A History of Girton Allotments

The brief history of the allotments has been adapted from the Focus on Girton article written by Ray Gordon and an article by Graham Jones for the Girton Parish News.

Allotments have long been a significant part of England’s social history. In feudal times, peasants were allowed in their meagre spare time to cultivate parcels of common land for the sustenance of their families. The Enclosures movement of the 17th and 18th centuries, which took common land into private ownership, put pressure on this concession. Various enlightened landowners and the Church established allotments for their impecunious tenants and parishioners. During the Industrial Revolution, the urban rootless poor became a cause of public concern, and Local Authorities created allotments around the great cities and towns to permit the new workers to grow food. The motives were both economic and altruistic, but also to prevent social and political unrest, and to offset the evils of alcohol and oppose ‘moral degeneracy’.  (It was once quoted in the GPN the rules of an allotment society requiring of tenants, inter alia, abstinence from alcohol on the Sabbath and from other ‘unholy’ activities, and regular church attendance a condition of tenancy).

The first records of allotments in Girton date from 1808. Some of these sites are thought to have been in what is now Wellbrook Way. A Cambridgeshire report of 1839 lists 521/2  acres of town and church lands in Girton, much of which may have been allotments. The current Cambridge Road/Hicks Lane site was known as the Montague allotments (origin unknown). In 1909 there was a division of various village assets between the Girton Church Charity and the Girton Town Charity. The Cambridge Road site was divided roughly equally between these charities. The central main path divides the site into the Church’s southern half and the Town Charity’s northern half. In 1994 the Girton Allotment Society was formed to take responsibility for the voluntary (not statutory) allotment site.

Allotments have been controlled statutorily by a stream of legislation since the mid- 19th century, of which the Allotments Act 1950 is the latest.  Local authorities have a responsibility to provide allotments if their residents request them, but the obligation is not well defined. Times of war enhanced the demand for allotments which reached a high point of between 1.5 and 2 million during the 1939-1945 war when home-grown food was so important in siege times. But afterwards local authorities have tried to dispose of their allotment holdings for housing and civic amenities. At the beginning of this century, it was estimated there were just short of 300,000 sites. However, public interest has been rising rapidly in the face of economic, health and ecological concerns. In South Cambridgeshire, responsibility for allotments has mainly been delegated to parish councils. Accordingly, Girton Parish Council ensures the continuance of this public amenity, and has delegated the governance of Girton’s one site, Cambridge Road/Hicks Lane, to the Girton Allotment Society. The Cambridge Road site is now the only example of allotments within the parish.