Archaeologists have been unearthing military marvels at a forgotten First World War training camp in the North-East.
Dozens of volunteers have been helping a week-long excavation of Cocken Hall camp, near Durham – and what they have found could change the history books forever.
Today, the centuries-old hall is no more and the site is feet deep in nettles and bushes. But 100 years ago, it was home to up to 1,100 military men preparing for battle on the Western Front.
Enthusiasts from archaeology outfit No Man’s Land travelled from across the country for this week’s dig, the first since the camp was abandoned near the end of the war.
They have unearthed foundations and artefacts from the military camp – and their work around the original hall suggests the site may have been inhabited well before the previous 17th century estimate.
Project director Alastair Fraser said:
“We’ve been able to establish the arrangements of the camp and we now know much more about the house – we’ve realised it was probably older than we thought.
“We’ve had 3D scanners on site and we now hope to produce a 3D model, which we should be able to render – because we have photographs from the time.”
Cocken Hall dates from at least the 17th century, possibly earlier. Volunteers have found 16th and 17th century wall painting this week.
In the late 18th century, it was known for its ornamental gardens; while in the 19th century it was a convent, then a private home.
It was acquired by the Lambtons, the family of the Earls of Durham, around the 1870s.
Following an early 20th century modernisation, it was to be let again but sadly the prospective tenant died, meaning that at the outbreak of war in 1914 it was unoccupied.
The Earl handed the hall to the Durham Light Infantry (DLI) and it became the training base for the 18th battalion, known as the Durham Pals – men who enlisted with their friends and workmates.
The hall proved too small to accommodate all the men, so a barracks, bath house, rifle range, canteen and recreation room were built. Trenches were also dug, to simulate the brutal warfare the men could expect on the Continent.
The 18th left for France in May 1915, but Cocken was later used by other DLI battalions, the York and Lancaster Regiment and the forerunner of the Home Guard.
The camp was demolished after the war and the hall, which was in a poor state, followed around 1928 – taking its secrets with it, until now.
Findings will go into a major exhibition on Durham and the Somme marking the centenary of the famous battle next year and Mr Fraser hopes to take a team to excavate part of the Somme where the DLI fought in 2018.
Source – Northern Echo, 26 June 2015