History of Over Allotments, Winsford
The allotments at Over, Winsford, were founded in April 1924, when William Stubbs (arrowed, right) of Leahlands – a large house on nearby Swanlow Lane – sold a field to Winsford Urban District Council (WUDC) "for the purpose of the Allotments Act at the price of £400" (see image, below right). The Act referred to was the Allotments Act 1922 – a milestone in allotment legislation. Stubbs had served as Chairman of WUDC, 1897–98.
The field formerly known as Well Field
In the 1924 conveyancing deed the new allotments were described as "adjacent to the Over Recreation Ground, containing 4 acres, 3 roods or thereabouts".
The 1846 tithe map of Over parish shows that the field sold by William Stubbs was known as Well Field (see image, below). The tithe map schedule lists it as field 702, owned by Thomas Taylor and described as arable with an area of 6 acres, 2 roods, 12 perches. By 1924, Well Field had been reduced to 4 acres – 2 acres adjacent to High Street having been sectioned off and set aside for housing.
The historic field name 'Well Field' is a clear indication that at some time the field had been the location of a well. In all likelihood the field name became the source of the nearby street name Well Street, when it was built later in the nineteenth century.
Our knowledge of the early years of Over Allotments is limited to a few brief passages in the local newspaper.
In July 1926, the Northwich Guardian reported that there were 55 plots, adding that the allotments had been "inaugurated three years ago" (1923), which would appear to be an error, as the conveyance of the land is dated 23rd April 1924, though discussions would have been underway long before then.
An annual plot inspection was made, and a silver cup was awarded by the Council for the best-kept plot (see Dempster Challenge Cup).
The 'gap years'
There is currently a fifty year gap in our knowledge of Over Allotments, from the 1920s to the 1970s. How did the allotments fair during the Great Depression, the 'Dig for Victory' campaign of World War II, rationing, and the post-war Age of Austerity?
So far, the record is stubbornly silent. Yet tantalising clues can be found on the Dempster Challenge Cup, which is more than a list of winners' names, but a document of allotment activity. The cup was awarded each year from 1926 to 1950 – evidence of sustained allotment use and the functioning of civic duty in the judging of plots. It is notable that the cup was awarded throughout the war years.
The first sign of change comes in 1951, when for the first time the cup was not awarded. This was the year of the Festival of Britain, designed as a 'tonic to the nation' and a very public announcement that the austerity years were coming to an end (rationing finally ended in 1954).
The Dempster Challenge Cup remained on the council shelves for the next three years. Is this evidence that Over Allotments were starting to fall from favour, that as produce started to find its way back in to the shops there was less need to 'grow your own'? Public attitude to allotments changed in the 1950s, and perhaps this can be deduced from the 'gap years' on the Dempster Challenge Cup.
The 1970s – back to being a field
The allotment site was reduced in size in the early 1960s when the western perimeter gave way to housing and an electricity sub-station along Moss Bank.
In 1970 the site was enlarged slightly when a disused burial ground adjacent to Over Recreation Ground was added to it (see below for details of this unusual extension to the site). The allotments have remained this size to the present day.
During the early 1970s, an aerial survey was made of Cheshire, and the image seen left shows the allotments as largely grass, with little sign of cultivation other than what appears to be worked ground near the Moss Bank gate.
This interpretation of the photo seems to be borne out by the fact that the Dempster Challenge Cup for best-kept allotment was not awarded for six consecutive years (1971–77) – the longest period of no award in the cup's long history.
One other observation can be made from this aerial image – the location of the disused burial ground. See image (right) for interpretation of visible features. This aerial image is the oldest known photograph of Over Allotments.
In 1990, Over Allotments entered the record books when allotmenteer Albert Palfreyman grew a giant pumpkin that weighed 579lb and briefly held the British pumpkin record.
The monster was transported 40 miles to Alton Towers, Staffordshire, for the weigh-in at a national giant vegetable show.
The 1990s – a decade of neglect
During the 1990s the allotments were largely neglected, and the Winsford Guardian described them as being in a "… sorry state. Just 17 out of the 48 available plots were let and many of these were not in particularly good shape." Once again, the Dempster Challenge Cup went through a period of not being awarded (1998–2001).
