A History of Allotments in Watford
The following is a transcript of a talk given by Mary Reid at a meeting of the West Watford History Group in April 2012.
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I became Chairman of the West Watford and Oxhey Garden and Allotment Society in 1999 and Site Supervisor for my own site (I had had a plot since 1975) soon afterwards.
In 2002 I started researching. I read the Council Minutes up to 1907, cross-referencing with the Watford Observer reports of the meetings up to 1902.
The Watford Museum has a cuttings book of newspaper reports of Council meetings in the First World War - not full, but useful.
As Paddock Road celebrated 120 in 2009, I wanted some more recent information, so have also covered some random years over the decades 20's - 50's.
I have found some maps which are helpful in identifying these sites, which are no longer here.
Peacocks - 1895, 1900, 1909, 1913
Watford Museum 1951 map of allotments
Ordnance Survey maps and plans - coutresy of Mouchel
Maps of Watford 1766 - 1938 by Mary Forsyth
Aerial photos - 1945/8 - courtesy of Mouchesl
1921 Rookery, p 158, Book of Watford
1962 Scammells p 273, Book of Watford
1948 Council plans of sites.
The West Watford Sites
Farm Terrace: Behind Vicarage Road F.C. The second oldest site, set up in 1896.
Holywell: Remaining part of a bigger "Holywell" begun in 1900 where Rose Gardens/Laurence Haines School are now. The Council plan shows how the numbering started there and continued onto the current site. I'm not yet sure of a start date for this section; it is not in the Peacocks 1913, but it is on the Mouchel 1914 Segment A8.
Brightwells: Started around 1959 - on Mouchel, segment A8.
Chester Road: I'm not sure of the origins - a 1914 map marks it as an old gravel pit. It is not on the Council 1948 plans and the first map I've seen marking it as allotments is 1959. Part of the original Harwoods Farm ? The 1905 Peacocks map has a small black mark no. 7, as if there was a building, but there was no index.
Old sites now gone.
Harwoods Farm: A private site set up by the Hon. Reginald Capel, son of the 6th Earl of Essex in 1881. It was west of Cassio Road between the West Herts Sports Club and the cemetery. By 1887, there were 8 acres with 110 plots. The land was sold for building and was replaced by the Council site of Farm Terrace.
Willow Lane: Bordered by Willow Lane and the extension of Cardiff Road, this was given up in the 80's and is now designated for the new Hospital expansion. The ruins of the old Pest House in the corner would be worth exploring.
Tolpits Lane: This pre-dated the current Holywell site and can be seen on the Peacocks 1913 map. It is still shown on a 1960 map, but not 1965 when the pub and church are shown. Westfield School occupies the W section. The full extent is visible on the aerial photo.
West Watford: This was by the Isolation Hospital (in Tolpits Lane) and was laid out by the Council in 1920 to accommodate people who had lost the extra plots provided during the First World War.
1914 Segment B5 - Enlarged Farm Terrace behind football ground/hospital and top part of first 'Holywell'.
1938 Slice A - Current Holywell, Rose Gardens in Willow Lane, Tolpits Lane.
1939 Segment B5 - Farm Terrace, bottom part of Willow Lane and adjoining section.
1960 Slice A - Tolpits Lane, Isolation Hospital, Holywell, top of Willow Lane.
1959/60 Segment A8 - Brightwells, Holywell, Willow Lane.
1959/60 Segment A12 - Chester Road.
1965/8 Slice A - Isolation Hospital.
1969 Segment B5 - Farm Terrace, bottom of Willow Lane.
1975 Slice H - Laurence Haines school now evident.
1945/8 Slice A - Tolpits Lane and Polecat (opposite side of railway) Isolation Hospital, current Holywell and land opposite Vicarage Road, also opposite railway on Harwoods Recreation Ground.
Slice B - Farm Terrace and bottom of Willow Lane.
Book of Watford - p 158, 1921, Farm Terrace, Willow Lane, Carriage Sheds, p 273, 1962, Holywell, Brightwells, Tolpits Lane.
The Beginnings of Allotments
Allotments arose out of two aspects of social change: the enclosure of common fields and the move to the towns prompted by the Industrial Revolution.
The early development took off in the 1830's, a time of social unrest, poor harvests and revolutions abroad.
The Labourers' Friend Society was set up in 1832 and was very influential in promoting the provision of allotments. It sent round travelling agents to give talks and set up local societies and published monthly magazines aimed at landowners and clergy.
