Matthew Tilley produced this document as a piece of research work. Sue Hodgkinson, who used to live in Superior Camp, was one of his sources, and she asked Matthew whether we could have a copy of his work for the web site. He agreed, and we are very grateful - the work is Matthew's and must not be used, reproduced, or copied in any way without his express permission. The original title of Matthew's paper is
The Process of Landscape Change and Management at Ludshott Common in the Twentieth Century.
For a map of the common and the paths, the National Trust map is available here.
The History of Ludshott Common
Ludshott Common’s history of human usage extends back far beyond its acquisition in 1908 and management by the National Trust. The extensive heath landscape, punctuated by swathes of scrub and bush, has arisen over centuries of agricultural grazing. Historical documents that date back to the thirteenth century show that Ludshott Common and adjacent Waggoners Wells once belonged to extensive areas of manorial common land. The acidic, free-draining and sandy nature of the soil, and the undulating topography of the terrain prevented intense arable exploitation of the land. However, the proliferation of gorse, heather and bracken, and the exposed, open nature of the landscape made it particularly well suited to pastoral grazing. Although the earliest written documents attest to grazing on this landscape in the thirteenth century, this pastoral tradition is widely thought to date back to the Dark Ages, and possibly to prehistory.
Ludshott Common forms part of a family of ancient heath and wood-pasture geography extending across north-western Europe, on which the ancient tradition of grazing has ensured a landscape that has remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years. The need for animal bedding and fuel ensured that the gorse, heather and bracken were used by the local people rather than removed, and the constant pressures of grazing herbivores ensured that thick scrub and arboreal vegetation remained limited. This geographical equilibrium led to the development of a unique and stable ecosystem of birds, insects and other small animals. As far as historical records can tell, rights to graze sheep, cattle, ponies, goats, geese and pigs were granted by the Lord of the Manor at Ludshott in the thirteenth century, although similar use of the land in all likelihood dates back to prehistory. Interestingly, these rights are still held by commoners in the nearby Selbourne village, although they aren’t used. These rights lost their significance towards the end of the nineteenth century, as free-grazing was being replaced by more formal, intensive farming. With no economic value, the Commons were quickly being given over to development for housing and Ludshott Common came under threat.
When Ludshott Common and woodlands were submitted for sale by auction at the beginning of the twentieth century, it looked as if the ancient environment was about to be changed forever. Fortunately, the National Trust was established at this time with the raison d’étre of preserving these fast-disappearing ancient landscapes. Ludshott Common itself had a particular significance for the Trust, since Sir Robert Hunter, co-founder of the Trust, was Chairman of the Ludshott Common Preservation Committee. When the land was put up for auction, Sir Robert Hunter considered it essential that the Trust succeed in acquiring the land and protecting it. In 1908 the Trust, with substantial public support, raised £1,000 to buy the Common, and a further £1,350 for the surrounding woodland (Lord Eversley, 1910).
Since that date, the National Trust has been responsible for maintaining the natural equilibrium of the site and its ecosystem. Having maintained its environmental status quo for unknown hundreds of years, it may have seemed that preservation of the Common would be an extremely low maintenance affair. However, the development of agriculture by the twentieth century had rendered free grazing obsolete, and this essential and ancient practice had been intrinsic in the site’s ecosystem. Without the pressures that grazing placed on the environment and its flora, there was an ever-present risk that the scrub and woodland would intrude upon the heathland and transform the landscape.
To this day, the National Trust has always been involved in cutting back the woodland and preventing the spread of gorse and bracken, and signs of these endeavours are always in evidence on the Common. A further duty of the National Trust, one is that is universal to all the landscapes under their management, is to ensure that the land is kept available for public enjoyment, and its natural beauty safeguarded. This meant that the National Trust were obligated to prevent anyone from manipulating the land for any activity, or altering it any way, that would preclude public enjoyment. These duties would prove to be far more challenging (as war, population pressure and fires took their toll) than anyone could have predicted when the Common was bought at the beginning of the twentieth century. Landscape change, which had been kept at bay for hundreds of years, was due to make a huge impact on the site, and present great challenges to the Trust personnel who managed it.
The Army at Ludshott Common
The activities of the military on Ludshott Common, during both World Wars when the land was given over to the Army for training under wartime requisitioning powers, are undoubtedly the source of the greatest alterations to the landscape. This is particularly true of the Second World War, when the use of tanks in warfare became widespread and vast tracts of countryside were given over to the training of tank regiments, and entire landscapes were devastated by the constant manoeuvres of these powerful, armoured vehicles. However, the Common’s involvement in the war effort in the 1940s was a particularly special one that went beyond the use as a training space. The history of the landscape in the last century is entwined with the history of an army camp that was constructed on the territory of the Common: Superior Camp. This camp not only served as accommodation, training space and social centre for the Canadian soldiers, but later became an independent, thriving civilian community during the mid-twentieth century. Before the effects of the military on the landscape during the Second World War can be considered, Superior Camp’s wartime occupation has its own contribution to make to our understanding of the Common’s full relationship with the military.
