Digging the past

Allotment archaeology

We frequently find echoes of past gardeners whilst digging our allotment plot. Perhaps most intriguing are these pieces of clay pipe we often collect from the soil, which offer a direct link to the people who tended the land before us. We also find various pieces of china and pottery probably from a much more modern era, and this picture shows a corroded square-headed nail that I suspect may have been hand-made by a local blacksmith?


What are the stories behind these finds? I’d love to get closer to those who left these clues behind and to discover more about them, their families and their lives. How long has the land where our plot is been cultivated, and by what methods and whom?

Our plots make up a small section of a larger area of allotments which runs from Pitsham Lane along the southern side of the Bepton Road, on the edge of Midhurst (West Sussex). The land is owned by the Cowdray Estate as is a significant proportion of the surrounding countryside and market town. Were these plots originally strips allotted to estate tenants and workers for the growing of food for their families?

I recently came across a historic(1877-1880) map online which shows the allotment area (1877-1880) [http://www.british-history.ac.uk/os-1-to-10560/sussex/021], was divided into strips much as it is today, but also that it used to be much more extensive, its distance doubled as it continued on the opposite side of Pitsham lane towards Midhurst. It ended near the railway line, the route of which is now lost under residential buildings and the main road.

‘Sheet 021’, in Map of Sussex (Southampton, 1877-1880), British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/os-1-to-10560/sussex/021


We are about to start digging on our new plot which adjoins the boundary of our existing allotment and I am curious to see what other finds we discover.

In the meantime, can you help? Do you know any information that could help me trace the story of the land I tend, or perhaps you are an expert in lat 1800’s society? Maybe you can share this blog with an historian who could date out finds with more accuracy than our own guesswork? Please get in touch!

One Reply to “Digging the past”

  1. I’d usually suggest a call to the local library service, though with all the cuts over the last few years they may no longer have an archivist who can help with local history. Good luck finding more info!

    Liked by 1 person

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