The Bensham Manor Allotment site has been in existence in one form or another since Victorian times. The allotments were first built on gravel pits. Two companies in gravel extraction were based in Thornton Heath, “Potter (C) & Co” of Bensham Lane and “Inseal & Co” of Brigstock Road.
After all the extraction the pits were used as early land fill sites and plot holders digging down half a metre or more found lots of glass and bottles which are remnants of the Victorian dump that our site has been built upon. Many prized collections of glass bottles are to be seen in plot holders sheds. Part of the site was taken back by the Council to build Ecclesbourne School in return the Council gave the Society the Bert Rd site. The Society is proud to host Plant and Homemade cake sales each year to assist in fund raising.
Most plot lettings occur in September / October which is the start of the Allotment Year.
The Society is also a member of the Croydon Federation Of Allotment and Garden Societies. This gives all allotment societies a bigger voice when considering insurance or talks with the Council. The C.F.A.G.S. also hold competitions to find the best plot of the year and in 2005 Barbara Daly from our Society won “Best Plot in Croydon 2005” and in June 2006 was the subject of a 6 page article in the monthly publication “Kitchen Garden” which deals mainly with growing vegetables.
The following year our own Cindy Stott won the same award “Best Plot in Croydon 2006“, that’s two years in a row that we won this most coveted award.
HISTORY of ALLOTMENT / GARDEN LAND AROUND BENSHAM MANOR ROAD including Bert Road Site.
The Rocque Map of Surrey dated 1762 shows the present allotment site to be part of the WHITEHORSE FARM lands. The BAINBRIDGE CROYDON ENCLOSURE AWARD MAP of 1800 then shows the site(s) being called BENSHAM FIELD owned by a J. BENNINGTON Esquire. The tithe award map of 1839 lists the area as belonging to a combination of the Archbishop of Canterbury (Lord of the Manor of Croydon) and a Mr William Pawson (hence the name!) Council Minutes dating around 1887 give reference to areas of cultivation leased to the local population in the Bensham Manor area.
The Ordnance Survey 25” map of 1894 shows the existing sites as “Allotment Gardens” together with many lakes and ponds of various shapes and sizes. The site was very extensive and occupied almost the complete area between the rear of the houses in Pawsons Road right up to the rear of the houses in Brigstock Road and from Bensham Lane right across to Kynaston and Boswell Roads and included gravel pits which are listed in the street directories of the period. The only other significant area within these boundaries at the time was the Croydon Union Workhouse and its grounds, which was built in 1866. Bert Road, off Bensham Lane, was built in 1891 and Pitt Road at this time was a short stub off Pawsons Road similar in length to the present Lion Road, which is also on the 1894 map.
Croydon Council purchased the present site for allotments in 1898/9 at the instigation of the Board of Guardians (the administrators of the workhouse), as they wanted a piece of the land for their own use. The Council minutes record the negotiations with the land- owner at the time (a Mr Davis) over the price, which was ultimately considerably reduced from the original figure. The Borough Engineer’s report of the time notes that nine acres of the “high land” were already in use as allotments and the remaining five acres of “low land” were water or sedge grass.
The Pawsons Road site lakes, ponds and pits were in filled with household rubbish towards the end of the 19th Century into the start of the 20th Century. The rubbish was then topped with a layer of Top Soil /Loam about 18” deep. Present day plot holders can still dig down 18” – 24” and come across relics of the Victorian Rubbish pits, bottles, clay pipes, coins and china. It is not the same for the Bert Road site; despite many people digging down 2 –3 feet there has been no sign of Victorian artefacts. The site was fenced in and the plotholders given their own keys as early as 1901.
Rents at this time were a standard Croydon figure of one shilling (5p) per rod. By 1910/11 the Ordnance survey map shows the allotment site, as it was (No Ecclesbourne Junior or Infant School The Bert Road allotments and Kynaston Ave were still wasteland with lakes and ponds still in evidence. It does shown Ecclesbourne School in Ecclesbourne Road now called Bensham Manor School. 1932 /33 Ordnance Survey Map now shows both sites as “Allotment Gardens” with a plant nursery covering the Southern End next to the “Queens Home”. The newer Houses at the bend in Kimberley Road have yet to be built at this time.
The Pawsons Road site can claim to be the first allotments in Croydon, although Croydon earlier, purchased both Spa Hill and South Croydon, neither of them has any history before this, whilst Pawsons Road certainly has. However for the sake of our celebrations and community festivity we will take the date of 1883 as the start of cultivation of land by the local community on land leased out by the Council, although the precise plot of land is not known it was in this local area. A minute book entitled “Pawsons Road Allotment Society” which started well prior to World War 2 and the years during the War makes mention of members complaints about the profit mark up on “goods” sold by the Society. This was a recurring theme through many many meetings.
