Steve Christopher’s post-war allotment is a wonderful insight into a greener, gentler side of 1940s life. But don’t be fooled: building Revival’s vintage garden wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
How to build a Revival allotment
The challenge to create a 600sq ft Victory Garden on Hurricane Lawn began taking shape last spring with thousands of seeds – sown in Steve’s own greenhouse and garden on the Goodwood Estate. The whole family helped to sow, grow and nurture the plants, just like they would have done back in the 1940s, when Britain was challenged to overcome food shortages and Dig for Victory. Steve shares with us the process of developing the allotment, what to look out for and why he loves what he does…
How long do you and Revival go back?
I came to Goodwood 21 years ago and worked on the farm for 10 years. Now I build at all kinds of events, from boat shows to landscaping, site maintenance and tree planting. I’m a jack of all trades, but my farming background means planting is special to me. Without a doubt, Revival is my favourite event of the year.
How have things changed at Revival over those two decades?
The success of the event has changed things considerably. It’s just so much bigger and even more exciting than it was!
Tell us about how the allotment build began
It all started with a lot of homework, looking back at how Dig for Victory was launched in 1940 by the Ministry of Agriculture, encouraging people to start allotments at home and tackle the food shortages caused by the war.
And what can people look forward to seeing?
We’re recreating the feel of a community allotment. All the old-school veg like leeks and runner beans are here. We’ve got a lovely big fruit cage too, and a compost area. Plus, of course, plenty of actors playing their parts. It literally will be a working allotment when people come through, including a family area full of the little mistakes and experiments that every family makes. People had to work out how to grow things by themselves.
What’s been your favourite part of the job?
I’ve always loved a challenge – and creating something with a bit of wow factor is brilliant. Visitors to what has traditionally been a motorsport event won’t be expecting this. And they’re going to love it.
It must have been hard work, but modern machinery must have helped?
We ploughed with a restored Ferguson T-20 tractor. They probably would have done it all by hand in the 1940s, but we cheated a bit with the little tractor and three-furrow plough. It’s been tough, even with six guys on site. But we’ve had small ploughing matches and a lot of fun, too. We’ll be using that tractor for years to come, I’m sure.
The stars of the show must be the veg, surely?
Yes, we’ve got leeks, cabbages, cauliflower, kale, runner beans… you name it. We’ve grown them all from seed at home with the family. We planted a lot of seeds! We live in a house on the Estate with plenty of space and a little greenhouse and it’s been a great project for the kids. I’m not a professional gardener by any means, but it’s the kind of challenge I love. And that’s what people would have done in the 40s, too. It was all about trial and error. I think we really tuned into that way of thinking over lockdown; people appreciate that and can see it in a new light.
Any particularly fun moments during the build?
The old rotavator we had on site was a bit of a wild tool. Once it gets stuck in and takes hold, if you’re not paying attention, it can take the person behind it on quite a lively walk…
What do you think visitors will learn from the allotment?
In the 1940s people lived sustainably because they had to. Today, we have to think harder about recycling and composting. Composting was really big back then: nothing went to waste. Pretty much everything was used in the kitchen, but anything that wasn’t – the green tops of potatoes, grass cuttings, hedge prunings, things like that – all went on the compost heap. And they would have made their compost heaps much more simply (no plastic of course!), with strips of timber, pallets or railway sleepers. You can absolutely make a compost heap out of anything.
And what about the veg? How did that differ from today’s crops?
Again, no waste. They would have used every single fruit or vegetable that they’d grown, never mind its shape or size. Everything would have been organic, too, and sowing more seeds to start with to cover loss to snails, slugs and other pests. And of course when you don’t use chemicals, you get far more ladybirds and other beneficial insects coming in to deal with greenfly, get on with the pollinating and so on. At the plot, we’ve got a lot of heritage veg – cabbages such as Ormskirk and Wheelers Imperial, for instance, as well as classic King Edward potatoes, named in honour of Edward VII in 1902. Once the event’s over we’ll be growing everything on and using the produce on the Estate. So nothing will go to waste.
What will you be up to during Revival weekend?
We’ll be on call, ready to fix anything that needs fixing, sorting last-minute set-dressing and adjustments all over the site. But on the Sunday I’ll be heading over to the vintage Car Boot Sale for sure. It’s not just about the motorsport these days either – over the road there’s a vintage bar with bands playing, and a fairground for the kids. There’s so much to see.
What do you think you’ve taken from the experience?
I really appreciate all the hard work that goes into growing fruit and veg. And I’ll be doing more of it at home with my children. We’ll extend our little vegetable patch because it’s been such good fun. Radishes grow so quickly so they’re great for kids. Broccoli and kale we love, too. I just steam it, then eat with a good knob of butter and plenty of salt. And you really can taste the difference, too!
Take a closer look at Steve’s bountiful 1940s allotment on Hurricane Lawn, near the Revival High Street and pop in for refreshments at the Hurricane Café.
The official Goodwood Revival Collection
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