Rosendale Allotments

Allot of Work

September normally marks a time of harvest and gathering. As author Debra Welsh said, “Autumn is Nature’s last party of the year,” and while there are still a few days of official summer remaining, crisper days are in sight. This year, the party must be put on hold, but nature still blooms. This is abundantly true for plot holders of the Rosendale Allotments. Their autumn celebrations historically consist of communal meals, apple pressing and gardening activities for all. In the spirit of their differed festivities, Local Greens looks back on the history, offerings and memories of one of our most unique collection points.

Rosendale Allotments spans an impressive 18-acre site on Knights Hill, between Herne Hill and Tulse Hill. For those not familiar with the plot, have a peak on Google maps, and you’ll be gobsmacked that such a large, undisturbed swatch of green space has survived decades of London development to exist as a community allotment.  The allotments are owned by the Dulwich Estate and established in 1908 in part thanks to the Small Holdings and Allotment Act. The land holding itself dates back even further to 1619, when Edward Alleyn formally established Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift at Dulwich. Alleyn struck it rich in Elizabethan times, amassing a fortune through a successful acting career, shrewd business ventures and marrying into wealth. He purchased the manor of Dulwich in 1605, which consisted of property stretching from today’s Sydenham Hill to portions of Herne, Denmark and Champion Hills. Through charters, deeds and endowments, he gifted much of his land to educational institutions – the most notable being Dulwich College. Alleyn’s 17th century endeavors secured the land for posterity, and Rosendale Allotments Association is able to enjoy actual fruits from his labours.

Today, there are 480 plots cultivated by around 500 members. Rosendale Allotments Association was established by plot holders to manage the grounds, and is a completely volunteer-run organization. They’ve developed an impressive offering of amenities on the land, including an on-site gardening store, a community building open for public functions, communal water tanks, seed swaps, a tool share and an electric wheelbarrow to help gardeners power up the formidable incline. Plot holders do pay rent for their spaces, but the RAA committee manages to do so much with less than £2,000 a year to develop this huge site.

Plot holders often work their land for decades, and the waiting list is long for a new gardener to try out his or her green thumb. Aside from growing and developing a patch, people come for the view and the tranquility. “It’s like being in the countryside,” plot holder Adrian shares, except that you have, “marvelous view of London, from the London Eye right round to the O2 Stadium. You can see the weather coming across London,” from the height of the allotment’s hill.  Karina Reed, the Association’s lettings officer, adds, “People come here for different reasons. Some people plant up every inch and others also want somewhere they can sit in peace. You don’t get so much of that in London these days. These allotments benefit people from a huge range of backgrounds. It’s a very vibrant, interactive place to be.” Sharing experiences between older and newer plot holders is encouraged, as well as working with nature rather than against it.  The allotments have an ethos to, “keep in mind that some of what we may see as ‘pests’ and ‘weeds’ are a vital part of the food chain for other species.” Several members practice “no dig” gardening that promotes better soil health, traps carbon and boosts crop yields. There is a great exchange of community and natural education proliferating throughout this wondrous green space.

The American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote, “I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house.” Staying in the house has been quite common this year, but there are still nearby places to catch a bit of sun, solitude and peace in our urban setting.  The waitlist for plots is currently closed, but watch-this-space to pounce on a spot when it does reopen. While the community BBQ and music may be silent this year, Rosendale Allotments remains a refuge for those without a garden and a place for fruit, veg, flowers, animals and people to flourish.

Catch a glimpse of the September party from 2017 on YouTube

Learn more about the history of allotments in the UK: