This year marks a couple of milestones in the recent history of our Association, because John Nunn, the Treasurer, will have completed 30 years of membership and I reach the total of 20. We are also in the process of expanding our site for the first time (by leasing a triangle of land beyond our current eastern boundary). This made me think that a look back through our past might be of interest and the findings are set out below.
Although we no longer retain the original Constitution of the Association, reference is made to it in some of the documents which date from the 1960’s in which its stated purpose was ‘to gather into a local organisation those who are interested in the Back-to-the-Land Movement, and also to assist each Member to sell his produce in the best Markets’.
In 1960 you would have paid eleven shillings for your plot (interestingly, this is equivalent to about £20 in the money of 2021… so the cost of an allotment has tracked inflation, at least on our site) and by the 1970’s there were 24 plots listed. By 1981 when John Nunn became a member he paid £1 as his subscription, but a year later this amount had doubled. The accounts for 1984 were set out as follows (of interest may be the amount which the water pump cost … one of the first references to the extraction of water from the well).
In 1991, when I first became a member, the rent had not increased in a decade and there were some 30 plots.
The site was measured as occupying 6.295 acres.
In 1964 disaster was averted when the Clerk of the Urban District Council of Oakham wrote to the Association to confirm that the allotment land would not be sold – there had been an enquiry from the ‘Oakham Public School’ about building a Girls School off Station Road and it had been thought that the school was to get the allotment land in exchange. Fortunately, our site was already designated as statutory allotments and this perhaps prevented the proposal getting past the initial stages.
The keeping of livestock caused concern at various times: in 1966 the Association wrote to the owner of the fields to the north of the site ‘to draw attention to the fact that beasts … were again straying over the allotments’. The owner of Catmose Farm replied that ‘some holders climb over the fence thus breaking it down and Mr. Barnes not only scales the fence but also takes a ‘troupe’ of dogs with him to exercise in my field!’
Relations with the school were not improved by reports of trespassing pupils and cricket balls being ‘driven over the hedge’ – this was the hedge on the south side of the site. This must have caused severe irritation because at the AGM of 1971 rolls of barbed wire were listed in the Treasurer’s report as items bought to place along the whole length of the hedge: the cost of this was £3.
In 1977 (and in several subsequent years) Mr. Robinson paid no subscription because he did the hedge cutting. The Hon. Secretary claimed expenses to the value of £10.
At around the same time, the operation of the main gate was listed as a concern (plus ça change!). It was agreed that it should be kept closed, even when members were on their plots.
On Saturday, 11th May, 1968 a lorry from a firm in Grantham – registration number YCT39 – damaged the hedge on the western border – at 7.15 am. The cost of repairs was £4 19 shillings. (The hedge still bears the mark of this collision!)
In 1994 the question of rabbits was ‘again’ raised – this had obviously been an issue for some time and at the AGM that year there is a note which says ‘it was left to members to catch some’.
Although a grant of £100 from Oakham Town Council had been agreed in 1990, mains water was not installed immediately although there was an estimate listed for the work which came in at £450.
Simon Barefoot has been the President of the Association for some 16 years. His hands-on approach includes trimming the hedges, cutting the grass and encouraging the cultivation of flowers, vegetables and fruit on our special site. He runs the seed order scheme and is involved with the poultry ‘co-operative’. Promoting rainwater collection and low-tech crop management are important interests.