A History of the County of Essex: Volume 9, the Borough of Colchester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1994.
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Troops, often en route to the Continent, were billetted in Colchester from the late 17th century. (fn. 1) In 1794 local innkeepers, concerned by the growing expense of the practice, petitioned the corporation for barracks to be built in the town and in the same year the first infantry barracks were built on 4 a. to the south-east. (fn. 2) By 1800 additional infantry barracks, artillery, and cavalry barracks had been built on an adjoining 21 a., the whole bordered by Magdalen street (later Barrack Street) on the north, Wimpole Lane on the west, and Port Lane on the east. (fn. 3) In 1805 the barracks could accommodate over 7,000 officers and men and 400 horses. Much of the building was done by Thomas Neill. (fn. 4)
After the Napoleonic Wars the barracks were reduced. (fn. 5) When the disposal of barrack buildings began in 1816 the only people in the artillery barracks were 1 barrack serjeant and 12 patients in the hospital. (fn. 6) Buildings, fixtures, and fittings of the cavalry barracks were sold in 1818. (fn. 7) The sale of the older barracks and the freehold site on which they stood started in March 1817 but was not, for technical reasons, completed until 1840. (fn. 8) In 1818 the government paid £5,000 for the continued use of 14 a. on which stood infantry barracks with accommodation for 51 officers, 800 men, and 16 horses. Those were the only barracks left in Colchester by 1821 when they were occupied by up to 16 officers and 602 men. (fn. 9) The government also retained Barrack field, 23 a. south of the barracks bought for an exercise field in 1805, and the Ordnance field, 32 a. west of the barracks between Military and Mersea Roads in St. Botolph's parish bought in 1806. (fn. 10) The 14 a. of land used in 1818 was given up before 1836, but leased again in 1856 for a temporary exercise ground. (fn. 11) In July 1856, when 10,000 men of the German Legion occupied the barracks, 2,000 of them were housed under canvas on Barrack field. Between 1865 and 1878 the army allowed the Colchester and East Essex Cricket club to use part of the field; in 1885 the field was leased to the town as a recreation ground. (fn. 12)
In 1855 and 1856 wooden huts, intended as temporary infantry barracks for 5,000 men, were erected on the Ordnance field by Lucas Bros. (fn. 13) Laundry rooms and schoolrooms were included in the original provision. By 1857 there was a large reading room and 48 small rooms for married soldiers. (fn. 14) In the same year, because of the inconvenience of holding military exercises at Wivenhoe Park, the government bought Middlewick farm, 167 a. in St. Giles's parish south of the barracks, as a rifle range and drill ground; 20 a. in the parishes of East Donyland and St. Giles were added to the Middlewick range in 1874; and between 1889 and 1899 the range expanded with the aquisition of over 500 a. in the parishes of St. Giles, St. Botolph, East Donyland, and Fingringhoe. All the land lay south of the town. (fn. 15) The purchase of St. John's farm and the Abbey gardens in 1860 added 156 a. to the barrack land. (fn. 16) Between 1862 and 1864 brick-built cavalry barracks for c. 2,500 men were erected in Butt Road. In 1858 and 1859 accommodation for army families was provided in rented cottages at the Hythe; from 1859 houses in Black Boy Lane were rented until permanent married quarters were built in 1862 on another 18 a. acquired south of the Abbey gardens. A gymnasium was built on the same site. (fn. 17) During the early 1870s the garrison was further enlarged by the building of artillery barracks, later named Le Cateau, north of the cavalry barracks; the parade ground lay between the infantry barracks on the east and those of the cavalry and artillery on the west. (fn. 18) Between 1900 and 1902 Goojerat and Sabraon barracks were built on the southern edge of the camp on part of the land of Barn Hall farm, 19 a. of which was acquired in 1899. (fn. 19) Between 1896 and 1904 the old wooden huts on the Ordnance field were replaced by the brick buildings of Hyderabad and Meeanee barracks. (fn. 20) In 1866 Colchester became the headquarters of the newly created Eastern District; to accommodate the General Officer Commanding Eastern District the government rented Scarletts, an estate abutting the southern edge of the recreation ground, from 1885. (fn. 21) In 1904 the government bought Reed Hall and Bee Hive farms, comprising together 785 a. south-west of the garrison. (fn. 22) In 1914, when between 30,000 and 40,000 men were in training in Colchester, wooden huts were put up at Reed Hall. A military airfield was established on several acres of land at Blackheath; after the war it was transferred to Friday Wood. (fn. 23) Between 1926 and 1933 large areas of Berechurch parish, including Berechurch Hall, were bought for the army. (fn. 24) During the 1930s Kirkee and McMunn barracks were built at Reed Hall; Roman Way and Cherry Tree camps were established south-east of the main camp. In 1939 emergency barracks were built on various sites in the garrison area including the Abbey field, at Blackheath, and at Berechurch. (fn. 25)
