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Plot Stories

PENNY THORNTON (First ‘woman’ Chair of Barton upon Humber Allotment Society) - Plot 27

My early years were spent in Nottingham. I had two younger brothers at home, my dad got TB,  and so most of my earliest years were spent in the care of my maternal grandparents. They lived  in a terraced house, next door to blind Mrs Parks, who boiled chicken mash in the dark. 

My grandad had an allotment. Two uncles had adjoining allotments and, when my grandad  retired, he would cultivate and care for all three. Grandad would take me there on the crossbar of  his pushbike. The soil was black and rich but this was probably due to the soot bagged up by  Aunty Mary, the family chimney sweep! 

There was very little waste in my grandma’s house. She gave Mrs Parks any scraps for her  chickens, along with a good supply of vegetables each week. In return we received a dozen eggs  to share around our extended family. The house was always buzzing with visitors, enjoying  grandma’s famous hospitality, exchanging news and laughter. 

If it was someone’s birthday, or illness had struck - or just to brighten a friend or neighbour’s day -  grandma would put in an order for flowers. I can see my grandad peddling his bike, struggling to  balance as his heavily laden bags and panniers threatened to topple him over along with those  bunches of assorted flowers, each with Gypsophila, wrapped up in yesterday’s newspaper and  tied up with string.  

I learned the value of ‘recycling’ early, whether from my job waiting for Fred Salt, the veg seller  with his horse and cart, bucket and shovel in hand ........, or the lesson that everything that had  once lived could be composted.  

As a child I had a love of nature, particularly collecting and identifying wild flowers and, as a  teenager, was fortunate to receive a good understanding of plants and botany from a student  teacher, who gave me that ‘lifelong’ gift of knowledge. 

I learned to cook all the fruit and vegetables on a black leaded Yorkshire Range, and the food  tasted better than anything cooked since in a gas or electric oven, let alone a microwave.  Learning how and what to grow as well as cook became a permanent challenge. The use of  herbs; the making of potpourri; the creation of endless jams, chutneys and pickles - all enriched  life beyond words for me.  

I never really knew where I belonged as a child, but to everyone who ever went to my  grandparents’ home, I was called ‘AhhPen’ (translated from Our Pen), so I felt, not only did I  belong there, but I was given the best childhood ever. The address was “27” Bradford Street. In  2012, at the ripe age of 65 years, long after moving to Barton upon Humber, I was offered an  allotment plot of my own. “Plot 27”. Roy Oliver’s old plot. There was no hesitation. The number  27 sealed it! All my closest family and friends come to visit. 

In October 2018, after I’d been a plot holder for almost seven years, I was asked to consider  ‘Chairing’ the Barton upon Humber Allotment Society. The main selling point was that I would be the first  woman to fulfil the post, ever. And so, on January 8th 2019, I was duly elected. With tremendous  support from both committee and plot holders we have seen a new Main Shed erected; Dam  Road West resurfaced; water pumped onto the site for the first time in its history; a modern  website developed; and volunteers come together freely and easily to organise impromptu social  gatherings throughout the year. 

In January 2022 I stepped down as Chair of the Barton upon Humber Allotment Society. It has been hard work  but great fun and immensely rewarding. I’ve made many friends, learned so much and, most  important of all, shared some fantastic memories.  

Happy Growing!

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Bob Papworth - Plot 53

Bob is probably known to more of us than any other plot holder. He’s had his own plot for more than 30 years, possibly 40. It’s so long ago he can’t remember! These days he welcomes each new plot holder in his role as Site Manager.

It was through Bob Blackburn, an old family friend and active allotment society member that Bob was first offered a very overgrown plot, Number 31. Bob accepted the challenge and worked

hard to get it in shape, even though he had a young family and worked seven days a week at thetime. If he managed to find four hours on a Sunday to dig, it was a blessing.

When he started Bob recalls older plot holders sitting together on the benches outside the main shed and, from there, they would put the world to rights over a mug of tea. These men voluntarily

formed a working party to tend any overgrown plots, John Drayton’s dad, Jack, being the foreman, but all worked as a team.

They obviously had an influence because, all these years later, Bob is one of our main organisers when it comes to maintenance. Demolition of the old shed in January 2019 was organised like an Amish house building exercise - everyone pulled together.

With limited gardening time Bob worked until a job was completed - four hours a week meant he couldn’t garden as he wanted but he ‘slogged’ during those few hours to keep control, keep the weeds down, and feed his entire family. “Ten minutes with a hoe does wonders” he says “and never leave them for more than two weeks because small seeds soon cover everything - and then you lose interest!” After a short time Brian Pearson on Plot 53 let it be known that he was giving up. He had a very expensive shed on his plot and, when Bob expressed an interest in moving from plot 31, Brian negotiated a steep but still knock-down price for the shed. Bob moved and

has been happy there ever since.

However, one day, Babs (Bob’s wife) took a phone call from Fred Sewell, a man known to be a bit of a joker - he said Bob’s shed had been stolen. It was dark before Bob got to the plots but, as he approached, he saw an orange, flashing warning light. Someone had deliberately placed it where his shed had once stood and all Bob could do was laugh. It turned out that itinerant men had lifted Bob’s shed, lock, stock and barrel ....and literally walked off with it. Neither men nor shed were ever seen again!

Bob built another shed from an old, salvaged one, and that stands proudly to this day. The year Bob retired he won the coveted ‘Best Plot’ award. For the first time in years he had plenty of time to devote to his gardening. “It’s a good hobby to have”, he says. He also enjoys playing bowls and travelling around the country supporting his granddaughter in her dancing career.

He still feeds his growing family but, these days, helps Babs with the food preparation and cooking too, loving every minute.


John Drayton (1946-2021)

John Drayton was a plot holder from the late 1970s but he had been coming to the Allotments for  much longer. His dad, Jack Drayton, was a well known character on the plots and his lasting  legacy is the much coveted ‘Jack Drayton Memorial Cup’, presented each year to the heaviest  marrow entered into the Horticultural Show. 

John, and his son Stephen took great pride in carefully weighing and measuring each marrow, using Jack’s mathematical micrometer, hoping for another record breaker.  

As a boy, John helped both his Dad and Harry Fowler with jobs on the plots. One time he recalled  helping his Dad to set potatoes only to hear grumbling as his Dad followed behind him, turning  each potato and saying he’d set them all the wrong way up!

When John took over his own plot, the annual fees were 10s (about 50p) a year. He remembered  women starting to take a more active role on the plots too. They grew, among other things, herbs  and pumpkins, but the older plot holders were heard chuckling and muttering, “they’ll not do any  good with them” - but, of course, they did! 

Throughout the years, the bench, outside the ‘hut’, as the old shed was fondly named, became  the prime meeting for putting the world to rights - or ‘passing the time of day’ as the menfolk would call it. 

John remembered when Committee meetings were held inside the ‘hut’ too. 

In early times, before the Bridge cut the Allotments off from Barton, John would walk or cycle to his plot, but later on, like most of us, he came by car.  

John was on the Allotment Society Committee from 1971 and during that time he served as Vice  Chairman for many years. He also acted as Horticultural Show Manager each year. He will be  sadly missed within the Society.

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