

1907 Act imposing responsibility upon borough, urban districts and parish councils.

1908 Act to consolidate all existing legislation.

1913 600,000 allotment plots were recorded in England and Wales.

1918 1.5 million allotment plots available (between 600sq yards and 1 acre)

1919 7000 new applicants for allotments each week with a large number of returning ex-servicemen.
Land Settlement Facilities Act intended to help with provision. Reference to ‘labouring population’ deleted from the acts.

1922 Pressure from owners for return of requisitioned land.
Act gave more security and greater compensation to tenants. Also introduced concept of an 'allotment garden'.
Regulations permitting requisition of land came to an end.

1925 Allotments Act requiring consideration of the need for allotments in Town Planning and also the need for Ministerial consent to the disposal of allotment land.

1929 Provision of allotment had fallen below one million largely due to the loss of requisitioned land.

1930 Formation of the National Allotments Society (now The National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners) as the only authoritative national allotment organisation.

1931 Agricultural Land (Utilisation Act) enacted to help relieve poverty and providing an activity for the unemployed.
This Act was temporary in character to be repealed as soon as the position improved. Some sections were finally repealed in 1993.
The Act permitted the seizure of land and gave the Ministry of Agriculture authority to provide allotments itself.

1939 Allotment provision approx. 570,000 plots in England and Wales.
Defence regulations permitted the Ministry of Agriculture to enter upon unoccupied land for the purpose of providing allotments.

1940 ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign launched with eager help from local authorities and the National Allotments Society.

1941 Total annual production on allotments estimated at 1,300,000 tons and the total produced during the war by newcomers to the allotment movement must have exceeded 3 million tons.

1942 By the end of the year over 1,400,000 allotments were provided. Regulations introduced making it an offence to trespass on an allotment.

1944 Ministry of Agriculture calculated that the total annual production on allotments and private gardens contributed 10% of all food production in the country.

1947 The Chancellor of the Exchequer stressed the importance of allotment cultivation as a contribution towards the country's economic difficulties. Despite the 'Dig for Plenty' campaign allotment provision decreased

1949 The Allotments Advisory Committee recommended 4 acres of allotments be provided per 1000 population.

1950 Allotments Act extended the length of notice to quit and required local authorities to provide allotment gardens only. The Act also removed contractual restrictions on keeping hens and rabbits on an allotment.

1969 Departmental Committee of Enquiry report into allotment published. The report made many recommendations but was largely ignored by Government.

1998 Environmental Committee enquiry into the Future of Allotments. This supported the need for the retention of allotments, which form a component part of healthy neighbourhoods.

The Government introduced a requirement for local authorities to demonstrate the steps they have taken to promote allotments before being granted permission to dispose.

The Committee also recommended a Best Practice Guide be drawn up which has now been produced.

2001 Planning Policy Guidelines (PPG17) Sport and Recreation being revised to include allotment provision