In the 1950s, because of the increasing difficulties caused by the movements of large numbers of troops and military vehicles, including helicopters, so close to the town, plans were made for a more acceptable and efficient use of the 5,000 a. which the War Department owned south of the town. (fn. 26) A plan to concentrate the barracks further from the town, south of the Abbey field area, and to dispose of surplus land including the Abbey field, was accepted in 1962. (fn. 27) Hyderabad and Meeanee barracks, modernized between 1958 and 1961, remained unchanged; (fn. 28) Roman barracks were built in 1962 adjoining Roman Way camp on the south; (fn. 29) Goojerat barracks, rebuilt between 1970 and 1975, became the headquarters of the 19 Airportable Brigade formerly based in wooden huts at Cherry Tree camp, a site then offered to other government departments. (fn. 30) Sabraon Barracks, last used in 1960, were demolished in 1971. (fn. 31) Le Cateau and Cavalry barracks, whose demolition was planned in 1962, were still partially occupied in 1990. (fn. 32) In the 1980s army houses in Lethe Grove and Homefield Road were vacated and the sites sold for private development. (fn. 33)
In 1804 land in Military Road was bought as a military burial ground; in 1856 the garrison church, a timber-built, slate-roofed building for 1,500 men, opened on the site. The church was restored in 1891, the work perhaps including the replacement of the original slate roof by one of tarred felt, and again in 1989 when the roof was reslated. (fn. 34)
A hospital was built for the barracks in 1797, possibly the one, south-east of the Napoleonic barracks, which was sold in 1818. (fn. 35) An artillery hospital, in a house on the north side of Barrack Street which was bought by the army in 1804, had two new wings added during the Napoleonic wars and was sold in 1824. (fn. 36) In 1856 the infantry barracks on the Ordnance field included 24 hospital huts for 216 patients. (fn. 37) An officer's hut was adapted for use as a lying-in hospital in 1870. (fn. 38) In 1873 the individual regimental hospitals were centralized into one camp hospital in huts in the north-east corner of the infantry barracks; (fn. 39) a brick ward for serious cases was added in 1888. (fn. 40) The hutted hospital closed in 1896 when a new brick-built hospital of five blocks for 221 patients was opened south of the Abbey field. (fn. 41) In 1974 Victoria House, a residential block for 100 staff, was added. (fn. 42) The building ceased to function as a hospital in 1978, but a medical reception station was later housed in the main block. By 1990 the most easterly wing of the building had been demolished. (fn. 43)
Although a temporary building for military offenders was set up in the south-west corner of the hutted camp in 1857, (fn. 44) handcuffed soldiers were marched through the town, apparently to Colchester prison, after an incident in the town in 1858. (fn. 45) In 1871 a permanent prison was built to house 47 prisoners in individual cells. Designated a military prison in 1897, (fn. 46) it was modernized in 1901 to include a laundry and gymnasium, and extended to take another 16 prisoners and by 1908 the buildings had a fully qualified staff and an armoury. In 1913 the prisoners were engaged in a variety of activities including bridge building and signalling. The prison closed in 1924, and by 1937 each barracks had its own certified detention rooms. During the Second World War hutments at Reed Hall were used as detention barracks. A camp of nissen huts was established at Berechurch Hall in 1943 for Italian prisoners of war. It was used for German and Austrian prisoners in 1944 and included a Roman Catholic seminary where 120 priests were trained; in 1947 it became the 19 Military Corrective Establishment, later the Military Corrective Training Camp. The nissen huts were replaced in 1988 by a new prison which in 1990 was the only remaining military prison in Britain. (fn. 47)
From 1854 barracks of the East Essex Regiment of militia, later the East Essex Rifles, were in the building and on grounds of the former county goal on Ipswich Road, c. 1 mile east of the town; the barracks were offered for sale in 1881. (fn. 48)
Headquarters for the Volunteers, subsequently the Territorial Army, were opened in Stanwell street in 1887. The building was replaced in 1964 by a new one at the corner of Butt Road and Goojerat Road. (fn. 49)