The photo above is taken from Wikipedia and shows a group of boys (presumably the girls were indoors sewing!) in London in 1942 vigorously creating a growing area on part of a bombsite. Such activity was indirectly encouraged by the government by the Second World War version of the Dig for Victory campaign. Official figures show that there was a big increase in allotment holding during the World Wars, by 1918 one and a half million were being worked, a figure almost matched in 1942. As national crises subsided the take-up of allotments declined the figure for 2009 being 300,000. Of course to accommodate an increase in allotment provision land must be found and there is no doubt that a proportion of the plots registered during the Wars were on previously green public areas. There may prove to be a correlation between interest in allotment tenancy and national crises – the current pandemic may prove to be a case in point.
The official figures (see above) also gives totals for the second half of the 19th century – 244,000 plots existing in 1873 for example. As most legislation dealing with local authority provision of allotment plots was passed in the 20th century these 19th century figures will relate to landlord provision or parish provision of plots. It is worth noting that nationally there existed an almost equal number of allotments plots then to that of today and then with a much smaller population – in other words in the past private or purely local provision has been significant, a form of charity it might be called.
Interestingly the Shorter Oxford Dictionary defines one of four meanings for the word ‘allotment’ as being ‘a portion of land allotted to a special person’ and that this definition was first recorded in 1629. Another of the four ‘the division of a ship’s cargo into equal portions to be distributed among purchasers by lot’ sounds like Grimsby quayside fish market.