Markhouse Common Allotments are the last remnant of land that once belonged to all local people in common. There were rules, but essentially it was available so that the people of Walthamstow could let out their cows and goats to graze. That was in the days when the area was mostly farms and smallholdings.
Then the railways came, things changed and the commons were enclosed. The people got a bad deal – most of the common land was taken for development, and only few acres remained.
In 1851 the remaining land became allotments. This meant they became available for “spade husbandry”. The plots were intended to enable the local “respectable poor” to grow their own food. The point of the spade husbandry was to make sure no one brought in a plough and made a commercial enterprise of it. In those early days, allotments were often known as “potato grounds”, and the rules make it clear that the plot holders were generally expected to concentrate on that one crop. The point was that potatoes were cheap, easy to grow and, once harvested, would keep for months, helping to feed a family over the winter. No work was allowed on Sundays: as this was the only free time most working people got, it must have been difficult for plotholders to do the necessary work.
The allotment site used to reach as far as Queen’s Road. But in the 1980s Waltham Forest Council took a strip of land and built flats on it. Now the remaining allotments are hidden from view, but still enable local people to grow food – although there is now a wide variety of crops.