Review Number 23 – October 2002

Town Farm Allotments and the Poor

Poor Laws introduced in the 16th century by the government of Queen Elizabeth, enacted a series of measures to give relief to the poor, which made it the responsibility of each parish to look after the poor within its boundaries. Overseers were appointed to collect the taxes and distribute relief. In 1832, prior to the setting up of Union Workhouses, a survey was sent to the overseers of towns and villages asking them to answer the questions therein. In Walsham the task was undertaken by Zachariah Brook who gave the following information to the Commission.

Black and white line drawing of farm labourer scything a field of standing corn. He is wearing along sleeved shirt under what appears to be a sleeveless jerkin, and his trousers are tucked into some sort of leggings. There are trees in the background alongside a hedge and a three barred gate.

  1. The population of Walsham was 993 in 1801 and 1,167 in 1831.
  2. The amount spent on poor relief was £704 in 1801 and £1,545 in 1831.
  3. Walsham had 186 agricultural labourers, 70 being between 10 and 20 years old.
  4. Numbers of unemployed were 25–30 in summer and 30–35 in winter.
  5. The wages of a labourer: for a married man, 9s a week and for an unmarried man about 5s., except in the harvest month for which they receive £5 and perhaps beer from the farmer.
  6. Women can earn about 8d a week and children about 2d, hoeing and making hay.
  7. The cost of renting a small cottage is £4–£5 a year.
  8. There is a workhouse in the village [now The Guildhall], with fifteen inmates comprising four old men and five women aged between 65–80, three girls aged about 12, two young men aged about 18, and a housekeeper.
  9. Last week 393 individuals, not in the workhouse, received relief. [about a third of the parish].
  10. The amount of relief or allowance given is one stone of flour per week to each man plus a half a stone each for his wife and children. Also 6d a head per week besides.

The overseers were also asked if they could give the Commissioners any information regarding the causes and consequences of the agricultural riots and burning of 1830 and 1831. Zachariah Brook replied, “ the riots arose from flour being given to the poor instead of money. They complained that they could not get work and that the parish allowance was insufficient to support life and I verily believe that they had great reason to be dissatisfied”.

By 1834 village workhouses had closed (many were considered too lenient) and paupers were sent, instead, to large Union Houses where families were split up and inmates treated harshly. The Allotment Act of 1832 was an attempt to provide a certain amount of self-sufficiency and prevent large numbers needing to enter workhouses. Plots of land were let at reasonable rents for cultivation in an attempt to further reduce parish rates and promote industry among the poor. In Walsham land at Town Farm had been given to the parish in lieu of its share of Allwood Green at the enclosure of 1818. It was farmed by trustees providing short term employment for men as outdoor relief. A house was built for a bailiff who supervised the work. From 1835, 49 acres out of the total 86 acres was gradually divided into allotments. But there were critics of the system.

In a long letter to the Bury Post in October 1844 Walton Kent, a surgeon living at Church Farmhouse, wrote of a public meeting recently held in Bury St. Edmunds at which it was stated that the allotment system was generally beneficial but for one exception, Walsham le Willows. There it was said to have failed despite having the largest amount of allotments in the county. Critics of the system were eager to prove it could not work. Walton Kent, however, living in the village and knowing the people involved, refused to accept the slur on Walsham’s reputation. He reported that part of Town Farm had been allotted in November 1833 and was so successful that more was allotted each year until the whole was disposed of by 1837. The effect on the poor was immediate and the poor rate fell from 12s in the pound to 6s. Although Town Farm was about 2 miles from the village centre, whole families worked there, carting manure etc. There was a reduction in crime and the allottees were said to be strongly attached to their plots. Walton Kent observed:

‘It is a very gratifying sight to see 50 or 100 men, women and children all busily employed in cleaning the land, digging and planting their little patches of wheat’.

As evidence he collected statements from 56 of them. They all said they were satisfied with their plots and some would have liked more. Many believed their land was necessary to keep them out of the Union House (Stow Union workhouse at Onehouse, Stowmarket that replaced the village workhouse). Many of the plot holders would have had work but much of it was seasonal and wages were insufficient to maintain a family. Some employed other people on their allotments for short periods, thus helping to spread the benefits.

