Sunday, January 22, 2012

National Camps Corporation (NCC) The origins of the School

National Camps Corporation (NCC) - The Origin of the School
The National Archives at Kew houses collections dating 1939-1962 which relate to the National Camps Corporation. The National Archives' database is searchable online.

Usually, in order to go to a Public (boarding) school like Eton, you need a millionaire father and from day one they train you to run the ship of state! David Cameron and Nick Clegg went there! Our fathers, though, were working class or middle class entrepreneurs or were in the armed forces and the school provided a stable education or they were in the care of the local authority. So what happened? How come we didn't have to be rich?

Most of us have a notion that the school began as an evacuation camp during World War 2 and continued into peace time eventually (in 1957) becoming part of Coventry Education Authority as a secondary modern boarding school. This article explores the background to the establishment of Wyre Farm and other camp schools in the UK.

Mr Clifford Morris FRPS, explains

The National Camps Corporation was formed in the late 1930s, with assistance from the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE), and was given 1.2 million pounds; half grant, half loan; by the government to build fifty camps in remote areas initially to enable children from towns and cities to be able to experience something the countryside and animal life."

Clearly we weren't alone then! Some of these camps are now on the internet -

Bewerley Park Camp School at Pateley Bridge - as related here
Bewerley Park Camp School 
I went on a residential holiday with Rawmarsh Haugh Road Secondary Modern School to Bewerley Park Camp School at Pateley Bridge when I was 12 in 1952. The picture on the right is a copy of the post card showing the Camp School. The centre is quite close to where the Robert Braithwaite was born. The School is still an active Outdoor Centre, their website can be accessed here unfortunately there is nothing now mentioned regarding the history of the school."

The first camp to be used as an evacuation camp was at Kennylands Camp School, near Reading.

Evacuess at Kennylands Camp Schoolnear Sonning 

Then there was Colomendy in North Wales

Colomendy Dorms
According to the BBC Liverpool site "Since 1939 generations of Liverpool schoolkids have stayed at Colomendy, Liverpool City Council's outdoor pursuit camp in North Wales. Originally developed as a safe haven in North Wales for Scouse wartime evacuees, Colomendy at Loggerheads has become woven into the legend of Liverpool schools, since it's inception over 350,000 children have visited the camp.Now 65 years old the original camp structure is to be replaced and refurbished as part of a £20 million 
redevelopment scheme." More photos of Colomendy Loggerheads, Denbighshire Here

And there are more!

Brownrigg Camp School, Bellingham, Northumberland, 
Information and many more photos on their site here

Sheephatch Camp School, Tilford, Surrey, Stokenchurch Camp School, Horsleys Green, Buckinghamshire. More details here -

Amazingly  - this is Sheephatch Camp School - 
Sheephatch Camp School at Tilford was built in 1939. In 1946 Surrey County Council leased the camp from The National Camps Corporation and maintained it as a co-educational boarding school until its closure in 1977. In 1984 the school was sold to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association UK.
Have a look at this building in this Camp school video - It could well be the dining room at Wyrefarm Camp School!

Sheephatch Camp School - from the video

Linton Residential Camp School - Yorkshire Dales (serving evacuees from Bradford)
Linton is now a derelict site but here are some websites with more information -  Shows the site as it is now and the derelict buildings give a view on the construction of the buildings.
A Girl's War - A CHILDHOOD LOST IN BRITAIN'S WWII EVACUATION Linton housed Girls and boys. how it looked in the time.

Linton Residential Camp school now
Merchant's Hill Camp Hindhead Surrey - More photos here.
Merchant's Hill Camp Hindhead, Surrey 1944

Clifford Morris continues " It appears that the money ran out after thirty one had been built.The House of Commons passed ‘The Camps Act’ which was given the Royal Assentin May 1939."

The cessation of the construction of new camps was mainly due to the increased costs as a result of war, and the realisation that such camps were not a completely adequate solution to the problem of evacuation. Each camp was designed to accommodate approximately 350 children. The average cost of each camp was £25,000.

So what was the purpose of these camps?
Clifford Morris tells us " One of the jobs of the Corporation was to make people ‘camp minded’.". No doubt, with the first world war still being recent and the situation building towards World War 2, this was clearly on their mind! Clifford continues-

The government appointed chairman was Lord Wyndham Portal of Laverstoke who had risen to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel during the First World War and was awarded the Distinguish Service Order (DSO) and was a Member of the Royal Victorian Order (MVO). After the first war he was a Director of the Great Western Railway before entering politics. After the Second World War he was to become Chairman of the GWR up until nationalization. Lord Portal and members of his board visited 155 possible sites for camps which were to be built as residential schools, each for around 400 children."

The camps would have other uses too - Holiday camps for school children. - Evacuation camps for the children: a function for which they ultimately, and very importantly, served. One report suggests an early use of  the Wyre farm site was for itinerant agricultural workers.

Some of the sites however got snatched up by the Air Force authorities who often managed to get in first, forcing the Corporation to have to search again!

"Although originally designed as camps for schools or for holidaymakers, their role was dramatically redefined with the onset of war in 1939 when they were used as evacuation centres for some of the thousands of children who were moved out of urban areas. In the post-war era the camps became sites for an education experiment in living and learning."

The use of the schools as evacuation camps had the obvious consequence of reducing the number of evacuees who could be housed at such camps to under 9000 nationally. Nevertheless, in November 1940 the Minister of Health Malcolm MacDonald described the camps as "one of the most significant pieces of work that Parliament has lent its hand to in recent times".

