Over the 100 year history of the Association there have been many prominent characters who had a strong influence on the formation and running of allotments in Bristol, in particular, and in the national allotment movement in general. These are some of them and their stories.
- Percy Biggs
- James Randall
- Bill Pain
- Ted Hill
- John Tornberg
- W.J. Humphries
- Leslie Bagg
- Arthur Clark
- More recent contributions
Percy Nonus Biggs was born in Bristol in June 1871. He trained as a plumber’s apprentice. He went on to live in Rozel Road, Horfield. He was one of the very first members of the Association (Member No. 4) and had two adjacent plots in Buffalo Bill’s Fields, which was the first allotment site run by H&DAA.
He was elected on to the H&DAA committee in 1917, but by 1918 had replaced Arnold Whittaker as Hon Secretary. Percy Biggs was to remain Hon Secretary until 1939.
As Hon Secretary of the H&DAA it was his role to communicate with anyone and everyone on behalf of the H&DAA Committee. He was an avid letter writer. The H&DAA Archives hold Mr Biggs’ correspondence book from 1922 to 1925 and this contains hundreds of letters all handwritten by Mr Biggs. These included:
- Letters to solicitors to claim compensation for crops damaged by straying sheep
- Letters to landowners about notices to H&DAA to quit fields or changes to the lease
- Warnings letters to plotholders to stop arguing with neighbouring plotholders
- Agreements or refusals for plotholders to swap their tenancy with another person
- Ejection letters to plotholders for various misdemeanours
- Mediation between plotholders over accusations of pilfering of crops
- Letters to Bristol Corporation requesting more land for allotments
- and many more…..
Percy Biggs remained Secretary of H&DAA until January 1939. He died in Bristol in 1953.
James Randall was present at the very first H&DAA meeting held in December 1916 at the Friends Meeting House. At this meeting he was elected Vice Chairman of the Association. He lived at 20 Wolseley Road and was employed as a Colliery Agent. Previously he had been a seaman and worked on a sailing ship called a downeaster which crossed the Atlantic between California and Liverpool.
James Randall became the West of England organiser for the Agricultural Organisation Society and was instrumental in forming many Allotment Associations in the South West and in obtaining allotment land for them to use. This Society was founded in 1901 and ran until 1922. It was a non profit making body which gave advice on forming agricultural co-operative societies and promoting those societies. He was also chairman the Bristol and District Small Holdings and Allotment Federation Ltd. in the 1920s and in 1932 was also co-opted onto the Bristol Federation & Civic Allotments Committee.
One of his most important achievements was in acting as a negotiator between the Bristol Corporation and the H&DAA in the matter of the purchase of the Golden Hill allotments site shortly after WW1 ended. With the blessing of the City Solicitor, Mr. Randall was asked to persuade the H&DAA Committee and its members to accept an increase in plot rental so that the purchase price for the land would become a more economical proposition for the Corporation. Having achieved this agreement, the Corporation then went on to obtain a loan and agreed to purchase the land in 1921 and lease it to H&DAA.
He was to remain as H&DAA Vice Chairman until 1929 when he was then elected Chairman. He remained Chairman until he moved to Portishead to live in 1932. When he left his role as H&DAA Chairman, the committee minutes stated:
“It is only fair to say that no member has done more to further the [allotments] movement, both locally and nationally. During the whole life of our association he has ably assisted in our expansion and success. He was ever willing to assist and advise his colleagues in the Committee…often at serious inconvenience to himself and at his own expense. …….All of us here wish to express our keen appreciation of his service and our deep regret at his resignation.”
James Randall featured in a photograph of allotment holders digging up potatoes, probably dated around 1921.
He died in November 1938, aged 70, and a funeral service was held in the Seaman’s Mission church in Prince St., Bristol, Many H&DAA members were present along with other from the Shiplovers Society, which he co-founded, and the Bristol Photographic Society of which he was a member. In his address the Rev Little, Chaplain of the Seaman’s Mission, paid tribute to James Randall saying .
“We have lost a very dear and good friend, one who stood his ship in the wildest seas. I know and you remember what he meant to the Shiplovers in Bristol and elsewhere.” “He had place in this city which was unique. He was always ready to take a part in any good cause.”
