Page 54 - ALG Issue 4 2019
P. 54

 West Midlands
Shropshire, Staffordshire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Warkwickshire
A century of history at Leamington’s biggest allotment patch is pieced together in new book
  Twenty Acres and a River by Nigel Briggs, Lesley Campbell and Jim Layton, charts glorious beginnings, war years and changing times at idyllic St Mary’s Allotments.
More than a hundred years of history at Leamington Spa's biggest allotment patch has been given a lively retelling. The colourful story of St Mary's Allot- ments was released to mark Heritage Open Days, when visitors were able to tour this cherished community asset.
The allotments have weathered two world wars, development pressures, floods, power struggles and a plague of rats to become a flourishing and diverse retreat. They have been tended by prominent local families and businesses, including the Sabin baking
family, the trophy-harvesting Hughes family and generations of Leamington families. Plotholders have mucked in for the wartime 'dig for victory' effort, laid claim to the Leamington Sweet Pea and rebuilt after being all but washed away in the flood of 1998. They have also helped local people with disabilities, held art lessons, helped Leamington to receive Britain in Bloom gold awards and created a wildlife haven.
Formally established in 1909, the allotments occupy a swathe of South Leamington bordering the River Leam, the Radford Road and the reservoir. Civic pride marked out the early years as the first tenants raked in trophies for their finely cultivated fruit, veg and pigs. This stake in community life was also evident by the provision of seeds
Racing pigs were kept on site while less welcome creatures included an ‘abnormal’ number of rats
for the unemployed from 1935, in
line with the early vision of the plots being a way for the ‘working man’ to escape the evils of idleness and drink. Racing pigs were kept on site while less welcome creatures included an ‘abnormal’ number of rats, according to AGM records unearthed by the authors. A proposal to build a school on the allotments came to nothing as producing food took a higher priority during the Second World War, with women and children becoming more active on the site as they rallied behind the ‘dig for victory’ effort.
A host of dedicated, much-loved and sometimes eccentric characters are given rich form in the book through first-hand interviews and archival research. They include former secretary
          54 Allotment and Leisure Gardener

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