Army Camp, Hoddesdon, First World War

March, 2008

Bob Campbell (rcampbell3 @t of Brisbane, Australia, writes: I was born in a house at Rye Park in Hoddesdon. It is still there but the original name was "Pennant" in Rye Road. My information from locals around this area says that this was the location of an army camp. There is no mention of this in the 1901 census. HALS were only able to send copies of Ordnance maps after 1936 and my 1898 Alan Godfrey map of course doesn't show anything at all.  My grandfather first purchased the house around 1938 and directories for this area only show one previous owner.  What I am trying to find out if there is any reference to this army camp after 1901 and before this was removed and the house built in the 1930's.

Your question could apply to almost any town in Hertfordshire. The only relevant quotation I have found comes from The Chronicles of Hoddesdon and reads:

From time to time the town was enlivened by the presence of quite a considerable number of troops who were billeted about the place: in the main they came from the West Midlands, comprising among others battalions of the North and South Staffordshires, Leicestershires, Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, Gloucestershires and Monmouthshires, their headquarters being usually at Esdale House.

This refers to the First World War, and within weeks of the outbreak at the beginning of August 1914 virtually the whole of Hertfordshire was transformed into a huge military training camp. I have studied what happened at Hemel Hempstead in detail (see The London Gunners come to Town) and initially many of the soldiers went into billets with the remainder in tented encampments. In a number of places work was started on building more permanent hutted encampments. Shortly after the war most, if not all of these temporary wooden huts were sold off. There are still a few village halls which are the relocated First World War Army huts. In at least some cases the land returned to its former use and by the mid 1920s there would be little evidence of where the camp had been.

Any research into these camps is complicated by war time security restrictions. In 1914 the local newspapers often include accounts of the troops in the neighbourhood towns - but it was not long before press reports of which troops were posted where, and what they were doing, are hard to find. The matter is made worse because, while the army units kept war diaries, it would appear that those on home based units have been destroyed  presumably because it was considered no one would be interested in looking at them. This definitely happened to the war diaries of the 2nd London Division (Territorial Force) which moved to the area around St Albans in August 1914. In fact when I wrote the London Gunners I said very little about the troops in Hemel Hempstead after mid 1915 because, although troops were still in the area, it was almost impossible to find out which units were in town - or whether they used the military camp.

See The Terriers in West Herts in World War 1 for an account of what happened in the West of the county - including details of billeting and pictures of some of the camps. I have every reason to believe the situation was similar in the East of the county, including around Hoddesdon.

Bob Campbell also commented: In the early pre-war years my grandmother used to make ropes to help make ends meet (excuse pun) at home at Rye Park at this house, but of course I can't find reference to any ropeworks there also.

As you say that your grandparents moved into the area in 1938 it may well be that this also relates to early war work. Many military-related activities were delocalised away from the main industrial centres - and people ended up making "components" without knowing what the things they used were components of. Security was even tighter than for the First World War - so I suspect that tracking what was happening through paper records would be very difficult.

There is a web page for Hoddesdon

If you can add to the information given above tell me.


Page created March 2008