The Hurst Garden Allotments by Gerry Siddall
Allotments seen from Tape Lane before houses were built in 1994 (© David Langton)
five and a half yards equal one rod, pole or perch
So, in former times, the children of the village school may have chanted as they learned their arithmetic tables by rote. The Hurst village allotments on Tape Lane are still rented out by the parish council in 5 and 10 pole plots and new applicants have been known to ask, "What is a pole?"
The Local Government Act of 1894, under which Parish Councils were created, had transferred to them many of the civil functions of the older parish authorities. These included administration of garden allotments, even if they remained in private ownership. The first recorded mention of the Hurst allotments was in the Parish Council Minutes of January 1895. The Council reported that notices were to be posted asking that anyone wishing to rent an allotment under the Parish Council should make application in writing. It is certain, however, and it is implied in the minutes, that the allotments in field described as 'Orchard and Meadow' existed before then and, indeed it would be surprising if this were not so. During the later period of the enclosure movement in rural England, by which the agricultural poor were denied their customary use of commons, it was not unusual for landowners to set aside small areas of land for the use of the the poorer families as gardens, for the keeping of pigs and poultry and even grazing. The Orchard and Meadow, bounded by Sawpit Road, Tape Lane and Berrycrate Cornfield was about 8 acres in extent and was owned by Mr. Garth of Haines Hill who, it seems, had been awarded and had enclosed part of the Broad Common.. The allotment rents were collected by his agent, Mr. Henry Simmonds.
It is not known how much rental the existing tenants had been paying Mr. Garth, but in January 1895 the Council informed Mr. Simmonds that his demand for one pound six shillings per acre per annum for the site was too much. It was prepared to offer one pound one shilling. This seems to have been agreed and in June notices were posted on the field gate asking if the present holders were prepared to rent allotments under the Parish Council and whether they were willing to pay threepence per pole or twopence per pole. One wonders if the council was anticipating that at twopence the demand would outstrip supply but in the event that was the charge finally agreed. The same month the clerk to the Council pointed out to Mr. Simmonds that as the Council was now collecting rents, and that as monies had already been paid to him in advance by the holders, he should return "So much as was paid after Michaelmas 1895". It was decided, also, that the field and plots should be accurately measured and recorded and Mr. Thomas Hewitt of Twyford was asked to quote a price for this. No doubt the records were consulted when some months later it was reported that a certain holder had been accused of moving the marker pegs.
The area occupied by allotments on what became known as the Sawpit field was somewhat less than 3 acres, consisting of 15 plots, shortly increased to 29, most of which were of 20 poles, although one plot was 60 poles. These were large compared to today's 5 and 10 pole plots. It seems that take up of new tenancies was initially slow, but later there was a surge of applicants and by the Spring of 1896 there were 50 tenants. The increase in the annual licence fee to ten pounds one shilling and sixpence, paid to Mr. Simmonds in 1897, was probably a consequence of the rapid growth in the Council's income. Evidently ownership of the allotment field changed at some time before the turn of the century for in May 1899 the Parish Council paid one pound four shillings for a tenancy agreement to Captain W. Partridge who acted as agent to Mr. J. Leveson-Gower of Bill Hill.
Irrigation of the allotments must have been a problem and carrying buckets of water some distance a chore. Complaints from tenants prompted the Council to apply to Captain Partridge for permission to sink a well on the site. The work was carried out by Mr. J. Lewis for which he was paid three pounds ten shillings and sixpence. Apparently he made a good job of it because it was not until 1924 - 25 years later - that repairs to the cover were necessary. Present allotment holders Ron Poulter and David and Ellen Langton remember hauling up water by bucket and rope as recently as the early 1970s. Later, Ron Poulter fitted an electric pump years before piped waster was laid on in about 1978.
In the early years of the new century the demand for allotments continued to grow. In 1903 an additional access to the field was opened and a new gate hung (again Mr. Lewis carried out the work) at the south end of the field, opposite the Working Mens' Club - now the small village hall. This must have been a very convenient innovation because the club was equipped with a billiard table and bar. The opportunity to relax with a glass of refreshment after a hard spell of digging and weeding was, no doubt, most welcome. But, of course not on Sundays! Working on the allotments was forbidden on Sundays and in December 1915 (no concession for war time needs) Councillor J. White was "authorised to inform all allotment holders that anyone seen working on Sunday would have the allotment taken away". The new gate and the gate on Tape Lane needed repair by 1919 and Mr. Claud Johnson was asked to carry out the work using timber the Council persuaded the landowner to provide.
The Allotments, looking towards Tape Lane, 2001
As early as 1903 the residents of Davis Street had asked the Council to provide allotments in the south of the parish and it was resolved to explore "what quality of land was necessary and whether suitable land was available". However, it was not until 4 years later that an offer of a site was made by Mr. George Ford. A plan was included in the Minutes showing the layout of 33 plots varying in size between 15 and 25 poles on a site in Davis Street. The following year, 1908, an agreement with Mr. Douglas of Douglas Farm was signed. This was for a site behind the cottages on Davis Street adjacent to what is now the children's playing field, for which the Council paid one pound ten shillings per acre. It would appear that for a number of years Hurst had three allotment sites.
During the two world wars imports of food fell severely, particularly during the period 1939-1945, and between the wars there were periods of economic depression. Growing food in gardens and on allotments was for many a matter of necessity .More and more of the Sawpit field was taken into cultivation during the 1920s and 1930s. Mr Albert Cudby, now in his 91st year, and who lived on Sandford Lane for many years, recalls that the allotments took up the whole of the Sawpit field and that one holder kept a pig on his plot.
Not everything went well, however. In January 1922 Mr. Ford served notice on the Council to quit his site on Davis Street. The Council responded by asking if he would be prepared to sell the land to the Council and grant Right of Way from the road. Apparently this approach failed because in June the land was sold to Mr. Appleton. Nor, it seems was Mr. Douglas happy to continue letting his land to the Council. In 1924 the Minutes record that the Ministry of Agriculture confirmed an order for the compulsory purchase of the Workhouse field on Davis Street for allotments for a period of 14 years.
After the war ended in 1945, the village entered a period of continuing social change and the popularity of the allotments faded. In 1946 Mrs. Hodgson, the daughter of Mr. Leveson-Gower, sold the Sawpit field to the Rural District Council. In its search for land to meet the post war need for housing the site was identified for the building of 22 houses, although the Parish Council urged that land on the northern part should be retained for allotments as then existed. In fact the main part of the field, known latterly as Martineau field after Sir Philip Martineau who was a benefactor of Hurst, remained unused until 1994 when the estate of houses now occupying the site was built. The north east corner is still occupied by 19 allotments on a site of just over 2 acres. Coincidentally, this is close to the same number of plots, covering about the same area as the first Hurst Parish Council allotments of 1895.
Map from Hurst Village Society notice, October 1993