1790 Tilehurst map

Land and Development

Land has always been the basis of the Charity's income, whether from rent or sale proceeds. The Trustees have a duty to make the best possible use of the Charity's assets and, subject to a long-term view, to maximise its income. Consequently, the use of the Charity's land has long been under review. Sales of land for residential development have allowed the Trustees to build up a financial investment, the interest from which has formed a major part of the income in recent years, whilst retaining other land to provide a rental income and possible future sale.

Land at the corner of Armour Road and Kentwood Hill, owned by the Charity, has been let as the Victoria Recreation Ground since before 1900, and for many years the rest of the Charity's land has been used as allotment gardens, having previously been let for grazing. Land adjoining Kentwood Hill has probably been allotment gardens since after the First World War and, over the years, enclosed areas became used as piggeries, smallholdings with livestock, and two builder's yards.

Some allotment gardens

The Trustees have long been aware of their responsibility to maximise the assets and income of the Charity. In 1999, The Trustees' Surveyor was consulted about the possibility of selling some of the land for development, and a Report was duly received. As a result, it was agreed that a Planning Application should be made for residential development over some land fronting onto Kentwood Hill and a smaller piece fronting Armour Hill. At that time, the Kentwood Hill site consisted of several allotment gardens (many of which were unused), a derelict piggery, a small enclosed builder's yard (covering one allotment garden space) and a larger builder's yard occupying a site equivalent to several allotment plots. The Armour Hill site under consideration - much of which was on a steep slope - consisted of three or four allotment plots, another derelict piggery and some waste ground. The allotment holders on these two sites were relocated onto the main site at Polsted Road and elsewhere at Armour Hill, there being sufficient plots vacant at that time for all who wished to accept one. Claims for compensation for sheds, greenhouses, fruit trees etc were accepted and paid. A Planning Application was submitted, but later withdrawn, partly because of opposition by a "Save our Open Space" campaign group, supported by the local M.P. and some Councillors at that time, and partly because of the cost of pursuing the Application, which would almost certainly have gone to Appeal. Following this, an Option Agreement was agreed with a national developer. The Agreement included a payment of £40,000, about half of which was used to cover relevant expenses already incurred, and also an annual payment of £1,000 to compensate for the maintenance and insurance of the site. By the time of writing (late 2009), the developer had not submitted a Planning Application. At around the time that the Option Agreement was entered into, the Trustees received notice from the Council that some of the buildings on the site were unsafe and, as a result, the two derelict piggeries were flattened, the asbestos roofing removed and their sites fenced off.

The Victoria Recreation Ground, situated on the corner of Armour Road and Kentwood Hill, also belongs to the Tilehurst Poor's Land Charity. The land has been used as a recreation ground for many years, being opened to commemorate Queen Victoria's 60th Jubilee in 1897.

The land was leased to the Parish Council, and later to Reading Borough Council, as its successor, for use as a public recreation ground. The Council is required to maintain the hedges, trees, fences and gates. Any buildings erected may only be used as a pavilion or changing rooms or for other approved activities. The area is about 4 acres, 2 roods and 20 perches (just over 4 ½ acres or 1.9 hectares).

A lease dated 26th July 1918 to the Aldermen and Burgesses of the County Borough of Reading by the Trustees, records an annual rent of £16 3s. 9d (£16.19). This lease was replaced by a further one in 1939 at the same rent, payable in quarterly instalments.

A further new lease, for 21 years from 29th September 1955 was agreed, at a rent of £25 p.a. By 1979, the rent had risen to £250, under a new lease; in 1983 it was raised to £750, and in 1992 to £1,000 p.a. The lease expired in 1997 and, at time of writing, negotiations on a new lease had not been completed, although both parties wished to continue the arrangement. Legally, the lease is still in force. It may be terminated by the Council, but not by the Trustees. The rent is still £1,000 p.a.

In 2001, a band of travellers broke into the Recreation Ground, and camped until removed by the Council. A further incursion occurred in 2004, and a great deal of rubbish, including a burnt out caravan, was left. Some rubbish was also dumped on the Charity's land, and this had to be cleared at the Charity's expense. Following this, earthworks and installation of posts were carried out to prevent vehicular access to other parts of the Charity's land.

