Lesley Acton

The Allotment Movement in North-East Greater London 1900-2010: a social and cultural history of urban allotments

My research examines the allotment movement over the course of the twentieth century.

Allotments are small parcels of rented land, in rural and urban locations, used for growing fruits and vegetables for personal consumption. The demand for allotments and their availability have changed over time. In my thesis, I examine the causes of these changes by focusing on a specific case: the urban allotment movement in Ilford/Redbridge, Greater London, from its inception in 1900 until 2010.

This case study correlates the acquisition and disposal of sites with the socio-economic and political climate of the day. It shows how the economic depression of the 1930s brought about a massive expansion of the movement, thus laying the groundwork for a successful WWII Dig for Victory campaign. Despite occasional peaks over the next fifty years, the number of sites steadily declined. In the latter years of the twentieth century, Redbridge, along with other councils, attempted to sell-off many of its remaining sites for development. My research illustrates how highly-publicised and well-orchestrated protests prevented the Council from achieving its objective.

Set against the zeitgeist of the day, the people, their communities and culture, the politics and policies of the local council, the government and the allotment societies are investigated. By examining the interaction between these actors and these agencies, the consequences of their actions on the allotment movement are revealed.

The similarity of Ilford to neighbouring boroughs and to urban settlements in England more generally is reviewed. The gender, occupations, social class, age and race of the plot holder in Ilford/Redbridge is profiled and compared to the stereotype of the white working-class male allotmenteer and charted to see how it has changed over the course of the twentieth century.


 Educational background

  • MA Cultural Heritage, UCL, 2002


2011 A Brief History of Allotments, The Food Junctions Cookbook, UCL

2009 The War of the Vegetables: The rise and fall of the allotment movement. In Friedland S., (ed.) Proceedings of the Oxford Food Symposium. Devon: Prospect Books 19-28

Acton, L., & McAuley, P., 2003 The Repair of Pottery and Porcelain- A Practical Guide, 2nd Edition, London: A&C Black

Acton. L., & Smith, N., 2003 Practical Ceramic Conservation, Wiltshire, Crowood Press

Acton, L., & McAuley, P., 1996 The Repair of Pottery and Porcelain: A Practical Guide, London: Herbert Press

Magazine & Internet Articles & Blogs




Allotment and Leisure Gardener (2011, 6). The Origins of the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners, (NSALG) Allotment and Leisure Gardener (2008, 9). Dig For Victory Campaign, (NSALG)

Conference Presentations

2010, A History of The English Allotment Movement, @ Food Junctions: nature meets culture UCL

2009 The War of the Vegetables, @ Oxford Food Symposium, Oxford

2009 The New Cook- Culinary Skills, Literacy and The Transfer of Knowledge, @ Writing as Material Practice: IoA, UCL

  • New North Road Allotment Site, Hainault, Essex
  • Protesting against a council-planned sell-off of Redbridge allotments

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