Our Records: Allotments in Scotland

The Valuation Rolls for 1920-21 include a number of allotments – small plots of land used by working people to cultivate food. Garden allotments first proliferated during the 19th century when land was given to the poor to allow them to grow food. This was a response by Victorian philanthropists to provide aid in the wake of rapid industrialisation and the lack of a supportive welfare state. Following the Great War, the priority for the allocation of allotments went to returning service men and women who had been engaged in agricultural work during the conflict; there was, however, a call to continue and expand the availability of allotments to the general public, too.

In June 1920 Sir Arthur Griffith-Boscawen, Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture, said there had been no better movement in the country in recent times than the ‘allotment question’; it had broken down barriers between those in the country and the town, and interested men in engaging in food production. He went on to say:

‘We want to cultivate this land to the best of our ability. We have not made the most of it in the past and we found out during the war how dangerously dependant we were upon foreign imports. A great deal of the food that we habitually import from abroad, we could have grown it at home; but the effort made by our farmers during the critical years on 1917-18, when the submarine menace was so serious…were most successful…’ (The Scotsman',19 June 1920)

The valuation rolls for 1920 reflect this interest as they record various garden allotments – some privately rented by individuals and others rented by local councils and occupied by Allotment Associations. The land is usually described as ‘allotment ground’ or ‘garden plots’ and is recognisable by the word ‘arable’ (or the abbreviation ‘a’) to distinguish it from ground not used for cultivation.

There are 39 ‘garden allotments associations’ in the valuation rolls – the majority (34) in Edinburgh, with others in Aberdeen, Renfrew, Rutherglen and Glasgow. The names of the allotment allocations can be found in the index by using the ‘group’ field to search ScotlandsPeople.

In Edinburgh, most of the allotment land was owned by private landowners and tenanted by the Corporation of Edinburgh. We can tell from the rolls that the Corporation of Edinburgh had a dedicated ‘garden allotment account’ and was administered by the Treasurer of Police. Four allotment grounds occupied parts of Holyrood Park – or the King’s Park as it was known then.

Some individuals acted as secretary for several associations with allotment sites near their homes. For instance, David Stoddart Adams, a printer, was secretary to three associations covering allotments located on Ferry Road, Pilrig Street and Cochrane Terrace; Thomas Wilson Nelson, a teacher, administered allotments at Inverleith Place, Ferry Road and Learmonth Road; and John Hope, a railway servant, was overseeing allotments at Slateford Road and Moat Terrace. We also find council allotment sites being administered by Campbell Fraser Anderson Kinnear, Assistant City Road Surveyor, and Robert Galloway, solicitor, both owners of their own homes.

We know from legislation that allotments were no larger than one acre in size, but could be smaller, however the association allotments are simply valued as one property. We can find more information about the allotment holders at the Gallowhill in the City of Aberdeen because these people were the tenants of individually valued ‘garden plots’ and the valuation roll gives their names and addresses. In 1920 there were 66 plots at the site, ranging in rateable value from 5s to £2 5s – many of them were 15 shilling plots. The allotment tenants were working people with occupations such as plumbers, carters, labourers, warehousemen, stonecutters, joiners and engineers. There were also two policemen, a comb-maker, dairyman, scavenger, night watchman, soldier and munitions worker. One allotment tenant, Archibald Chisholm, who lived at 61 Dunbar Street, was in fact a gardener, which must been helpful when cultivating his plot. Not all tenants were employed, however, and people from all backgrounds were encouraged to produce their own food wherever possible. On 2 November 1933 the Edinburgh Evening News printed:

‘By far the best thing for an unemployed man was to take up an allotment. It took him to the fresh air and to the country, and he could keep his family in vegetables for about six months of the year. The Corporation had secured large areas of ground on the outskirts of the city. Next season the allotments would probably all be taken up so that it was advisable to apply early. Tools, seeds, and manure could be obtained on specially favourable terms.’

Following a rise and fall in popularity over the 20th century across Scotland, there is now a surge in popularity once more, with waiting lists of years for a plot in some areas.

For more information about the valuation rolls on Scotlandspeople, please click here for our guide

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