  1. John Nunn: ½ acre; I am quite satisfied with my allotment; wish I had more; got 14½ bushels of wheat and 14 bushels of Windsor beans; I employ a man 3 weeks a year.
  2. Abraham Pain junior: 1 acre; I think I have saved the parish £20 since I have had the land; I work 3 months a year on it and employ a man for a fortnight.
  3. James Finch: 3 roods 31 perches; I am employed 7 weeks at a time on my allotment; should not like to give it up.
  4. John Frost: ½ acre; would like a better piece of land but would not give it up; goes to his allotment when out of work; without the land would have to apply to the overseer.
  5. Rebecca Callow, widow: ½ acre; has got five children the eldest digs the land but she sometimes employs a man and when her son was ill employed a man wholly on her land. When her son was very ill she had a little relief for him from the parish.
  6. Abraham Pain senior, aged 79: ½ acre; his land is in good cultivation and he is helped by his son and daughter.
  7. Widow Hunt: ¾ acre; employs labour on her land to the amount of 20–30s pa. Her sons assist her. Should not like to give it up.
  8. Widow Gail: ¾ acre; pays more than 40s pa. for labour upon it.
  9. James Hunt senior aged 79: ½ acre; is assisted in cultivating it by his son “Won’t give it up unless forced to”.
  10. Cornelius Pollard: ½ acre; I don’t want to give up my land as I would soon be in the Union House; grows wheat at the rate of 14 coombs per acre.
  11. John Hales: ½ acre; would like more land; his three great boys at home who work on it; one of them had scarcely anything to do for three months in the winter; they must have gone into the Union House without the land; it is the best thing ever done in Walsham; grows 4 coombs of wheat off ¼ acre.
  12. John Allan: 1 acre 1 rood 21 perches; has a wife and five children; could not think of giving up his allotment as he should soon go into the Union House; “I should prefer holding my land, to receiving any allowance statement”.
  13. Richard Lammas: 3 roods 35 perches; “I have a large family and could not pay my way without my land; I should be out of work for two months in the year if it were not for my land”.
  14. James Drake: ¾ acre; I could not pay my rent without my allotment; I have saved my wheat this year for that purpose; I pay 15d for a cartload of manure.
  15. John Woods senior: ½ acre; “My allotment has done me a great deal of good; would not like to give it up”.
  16. Robert Warren: ¼ acre. Belongs to the parish but does not live in it.
  17. Widow Read: 1 acre; has five children but not one capable of assisting her; works on it herself and pays for digging etc; “The land does me good and without it I could not pay my rent nor yet keep house”.
  18. John Hunt: ½ acre; “I always work upon my land; if I had no land I must go to the Union”.
  19. Robert Frost: ¾ acre; “My wife and children work upon the land when I am at my master’s. I could not live without my land”.
  20. Edward Sharp: 1 acre; he is in constant work so pays £3 or £4 a year for labour; his wife and children work upon it.
  21. Isaac Palmer: ½ acre; he is an invalid and quite incapable of work; his wife is also incapable; has no family; pays more than 50s year for labour yet would not give it up.
  22. William Blake: ¾ acre; is generally in work but employs himself full three weeks in a year on his land.
  23. Edward Nice: ¾ acre; I should not want to give it up for if I did I should be starved; I got 4 coombs of white wheat off ¼ acre and 4½ coombes Windsor beans off the same quantity of land. I and my sons work the land and I have always bread in the house.
  24. John Pain: ¾ acre; I have a son 21 years old who worked upon it all last winter and also since harvest as he could not find any work. Else he would have had to apply to the parish.
  25. Robert Finch: ½ acre;
  26. John Dauks: ¾ acre; if compelled to give it up he doesn’t know what he should do.
  27. Samuel Fakes: ½ acre; he is a jobbing carpenter. When his son Harry is out of work he employs him on his land.
  28. John Clarke; ¾ acre; should like more as he has not constant employment. Occasionally works upon other allotments.
  29. Phillip Pollard: ¾ acre; is in constant work but employs others on his land.
  30. Adam Fordham: ¾ acre; 64 years old; has seven children the oldest not yet 13 and the youngest 2.
  31. John Lambert: ½ acre; have a good deal of lost time and then I go on my land.
  32. Isaac Day: ½ acre; is a bricklayer’s assistant. Is satisfied that the land is a benefit to him.
  33. James Frost: 1 acre; “I can only go when my master can spare me”.
  34. James Germany: ¾ acre; has a wife and six children, the oldest is 10.
  35. William Frost: ½ acre; has applied for more.
  36. William Banks: 2 roods 30 perches. Gets at the rate of 12 coombs per acre of wheat.
  37. William Denney: ½ acre. Sometimes he has work and sometimes none.
  38. Thomas Denney: 1 acre; has a wife and family. Works on it a fortnight each year.
  39. (sic) Edward Hunt: ½ acre; single man. Fills up his time on it and pays upwards of 20s pa. for labour.
  40. John Woods: ¾ acre; it helps pay his rent; has a wife and family.
  41. Robert Woods: ¼ acre. Has a wife and family; does not work upon it himself because he has other employment; pays for everything that is done.
  42. Lydia Hunt, widow: 1½ acres; has a large family; cultivates the land herself; digs it and cuts her wheat; if she should lose it she could not pay her rent. Having two husbands and losing them both accounts for her occupying so much land as they both had allotments.
  43. William Flatt senior: ½ acre; the land is of great use to him; he does not owe 1s in the parish.
  44. John Fenn senior: 1¼ acres; the ¼ acre being given in consequence of his having to maintain an idiot son; if he lost his land he and his family must go into the House and he does not know what would become of him.
  45. Robert Germany: ½ acre. Would like some more to get a living.
  46. Samuel Fenn; ½ acre; single man. Should not like to give it up; wants some more.
  47. James Baker: ½ acre “could not pay my way if it were not for my allotment; I should be in the Union House”.
  48. James Barham: 1 rood 20 perches; has a wife and family. Never works on it himself; always pays for the labour upon it.
  49. Edward Pollard, senior: ½ acre; has a wife and children; has just paid 40s for labour and muck; got 5 and half coombs of Tartarian oats off ¼ acre.
  50. John Fenn junior: 1 acre; has a wife and large family; was very ill in the summer and received £4 in parochial relief; wants more land so as not to trouble the parish.
  51. Robert Frost: ¾ acre; married with a family; earned only 1s 6d in the parish from Michaelmas to Haysell. Could not do without his allotment; should like more.
  52. William Noble: ¾ acre; “I do not owe any tradesman in the village a shilling; if I had another acre I would not trouble any body in the parish for work”
  53. Francis Palmer: ¾ acre; has a family; quite satisfied with his allotment; could not find work without it.
  54. James Steward; ½ acre; single man: his land is in the best state of cultivation and he wishes for more.
  55. William Fenn: ¾ acre; servant, single man; should not like to give it up as he cannot get anything else to do..

