The THA was founded as a trading organisation in 1941 born out of the need for allotment holders and amateur gardeners to obtain lime, difficult, if not impossible for individuals at the time. Tilehurst then was a fairly small village on the outskirts of Reading, Berkshire with lots of allotments, market gardens and farms surrounding, most of which have disappeared under housing. Two wooden sheds were rented from Reading Borough Council (RBC), which were situated at the entrance to Allotment Gardens in the village centre.
We have no real records of the period until 1960, so it is difficult to say what was actually sold in the sheds, other than lime, but it is likely to have been fertilizers, composts, seed potatoes, seeds and bulbs. The attached history of the THA from 1960 written by T.R Aitken gives an illuminating insight into the early years – THA History – 1960
In 1957 a further set of 2 wooden huts were leased from RBC, on the Oak Tree Road Allotment site, followed in 1963 by a 3rd shed in City Road rented from Bradfield RDC. This was close to a large allotment area and lasted until 1973 when it was closed due to difficulties with finding volunteers to run it and the need for expensive roof repairs. The allotments there have long since been built over.
In 1969 RBC decided to expand the local infants’ school, so the allotment gardens and the THA shed had to go. After various negotiations land was leased from RBC in Gratwicke Road and the THA built a trading shed, using money borrowed from members as well as its own funds. The move finally took place in 1987.
Membership appeared to reach an all time high in 1963 with a total of 1038 paid up members – what a thought! We now average around 400 members, split between annual membership and life members. In 1975 membership was 30p & 20p annually and has been increased slowly ever since.
Over the years there have been many changes to the stock held; seed potatoes, bulbs and seeds are no longer viable due to the proliferation of other outlets. We mainly sell the basics, composts, fertilizers, canes etc. and, except for the ‘loss leaders’ sold by other outlets, we are priced competitively, and members find they easily recoup their membership fee with savings on purchases.
The THA held its first show in 1947 and except for a few years in the 1960s, when there was no show secretary, has held one ever since. Originally held as part of the Tilehurst Annual Fete and in association with the Tilehurst Allotment Association, there were 38 classes ranging from fruit, flowers and vegetables to domestic, crafts and junior classes. The fete was later taken over by the Tilehurst Football Club, but we continued to hold our show there. However, in 1963 the club cancelled the Fete, which was when we discovered we could ‘go it alone’, and arranged the Annual Show in the Church Hall. It was held in various places until 1978 when it moved to the Village Hall and has been held there ever since. Over the years the number of classes has risen to 83, things such as crafts and wine-making have fallen by the wayside, to be taken over by an increase in cookery, photography and junior classes.
Part of the THA remit, as laid down in the Rules is to ‘Arrange instruction in Horticulture and also lectures’. To this end, talks and lectures have always been arranged, initially on an ad-hoc basis as and when money permitted or someone took on the arranging. Since the 1990s, however, a series of winter talks has been arranged, offering a wide range of subjects from basic vegetable growing to orchids and even the likely effect of climate change. Five talks a year are held between October and April. Entry is free and open to everyone and support is growing. With the help of a raffle, prizes donated by the audience, the cost of running the talks need not be fully met from the ‘trading profits’, as used to be the case.
Adapted from “The History of the THA” written by Lynne Jones for the RHS