Growing your own food

Hilary Roadley

Living conditions and wages for rural labourers/families were still poor at the beginning of the C20th. In 1905 a ‘Help for Agriculture’, Land Reform meeting in Harston School Room suggested labourers should have smallholdings’. In 1909 the Small Holdings Committee, said land would be acquired by the county but ‘no suitable land was offered’ in Harston. In 1915 The Small Holdings & Allotments Committee voted £130 for ‘adaptation’ of Harston Manor Farm. Does anyone know if anything was provided there?

When houses were built in Church St as a result of the 1919 Addison Act they had long gardens where they could grow their own vegetables which helped considerably to improve the lot of rural families. Colin Pettit lived there in 1950s & 60s with his family at 17 Church St and he remembers they had a large garden with two big apple trees and they always grew vegetables as well as kept chickens. They had loads of white chickens until an outbreak of ‘foulpest’ occurred and a man came round and killed them all. After a while they had chickens again. The Rogers next door at No 19 also had lots of chickens.

Houses built along Button End by the council also had very long gardens and many occupants today grow their own vegetables. They don’t need to deposit their night soil in the gardens as they did in the past! The photo shows Gerald Ives garden in 2016.

Not everyone had a large enough garden to grow vegetables so some land was rented out as allotments. On the west side of Button End, to south of Gatwards (Parkfields) plot was a field of allotments rented out by the Rowleys of Harston Manor in the 1940s/50s. Alan Farrington, who lived in Church St, managed the lettings for the Rowleys. The Gatwards had a large allotment plot but many others had smaller ones. Some of the allotment users were Bill Stitlle, Tom Starr, Stan Cox, a Northrop and a Warren. This field is now a pasture. At the end of Button End, on the east side, Tony Gatward said there was once another set of allotments that are now just part of the field.

Others recall small allotments in other places. Kath Rayner remembers as she came out of school in late 1930s she used to walk past the boys from school (including her future husband Bert Rayner) who would work on a patch of allotment in what is now Orchard Close. Tom Hays used to have allotments there for his workers. Someone said Frank Swan had a few allotments along the lane by the present PO but I have no other details of this. The present school field next to Pemberton Arms used to be allotments – run by the parish council in 1950s. All these small allotments have disappeared.

The Footpath houses built around 1924 had moderate size gardens which were all planted with a different type of fruit tree. However, the orchard alongside the Footpath houses was dug up after the sewerage drains were laid around 1966 and that land became allotments owned by S Cambs. The Sept 1983 Parish magazine had a section in it saying ‘Those of you who have only recently moved to Harston may not be aware that there are some council-owned Allotments available in the village. They are situated just into Church Street next to Pantile cottage (12 Church Street). There are several vacant plots, very economically priced, ranging from £3.50-£12.00 per annum, depending on the size of plot. If anybody is interested in renting an allotment please would you contact me for further information.’ Only one large allotment there continues to grow a lot of vegetables. The rest are small areas.

So where do people from Harston grow their veg now? Many occupy a plot in the Haslingfield allotments just on the other side of the bridge on Haslingfield Rd, nearer Harston than Haslingfield. In fact 30% of the allotment holders there come from Harston. Jonathan Spain, site secretary, has told me their history which is relatively recent. The allotment land was originally part of Charity farm, created from the will of William Skelman in 1494, originally for chantries but later to provide for the local poor relief. Charity farm was sold in 1922 but the allotments weren’t created until about 1980 on land formally used for cereal crops and some livestock, land now belonging to Haslingfield parish council. Until 2005 a Haslingfield parish councillor administered the allotments but before he moved away a group was created to self-adminster the allotments and Haslingfield Allotment Gardeners Association, (HAGA) was created – with members from a number of surrounding villages. At that time there were 22 tenants cultivating plots on approximately half of the site but by 2007, once volunteers had cleared more areas and laid pathways and a new entrance road, there were 27 tenants on 35 and a half plots. In response to a rapid rise in demand during the pandemic ‘Lock Downs’ the rear of the site was finally cleared for cultivation and ten new plots laid out in 2020/21. As a consequence, there are now 47 plots of which three are vacant. There is currently no waiting list.

Jonathan says the creation of HAGA has ensured the continuation of the site as a vital community resource, all the more so in these challenging times. ‘Growing your own food’ is more relevant now than it has ever been, with rising food prices, supply chain problems and climate change.

If anyone is interested in or thinking of having an allotment they can contact Graham Boakes,, 01223 870777.

This page was added on 24/04/2023.

Comments about this page

  • I doubt that it was Alan Farrington who ‘Managed the Lettings’. He was my brother born 1933 and never lived in Church Street. More likely my Grandfather George Farrington ex policeman and lived 7 Church Street.
    Just to add thanks for this wonderful site.

    By Wendy Farrington (16/09/2023)

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