By the 1840's, there was an upper class consensus that labourers should have allotments. Also, there was a moral element - they raised self respect, promoted independence and self help.
In these early years it was largely a rural phenomenon and the land was called "field gardens", "garden ground" or "cottage garden".
The latter part of the 19th century sees the movement into the towns and the debate changing to the issue of material conditions rather than moral improvement.
The 1887 Allotment Act was significant as it compelled the sanitary authorities (the Local Board of Health) to provide where a demand was known. This could be initiated at the request of six ratepayers, but the Council were only obliged if land could not be got at a reasonable rent by private means. (More of this later in the chronological section).
In Watford, the significant people who promoted allotments were:
The Hon. Reginald Capel, 1830 - 1906 Dr Thomas Brett - Watford's 1st Medical Officer of Health Rev. Newton Price - 1st Vicar of St Matthew, Oxhey
Rise of the Horticultural Societies
Before we come to the setting up of Harwood's Farm, we need to understand that the Horticultural Society was also a significant factor in influencing the growth of allotments. These provided a rewarding leisure activity at a time when there was little organised leisure.
There is a poster for the 1879 first Watford Show with two bands and a local talent concert. (NB The newspaper write-up reported a lack of shows for a few years since the demise of the West Herts Horticultural Society Show at Cassiobury.) The Bushey Show dates from 1866.
The exhibitors were largely head gardeners, aristocracy, gentry and trade, but there was a cottagers' section and the best cultivated garden received a 10/- prize (ten shillings).
The report on the second show in August 1880 said "success due to an increased interest in horticulture in this neighbourhood, as well as to the knowledge diffused by an extended and easily procured literature". There was reference to 20 lectures given the previous October.
The Watford Observer of 18th September 1880 had a notice advertising a course of lectures in Botany at the Public Library - 30 sessions for 4/- .
A letter from the Secretary of the Horticultural Society illustrates attitudes, saying that the shows are primarily for scientific research and improving horticulture, but also to improve the cottagers, saying that tempting prizes are:
"an inducement to them to give more of that time and attention to their gardens, which they were spending at the public house .....
.... the distribution of prizes by some lady or gentleman is the means of bringing the cottagers to the show cleanly attired and being anxious that his wife and children should witness his success, they must also put on a clean and neat appearance, the kind words spoken helps greatly to encourage him to continue his gardening operations and steady course of life".
"nothing more tends, either morally, socially or economically to improve the position of those who are fortunate enough to possess cottage gardens and nothing is more desirable for this improvement and encouragement than awarding prizes".
The Watford Observer of August 20th 1881produced a letter from Capel and his friend Arthur Holland-Hibbert (Knutsford family of Munden House) inviting applicants for allotments on five acres of land next to Fearnley Street/Merton Road. They reserved the right to select such tenants as they considered most eligible.There was also a Watford Observer Editorial on the benefits of allotments.
Later, Capel set up Callowland and a letter to the paper in 1888 also includes the Harwoods Farm rules:
- Must manure half the plot each year
- No more than two thirds in potatoes
- No Sunday working
- Fines for breaking rules and non payment of rent
"if 74 allotments hadn't existed, how many would have employed their time to little or no purpose? Now they could have their own veg instead of paying high prices for inferior ..... in the production of them, they had been kept from the pernicious habit of wasting time in a Public House".
Capel and Hibbert gave prizes for the best allotments:
- J. Child £1
- J. Hodges 15/-
- W. Hayes 10/-
- The Chairman of the Local Board gave a clock for three dishes of potatoes.
"There are now 150 applicants for land and there would be many more if there was a chance of getting land".~ o O o ~
Digression - Pigs and Thieving
On August 29th 1891, the Watford Observer reported a meeting of the Harwoods Farm tenants, called as a result of complaints about pigs.
14 of the 164 tenants had signed a petition re pigs getting loose and ruining crops and also about the rat infestation. Capel decided this small number did not carry a lot of strength. He'd inspected 9 sties and found only one was properly kept. Most had no drainage and there were smells, but the occasions of them getting out were few and the owners compensated. He decided they could stay, provided they were properly kept, with no more than 3 per sty (someone had had 10) and there were to be no new ones set up.