A memorial tablet was dedicated to him in the Seamen’s Mission Church in 1939.
William Edward “Bill” Pain
Bill Pain was born in Bedminster, Bristol in 1895. He joined the H&DAA in 1924 and joined the Committee in 1926. He became Hon. Sec. in January 1939 and was to stay in this post until 1975.
Gardening was his life and his personal archive is full of memories relating to allotment gardening, and H&DAA in particular. He had two adjacent plots on Davies field for many years. He loved growing for show and the H&DAA archives contain many prizes that he won in Bristol Show over the years. He was on the committee for the Bristol Show in the 1930s. His planting diary from 1929 to 1939 is also preserved which shows what variety and quantities of vegetables he planted during this period.
Bill started displaying at shows in his 20s and was still displaying and winning prizes into his 90s!
Bill was a great potato grower. In the H&DAA Annual Potato growing competition, Bill Pain won 1st prize for 5 successive years from 1943 to 1947 inclusive. His record haul was 164lbs in 1944, all grown from 12 seed potatoes!
He married his wife Winifred in 1923. They lived in Beech Road, Thornleigh Road and then later in Maple Road. In 1973 Bill and his wife celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary. For that occasion Bill produced a huge anniversary card for his wife, which featured an illustrated poem, largely based on allotment produce!
Amongst Bill’s achievements as H&DAA Secretary were saving parts of the Golden Hill allotment site from being taken over by the Education Committee just after WWII for use by a local School. He also prevented the Prison Authorities from acquiring land on Golden Hill for prison car parking. He also managed to get water installed throughout the Golden Hill site and obtained grants to cover the cost.
In 1981 the City of Bristol sent Bill a letter congratulating him on having an allotment for over 50 years. Bill was invited to a meeting in the Conference Hall of County Hall to receive his long service award. He was also given one year’s free rent by the Council!
Bill was an active member of the Avon Allotments & Garden Council in the 1980s and became its President. He also attended the Bristol Show and manned the Avon Allotments stall. In 1984, he donated the prize money for the Vegetable Competition which was held. In the photo below Bill is on the right hand side.
Bill was still attending H&DAA meetings in Nov 1991 just 4 weeks before he died aged 96. He had been involved with the H&DAA Committee for 65 years. There was a minute’s silence at the next H&DAA Committee meeting following his death in honour of a great servant to the Association.
Ted Hill joined H&DAA in 1918. He lived in Thornleigh Road and was a builder by trade. He was Trading Secretary for many years which meant he was in charge of the trading shop at Oakley Hall. At one time he was Chairman of H&DAA. He attended many National Allotments Conferences on behalf of H&DAA and served on the Civic Allotments Committee as a co-opted member. He was also a treasurer of the Shiplovers Society. During WEWII he was a war damage assessor.
He is probably best known to current H&DAA members because, in his will, he bequeathed a Silver Cup to the Association, It was decided that this cup should be given to the member with the most improved plot on the whole estate. This cup was to be held for 1 year and the winner also be given a 20 shilling (£1) voucher. A 10 shillings voucher was to be given to the runner up. The vouchers were to be spent in the H&DAA stores to buy seed, fertiliser, etc. or to pay for the annual plot rent.
It is believed that Ted Hill is shown in a photo of allotment holders digging up potatoes in the early 1920s.
WJ Humphries lived near the Golden Hill Site in Clevedon Road. He was a long-standing plotholder in Baptist Field, having first got a plot in the Warner’s Field site March 1918. For many years he was one of the main arrangers of the H&DAA Mixed Collection of Vegetables display for the Bristol Shows. When he died in 1957 the Committee minutes commended him who
“during 30 years had served the Association so well by his work on the Committee, in the fields, at the show and Harvest Festival Collections. The fact that this Association has carried off the First Prizes so many times at the Bristol Show was largely due to his ability for preparing exhibits. We will miss him very much.”
John Alexander Tornberg lived in Beauchamp Road. Bishopston. He became Hon. Treasurer of H&DAA in the early 1920s. He was to remain Treasurer until at least 1940. He was also a prizewinner at shows, exhibiting at many of the Bristol Shows during the 1920s often finishing in the top 3 with his potatoes, cauliflower, parsnips, and also being commended for the overall cultivation of his plot.
Outside of the allotments, John Tornberg ran a pawnbroker shop with a Mr.Mead. Tornberg & Mead was located in Stapleton Road during the 1920s and 1930s. He was also the local secretary for the National Pawnbrokers’ Association.
Leslie Bagg lived in Longmead Avenue., next to the Golden Hill allotment site. He originally became involved on the H&DAA committee as Rent Secretary in the 1920s, and then served as Chairman of H&DAA for many years between 1933 and 1941.
He had served in the armed forces as a Captain of the RASC and fought in the Boer War in South Africa and in the First World War as a member of the British Expeditionary Force. He retired from the Army in 1922, having been posted to the Horfield Barracks..
He was also treasurer of the British Legion Horfield and Bishopston Bristol branch for many years. He died aged 73.
Arthur W. Clark lived in Thornleigh Road, on the same street where other stalwarts of the H&DAA such as Bill Pain (Hon Sec.), Ted Hill and John Cook (both Trading Secretaries) also lived He had a plot in Baptist Field and was H&DAA Trading Secretary in 1958.
He was Chairman of H&DAA during the 1980s and was responsible for a number of initiatives which helped H&DAA. In 1983, he approached the Avon Probation Service about taking on some offenders who had been sentenced to community service. He arranged for Keith Baker, the community services officer to supervise a number of young offenders, who were then put to work around the Golden Hill allotments site, erecting fences, cutting hedges and general tidying up. This was reported in the local newspapers.
In 1982, Arthur Clark appeared in the newspapers in an article promoting the value of allotments to the unemployed. For the cost of only £6 a year an unemployed person could have an allotment which could reap him up to £400 worth of food. Mr Clark appears as a representative of allotment holders on the city council.
Arthur Clark attended many meetings of the Avon Allotments Consultative Committee as the H&DAA representative and was very vocal in raising issues such as rent increases and the charging of rent on vacant plots. He also wrote letters berating the Council for the lack of expenditure on site maintenance and for not improving the drainage on council lands that was causing flooding at the Golden Hill site.
On a less controversial note, Arthur Clark also helped to man the Avon Allotments Council stand at the Bristol Flower Show.
In more recent times, the work and commitment of people such as James Randall and Bill Pain has been emulated by others who have carried on that tradition of serving the Association. The most notable of these include Phyllis Brooks, John Molton, Ken Smith, Phil Hall, Roger Chainey, Brian and Christine Styles, Neil Pirie and Pete Clee.
Phyllis Brooks was our secretary from for the latter decades of the 20th and the start of the 21st centuries (1975 to 2004). Still enthusiastic about the Association, and always in attendance at the AGM even now, although she no longer lives locally, Phyllis was unswerving in her devotion to ensuring all went smoothly for plotholders and committee members alike. Her knowledge of the tenants and the working of the Association was second to none, and she, more than anyone else was the source of any and all information.
John Molton and Ken Smith were Treasurer and Assistant Treasurer respectively in the same era as Phyllis Brooks. John was also Company Secretary, while Ken brought his 50 odd years of allotment knowledge to his role as field representative and the go to man when things needed his particular practical or building skills. Sadly they are no longer with us.
Others who were involved for many years are Phil Hall, as our field rep at Wessex Avenue, where he can ran the site like clockwork in his sleep, and Roger Chainey in Longs field, whose contacts in the Council often proved invaluable to us.
Brian and Christine Styles , our husband and wife team, were involved for many years, as Treasurer and Plot Manager(ess) respectively from the year 2000 onwards. Brian was also Company secretary and general sage, whilst Christine kept all the information about the plots at her finger tips, and put our newsletters together.
Neil Pirie has been our long suffering chair for 20 years or so, and has overseen the dramatic and significant changes which have revolutionised the sites in that period. He brings a certain gravitas to proceedings, something which is more than necessary with the likes of Pete Clee , vice chair and site rep over the same period.