The Society’s’ first President elected in 1980 was the daughter of one of the “elder statesmen of the allotment” Mr D Pithouse. The present President, Mr Ron Williams has been an allotment holder since 1963/64 (Plot 158) plus sharing a plot on the Bert Road site. During this time the Society lost plots 1 – 65 to enable the present Ecclesbourne Infant and Junior School to be built. The infant school Phase 1 was built in 1970 and this caused the loss of double gates at the Atlee Close entrance. When phase 2 started we lost the original Trading Hut, which stood in what is now the school grounds, but in exchange the existing Trading Hut was built. The “new” Trading hut was originally built with 2 x pedestrian doors and 4 x double doors for vehicles to load and unload. All were made of wood. Over the years these doors have been replaced by Blocks /bricks to block up some of the entrances. One entrance door has been widened to the double door you see now and reinforced by metal plates plus a steel gate for added security. (All of this work was done by volunteer allotment holders of the day.) Electric Power to the hut was installed in 1981 by SEEBOARD with the hut being wired by the committee. Only 1 electric light in those days!!!!
A brick office was constructed in the 1980s and then extended to give a small kitchen area and store cupboard. Water was plumbed in and electric power was supplied from the Trading Hut. Prior to the new Trading Hut and Office Complex being built all rents were paid by the individual to Croydon Council, Parks Department at Wren House in South Croydon. The Society took out its first Lease from Croydon Council (in the mid to late 1970’s).
Prior to our taking out the 1st Lease the name of Pawsons Road Allotment Society was dropped in favour of the name we presently go under, that of Bensham Manor Gardens and Allotment Society, registered as an Industrial & Provident Society on the 26th of February 1975. This was mainly so that the Bert Road Plot holders would not feel neglected and left out. Mr Tom Chippenham (who had looked after the site for the Council) also ran our Trading Hut helped by our dear friend Dick Castle. Dick only gave up being a plot holder last year, but he still visits us most Sundays driving his little mobility vehicle to buy some of our home made jams and just to make sure we are still looking after the site properly.
Mr Chippenham always attended the Council Meetings and as a consequence advised the newly formed Bensham Manor Gardens and Allotment Society to apply for a site lease. After we successfully got the lease rents were then paid in the Trading Hut. The then Secretary only allowed one person into the hut at a time to pay his or her rent, so everyone else had to duly wait outside come sun, rain, hail or snow. Plot holders were invariably very cold or very wet. (Times have now changed a little we do allow in as many as can fit and as a consequence the people queuing outside the office was built.)
So what differences have been made to the site over the years:
- The office and extension have been built
- The Trading Hut has been made more user friendly
- The roadway from the main gate to the end of the memorial garden has been concreted over to provide a good hard standing for delivery vehicles and the skip when we had one.
- Renewed all the water pipe work on Bert Road. (This also has been another job that we have had to do due to massive leaks in the last 3 years)
- Provided extra water tanks on the Pawsons Road site
- Renewed and replaced all the fencing around Bert Road Site. (Sadly this is having to be funded again as vandals and dense bramble growth has damaged a lot)
- Removed many skip loads of rubbish from behind the Locker Hut Bert Road.
- Made the Bert Road Locker Hut more secure for members belongings
- Removed the 10foot high Bank of rubbish at the Pitt road entrance. (It now is a lovely grass bank with spring bulbs, shrubs and trees planted.)
This area is also the site of the first Memorial Garden, hence the Wooden Cross and many shrubs and tress were planted in memory of past plot holders. The history of the Bert Road site adds a little more colour to our allotment life. Bert Road site was taken away from the Society by the Council to enable playing fields to be built for Ecclesbourne (Girls) School, then around 1963 the site was by now derelict and abandoned and stayed this way until the 1970s when Croydon Council took away plots our 1 – 63 to enable a large enough plot of land to be available for a Junior and Infants school to be built, so in return we were given back the Bert Road site. The Schools changing Rooms is now the Locker hut with a lease caveat that no sheds can be built on the site.
To finally bring the history of the site right up to date, the Committee of the day decided to about 8 years ago to have a the garden around the office consecrated. The reason was simple a very popular plot holder had died and his family wanted his ashes put on the site and although this area had been our 2nd memorial garden we felt it would mean even more if it was consecrated.
Since that time the committee has taken on a lot of fund raising as many maintenance tasks fall outside the monies we collect from rent as maintenance that fund raising by holding events seems to be the answer.
To improve our site facilities for fundraising we took out of use the allotment that borders onto the Trading hut and Office and we can hold sales, barbeques in this area. A shed has been built to house the tables and chairs and stop our use of the Trading hut as an area of storage. It is also a good area where plot holders can bring their friends and family for a picnic and enjoy the tranquillity being in the country whilst still in the town!
As one of our now departed plot holders, “Bunny” Royal, used to say when ever he was asked whether an allotment was worth the money it cost. What entertainment can I get for about £1.50 a week, that gets me walking, talking to friends and acquaintances gentle exercise and if I am very lucky the bonus of an abundance of fresh home grown fruit and vegetables. How very true.
The research into the above history was carried out by
Ron Williams & Peter Newbury.
Higher resolution maps can be found on our Historical Maps page.