The history of our allotment society

Like a lot of allotment sites nationwide, Burnside and Vinery Road have had their share of ups and downs. The last forty years or so in particular have seen a typical pattern of decline followed by an upsurge in interest, especially this side of the millennium. As a Society, we are fortunate in having good written records: there is a Vinery lease from the 1930s; accounts survive from the 1960s; and there is a volume of AGM minutes for 1980-98, painstakingly written by hand by Trevor Taylor (for whom the Pavilion at Vinery is named and who was for well over thirty years Secretary to the Society). Other information has been gleaned from local maps and other written records and from longstanding tenants. In particular, some information has been drawn from a historical note put together for the Society’s newsletter, Weeders Digest, by Trevor Taylor and Keith Jordan in 2003 for the Society’s 80th anniversary.

Vinery Road site

An OS map from 1926 showing the Vinery Road site (centre, slightly to the right) and the Burnside site (bottom right) almost touching!

Historical maps give an idea of the development of the Vinery Road area. In 1885 part of the Vinery site was a slurry pit; there were no allotments and no Hemingford or Romsey Roads; Vinery Road was an avenue; and what was later to become Brooks Road was a tramway from the coprolite works. By 1901 Hemingford and Romsey Roads had been partly built. There were still no allotments but there was an eight-acre field. However, an extensive allotment site all the way to the tramway can be seen on the 1926 map shown here. By 1937 Brooks Road had been built but Vinery allotments still bordered onto it at that date. 

So Vinery Road Allotments were already well established by the mid-1920s:

  • A public meeting in Romsey Town on 19 July 1923 had considered allotment provision in the area in the light of over 120 applications for allotments;
  • The purchase of land on Vinery Road for allotments on 7 July 1924 is noted in the Cambridge Corporation sanctions for loans for the purchase of land [Cambridgeshire Archives and Local Studies ref. CB/2/CL/13/16];
  • The first rules of the Vinery Road Permanent Allotment Society Ltd were registered with the Registrar of Friendly Societies on 26 August 1924.

Burnside site

Like Vinery Road, Burnside appears on this 1926 map, almost adjacent to Vinery at that date. The Burnside site was originally known as Perne Road Allotments, which gives a good indication of its original extent. The land had been purchased by the Council from Peterhouse and was originally let for a rent of four pounds per year. In January 1933, the Vinery Road Permanent Allotment Society Ltd was invited to take on the management of the site and the two sites have been jointly administered by a single committee ever since.

Don of Burnside remembered playing in the area as a child when there were tank traps there, presumably during or shortly after the Second World War. These must have been part of the GHQ (General Headquarters) line, otherwise known as the WWII Tank Trap, that ran across Queen Edith’s from south to north and was part of a much larger national defence system. Cambridge was one of the few settlements of any size to actually sit on the GHQ line. In the Burnside and Perne Road area it ran from what is now the junction of Ancaster Way and Tiverton Way to cut through the abandoned trackbed of the pre-1896 Newmarket railway at a point just west of Brookfields.

Loss of Land

2018 map showing the two sites in brown.

Both Vinery and Burnside have decreased in size by at least half over the years. Vinery Road lost about a quarter of its acreage to housing development as early as 1932 and the site has shrunk well back from Brooks Road; while Burnside lost about half of its acreage around the mid-1970s when the Tiverton Way estate was built.

In the 1980s, the threat to allotment land continued to increase because of competition for land in towns and cities. Nonetheless, the Society has fought tooth and nail to minimise the loss of land. For example:

  • In 1980 there were proposals for a road through Burnside for Cambridge Folk Festival parking, but the Society refused to give up the land;
  • St Philip’s School was built in 1984 on part of the Vinery Road site. Cambridge City Council originally asked Vinery to vacate twice the land area it eventually relinquished, but the Society declined to give up this much and negotiated improvements to the site in return for the land;
  • In the mid-1980s there were proposals for a play area at Burnside for the Tiverton Way estate. This threat vanished for a time but, in 1989, when demand for allotments was in serious decline, the Society agreed to give up sixteen plots at Burnside for this facility. The Council did, however, agree by way of return to fence the area, realign the roadway and cut the grass on the site regularly.


All this at a period of major decline in demand for allotments. From the late 1980s to the late 1990s, the situation appears to have been at its worst, particularly at Burnside, with many plots vacant or overgrown, and some being used effectively as dumping grounds or for commercial purposes. Nonetheless, the Society has remained in profit practically every year: losses are recorded only for a couple of years in the late 1980s because of low rents. The King’s seeds scheme, initiated by Trevor Taylor, probably in the late 1970s, may well have contributed something to the financial stability of the Society.

Green Shoots of Recovery

The late 1990s saw the beginnings of recovery. There was a considerable injection of energy at the 1998 AGM when several new committee members were elected who were, notably, younger than the retiring members. A need to clean up both sites was identified and, at an ‘action weekend’, volunteers cleared a lot of abandoned and hazardous waste. A publicity campaign then brought an influx of new plotholders and in the summer of 1998 eight plots were ploughed by the City Council in readiness for this. 

By 1998 the two sites also had a web presence and apparently Burnside and Vinery were amongst the first sites in the country to embrace technology in this way!


The beginning of the 21st century finally saw a real upsurge in interest in allotments. Both sites are now flourishing and fully tenanted. There are lots of recent initiatives and new facilities, such as composting toilets, refreshment facilities, ‘Burn Bins’ (incinerators made by the Burnside site manager from Council waste bins to reduce the age-old complaints about bonfires), the Vinery pavilion, the Burnside orchard and picnic area, family and social activities, community projects and regular onsite projects undertaken by volunteers.


And what of the membership? Some tenants have had amazingly long records of continuity, such as John Bird and Len Butler, and the AGM minutes for 1985 record the death of Mr E W Day, one of the then oldest members, who had joined in 1948. As for Trevor Taylor, he took on his plot at Vinery Road in about 1970 and did not cease active work on it until 2012. He retained a connection with the Society as Honorary President until his death in 2018. Contrary to popular notions, women members were certainly not unknown in earlier times, although it does appear that it was 1990 before any women members attended the AGM! The first women to join the Committee are recorded by the late 1990s and, as at 2019, women account for over 50% of the membership.

And finally…

… an example of the ability of allotments to excite opinion. The AGM minutes for 1980 record Government proposals to repeal some allotment legislation. A campaign against these proposals by the National Society resulted in more letters to politicians than the question of whether the Olympic Games should be held in Moscow!

JBA Nov 2018 / July 2019

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