Britons Camp

St Albans, World War One

 

In August 1914 the 2nd London Division moved to their war station in the St Albans area (see The London Gunners come to Town), and army camps were set up over a large area of West Hertfordshire. These continued through much of the First World War, and one of these camps was known as Britons Camp, which appears to have existed in the Summer of 1915

Postcard sent by John (?02614 2/2nd ??? RAMC, Britons Camp, St Albans, Herts) on 15th August 1915 to Mrs W H Payne, Heathfield, Ramsden, Billericay, Essex

Dear Mother.  I'm sending you a photo we had taken in front of our tent the other day. The other chaps are the others in our tent. Sid has gone into another tent now with the other officer servants and we have a lance corporal instead. Will write a letter in a dy or two. With love to all from John.

Photographer L L Christmas, 23 Catherine Street, St Albans

A group of six postcards said to be of the 2/4 Leicesters

Military Camp Pictures held by the St Albans Museum.
 

 
2/4 Lincolns, 1915   North Staffs, Batchwood, 1915   Britons Camp
It would appear that Batchwood Camp was in existence at about the same time as Britons Camp
Other Pictures
 

Lincs and Leices Camp, St Albans, 1915

photographed by L. L. Christmas, of St Albans

Undoubtedly the same camp, and length of shadows suggest summer, but no location clues.

[Thumb from card advertised on ebay, 2010]

Lincolnshire Regiment, Britons Camp, August 1915

No title or photographer. Not posted

Message: With Best Love / Harry / Britons Camp / Aug 1915

Hedges show compatible location but nothing identifiable

[Thumb from card advertised on ebay, 2010]

 

See also First World War pages

While Briton's Camp was somewhere near St Albans it exact location is, at the time of writing, unknown. Mike Neighbour kindly suggested it might be the area between Sandridge Road and Beech Bottom. He pointed out that a firm called Hammonds had built the houses in this area on what was called the "Briton Estate" in 1938 - and there is a pub called the Ancient Briton, which was built at about the same time (first listed in 1937 Kelly's Directory for Hertfordshire). I know this area very well (see A Short History of Bernards Heath) and it is very likely that troops made use of the area during the First World War. However a careful look at the picture and a comparison with old maps suggests it was somewhere else  - so another job for the Postcard Detective.

Can you help
Picture from http://www.fotosearch.com/
The Postcard Detective

So where was Britons Camp?

Evidence for the Location of Briton's Camp

  1. There is only one photograph which shows enough of the area where the camp is to be of any use in identifying the location

  2. This photograph shows no building or any distinctive single feature which would be sufficient to identify the area.

  3. A straight road cuts across the picture from left to right.

  4. On the near side of the road there are two fields, one containing the horses and the other empty, separated by a straight hedge meeting the road at right angles.

  5. On the far side of the road there is a large field containing the tented part of the camp.

  6. At the top right of the camp field there are a significant number of large trees - which must be part of a wood.

  7. Beyond the camp field there are indications of two further fields.- but no clues as to their shapes.

  8. The photograph is looking down a comparatively gentle slope, and can see the tented part of the camp over a hedge which would hide it if the ground was level.

  9. Allowing for the trees the horizon is level - suggesting the absence of and significant gradients.

  10. The trees are in leaf - ruling out the possibility that the picture was taken in the winter.

  11. The absence of single or groups of trees in the fields suggest that it not part of the park of a large house.

  12. The sub is shining and the shadows of two of the horses can be clearly seen, and the length of the shadow suggests that the sun is about 50o above the horizon. This suggests the picture was taken towards the middle of a Summer day and the road is running towards the North.

If we put all these observations there is a lot of evidence to say where the camp was not. We need three field separated with a straight length of road running somewhere between NW and NE with a wood to the North. In addition the general conformation of the ground would appear to rule out the valleys of the Ver and the Lea.

In theory it might be possible to look at a large scale map of the area round St Albans made at anout this time - the O.S. 1:2500 maps made at the very end of the 19th century might do, and eliminate fields one by one - and see how many candidate sites are left, However if anyone knows the location of any temporary army camp near St Albans I would be grateful is they could tell me.

