Allotments are sanctuaries for growing, often on the fringes of suburbia, where life is getting ever more stressful and expensive. Here, a simple urge to grow-your-own or become self-sufficient, brings us closer to a community of people, wildlife and plants that are often more diverse than the cities and towns that surround them. An allotment is a utopia. It is a green place where anyone can occupy a piece of land, and grow with freedom of expression.
Allotmenteering started with The Diggers in seventeenth-century Surrey, in response to the Enclosure Acts which deprived ordinary people of access to land. But the idea spread, first across England and the British Isles, then through Europe and the world. The Allotment, originally published in 1988, is the classic study of allotments. Encompassing the oral recordings of plot-holders alongside descriptions of regional variations on the plot itself, such as pigeon-fancying, seed collecting or leek competitions, it looks at British society and history through the prism of allotments. With a new introduction by Olivia Laing, this is a story that is just as relevant today, and is essential for those interested in social history, land ownership and gardening in twenty-first-century Britain.
David Crouch is a landscape historian and retired senior lecturer in the School of the Built Environment. Colin Ward was a writer, anarchist thinker and Education officer for the Town and Country Planning Association.
"The Allotment is not just a history of guinea gardens and pigeon sheds and Dig for Victory, but of the social and historical conditions out of which the allotment arose and inside which it stubbornly persists."
– Olivia Laing