Section 1 – Hampshire’s Army Camps
The rural landscapes of Hampshire, of which Ludshott Common is part, have a long history of military activity. Their varied pastoral terrains were ideal for the training of soldiers for the experiences they would face on the battlefields of the nineteenth, twentieth, and today, the twenty-first centuries. Vast tracts of land in Hampshire were first acquired by the Army in 1863, and have been used for training purposes to the present day. The phenomenon of the temporary military camp, constructed to established formulae and standards since the mid-nineteenth century, can trace its origins back to the first examples in Hampshire (Schofield, J. et al. 2006). The so-called ‘Home of the British Army’, the military town of Aldershot, is located in Hampshire, so are the significant modern barracks of Bordon, Pirbright and Longmoor. Many of the local towns owe their development to the presence of the Army, and Hampshire’s residents are used to the familiar sound of rifle fire from army ranges. Temporary army camps since the nineteenth century were constructed to strict, standardised formula, and Superior Camp was no exception. Recent archaeological investigations into the material phenomenon of these Camps by J. Schofield, D. Evans, W. Foot and C. Going have shown that these camps were always situated in areas conforming to the following criteria:
- Availability all year round of open ground for manoeuvres, rifle ranges etc.
- Preferably gravel or chalk soil, good drainage, an ample water supply either pure or capable of being purified.
- Good communications; not on a main railway line so as to impede movements, but not far away from one.
- Materials easily procurable, labour available and preferably existing systems of water, electricity and sewerage that could be shared (Schofield, J. et al. 2006, 5).
As the authors go on to observe, the Aldershot district, and large areas of Hampshire generally, conform to these requirements perfectly. The abundant open countryside is well suited to manoeuvres, whilst the proximity to London means good communications and transport infrastructure are always nearby, and the provisions for the dense civilian population ensure that amenities such as water and electricity are always on hand. Superior Camp conformed completely to these standards. It was constructed in 1941 by Canadian Royal Engineers on the territory of Ludshott Common, which was given over to military control under wartime requisitioning powers. Its location on Ludshott Common provided ample territory for training, whilst its proximity to the local villages of Headley Down and Grayshott meant that facilities could be easily provided, and the soldiers could frequent the local shops and pubs easily.
The camp’s dispersed layout conformed to standard measures intended to thwart enemy recognition from the air. Schofield et al. (2006, 15) recognised this trend: ‘Some camps built during the Second World War appear to have been designed with the deliberate purpose of not introducing regular layouts of roads and buildings, probably for camouflage purposes… camps were [sometimes] built with curving roads and paths, and with groups of huts set at widely dispersed locations.’
Section 2 – Superior Camp Today
Today, the site of the Camp is barely recognisable. All the buildings have been cleared as the site has been returned to nature, and no commemorations or notices exist at the site to enlighten a passing visitor. On close inspection, one can still make out the material remains of the camp (Fig. 2.1). The majority of these remains are concrete emplacements that proved too difficult and costly to remove, such as the concrete roads that were laid down when the camp was constructed, and the concrete foundations and postholes associated with the wooden buildings.
Written records pertaining to this camp are unfortunately absent, a problem that applies to almost every historical army camp in the country, since wartime policy was not to preserve records of individual camps, and what records that existed were destroyed in the years following the Second World War (Evans, D. 2006, 1). The only records I have encountered pertaining to the Camp during the Second World War have come from local historian John Owen Smith. His work of local history ‘All Tanked Up: the Canadians in Headley during World War II’ (Owen Smith, J. 1994) provided the context for this investigation. More specifically for Superior Camp, John was able to provide me with an aerial photograph of Superior Camp during personal correspondence (Fig 2.2, below).
This photograph has been essential in reconstructing, as best as possible, life at Superior Camp during its military occupation. During its lifetime as a serving military camp under the Canadians in the Second World War, the Camp was a thriving army community. It featured over 100 buildings (some brick-built but the majority were Nissen huts of wooden construction), concrete roads, sewage tanks; power lines and many other facilities. The photograph was taken in 1946, the year that the Camp was abandoned by the Canadians. Many of the temporary army camps from the war were photographed from the air in the late 1940s before they were decommissioned (Schofield J. et al. 2006, 61) and it is likely that this photograph was taken as part of that campaign. As a documentary source, this photograph is useful for showing the layout of the Camp but does not reveal much about the function of the buildings, or everyday life on the camp.
Section 3 – Life on the Military Camp
Fortunately, personal correspondence with local Grayshott resident Peter Spice has enabled me to provide some of these details. Mr. Spice used to deliver milk to Superior Camp during the war, when he was about 12-13 years of age. His personal memories of the Camp have been essential in revealing the functions of the buildings, and give a young civilian’s view of the Camp and its occupants. The author and Mr. Spice visited the site of the Camp and toured the obscure remains of the roads and foundations.
The accompanying aerial photograph has been enlarged to give a better view of the camp’s buildings, and the main features have been marked in red. The map has been rotated clockwise through 90°, with East at the top, to give a better conception of the Camp’s layout. The main road leading past the Camp, Grayshott Road, is seen in the bottom right corner of the map, just to the right of the compass arrow. Peter Spice observed that the vast majority of the buildings on the Camp were used for accommodation and training, and had no special significance. The first feature of note is the Guardhouse and Petrol Station at the entrance to the Camp, marked with a ‘1’.
The guardroom buildings were exceptional in that they were constructed of brick. There was also a sentry box to control entrance to the Camp. The Camp’s vehicles were parked behind the guardhouse away from the road; it should be noted that these would have been wheeled vehicles, since the tanks themselves were stationed at nearby Headley Down village. Today, practically nothing remains of these buildings, although the main concrete road leading through the camp from the entrance is still evident and in constant use.
A few yards further up the road is a conspicuous concrete platform (Fig. 2.3). Close inspection reveals that there are no apparent foundations or postholes, and that this was never the site of a building. A concrete border with square recesses is found on the south side of this platform, further along the road. As an open concrete platform, I first suspected that this space might have been a vehicle parking area. Peter Spice has revealed that this was the site of the Camp’s petrol station. The two square recesses in the border on the south side are the hollows where the petrol pumps once stood.
The next feature of significance is the Parade Square, marked with a ‘2’ on the map. The map shows that this was situated in the northeast corner of the Camp, immediately next to some of the buildings. Today, with many of the buildings to the East of Superior Road obscured by thick foliage, the Parade Square is a brief walk through light woodland. The Parade Square itself now consists of a conspicuous, open clearing in the trees (Fig. 2.4). The ground is covered with light scrub, where presumably the now-obscured hardcore has prevented the growth of larger foliage. Peter Spice remembers a row of large guns on the East edge of the Parade Square, facing out across the Common. These have been marked as a single red line on the map (Fig 2.2).
The most significant remains of any building on the Camp are those of the NAAFI (Navy Army Air Force Institute) Building, occupying a central location on Superior Road and marked with a ‘3’ on the map. The concrete dwarf walls of this building are quite obvious from the road, and a significant amount of the building’s outline can still be observed (Fig. 2.5). Peter Spice remembers that the NAAFI building was a long hallway, and was the location where the soldiers held their Christmas parties and socials – events to which the neighbouring civilians were invited and Peter Spice remembers fondly. The soldiers developed a special relationship with the local people and socialised with them often (these relationships are explored in John Owen Smith’s ‘All Tanked Up’) in social events and everyday life.
As an early teenager at the time, who was often at the Camp conducting his milk rounds, Mr. Spice was on very friendly terms with the soldiers, who shared rare treats such as chocolate with the local children, ‘things that weren’t available in the shops’, remembers Mr. Spice, ‘they were good to us.’
At this point, it is informative to consider certain documents that the author obtained from the Hampshire Record Office in Winchester, pertaining to the conversion of this NAAFI building at Superior Camp into a school for the local children, particularly those from the civilian families later living at the Camp. The story of the civilian occupation at the camp, and the proposed school, will be considered in greater detail later, but the documents are useful here in showing the general layout of the NAAFI building and accommodation huts during the military phase. Figure 2.6 shows the blueprint of the building after conversion into the school, and therefore the particular division of the rooms and corridors inside is not definitely the layout as it would have been during the war (although it could be).
However, the plan does show the outline of the building, containing a great central hall and surrounding rooms.
It is not unreasonable to imagine that the original layout would have been very similar, if not identical. The plan also shows the exterior aspect of the building, which would have remained unchanged: it featured a single storey, eight-panelled windows and staggered elevation.
The Plan also relates that the building was originally the NAAFI building. Another one of these plans shows a standard accommodation hut that is also intended to be converted into a building for the school (Figure 2.7). The Plan is entitled: ‘Plan of Hut 33 as existing’, and the date is given as October 1947.
This is interesting because it shows the interior layout of a typical Nissen accommodation hut, as it would have existed during the war. The hut contains two open ‘halls’, six smaller partitioned rooms, a boiler room with coal, and two water closets. Annotations relate that the building enjoyed central heating, electric lighting and timber floors throughout. This setup would have been typical of all the buildings on the Camp, and amounted to a fairly comfortable home for the soldiers.
To continue with the examination of the Camp’s main features after that digression, the next feature is the rifle range, marked with a ‘4’. This feature was located a short walk away from the Camp, and today consists of a large mound of earth supported by a large redbrick wall (Fig. 2.8). Since the mound has grown over with scrub and faces east, it is quite inconspicuous when viewed from the bridleways of the Common. Indeed, one could pass by countless times (as the author has) and never suspect that one was passing within a few hundred yards of a firing range. There is a large pit situated before the wall that shores up the mound, and it is possible that the mound was dug from the surrounding earth (leaving a pit) and then supported by the brick wall. The firing targets were then placed upon the mound.
The final feature of note is the ammunition dumps, marked with a ‘5’ on the map. As Peter Spice observes, these were kept beyond the end of the concrete road, out in the woods. This is the extent of the Camp’s features, and together with the standard accommodation buildings, comprised a functioning army base. Many of these buildings, including most of the accommodation huts, were to continue in use beyond the departure of the Canadian Army, and form an equally intrinsic part of the civilian story on the Camp. It is hard to believe when passing through the site today that it was the location of a quite large and well provisioned military camp. The majority of these features have been obscured by nature to the extent that even locating them is difficult, let alone deducing their original purpose and date.
The War Years on the Landscape
The destruction wrought on the Common during the war years was the most traumatic event in the known history of the landscape. The rigorous years of heavy mechanised training on the landscape had reduced the once-beautiful countryside into a wasteland of mud and sand. ‘Not even a piece of heather or gorse survived’, remembers Peter Spice ‘there was nothing but sand’.
The photograph below is the same aerial photograph that displayed Superior Camp in Chapter 2, but the image is presented in its original scale so to give a view of the Common. The perpendicular aspect of the photograph, and the black-and-white shading make it difficult to gauge the exact condition of the landscape. It can be seen that the open countryside of the Common is utterly barren of identifiable features, and the western half of the site is just sand. Vast amounts of the Common’s topsoil had been poisoned by oil and diesel fuel from the armoured vehicles, and this contamination posed a significant obstacle to the natural regeneration of the foliage. Furthermore, the ubiquitous covering of scrub, heather and woodland that had served to bind the soil with its roots had been removed by the incessant military activity.
There was very little to hold in the moisture when it rained, and consequently, the ground was constantly inundated and at risk of flooding. According to Chris Webb, the National Trust Warden for Ludshott Common today, the National Trust had been in correspondence with the War Department since the last months of the war over the restoration of the site. It was recognised that the first step in restoring the Common was the drainage of the excess water that inundated the site. Until this was managed, there was no hope that the plant life would take back, or that the fuel contamination could be dealt with. The urgency of the situation was brought home in the years immediately following the war, when the risk of flooding was realised. In 1947, heavy rainfall on the Common swelled into flooding, since there was no foliage on the Common to hold in the water. The precipitation simply ran off the Common in streams down to Pond Road on the southwest edge and Fullers Vale in Headley Down.
