WW1 Ripon Camps

Ripon Camp: A Brief History
World War I
For most of World War I, Ripon was virtually encircled and dominated by military camps.
In 1912 the Hugh Ripley Hall had been built on Somerset Row to accommodate the increasing
number of Territorial soldiers using the city; the hall replaced the old drill hall which stood on the
site of the present-day bus depot. At the declaration of war in August 1914, there were already
some 2,200 Territorials billeted around the city (ref.1). Prior to the war, the old racecourse at Hell
Wath had been used for training these men but the Corporation had already been lobbying for a
permanent army camp (ref.2).
In December 1914, Kitchener announced plans to develop Ripon into a huge garrison town and
construction work began immediately. This involved taking over land to both the north and south of
the existing city and required the installation of miles of water and sewage pipes, together with 26
miles of roadway. South Camp was constructed between the Harrogate Road (A61) and Studley
Roger, either side of the river Skell whilst North Camp appeared north of Studley Roger, extending to
the north of the city as far as the road to Kirkby Malzeard. Layout plans still survive for these camps
(ref.3). The new development justified its own power station which was built west of Bishopston, on
the site of north camp (ref.1).
North Camp was the headquarters for all army activities in the area whilst south Camp became
known as ‘Remount Camp’ because it also accommodated 100 horses used to train the cavalry. In
addition to these camps however, another hutted camp was erected at Ure Bank, just across the
river to the east of the city, to serve as a training ground for the Territorial Army, whilst yet more
huts were built to the south-east. This latter site, alongside the Boroughbridge Road on land now
occupied by the race-course, was the Headquarters of 76 squadron of the Royal Flying Corps, then
still part of the British army. Collectively, these four camps were known as ‘Ripon Camp’ (ref.1).
Ripon Camp could accommodate 30,000 troops and an estimated 350,000 men passed through it
during the course of the war (ref.2), this at atime when the civilian population of Ripon would have
been around 7000. The site included recreation huts, places of worship, a post office and a cinema.
Other than on special occasions, the camp was out of bounds to members of the public, other than
those who were employed there (ref.1). a photograph os some of the local men who worked in the
Camp was published in the local press in 1988 (ref.11). The first troops to arrive in 1915 were
battalions of the Durham Light Infantry and West Yorkshire Regiments (ref.5). Photographs survive
of the Durhams from this period, taken at Ripon Camp (ref.7).
Most supplies and troops were brought into the camp on a specially constructed narrow gauge
railway which connected into the Harrogate to Ripon line at Littlethorpe. The camp was built
remarkably swiftly in four months, involving working on Sundays and on many evenings. Many of
labourers came over from Ireland for the project. The site also included a huge military hospital with
670 beds, erected in North Camp along the Pateley Road opposite the turning to Studley Roger.
Convalescing soldiers wore blue uniforms with red trimmings and a red tie, known locally as ‘hospital
blue’. Both J.B. Priestley and Wilfred Owen spent time convalescing at Ripon (ref.1).
The hospital was built of concrete blocks and roofed with grey Welsh slate. It had two operating
theatres and the ward were in long huts with beds arranged down both sides. The medical staff lived
in quarters along Pateley Road, at its junction with Studley Road (ref.9). At the end of the war, the
hospital was pulled down at the request of the landowner, the Marquess of Ripon, and the land
restored to its former agricultural use (ref.1).
Because there were so many soldiers in a relatively small space, men were drilled on the cit’s roads
or in adjoining parkland. In 1916, just prior to the Battle of the Somme which began on 1st July,
Scottish soldiers staged a highland Games on the racecourse site.
Considerable civilian help was required to enable the camp to function effectively, particularly in the
canteens, the hospital and to launder clothes and uniforms. Laundry was not cleaned in the camp
but bundles of dirty clothes were piled high on flat carts and taken into the city each Friday to be
washed in private homes (ref.1).
The arrival of the army in such huge numbers had undoubted economic benefits for the city, both in
employment and in the spending power of the troops which has been estimated at £9,000 per week
(ref.1). Local shops, and particularly pubs and cafes, thrived in this military environment. There
seems to have been little tension between civilian and military factions in the city, probably because
of these economic benefits but also because of the acknowledged need in a time of national
emergency. From 1916, soldiers had been conscripted into the army and the remaining civilian
population would have recognised this situation in their dealings with their visitors.
At the end of the war, Ripon Camp was used as a demobilisation centre for returning troops, with
many French-Canadians passing through on their way home. The camp was then demolished in 1922
(ref.1). A memorial, in the form of a crucifixion, now stands on the site of the old hospital to
commemorate the many soldiers who spent time at Ripon Camp during both world wars. The
Canadian artist David Brown Milne (1882-1953) was commissioned to paint scenes familiar to
Canadian soldiers of WW1 and he produced a number of pictures of Ripon Camp, painted in 1919
(ref. 6).
Some of the WW1 huts in Deverall Barracks have survived and the Ripon Civic Society recently
(2010) submitted proposals to have these preserved (ref.13).
RFC Camp
76 Squadron of the RFC was one of several Home Defence Squadrons formed to protect industrial
areas against German air attack. The Squadron was formed at Ripon on 15 September 1916 with its
headquarters at Ripon (ie on the racecourse site where horse racing had begun in 1900) and Flights
stationed at nearby Copmanthorpe, Catterick and Helperby. Additional emergency landing grounds
were also established around the area (ref.4). Notwithstanding these arrangements, it is evident
that flying also occurred from the racecourse itself; a contemporary painting shows an aircraft ready
for take-off from this site (ref.9).
The Squadron operated mainly with obsolete aircraft, the newer designs being earmarked for
France. On December 20th 1917, No.189 Training Squadron also formed at Ripon as a night training
unit but moved to Sutton Farm on 1 April 1918 when the Royal Air Force was formed by
amalgamating the RFC and RNAS (Royal Naval Air Service).
After the armistice, many units were run down and in March 1919, 76 Squadron moved to
Tadcaster, bringing the end of flying operations to Ripon (ref.4). The site again became a course for
horse racing.
Kevin Earl
Claro Community Archaeology Group