Time Team help unearth the world's first prisoner of war camp - in Britain

Archaeologists working with Channel 4's Time Team have unearthed the world's first PoW camp, near Peterborough, Cambridgeshire.

The camp operated from 1797-1814 and was run by the British Empire's Transport Office.

It housed 7000 French soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars - some for over 10 years.

The prisoners were generally treated well, though 1,700 died there during the camp's lifetime.

Many commissioned officers from the French army were even allowed to leave the prison and live in the local towns as long as they promised not to escape.

The Napoleonic Wars took place from 1803 to 1815 and was fought between the Coalition forces (Britain, Austria, Russia, Prussia, Spain, Portugal, Sicily, Sardinia, Sweden, Ottoman Empire, Hanover, Netherlands, Nassau, French Royalists and Brunswick) and France and her (not many) allies (the United States, Italy, Naples, Etruria, Duchy of Warsaw, Confederation of the Rhine, Denmark and Norway).

The war started after France declared that it would export is anti-monarchy revolution to the rest of Europe, whether the rest of Europe wanted them to or not.

So a Coalition of nations was formed against the French Republic.

The Coalition forces - which included French Royalists - were brought together by Britain, France's main enemy, which encouraged other nations to crush the newly-formed French Republic and, being the world's richest country, even offered them financial support.

The Coalition forces won, leaving Britain (under its ancient monarchy) the undisputed foremost power on the planet for the next 100 years.

Time Team is a series shown on Channel 4 which is presented by history fan Tony Robinson, who played the lowly Baldrick in the classic BBC comedy series Blackadder, in which a team of archaeologists travels around the country unearthing hidden sites.

Time Team help unearth world's first prisoner of war camp - in Britain

By Daily Mail Reporter
22nd July 2009
Daily Mail

British archaeologists have unearthed the secrets of what is thought to be the world’s first prisoner of war camp.

Experts, working with Channel 4’s Time Team programme, say the camp near Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, housed 7,000 captured French soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars.

The purpose-built site held prisoners between 1797 and 1814 and was run by the British Empire’s Transport Office.

Revealed: A painting of how the camp, which kept Napoleon's troops, would look (click to enlarge)

Known as the ‘Norman Cross Depot’ or ‘Norman Cross Barracks for Prisoners of War’, it held foreign troops captured in battles on land and at sea - some for more than 10 years.

The 22-acre prison was bought by the British Government in 1797, to build a barracks capable of holding thousands of troops and a large number of soldiers to guard them.

Many of the captives came from famous naval battles of the period like Camperdown and Trafalgar and from captured enemy colonies from overseas in Spain and Portugal.

For years mystery has surrounded the inner workings of the site, and the location of over 1,700 bodies of prisoners who died there.

Archaeologist Ben Robinson, who worked with Time Team to uncover site’s secret during a three-day dig, hailed the find as ‘incredibly important for world history’.

Mr Robinson, of Peterborough Museum, said: ‘This is a fascinating and unique site because the concept of a “Prisoner of War Camp” did not exist before Norman Cross was built in 1797.

‘It was an inspired experiment in taking huge numbers of enemy troops out of action, but also keeping them in as humane conditions as possible.

Captured: An aerial view of the site where its foundations can still be seen

‘All of the prisoners were transported back to Britain by the navy and the site was chosen because it was far enough inland that prisoners wouldn’t try to escape.

‘It also had 100ft deep wells and was surrounded by agricultural land which could be used to grow crops to feed the thousands of prisoners.’

The prison was also right next to the Great North Road and Fenland waterways, making it ideal for captured soldiers and sailors to reach.

The prison part of the Depot was octagon-shaped with four quadrants surrounded by wooden fences, which contained four two-storey prisoners’ barracks with red tile roofs.

Each of the 22ft by 100ft, two-storey prison buildings were crowded with 500 men and they were crammed into such a small space they were forced to sleep in hammocks.

Although the prisoners were generally treated well, more than 1,000 inmates died from typhoid in 1800 and 1801 and a total of 1,770 died during the camp’s 17-year lifetime.

It is now hoped that the dig can uncover more information about life inside the prison, which was an integral part of the loca community.

Many commissioned officers from the French army were even allowed to leave the prison and live in the local towns as long as they promised not to escape.

The prison also contained a thriving and advanced underground industry where prisoners made tools and carved sculptures to sell to local villagers.

Helpers: TV's Time Team, led by Tony (Baldrick from Blackadder) Robinson, (front), at another dig site

Many of these are now on display in Peterborough Museum and include ornate dominoes carved from bone and intricately-detailed telescope and glasses cases.

According to archaeologist Mr Robinson, many prisoners tried to escape by digging holes, dressing up as guards, or sneaking out in manure carts.

Two men were even found in a boat of the east coast near Hull with a map of the Lincolnshire coast as they tried to escape back to mainland Europe.

Mr Robinson added: ‘This will be the first ever archaeological excavation at the site and while Norman Cross is so important in modern world history there are still so many mysteries about it.

‘Many of the ways that people used to escape from here would be tried years later in the World Wars much like in the film The Great Escape - it’s just fascinating stuff.’

The Depot closed its gates following Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and the buildings and materials were sold and the site cleared.

It is now marked by a memorial which was built in 1914 and shows a towering brass eagle upon a concrete column and plinth, with brass nameplate.

Last edited by Blackleaf; Jul 22nd, 2009 at 12:21 PM..
I wonder if they torture there.

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