Tag Archives: allotments

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…

Coton Hill Allotments – Thinking …

31 Jan

I was informed that the site was historically used for narrow allotments as shown on old maps dating back to the 1800s.  The site was used as such until comparatively recently.  Something I want to research further.  I observed a number of old fruit trees (apples, pears and plums) around the site.  In addition to this though, I noticed many different free food sources, including blackberries, sloes, hazel trees.  Even nettles and hawthorn can be a source of nourishment.  I was reminded of the books “Food for Free” by Richard Mabey and more recently, “Wild Food” by Ray Mears and Gordon Hillman.

This made me think about the historical use of land for agriculture by humans, and I realised that this project has a resonance with that period in the landscape when Neolithic man turned away from hunting and gathering to become a settled farmer.

There could be an interesting relationship and contrast between images of the “wild food” already obtainable and the cultivated food yet to be grown on the site.

In many ways the landscape around the site could be almost unchanged for centuries, but then one begins to notice the details of the tree planting, the fencing, the telegraph poles further away and further away still, the houses.  The signs of the old allotments are not immediately apparent, so I wonder what impact the new allotments will have on the landscape and the surrounding flora and fauna.  I am interested from an environmental, scientific point of view, but I am also interested in the visual impact and what effect the project has on the “atmosphere” of the landscape.

Having shared an allotment with Julie for a few years now, I am aware of the sense of place one has with what could otherwise be an anonymous plot of land.  There is a desire to impose some shape and character to “your” plot, and through the growing of food we can regain some meaningful connection to the land and, as importantly, to the passing of the seasons. 

So besides documenting the transformation of the site, I will explore the direct impact that the people involved in the project will have on the land.  I am interested in recording how the project affects their personal perspectives and the local community in general. 

The trend for managing an allotment is nothing new, but in a time of increasing pressures on the environment, increasing population and a struggling global economy, it is ever more relevant.  Taking some control over the food that we eat must be a good thing, in so many ways.  Perhaps, the images I can capture may illustrate that.

Coton Hill Allotments – First visit

30 Jan

I have been commissioned along with Mairi Turner to document the development of a new allotment site at Corporation Lane, Coton Hill on the outskirts of Shrewsbury. 

The project is being developed by a group of volunteers, who gathered together from an initiative started by Transition Town Shrewsbury.  The group has received help from the Council’s community regeneration officer and having received a grant from the Shrewsbury Local Joint Committee, they formed the Coton Hill Allotments Association.  The group has secured an 8 year lease from the landowner, the Berwick Estates. 

My first visit to the site was to meet Simon Howard and some of the team on Saturday 30th July 2011, a hot and humid day. 

There was to be no work that day on the site, but it gave me an opportunity to discuss the project with Simon and hear about the vision for the project.

Simon hoped to get some plots ready for renting towards the end of 2011.  A ground works contractor was to be appointed to assist with the early development works.  Some site clearance had been done already to cut the worst of the thick grass and nettles, remove a large pile of scrap metal, grub some trees and bushes, and take down an old concrete structure, there remained significant work to create an access road, clear more vegetation, secure fencing, put up a shed and bring in water supply. 

The site slopes from the single lane track down into a low lying area, which apparently drains satisfactorily.  Whilst not steeply sloping, I would have thought that some cut and fill may be necessary to make the plots more terraced.  The soil looks good.

Simon plans to create plots that will be smaller (“back garden size) and more manageable than “standard” allotment plots.  This should help encourage people new to allotment gardening and may not be so intimidating or challenging as the full size plots.  In time, it is hoped that the allotments association can get involved with Greenfields School, so that kids can participate.  There is a plan to have a community garden and communal shed on the site.  It is also hoped to set up a mentoring scheme whereby experienced gardeners can provide assistance to others just starting out.

My first impressions of the site were that it has a wonderful, peaceful atmosphere and beautiful views across open land and patches of mixed deciduous and coniferous woodland.  I saw a bird of prey with a bell, presumably escaped its keeper, and also saw some other bird of prey, possibly a buzzard.  I heard and then saw a woodpecker in an adjacent wood, and noticed the huge number of rabbits (which will surely be a challenge for the allotments). 

I had a sense of the rich ecological diversity and fertility of the land.  It is an inspirational place and I am really looking forward to seeing how the project develops over the next 12 months or so.