Hidden history

by Helen Hooker April. 12, 2018 1342 views

It’s not often you discover a piece of history on your own doorstep. A few days ago, a friend of mine added me to a group on Facebook campaigning to stop a former World War II prisoner of war camp being demolished and replaced with new houses. I’d never heard of the camp and certainly had no idea it still existed, hidden way in a quiet corner of the Essex countryside. With the possibility that it might not be there for much longer I went to investigate today, having established that a large portion of the camp is visible from the road and footpaths.

POW Camp 116, as it was designated, was built at Hatfield Heath in 1941 and housed several hundred Italian, Austrian and Germans prisoners of war captured during various battles in Europe and Africa. Apparently, conditions were quite civilised, and the inmates were sent out onto local farms to work.

Today the many huts are in an advanced state of dereliction, although I’m sure a good number of them could be saved for future generations if there was a desire to do so. The site is dominated by a large red brick water tower (which still looks quite robust) but elsewhere nature is gradually overtaking the less substantial structures. Despite the ubiquitous state of decay, I was struck by the effort that was evidently put into building some of the huts. While many are simple wooden structures, a number are built from terracotta bricks, creating artistic patterns in places – a nice touch on a development undoubtedly built in a hurry.

Having visited Camp 116 I can see why there’s such strength of feeling about the potential demolition of this amazing historic site. The public consultation process regarding the planning application closes today so as soon as I got home I logged onto the local council’s website to register my objection. Who knows if my solo voice will make a difference, but it can’t do any harm and it may just help ensure future generations get to visit and learn about this hidden piece of history.

12 April 2018

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There are 12 comments , add yours!
Катерина Гришина 2 years, 6 months ago

Ruins poetry 
You mourn that they are destroyed, but it was shown very beautifully

2 years, 6 months ago Edited
Rozária Sousa 2 years, 6 months ago

great mood

2 years, 6 months ago Edited
Rob Marson 2 years, 6 months ago

thought provoking - i enjoyed looking at these great photos  +1

2 years, 6 months ago Edited
Antonio Gil 2 years, 6 months ago

History should never be forgotten - for obvious reasons. Hope this site can be spared from greed and stays there as a testimony of a brutal war

2 years, 6 months ago Edited
Paul Watson 2 years, 6 months ago

Great post, Helen. We should strive to save more of this "hidden" heritage in the UK. We've got one in Yorkshire (originally built by Italian POWs in 1942) - http://www.edencamp.co.uk/

2 years, 6 months ago Edited
Helen Hooker Replied to Paul Watson 2 years, 2 months ago

A belated thank you for the comment Paul. I will have to visit Eden Camp next time I'm in that part of Yorkshire!

2 years, 2 months ago Edited
Paul Watson Replied to Helen Hooker 2 years, 2 months ago

No problem, Helen. Not been around for a while - work got really busy then I just didn't pick up my camera :-(

2 years, 2 months ago Edited
Stephanie 2 years, 6 months ago

You picked a good day to visit- the mist adds greatly to the bleak atmosphere

2 years, 6 months ago Edited
David Allen 2 years, 6 months ago

Lovely photos, but even more a great record of the site.

2 years, 6 months ago Edited
Sigrid Strohschneider-Laue 2 years, 6 months ago

The weather and the light were just perfect. You caught disappearing history and saved it as stunning beautiful documentary pictures. Yes, you already made a big difference - not with a with a loud voice, but with eye catching and unforgetable pictures!

2 years, 6 months ago Edited
Kay Hooker 2 years, 6 months ago

What a very sad sight, and all the stories those walls could tell.  I hope you manage to save what is left of the camp.

2 years, 6 months ago Edited
Abigail Gossage 2 years, 6 months ago

Wonderful job of documenting this piece of history that may very soon disappear.  Fascinating post.

2 years, 6 months ago Edited
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