Since 2021, a small group of Eton boys have been working on an allotment located by the railway arches beside Eton Wick Road. Meeting every Saturday, these boys work on a small patch, first planting bulbs, plants and seeds – according to the season – before weeding and maintaining the area. This is just one of the many activities which the Environment at Eton group have been working on this year.

With limited success in their first year, the boys are currently optimistic about what the harvest could provide in 2023. Having already seen their raspberry bushes flourish, they anticipate a good showing of garlic, onions, tulips and daffodils – with promising shoots already appearing.

Speaking to Alexander, a Year 12 boy who has been involved since the start of this project, I was able to get a good sense of why this activity has been so popular, “It’s a lovely way to end the week really, being outside on a bright Saturday afternoon is a great way to start the weekend.” There were some challenges for the boys running the allotment in its first year, as it proved difficult to plan around the times the boys would be at home for the holidays. “This year things are looking much better,” Alexander told me. “With dedicated teachers on board, we were able to take advantage of the warm summer last year, and now with lots of bulbs in the ground, we’re hoping for some really good results soon.”

There’s little respite for the group however, with constant watering and weeding needing to be done every week. “It can hard work in the winter,” another boy told me, “the cold really gets to you when you’re just sitting there working the ground.” But with the winter almost behind them, they are looking forward to warmer afternoons.

There also seems to be a tradition of Eton boys working on allotments in this area. Looking through the College Archives, I found evidence of Etonians working on similar looking allotments many decades ago.  During the Second World War, Eton boys were seen ‘digging for victory’ across the site. Each House had their own allotment and with the prospect of extra food during rationing, the boys worked hard to provide fresh produce for the Eton community. The three photographs below from the College Archives date from 1939 and show Etonians working on an allotment with railway arches in the background, suggesting that boys were working on the same patch of land over 80 years ago.

Not only do the allotments continue to provide an opportunity for boys to enjoy being outdoors, but they also provide a chance for scientific experiment. Oscar L, Ashely L, Charlie Z, Clyde L and Sam C-C used the allotment in the summer of 2022 to determine whether planting radishes alongside companion legumes, such as peas and beans, would benefit the growth of the radishes. The boys watered the plants over a period of eight weeks, before measuring the mass of the radishes and comparing those which grew in the presence of peas or beans to those in the control group with no companion plants. They concluded that the radishes grew more quickly when planted near the peas or beans. On average, radishes grew to be 2.84 times as large compared to the control group!

Generations of Etonians have found joy in the simple pleasures of getting outdoors and trying their hand at growing some produce. Today is no different, with many boys using this allotment for both weekly relaxation and scientific endeavours.

Hopefully, they’ll have something to show for their efforts come the summer!