There was a suggestion (recorded in Council documents) that part of Over Allotments be absorbed into the Over Recreation Ground. The Council sought the views of the Secretary of State, whose reply indicated that "he preferred to see the allotments used for the correct purpose" (undated Winsford Town Council document, c.1999–2000).
The 2000s – Winsford Community Allotments Project
Instead, in March 2000 the Winsford Community Allotments Project (WCAP) was set up. A partnership led by Winsford Town Council, Vale Royal Borough Council and Over Allotments Association, the project's aims were "to promote the benefits of allotment gardening and regenerate the Over allotments site into an active community resource".
In 2002, WCAP successfully secured £39,537 of National Lottery funding, distributed by The Royal Society for Nature Conservation for Social, Economic and Environment Development (SEED) projects. The funding was made available under the terms of the government New Opportunities Fund (source: Winsford Guardian, 17 July 2002).
The funding provided a much-needed security fence around the site, five raised beds "for older people, school groups and people with disabilities" (source: undated Winsford Community Allotments Project newsletter, c.2003). Paths and drainage were improved, a disused tennis court on Over Recreation Ground was converted into a car park for plot-holders to use, and a noticeboard was erected on the plots. Untidy plots were tidied up by volunteers – and also by people doing community service – and before long the plots were all let and the Council had begun a waiting list. A Community Open Day was planned for the summer of 2003.
A new beginning
In 2006, Over Allotments and Leisure Gardeners' Association was reformed with a written constitution, and a new and highly active era began for Over Allotments, in partnership with Winsford Town Council. The wheelbarrow logo was adopted by the Association, with the punning play-on-words 'Over Grown' as its tag-line.
The grass paths were replaced with hard-surface paths, and in 2007 the Association received a grant of £6,940 from The National Lottery Awards for All scheme, enabling a storage and recycling area to be developed (see Recycling Area).
By the time the aerial photo seen left was taken, c.2007, the allotments were showing signs of regeneration as new allotmenteers arrived and neglected plots were brought back into cultivation, though much grass still remained. Compare the 2007 aerial photo with the image on the right, taken in 2010 as part of a county-wide aerial survey – quite a change in just three years!
In 2011, £9,688 was granted by The National Lottery Big Lottery Fund as a contribution to the costs of creating a communal plot and disabled growing area (see Jubilee Communal Plot).
Winsford Town Council has continued to support the allotments with funding, and Age UK has funded the cost of a community meeting shed (the tea shed).
The Association's first Public Open Day was held in August 2007 (the first open day since the Community Open Day held in 2003, see above), and an open day has been held each summer since then.
In 2008, plot-holders were invited to submit exhibits to the Boxed-In Exhibition, staged at the Salt Museum, Northwich (now Weaver Vale Museum), as part of Cheshire Year of Gardens. Standard-sized open-fronted wooden boxes were supplied for plot-holders to fill with a gardening-themed display of their choice.
Over Allotments featured in a video, filmed by the Salt Museum throughout 2008, recording a year in the life of the plots. As the allotments have continued to evolve, this video has already become a piece of history. Click here to see an extract from the video.
Starting in 2009, children and teachers from Winsford schools have been invited to attend Children's Open Day. Click here to read more about how schools are encouraged to visit the 'classroom in the open air'. The Association established a wildlife area in a corner of the site in 2008, and in 2010 an annual vegetable competition was begun.
The paths that cross the site were named by local schools in 2011, and Winsford Town Council funded the cost of the signs that now give every plot an address. Is there another allotment site in the UK with a Lettuce Lane, a Sprout Street, a Blackberry Way or a Thyme Square? We think not!
The Jubilee Communal Plot was established in 2011 and work was completed in 2012, providing the site with a composting toilet and a growing space for disabled users.
2012 was also a year of outreach to the wider community in the Winsford area, with a plant sale day at Winsford Indoor Market, cookery demonstrations and free food ingredients at Open Day (click for recipes). We chose St Luke's (Cheshire) Hospice as our charity partner and made a financial donation to this local adult hospice, and there was also a visit from the Mikron Theatre Company, from Marsden, Huddersfield, who performed their allotment-themed play 'Losing the Plot' to a sell-out audience at Winsford Lifestyle Centre.