The landscape towards the southwest of the Common today is crisscrossed with haphazard, chaotic trenches, the result of this flooding. The heavy streams of rainwater wore these natural furrows in the land (Fig. 3.2), that remain today long after the Common was drained. With no foliage roots holding the earth together, the floodwater took a lot of the loose sandy topsoil of the Common with it, so Pond Road and Fullers Vale were faced with not only a flood of water, but a covering of thick sand.
The pond at the meeting between Pond Road and Fullers Vale, for which the former is named, was filled with so much sand that the pond was lost. It has only just been restored in the first years of the twenty-first century.
A number of dams and barriers were constructed to restrict this flow of water and sand. A large concrete dam was constructed in the largest water furrow leading to Pond Road, to hold back the sand (Fig. 3.3). Peter Spice recalls that the majority of barriers were less permanent than this, being simply barricades of interwoven peasticks that diverted the waterflow.
Once the Common was drained of this excess water, the restorative efforts amounted to the removal of the remaining oil-contaminated topsoil before the landscape was left to recover naturally. Peter Spice recalls that, with the Common freed from such inundation, the birch, heather and grass took back. With the Common’s native heather, gorse and bracken already hardened to the poor quality of the soil, it was not long before the site was returning to its natural beauty.
The Superior Camp Civilian Community
Superior Camp became vacant in 1946 with the departure of the Canadian Army. With the cessation of all military activities on Ludshott Common, the landscape was returned to civilian authority, and the National Trust. The Common itself had become a desolate quagmire after the years of intense tank activity, and the National Trust and local Council faced the daunting task of restoring it to its natural beauty. However, there was one part of the Common that was not yet returned to the National Trust, and was certainly not about to receive efforts to return the site to its natural state - that part was Superior Camp. The history of the Camp now entered a new phase of civilian occupancy that comprised a unique chapter in the history of Ludshott Common.
Section 1 – The conversion of Superior Camp
It was not long after the departure of the army in 1946 that Superior Camp, rather than being demolished, was put to further use. The Camp was only five years old, and if the buildings on the site had provided warm, comfortable accommodation for Canadian soldiers, then they could do so again for local residents in need of housing.
One of the civilian families that made the Camp their new home was the family of Sue Hodgkinson, who was born on the camp in 1948. Ms. Hodgkinson spent many happy childhood years living at Superior Camp. ‘The residents of Superior Camp were all newly married couples who were on the Council House waiting list.’ She explains, ‘There were no Council Houses available so they were accommodated at Superior Camp and Eyrie Camp in Headley’. Management of the civilian estate at Superior Camp was the responsibility of the Petersfield Rural District Council. Fortunately, the Council compiled all their official correspondence relating to the Camp into one file once they Camp was closed and this file is available for the public at the National Archives in Kew.
These documents give an almost complete chronology of the Camp’s management during the civilian phase, and contain not only the internal correspondence of the Council, but letters from the National Trust and Ministry of Housing and Local Government. The author makes reference below to a select few of these documents (of which there are hundreds).
The earliest document pertaining to the Camp dates to January 1947. It is an internal letter by the Petersfield Rural District Council (henceforth referred to as the P.R.D.C.) detailing the measures taken to convert the army huts into suitable civilian residences. It relates that 140 of the buildings are of wooden construction (these would have been the standard Nissen huts) and six were built of brick (these would have been the guardhouses, as established in the last section). The document relates that street lighting was already in place at the Camp, water was supplied by two 50,000 gallon water tanks, and sewers and disposal works were provided for the Army Camp and would need little adaptation. In short, the Camp was already in almost perfect condition for civilian habitation.
A much later document from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government looks back on the establishment of the camp during the debate over its closure, and is dated 25th October 1957. It states that: ‘the accommodation is of a far higher standard than is normally found in hutted camps. The huts were well converted (at a cost of £275 a hut) in 1947 and have been fairly generously maintained since’. By the time the huts became home to the civilian families, they were generous, comfortable residences equipped with bathrooms, electric heaters and interior water closets. Besides the homes, further facilities were provided by the Council, as Sue Hodgkinson remembers: ‘All the services were laid on at the Camp, electricity, water, sewerage, telephones and a Doctor\'s surgery was managed by a practice from Grayshott.’
The life at Superior Camp was pleasant enough that by December 1955 an internal letter at the P.R.D.C. noted that there were now 146 families living there. The community thrived enough to attract local business, in the form of an enterprise named Cornish, that opened a convenience shop opposite the Hodgkinsons’ house on Superior Road. Peter Spice has confirmed that this store was located in the building immediately north of the central NAAFI building.
Section 2 – The Proposed School
Records at the National Archives and the Hampshire Record Office maintain that the population at Superior Camp thrived to the point that the Hampshire Education Authority proposed to build a school on site at the Camp. A letter dated 3rd May 1949 from one W. Coates of the County Education Authority, relates: ‘Children of school age living at Superior Camp now attend in the main the Grayshott C.E. and Headley the Holme C.E. schools, both of which are crowded.’
