History of the Plot

Along with many of the other allotments in Glasgow, the Merrylee site began in 1917 to help boost food production during the First World War. The minutes of the Corporation of Glasgow confirm that allotments were laid out in Merrylee Road in the year 1917 although we have not managed to find the exact opening date. A report by the Superintendent of Parks to the meeting, on 15 January 1918, of the Special Committee on Raising and Rearing of Live Stock and Production of Agricultural Produce sets the context:-

“There arose a demand for plots throughout the city consequent upon the success of the 273 garden plots laid out in Tollcross Park in 1916. The demand was later intensified by the scarcity of potatoes, caused by the partial failure of the crop of that important vegetable throughout Scotland in 1916.”

Under the Defence of the Realm Act of 1914, the Corporation was given powers to seek further suitable land for plots and, by the end of May 1917, over 4000 additional plots were laid out in 32 different parts of the city.

There was a great deal of altruism in what had already begun to be a “movement“ The report states: “It is but right to acknowledge here the courtesy of many holders of vacant or uncultivated land in regard to the formation of garden plots thereon. While it was necessary to commandeer the land in some cases, the agents in all cases, recognising the national necessity, frankly gave possession without raising objections or making unreasonable conditions. In only a few cases was any claim or suggestion made regarding rent”

Apparently there was not the variety of planting that we see today and Table 1 of the 1917 superintendent’s report lists Merrylee Road among a total of 32 locations of plots set up in the previous year. The site contained 80 plots, each of 200 square yards and with a rent of 4s 3d per year. All the plots were let in that first year and everyone grew potatoes. Table 3 of the report shows that 17,420 linear yards of potatoes were grown at Merrylee although it does not say whether this was measured or estimated. However, by assuming a production rate of 4½ lbs per yard, it was estimated that the new plots set up in 1917 produced a total of 1,766 tons of potatoes and that Merrylee plots would have contributed 35 tons.

The superintendent’s report for that first year is very comprehensive and includes some fascinating details of that time. He comments that some expected the plots would be free to ratepayers and some expected the ground would be manured and prepared for them. Nevertheless, there was a rush for the plots. Although fencing of allotment areas was limited because of cost, there were few cases of theft.

The report contains some pointed comments on the methods of cultivation employed and the standards of maintenance. Reference is made to an “obsession” with artificial watering which is said to be unnecessary or only rarely required “where the soil is mostly of a heavy nature and the atmosphere usually moist” (so much for climate change!). “No doubt water at the plots is handy at times, but to see men watering potatoes when rain was falling, as was observed on several occasions, makes one question their sanity and right to hold a plot”.

Most plots were well maintained but the “lazy bed” system of growing potatoes used by some plot holders was criticised as “anything but high class cultivation and only permissible where the land is wet or boggy”. Notice was taken of a few plot holders who “are neither cultivating their allotments fully nor to best advantage. When there are so many people waiting for plots, it is clearly a mistake to permit ‘crank’ cultivators to hold allotments which may be only half cultivated. These persons should, if they fail, after due warning, to treat their plots satisfactorily, be dispossessed and their plots given to another”.

We would be interested in expanding this section of the site with any stories about the plot and try to find some photographs from different periods. So if you have anything which we can add, use the contact form to let us know.