2013 saw the arrival of a beehive and a colony of honeybees, under the care of Mid-Cheshire Beekeepers' Association, our annual plant sale moved to the main square of Winsford Cross Shopping Centre where it became a busy one-day pop-up plant shop, and we had a sell-out show for the return visit of the Mikron Theatre Company with the second of their allotment-themed plays, 'Beyond the Veil', fittingly about bees.
Today, the plots at Over Allotments are fully let. Demand is high, and Winsford Town Council has a long list of Winsford residents patiently waiting for a plot to become available – a situation repeated at allotment sites around the UK as the trend to 'grow your own' continues to find a new generation of supporters.
Burial Ground at Over
On the conveyancing plan of 1924, the land earmarked for allotments is shown skirting around a burial ground (marked green on the plan shown to the left). Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, Chester, holds records that reveal how the burial ground at Over was established c.1890 by Jacob Francis, a schoolmaster, as a private burial ground. He'd bought a parcel of land for £49 11s, surrounded it with an iron fence (140 yards long, cost £50), built a shed for a bier (£3 1s 9½d) and had rules, a burial register and cards printed. The cemetery was built by Winsford builders A. & H. Hulse.
The burial register records three graves. They are:
- Grave 1 – Hannah Leach, died 6 February 1893, aged 14 months
- Grave 1 – Sarah Leach, died 13 August 1897, aged 15 weeks
- Grave 2 – Ethel Sherwin, Littler Farm, Over, died 11 November 1901, aged 2 days
- Grave 3 – Jacob Francis, Ways Green, Over, died 14 August 1901, aged 85 [also his wife, Mary Ann Francis, died 3 March 1890, aged 81; not entered in burial register but named on headstone]
Two headstones survive at Over Allotments, presumably in situ, for Hannah and Sarah Leach, and Jacob and Mary Francis. There is no headstone for Ethel Sherwin, though the grave location is delineated by a kerb. The pink granite headstone for Jacob and Mary Francis (shown right) is inscribed in a curious mixture of English, Greek and Latin. Mary (died 1890), was originally buried in Wiltshire, her remains being exhumed and transferred to the joint grave with her husband.
No further burials took place after 1901. In 1918 responsibility for the burial ground was transferred to Over Wesleyan Chapel (established 1883), nearby on High Street. In May 1970, Winsford Urban District Council wrote to the Chapel, saying: "The Council has noted that the burial ground attached to your church appears to be disused and it wonders whether the church would like it to take it over as a disused burial ground. Broadly, the Council's powers to deal with disused burial grounds cover their preservation and improvement as a public open space." Agreement was reached, and the burial ground was transferred to WUDC. The graves were fenced off, and the unused part of the former burial ground was given over to use as allotments (the 'public open space' indicated in the Council's letter). Are there any other allotments in the UK that have had a burial ground added to them? The situation at Over Allotments may be unique.
This history of Over Allotments is far from complete. If anyone reading this has information or photographs on either the allotments or the burial ground, do please get in touch. Thank you.
Register of Graves [Over Wesleyan Chapel] 1893–1901, Cheshire Archives and Local Studies (P146/6715/21+22)
Construction of cemetery 1890–94, Cheshire Archives and Local Studies (EMS 229/8/1–9)
Winsford Urban Distrcit Council letter, 29 May 1970, Cheshire Archives and Local Studies (EMS 229/8/18)
Conveyance: William Stubbs to Winsford Urban Distict Council, 23rd April 1924
Over Allotments Inspection Northwich Guardian, 30th July 1926
Fairytale Win for Albert's Pumpkin unsourced newspaper clipping, 1981–82
Digging for victory on Over Allotments, Winsford Guardian, 17th July 2002
Lottery winners put their money to waste, Winsford Guardian, 8th August 2007
Old photo puts a face to Over Allotments' 90 year history, Winsford Guardian, 12th July 2014