Restoration of the Pump on Plot 229
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.”
There is a Well on 229
In April 2014 Dennis Weal gave up his plot 229 due to old age. He told Christina Fox that his father had rented this plot since 1946. He said they had dug a well and had a pump inside their shed and that they put the shed up around the pump because people kept breaking the handle.
I spoke to "Vic" who had been the maintenance man for the allotment for around 30 years and he told me that he installed the mains water in the allotment in the mid 1990's. He said that wells would regularly run dry and plot holders with wells would have to wait until the water level returned to use them again.
It was always Christina's and i intention to reinstate the pump before re renting out the plot. So on a bright April morning we excitedly opened Mr Weal’s old shed and found . . . a lot of rubbish and in one corner under loads of plastic and metal we found the pump and an old water tank. The pump had seized up and did not move, i followed the hose leading outside of the shed and eventually found the well completely covered by 5 foot high brambles.
Shed when we first opened it up
Pump and Tank in shed
The top of the Well under rotten wood with hose sticking out
I then dismantled the pump from the shed wall and made safe the well top. I took the pump back to my plot and over the following weeks i dismantled the pump. It has seized simply from rust so i cleaned it up, brass flaps and re greased the main internal body. The handle which we found in the shed was not attached to the pump and was full of wood worm and dry rot, it was totally unusable so we decided to buy a new handle.
I created a new well top from wooden decking material with double thickness and cross supports which would easily take the weight of an average person. I wanted to use an old water tank, the one we found in the shed, as the water butt for the pump. This tank fitted nicely on the top mostly because of the construction design of the well. Wells on the allotment were usually dug by hand and people use various means to support the well sides. On the well on my own plot built in 1957 the side are concrete which were poured around wooden planks and on another plot 3ft circular metal drums were used something you might see in large sewer piping. The well on 229 was constructed with old metal water tanks placed on top of each other with their bottom section cut out.
Pump internal parts cleaned up
Inside the well constructed of Tanks on top of each other
In August 2014 i started to reinstall the pump on plot 229. It is pretty much in the same place as before as obviously the well dictates the location. I used 32mm plastic pipe which is a perfect size for the pump connection joints and also a wider diameter than the old pond style hose that we found when we uncovered the pump. It is my opinion that Mr.Weal stopped using the pump when the mains water was introduced and that the hose that connected the pump to the well water was a more recent addition. My reason for thinking this is that the plastic hose we found is something that is often used in garden ponds and popular in the 1990's, i had some myself, there is also a wide bore pipe sitting on the bottom of the well which i believe was the original pipe for the well which would have been built some years before 1993 when Mr Weal senior was still on the plot.
I found the well was around 2.5m deep with a shallow depth of water around 30cm. I created a u bend on the bottom of the pipe work and placed it into the well. In keeping with traditional allotment practices of "Using whatever materials are at hand" i found some chunky wood and a metal iron girder and created a frame to house the pump. There are no official tops for these semi rotary pumps usually they have a hose attached so i created a curved feature with a flexible 32mm hose which directs the water into a water tank. A new handle was purchased. The pump needs to be primed although reading online thus type of pump should be self-priming but all i can say is that the pump valves do not close tightly enough a the pressure is lost within 5 minutes of pumping.
Getting the pump working
This pump needs to be primed with water to get it going. It will need around 2 bottles of water to create a vacuum to get the water up.
To get water into the pump first remove the top section of pipe as seen in the image below.
This section of pipe is not glued and should come apart reasonably easily with a little twisting motion. Pour the water into the pump whilst slowly moving the handles back and forth, once the second bottle of water is added a definite tension will be felt on the handle, this is an indication that the vacuum has been created. Continue pumping until water pours out of the top then replace the top pipe section and pump out the water for your use. The pressure in the pump can last up to five minutes but the internal levers do not always close tightly so this process may need to be repeated if you want to use the pump later.
The semi-rotary pump has been used as far back as the 1750's when it was used on fire engines.
The images below from a catalogue dated 1897 shows a semi-rotary pump on a tripod stand.
These pumps are still used today and have changed little in their design. They are commonly used in shipping and other marine activities. They can pump water, petrol, diesel and oil. We estimate that the pump on plot 229 made in the 1940 or 1950's.