For more than 600 years this area has been known as Hungerhills, and has been used by people - mainly for rough grazing. The area would have been covered by gorse and bracken.
The first documented enclosure of the land at Hungerhills is recorded in 1604 when 30 burgesses rented plots of 2 to 3 acres for a rent of £15 a year. As a result of complaints about the cost of fencing and the intrusion of wild deer, the rent was reduced to £13 the following year.
Victorian town gardens
It is not clear exactly when the Hungerhills were laid out into its current series of individual allotment gardens, defined by hedges, but it was probably before 1835. Although the size has changed slightly over time, the gardens are still in their original 1830s layout.
These are a rare survival of a once common sort of gardens in the last century: a group of hedged plots, just outside the centre of industrial towns (also known as detached town gardens).
They were used and enjoyed by the shopkeepers and professional people who lived over their businesses in the town centre and so had little garden around their homes. Many had summerhouses where tenants could relax, enjoy their lawns and flower beds, make tea or a meal on the stove, and cultivate their fruit and vegetables. Glasshouses were also common.
Over time there was a slow transition moving away from gardens that were used by the middle classes for recreation towards allotment gardens for poorer workers. They offered low income families the opportunity to supplement their low wages by growing their own fruit and vegetables. This change in use was triggered by the depression which hit the textile industry, when people faced starvation and needed to grow their own food. The allotments had a positive effect on the morale and self respect of the framework knitters, as well as their life styles and health. A report from 1843 noted that there was a decline in custom at ale houses as allotment holders spent all their time tending their plots and their money on seeds and plants.
In the 1830s the average allotment rental price was about £1 a year. To afford this high rent many poorer plot holders cultivated flowers, especially roses, for sale. The gardens were famous for their roses and large quantities were sent to market in Manchester and Liverpool.
Dig for Victory
The need for housing increased demands on land during the 20th Century, and many areas of allotment land were lost to development. This process was halted during the 2 world wars as the demand for home grown food increased and with this the space to grow it. The ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign during World War 2 meant that all available land, including some parks and recreation grounds was used for growing fruit and vegetables. This was the last time the allotments were fully tenanted.
Decline and rise
From the 1950s the allotments fell into a slow decline, (there was some renewed interest in the 1960s and 1970s) and by the early 1990s the site was suffering from further neglect and decline.
In 1993 a group of allotment holders formed what is now STAA Ltd (previously known as as the St Anns Allotment Campaign) to protect and improve the allotments and so began the process of reversing the decline and turning the site into the vibrant centre of community activity that it is today.
B&W photos courtesy of www.picturethepast.org.uk