Digging for Victory - Brighton’s Wartime Allotments

To celebrate Heritage Open Days 2020 we are publishing a series of blogs researched and written by Brighton Dome's heritage volunteers. The blogs reveal the fascinating stories connecting Brighton Dome's history with the Royal Pavilion Estate and the city.

During the Second World War the Royal Pavilion Estate played its role on the Home Front. The grounds were used for public events, including a demonstration of pig farming and in 1941 a model allotment was created in the gardens. It remained until October 1944 and was overseen by the ground’s superintendent.

Before the Second World War, Britain imported around 55 million tonnes of food a year from other countries. The war disrupted that trade and so with imports of food declining, the British government decided to introduce rationing.

The government also introduced a Dig for Victory campaign that called for every man and woman in Britain to keep an allotment. Lawns and flower-beds were turned into vegetable gardens. Over ten million instructional leaflets were distributed to the British people. The campaign was successful and it was estimated that over 1.4 million people kept allotments. People were also encouraged to keep chickens and some kept rabbits and goats. Pigs were especially popular as they could be fed on kitchen waste.

By March 1941, the number of allotments in Brighton and Hove had more than doubled from the pre-war figure of 2,750 to 6,000. A further 1,000 plots were privately owned and rented out, or leased from Southern Railway. By the end of 1941 it was estimated that 10,000 tonnes of food had been produced on those allotments alone.

The Council’s nurseries produced vegetable seedlings for sale at cost price and their Horticultural Committee proposed that a war-time food production show should be held at Brighton Dome for existing societies, allotment holders and private gardens, including housing estates.

Local resident Betty Vince remembers when she lived in Whitehawk:

‘Almost every household kept chickens, rabbits and pigeons not only to help out with the meat but also the eggs, because you usually only got one egg a week from the shop. In every street there were swill bins. Any vegetable peelings or scraps you couldn’t cook up for your own poultry had to be put in the bins which were collected twice a week and used to feed the pigs on local farms.

Every house grew all the vegetables that they could. People with very large families, like our next door neighbour, even planted their front gardens full of potatoes. We had an allotment at the top of Warren Road because our back garden was full of chicken houses and runs, a large shed for the rabbits and another with a flight run for the pigeons’.

Written by Heritage Volunteer Raymond Tinney

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