Never on a Sunday
London's oldest surviving allotment is facing the threat of being built on thanks to plans by its landlord to construct a new housing development on part of the allotment site.
We desperately need to raise funds to pay for legal and specialist advice to help save our much loved allotments.
If you can spare just a few pound we would be very grateful for your help and support.
In early September 2016 the charity, Pathways, contacted plotholders at Northfield Allotments in Ealing to announce its proposal to build on 10% of the allotments. The development would include a five to six story block of social housing and four houses for sale to help fund the development.
Northfield Allotments are the oldest allotments in London. They were given by the Bishop of London to the people of Ealing in 1832, and are held as a permanent endowment. The charity Pathways is our landlord and the site is managed by a committee of seven plotholders. There are 141 plots.
The plotholders are a diverse range of ages and nationalities. Twenty nine of our plotholders live in flats – this is their only garden. We have around 50 children who have a safe place to play and learn about fruit and veg and get a chance to see tadpoles, stag beetles, bats and hedgehogs.
There are more than 25 pensioners who have a place to grow their own food and there is always company, someone to talk to. You are never alone when you have an allotment. People are friendly here and we share seedlings and produce.
We have counted 27 different nationalities – the only qualification to getting a plot is a love of gardening and the patience to wait on our waiting list (currently 72 people).
The hedgerow around the site is around 900m long and has been designated, by Ealing Borough council, a SINC - Site of Interest for Nature Conservation. It is an important and safe habitat for our hedgehogs, many nesting birds and insects. The allotments are a habitat for stag beetles, which are endangered and protected. With perfect timing the many visitors to our Halloween open day saw our bats flying around the site catching night flying insects.
On the 25th September at a special general meeting, the plotholders unanimously voted to oppose Pathways’ plans to concrete over the allotments.
We understand that social housing is important – but so are green open spaces. It shouldn’t have to be a choice of one or the other. We believe Pathways’ trustees have not fully considered alternatives to their proposal to ‘temporarily’ move 18 residents into what will be a permanent development on the allotments.
We believe a permanent endowment should be permanent.
The original allotments were much larger than they are today: 60% of the allotments were lost in the 1970s due to compulsory purchase by the council and building by Pathways. Our concern is that if planning permission is granted this time around it will be easier to lose more allotment land in the future as the pressure for housing so close to a Crossrail station increases.
When we lose green space we never get it back.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
- Please write to your local councillors to let them know what you think of the proposal.
- Write to the Ealing Gazette and Ealing and Northfield forums.
- Sign up for our newsletter to keep up to date with what is going on.
- We need specialist help, especially once the plans are submitted to Ealing Council. This will cost money. So, please help by donating whatever you can to our fighting fund.
Please help us protect the allotments for another 184 years.
Many thanks for all your help and support.
The Ealing Dean Allotment Society.
I’m going to leave the final word to Fran, one of our plotholders (who will lose her plot if the development goes ahead)…
“My allotment means a lot to me - we live in a third floor social housing flat with no access to a garden of our own. In 18 months my daughter and I have transformed the plot from weeds and brambles to our own little patch of heaven and my daughter has learned so much she never would have been able to before, from where our food comes from to the lifecycle of the frog - and she now wants to be a gardener when she grows up.”
When giving his consent to enclose Ealing Dean Common for use as allotments, the Bishop of London set a number of conditions. One of these was that no person be permitted to work on the Lord’s day on pain of forfeiture of their allotment. Each plot-holder signed a tenancy agreement by which they promised, amongst other things, not to work their land on a Sunday.
It was reported to the allotment committee meeting on 22 April 1856, that many plotholders were in the habit of working their plots on Sunday mornings, thereby contravening both the Bishop’s condition and also the rules agreed to in their tenancy agreement. The committee decided to send notices to the tenants to inform them that anyone found on their plots after 9am on Sundays would be dispossessed. The minutes of 28th October 1858 show the issue had not gone away, with several complaints received. The rent collector, Mr Atlee, was asked to caution those breaking the rules.
In November 1858, presumably after being cautioned, 50 plotholders sent a petition to the committee asking, very respectfully, if they could be allowed to work before eight o’clock on a Sunday morning, “we having our time occupied by our daily labour”. The committee must have hardened its attitude from April 1856, when it seemed to be acceptable to work up to 9am. The original petition can be seen in the image below left (reproduced by courtesy of London Metropolitan Archives, City of London) with a transcript of the text on the right.
The Committee considered the petition on 18th November, 1858 and they declared unanimously that Sunday working was a direct violation of the fundamental principle on which the Bishop of London had made the grant of land and that it could not in any way be allowed. Mr Atlee reported to the next meeting on 28 December, 1858, that he had served a notice on the tenants not to work on Sunday and he further reported on 28th April, 1859, that having made several Sunday visits, he had seen no-one working.
The committee’s attitude seems very harsh today. It is easy to see the difficulty that working men would have in finding time to tend their plots which, at 20 poles, were twice the size of today’s full-size plots. We also know the occupations of the plotholders from a report to the same Committee meeting in April 1858: 91 labourers; nine carpenters; nine bricklayers; five shoemakers; two cow-keepers; two widows; and one each of ten miscellaneous occupations such as painter, blacksmith etc. Only the two widows were in receipt of parochial relief and the rest were working labourers and tradesmen, hardly members of the leisured classes.
The Chairman of the committee was the vicar of Ealing and the committee would no doubt have felt genuinely, that their hands were tied by the conditions set by the Bishop. Ironically, however, it emerged later that this and other conditions set by the Bishop were not enforceable under the law. Of course Sunday is now a very popular day for tenants to work on their allotments and it is no longer referred to in the tenancy agreement, but we do not know when this condition was relaxed.