Archive | February, 2012

Coton Hill Allotments – Making an Impact

13 Feb

By the time of my visit at the end of January, I could see a huge amount of progress even though there were not any plots quite ready yet.

The site when it was taken on was overgrown with nettles, and there were several trees and hedges that needed cutting back quite severely.  Some of the old tree were taken out, as they were not in great condition anyway.

A more difficult task was the dismantling and clearance of a dilapidated shed structure, which had some bonded asbestos sheeting.  This then required the lower area of the site to be carefully examined and scanned for other asbestos.  Simon and a fellow colleague from an environmental and engineering consultancy, based in Shrewsbury, undertook this work with great professionalism, and carefully bagged up the collected materials for appropriate disposal. 

In order to get the site underway, there needed to be some basic infrastructure.  So a water pipe was brought to the lower part of the site, an access road was constructed down a fairly steep old track using brick rubble, and new fencing/hedges were put up around the boundaries.

Finally, a community shed was erected on a concrete slab foundation.

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Coton Hill Allotments – the little details

9 Feb

I spent the first visit wandering around the site noticing so many details of insects, vegetation, old rusty debris and I was most fascinated by the ancient lichens on the old fruit trees.  I took some macro photos, but difficult to get good shots without a tripod – something for a later visit.

On later visits I saw more of the signs of animal activity, such as hazelnut shells left by squirrels, stripped corn cobs amongst straw, and birds’ nests.

I’m also always drawn to the little signs of human activity, such as the rusty gates tied up with rope, shed doors, corroded corrugated sheets and barbed wire.  Given the site’s historical use as an allotment, it will be interesting to see what ancient objects turn up as the earth is dug open once again.

The allotment even when new, will surely be populated with found and adapted tools and other objects.  I like the ramshackle dishevelment of allotments, which on closer inspection reveal many layers of creativity, ingenuity, humour and general thrift.   

Coton Hill Allotments – The Land

3 Feb

The landscape around the allotment site comprises a series of rolling hills or mounds, which could be glacial drumlins.  An old river bed of the River Severn loops around some distance to the north of the site.  It is thought likely that much of the landscape was originally formed by erosion caused by glacial melt waters, which in turn created the original route of the river. 

The Welsh ice sheet is thought to have reached as far as the Coton site, so the drift geology of the site could be a mixture of glacial boulder clay and various glacial or fluvial sands and gravels.  (see paper by Richard Pannet and Steward Sutton, November 13th 2002).  From what I could see of the top soil, it looked rich and fertile and quite well drained.  While the area to the west of the site towards Round Hill is a low lying marshy area, which could be a spur off the old river bed or may be just an old glacial hollow.  There is a ditch or drain running along its length, so possibly it was just an area created to drain the surrounding areas.

The area of the site is known as Corporation Gardens, presumably because the old allotments that were on the site were managed by the local authority.  The area is within the loop of the “old river bed” which can be clearly seen on OS maps and is easily recognised on the ground in various places as low lying marshy ground or ponds with reeds and other wetland vegetation.  This loop of river was believed to have been cut off around 5000 years ago.

When approaching the site along Corporation Lane from Coton Hill, there are two housing developments underway.  I first noticed the inexorable march of houses out into the rural landscape here back in 2008, when I first started walking the Shrewsbury Edgelands.   The housing developments are gradually filling in the space between the railway and Corporation Lane, heading outwards towards Coton Grange.  Already the scenery I observed then is unrecognisable and it will not be long before the new allotments will sit directly alongside new housing estates. 

The “green lane” alongside the site now, is a wonderful and peaceful place, which gives a sense of medieval woodland cart tracks, long before cars.  So the character of that side of the site will inevitably change.  However, the site is quite well shielded by hedging on the nort east side, and it then slopes down towards the low lying ground to the west, which I presume to be part of the Berwick Estate.  Perhaps this aspect will survive intact for longer before the edge of Shrewsbury eventually engulfs the area.  Perhaps also the “community woodland” created around the edge of the older Coton Hill housing will be preserved to hold back development heading further out to the north, so that future development concentrates along Berwick Road.

The history of the Berwick Estate is fairly well documented.  The estate dates back to at least the 14th Century.  The English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest states: 

“Thomas Powys purchased the Berwick estate in 1728 (Leighton, 1901: 15). In about 1731 Powys employed Francis Smith to build Berwick House (Pevsner and Newman, 2006: 74). The house replaced an earlier building and stood within a landscaped park. The estate had its own chapel and a U-plan range of almshouses, both dating to about 1672 (Pevsner and Newman, 2006: 74).”

Berwick House is situated over a mile away from the site to the west, beyond the B5067 Berwick Road which heads out to Baschurch.  The part of the estate where the allotments are to be located remains pasture land with a mixture of “mature deciduous trees and 19th Century coniferous trees and specimen trees”.  These appear to be located mainly around the area known as Round Hill.

The area around the site is well used by walkers, particularly those with dogs, and is clearly well liked.  Having visited the site a few times now, I think it has a special atmosphere linked with its historical and geological origins.  I am beginning to imagine the satisfaction the allotment folk may feel on a warm summer’s evening as they sit back on their plot and enjoy the view, after some hard work and perhaps picking some delicious strawberries…