Another forty-one people all paid their rents and gave similar testimony. Several applied for more land. Inevitably, some rents were sometimes in arrears and some land was left uncultivated. The bailiff evicted a few allottees. But, on the whole, the allotment scheme was a great success, for both the people who tilled their land and the more fortunate ones of the parish who paid the rates.

Walton Kent ended his letter:

‘“The evidence being thus clear and satisfactory as to the benefit of the allotments to the labourers, I will next enquire into the effects which the system has produced upon the general interests of the parish; upon the trades, the payment of the rents of cottages; the finances of the parish and the alleged increase of pauperism’.

Walton Kent’s death in June 1862 was reported in the Bury Post:

‘…the deceased gentleman held a high position in the village, not only professionally but also as a parish officer. He filled the offices of churchwarden, surveyor and trustee of both old and new town charities as well as vice-chairman of the Institute. His indefatigable attention to his patients as a Union surgeon and his kindness of disposition will make his loss especially felt among the poor’.

He is buried, with his family, in the churchyard to the south of the church.


  1. Bury Post 23rd October 1844
  2. The Origins of Walsham le Willows Town Farm Trust by John Champion
  3. Poor Law 1834 (First Report)
James Turner & Audrey McLaughlin

Update: Betty Jordan informs us that the Robinson family moved into the Blue Boar in 1939, not as shown in Review 20. The 1901 census shows that the publican of the Blue Boar at that time was Aaron Sing, He was born in Hoxne.

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