It seems that the school was proposed to alleviate the pressure on the existing schools. W. Coates’ letter estimates that as many as eighty children may be expected to attend the Superior Camp school by 1951. A letter addressed to the Local Education Authority in April 1949 discusses the location of the camp, and reveals: ‘It is assumed that the [temporary primary] school will occupy the premises that were to have housed the proposed secondary school, the arrangements for which broke down because of the high cost and the short period of tenure.’ Interestingly, this divulges that the school was initially intended to be a large secondary school, but high costs and the ‘short period of tenure’ (meaning, presumably, the uncertain future of this deliberately temporary Camp) conspired in the conversion of this proposal to a primary school.
From this point, architectural plans held at the Hampshire Record Office in Winchester have revealed in detail the practical designs for the school. The scale of the proposal is striking, especially given the temporary nature of the Camp. Fig. 4.1 is the first proposed plan, for the secondary school, and shows the blueprint for the main school building. The title reads ‘Conversion of the existing NAAFI building’, and one can clearly see from the outline that this is the central building from the aerial photograph.
The school building contains quite a wide range of rooms. The annotations can be quite hard to make out in the plan but the rooms include: five large classrooms, separate cloak rooms and toilets for boys and girls; store rooms; a large kitchen; a staff room; and a large dining hall. Besides this, other nearby huts were to be converted into: domestic quarters, presumably for the school’s superintendent and a ‘practical intern room’ comprising a domestic science room and woodworking room. When the proposal was changed to a primary school of 120 pupils, instead of a secondary school of 200 pupils, the blueprints for the building were left largely unchanged.
However, these plans were never to reach fruition, as a letter dated the 26th May 1949 states: ‘the proposal to provide a temporary primary school at Superior Camp has been discussed with H.M. Inspector [and the Ministry of Education] and that the Authority do not wish to proceed with this matter.’ It is not surprising that this school was never built, since its size and extensive facilities belied the temporary nature of Superior Camp. As the architectural plans bear out, the school would have been very well equipped with classrooms and workrooms and been quite an important educational centre in the community.
The provision of such a school on land that was borrowed under requisitioning powers and due within the next ten years to be returned (normal requisitioning powers extended until the end of 1958, as we shall see later) would have been a very unsound investment of Council funding and labour.
Letters found in the Petersfield Rural District Council’s file at the National Archives have also led the author to suspect that protest from the National Trust also contributed to the abandonment of the school plans, as can be seen below.
Section 3 – The Camp Closure Debate
From its initial construction in 1941 by the Canadian Army, Superior Camp not only existed on borrowed land, but borrowed time. During the war, the temporary nature of the Camp was never in doubt or debate.
As we have seen in the first chapter, the temporary army camp was a formulaic institution. They were established in times of greater military activity to be used as long as the need remained – the more permanent military bases were known as barracks. It was understood that the Camp would be used either until the national emergency had passed, or the units stationed there were relocated. The conversion of the Camp to a civilian estate was made under less certain circumstances. The local Council simply adapted an available opportunity, the vacant accommodation, to an existing problem: the Council waiting list.
The opportunity was made all the more tempting by the existence of functional services on site, and if the prosperity of the new Superior Camp community was taken as the measure of success, then the Camp was an opportunistic but commendable accomplishment. Of course, this was an achievement that wouldn’t last, since the Council had, by omission or design, failed to acknowledge the rights of the National Trust to the land, and that the requisitioning powers that gave the Council control over the site would not last forever. The first concrete evidence of the National Trust’s protest over the use of its land is found in the form of a letter written to the Ministry of Local Government and Housing at Whitehall on the 7th December, 1955, from the Trust’s Area Agent. The letter relates that the ‘land was requisitioned by the military authorities… for an army camp. The trust acquiesced… but we assumed that the land would be restored and returned to the Trust as soon as the emergency was over.’
It reveals that protest over this use of the land from the National Trust extended back to the beginning of the issue: ‘the authorities decided to use the buildings for temporary housing to which we made strong protests at the time.’ Furthermore, it reads: ‘There was considerable correspondence between the Trust and the Ministry in the past, especially in 1948, concerning the future of the camp site.’ Since 1948 was the year that the school plans were drawn up and discussed, the author surmises that protest from the National Trust may have been significant in informing the Ministry’s decision not to approve the school. The National Trust go on to outline three reasons for insisting on the removal of the camp:
- This land is held for the benefit of the nation and the public are precluded from enjoying the land by reason of this requisition.
- Our adjoining woodlands have, in the past, suffered depredations from the activities of the camp who seem to have small regard for the rights of owners.
- We are losing subscriptions upon which we depend for the upkeep of Ludshott Common because the local people consider this camp to be a complete blot on the landscape and feel that the Trust is failing in its duty… in securing its removal’.
This protest letter was to be the beginning of a heated, drawn out debate between the National Trust and Petersfield Rural District Council that would last several years, and involve the Ministry of Local Government and Housing and even the House of Commons. It is not difficult to sympathise with the position of the National Trust, but the points raised by the P.R.D.C., that housing was in short supply after the war and the 146 families living happily on the Camp could not be easily relocated, were also valid.
A compromise was initially proposed by the P.R.D.C. in July 1956. They would commit to the removal of the families, but asked for the National Trust to allow them the land under lease until 1965, enough time for them to arrange the difficult relocation. However, this solution was ill-received by the National Trust, as a letter from the Ministry of Local Government and Housing dated 21st January 1957 explains. The National Trust had ‘no legal power to grant a lease on any part of the Common, as it is Common land’. Under Section 29 of the National Trust Act 1907, the National Trust have an obligation to ensure that common land in its ownership is not built on, and is kept available for public enjoyment, and therefore ‘at the 31st December 1958 requisitioning power comes to an end then the Council will have no right on Ludshott Common’. Therefore, the P.R.D.C. was left with little choice but to get started with the relocation arrangements, and quickly.
