Site of the Norman Cross Depot for Prisoners of War
- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
- Location Description:
- Norman Cross.
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Location Description:
- Norman Cross.
- City of Peterborough (Unitary Authority)
- Non Civil Parish
- Huntingdonshire (District Authority)
- National Grid Reference:
The earthwork and buried remains of the Norman Cross Depot for Prisoners of War. It was built in 1796-97 and closed in 1814. In 1816 the buildings were demolished and the site sold. The site is now under pasture.
Reasons for Designation
The earthworks and buried remains of the Norman Cross Depot for Prisoners of War, which opened in 1796 and closed in 1814, with demolition taking place in 1816, is scheduled for the following principal reasons:
* Archaeological interest: as the world’s first specially-constructed prisoner of war camp, it being the prototype for the future development of military prisons;
* Period: although one of a considerable number of monuments characteristic of the late-C18, it was the first and only prison specially constructed for the custody of prisoners taken captive in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars of 1793-1815;
* Survival: it survives as a well-preserved group of earthworks and buried remains, which have been little disturbed since the camp closed in 1816;
* Potential: limited excavation has revealed that the site has significant potential to reveal evidence of structures and occupation along with valuable environmental information;
* Documentation: the existence of archaeological documentation and documentary sources further contributes to our understanding of the camp and its significance;
* Finds: the camp has yielded the largest and finest collection of prisoner of war craftwork in the world, with a large collection of carved bone and ivory objects, including model ships, guillotines, needlework boxes and playing cards, along with pieces of straw marquetry. Over 800 items are held at Peterborough Museum;
* Group value: with the former houses of the barrack master (now two private dwellings known as the Old Governors House and the Barrack Masters Lodge) and that of the agent/superintendent (now a private dwelling known as Norman House), both listed at Grade II, and the Norman Cross Memorial (listed Grade II).
During the C18, increasing numbers of prisoners were captured and retained by the warring parties for the first time as a by-product of a new form of conflict between emerging nations. Civil prisons were initially used to house these inmates, as were converted barracks and other military buildings, along with civilian structures such as church crypts and disused industrial buildings. However, these ad hoc arrangements were largely designed to ensure short-term security rather than the internment of large numbers of prisoners for prolonged periods of time. British successes in the military and naval conflicts of the Napoleonic wars, combined with the refusal by the French to exchange prisoners as regularly as had previously been the case, created an unprecedented number of captives. Although officers could be let out on parole, a new strategy had to be developed to house the large number of soldiers and sailors that had been detained. From initial hostilities in 1793, prisoners were shipped back to Britain and held in rapidly adapted military buildings. As these became full, ships were acquired to serve as hulks, but these also quickly became occupied, resulting in a demand for additional facilities. Later in the same year, Parliament approved funds to construct, at Norman Cross in rural Huntingdonshire, a new complex for the specific purpose of incarcerating prisoners of war. However, it took until late 1796 for the Transport Commissioners to begin planning for the camp, and finally purchased the necessary land from Lord Carysfort. The site, situated in the angle formed where the Great North Road (now the A1) was joined, five miles from Peterborough, by the old coach road from Boston and East Lincolnshire (now the A15), was chosen because it was far from the sea, making it difficult for any escapees to return to France, and away from any large population centres where it would be easier for prisoners to merge into the crowded urban environment. Conversely, its accessibility to the ports of Great Yarmouth, King’s Lynn, Wisbech and Boston, from where prisoners could be ferried by water to Yaxley, Stanground or Peterborough, and then marched the few miles to the camp, was also an important factor, along with its accessibility to London. The healthiness of the rural site and the availability of local produce were also important considerations. Construction of the camp commenced in December 1796 under the direction of William Adams, Master Carpenter to the Board of Ordnance. Timber was chosen as the main building material as it lent itself to rapid construction and, given that the facility was seen to be a temporary measure, it was also deemed to be economical. The timber framework for each building was prefabricated in London and then taken by cart to Norman Cross where it was assembled and clad with weatherboarding. By the end of March 1797 the camp was staffed and ready to accept its first contingent of prisoners, with the first arriving on the 7 April. From the time of its occupation it was, like others of its class, known as a ‘depot’ - ‘The Norman Cross Depot for Prisoners of War’, and was built at a cost of £34,581 11s 3d.
