Allotments are small parcels of local government owned land allocated to individuals for vegetable growing, in return for a small annual rent. The land is often otherwise unusable--alongside railway lines, for example. Allotments are a form of sharable public gardening that challenges the logic of the Big Yard and a Walkable Neighborhood principle behind suburban sprawl.
Allotment gardening has a long history, inseparable from the failure of markets. Frances Stonor Saunders, reviewing a fairly recent history of allotments, puts it like this:
"Set against the manically inflationist private-property capitalism in a city such as London, putting your spade to soil that is collectively owned acquires a new significance. It is, in the ancient meaning of the word, a radical act."
For more on the legal history of allotments, the UK Allotment Society has a useful history page.
Allotments have been in existence for hundreds of years, with evidence pointing back to Anglo-Saxon times. But the system we recognise today has its roots in the Nineteenth Century, when land was given over to the labouring poor for the provision of food growing. This measure was desperately needed thanks to the rapid industrialisation of the country and the lack of a welfare state. In 1908 the Small Holdings and Allotments Act came into force, placing a duty on local authorities to provide sufficient allotments, according to demand. However it wasn’t until the end of the First World War that land was made available to all, primarily as a way of assisting returning service men (Land Settlement Facilities Act 1919) instead of just the labouring poor. The rights of allotment holders were strengthened through the Allotments Acts of 1922, but the most important change can be found in the Allotments Act of 1925 which established statutory allotments which local authorities could not sell off or covert without Ministerial consent, known as Section 8 Orders. Further legislation has been listed over the intervening years which have affected allotments, the latest of which is the Localism Act 2011. (The National Allotment Society link )
Relevance to the gardeners of federated wiki: at last, the literally forkable.