3 July 2015

Allotment

Old stone weir and packhorse bridge in The Rivelin Valley
Sheffield has five rivers though some people might think of them as streams. In the eighteenth century and onwards through the nineteenth century, these rivers powered much of Sheffield's industry. It was in this city that silver plating first happened and where stainless steel was invented. For many years the name Sheffield was synonymous with fine cutlery and underpinning the city's historical expertise in metal working were our five rivers - The Sheaf, The Porter, The Loxley, The Don and The Rivelin.

Back in 1982, I rented an allotment in The Rivelin Valley. For those who may not have encountered the term "allotment" before, it was and is essentially a defined patch of ground where you can grow vegetables or perhaps keep chickens. My allotment had an area of about three hundred square yards and I cultivated it for six years before we moved to our present house which has a big garden at the rear and plenty of room for vegetable growing. The garden at the previous house was the size of a postage stamp.

My allotment was on Hagg Hill next to Rivelin Valley Road. The old man who rented it before me had built a home from home in the top corner of the plot. There was a brick chimney and brick foundations with various glazed window panels, meaning that the structure was half shed and half greenhouse. He had passed away in 1981, leaving various useful tools and other interesting items behind. That is where I found the old grindstone that I recently made the centrepiece of our new flower bed. I also found an old stone bottle which was once the property of The Barnsley Vinegar Company.

Back then all of the surrounding allotments were occupied - mostly by retired working class men from Walkley, Crookes and Hillsborough. A couple of them taught me a lot about successful vegetable cultivation and there was a lot of sharing and friendly banter. With much hard work I made my allotment productive. There were rows of potatoes, onions, beans, turnips, peas and cabbages as well as some soft fruit bushes and I grew mushrooms in plastic sacks that I kept in the shed. But in 1989 I left it all behind when we moved house.

I already knew that during the past twenty five years, my allotment and those surrounding it had fallen into disuse and that nature was reclaiming them.However, today, while walking along The Rivelin Valley, looking at the remains of old mills that once powered metal working enterprises, I decided to make a detour and return to the site of my old allotment if I could find it amidst the nettles and saplings, the long grasses and wild privet hedges.

An archaeologist would have a field day at those allotments. Anybody walking by today would never even guess that there had ever been allotments there. But I found the remains of the old shed - no glazed panels any more and the old Victorian pine table must have disintegrated but I knew exactly where the little fireplace had been and the steps up to the entrance and when I rooted around in the debris I found one of my mushroom sacks from twenty five years back and yoghurt pots in which I once grew seedlings and there's an old slate mantelpiece that I plan to rescue one day soon.

Time passes and what once was can fade away into distant memory leaving little evidence behind. The first time round I never snapped one picture of my old allotment. The contrast with today's scene would have been almost  remarkable:-
The foundations of the old shed
Nature claims back my vegetable garden
One of my old mushroom sacks
found under the debris

16 comments:

  1. My Dad had an allotment when I was a child. I suspect we relied on it a lot during the years of rationing. I remember enjoying riding in the large wooden wheelbarrow that he made right down to the iron-ringed wheel. Allotment law in England was - perhaps still is -a nightmare (little-known fact you almost certainly didn't want to know). I think it's a shame that those allotments have fallen into disuse. But then I would wouldn't I?

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    1. Allotment laws never affected me Graham. I was more bothered about the slugs and the greenflies.

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    2. Unfortunately I had a great deal to do with Allotment Law YP. It was designed, I think, largely to prevent allotments being appropriated by councils for other uses and thus protect the allotments for people who needed them (part of the benevolent Victorian heritage doubtless to assuage their consciences for the other things they did). It's for that reason that it seems rather a shame to me that allotments are now falling into disuse particularly as there appear to be so many people who can't afford food. I suppose, though, that people would rather watch TV than till the earth.

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    3. Trouble is Graham, it is impossible to grow frozen pizzas and ready meals. Sheffield had many allotment zones and I am pleased to say that some zones remain very popular though some of the tenants may have changed from working class steel workers to bourgeois foodies.

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  2. So, how far was your allotment from where you lived? Did you tend to it every day during the season? Shame the next generation is not enjoying that ground in the same way. Our cities and towns have some community gardens, but I am sure not near enough for the people who would love to participate.

    I have always managed to have veggies growing and flowers even tho it be outside the back door in a couple of little pots. After all, how hard is it to grow a bit of basil or dill? The hardest I have ever worked in my life to have a little garden is on top of this beautiful mountain. But, I manage, one way or the other!

    By the way, my mother always, always called her little bit of veggie growing her "Victory Garden".

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    1. My allotment was a mile from our house. I mostly tended it at weekends, only calling by after work to do odd little jobs and of course I had my six weeks summer holidays. too. Traditionally iy was poorer working people who had allotments to supplement their diets and to save money. For steel workers it was also nice to be outdoors tending the earth.

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  3. I remember my mum's uncles all had allotments......four of them side by side. They grew cabbages and rhubarb, tomatoes and potatoes. They spent a lot of time in the allotment shed, I think they played cards and drank a beer or two. Those allotments saved the families from going without, lots of honest hard work involved but what an accomplishment.....
    ~Jo

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    1. I think that some men partly liked working on their allotments to get away from their womenfolk but not me Britt, not me.

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  4. That makes me feel very sad. I thought there was a shortage of allotments.

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    1. Some allotment locations remain very popular in Sheffield and there are waiting lists but other locations have always been less popular and so when I decided to have an allotment I could either have waited a couple of years or just rented an allotment on Hagg Hill straight away and that is what I chose to do. So don't feel too sad Adrian. But in my mind's eye I can still see my allotment neighbours, witnessing their endeavour and I can still hear the humming of summer bees busily pollinating. All my allotment neighbours must be dead men now.

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  5. Of course you know all about my parents' allotment, since it has featured many times in my blog. For my Dad, it has been a lifesaver after his stroke. It must have left you with a rather nostalgic mix of feelings to find your old plot in the state we can see in the pictures.

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    1. It was hard to believe that it was once so very different - cultivated and cared for - a little oasis on the edge of the city.

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  6. I guess "allotment" is akin to communal gardens. There is one communal garden...that I'm aware if - up here on Tamborine Mountain. A friend of mine used to go there often and tend her patch. Whether she still does, I'm not certain.

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    1. Have you seen her recently? Perhaps she is now a skeleton, watching her vegetables go to seed.

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  7. You've a good memory. I doubt if I left behind a mushroom sack that I would remember that it was mine or that I had grown a mushroom 25 years previous. I always find it nostalgic & melancholy to go back. I miss the ones who used to be so important in my younger life who are no longer here. Would that we could step back in time, just for a few moments now and then!

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    1. You are right Hilly - would that we could step back and for a brief moment, experience those times once more. Of course, I hadn't ever thought about that mushroom sack in the intervening years but when I pulled it out of the debris my memory suddenly took me back and I could even recall shoving it under the old pine table and covering it with a wet sack.

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