HISTORY OF STUART ROAD ALLOTMENTS
Stuart Road Allotments are situated in the London Borough of Southwark; currently access is from Borland Road or Elland Road.
The shortage of food during the First World War gave impetus for an increase in the number of existing allotments in London, therefore although the Stuart Road Society was founded in 1918, allotment gardening may have taken place on this site before that date. The end of the War may also have given impetus to formalize the pre-existing practice of allotments on this site. The allotments owe their continued existence to date in part to the fact that they cover ground containing equipment that is part of London’s water supply. The allotment site consists of 3.45 hectors. Adjacent to the allotments on higher ground is a covered reservoir. The area was once referred to as Nunhill.
The reservoir was originally built by the Southwark and Vauxhall Waterworks Company in 1855 although it does not appear on maps until much later. The Metropolitan Water Board was formed in 1903 and took over responsibility from the old company. The Thames Water Authority took over the Metropolitan Water Board in 1973 and was privatised as Thames Water Utilities in 1989 and listed on the London Stock exchange.
Old Ordnance Survey map, London sheet 118 of 1868 shows the parcel of land, presumably owned by the water company very much as it was for most of the twentieth century; the map does not show any buildings or reservoir. The road layout is also similar but some of the road names are different or absent – Elland Road is not shown and that part of Borland Road that is named is shown as Arnold Road.
A map of 1890 shows a building in a very similar position to the Society’s current community hut. The 1890 map also shows a cricket pitch in the area of the current Borland Road flats.
The Godfrey Edition of 1914 Old Ordnance Survey map London Sheet 118 shows the allotment area named as Rye Hill Park, but maps that are older do not show it so named. Therefore it might be assumed that the name was given to enhance the status of the Victorian development of the area rather than a hangover from earlier times and it being part of a landed estate.
The reservoir/s do not appear on maps until fairly late, a map of 1897 shows one open reservoir but a map of 1908 shows two. The 1914 map op cit shows two covered reservoirs. What is interesting on the two earlier maps is that Elland road is much longer that it is now, with Siddal Road coming off it heading east towards Borland Road. No buildings are shown on Siddal Road and therefore its existence on the map may just have been the intention of speculative builders. The ownership of, and the development of the site by the Metropolitan Water Works stopped the urban encroachment across the site. A similar change of use or intended use occurred on the Beechcroft reservoir site below One Tree Hill.
The 1914 map op. cit. shows the site of the future allotments vacant apart from a few buildings in the area of the current Society’s building but with a very different footprint. What is now 1 – 11 Stuart Road is also shown blank at this time. The road layout is as today with the strange gap in the houses in Stuart Road that currently contains plots numbered 3, 4, and 5, between the back of the Society’s community hut and the wall opposite the Ivy House pub, (previously known as the Newlands Tavern). It would be speculation to suggest, but entirely possible that this was once the entrance or intended entrance to the site. The buildings may have been administrative offices and or part of brick kilns if bricks were produced on site for its development.
The 1914 map op. cit. shows Elland Road, at the rear of which are some buildings shown on other maps as “Depot”. The areas now occupied by 1 – 11 Stuart Rd are also shown blank at this time. This area was later developed for housing but possibly still owned by the water company. What remained undeveloped of the original parcel of land one can reasonably assume was available for rent for the Society apart from a few exceptions.
The site occupied by the flats in Borland Road was previously the site of the Water Boards motor transport workshop. In 1978 the Society was in dispute with Thames Water over their intention to take back some land from the Society – this could have been the workshop site. The site was later developed for speculation by Thames Water Utilities. At a very similar time 1 – 11 Stuart Road was developed, it has been suggested for social housing, this being part of the overall planning application. About this time the depot behind Elland road was developed to become Vermeer gardens and the builders used the plots in the south west corner of the allotment site as an access road.
During the 1990s the west side of the site was taken back by Thames Water as a support site for the rebuilding of the reservoir(s) on top of the hill. On completion of the rebuild the area was leased back to the Society with a re-laid top soil brought in from off site.
The area currently covered by the allotments is registered under Southwark’s plans as an open space and therefore no further building development is likely unless such planning designation is amended or removed.
In short the development of allotments on the site arose out of social need under the aegis of a public utility. With the privatization of that utility the Societies tenure became less secure, but the local authority planning decisions offered a degree of protection.
The Society was founded in 1918. Rule 1 read “That every plotholder shall be a male and have attained the age of 21 years,? been duly elected a member of the Society, and paid his Subscription and Rent.” This rule remained in print if not in practice until the beginning of the 21st century.
The earliest existing Allotment Society records date from 1923 but they are not continuous to the present day. Also the amount of detail they contain varies.
The extant records are from 1923; in the first half of that year there were 138 plots with an additional 47 plots numbered twice with the suffix A after the number. The year’s rent was collected in two unequal instalments, in March and September.
There seemed to be three levels of rent:
5 shillings plus 3 shillings and 6 pence
7 shillings and 6 pence plus 3 shillings and 6 pence
10 shillings plus 6 shillings.