A combination of documentary sources, in particular Thomas Walker's book 'The Depot for the Prisoners of War at Norman Cross', which was published in 1913, along with a survey of the earthworks undertaken by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments in 1983 and the results of an archaeological investigation undertaken in 2009 by Wessex Archaeology of behalf of Channel 4’s Time Team, provide evidence for the camp’s general layout. Its basic shape was rectangular, measuring, at its maximum dimensions, 457m north-west to south-east by 378m transversely, with the total space enclosed being around 15ha. The camp itself comprised an internees' prison at the centre, occupying an area of some 9ha and originally enclosed by a timber palisade, while the barracks for the guards stood outside the palisade on the east and west sides. In the centre of the prison was an octagonal blockhouse and symmetrically arranged round it were four quadrangular courts of around 1.4ha, each again enclosed by a palisade fence. They were separated from one another by four cross roads, which intersected in the centre, where the corners of the quadrangular courts were canted to form an octagonal open space on which a blockhouse stood. Each quadrangle contained four, wooden, two-storeyed barrack blocks, or caserns, designed to hold about 500 prisoners each. In addition to the caserns and their associated offices, each quadrant also accommodated a range of other buildings. The south-east quadrangle contained the superintendent’s, or agent’s offices, a storehouse, a cooking-house and, as in each of the other quadrangles, two turnkeys’ lodges. In the south-western quadrangle, along with the storehouse and cooking-house, there was a straw barn. In the enclosed court near the turnkeys’ lodges was the ‘black hole’ or punishment block. The north-eastern quadrangle was mainly given over to the hospital with a mortuary in the corner. These buildings all stood in a separate court, cut off from the prisoners’ airing-ground by stockade fencing. Each quadrangle also had three wells, two in the airing-courts and one in the court accommodating the ancillary buildings. In the boundary wall there were four gates, opening on to the ends of the cross streets. The north gate opened onto a space at the back of the prison occupied by sheds and other ancillary structures; the east and west gates onto roadways which ran between the military barracks and the prison from the Peterborough Road; the south gate was opposite the central main entrance from that road into the Depot. At each gate, outside the prison wall, was a guard house. A market, in which prisoners could purchase local produce or sell craft items, was held in the enclosed space at the east gate. Standing on the ground between the boundary wall and the quadrangles were sentry boxes. Following an attempted mass escape in September 1805, the timber palisade was replaced with a brick wall. In 1809 a ‘silent sentry walk’ was constructed, consisting of a ditch excavated inside the brick wall, which was 8m wide, 1.5m deep and paved with stone flags. The ditch effectively raised the height of the wall, although it undermined its foundations. Some 27m of this wall still survives, forming part of the rear garden wall of the house originally occupied by the agent/superintendent, now known as Norman House (listed Grade II). A brick-built surgeon's house was also erected in the north-east quadrant in 1805.
Standing outside the east and west sides of the prison defences were the military barracks. These comprised, at each end, three large caserns, similar to those in the prison, enclosed by a palisade fence. Outside this fence there was, in the space allotted to the accommodation of the troops, a detached house for the field officers, two smaller houses for the staff sergeants, the powder magazine, a fire-engine house, a range of stabling, a schoolroom, and various other offices and sheds. The Military Hospital occupied the north-west corner of the site. On the south side of the camp, between the boundary wall and the Peterborough Road (A15), were the houses of the barrack master (now two private dwellings known as the Old Governors House and the Barrack Masters Lodge) and that of the agent/superintendent (now a private dwelling known as Norman House). Both are listed at Grade II and are the only camp buildings to survive above ground.
The main burial area for prisoners, as revealed by trial trenches dug in 2009, was on the north-east side of the camp, immediately outside the camp defences, with single and multiple-occupant graves being found. Over 1,700 prisoners are recorded as having died in the camp, with a major typhoid epidemic in 1800-01 causing the vast majority of deaths. Although land was purchased a short distance to the west of the camp, on the west side of the Great North Road, to inter the 1,020 who died at this time, investigations undertaken in 2009 have shown that it was not used. The camp's soldiers were initially buried in St Peter’s churchyard in Yaxley. However, with the churchyard becoming crowded, a plot of land to the south-east of the Barrack Master's house was purchased by the Government in 1813 as a burial place, with the ground consecrated by the Bishop of Lincoln on 29th October. A few gravestones now remain but most have disappeared. The land remains consecrated.
Following the signing of the Treaty of Peace at Amiens on 27th March 1802, the captives at Norman Cross subsequently left in four detachments and by 29 April 1802 the prison had been emptied. In January 1803 it was let to a Mr Henderson on condition that he lived on the premises. However, with hostilities recommencing on 16th May 1803, Henderson’s tenancy was cut short and the camp reopened, with the first detachment of prisoners being 179 Frenchmen on 28th August.
In order to generate income that could be expended to supplement their diet and clothing, prisoners engaged in making craft items for sale at the east gate market. A large number of items sold to local people or given to camp staff have survived, with Peterborough Museum holding a substantial collection of over 250 bone and over 150 straw marquetry items. The archaeological evidence found in 2009 for craft working came mainly in the form of worked bone waste, with nearly 800 pieces being recovered. A wide range of unfinished products were also found, including dominoes, dice, flea combs, buttons, handles and a crochet needle.
The camp finally closed in August 1814. In 1816 the buildings were demolished and the site sold. Some of the buildings were re-erected in Peterborough, Stilton, and the neighbouring villages, but most of the timber was sold as firewood. Since its closure the site of the prison has been used for arable crops and grazing. It is now primarily under pasture.
PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS: the earthwork and buried remains of Norman Cross Depot for Prisoners of War. It opened in 1797 and closed in 1814, with the site sold and buildings demolished in 1816. The 15ha site, which is situated 7.4km to the south of Peterborough and 2.5km to the south-west of Yaxley, lies in pasture fields upon a slight west facing slope on top of a north-east to south-west ridge. It is bounded by the grounds of a hotel to the south-west, the A15 to the south-east and arable fields to the north-west and north-east.
DESCRIPTION: the remains of the camp are visible on aerial photographs, with the ditched boundary to the internee's prison, along with its four recessed entrances, roadways and enclosure ditches still surviving as well-preserved earthworks. The site's most prominent feature is the boundary ditch which was dug in 1809 to accommodate the 'silent sentry walk'. Enclosing the area occupied by the internees' prison itself, which measures 277m north-west to south-east by 252m transversely, the ditch itself measures 6m to 8m in width and, in depth, up to 1m externally and 0.5m internally to a berm. From the four corners, the sides of the ditch extend outwards 15m towards centrally positioned entrances, each measuring 40m wide and 15m deep. The north-east arm, south of the entrance, has been filled in leaving a low scarp along the external side, and much of the south-east arm east of the entrance has been filled in and overlain by the garden of a modern bungalow. A modern causeway diagonally crosses the west arm to give vehicular access to the interior. No trace of the 1805 brick wall that mainly stood upon the outer bank of the ditch exists except for a 27m long section incorporated into a modern garden wall at the rear of Norman House (listed Grade II), originally the agent’s/superintendent’s house. The berm which separated the ditch from the camp boundary bank increases in width from 5m at the outer corners of the ditch to 18m either side of each entrance. The bank upon which the original palisade fence was erected to enclose the prison camp has been reduced and spread by ploughing and is, where best preserved on the south-east and south-west, 8m to 11m in width and up to 0.7m high. It is barely visible on the north-west side, east of the entrance, but can be discerned as a faint raised strip on the north-east side, north of the entrance. An evaluation trench dug across its south-west arm, south of the west entrance, in 2009, uncovered a single palisade posthole and, although truncated by later activity, it measured 1.2m deep, indicating a significant line of defence.
The camp roads, which divided the open area into four equal quadrants, are visible as faint raised strips of 7.5m average width and up to 0.15m high. They fade out short of the four entrances and there are no traces for some 25m from the central intersection in all four directions. Two straight ditches, 1m in width and, where best preserved, 0.15m deep, mark the north-west and south-east sides of the open enclosures, namely the boundary between the palisaded barrack enclosure and the airing court. They extend for 155m, broken midway for 13m and 17m respectively, where the north-west to south-east aligned camp road passes through. There is no evidence of the south-west side boundary, but on the line of the north-east boundary a faint mark can be traced on the ground surface. Geophysical survey in the south-west quadrant in 2009, followed by subsequent trial trenching, located the buried building platform of one of the prisoners' barrack blocks, measuring 32m north-east to south-west by 11m transversely, along with its associated latrine. Also found in this quadrant was the buried building platform of the punishment block, the baking house and a turnkeys' lodge although these were not excavated. Located in the north-east quadrant was the site of either the hospital or surgeon's house, while a guard tower was found along the northern defences and the octagonal blockhouse at the centre of the camp.
The former prisoners' cemetery was revealed by two trenches cut immediately to the north and east of the internee's prison boundary. Single and multi-occupant graves were found immediately to the north of the camp, east of the route in through the north gate, with graves also found further to the east. The graves are widely spaced in rows 4-5m apart. A range of finds contemporary with the camp was also recovered by the archaeological evaluation. These include structural material (ceramic and stone building material, iron nails, window glass), domestic refuse (pottery, glass sherds, animal bone, marine shell), personal possessions (clay pipes, buttons, coins) and evidence for the prisoners' craft activities (bone objects and bone-working debris).
Outside the internees’ prison, the earthworks of the garrison quarter are visible on the west side of the camp, but those on the east side have been levelled by ploughing but are likely to survive as buried features.
The site of a soldiers' cemetery, which lies to the south-east of the former Barrack Master's House (now two private dwellings known as the Old Governor's House and the Barrack Master's Lodge), centred at NGR TL1650391188, contains the eroded grave stones of at least three burial plots. Although likely to retain nationally important archaeological deposits the ground is still consecrated and is not therefore included in the scheduling.
EXCLUSIONS: a number of features are excluded from the scheduling including all post and wire fences, all garden walls (excluding the surviving section of camp boundary wall to the rear of Norman House) and a tennis court. However, the ground beneath all these features is included.
EXTENT OF SCHEDULING: the area of protection encompasses a 15ha site containing the earthworks and buried remains of a Napoleonic prisoner of war camp. Lying in pasture fields, this is mainly defined by modern post and wire fences which mark its boundary with the grounds of a hotel and a private dwelling to the south-west, the A15 to the south-east and arable fields to the north-west and north-east.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
- Legacy System number:
- CB 268
- Legacy System:
- RSM - OCN
Books and journals
Walker, TJ, The Depot for Prisoners of War at Norman Cross, Huntingdonshire, 1796 to 19816, (1913)
Mytum, HHall, N, 'Norman Cross: Designing and Operating and Eighteenth-Century Prisoner of War Camp' in Mytum, H, Carr, G, Prisoners of War: Archaeology, Memory and Heritage of 19th and 20th Century Mass Internment, (2013), 75-91
Information on the Norman Cross Depot for Prisoners of War from the Friends of Norman Cross , accessed 8 June 2016 from https://sites.google.com/site/friendsofnormancross/
Information on the Peterborough Museum collection of artefacts created by French prisoners of war interred at Norman Cross Depot for Prisoners of War, accessed 8 June 2016 from http://www.peterboroughmuseum.org.uk/normancross/
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing