The politics of Victorian Allotments II

I have been spending time searching the old gardening journals in the Hathi Trust Digital Library, looking for anything relating to allotments in the North of England, particularly Lancashire, or allotments in towns, for industrial labourers, or pit towns and villages, or allotments for colliers.  There were a lot of articles and correspondence about the pros and cons of allotments, but it was usually about rural areas and country villages (note to self – maybe I have not been looking in the right place.  Perhaps there were some publications with a more industrial focus?)

On August 24th 1872, 9 years before NSHS allotments were made a chap called William Giles of Notting Hill, had a letter published in The Garden, calling for more allotments for industrial labourers.

“…..Those who like myself have visited some of the suburbs of manufacturing towns, can alone form an idea of the vast numbers who, recognising the truth of the old saying “change of work is a holiday,” rush from their daily employment to their little gardens and often work harder there than they have done all day…..”

Giles then gave the familiar view that allotments brought about moral improvement as they allowed the worker to spend his spare time profitably and provided an alternative to the alehouse.

“….if we could but calculate the number of hours thus rescued from the public house, how anxious we should be to afford, round every town and village in the kingdom, the means of employing every poor man`s leisure hours in this way……”

Giles, describing the situation in Sheffield, wrote of the high rents charged for allotments.

“……It has been said property has its rights; but it has also its duties, and one of its duties is that of studying the welfare of its dependents.  I should like to see some of the many spare acres divided into allotments, to be held by working men, not at an extortionate rent.  Round Sheffield the price of a bit of garden is enormous and there are rich noblemen who could afford to lower the price by devoting some land to allotments at the current farming rent and thus employ men who have nothing to do in their spare hours, and rush anywhere for society……..Let me plead for the industrious classes with those wealthy landowners in the hope that they will speedily let some portion of their estates for garden purposes.”

He ended with a warning, adding another interesting dimension to the debate.

“Depend on it an awful responsibility rests on those who can redeem the idler and improve the moral and social condition of the poor, and neglect to do it……”

I wonder what he thought would happen.  Perhaps he had some sort of religious retribution in mind like Dives and Lazarus. On the other hand the Nineteenth century was a time of social unrest with strikes for better pay and working conditions.  Apparently there was a real fear of revolution as had happened in the rest of Europe, among the British establishment and he may have been warning against that.

Perhaps the Earl of Crawford had a sense of responsibility towards the people of New Springs and had been influenced by this kind of thinking.

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