By this point, some of the personnel at the P.R.D.C. were beginning to acknowledge the Trust’s position out of concern for the Camp’s residents, as an internal letter dated 9th May 1957 bears out: ‘the huts are half-way houses, they are let to people on the waiting list and tenants are offered a council house after three of four years in a hut… people are worthy of being housed in more attractive dwellings than the camp can offer’. Towards the end of 1957, the controversy had reached new heights, as the P.R.D.C. was having trouble making relocation arrangements, and the National Trust would not relent.
A member of the House of Commons, one Hon. Peter Legh M.P., was called in to mediate in the dispute. He judged in a letter dated the 2nd October 1957 that this was ‘an acutely difficult problem which the council brought on themselves by refusing to plan for a situation which for years they had seen looming ahead of them’. Mr. Legh goes on to identify another problem associated with the Camp: ‘if the Minister should agree to re-requisition there would be great indignation among the inhabitants of the adjoining village of Grayshott. They suffer much from the continuous anti-social activities of many of the camp dwellers. The camp is also an appalling eye-sore.’
The issue of local perceptions of the Camp will be dealt with in the next section.
Ultimately, Mr. Legh’s efforts were rewarded as the National Trust and P.R.D.C. reached a tentative compromise. The Ministry of Local Government and Housing would seek a special extension of requisitioning powers concerning the site, giving the P.R.D.C. a final deadline of January 1961. The National Trust agreed, although it insisted that mediation from Whitehall was continued by Henry Brooke M.P., fearing that the P.R.D.C. would seek some pretext to delay their relocation responsibilities. The Council had been searching for council housing for the Camp residents at the nearby villages of Liphook and Liss, and renewed its efforts when the special extension was granted by the Ministry of Local Government and Housing on 29th August 1958.
Although the relocation arrangements were far from complete, since the Council had at the time secured less than one hundred houses, this breakthrough was enough to inspire optimism that the situation was nearing a satisfactory conclusion. Mr. Jenkins, the P.R.D.C.’s housing manager, had already begun seeking contractors to undertake the demolition of the camp by the time the extension was authorised and the Council committed to clearing the Camp as soon as possible. The clearance and demolition of the Camp will be discussed in Section 5.
Section 4 – Perceptions of Superior Camp
In the previous section, some of the official correspondence surrounding the future of the Camp alluded to alleged ‘anti-social behaviour’ on the part of the Camp’s residents.
We have seen in Section 1 that the Camp developed into a thriving community within a few years of its conversion into a civilian estate. However, these allegations suggest that the Camp and its residents may not have been as welcome in the wider community as its relative prosperity suggests.
In this section, the differing attitudes towards Superior Camp will be investigated, in order to reveal what Superior Camp really meant to its inhabitants and the wider community of which it was part. By far the most damning impressions of Superior Camp are those of the National Trust and its benefactors. These views were made clear at a meeting between the National Trust and the Ministry of Local Government and Housing on the 17th November 1957. One of the representatives for the National Trust was Miss Dorothy Hunter.
Her father, Sir Robert Hunter, was one of the co-founders of the National Trust, and the nearby Waggoners Wells is dedicated to his memory. A memorandum handed over by Miss Hunter can be found in the P.R.D.C.’s record of Superior Camp at the National Archives, and sets out the Trust’s view of Superior Camp and its residents. The Camp is described as ‘a sprawl of unsightly huts… the great majority of the huts are constructed of weather-board, which has now turned a dingy black.’
Although Miss Hunter acknowledges somewhat condescendingly that ‘some tenants have made valiant attempts at gardens’, she concludes that: ‘the whole effect is dismal and unsightly in the extreme.’ Her displeasure at the Camp was not restricted to its aesthetic qualities.
‘A great many of the camp children go to Grayshott School, where they create a great deal of difficulty, being much more backward than the Grayshott children… the children and young people get very out of hand and cause much damage on the common and on neighbouring private property… On National Trust property trees are cut down, undergrowth broken, concrete ends of seats have been torn up, a concrete sluice between the ponds broken and injury caused to swans and cygnets on the pond’.
These comments support the original views expressed by the National Trust Area Agent in their letter of 7th December 1955, where they complained that the residents had ‘small regard for the rights of owners’.
Given the interest that the National Trust had in seeing Superior Camp demolished, it is difficult to gauge the extent of this ‘anti-social behaviour’. The best approach is to look at these allegations objectively, in terms of the alleged acts of anti-social behaviour. Some of the allegations, such as Miss Hunter’s condemnation of the Superior children causing ‘difficulty’ on account of being ‘backwards’ are naturally difficult to sympathise with. The more impartial assertions are without exception restricted to cases of vandalism, all of which are related to National Trust property and the areas immediately surrounding the Camp.
Understandably, the National Trust was opposed to the civilian estate from the start and would have been loathe to see their landscape being altered by its inhabitants. However, what the National Trust had failed to acknowledge is that, regardless of their views on the matter, 146 families had made the Camp their home. Minor leisurely modifications to the landscape would be quite unavoidable, especially considering that the Camp was occupied for over ten years. The tenants of Superior Camp were also subject to negative attitudes from the surrounding villagers on occasion, as Sue Hodgkinson remembers. ‘An interesting comment from my Aunt, of which I was totally unaware because of my young age at the time, was the fact that the Residents of Grayshott looked down their noses at the Camp residents and viewed them as no more than gypsies and second class citizens.
