A former military stronghold
Weedon Barracks played an important role as a key military base in the run up to, and during World War II, and was particularly significant for its cavalry factions. In the famous Berlin Olympics of 1936 the Olympian Equestrian team trained here. As it was predominantly a cavalry barracks, Weedon’s importance subsided as the need for horse based warfare declined, and the last cavalry left from Weedon in 1946. In order to understand just how significant it was in wartime, in between October 1942 and November 1943 there were an incredible 3.5million rifles issued from the site! The Weedon based soldiers were a prominent part of village life and the residents valued their presence. The young lads growing up in the village in particular, looked up to the soldiers…
Not your average place to grow up
A first-hand account, from a local gentleman whose playground was the barracks when he was growing up, suggests that the soldiers were very patient and tolerant of the boys, with the young lads being seldom told off for playing at the barracks. Growing up in the shadow of the barracks, many of the local boys were keen to follow in the footsteps of the soldiers, and went on to enrol in the army as wide eyed teenagers. They enjoyed army life and the camaraderie that they experienced. Learning how to look out for one another exactly as they had done as boys – this remains a key mantra for our armed forces today.
Unravelling a fascinating history
After falling into disuse, the barracks were demolished in 1955/56 and replaced by 200 or so houses. However, some key buildings were retained and are now grade II* listed buildings, in recognition of their architectural significance, including The Depot, and the early nineteenth century Stores Buildings of the former Royal Ordnance Depot. These Stores Buildings are today used as industrial workshops. The statutory listing is important as it shows how historically significant the old barracks were. The listed building scale goes like this: Grade I = buildings of exceptional interest. Grade II* = particularly important buildings of more than special interest. Grade II = buildings of special interest, warranting every effort to preserve them. Therefore having a grade II* listed former military building is hugely important.
Another interesting and distinctive feature of the village and former barracks site is the presence of the Grand Union Canal which reached Weedon in 1796. The military branch canal entered The Depot under a portcullis, set in a building known as the East Lodge, forming part of the surrounding wall, and is still standing. Napoleon’s plans for invasion in 1803 scared the English and they set about making considerable additions to their army and militia. It became clear to our leaders that the storage of military supplies near to the coast was no longer prudent, and plans were made to set up a depot for the storage of arms and ammunition near to the centre of the country. A site in Weedon Bec was chosen, due to the proximity of the canal and Turnpike, and the rest is history…
Attracting visitors from near and far
The former Royal Ordnance Depot at Weedon (built between 1804 and 1816) has now, finally, been turned into an interesting and informative Visitor Centre. Here visitors can learn of Weedon’s fascinating history – of the barracks and earlier times. Inside this welcoming new Visitor Centre you will find detailed models of the barracks as they were in World War II. Visitors can also read about the history of the site including its hugely significant weaponry and armour. It is understood that up to 2000 tonnes of gunpowder were stored here until the 1890s. To put this figure into perspective that means that the amount of gunpowder stored at Weedon was more than 800 times the amount that Guy Fawkes was planning to use in 1605 to blow up the Houses of Parliament! – Quite a powder keg indeed! Before the Visitor Centre opened this summer many people may not have known much about Weedon Barracks at all. Happily, it now provides an invaluable resource for historians and the general public alike.
Despite the clear narrative conveying the history and development of the site, you will still need to use some imagination when visiting The Depot today. Much of the site has been developed into an industrial estate, providing an attractive and convenient location for local businesses, and the houses which now lie where the barracks once stood, making it difficult to fully comprehend the former character, appearance and might of the military stronghold. However, for those with a keen interest in history, or anyone looking for a day out with a difference, Weedon Depot is a must to see and explore. Good luck unearthing its fabulous history – you won’t be disappointed.