The reaction of the Board was to decide pigs would not be allowed on their allotments. Ignored at LOA (London Orphan Asylum) when there was an outbreak of swine fever in 1896 and, as Farm Terrace was just being set up, the Board again decided no pigs, which led to criticism from the Watford and Bushey Ratepayers Association.
In January 1897 there was a letter from a "Liverpudlian". The back doors of Liverpool Road were only 20 yards away.
"I, for one, think we are best off as we are - minus pigs, Sunday rat hunting and noxious breezes".
Another interesting feature of the period is the attitude to theft. There were not many incidents and when they occurred, they were reported either in the newspaper or the Council minutes.
June 16th 1893 - Watford Observer: Local Notes headed "Sneaking thief on the Allotments". (Harwoods). The article commented that the allotment holders were wanting to lay hands on him and being sure they soon will. "We hope he will meet his just deserts".
In June 1898 the minutes report that a man was caught pulling up roots of parsley on Farm Terrace (W. Butler, Liverpool Road). The Clerk had attended Court and reported back that the Magistrate had dismissed the summons on hearing that the boy had been thrashed in the presence of a Police Officer!
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There were two changes in 1895. In January the Local Board became the Urban District Council. On 30th March the newspaper reported Capel's meeting with the Harwoods Farm Tenants. He was giving up the allotments as he was leaving Watford. He remitted a quarter's rent as he did not want to keep the £17 he had made over the 14 years.
Capel had already written to the new Urban District Council in January asking them to take over the site. The Board did negotiate with Mr Humbert, the Essex agent, but they were also considering the Sewage Farm land, as they never took over Harwoods Farm.
The 3rd October 1895 minutes: A scheme was agreed to let the Sewage Farm.
On January 4th 1896 in the Watford Observer: Retrospective of 1895 said of May that the Earl of Essex was to sell one acre of allotment ground for £1600 for the Fearnley Street schools.
5th March 1896 Minutes: A special Council meeting discussed the negotiations with Lord Ebury for a lease of Brightwells Farm. This would enable the re-siting of the existing sewage farm, setting free that portion of the farm nearest to the town for allotments.
8th October 1896 Minutes: An early meeting of the Allotments Committee needed to consider the necessity of providing allotments in place of those about to be withdrawn from Harwoods Farm.
22nd October 1896 Minutes: A petition was received from those about to lose allotments. It was resolved to divide five of the terraces on the Sewage Farm with 83 plots of 10 poles at 8d per pole.
5th December 1896 Minutes: 89 plots had been let.
The principle of allotment provision was that they were not be a burden on the rates. Expenditure was to come out of rentals.
Year ending 31st March 1897:
Receipts = £93.15.10 Expenditure: £78.7.5
Were rents affordable? How did they relate to other spending?
There is a need to know more about wage levels and costs of living, but a December 1897 Christmas advert gives some prices:
18ct gold watch - £6, silver - 35/- Mincemeat - 8d for 1 lb Album of 20 Watford views - 1/- Wines: 1 - 10/- Spirits: 1/6 - 7/- Gallon of ale: 1 - 2/- Bottled ales: 2/6 - 3/6
A 10 pole allotment at 8d cost 6/8 per year / 1 1/2 per week. *
1898 - Start of Consultation With Tenants
3rd March Minutes - reported that adverts were to go in the press to get a sub-committee to assist in the management of allotments.
24th March - a letter from H. Sharp writing on behalf of the sub-committee of the Holywell Farm allotments.
29th March - delegates are being given a copy of the regulations and list of holders and are agreeing to report on them. Notice boards were to go up warning persons from trespassing and stealing.
14th April - approved the supply of keys to Sewage Farm allotments on deposit of 1/-. So the site would appear to be clearly fenced.
By 5th May 1898, H. Sharp is writing in as Secretary of the Allotment Holders Sub-Committee. This probably assisted in the development of the Allotment Societies, the Watford one dating from 1912, as well as the system of site supervisors. There were monthly meetings of delegates with the Council up to 1973.
1st Council Show 1900 For allotment holders and cottagers.
There was a write-up on September 5th in the Watford Observer. The report indicates LOA = 177 plots, Callowland 188, Sewage Farm 122, New Bushey 30 - 40.
The best allotment on the Sewage Farm was G. Gurney who received an electro-plated teapot.
A poster from 1st September indicates additional attractions:- Musical entertainments, cinematograph, mermaid and fishing pond.
3rd May 1900 Minutes: The Allotment Committee was instructed to acquire land as new as possible to Colney Butts and Harwoods.
