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A Victorian Allotment Garden at Blists Hill Victorian Town Museum, Ironbridge

A neo-Victorian Allotment Gardener at Ironbridge

Theft of prize vegetables was a big issue even back then!

An Anderson shelter converted into a garden shed on this allotment site. Designed in 1938 and named after Sir John Anderson, Home Secretary during the Battle of Britain, this type of air-raid shelter was designed for use in the garden. When covered with earth the shelter would give some protection from shell fragments and bomber splinters although dampness was an ever present problem. Designed to accommodate up to six people the government supplied them free to low income families and later sold others to wealthier people. 1.5 million Anderson shelters were distributed in the months immediately leading up to the outbreak of war. When production ended, 3.6 million had been produced. Intended purely as an emergency protection during air raids, in practice, during the period of the Blitz, it was not uncommon for them to be used every night.

“Dig for Victory” was the hugely successful propaganda campaign that encouraged civilians to grow their own food in order to reduce Britain’s reliance on imports during World War 2.  In the 1930s, 75 per cent of pre-war Britain’s food was imported by ship and the German U-boat blockade threatened the home front with starvation.

By 1942, half the civilian population was part of the nation’s “Garden Front” and ten thousand square miles of land had been “brought under the plough”. School playing fields, public gardens and factory courtyards were all transformed into allotments. The moat at the Tower of London was given over to vegetable patches, and even the Royal Family sacrificed their rose beds for growing onions.

Cartoon characters Captain Carrot and Potato Pete led the campaign with their own songs and recipe books. Every Sunday an audience of 3.5 million tuned in to the Home Service to listen to Britain’s first celebrity gardener, Cecil Henry Middleton, give his gardening tips.

According to the Royal Horticultural Society there were nearly 1.4 million allotments in Britain by the end of the war, which produced 1.3m tonnes of produce. The government estimated that around 6,000 pigs were kept in gardens and back yards by 1945. Along with state investment in failing farms, the campaign led to the UK halving its reliance on food imports.

I wonder how many allotments are left today!

The reverse of the Dig For Victory (replica) card mentions the village of Ramsbury in Wiltshire which also had an important airfield during the war.

Dig for Victory Leaflet No. 1 (1940 replica) – “Grow for Winter as well as Summer”

A Cropping Plan for a 90′ x 30′ Plot (Approx. 10 sq. rods, poles or perches)

In 1945, the Ministry of Agriculture also published a series of monthly Allotment and Garden Guides.  Below is an extract from the May edition (courtesy of Earthly Pursuits)

And then some people say “Marry in May, repent alway”. Perhaps if we do marry in May we may find the maid––like the month––fickle and fitful; sometimes sunny, sometimes stormy––and sometimes more than a bit frosty! That is the trouble with May, those killing frosts that do so much damage to our fruit blossom and young potato plants, and catch the unwise and unwary who put out their tomato plants too early and without protection. The end of May is quite soon enough for tomato planting. Too often we gardeners cling to tradition and get too far ahead with our sowing and planting, regardless of how our weather varies and how treacherous it can be.

However, May should be a busy month with all of us––so here’s hoping you will be “as full of spirit as the month of May”. And watch out for those frosts!

May is a month for many jobs on the vegetable plot and it’s not easy to keep pace with them all. Let’s just list them now and deal with them in turn. Here they are:––

Thinning seedlings; earthing up potatoes; mulching peas and beans; top dressing certain crops; sowing winter greens in the seedbed and planting out Brussels; making successional sowings of earlier crops; sowing runners and marrows; planting out tomatoes; attending to the compost heap and keeping an eye open for pests.   Now let’s say a bit about each of them……………….

Further information on these guides can be obtained from here

A reproduction of a 1940 war-time cookery leaflet which makes interesting reading.

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