34 Castlelar Park
February 27th 1955
G.Q. Perris Esq.
3 Bellevue Road
Ealing. W. 13
Dear Mr. Ferris
Mr.Bell called on me Monday evening and much to my surprise informed me that he was the bearer of a birthday gift from the Pitshanger Allotment Society to me on the attainment of my 80 th. birthday. I should like you to convey to the members my very deep appreciation of this token of their regard and esteem.
It is just 40 years ago, in the early months of the first world war, that I took up a tenancy of an allotment in Pitshanger Park Extension, then being laid out for wartime allotments. It was a growing sense of national necessity that led to the foundation of the “allotment movement”. Prior to this, allotments were only existant in rural areas as a form of “outdoor relief” to assist agricultural labourers to exist on their miserable wages – then only about 10/- a week. The taint of the Poor Law was upon them. And it has been a lingering trace of this taint we have always had to combat in the fight that afterwards developed to establish allotments on a permanent basis. It was about 1920 when, the war being over, it was thought the allotments should be wound up, and we all had notice to quit.
Most acquiesced, the little”society” we had formed, packed up. But “I was not happy about this; and talking to one and another that I had come to know, found that there were many who like me had come to regard their allotments, not only as a valuable economic factor, but also as a satisfying and health-giving recreation. So we held a meeting one Sunday morning under the hedge where Mr. Soanes builds his compost heap, and decided to petition the Council to be allowed to carry on. I was appointed chairman and secretary and it f ell to me to organise a new “society”. We kicked up such a fuss that the Council agreed to allow us to remain in that portion of the park behind the Bowling Green, and up to the Kent Hotel, “until the Council otherwise determined”. This was fine : we built up our organisation : and when the Allotment Act, 1922, that made it compulsory for local councils to appoint “Allotment Gardens Committees ” and co-opt on them a proportion of “persons engaged in, or interested in the cultivation of allotments”, I was nominated and elected : and have continued to be elected annually until now. This put us in a much stronger position when we began to agitate for “permanent tenure”. Finding it impossible to overcome the objections to handing over “park” land for other purposes we had to look around. The only site available appeared to be the one we ultimately acquired, which had not been included in the Council’s purchase when they bought the rest of Pitshanger Extension. I believe it was because being waterlogged all winter it was considered worthless for that purpose.
We knew it was poor land, but we thought that with good digging and drainage we could do fairly well ; and permanent tenure would make it worth while. So we asked the Council to buy it. With a hostile borough surveyor and an indifferent Council it did not come easily to that. It was literally in the language of agitation, a “fight” to get the Council’ agreement. It was not until January 1927 that we were able to start letting plots there.
This date marks a new development of the “allotment movement” in Ealing. Prior to this allotment rents had to be paid to the Borough Surveyor at the Town Hall. Each October for some years past, as representing the Pitshanger allotments, he had sent me the list of unpaid rents, and asking my help to get them in. I did what I could : but I ask you? How many can you find on their plots at that time of year. Some I found were not cultivating the plots standing in their name. Some had not paid for years. Others were working plots without the knowledge of the Town Hall. It was a hopeless mess. So I put this up to the Committee; instead of asking me to collect rents in arrear, why not authorise me to collect rents as they became due? This was something hitherto unheard of, and it took the Committee some months to get over the shock . But in this I had the support of the Borough Surveyor. He was very glad to get rid of the job. So the Council appointed me as Allotment Manager and and took out a “Fidelity Bond” for me.
So when we entered into our tenancy on the permanent allotments we began a new, and I trust enduring system of self government for allotment holders. It is significant, and should be recorded, that after some three or four years experience I was able to claim a clean sheet, and that the Council had not lost one penny , by arrears of rent. So the Council, paid us the high compliment of adopting the same system on all the allotment grounds in the Borough where there was a responsible Society of allotment holders. This has proved very satisfactory in all respects, and until after the war increased the number of allotments fourfold, was done voluntarily without cost to the Council, except for out – of – pocket postage. When I found myself responsible for letting and collecting rents on sites at Perivale and on Horsendon Hill, the job had got too big and I had to appoint deputies. So I put the position to the Committee and suggested rent collectors should receive 5% commission. This received the consent of the Council, and is now the general practice.
I don’t quite know why I am writing all this past history, and perhaps boring you to tears. But the allotments have played a very large part in my life. But they are not easily won, and there are so few left who know of the struggle of the past, that I sometimes fear there will be a lessening of the watch dog regard for any encroachment that may threaten the future. There are still those in positions of authority who have little regard for allotments – except in time of peril – and whenever land is wanted for some other purposes immediately regard the allotments with a jealous and grudging eye , and would think it praiseworthy to remove them from their present use. As far as I can tell , I am the last of the original Pitshanger allotment holders , though there are a good many who go back to 1927. The story of the past should not be altogether forgotten. It contains lessons – and I hope inspiration for the future. Eternal vigilance will ever be the price to be paid for the liberties we prize. I have the faith that the younger generation who are now replacing the old cultivators of the plots, will not lightly abandon the trust they have inherited, but will hand it on undiminished and profitable to those who will follow them.
With sincere regard
T. J. Hooper