Land in Hand – Postscript

18 Jun

This is a late postscript to the Land in Hand project. The selected photographs were included in an exhibition with Mairi Turner in May 2013, and in conjunction with that, Mairi and I collaborated on producing a book entitled “Land in Hand – the Making of Coton Hill Allotments”. The book is available to preview or buy on here:


Land in Hand by Andrew Howe and Mairi Turner
Not long after completing the book, whilst researching another related subject, I encountered a link to a fascinating PhD thesis by Dr Rosemary Thornes, entitled “Detached Gardens and Urban Allotments in English Provincial Towns, 1750 to 1950. Distribution, Abundance and Transformative Processes (June 2011)”. The paper was available on the website for the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham. Dr Thornes’s research focussed on Shrewsbury as a detailed case study.

It was found that Shrewsbury has an abundance of allotment sites, which have developed at different times. The earliest sites, including Coton Hill, are understood to have developed in the late 18th/early 19th Century or earlier in land beyond the urban fringe. It is unclear what caused them to be developed, or indeed when they first appeared, since there is evidence of some allotment type gardens in the UK as early as the 14th Century. It was not necessarily the case, for example, that wealthy land owners of large estates rented out land to poor tenants.

Earlier private ownership was replaced by public ownership in the wake of a series of legislation, which established the provision of allotments as a statutory obligation for local authorities. There were later phases of allotments which appeared in the First and Second World Wars, whilst some of the early sites were absorbed into the town as development expanded outwards. Most of such sites were built up on, but some sites still remain including a tiny site nestling alongside the original Town Walls.
The Coton Hill site is referred to in the research paper, and it was evidently distinct from many other sites in being significantly detached from the urban fringe, located just over half a mile from the housing built on Berwick Road at Coton Hill. I was intrigued to learn more, and subsequently met Dr Thornes to discuss her findings. She was kind enough to provide me with some copies of information from the Shropshire Archives.

In a map of the Borough of Shrewsbury dated 1832, there appear to be some 92 plots shown at a site known as Corporation Gardens. These cover the area, now recently re-established as part of the Transition Town Shrewsbury project, but then also extend both sides of Corporation Lane and on to another series of smaller plots aligned at right angles along the line of the old bed of the River Severn. It is peculiar that these plots should be so far from the town. They would appear not to have been related to the (now substantial) house at Coton Grange which in 1832 is indicated as being only a small building.
(I Hitchcock, A. 1832. Map of the Borough of Shrewsbury as extended and settled by Act of Parliament July 15th 1832. Scale 6”:1 mile. BL Maps.4930.(2.). SA 4756/1/20.

The audited accounts of 1833 (Corporation of Shrewsbury 1833 provide some interesting details. Audited Accounts. An account of the receipts and disbursements of the rents and profits of the estates revenues belonging to the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of the Town of Shrewsbury. SA Watton’s Cuttings.

Income of a year’s rent due on Lady Day was £63/8/6

There were various tenants as per schedule. The premises comprised an area of 1558 perches (where 40 perches = 1 rood, and 4 roods = 1 acre)
Payments were made of mole catching, gate repairs, ale for tenants (!), Highway Lewns, Receiver’s salary, Church and Pool Laws and repairs: Richard France, William Jones, Thomas Bowyer, Robert Norton and Thomas Lloyd.

In 1849 all plots had just been sold (tithe plots 80-89) (Tithe maps and apportionments, Parishes of St Mary and St Julian, Coton Township, 1849. SA PF257/3/1). New owners were:
Sam Croft Theckler 1 plot. 22 perches.
James Davies. 1 plot. 40 perches.
James Holmes and others. 2 plots. 143 perches and 53 perches
John Swain. 2 plots. 288 perches
William Tisdale. 1 plot 23 perches.
George Wode. 1 plot. 60 perches.
Representatives of the late Eleanor Brier. 1 plot. 20 perches

All together these made up 506 perches, only one third of the area mentioned in the 1833 accounts. It may be inferred that the owners were not without some wealth, but not sufficiently wealthy to own large estates.
Possibly cultivation of the plots nearest the old river bed was discontinued due to flooding. This may even have been exacerbated by the construction of the railway just to the east, which would likely have restricted the free passage of water along the channel.

The 1880 and 1900-01 OS maps (6”:1 mile) both indicate that the Corporation Gardens site had reduced in size to the area west of Corporation Lane near Coton Grange. The plots towards the northern end of the site may possibly have become orchard, judging by the map symbols. This is consistent with the remaining existence of several apple, pear and plum trees in and around the site. The allotments are again indicated in a map dated 1933, which also shows a new site known as Coton Hill farm allotments, just north of new housing at Coton Hill and west of Corporation Lane. These plots appeared during World War I.

It is not clear when either of the allotment sites at Corporation Gardens or Coton Hill farm ceased being cultivated.

It is good to have witnessed a new chapter emerging for the Coton Hill site as the current community rejuvenates its use as an allotment garden and establishes its place in history. When looking at the photographs of the current allotment holders, one cannot help but reflect on the heritage of the site, and the succession of former plot holders that cultivated the land. This is land that has served a local community over a significant period of time. It is all the more striking to consider how small this plot is, in relation to the surrounding land, some of which is agricultural, some is undeveloped wetland, and the remainder is increasingly becoming urban development. What are the relative values to the community of these land uses?

%d bloggers like this: