The allotment tradition in England is seriously impressive. I decided to indulge myself with a ferry, train from Holyhead to Liverpool and a visit to City Hall there. Rob the porter was very helpful in sourcing a full list of the few dozen allotment sites around the city. Too many allotments to visit in one day so I chose those sites closest to where the Fab Four and Brian Epstein grew up and created my own ‘home-grown’ Magical Mystery Tour.
The fold up bike was the ideal vehicle as the allotments were often up laneways or behind houses in out of the way places. George Harrison grew up in 12 Arnold Grove and his nearest allotment would have been Sturdee Road which was all locked and hard enough to find but was clearly well used. George described himself as the ‘gardener’ in the group so he is my ‘number one Beatle’.
Then I headed for Dunbabin Road, behind King David School close to where the first Beatle manager, Brian Epstein, lived. Again this site was locked up but clearly well tended and very productive down a laneway surrounded by pallisade fencing as they all were.
Off I headed then down Menlove Avenue where John Lennon grew up and turned up Vale Road where close to John’s childhood home I found another large crop of allotments in the shadow of a beautiful pub bedecked with bulging bright hanging baskets called … (wait for it)…’The Gardener’s Arms’.
Suitably refreshed, I energetically struck out for Mersey Road Allotments near where Paul Mc Cartney grew up on Fortlinn Road. Here I met James about 16 years old and his Dad, Dave, tending one of 140 allotments there stretching as far as the eye could see on the banks of the Mersey. James was at the locked gate waiting to be let in by his Dad. Each allotment holder has a key and pays annual rent which varies according to the size of each plot, to the Mersey Road Allotment Association Secretary. This rent is then forwarded to the City Council. James, an incurable Eminem fan, was proud of the dry mud on his boots which are a momento of Oxegen (yes, in Kildare) . Dave told me there was a waiting list of about 50 for this site and each plot is about 60 by 20 feet in size. An interesting sign on the noticeboard read, ‘HOSES MAY ONLY BE USED TO FILL WATER BUTTS’.
I left James and his Dad, locking the gate after me. and pedalled off towards the city centre to the Dingle area. (No debate about Daingean Uí Chúis over here!) This is ‘Ringo Star territory’ and in front of Buckland Street allotments is a picture of the great man giving all passers-by the two fingers in a sign of peace. I waited at the locked gates until Tom came out carrying a big bundle of rhubarb. Tom stopped to tell me rents vary there between £17 and £50 a plot and rent was paid to the Allotment Committee locally who passed it on the Council. A notice on the gate read ‘Please do not let children onto the site regardless of whom they claim to be asking to see. The site is not a playground and unaccompanied children running around would invalidate insurance’.
Before leaving Liverpool I took a train to Port Sunlight to see a famous private allotment site on the Wirral. This is where William Hesketh Lever developed his now famous multnational company making soap. His vision was impressive. He built beautiful functional houses for his workers, introduced a pension scheme and other revolutionary benefits in the 19th century and made allotments available and encouraged their productive use.
One of his workers, Albert Wallace, won an award for the Best Allotment in 1892. His prize was two tons of the finest manure! In presenting the award, Mr Lever described Albert’s plot as ‘… well run, efficient and everything in its place…’. I imagine the Sunlight soap came in handy after that presentation!