Prior to the outbreak of World War I many areas of land in Countesthorpe had been cultivated as allotments. Plots were situated off: Glebe Drive, Regent Road, Wigston Road, Austrey Lane, Peatling Road and a large enclosure of land on the outskirts of the village on the road towards Peatling Magna known as ‘Galloway’. The largest plot of allotment land is off Glebe Drive, known locally as the ‘Ag’, belonging to the Church Commissioners. The plot rents formed a part of the Vicar’s living.
Since then most of the allotments sites have been lost to residential/industrial development (Regent Road, Wigston Road, Austrey Lane) or agriculture (Galloway).
With the onset of World War II, the government’s ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign and the vital need for home produced food, a decision was made to form an association of allotment holders. A consequence of which was our ability obtain lime under the subsidy scheme. (A fact some local builders appreciated?)
The decision to form an allotment association was made during 1940 at meeting held at the Countesthorpe branch of the British Legion. The Association was formed in 1940 with its registered office in a building at the rear of 20 Main Street. This building was an old ‘Stockiners’ (Framework Knitter’s) shop for the making of hosiery. Hosiery was still a common Cottage Industry occupation in Countesthorpe at the time. The Association was originally known as the ‘Countesthorpe and District Allotment Association’However, the name was only used for a short period. During 1941 the name was changed to ‘Countesthorpe Allotment Association’.
A notable event occurred during the night on Easter Sunday 1941. Following an air raid on Coventry a German plane dropped a stick of bombs in Countesthorpe. The final bomb fell near Charles Orton’s house on Willoughby Road causing severe structural damage. Fortunately nobody was injured.
Two fell on the Ag. Lol Smith’s onion bed was destroyed as was Bill Weston’s brussels sprouts bed. A member happened to witness the bombing as they lived by the allotments at the time. It was an exceptionally bright moonlit night and they saw the stick of five bombs falling. Lol was somewhat annoyed so his comments cannot be repeated.******** etc !! Bill was also very upset. He had just planted out his sprouts. His grand daughter said that she had never seen him so angry.
Countesthorpe Gardens & Allotments Society:
With the decline of interest in allotment gardening post war it was recognised that we must broaden our appeal and in consequence the Association was renamed the ‘Countesthorpe Gardens and Allotments Society’ in the 1960s. The Association from its inception was affiliated to the ‘National Allotment Society’ which also recognised changing lifestyles and in consequence renamed itself the ‘National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners’. Recognising the need for national representation we have remained affiliated.
From its formation, the Association was well supported by the villagers and the competitive nature of gardeners and other interested societies led to the start of the annual village show, held during September in the village hall. Prize draws and support from local business people ensured that the event was successful. The proceeds of the village show used to go towards supporting beds at the Leicester Royal Infirmary but with the advent of the National Health Service the funds were reallocated to treat the older residents of the village to a Christmas dinner or to other worthy causes in the village. Throughout its history the Society has received generous support from local businesses and residents, a fact that we gratefully acknowledge. Former officers have also been most generous and cups were presented to the Society by: Former President H. Biggins, Former Joint Vice Presidents A. Bishop and J. H. Haywood for presentation at the annual show. Typical of local business generosity was our former local bakery ‘Ringroses’ who for many years provided bread and cakes and assisted with activities such as roasting turkeys.
Early trading Activities:
Typical of the enthusiasm and dedication of our committee in our early days were activities such as:-
Seed Potatoes: The Society, in its early years used to obtain its Scottish seed potatoes from Thyne Bros in Coupar Angus Dundee. They came to Countesthorpe Railway Station (alas a victim of the Beeching cuts (1/2/1962)) each February in a twenty ton boxcar and it took a real team effort by the committee to move about fifteen tons of potatoes to a frost free environment in our Main Street store. On the next four Saturdays the committee members spent their time weighing potatoes into 14lb bags. As we had about 240 members at the time it can only be described as chaos when about fifty turned up with their barrows and trucks to obtain their goods.