By 1926 the number of plots had risen to 147 with 78 marked with the suffix A. The rules then as now give the size of a plot is 5 rods. Today plots with a suffix A or B after the number indicate that a full plot has been divided in two. Looking at the rents charged in 1923 it is not clear that the suffix A had the same meaning. By 1925 plot number range has increased to 150. It could easily be assumed that the amount of land given over to plots was similar to that of today.
However another look at the accounts for the period shows that other parties had an interest in the site. This may have caused a dispute for the accounts for 1924 show the expenditure of one guinea to a solicitor. Then as now this would not buy much of a solicitors time in which case it was a token payment for work done or advice given.
For the period in question all the plots, apart from the quoted exceptions below, show rent received against them. For the second half of 1926 there is a slight renumbering of plots between 139 and 141A with three spaces left blank in the ledger with no rent collected. Plot 146 has entered against it “Now Rifle Range”.
The balance sheet for the year 1926, under income shows the following item “Compensation for displacement for Rifle Club £38 10s”, under expenditure “Members Compensation for displacement £12”. Whether the landlords had let part of the site over the heads of the Society or the Society was sub letting land to the Rifle Club, the Society was making a financial gain out of the transaction. Subsequent years show no similar transactions.
Today, and to some extent post the First World War a rifle range may seem out of place in a residential area. However the 1914 map, op. cit. shows two other local areas designated “Miniature Rifle Range”, one just off Homestall Road on the MWB site and the other on the sports ground behind Ivydale Road. The popularity of such activity lends its origins to some extent on the course of the Boar War and supported by the existence of a sports manufacturer in Peckham who also produced small arms.
OTHER INCOME, EXPEDITURE AND AFFILIATIONS
In 1923 the yearly rent to the Metropolitan Water Board was in three instalments of £10. Curiously at that time a cheque book cost 4s 2d, roughly half the rent received for one of the cheaper plots.
In these early years various payments were made to the Borough Council, variously described, for example in 1925 £1.14s was paid for what was described as District Rate, and in the same year another two payments were made for Borough Council Rates, £1 7s 5d and £1 6s 11d.
In 1939 the Metropolitan Water Board paid the Society £45 pounds compensation for loss of land and this exact amount was repaid to members for loss of plots. Whether this was due to the needs of the MWB or the war effort is not stated. However there is anecdotal, but no known documented evidence, that the site was used for the launching of balloons. Also there is anecdotal evidence that pigs were bred on site for the duration of the war and there was a sty on the site of the current tool shed. The accounts for 1977 show expenditure of £527.18 for the “Provision & Installation of New Hut”, in all probability this would be the current tool shed.
From 1923 until 1945 the society paid a fee of one guinea to the Royal Horticultural Society. In 1947 The Society affiliated to The National Allotment Society. This move may have occurred due to a change in the self perceived status of the Society. Early in the 20th century civic duty and the associated status was considered far more important than it is today. In 1924 13s 6d was spent on badges for the Committee.
1941 sees the start of a regular yearly expenditure on seeds. This may have been prompted by the Ministry of Agriculture’s war time campaign of Dig for Victory. However the” sale of stock to members” continued up to the end of that set of accounts in 1982 and the sale of gardening supplies to the members from the community hut exists to the current day, any surplus of funds being returned to the Society’s general fund.
1944 shows expenditure of £28 12 6d on “Other expenses and War Damage”, 1945 “war damage” 14 15s 8d, although this latter item was balanced against an income of £14 11s 8d for war damage. Curiously war damage income and expenditure again appears in the accounts for 1950, five years after the end of the war!
The 1944 account also shows £2 expended carried over from 1943 but not shown on that years account. This payment was to the gas company as a deposit, a further payment of £6 12s 10d was also made to the gas company in 1944. Payments to the gas company continued until 1979. The accounts for 1977 refer to the use of gas for heating the hut. In 1981 a Calor gas stove was purchased. When the hut was renovated in 2009 the remnants of the flues for two stoves were finally removed. Some points for gas lights still remain.
World War One and its aftermath produced an economic depression but the 1920s for some brought economic improvement – “the roaring twenties” The 1923 balance sheet for the Society
includes under the heading “Show & Concert” the following items of expenditure: prize money, medal, hall, piano, entertainment tax, artists, refreshments, judges, caretaker and use of gas etc. It made a loss of £5 15s 10d. Details for the concert party/annual show accounts for the period are limited but up until the Second World War a loss frequently appears in the accounts for the Annual Show, and after 1939 there are no further entries for the Annual Show.
Mr Edgar W Rhodes, (sometimes shown in the ledger as W Rhodes) holder of plot 100 was also the Publican of the Newlands Tavern from 1923 until 1941. The Newlands Tavern is now called the Ivy House. The Society used the Newlands Tavern for at least some of its meetings – the accounts for February 1925 show a payment to Mr E W Rhodes for hire of room £1 1s. At other times the Society hired “L.C.C. School Halls”. Possibly in return Edgar made financial contributions to the Society. In 1924 the accounts show “Donation from Mr Rhodes for gate.” £2 15s. In 1929 Mr Rhodes made two donations for prizes, one guinea and another of half a guinea. However the “nett” (sic). Loss on show” for that year was £10 4s 3d. Again in 1930 a donation of one guinea was made by Mr Rhodes