World War 1  - Allotments in Greenwich Park 

It wasn’t until late in 1916, more than two years after WW1 had begun, that the Government took any action to address the growing food shortages in the country caused by the German blockades of imports.  During the Christmas period 1916/17 the Government issued the Cultivation of Land Orders under the Defence of the Realm Act, which gave powers to local authorities and other organisations to acquire land for smallholdings, market gardens and allotments.  Private households were also encouraged to turn their gardens to vegetable cultivation.  

The Office of Works initially appears to have been reluctant for any land in Greenwich Park to be put to use as allotments.  The minutes of the Metropolitan Borough Council (MBC) of Greenwich dated 18th April 1917 report that the Board of H.M. Office of Works ‘had definitely decided not to assign land in Greenwich Park for the purpose of allotments’.   However, by the beginning of 1918, the position changed.  In a letter dated 19th January 1918, from Frederick Keeble, Director of Horticulture in the Food Production Department to Sir Alfred Mond, the First Commissioner of Works, he says that the demand for allotments in London was increasing. He asks for an appointment to discuss allocating certain parts of parks for the purpose of temporary allotments.

In a memo summarising the meeting held on 22nd January, the position regarding allotments in each Park was established. In total for all the Parks, the ‘War Allotments’ covered 93.5 acres. On Greenwich Park, it states “the question might be re-considered, but that the requirements of the Royal Naval College and Royal Naval School must not be overlooked.”  

It was reported to Greenwich MBC Adoptive Acts Committee on 19th February 1918, that they hoped ‘very shortly to be in possession of several acres of land in Greenwich Park, the Office of Works having promised to grant permission for a portion of the Park to be cut up for allotments’.  It was reported in the Kentish Mercury of 1st March 1918 that the Council had finally secured 5 acres of ground on the Maze Hill side of the Park, providing 80 plots of 10 rods each.  The rent was 7s. 6d each per annum.  They were also trying to obtain a further 3 acres at the foot of Observatory Hill.  By this time they already had 60 applications for plots.  

At long last, by the end of March 1918, Greenwich MBC became responsible for 7.5 acres of allotments paying £4 an acre.  The rent was fixed to cover the cost of removing the deer but no fencing. The conditions of the agreement included that ‘the use of the ground for allotments continue only during the present abnormal conditions. After the War – terminate agreement by 3 months’ notice expiring at Christmas. That the Borough assume all responsibility for dealing with complaints on the part of the public in response to the suppression of Deer and to the condition of the grass through the absence of sheep.’

In a separate agreement, Greenwich Royal Hospital School took on 1.3 acres at £2 an acre for ‘the duration of the present abnormal conditions.’

According to Sir Alfred Mond, in a debate on 26th June 1918 in The House of Commons, there were 139 plots of 10 rods (250 sq. metres) each let to the Council at 6d. a rod. These were let to plotholders at 9d.a rod. There was also an issue with the lack of a mains water supply.  It was felt that this was the responsibility of the Council to resolve and bear the cost of provision.

The plots were put into cultivation very quickly. The last weekend of March was the Easter holiday and the Kentish Mercury of 5th April 1918 reported “… the many visitors to Greenwich Park made very strange of the change in the appearance of the slopes beneath the Observatory and Queen Elizabeth’s Oak where earnest spades are fast turning the green turf under the brown soil.” The enthusiasm of the plotholders clearly paid off. In September 1918 there had been a prize-giving for the best cultivated plots on each site in the Borough.  Prizes were in the form of War Savings Certificates, with a total prize fund of £41 16s being awarded across the Borough’s 938 plots.  The report to the Council shows that were 121 cultivated plots on the Council’s site in the Park. On the Maze Hill section, 1st prize went to J. Hicks, 2nd to L. Harvey and 3rd to W. Bond. On the Observatory section, 1st prize went to H.B. Sewell, 2nd to C.J. Hall and 3rd to A.C. Wicks.  Judging was undertaken by Mr E Gilbert 43 Lansdowne Road and Mr J Breen 216 Woolwich Road.  

