SAVE THE PLOT · Digging for victory at Skimmingdish Lane


The fight to save and protect
historic Skimmingdish allotments
near Bicester, Oxon

Background info/press Cherwell refusal Petition history Village view


Digging for victory at Skimmingdish Lane

Academic Jeremy Burchardt has confirmed that the allotments ARE one of the oldest in the country (IS one of the oldest?) and has written a letter of objection to Cherwell District Council. He kindly copied us in on it, and we repeat it below:

"I write as the author of The allotment movement in England, 1793-1873 (Royal Historical Society, 2002), the first comprehensive scholarly history of the nineteenth-century allotment movement.
"I understand that an application has been made to build over the site of Skimmingdish allotments. I have no comment to make about the merits of the proposed development other than that it will permanently destroy a site of some historical significance. "Allotments were first established here in 1839, which means that the Skimmingdish site is one of the earliest still to survive. Indeed, the only earlier surviving example of which I am aware is the Free Gardens at Great Somerford in Wiltshire (1809).
"At Great Somerford, the parish council has recognised the historic signficance of the site and has not only preserved the land as allotments, despite very limited local demand, but has maintained the uncultivated land in good condition and erected a signboard explaining significance of the allotments.
"Many of the early ‘Guinea Gardens’ (hedged allotment plots) of the West Midlands are also now receiving appropriate recognition from the relevant local authorities – in Warwick, Coventry and Birmingham, for example. It would be regrettable, in my view, if Cherwell District Council were to set its face against this progressive trend."

Picture courtesy of Adrian Sherratt for The Times. The potatoes dug up during this photoshoot were all eaten very shortly afterwards!

I met a bloke over the allotment the other day who remembered when the whole field – not just our little corner – was full of smallholdings and plots. He'd been picking potatoes there, he said, since he was four or five. He's now 74 and wished us good luck with our campaign.
He said he could walk the field now and tell us who had which plot and what they had grown on it. His family had a plot by the pond (way to the left of the farmer's field) and other people used water from a stream in which were sunk 50 gallon tubs, so even if the stream was a trickle there was still water for all. Of course that was diverted under ground (we believe) when the road was realigned.
He took my number and is going to see if he has any old photos. If anyone else has any we'd love to see them – and perhaps put them up on here.

Recent history
Stan Archer used to look after the allotments for Carter Jonas, he told me recently. He said he was never convinced they were that interested in them, even though at one stage in recent years he had 44 plotholders on his books.
He was the man we were waiting for to turn up when we didn't know who was responsible for the land, but even he got disheartened after years of collecting the rent - the road realignment was the last straw, folk just thought their plots would be bulldozed and never came back, and it would seem Carter Jonas/the church never told them otherwise.

I was interested to hear that Stan, 83, is still on Launton Parish Council and is baffled as to why the church never reopened the allotments...
We started over there last spring, not knowing who owned the land (there was no sign, or fencing) – the last legal tenant, for some reason, told us that he didn't know the owners and to dig in until someone came asking for paying.

In April this year the old tenant removed his shed and vacated his plot. I phoned him asking if anything was going on and he said 'no'.

I just got an email from Paul, the last legal tenant, who said:

I forwarded 
> on your names to Carter Jonas when I was asked but
> Carter Jonas never seemed
> to follow anything up, I had rang them a number of
> times about my plot, but
> no one ever got back to me, therfore that is why I
> told you to use the plot
> until someone contacts you, as there seemed to be no
> organisation at all, as
> I was the only person paying rent they didn't seem
> bothered!.

So it seems they did know about us after all!!!!!

Oddly, within weeks, Carter Jonas, land agent for the diocese of Oxford, called my fellow digger Bob, to say can you get off our land. We were upset, but pleased – upset that we were being asked to leave, but thinking it was a mistake, we were pleased that we finally knew who owned the land and felt sure we could negotiate a lease with them.

If only they had stuck up a sign like this beforehand, we would have known who was responsible, and looking after the site (note the date on the letter):

(of course, if you phone them asking for an allotment they say no! Catch 22)
Then they said they wanted to develop the site. That's when the battle began.
And despite us proving that it is not on the local plan for development (it was in 96 and 02 but when the airfield next door was conserved for posterity, it was no longer zoned. It's outside the ring road and would be against many Cherwell planning rules, we believe) the church and their agents, say it is.
They blame the zoning on Cherwell ... just like they at one time they said we couldn't stay there because the county council for leaving it in an unsafe state (which the county council obviously deny!) and because there is little parking (it's not a spectator sport) and due to a lack of access (er, four gates).

So the situation now? After receiving letters from the church's solicitors threatening to sue us for every penny (that's how it reads, see below) if we didn't get off by the end of August, 05, we got off.

The kiss of the Sun for pardon
The Song of a Bird for mirth
One is nearer God's Heart in a Garden
Than anywhere else on Earth.
by D. F. Gurney


Only after the last tree has been cut down
Only after the last river has been poisoned
Only after the last fish has been caught
Then will you find that money cannot be eaten.

Cree Prophecy

Email with any further suggestions for poems, sayings, or memories of the Skimmingdish allotments