Rye Allotments

By Arthur Woodgate

Mary Smith says she is a relative newcomer to Rye, that I am certainly not and I do know where lots of allotments have disappeared from during the Twentieth Century.

I had to laugh when all the argument about the site behind the ‘Queen Adelaide’ becoming a doctor’s surgery ended up with it looking like a ‘Tesco’ will arise on it. You see; when I was a schoolboy at Mermaid Street, allotment gardens stretched all the way from the ‘Adelaide’ to Love Lane. We bought our fresh vegetables from behind the said pub, it was said that on a Sunday, more gardening was done around the bar of that watering place than on the gardens. Now it seems that soon both fresh and tinned vegetables will be purchased on the same spot.

The gardens then belonged to Rye Borough Council and must have been reasonably priced because my Father hired number 6 Middle Marsh East and I never heard him grumble. He regarded it as a bargain. His ten rod plot kept us in vegetables, including potatoes, which I had to pick up and place in sacks after he had dug them. He would put them on the bottom bracket of an old bicycle which I had to push from the back of the ‘Adelaide’ home to Winchelsea Road, via the Old Foundry and Wish Street.

Out side an old shed on the plot Father had a ten gallon oil drum full of water obtained from stand pipes dotted around the area. Sheep used to run between the River Tillingham and Tillingham Avenue footpath. So! it was one of my tasks to go with a pail and pick up that which had been discarded, tip it in the water and give it a stir. Then, after pulling up a few weeds, it was home for my tea. I don’t suppose Ms. Smith’s members have such pressed labour today.

Before getting the tenancy at Middle Marsh Father had a plot in the area from the rail track that ran along the edge of Gateborough Farm behind the houses in Winchelsea Road. It was impossible to deal with all the gravel vine that covered all the gardens there, so I was glad when Father gave it up and I no longer had the job of trying to remove the weed.

Along the side of the Slade Ditch and behind the South Undercliff houses is a strip of ground which was and maybe still is, used as allotments. Very convenient for the houses which have very small gardens within their own sites.

Now we come to my second laugh. We have reached the Town Salts, which were given to the people of Rye to enjoy their leisure pursuits. In the late ’50s and whilst still a Borough, Rye had command of it’s own affairs. The BBC was running programmes of localities and they chose to televise Rye just as we were having rows and demonstrations against the Council for considering selling the North Salts to developers. At the time the area was laid down as allotments (in keeping with the conditions of The Salts) and we fought hard to prevent it being handed to developers. Many of us who were invited onto the television programme had arguments prepared about North Salts being stolen from recreation grounds from within the Borough, and we put them over at the rehearsal. After being entertained to tea we came back and the recording started. The presenter cut ‘North Salts’ out of the subjects and replaced it with the “Eleven Plus”. As the Mayor was with the presenter all the time we were rather suspicious.

North Salts was developed and and taken forever out of the Towns recreational facilities and the laugh is now there is not enough room for all the sports activities required on The Salts. Had the allotments been left in place, even if some were abandoned over the years, the field could have been put to it’s intended use and there would be no problem now.

Before the ‘wealthy’ began to buy up the “Jolly Sailor” section of Church Square and the introduction of the Slum Clearance Act, the overcrowding made it necessary to have lots of allotments, but as people moved into the healthier environment of Kings Avenue, and later after WW2 Tilling Green, the need became less because of the gardens surrounding each house. Fun became the motive for having an allotment, not necessity. Believe me; anyone having to do a manual job outdoors for eight hours a day doesn’t call digging all evenings and at weekends fun. Far easier to open a tin of carrots than plant them and most times fail to control the carrot fly; so no reward.

The loss of Rye’s local food didn’t end with the decline of the allotments. The Bank at Love Lane was was a Market Garden area. A part owned by the Dawson family was the secret of their greengrocery business that was the centre piece of Kings Street for some years. Mrs. Dawson also ran a lock up shop at the Fishmarket to service the local football audiences on Saturdays. Mr. Dunk also had a garden at the Love Lane Bank which supplied his greengrocers shop in The Mint. The private garden which is now the Cinque Ports Car Park was also a supplier to the Rye Greengrocers as was the garden of Mountsfield House, so Rye was well kept in fresh vegetables.

I wish the Allotment Association every success but would remind them that whether the Rother District remain the boss or if the long fought battle for the return of Rye Borough Council comes to pass, always have a serving councillor in office in your Association and remain vigilant lest you lose everything to the powerful finances of the so called developers.

From “Rye’s Own “ November 2005

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