The camps also offered children from poorer, urban backgrounds a unique living experience in rural environments. Consequently, the health benefits of these environments were strongly promoted.
Sayers Croft in Surrey

The huts at the camps were all very similar and were designed for the purpose by Thomas Smith Tait, (1882 – 1954). Tait was an architect with the company Burnet, Tait and Lorne and there is a Blue Plaque commemorating his work on his former home at Gates House, Wyldes Close, London, NW11. The huts were constructed of Canadian Cedarwood and those that have survived have done so extremely well over the last eighty years. One of the last camps to be built in 1939 at Sayers Croft in Surrey cost £25,968 to construct on fifteen acres of land.

Interestingly, for us, Tait was involved with Basil Spence (who designed the new Cathedral in Coventry) -
Tait is remembered for his contributions to the design and master planning for the Empire Exhibition, Scotland 1938, held in Bellahouston Park. Tait was appointed as head of a team of nine architects, which included Basil Spence and Jack Coia. Tait's vision was of a modernist, utopian future, and the Empire Exhibition was the largest collection of modern architecture built in United Kingdom in the first half of the 20th century. Dominating the whole exhibition was "The Tower of Empire", designed by Tait himself. The 300-feet-high tower was erected on the summit of the hill in the centre of the park and had three observation balconies, each capable of carrying 200 people."

However Tait's distinguished career seemed to come to an end with the outbreak of the 2nd World War " The outbreak of the Second World War cut Tait’s career prematurely short.  St Andrew's House, Edinburgh, (built for the former Scottish Office and from 1999 the heaquarters of the Scottish Government) was completed shortly after the outbreak of war in 1939, leaving much of the proposed interior decoration incomplete. From 1940 to 1942 he worked as Director of Standardisation at the Ministry of Works. He retired from the partnership in 1952, and the practice was taken on by his eldest son, Gordon. Thomas Tait "

Why Canadian Cedarwood?
From this site -
"Cedar’s unique properties and characteristics have been recognized and appreciated throughout history. The Western Red Cedar has great cultural, economic, and spiritual significance to the Native American peoples of the Pacific Northwest. They used every part of the tree in every aspect of their life.The continuing popularity of cedar is due to its striking natural beauty, durability in an exterior environment and its extremely low maintenance, and affordable price.

Where does it grow?
Western Red Cedar is found in coastal forests along the upper Pacific coast of North America, from southern Alaska to northern California. The principal supplying region is the coastal forest area of British Columbia (where the Western Red Cedar is the official tree). Cedar naturally grows in mixed softwood forests intermingled with other species such as Douglas Fir, Pacific Coast Hemlock, and Sitka Spruce. Western Red Cedar forests are largely managed forests. In a managed forest environment, natural regeneration, controlled harvests, and a planned reforestation program try to ensure a perpetual harvest with good forest conservancy practices.

Western Red Cedar grows in low to mid elevations, along the coast and in a wet belt of the interior. It prefers cool, moist locations, and a slightly acidic soil. A mature tree can attain a height of 180 feet with a trunk diameter of 8 feet. The Western Red Cedar is slow-growing and long-lived. A specimen can live upwards of 1000 years, and has one of the longest lifespans of any North American softwood. Cedar has a low density of 22 lbs. per cubic foot, with a low specific gravity of 0.33. This makes it one of the lightest softwoods available, but also soft, and prone to indentation. The low density also gives cedar it’s excellent thermal insulation properties.

Sick bay at Colomendy - N. Wales
The heartwood of Western Red Cedar contains extractives that are toxic to the decay-causing fungi. Two principle agents responsible for this decay resistance are Thujaplicans (taken from the scientific name for Western Red Cedar) and water soluble phenolics. The tree’s ability to produce these agents increases with age, making the outer layers of the heartwood the most resistant. (In general, sapwood, in all species, has a low resistance to decay) These naturally occurring substances repel moths, insects, termites, carpenter ants and bees, and ambrosia beetles — the bugs just don’t like cedar and prefer to eat elsewhere."

No doubt this is why the old school buildings have outlasted the later 60's buildings and why the style has been adapted for the Pioneer Centre.

In the decades following the war, most of these camps were sold to county councils and education authorities for use as schools. At Wyrefarm, it was Headmaster RT Morris whose drive led to Wyrefarm Camp School being bought by Coventry LEA as a Secondary Modern Boarding School and establishing a GCE system. The school became known as The City of Coventry Boarding School in 1957.

We can now see that this shared history of Wyre Farm Camp School forms part of a much wider social history.

ADDED MATERIAL House of Commons transcripts from the History of Elmbridge School.

This is Elmbridge School

In the article there is more information on some of the locations of other Camp schools for anyone researching it. These include
" The construction of four camps has been started, one in Hampshire, one in Buckinghamshire, and two in Oxfordshire. It is hoped that seven more will be begun in the course of the next fortnight. The contacts for the other camps will be let as the plans for the layout of the camps are approved.

Berks: Cockpole Green, Hurley. Bucks: Horseleys Green, Stokenchurch, Moor End. Cheshire: Marton (Newchurch), Somerford. Denbigh: Colomendy Hall (two sites). Derby: Woolley Bridge. Hants: Overton. Herts: Nettleden. Lancs: Whalley. Northumberland: Bellingham, Hexham. Oxford: Henley, Kennylands, Peppard. Staffs: Blithbury, Rugeley. Surrey: Cranleigh, Ewhurst, Merstham, Tilford. Sussex: Hartfield, Itchingfield. Worcs: Bewdley. York (East Riding); Etton . York (West. Riding. ); Grassington, Linton, Pateley Bridge."


  1. Went to a Middlesex County Council School in Overton. Circa 1948 Head Master & Head Mistress Mr & Mrs Labdon. Looks very like the pictures. Would like to find out more about the place.

  2. Haven't heard of this one although i don't have a handle on all the camp schools yet. Do you know the name of the school?