Experts hail remains at Stobs Camp

Stobs Camp cemetery.
Stobs Camp cemetery.

Stobs Camp has significant importance with its quality of remains, intact training ground, massive archaeological potential and huge educational resource.

This was the view of experts from Archaeological Scotland and Historic Environment Scotland at a Stobs Camp meeting in the lesser town hall last week.

The well-attended public meeting was called to outline work undertaken at Stobs in the past, the extent of the site and remains and what an additional survey could bring.

The aims and plans for the three-year project were presented by Andrew Jepson and Dianne Laing of Archaeological Scotland, Stobs Project liaison officer and Stobs Project development manager respectively, and Allan Kilpatrick from
Historic Environment Scot-land.

The project has the backing of Scottish Borders Council, Live Borders, Borders Family History Society, the Callants’ Club, Archaeological Society, and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Brian Tait, Callants’ Club secretary, said they have an obvious link to Stobs Camp as the club was founded as a result of the building of the military complex.

He continued: “This was brought about by the defeats inflicted on the British Army by the Boers in South Africa between 1899 and 1902, which led the government to look for land similar to the South African terrain to train troops in combating the guerrilla warfare employed by the Boers.

“Part of Stobs Estate was for sale in 1902 and the government thought it ideal. The terrain may have been similar to South Africa, but the weather certainly was not.

“The prospect of a military camp so near to the town caused much concern, that the camp would be considerably enlarged and a great influx of military personnel living in and around Hawick might impair what made the town so enjoyable for its townsfolk and might cause the old established customs and traditions to be diluted or lost.

“Within months, 20,000 troops were under canvas, hence it was dubbed ‘Scotland’s Aldershot’, making the camp larger than the population of Hawick, which at the time was about 17,000 – the club is therefore committed to this project.”

Ian Lowes, a past-president of the Archaeological Society, said: “The society was founded 160 years ago, its main objective being the spreading of antiquarian knowledge to the wider public in a form that is clear to understand. Over the years, Stobs Camp has featured in both our lectures and articles in the Transactions but all these contributions to understand Stobs and its impact on Hawick and district have only just scratched the surface.

“This project gives us a great opportunity to bring together all the memories, memorabilia and information from multiple resources so that all people, whether researchers, genealogists, historians, academics or interested local folk, have a central resource to help further their knowledge of what at the moment is a forgotten but significant part of not only Hawick’s but Scotland’s history and heritage.

“The society fully supports this project which mirrors our aims and objects and we would encourage anyone with memories, artefacts, photos or ephemera to please come forward.”

The importance of Stobs Camp was detailed by the experts. Within Scotland no site exists with the mix of army training camp and prisoners of war and internees in one place, none has the surviving remains visible at Stobs, no other camp has any standing buildings and much of the training ground including firing ranges and trenches surviving.

Within the UK, no First World War prisoner of war camp has upstanding buildings remaining, no internees’ camp survives on the mainland, and no training camps survive to the same level of preservation. Only army camps in Ireland survive to the same degree.

The aims and plans for the camp are to record as much of the site as possible, geophys the cemetery, gather oral reminiscence, gather and collate research from local and national resources, reconstruct the memorial that once stood in the cemetery, develop a conservation plan for any buildings that remain and commemorate the people who passed through Stobs Camp.

How will this be done?

The website, currently under construction, will be continually updated, there will be workshops in schools and for training volunteers, and the gathering of further research and stories. It is planned some of this work will be started in the autumn this year, including sub-contracting a sweep for unexploded munitions, contracting a drone pilot, and a vegetation clearance at the cemetery.

Plans for next year and 2018 include excavations at the site itself, exploring training trenches, and trying to discover if any of the huts are still in existence (only one remains at Stobs).

It is hoped to conclude the project with the production of a book outlining the history of Stobs Camp, as well as creating a teaching guide for schools.

With an informative website and increased public awareness, access improvements and parking will have to be addressed, as well as installing interpretation around the site.

All in all a very exciting project and a long overdue recognition of a site of such great archaeological and educational importance unique in the UK.