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The Allotment Movement in England, 1793-1873

The Allotment Movement in England, 1793-1873

Jeremy Burchardt
Volume: 30
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 300
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  • Book Info
    The Allotment Movement in England, 1793-1873
    Book Description:

    The living standards of the rural poor suffered a severe decline in the first half of the nineteenth century as a result of high population growth, changing agricultural practices, enclosure and the decline of rural industries. Allotment provision was the most important counterweight to the pressures. This book offers the first systematic analysis of the early nineteenth-century allotment movement, providing new data on the chronology of the movement and on the number, geographical distribution, size, rents, cultivation yields and effect on living standards of allotments, showing how the movement brought the culture of the rural labouring poor more closely into line with the mainstream values of respectable mid-Victorian England. This book casts new light on central aspects of early and mid-nineteenth-century social and economic history, agriculture and rural society. JEREMY BURCHARDT is lecturer in Rural History, University of Reading.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-015-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-xi)
    Jeremy Burchardt
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xii-xii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    In 1981 David Jones pointed out that ‘[t]he subject of allotments deserves a major study’.¹ This book, the first full-length account of the nineteenth-century allotment movement, aspires to fill that lacuna. As such it benefits from the advantages and pays the penalties that derive from working in a hitherto largely unexplored field. It is not, of course, the case that allotments have been entirely neglected, but much of what has been written is from an historiographical point of view unsatisfactory. Probably the best-known discussion of the subject is David Crouch and Colin Ward’s The allotment: its landscape and culture (1988),...


    • 1 The First Allotment Movement, c.1793–1830
      (pp. 9-48)

      The first phase of the allotment movement, between 1793 and 1830, occurred against a backdrop of severe pressure on rural living standards. Agricultural employment failed to keep pace with the rapid increase of the rural population, especially in the south, where most agricultural labourers lived and where the allotment movement initially developed, since in this region alternative employment in industry was rarely available. Low and almost certainly declining real wages were compounded by a rising dependency ratio.¹ The increasing specialisation of southern and eastern agriculture in cereal production may have raised aggregate demand for labour, but it entailed an exaggeration...


    • 2 The Resurgence of Allotment Promotion and Provision after 1830
      (pp. 51-69)

      The progress of the allotment movement before 1830 was slow. However, in the 1830s there was a sudden and widespread upsurge of interest and activity, one of the first signs of which was the formation in 1830 of the LFS which was to play the leading role in the allotment movement for the next two decades. Two preliminary points about the society are appropriate at this stage. First, it was, unlike the SBCP, entirely dedicated to the promotion of allotments. Admittedly, its official title incorporated a reference to promoting loan societies, but neither the LFS nor its successor, the SICLC,...

    • 3 The National Movement and the Labourer’s Friend Society
      (pp. 70-97)

      There is little doubt that the immediate cause of the dramatic upsurge in the number of allotments described in the last chapter was the Captain Swing riots of 1830. The evidence for this is, firstly, contemporary statements; second, the very close chronological fit between the riots and the revived interest in allotments; third, the geographical fit between the riots and revived interest; and last, the absence of any other event in 1830 of sufficient magnitude to provide a plausible alternative explanation.

      Landowners often cited the riots as the initial prompt to letting land in allotments. Some typical examples, a small...

    • 4 The Local Movement and Individual Activists
      (pp. 98-108)

      The role of the local societies in sustaining the allotment movement in the years 1830–45 needs considerably more research. National sources, on which this study heavily relies, provide sound information on the national movement and about the characteristics of allotments, but only patchy information on the local movement. County studies based on local newspapers would undoubtedly much increase knowledge. Particularly interesting questions include what the regional distribution of local allotment societies was, what proportion of them bought or rented land rather than confining themselves to less ambitious support functions, what, if any, was the nature of their connection with...


    • 5 The Allotment Landlord
      (pp. 111-135)

      The central relationship at the heart of allotment provision was that between allotment landlords and allotment tenants. In view of the failure of public provision of allotments in early and mid nineteenth-century England, the fate of the movement hung on the response of private and institutional landowners. An impressively large number of allotment sites had been established in the countryside by the third quarter of the nineteenth century, so it is clear that landowners did respond to the publicity of the LFS. The primary aim of this chapter is to explain why they did so. But before entering into this...

    • 6 The Allotment Tenant
      (pp. 136-174)

      Many historians of nineteenth-century rural society appear to have believed that English agricultural labourers had little interest in any form of landholding, including allotments. Dunbabin, for example, wrote sceptically about the level of demand for allotments amongst late nineteenth-century labourers.¹ Hobsbawm and Rudé’s Captain Swing reinforced this position by stating that ‘there were virtually no examples of anyone connected with these movements [i.e. the agricultural protests of the first half of the nineteenth century] demanding land’.² The most recent standard work on the history of agricultural labourers, Alan Armstrong’s careful and scholarly Farmworkers, perpetuates the view that allotments were far...

    • 7 The Social Consequences of Allotments
      (pp. 175-214)

      Once we are aware of the strength of demand for allotments among rural workers for most of the nineteenth century, and of the very good reasons they had for wanting them, the importance of allotments to the individuals who rented them is manifest. But to assess the social consequences of allotment provision we need to know more about who these tenants actually were, and how adequate the provision of allotments was in proportion to the number of those who wanted to rent them.

      In the mid-nineteenth century, allotments were generally seen as being provided for, and occupied by, agricultural labourers....


    • 8 Allotment Promotion and Provision, c. 1845–1873
      (pp. 217-230)

      The organised allotment movement suffered a severe decline in the third quarter of the nineteenth century, but despite this the number of allotments continued to rise. In explaining this paradox, this chapter also attempts to account for the brief revival of parliamentary interest in allotments at the end of the period and to indicate the ways in which developments during these years foreshadowed the emergence of the third allotment movement in the 1880s.

      The decline of the organised allotment movement after 1845 was rapid. By the mid-1850s collective activity to promote allotments had been reduced to almost negligible proportions. The...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 231-236)

    The allotment movement came into being at the cusp of the transition from the old ‘organic’ economy of pre-industrial England to the new mineral-based economy created by the industrial revolution. Whilst, in the long run, the development of capitalism led to an across-the-board rise in living standards, in the last decade of the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth centuries this hung in the balance as a result of the conjunction of very rapid population growth with increased exposure to market forces. In the countryside, the check to living standards was particularly sharp, because the demand for labour...

  12. Appendices

    • APPENDIX 1 The Allotments Database
      (pp. 237-239)
    • APPENDIX 2 The Origins and Definition of Allotments
      (pp. 240-243)
    • APPENDIX 3 Allotments and Potato Grounds
      (pp. 244-251)
    • APPENDIX 4 Legislative Limits on Plot Size
      (pp. 252-252)
    • APPENDIX 5 Allotment Plot Size
      (pp. 253-255)
    • APPENDIX 6 Allotment Rent
      (pp. 256-258)
    • APPENDIX 7 Animal-Keeping on Allotments
      (pp. 259-260)
    • APPENDIX 8 Allotment Site Rules
      (pp. 261-262)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 263-278)
  14. Index
    (pp. 279-288)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 289-289)