On My Doorstep – Part Eight
August 5, 2016
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If you look at a map of Frimley you will see an area bisected by Old Bisley Road and Frith Hill Road and to the west of Pine Ridge Golf Centre, marked as Frimley Fuel Allotments. Administratively, Frimley is in the Borough of Surrey Heath and until its suburbanisation, that is what the area was – open heath, covered by gorse, heather scrub and sparse grass. As well as providing cover for local highwaymen, the land was abundant with deer but provided poor grazing for sheep and other domesticated animals. The poor quality of the grazing land coupled with the general economic conditions prevailing at any point in time meant that that many of the residents of the Frimley area in the late 18th and early 19th century lived in poverty.
Commoners, as they were called, held rights to cut turf or wood, to fish and graze cattle on the heathland. The poor were funded by a levy of a Poor Rate on the parishioners of Frimley and those who were not infirm were engaged in various forms of physical labour such as cutting turf, digging graves or extracting stone for building works. All this was to change when parliament passed the Frimley Enclosure Act of 1801 which allowed for the dividing, allotting and enclosing of waste grounds and commons within the manor of Frimley, although the land was not actually enclosed until 1826.
By 1820 a workhouse had been established on what is now part of the Fuel Allotments land and it housed 19 paupers. Under the terms of the 1801 Act anyone “who did not occupy lands or a dwelling of an annual value of more than Five Pounds” was entitled to take fuel away from the area – this meant pretty much all of the agricultural labourers, cottagers and small tradesmen living there. The Trustees were also empowered to lease the whole or part of the allotment area to anyone deemed suitable for a period of not more than twenty-one years, the rent to be paid quarterly in arrears and the tenant, on giving up the lease, being required to leave the land in good condition.
As well as fuel the Trustees had the discretion to distribute to those who fell below the £5 qualification mark warm clothing and blankets. The availability of a more efficient form of heating, fired by coal, meant that this was required to be distributed to the needy by the Trustees and it had a transforming effect on the financial welfare of the charity. The Trustees received an income of around £30 per annum from rents and investments. A ton of coal cost £1 and a recipient of their largesse would receive a quarter each year. Blankets cost 3 shillings, a pair of shoes 12 shillings, a petticoat 5 shillings and a man’s coat and trousers £1. Finances were tight.
In 1894 the Trustees passed responsibility for the Fuel Allotments to the newly formed Frimley Urban District Council who in turn a few years later were looking to get shot of it and extinguish rights in order to buy a recreation ground. Despite resistance from the Charity Commissioners the land was leased to the army for military use but the terms of the agreement allowed for the continuance of the cutting of furze for fuel and the maintenance of the heathland.
We will look at the fortunes of the fuel allotments in the 20th century another time.