My Aunt recalls several times when she was faced with a very stony look when asked where she lived.’ This attitude of superiority is something that Grayshott resident Peter Spice also recalls: ‘In the village, if you mentioned you were from Superior, there was that sort of attitude, but there was no trouble down there’. Mr. Spice maintained that the Superior tenants were decent, good families: ‘you always get one or two bad people, but there was very little trouble. The Social club was broken into once, that was where all the alcohol and tobacco was, but very little overall’. The villagers who held these views seemed to have made the same disregard as the National Trust: failure to recognise that the Camp was a large community that had to coexist with the surrounding villages just as it had to exist alongside the surrounding landscape. As Sue Hodgkinson remarks: ‘What these residents failed to appreciate was the fact that there were 102 family units on the Camp and their only real place to do their shopping was in Grayshott. The businesses therefore must have suffered considerably after the Camp was demolished and the residents moved elsewhere’.
Mr. Spice noted that such superior attitudes on the part of the local villagers were a minority. Indeed, this is not hard to imagine, since attitudes of social generalisation are just as common today as they have always been. It would be fair to say that the Superior tenants on the whole were no more anti-social than the Grayshott or Headley Down villagers were unanimously snobbish. For the most part, life on Superior Camp was pleasant and its tenants made happy lives for themselves in the community for the years that they lived there.
Ms. Hodgkinson remembers that there was ‘a tremendous community spirit at the Camp. They were all young families, all in the same boat, trying to make a start after the War whilst Rationing was still very evident.’ The Superior community was involved in many parties and group activities, such as a street party to celebrate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The Parade Ground was used as a space to fly kites that Ms. Hodgkinson’s father made for the Camp’s children.
Sue Hodgkinson has many happy memories of her childhood in the Camp, and also on the Common. ‘I have lots of memories of living in such a beautiful part of the country,’ she says ‘climbing trees and playing in the undergrowth making "dens" was great fun’. In fact, the sense of identity on the Camp was such that many of the Camp’s residents were reluctant to leave by the late 1950s. Ms. Hodgkinson recalls that they had gone to great lengths to make their properties as comfortable and pleasant as they could, and many wished to buy their homes and plots of land. Today it is difficult to imagine from the lone privet hedges that remain of the gardens and concrete foundations that the site was once home to such a thriving community. These clues were left as unintended reminders of the Camp’s history, as the demolition arrangements were never quite completed.
Section 5 – The closure and demolition of the Camp
Securing council housing for the 146 families at Superior Camp had proved difficult for the Petersfield Rural District Council, and the process was still not complete when the Housing Manager, Mr. Jenkins, was faced with further difficulties in organising the demolition of the Camp itself.
Rather bizarrely, the Council had decided, on the request of the National Trust, not to demolish the Camp in one operation, but to demolish each building as it became vacant. The basis for this decision was that the National Trust were extremely keen to see the Camp decommissioned as soon as possible, even if this meant doing it piece-by-piece. The National Trust did not want the vacated buildings to become occupied by further squatters who might drift into the Camp without the consent of the Council.
The Superior Camp residents had been encouraged to move out of the Camp of their own volition ever since the debate over the Camp’s future heated up around 1956. Also, the Council had been securing housing in stages around Liss and Liphook, as the local villages either could not provide sufficient council housing for all of Superior’s residents, or refused to take them all in. All this meant that the Superior tenants were moving away from the camp gradually, and the Camp could not be vacated and demolished all at once. Mr. Jenkins drew up plans for the demolition job, detailing exactly what was to be done on site. After this plan was drawn up, a contract was made and the Council would look for a contractor willing to undertake the job as they had set it out. The plan stipulated that there was to be two phases to the demolition. The first was the demolition of the majority of the Camp’s less permanent features, including all the buildings.
These features would take priority since they would be relatively easy to remove, and these were the buildings that could provide shelter for the potential squatters that the National Trust feared. It was the second phase, the removal of the more permanent, embedded concrete features that would prove more difficult. Features such as the concrete water towers and paving were much more difficult to dispose of, and were less attractive to contractors. Since the resident buildings were comfortably outfitted, the Council had promised some of the facilities they contained to the contractors who would undertake the demolition.
These facilities were deemed to be in satisfactory condition to be sold on, and would provide an incentive to a contractor. The complex concrete features provided no such incentive, and were quite difficult to break down and dispose of. Arrangements for phase two of the demolition, removing the concrete features, were further complicated since the Council could not be sure exactly whose responsibility the demolition was. Mr. Jenkins wrote in his report of 15th August 1958 that he was ‘uncertain whether the Council should be responsible for letting the contract for this work or whether the matter shall be dealt with by the site owner (in this case the National Trust).’ He did assert that the Trust would be compensated for all expenses incurred by the demolition, but the job of finding a contractor and overseeing the work would fall to them.
It appears from a letter from Mr. Jenkins to the Ministry of Local Government and Housing in December 1958 that the responsibility did fall to the Council. As the last remaining families moved away from the Camp, Mr. Jenkins drew up the contract and set out final instructions on the removal of the concrete features. Unfortunately, these documents are the final records contained in the P.R.D.C. file at the National Archives, and comprise all that has been recorded about the Camp.
Neither the National Trust or the Petersfield Council today had any recollection of the Camp besides familiarity with its remains. The eyewitnesses I have contacted had all moved away by this stage in the Camp’s history. The final stages of Superior Camp’s life can be inferred from what is known from these records and the remains that persist at the site. In describing the concrete features at the site, Mr. Jenkins related that: ‘About one tenth of all the floors are concrete… [in Stage 1 of the demolition] the buildings shall be cleared down to the floor level only even though the concrete base and floors may stand out of the ground… the timber buildings and suspended floors are mounted on dwarf concrete walls which may project from 6 inches to 2 feet out of the ground’.
