Woodcourt

WW1 Training Camps

When the First World War war broke out in August 1914, the British Army could then accommodate 174,000 single men in existing army barracks. Over the following months, as huge numbers of men joined Kitcheners New Army, a scheme was drawn up to billet 850, 000 men in wooden-hutted camps across the country.

Major Armstrong and his team of Royal Engineers were asked, by the War Office, to submit plans for a standard hutted camp that could house one battalion at a war strength of 1,000 men. Having already done some preliminary work, Major Armstrong produced plans within two days. These “Armstrong huts” were simple to manufacture and could be erected by unskilled labour, yet were flexible enough to be adapted to changing uses.

 

The men who volunteered as soldiers, or who were conscripted, lived and trained at camps such as Redmires, near Sheffield, and Clipstone, near Mansfield, which became one of the largest military training camps of the Great War. Army units were sent to these camps to hone skills including trench warfare, night attacks and firing machine guns. Around 20-30,000 soldiers were stationed at Clipstone Camp at any one time, where they lived in prefabricated huts which contained a stove and beds for up to 30 men.

Local lads Harry Humphreys, Ernest Allen, Joseph Walsh and Arthur Simpson trained at Clipstone with the Royal Fusiliers and both James Clarke and Thomas Hall were at Redmires for part of their training.

Local lad, Able Seaman Leonard Maltby Hasman. Blandford Camp, Dorset

After the War

Although the armistice was signed on November 11ththe war was not completely over. The Kaiser did not abdicate until November 28th and British and American troops did not enter Germany until December 1st. Until the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919 there was only an armistice, not a peace agreement.

The War Office had not wanted to release men until the Peace Treaty was signed, but such was the unrest amongst men anxious to return to civilian employment that release in batches began as early as January 1919 and most of those who had volunteered or who were conscripted for war service were back in civilian life by the end of 1919.

In November 1918, the British army had numbered almost 3.8 million men. Twelve months later, it had been reduced to slightly less than 900,000, and by 1922 to just over 230,000.

Clipstone became one of the biggest demobilisation centres in the country and many of the men of Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Nottinghamshire were dispersed from there.

In the early months of 1920 there were very few soldiers left at Clipstone and other camps. Throughout the following months – and into 1921 – there were a number of large sales as the surplus wooden army huts were sold. Soldiers, sailors, airmen and women had lived in these huts; slept in them, ate in them, cleaned their kit in them and trained in them. They would continue to serve a useful purpose for many years as village halls, schools, churches, shops and garages. 

A century later, very few of them survive. 

Ex-Army hut used as a Church Hall at Barrow Hill until 1936.

Huts for housing

By 1918, it had become clear that the country was facing an acute shortage of housing. Building costs had inflated during the war and there was a lack of building materials. The Government felt particularly responsible for providing homes for the soldiers returning from war.

Many local authorities had looked at wooden ex-army huts as a temporary solution to the housing problem, but most, including Chesterfield, rejected this option.


It was considered that the cost of £350 each, plus the cost of erection and conversion to two bungalows, was excessive for homes with a short projected life-span, and that the huts would lower the standard of housing for working people they wanted to provide.

 

 

Charles Markham had first put forward a plan, in 1918, for a new, self-contained, “Garden City” of 880 houses to be built between Staveley and Brimington, on land then known as Hollingwood Common.  The original plans had included brick-built homes on what is now the Station Road, Hollingwood Crescent, Troughbrook Road triangle. See Hollingwood Garden City

Proposed Plan of Hollingwood Garden City

These ambitious plans suffered continual setbacks, including delays with the compulsory purchase of the land from the Chatsworth Estate, and objections from Chesterfield Council that the drainage and water supply were unsatisfactory. It is likely that these delays prompted the Staveley Coal and Iron Company to purchase ex-army huts as a temporary measure to meet the urgent need for homes for workers.

Although it has not been possible, as yet, to determine a precise date when “Woodcourt” was developed, evidence points to the period between late October 1920 and mid-1922. It wasn’t until October 1920 that the minutes of the Staveley Coal and Iron Company first refer to the purchase of land at Hollingwood from the Duke of Devonshire  following lengthy negotiations. Woodcourt is not shown on a 1921 map of the area .  The Iron and Coal Trades Review (25 August 1922) contains an article entitled “Workmen’s Village,” which states that:

“To furnish additional housing for the men engaged at the Devonshire Works, a small village has been built of converted Army huts; from these houses the ashes and refuse are collected and, supplemented with coke ballast, are burnt under a destructor to heat water which is supplied to the whole of the houses.” 

 

37 ex-army huts were originally purchased, erected and converted into 74 semi-detached bungalows by the Staveley Coal and Iron Company. 

 

The 1939 Register, taken on 29 September 1939, provides a snapshot of the civilian population of England and Wales just after the outbreak of the Second World War. Click here to see who was living in the bungalows at Woodcourt at that time.

 

Today, the only original huts which have survived are those on Hollingwood Crescent. With a few years of military history, and almost 100 years of social history, behind them, these army barracks are important local heritage assets and a lasting legacy of the First World War.

Woodcourt today

©Ann Lucas
  
MAIN REFERENCES
  1. British Newspaper Archives
  2. Iron and Coal Trades Review (25 August 1922): With grateful thanks to Philip Cousins for this extract.
  3. Housing the returning soldiers, “Homes Fit for Heroes”, Martin Stilwell MA
  4. http://www.greatwarhuts.org
  5. http://www.ourmansfieldandarea.org.uk
  6. The Long, Long Trail
  7. Facebook photo credits: Roy Hadfield, David Griffiths
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