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1736: Unearthing the History of Sheffield’s Allotments

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Ralph Gosling’s Plan of Sheffield in the year 1736. See larger image here.

Gardeners professions: Button makers, Shoe makers, Cutlers, Bakers, Innkeepers, Widows, Clerk, Grocer, Schoolmaster, Husbandman, Gardener

Jane Withers, Adam J Smith
Furnace Park
Mar 17, 2014

Excerpt:

As shown in the above map (the Cathedral is circled in red), urban gardens dominated Sheffield city centre (seen by the yellow arrows radiating from the Cathedral). Although the gardens illustrated in 1736 cannot be proved as allotments (very little documentation survives alluding to the use of these plots) it was thought that the total number of gardens shown could be in excess of 200.

These plots were popular with craftsmen of the time, whose green fingers itched with creativity and cultivation. The popularity of the city centre escapes grew, and by 1780, Flavell claims that there is evidence of between 1500 and 1800 allotments being leased within the city boundaries of Sheffield (see the ‘Further Reading’ section at the end of this post). This expansion could be accredited to the discovery of a more efficient crucible method for producing steel, thoroughly placing Sheffield on the industrial map and causing a need for an alternative past time, away from the grime and smoke of the industrial sites.

It was not only steel workers who realised a demand for these little plots of paradise, but their managers as well. Middle-class businessman, made up of merchants and industrialists, used the profits of their businesses to buy land, which they then divided and leased as allotment plots to workers.

Records from the mid eighteenth century give details of the occupations of the leaseholders of 43 manorial plots within the Sheffield boundaries. Each plot would average between 150-200 square yards at a price of 0.3d. per square yard – so in decimalised terms, factoring in inflation, a 200 square yard allotment would cost £56.09 per year. Not bad for a little place of one’s own?

Read the complete article here.