February 2010

Extract from the Leicestershire Regiment page of The Long Long Trail.

2/4th Battalion
Formed at Leicester in September 1914 as a second line unit. Became part of 2nd Lincoln and Leicester Brigade, 2nd North Midland Division. Moved in January 1915 to Luton and by July 1915 was at St Albans. August 1915 : formation became the 177th Brigade, 59th (2nd North Midland) Division.
April 1916: moved to Ireland.
January 1917 : returned to England and moved to Fovant.
24 February 1917 : landed in France.
8 May 1918 : reduced to cadre strength and returned to England with 16th Division.
20 June 1918 : absorbed by 14th Bn

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Suggestion received: Britons Camp could be, Bridons Camp located one mile from Water End on Red Lion Lane nr Hemel Hempsted .

Thanks for an interesting suggestion which I had not considered, with the soldiers giving their camp a name similar to an existing place name.

I have now looked at modern satellite photographs and the 1880s Ordnance survey and compared them with the photograph.  Clearly Britons Camp would not have been on Bridens Camp (which is in a wood)  but looking at the maps there was a possible similarity with the location of road, field boundaries and woods  involving Red Lion Lane and Birchley Wood. However a closer look show that some groups of trees which were there in 1880 were still there over 100 years later - but are not in the photograph. In addition the camp was on comparatively level land - while the Red Lion Lane area is on the side of the Gade Valley and the lie of the land is wrong.

July 2010

John Vaughn sent a photograph of some fields and the north running road in shown in this large scale map of 1884 of the area imediately north of Sandridge Village. I am sure the picture is not taken from the same position and, for instance, there is no sign of the wood. However it does highlight a possible area.

At the top of the map is part of No Mans Land Common and at least part of the boundary is now heavily wooded and a hedgerow with trees is shown in 1884. The is also a shallow valley running across the area, the higher ground being to the north-west and the south east. With one exception all the hedgerows in the triangular area between the roads in the centre of the map have now been removed. At the moment the triangular field is under crops but once they have been harvested it would be well worth a visit to see if one can find a spot in the area where the slopes match the picture with a possible site for the wood.  However the more look at the contours and some of the bench marks (not really visible in the  reproduction here) the more I have my doubts.

So if any of you can either confirm this site - or come up with another suggestion I would be grateful.

B.T.W. A significant part of the area is now part of Heartwood Forest while part of the land to the right of the map was farmed, for over 100 years, by my ancestors.


Aeroplane at Britons Camp, St Albans  

A Maurice Farman MF-11 Shorthorn plane at Briton's Camp, St Albans in the summer of 1915

The back of the card gives no clue to its origin (and there could have been more than one "Britons Camp" during the war. However most of the cap badges show the sphinx of the Lincolnshire Regiment, or the tiger of the Leicestershire Regiment - confirming the date and location as summer 1915 at somewhere near St Albans.


 

These picture of Briton's Camp have been  kindly provided by Chris Bailey, who is researching the Linclomshire Regiment during the First World War and has so far been unable to identify the location of Briton's Camp. However two of his pictures show buildings on the horizon, including one with a distinctive chimney.

Perhaps someone with a good understanding of St Albans 100 years ago can help.

 

 
  This picture of Briton's Camp provide a view which includes buildings, one with a distinctive chimney, on the horizon (see below). Another building cab be seen (above) towards the right end of the horizon.

More picture of the Lincolnshire Regiment at St Albans in 1915

The following is a detail from a postcard of the Lincs on some kind of training exercise. Railway carriages can be seen in the background - and a mill with a chimney is on the far left.

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

May 2006  

 Page created

December 2009  

 The Postcard detective called in

January 2010  

 Thumb of L Christmas post card

February 2010    Extract about Regiment; Bridens Camp suggestion
July 2010   Area north of Sandridge
July 2010   Ebay card thumb added
July 2015   Aeroplane postcard
November 2016   Lincs PC from Chris