Lime: Our subsidised lime quota being five tons was also unloaded by the committee members.
Fertilizers: Hop manure and fish manure were supplied by Maskells of London.
Seeds: Were obtained from Unwins of Histon Cambridge. These were delivered by committee members to the member’s homes and this took a considerable time as inevitably talking digressed into gardening matters. At one house in Peatling Road, the member, ‘Walrus’ R insisted that the committee member join him for a tripe and onion supper. Another of the deliveries was to a house of practicing nudists; what a shock for the committee member that was!
During the early years and into the fifties the balance sheet often extended to three pages and was the equal to many small businesses. With such a large membership the Committee members found their jobs most demanding.
In these early years we were affiliated to the Royal Horticultural Society, the National Dahlia Society and the National Sweet Pea Society. Competition between gardeners was very strong and it was inevitable that when shows were run under their rules disputes would arise and they would need to be sorted out by their (diplomatic?) adjudicators. We also, along with the National Allotment Society, pursued compensation claims for members where livestock had broken into allotments and gardens.
During the 1950s a change of landlord forced the closure of the Main Street store and the trading activities were transferred to a railway boxcar situated at the rear of the Village Institute. However, due to competition from supermarkets and garden centres it was decided to cease trading in 1983. During 1970 a tenancy agreement was made with Cannon Williams, the Vicar, for the Society to take over the letting of plots and collection of rents. For a period Cannon Williams also worked one of the allotments. In 1972 land behind the electricity sub station off Station Road was taken over and an additional five plots were obtained. The land was subsequently sold for housing. In 1972 membership fell dramatically to 48 members, but in the following ten years it rose again to 165. By 1977 we had 152 members with 97 plots in cultivation and a waiting list of 22. In 1979 a grant was obtained from the local council and a car park was created on the Ag site. In 1981 a mains water supply was obtained and by the end of 1982 a distribution network installed throughout the Ag.
’80s to 2000:
The ’80s saw the start of a gradual decline in interest in allotment gardening. It was a time of relative prosperity and the advent of large Supermarkets selling ‘perfect’ though often tasteless vegetables and ‘Ready meals’ made it so easy to do one stop shopping. The prosperity was paid for by long hours and increased comuting. People no longer had the time or inclination to grub around in the soil to produce their own crops.
The Society went through a very difficult period in these years but happily allotment gardening began to make a recovery. Following several scare stories about where food comes from, how it’s produced and possible pesticide contamination, interest in organic food has increased. Of course in the way that big busines will, the supermarkes are making big profits from it, but the only way to be certain about what’s gone into growing your veg is to grow it yourself. We began getting many more enquiries from younger people and familes. In many cases young women were asking for and renting plots. Allotment gardening is no longer the preserve of elderly men.
Our continuing recovery in the nineties saw the devlopment of a sound financial position and the purchase of a very large and robust container. With this we recommenced our on site trading and social activities. This improvement in our situation has not occurred completely by chance, but is also a consequence of vigorous efforts by the officers and members of the Society. In 2001 to extend our social activities, an open evening, barbeque and raffle was held. Similar events were held in 2002 and 03 but then stopped for a while. In the Autumn of 2004 a Society dinner was held at the Axe and Square. It was a great success with members returning home in high spirits in the late hours. In the morning of 27th December a ‘Mulled Wine’ and mince pies event was held on the allotments site which was well attended and has continued as an annual event.
2005 saw the culmination of the society’s efforts for improvements. Applications for grants from the county and local councils in 2004 had been successful and much work was done on the comunity area , herritage fruit orchard, the raised beds in the comunity dissabled access plot. Monies were also recieved for a new gate, noticeboards and setting up the web site.
Summer 2005 saw our first ‘Produce show’ which has continued as an annual event.
In 2013 it was decided to reinstate the Summer barbecue which took place in July and was so successful that it was decided to repeat it as an end to the 2013 show which was also greatly enjoyed by participants.