North Camp

The married officers live out of barracks, and the Colonel has during all this time occupied a villa called Lachine, about half a mile from the North Camp. -- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Crooked Man

North Camp is a self-contained southern suburb of Farnborough. North Camp was the original Victorian town centre for Farnborough. Farnborough is located on the Surrey-Hampshire border, approximately 50 km south-west of London in southern England. Farnborough is internationally known for its airfield, site until recently of the Royal Aircraft Establishment, and for hosting the biennial Farnborough International Airshow.

North Camp takes its name, and owes its origins to, the military north camp that lay on the north side of the Basingstoke Canal - Aldershot at the time was divided into two camps, north and south. Between 1851 and 1861 the population of the parish of Farnborough rose from 477 to 5,529 (of whom 3,929 were military), by 1911 the population of the parish had risen to 11,500. This development rapidly overshadowed the original settlement of Farnborough which was situated further north around Farnborough Street. Towards the end of the 19th century St Mark's Church was built to cater for the increase and shift in the centre of gravity of the population. The rise of the population also coincided with the coming of the railways. Photographs of the 1920s show the streets of North Camp crowded with shoppers.

The military camps of Aldershot straddled either side of the Basingstoke Canal. The two camps were connected by a pontoon bridge, site of the present Iron Bridge. It was a common sight to see Redcoats running from the ale houses in North Camp to get across the pontoon bridge before the evening curfew.

On the main Farnborough Road, close to the toll gate, immediately south of the canal, stood the Row Boat Inn. Previously the haunt of bargemen, it did a roaring trade, first with the camp contractors, then the squaddies. It was a proud boast of the Landlady that she could draw a barrel of beer in fifty minutes and keep up the rate all day. The inn soon attracted prostitutes, which resulted in the army ordering its closure. When the notice to quit was ignored, the army sent in the sappers. The inn was demolished in 1856.

Sherlock Holmes was called upon to investigate a murder in North Camp - 'The Adventure of the Crooked Man' (published in the collection The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes).

Much of the location filming for the hit TV series Soldier, Soldier took place in North Camp.

Present-day North Camp contains an interesting and unusual mix of residential, retail, commercial and light industry. North Camp is best known for its broad range of specialist small businesses and retail outlets. The local North Camp Matters Association has identified over 300 small businesses within what are the loosely defined boundaries of North Camp. After years of decline and official neglect, North Camp is once again starting to thrive.

Due to the lack of development, much of Victorian and Edwardian North Camp still exists.

A 1930s photograph of the small parade of shops on Peabody Road (between Queens Road and the High Street) shows a scene that had little changed by the 1990s. In the early 1990s, Wicks still retained its original shop front.

Wicks, run by the grand-daughter of the original owner, was a very popular second hand bookshop and informal meeting place, previously a small furniture store. The business was taken over by an outsider, with little interest in books and even even less in the customers, and relocated to the shop on the corner. Within weeks the reputation of Wicks had been destroyed, it came as no surprise to anyone when a few years later the business closed down. On the day the shop closed, the books were dumped in a refuse skip outside the shop. In the mid-1990s, Wicks and the adjacent shop were converted into three small residential houses.

The curious bump on the Queen's Roundabout is Cockadobby Hill, an Anglo-Saxon burial mound - dob or dobb from the Old English for goblin.

One of the blots on the landscape that are sprouting like mushrooms in North Camp are mobile phone base station transmitter masts. Apart from being a visual eyesore they represent a health hazard to the local community, especially young children whose small size makes them effective receiving antennas. One of the worst offenders is on land off Somerset Road belonging to the St John's Ambulance. The mast has been placed as far away as possible such that it abuts the boundary fence of a neighbouring property on York Road. It is ironic that St John's who claim to be saving lives are prepared to risk the health of their neighbours for a small amount of Judas gold. Next they will be seeking tobacco sponsorship for their ambulances. People power finally removed the mast. To save face Vodaphone claimed it was because the mast was a visual intrusion.

On the western fringes of North Camp, leading off from the Queen's Roundabout, lies the Farnborough Aerospace Centre. Sun Microsystems, have chosen this site for one of their Java centres.

North Camp has three railway stations within easy walking distance.

The Old Ford Pub next to North Camp Station has become a popular live music venue. John's Jam who play Tuesday nights are a group of ad hoc musicians who get together for a Tuesday night jamming session.

On the Eastern border lies the Blackwater Valley Relief Road (A331), with fast access to the M3 and the Hog's Back (A31).

To the south of North Camp lies the military town of Aldershot. Half-way between North Camp and the centre of Aldershot lies the Aldershot Military Museum. Built in 1894, the museum is housed in the only two surviving brick barracks that once covered the area. The museum contains a local history gallery. Outside the museum is a collection of military vehicles. There are a number of other military museums in and around the area.

Beyond Aldershot lies the ancient and relatively unspoilt town of Farnham.

Half-way between North Camp and the centre of Aldershot runs the Basingstoke Canal. The road crosses the canal by an Iron Bridge, recently restored (spring 1997).

The canal runs from the Greywell Tunnel, to eventually reach the Wey Navigation at West Byfleet, then on towards the River Thames. The canal was one of the last canals to be constructed in the 1790s. It was never a commercial success as its construction coincided with the coming of the railways. It had a brief respite in the war years, then fell into disuse. Restored to a working waterway in the 1970s it now has a leisure function. A number of public footpaths intersect with the canal. A recently created aqueduct carries the canal over the Blackwater Valley Relief Road and the River Blackwater. A trail runs through the Blackwater Valley from the aqueduct along the eastern boundary of North Camp and continues on northwards. The trail used to be a pleasant walk through green countryside alongside the River Blackwater, now it runs alongside a major road.

The canal has been designated as a SSSI for its important ecological value. Of particular value are the wetland plants and dragonflies. The Greywell Tunnel is an important site for bats. An artificial bat habitat has been constructed close to the aqueduct.

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(c) Keith Parkins 1997-2009 -- August 2009 rev 21