World War One Remains

Three national projects have helped raise awareness of surviving First World War military remains in the region. The Council for British Archaeology’s Home Front Legacy project (2014-18) was set up to help local communities identify and map the remains of the First World War across the UK. A series of training seminars and online tools were designed to support the project (Appleby, Cocroft & Schofield 2015). The range of data included documentary, map, oral, and photographic evidence, as well as physical evidence that could be upload to the project website and passed on to the relevant Historic Environment Records and the National Monuments records. A significant number of individual sites have been identified in the North West, whilst a number of excavations have also been recorded (see below).

The Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment Phase 1 identified a large number of nationally important First and Second World War remains along the North West coast, particularly around the major ports/docks/shipyards of Liverpool and Barrow (Johnson 2009). Some of these have received subsequent investigations through community projects, including Fort Crosby (M) on the Sefton coast just north of Liverpool, where there was a training fort with its own railway station and defences (Burns 2014). The NWRCZA (Johnson 2009, 112-113) identified four First World War Observer Corps sound mirrors, at Crosby, Formby Point, and Southport (L). Practice trenches identified at Fort Crosby in Merseyside may be of Second World War rather than First World War date, from their context, as is a firing range at Skinburness (Johnson 2009, 199).

A national survey of First World War national factories was published in 2015 (Kenyon 2015). This overview of their archaeological, architectural, and historical importance includes at least 39 sites in the North West, out of 216 sites in England. These were mainly concentrated around Liverpool and Manchester, but there were outliers at Blackpool (L), Carlisle (C), and Chester (Ch). Such sites were under the direct control of the Ministry of Munitions producing vital war material; everything from wooden boxes, respirators, shells, and explosives to optical glass and vehicle radiators. Many were adapted from existing works, as at Cloughfold, Holme, and Irwell Mills in Rawtenstall (L), the Hyde Road tram depot in Manchester, and Woodley Mill in Greater Manchester (all surviving). While others were located in specially designed factories, such as at East Cumberland in Carlisle, Gretna, Heaton Chapel, Liverpool, and Morecambe (again all surviving). Some were finished to high architectural standards and followed the latest thinking in factory design and the provision of welfare facilities. At some locations housing was included. The report discusses the historic context of the National Factories, the types of factories created, their layouts, and architectural form. It also explores their social history, including evidence for the organisation of work, welfare provision, and associated housing. It documents each factory and includes short desk-based assessments of the extant factories.

Excavation on practice trench sites have been undertaken. The so-called Loos (or later Arras) Trenches on Watson Road in Blackpool (L) were investigated in 2014 by the University of Salford (Whittall 2014), following extensive documentary research by Neil Archaeological Services (Neil 2014), who provided (ibid, 112-124) a draft catalogue of over 30 examples of practice trenches around Britain. The Blackpool trenches were originally part of a much larger training ground, most of which was given over to housing in the 1930s. Dating from 1915, these trenches were kept open and re-used as a visitor ‘attraction’ until 1917, with convalescent soldiers as guides, a guidebook, postcards, and refreshment stalls. Archaeological excavation uncovered communication and front-line trenches, the latter including firing steps. Practice trenches at Heaton Park (GM) briefly had a public education element, but less successfully (Craig Brisbane, pers. comm.); the only other known examples of this public interaction / propaganda in the UK were at Knightsbridge Hall and/or Kensington Gardens in London, which Wilfrid Owen slated in his private correspondence. Excavations at Walney Island, off Barrow (L), by Headlands to Headspace (H2H), an HLF-funded Landscape Partnership, have investigated military defences; such as First World War rifle butts and a Second World War target range, and RAF Walney, a gunnery school and airfield established in 1941. This work included the excavation of First World War practice trenches on Walney Island with the University of Bristol.

Elsewhere, The Hooton Park Trust (Ch) has been working on restoring First World War buildings at Hooton Park aerodrome. This site was established in 1917 and was used by the RAF until its closure in 1957. The original three Belfast-truss First World War hangars survive and The Hooton Park Trust restored the First World War era Central Hangar, Building 17 before 2012, whilst two further hangars are now also being restored. 

One of the North West’s most important roles during First World War was the importation (from the USA, Canada, Argentina, and elsewhere), assessment, and training of horses for all the theatres of war. The depot at Lathom Park near Ormskirk (L) was opened in October 1914, to hold up to 5,000 horses and mules, staffed by 2,500 men, housed in over 100 prefabricated buildings. The only other remount depots of this size were at Shirehampton (Bristol), Swaythling, and Romsey in Hampshire. Horses were landed at Liverpool, and delivered by rail, initially to Ormskirk station but soon via the depot’s own branch line. Horses were generally moved to smaller depots for specific training after a month, and overseas within three months. A total of around 250,000 horses passed through the depot during the war. The depot continued to function, in a reduced form, for repatriation and horse sales until 1920. Desk-based work, by Neil Archaeological Services and others, for Lathom Park Trust (2012) has revealed much of the site’s layout and history, but as yet no Lidar, field survey, or excavation has taken place even though Lathom is the least developed of any of the country’s remount depots. A document in the National Archives (TNAWO 107/26) lists 40 remount depots in the UK, including Lancaster and Chester, but Winton (2013) believes there were more, often essentially commandeered farms that may still survive in some form. One contemporary building at Lathom survives (the theatre, though not in situ), and two pre-war stables at the Arborfield permanent depot in Berkshire are scheduled.

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