Personal Reminiscence by Margaret Reeves
Another of our ‘Occasional Papers’ from 2008 supplemented by some photographs and maps – not necessarily of the places referenced in the article. For some reason historic photos of allotments are tricky to find.
I can claim family connections with many of the former allotment sites in Roath. Each allotment had a tool shed at one end with a water butt and, at the other end, a compost heap. We grew the serious root vegetables like potatoes and carrots at the compost end, then runner beans, sometimes peas, then the quick-growing salad crops like lettuce and radish. At the shed end were soft fruits, strawberries and blackcurrant bushes. Between the salads and the soft fruit was a scrubby patch of grass – I think the intention was that eventually the whole plot would be cultivated but we never kept a plot that long! Meanwhile, if the ground and vegetation were dry enough, we sometimes had a bonfire on the middle patch and we children tried cooking jacket potatoes in the ashes (they always came out burned on the outside and raw in the middle).
I have a dim memory of visiting an allotment off Ty Gwyn Rd or Ty Draw Road in the early 1940s; I think it belonged to my great-uncle, Jesse Tanner. My aunt, Joan Tremlett, also remembers this allotment in the 1920s, she says it was near the Convent of the Good Shepherd and her mother (my grandmother) also had a plot there. This was probably the site of my great-grandfather’s market garden, shown in the Street Directories for the 1920s between the Convent and Penylan Road.
The earliest allotment I definitely remember was a plot my mother had on Roath Park Recreation Ground. The allotments stretched from the stream at the Alder Road end to beyond the junction of Ninian Road and Penywaun Place. My grandmother and my great-uncle David (Dai) Edwards also had plots on the Rec.
I started Roath Park Girls’ School in 1946 and used to join my mother on the allotment after school. As well as the runner beans, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, blackcurrants and strawberries, I remember a very large marrow grown on a raised bed which my vegetarian aunts stuffed and roasted. We must have had this plot during the War because most of the allotment holders were elderly men like Uncle Dai who, although very willing to give Mum advice, never offered help with the digging.
I remember this plot very clearly (there’s a photo on Commanet to prove it!) but plans in Glamorgan Record Office for 1936 and 1947 show the Recreation Ground without allotments – perhaps they were an Official Secret!
I’m not sure when the Rec allotments were closed and turned back into playing fields but one summer great humps of red clay were dumped on the playing field side of the boundary fence (we used to climb over them on the way home from school, rather than using the diagonal path from the allotment fence at the Ninian Road end to the bridge near the Ty Draw/Penylan Road junction). I suppose this soil was eventually spread to level the height of the allotments and playing field.
When I started Lady Margaret’s High School in 1949 we could see allotments all around the back and one side of the school, on land which later became the Howardian School building and playing fields. Uncle Jesse had a large plot there and sub-let half of it to my parents. The allotments did not extend right to Colchester Avenue and Barons Court Rd; there was rough ground overgrown with blackberry bushes and a tall dead white tree. Among the brambles there was also a large concrete circle with hooks set into the ground where a barrage balloon had been moored during the War.
Shortly after I started Lady Margaret’s, we moved from Amesbury Road to Connaught Road and the allotment was not so easy to reach. At some time in the 1950s, my parents rented another plot off Albany Rd at the end of the white-washed wall of Roath Court, where Timbers Square now stands. This was a smaller site surrounded by elder bushes. I don’t remember much about what we grew there, but during a couple of summers we picked the elderflowers to make “champagne”. I don’t know the dimensions of the plots but I have the impression that the one on Colchester Avenue was considerably larger than either the Rec. or Timbers Square.
As well as the fork, rake, spade etc our shed usually held folded deckchairs. There wasn’t room for much else. I remember one heavy shower of rain on the Rec when three of us, my mother, myself aged about 7 and my brother in a pushchair, tried to shelter from a heavy shower in the shed, all sticking out at knees and elbows.
So far as I know, there are no allotments left in Roath now, the nearest being the site off Clodien Avenue (visible from Allensbank Road and Eastern Avenue) and there are sites on either side of the Lake, one near the junction of Highfields Road with Lake Road West, the other off Lady Mary Road near its junction with Lake Road East. Unless there may be plots lurking in an odd corner somewhere, waiting to make a comeback.