The Council negotiated with both Lord Ebury and the Earl of Essex. The latter won at £4 per acre instead of £5.
3rd November - the Watford Observer report of a meeting re the proposal to make an entrance at the corner of "Hedges " (?) Lane. Someone complained that this would greatly prejudice the value of the property.
8th December 1900 - Watford Observer: To allot 190 plots adjoining Hagden Lane. There were 58 applicants. The Chairman read the agreement, which was signed by the tenants.
7th February 1901 Minutes: Financial Statement:
Est. 1900 - 1 1900 - 1 Est 1901 - 2
Receipts: £120 166 180 Expend: 100 109 100
May 2nd 1902 Watford Observer;
"Are you aware Mr Chairman, that men are working on the allotments all day on Sunday?"
Matter to be reported to Allotments Committee and looked into. (It is frustrating that the Council minutes are very brief and there are none for the subcommittees).
17th March 1904 Minutes: First reference to the Holywell Allotments, no longer called Harwoods Farm.
Goodrich - Council Report of 1901
30 acres of allotments
Callowland: 12 acres 174 plots - rented from Lord Essex
LOA: 14.22 177 - rented from Trustees of Institution
Sewage Farm: 11.8 141 )
Holywell: 9.53 130 ) Owned by the Council
New Bushey: 3 37 )
December 28th 1912 - Watford Observer: Retrospective of the year.
Housing scheme adopted by the Council on allotment land near Pest House Lane, off Vicarage Road. 16 cottages at 4/- , 6 houses at 4/6 per week rent, which became Rose Gardens.
LA's given power to requisition land for temporary allotments.
February 2nd 1918 - Watford Observer:
87 acres of permanent allotments and 64 acres of National allotments allocated and still trying for more. It is clear the Tolpits existed before the First World War, but there is uncertainty about the current Holywell. However, 7th February 1920 - Watford Observer: A report on possible costs of providing water mentions "New Holywell", so perhaps it is then a new site.
August 28th 1920 - Watford Observer:
A report on the Allotment Holders' Show. Exhibition in the Kingdom Hall - Watford and Callowland Allotment Holders' Protection Societies. It was the first year the Societies had held a joint exhibition. After the show, there was a concert by Mr. J. H. Kirby and the "Apricots and Cream Concert Party".
November 6th 1920 - Watford Observer:
Land near the Isolation Hospital was being staked out to give preference to all national allotment holders in the Kings Ward, who had been dispossessed of their holdings.
September 5th 1925 - Watford Observer:
A report on the Watford Allotment Holders' Society 13th Annual Show, held in St Mary's Parish Hall. Present were: President T. R Clarke, General Secretary W. E. Wilson and Show Secretary H. T. Groom. The Society had a membership of nearly 300.
1928 - Watford receipts:
There are 7 sites - Oxhey Grange, New Bushey, Callowland, Holywell, Tolpits Lane, LOA.
December 27th 1930 - Watford Observer:
Review of the year: Watford Allotment Holders' Society won, for the second year in succession, the Hampton Cup at the annual show of the London Allotments and Garden Show Society.
September 8th 1950 - Watford Observer:
The Watford Allotment Holders' Society Show was held again in St Mary's Hall. There was a record entry of nearly 500 in 75 classes, which included a trade display of over 1,000 chrysanths and the novelty of a teddy bear made of 828 little bronze chrysanths.
1933 Civic Survey:
This includes some pertinent dates for road building: Fearnley Street, Merton Road - 1884 Liverpool Road - 1898 Addiscombe Road/Chester Road - 1903
For my Paddock Road research, I found local people with interesting memories of the allotments. I would love to hear from older members of the West Watford Community - or anyone whose family had an allotment and who would be happy to share their recollections.
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This concluded Mary Reid's talk, which was illustrated with many maps, cuttings, posters etc. The West Watford History Group are extremely grateful to her for her time and for allowing us to reproduce her research here on the website.
Copyright Mary Reid 2012
* As a footnote for those interested in the units of land for allotments:
Rods, poles and perches are different names for the same unit. Medieval ploughing was done with oxen, up to 4 pairs at a time. The ploughman handled the plough. His boy controlled the oxen using a stick, which had to be long enough to reach all the oxen. This was the rod, pole or perch. It was an obvious implement to measure the fields, such as 4 poles to the chain. A pole is measured as the length from the back of the plough to the nose of the ox.