In the 1930s the UK experienced an economic depression causing unemployment and widespread poverty, particularly in the industrial areas. Wigan must have had a reputation for being particularly badly affected as George Orwell was commissioned to write an account of poverty in the North and he visited Wigan in February in 1936, before going on to Sheffield. Anyone who has read The Road to Wigan Pier will remember the squalid tripe shop where he lodged, the woman cleaning the drain, rows of little slum houses, the noise of clogs, the monstrous scenery of slag heaps, chimneys, piled scrap iron, foul canals etc. Orwell recorded in his diary that the people living in the corporation houses in Whelley were not happy with their lot and that the gardens in the estate were all neglected. The picture he painted of the locality was pretty grim and I was interested to see of any of this was reflected in the minutes of NSHS.
At the beginning of the 1930s life on the gardens continued very much the same as during the 1920s. Officers were elected and after long discussions gardens were swopped and allocated. They continued to discuss the maintenance of the site – cutting hedges, repairing paths, getting locks and keys for the gates, writing to the Estate Office about the fence and beginning the monthly garden inspections in 1933. Correspondence was sent and received but the minutes don`t record what it was about. In 1932, for example, the secretary read out the letters from Miss Rawcliffe (previous president of the society who donated the challenge cup). What a shame they have not survived. In 1933 they wrote to Mr H E Fairhurst (schoolmaster, and current president of the society) requesting his assistance in prevention of boys and girls damaging gates, tearing down fences etc.
At the beginning of the decade they continued to organise the judging each year, and Mr Boyd was judge until 1932, ending a long association with the Society. In 1932 the prizegiving was still a significant affair, held in St John the Baptist school. They wrote to local dignitaries to appeal for prizes which were put on view at Mr Stott`s shop and the donors were invited to the prizegiving. Mr Whittaker took the chair (a Mr Whittaker was vicar of St John` 1926-1930), Miss Whittaker gave out the prizes and the committee gave them their very best thanks. They also held social evenings and lectures in the school. In 1932 Mr J. Gray gave a lecture on celery, cucumber and aspidistra which was listened to and after questions were asked and answered. 1933 Mr Fairhurst was asked to give a lecture, but the minutes do not say what it was about.
After this the minutes are very sparse. There are none from 1934 or 1935, with incomplete income and expense accounts. There were three meetings recorded in 1936 and 1937, and two in 1938. There was one meeting in 1939, in June, when the only items recorded are that 2 locks be purchased for the big gate and that the question of erection of greenhouse shall be left to next General Meeting. It might be that the secretaries at the time (Fred Beech in 1933, followed by Richard Croston in 1936) where not very conscientious, or it might indicate that the allotments had become run down and the organisation of the society neglected, which would fit with the kind of economic and psychological depression described by Orwell
There are a number of entries which could indicate the depression. In 1930 the secretary explained the Coalfields Trustees Fund for Seeds and in 1931 it was resolved that if the secretary did not get his out of pocket expenses from the Mansion House Fund then the Society would pay them. I`m not sure what these funds were but I assume they were for the relief of poverty in some way. In 1931 the committee discussed the Allotments Scheme for the Unemployed. This was a scheme organised by the Society of Friends, or Quakers. It started in 1928 as the Coalfields Distress Committee to help unemployed miners in South Wales and spread from there to the rest of the country. The committee resolved that the Society undertake the scheme and outsiders be asked to pay 6d towards expenses. In 1934 a resolution was passed that the secretary would write to Society of Friends for seeds, but there is no further mention of the scheme, or whether any outsiders took it up. In 1933 they wrote to Mr Fair (The Earl of Crawford`s Land Agent) to enquire re reduction of rent and resolved that Charles Gregson have his garden free again this year– he seems to have had his garden rent free for several years which could indicate economic hardship.
There was a committee meeting held in February 1936 when Orwell was staying in Wigan. They discussed repairing the paths, putting a gully in the main path, seeing Mr Haddock about carting and getting four more keys for the gates. So, at least in New Springs allotments, life appears to have gone on in a more or less civilised fashion.