Allotments

None of the early plans for the park made provision for allotments although they were already established in two places.  In the southern part of the park (Exhibition Fields), they lay either side of the informal path between Pennycomequick and Home Park, behind Upper Knollys Terrace.  Further north, there were allotments between the reservoirs and Barn Park Road still under construction.

Allotment areas in the summer of 1930

The area behind Upper Knollys Terrace covered 39 acres and supported about 500 allotment holders. They were given 3 months’ notice to quit before 30th September 1930 so that the land could be incorporated into the layout for Central Park.  Many of them left produce in the ground to ripen expecting that they would be allowed a week or so in which to garner it and, indeed, the Council’s Allotments Committee had already intimated this to them.  To their astonishment, however, on the very day the notices to quit expired, their allotments were overrun by women and children, principally the former, who proceeded to help themselves to what they pleased.  One allotment holder told the Western Morning News that some of the women were well dressed and had the forethought to bring large bags which they filled to capacity.  When he remonstrated with them, they retorted that it was anybody’s property. 

Some of the evicted tenants were found new plots on an extension to the Penlee Valley allotments, but this was only 10 acres of new land compared with 39 acres before.  

The Swarthmore allotments at the southern end of the park were the initiative of James Joseph Judge.  He came to Plymouth from Dublin in the early 1900s and was editor of the Western Evening Herald until 1921 and assistant editor of the Independent newspaper until 1946.  A close friend of Nancy Astor MP, he was heavily involved in social work and founded the Plymouth Civic Guild of Help, later the Plymouth Council of Social Service.  There is more about him in the J. J. Judge papers held by The Box.  

The agreement he entered with the Council in 1933 to use “seven acres three roods and ten perches or thereabouts” of land in Central Park for allotments for the social welfare of the unemployed was very brief and contained few provisions.  Its three pages are reproduced below.

A further agreement was made between the same parties ten months later for a southerly extension so that the allotments reached down to Central Park Avenue.

The tenants at the Barn Park allotments appear to have been left undisturbed in 1930, possibly because their space was not so critical to laying out the new park. When Venn Farm and Venn Cottage on the southern side of Venn Lane were vacated sometime after 1933, new plots started to be cultivated on the neglected land along Peverell Park Road.  These were consolidated at the start of 1940 when all the present area was taken as part of the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign, and it has remained as allotments ever since. 

Dig for Victory poster

During the Second World War, the Swarthmore allotments expanded westwards all the way to Upper Knollys Terrace.  Some plots were taken back in 1947 to make space for prefab bungalows and the remainder followed in 1948, making the Endeavour Hill path the allotments’ western boundary.  It remained there until at least 1981 when the City Engineer made his report and, later again, all the boundaries were returned to their original 1933 position.

In the recession that followed the banking crisis of 2008, people were attracted to growing their own food and, by 2011, more than a thousand were on the waiting list for one of Plymouth’s 1394 allotment plots.  Plymouth City Council started to bring redundant plots back into use and, in 2014, it approved plans to extend Swarthmore allotments into the lower field where allotments had been during and after the war. In 2016, the first of 50 new plots on Swarthmore’s lower field started to be brought into cultivation and a community orchard was planted in vacant ground midway along the newly made Orchard Path which links Holdsworth Street and the Ford Park entrance.  

Looking along Orchard Path and the Swarthmore allotments in 2023. (Andrew Young)