1918 Allotment Project

Black and white image of UK schoolboys at work on an allotment allocated for wartime vegetable production on school playing fields

Primary Investigator

JC Niala (School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography)

Partner Organisations:


The 1918 Allotment project recreates an allotment plot from 1918 using one of Fig’s plots on the Elder Stubbs Charity Allotment site in East Oxford using open-pollinated, non-hybrid seeds of heritage plant varieties. It is a project that explores the relationships over a century between growing plants, health & community. Allotments have always been more than about growing food. This project brings into public conversation why it is allotments matter by giving community members the opportunity to engage with a 1918 allotment. Through public talks, discussion events and an exhibition – the project aims to encourage people to think about the ways in which nature is an inextricable part of our urban lives.


In 1918 the Spanish flu pandemic began and went on to infect 500 million people in four successive waves. 1918 was also the end of WW1, a time of hope and huge growth in allotments as a result of emergency measure to mitigate food shortages. JC Niala's research examines the similarities and differences between the ways in which allotments were used during the 1918-1919 (so-called Spanish Flu) pandemic and the COVID-19 pandemic. In 1918 allotments were actively marketed as a tool for staying healthy. The government had also recently co-opted them for the war effort through the Digging for DORA (Defence of the Realm Act) campaign. 1918 Allotment will operate as a space of growth and reflection, putting the Spanish Flu and COVID-19 pandemics into conversation with one another, and act as a living memorial and an invitation to bring a better future into the present. It asks the question – what does it mean to remember a previous pandemic as we struggle to heal in the face of the current one?


The 1918 Allotment has received the additional support of a National Lottery Project Grant


JC Niala: jc.niala@anthro.ox.ac.uk


Image: Spanish Flu poster c. 1918. University of Calgary Archives and Special Collections. Right. UK schoolboys at work on an allotment allocated for wartime vegetable production on school playing fields. Horace Nicholls (1918). Imperial War Museum Q30855.


Part of the Humanities Cultural Programme, one of the founding stones for the

future Stephen A. Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities.