The first definition a dictionary gives for allotment is " a portion of land or a field given to a cottager for their personal use". This gives a hint as to the long history behind allotments, to a period before the Industrial Revolution, when everyone was much closer to the land and the source of their food.
The modern notion of an allotment came into being during the Nineteenth Century, with increasing urbanisation and an associated growth of poverty and "degeneracy" amongst the working classes. In the Victorian scheme of things, allotments provided an alternative to drink and other unworthy pursuits for the poor.
During the Second World War allotments came into their own as a major provider of food in a country under blockade from the U-boats and with the farms depleted by the loss of men to the war. Allotments became a common feature in towns and cities, and were no longer confined to the lower classes as everyone had to dig in.
As a result of the original control by the Parish, allotments are under the control of local councils. Allotments are allocated as an Act of Parliament and councils have a legal obligation to provide the land. If councils wish to use the land for other purposes then they are supposed to provide land of similar quality in a suitable location, although in practice numbers of allotments have declined as pressure on council finance means that many sites are sold for building development.
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