During the early years of the twenty first century, there were improved communications between the relevant Council officer and the Clerk to the Trustees. This prevented misunderstandings over the use of the Recreation Ground for non-recreational activities and other matters. Requests from both the Trustees and the Allotment Society led to the Council erecting an eight feet high (2.3 metre) fence between the Recreation Ground and the Charity's adjoining land. This greatly reduced access to the allotments by youths who had been causing occasional, but very annoying, vandalism and theft. Unfortunately a dispute between the Trustees and the Council over the closure of additional and unauthorised entrances to the ground has yet to be resolved, although promises have recently been given. The Trustees are keen to ensure that the Recreation Ground is recognised as private land to which the public have limited access, rather than a public open space.

The allotments at Armour Hill and Polsted Road were laid out in 1920 on land previously let to a Mr. Armstrong, who had used it to graze horses for a delivery van. The allotment plots at Kentwood Hill, and some at part of the Armour Hill area, were closed in 1998 and the tenants relocated onto the main site at Polsted Road and the adjoining Armour Hill site. There were, at this time, sufficient vacancies to offer plots to all who wanted them. Compensation for sheds, fruit trees etc was paid to those who requested it.

Accessible plots for the disabled or elderly

In 1995 a Tenants' Committee was set up to look after the interest of allotment holders, and to facilitate communication with the Trustees, as landlords. In 1999, a formal association, The Tilehurst Allotment Society, was set up by plot-holders. Members have been active in improving the main site, notably by putting in many more water points, mowing the main paths and generally encouraging members to keep the site tidy. Since 2000, the Society has also arranged skips for the removal of hard rubbish from the site, in conjunction with the Council's Reading Rescue scheme. Their work is much appreciated by the Trustees and their Clerk, who have responsibility for managing the allotment sites. In 2007, the Society obtained various grants, and one plot was divided into eight accessible plots for disabled and elderly people. The facilities associated with these plots include a concrete parking area, a suitably adapted water point and a large shed.

There are 43 allotment plots at Polsted Road. At Armour Hill there are 43 plots, and an area of orchard and grass running down to The Withies. Below the track, adjoining the road, there is a further area which has only been partly let for a number of years. The three tenants using this area were relocated in 1998 to free the land for the proposed development. There were 28 allotment plots at Kentwood Hill, together with several enclosed areas which were originally small holdings and a piggery. One of the enclosures has been used as a builder's yard for many years, and another two have been used sporadically for various purposes including storage and light industry. The allotment tenants were relocated from Kentwood Hill in 1998, for the proposed development, and at time of writing (2009) the land is unused.

The closure of the Kentwood Hill and some of the Armour Hill allotment sites in 1998 led to a different situation. It was possible to relocate elsewhere all the displaced tenants who wished to continue, so that no-one had to be deprived of a plot. Also, a number of new tenants were offered plots, so that all plots were let. At this time, there was a waiting list of some 15-18 people, but demand may have been artificially boosted as a great deal of publicity was raised by the 'Save our Open Space' group (SOOS). This group aimed to keep the areas proposed for development as open space and it advertised, by a number of methods, for people to request allotments to protect the site.

Waiting lists for allotments have varied over the years. In 2001, all plots were let and there was no-one on the waiting list. Numbers waiting rose slowly to 12 early in 2007, over 30 later in the year and over 50 at the end of 2008. Demand for allotments is subject to a number of factors. Demand increases at times of economic hardship, and has probably been exacerbated in 2007-8, because of publicity for organic food and for increased consumption of fruit and vegetables. Because of the waiting list and low turnover of tenants, the Trustees decided to let only half plots for a year from September 2008, but even then, only five people from the waiting list were satisfied.

Now that there is a significant waiting list, the Trustees consider that there is scope to raise rents further, to maximise the charity's income.

Since 2005, Health and Safety Inspections have been carried out by the Trustees, twice yearly. Members of the Allotment Society's Committee have been invited to join the Trustees. This has not only led to better relations between plot-holders and Trustees, but has also led to the removal of several hazards, especially broken sheds and greenhouses, open water tanks, blocked paths and a general tidying of the site.

The allotment sites are open to plot-holders on every day of the year except for Christmas Day, when all gates are locked to ensure there are no public rights of way over the land.


Updated 09-Nov-2023