Allotments for the Unemployed in Lancashire

In the early 1930s John Robson reported that there was great distress in the Lancashire district.  To begin with efforts were concentrated in Barrow-in-Furness, Darwen, Accrington and Warrington.  A chap called John Broughton, the County Land Agent based in Preston, was appointed organiser.  Miss Marguerite Yeo was appointed full time assistant.  I imagine her as a young woman as her father, Mr A W Yeo, made a £50 contribution to funds while his daughter was working for the scheme, but she could have been older.  At this time they were expecting Lancashire to show big increases in the number of societies and men joining the scheme.

The numbers did increase there from 34 societies in 1931 to 102 in 1934, but all was not well with the organisation in Lancashire.  Other areas were well organised.  They had the same administrator for years and were given a greater degree of independence.  Not so Lancashire, which was highlighted as needing special attention.  First of all they were concerned about the excessive administration costs and, in 1933 decided to keep a careful watch on them.  There seems to have been a difference of opinion about Miss Yeo.  In 1934 Joan Mary Fry visited and spoke highly of Miss Yeo`s work.  In 1935 John Robson visited Warrington, St Helens and Wigan and was impressed by the progress being made.  On the other hand, in the same year the position in Lancashire was described as unsatisfactory.  Miss Yeo was written too, giving the committee`s views and seeking hers on certain points.

In 1935 John Broughton resigned as Organiser and W H Lovedee appointed.  It was made clear to Miss Yeo that the committee would not be able to continue her services in Lancashire, that they may be able to make use of her services elsewhere but could not pledge itself to do so.  Miss Yeo and her father were obviously not happy about this and there was correspondence and conferences between them and the office.  As a result she continued to work in Lancashire.

There must have been some difficulties in the relationship between Mr Lovedee and Miss Yeo, regarding who was in charge.  In 1936 there was a conference held in Liverpool at which it was made clear that there was no question of a superior officer.  The respective duties of each was set out.   Mr Lovedee was to be based at the Liverpool Friends Meeting House and he was to administer the seed scheme.  He would keep a register of all the societies in the area, correspond with secretaries, requisition and distribute supplies. Miss Yeo was to be based in Preston.  She was to be the propagandist in charge of visiting allotments, administering huts and fencing and responsible for the exhibit at the Southport Show.  Mr Yeo increased his donation of £50 per year to cover the cost of a car, presumably for Miss Yeo to use for travelling to the different allotment sites.  Miss Yeo was to attend the Liverpool office at least once a week to deal with correspondence and they were to keep each other informed of their activities.  (Note to self – I wonder if there are any records in these local meeting houses.)

In 1936, the year Orwell visited Wigan, the committee was appalled at the large number of unemployed in Lancashire.  Lancashire figures were down by 4 societies to 98 and the committee noted that they had not yet attained the most effective system of contacts in that county. They hoped W H Lovedee would put forward definite proposals to develop and extend the work and he was to concentrate on the Wigan Coalfield.  They could not have been satisfied with his proposals as he was instructed by the Central Committee to take stronger action and John Robson was asked to see if Council Officials could help in organising the scheme.  Help was promised but does not seem to have come to much.  Miss Yeo moved to London to work in the Central Office, but before she went she staged an exhibit at the Southport show and John Robson and others testified as to how fine it was.  Fred Dodson and John Robson went to see Mr Lovedee to say quite emphatically that the committee could not guarantee keeping him as Organiser for any lengthy period – suggesting they weren`t happy with Mr Lovedee either.

In 1937 a new chap called J C Johnson from Cumbria came to help out.  He and John Robson both stayed some weeks in Wigan trying to promote the scheme (Note to self –  I wonder if there are any records of these visits in the Wigan Archives or the Wigan Friends Meeting House). Later that year Mr Lovedee was told his services were no longer required and given 3 months notice.  Mr Johnson concentrated on the Wigan district, but doesn`t seem to have much success in recruiting more societies or men to the scheme.  He was given 3 months notice in July 1938.  The committee seems to have been pretty ruthless in hiring and firing people.

In 1938, Lancashire was down 6 societies to 92 and without an organiser.  Members of the committee made several visits to the area, met with key people – Park Superintendents, Horticultural Instructors, members of allotment societies.  They organised a conference to determine how to continue the organisation in the future, but the results were disappointing.

Then in 1939 the second world war started which solved the unemployment problem in Wigan.

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