Today, it is obvious that Stage 2 of the demolition was only partially carried out.
Some of the features, such as the elevated water towers, static water tanks, telephone poles and wires have been successfully removed, most probably during or immediately after the demolition of the Camp buildings. As we have seen above, conspicuous features such as the base of the rifle range wall, large concrete tank-traps left by the Army (Fig 4.3), manholes (most of which stand 1ft out of the ground – Fig 4.4), concrete foundations and dwarf concrete walls remain. These dwarf walls are most obvious in the case of the NAAFI building, where the walls stand some two feet high. Mr. Jenkins’ report explains some of these omissions, such as the concrete road, which was deemed too large and complex to remove; and the buried sewer system, which Mr. Jenkins reported would not be a problem since it was under the ground.
The failure to remove the manholes is particularly striking, since Mr. Jenkins specifically pointed out that these were deep, open holes that constituted a significant tripping hazard and should be removed in the interests of public safety. Some of these manholes have naturally filled with dead leaves and earth over the years, but others remain a hazard to this day. The author found one filled with household refuse in bin-bags and even machine parts. The overall effect of this operation is one of incompleteness. It was clear to me when I first inspected the site in summer 2006, knowing nothing of the Camp’s history except rumours of wartime activity, that something had been lost there, and that the site had been neglected. I am in some way indebted to the inefficient demolition of the Camp, since these remains have not only provided significant clues for piecing the history of the Camp together, but also inspired the pursuit of this investigation from the beginning.
The Common in the late twentieth Century
Following the great ordeal of the war, and the subsequent restorative efforts, the natural ecosystem returned to its natural state. The open heathlands returned, and the secondary woodlands of pine and birch took back. In some places, rare flat-topped pines remain individually or in small groups, having survived the harshness of the war years. For the National Trust, it was finally business as usual. Their custodian duties of protecting the ecosystem, maintaining the balance of heath, scrub and woodland, and their responsibilities to keep the land available for public enjoyment could resume once more. The work of the National Trust on Ludshott Common is an ongoing process, and although the war was the greatest tribulation encountered in the Common’s management, it was certainly not the last. In 1980, a fire that began on the east side of the site quickly gathered pace and consumed three hundred acres of heath, scrub and secondary woodland before it was put out. Although this event was catastrophic for much of the heathland, warden Chris Webb acknowledges that there was one advantage. The fire decimated much of the scrub vegetation which was, in that period, beginning to grow beyond control. In many places, the limits of the encroaching scrub, now kept painstakingly at bay, were dictated by the wildfire of 1980.
This investigation has presented a full history of Ludshott Common in the twentieth century. The story of Superior Camp, previously only hinted at by its obscure remains, has been discovered in depth, with the help of those who remember it. The importance of memory in the commemoration of our local history cannot be stressed enough. The investigation has shown how it is possible for an investigator to uncover histories that are only familiar, and not yet fully understood. It is essential for us to investigate and record these important episodes in our history before they are lost from our memory. The investigation has shown that, whilst being essential in preserving the landscape and preventing Superior Camp from becoming a permanent feature on the land, the National Trust has unwittingly obscured its history. It has shown the impact that such places had on the lives of ordinary people. It should be remembered that, throughout its unique history, Superior Camp has been the site of solidarity as the nation and her allies gathered for war, fellowship as the Canadian soldiers made every effort to endear themselves to the local community and feel more at home, and still further camaraderie as the civilian residents grouped together to form a unique community after the war. These camps represent a unique period in the nation’s history, and as Schofield et al. sum up: ‘These abandoned camps deserve to be remembered and their remaining relics protected as they were once important centres within the military infrastructure while at the same time forming integral parts of local communities’ (2006, 20). At any rate, Superior Camp deserves more than the utter obscurity and anonymity that presently conceals its history.
EVANS, D (2006) Army Camps: History and Development http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/catalogue/archive/armycamp_eh_2006/overview.cfm. Consulted March 2006
HODGKINSON, Sue (2007) Personal correspondence
LORD EVERSLEY (1910) Commons, Forests and Footpaths: The Story of the Battle during the last Forty-Five Years for Public Rights over the Commons, Forests and Footpaths of England and Wales (Cassell and Co. Ltd.: London)
SCHOFIELD J, EVANS D, FOOT W, GOING C. Thematic Characterisation: recording England’s Army Camps 1858-2000
In SCHOFIELD J, KLAUSMEIER A, PURBRICK L (2006) Re-mapping the Field: New approaches in Conflict Archaeology
SMITH, John Owen (1994) All Tanked Up SMITH, John Owen (2006) Personal interview
SPICE, Peter (2007) Personal interview
WEBB, Chris (2007) Personal interview
Hampshire Records Office, Winchester – Records concerning proposed school on site of Superior Camp. Consulted February 2007
National Archives, Kew - Bramshott Superior Camp Proposed Temporary County Primary School. Covering date 1949. Record number ED 161/6192. Consulted March 2007
National Archives, Kew - National Trust Superior Camp, Ludshott Common: requisitioned land for housing. Covering dates 1955-1959. Record number HLG 49/1479. Consulted March 2007
I would above all like to thank those who contributed some of their time and memories towards this investigation: John Owen Smith, Sue Hodgkinson, Peter Spice, and Chris Webb. I would also like to thank the people at the National Archives, Hampshire Record Office, National Trust Thames and Solent Office and Haslemere Herald for their assistance.
I am also indebted towards Dave Robinson, Phil Rowe and Laura McAtackney at the University of Bristol.
This investigation is dedicated to all those who once lived on Superior Camp.
© Matthew Tilley