The original terms of the agreement to allow the use of the Park for allotments meant they would have had to be handed back at the end of 1919.  However, although the war ended in November 1918, food shortages continued, and moves were made to extend tenure and to try and get even more land in the Park.  

The Borough’s Adoptive Acts Committee held on 18th February 1919 reported that they had made a request to HM Office of Works for more space in Greenwich Park to be allocated for allotments.  A reply from them said that this wasn’t possible and that land for existing allotments would be withdrawn after crops about to be sown were secured.  It was agreed that representations should be made to the Government that allotments should remain in cultivation, as they had only been in place for a year and much labour had been expended in preparing the ground.  They asked ‘that the ground be retained for such a period as may be decided by Parliament for the retention of lands compulsorily taken over under the Lands Cultivation Order.’

The Board of Agriculture also took up the matter and requested the views of the Board of the Office of Works.  The outcome was a reply to Greenwich Borough on 22nd April that the Board ‘feel that it is altogether out of the question to grant any concessions as regards permanent allotments in as much as the Royal Parks are for the use of the general public.’

During May 1919, the Food Production Department at the Board of Agriculture & Fisheries wrote to the Secretary of HM Office of Works. They suggested ‘ that allottees be given an extension of time up to 28th February 1920, which would enable them to utilise the bulk at least of any green crops which they may have carried through the winter.’

The cause was also taken up by Sir Kingsley Wood, the MP for Woolwich West, in the House of Commons on 22nd May 1919:

Sir K. WOOD  asked the First Commissioner of Works whether it has been decided that the tenancies of allotments under the control of his Department are to cease at the end of this year; whether he is aware that allotment-holders had been led to believe that they would have tenure until the expiration of two years from the end of the War; that in anticipation of this period of tenure the holders have incurred considerable expense in the interests of food production, and that the proposed termination of tenure at the end of this year will inflict hardship on these people; and whether he will take steps to secure these holders in their tenure for at least two years from the end of the War?

The FIRST COMMISSIONER of WORKS (Sir Alfred Mond)  I have decided, after consultation with the Board of Agriculture, that the tenancies shall cease on the 29th February, 1920. The assignment of the ground has been to the local borough councils, who were informed that the Government reserved the right to resume possession of the ground at the end of any calendar year subject to two months' previous notice. I must presume that the allotment-holders knew the conditions when they accepted the allotments.

Sir K. WOOD Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is considerable dissatisfaction amongst allotment-holders on account of his decision to evict them at the period mentioned, and will he be prepared to receive a deputation from the National Union of Allotment Holders on the subject?

Sir A. MOND  I dare say there is some dissatisfaction felt by allotment-holders, but, as my office has never had any communication with allotment-holders, but with local authorities, I should think the deputation's grievance would be really against local authorities and not against my Department, and I see no object in receiving a deputation on the subject.

Having made the concession to extend tenure to 29th February 1920, the First Commissioner clearly felt that there was no point in having any further consultation on the matter.  However, the position had changed by early July 1919, when Sir Alfred Mond received a deputation at the House of Commons.  It consisted of:

Sir Kingsley Wood MP (West Woolwich)

Mr Will Thorne MP (Plaistow)

Mr Forbes, Mayor of West Ham

Mr Melson and others (National Union of Allotment Holders)

Those who spoke at the meeting put their case for keeping the allotments in the Royal Parks until February 1922.  Sir Alfred was clearly not going to be easily swayed, believing that the land should be returned to recreational use:


 One unnamed person had an allotment in Greenwich Park and gave the views of the allotment holders here: 

 Sir Alfred summed up the main points of the meeting:


 By the end of July 1919 the decision had been reached that those areas of the Parks not required for recreation could be allowed to stay under cultivation for another year. The remainder would have their agreements terminated at the end of February 1920.   Councils were sent a letter dated 16th September setting out the position - Greenwich Park was included in the list of sites to be allowed another year, along with Kensington Gardens, Kensington Palace Green, and parts of Bushy Park.

Despite further deputations, it was clear that the First Commissioner would make no further concessions beyond 28th February 1921.

The last reference is part of a finance report on the costs of restoring the Parks after the allotments were given up:



Barbara Holland