A gated community?

Simon Coleman digs into the history of our hedgerows

Published on Sat, 18/05/2024 - 19:58

On a recent volunteer morning, I made an exciting discovery at the back of plot 207.  The hedgerow was due to be replanted here, which gave me the opportunity to have a good dig around for historic finds, or what I would call ‘treasure’.

The excavation didn’t disappoint – in one overgrown area I found the remains of a wooden gate, about 3ft in front of our current boundary. How had it got there? Well, while today we have a secure green metal fence with fixed padlocked gates, in years past it was a more rough and ready affair. In the 1930s, plot holders created makeshift fences using metal bedsteads. In the following decades many also made and installed private entry gates to their plots.  I had stumbled across the remains of one of these.

Although the gate was in a very poor state, I could estimate the original size. Traces of paint suggested it was made from various bits of wood, probably from a house. I believe it was installed in the mid-1960s give or take a decade. This is based on dating some fragments of bottles found in the gate post holes. Also, an aerial image of the allotments from 1971 appear to show a visible entrance in the fence.

It looks like the gate was repaired over the years. The gate post had holes where previous screws would have been, showing it was fixed a little differently in the past. The hinges, padlock and chain were also newer than the wood – more likely from the 1990s.

After given the go ahead by the committee, I set to work restoring the heritage gate.

L to r: Original gate, new gate, restored gate 

Restoring a relic

The original gate was made with two 8” boards and one 12” board. My plan was to save as much of the old wood as possible and cut this in to the new gate. In most cases the existing wood had degraded to such an extent it only served to give the dimensions needed. However, the section of wood with the chain, lock and bolt was salvaged. The very top of the gate had rotted down by at least 4 inches, so I decided to make a curved top. The gate posts were replaced and the gate was stained to give it an older appearance and oiled.

I reused the metal work where practical, including the hinges, bolt and chain and padlock. The original gate was made with round nails bent over at the end to form a type of staple referred to as ‘clinching nails.’  So new round nails were added using the same technique.

When the location of the original gate was excavated, a concrete base was found on the inside, along with a large amount of stones in the outside area. I added a line of bricks to fill the gap directly under the door to stop plants like ivy from growing up. I also found old carpet in line with the gate – it was common to line paths between plots with carpet in the past.

A horseshoe found on the allotment has been added to the front of the gate to highlight the fact that in the late 19th century, many plot holders would have travelled to the allotments by horse, many coming from Brentford.

In the future we will create an arch in the newly planted hedge line, to frame this latest historical asset.

A few other finds

The enamel cigarettes sign and toothpaste jar fragment, along with how they would have once looked

As well as the gate, we discovered a part of a Wills's Gold Flake enamel sign. It would have been used in a local store - perhaps a shop in the nearby Northfields Avenue or Uxbridge Road.

We also found a small green poison bottle c.1920, which are commonly cobalt blue or emerald green.  They had distinctive bumps and ridges so that a householder could recognise by touch that it contained a toxic substance.  And there was a fragment of a toothpaste pot lid, dating from 1880 to 1910. It contained ‘American Dentifrace’ that was ‘Made in England to the specifications of Dr. C. R. Coffin’.

You can view the Heritage Gate at the back of plot 207. It's situated half way down the plot near to Radbourne Walk