Archaeology-ish of an allotment

It’s February again, and that time of year again – yes, the spending time at the allotment preparing it to plant up with crops for the coming year. So, a few wee thoughts about my allotment (from a very  very loose archaeological perspective!)


Mine is on one of just under a dozen sites in the Borough, and costs just under £30 per year – this seems surprisingly good value, given the 1950 Allotments Act allows councils to charge a tenant what “may reasonably be expected to pay”


Allotment plots are still measured in poles – a unit of measure apparently dating back to Anglo-Saxon days.
Allotments themselves, as patches of land to lease and grow food on, date back at least to the 18th Century, but most in the UK are provided under various versions of Allotments Act from 1908, 1922 and 1950 which require councils to provide sufficient allotments to meet demand. In the 1870s there were about a quarter of a million plots. They reached their heyday during WW11 when there were just under one and a half million plots (this being due to a shortage of available fresh vegetable produce) – today there are again around quarter of a million allotments – but given the recent lettuce shortage let’s see what happens there!

Material culture wise allotments can produce no allotment related finds – my current plot has produced little (outside of 20th Century gardening guff). A previous plot I had produced post medieval pot, and also some Mesolithic flint.  A nearby plot also has a WW11 pillbox on it, which has been re-used as a tool shed.

My current plot sits just at the edge of a ‘Flood Zone 2’ flood plain. It sits on an underlying geology of the Camberley Sand Formation.

Aerial photos from 1999 to 2013 show development of the allotment garden area. During that period the whole site has been allotment plots in various states of upkeep. Initially the most worked area was further to the north (and deeper into the floodplain area). Over time the cultivated area has predominantly moved towards the more southern end of the area, aerial photos showing this section being fenced in some time between 2005 and 2009, with only one plot remaining to the north and outside of this fenced off area.









(above aerial images copyright Infoterra, Bluesky & Google)

Also allotments represent an interesting landscapes as spaces of conflict:-

  • As allotments worked as a response to pressures of WW11
  • Conflict between bureaucratic land lord versus potentially anarchic tenant
  • Allotment tenant defending their small piece of land from hostile forces (vandals, thieves etc.)
  • Conflict between humans versus nature (pesticides and chemicals)
  • Conflict between allotment tenants based on cultivation styles (organic v pesticides & chemicals)
  • Conflict between land usage – low income to local authority versus potential value of land for residential property development

So yep, they are contradictory places – they appear (and indeed much of the time feel) idyllic places, but also on some levels are also contested landscapes………


…….but they also produce nice veg!



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