New Barracks Gosport
The New Barracks, Gosport, simply referred to as ‘New Barracks’, later to be named ‘St George Barracks’ (Note: not ‘St George’s Barracks’) was commenced in 1856 and completed during 1859. There is no truth in the rumour that the plans were mixed up and a barracks designed for India was built in Gosport by mistake. A newspaper article of 1895 stated that a ‘report’ (no details) says the barracks were intended for ‘Hong Kong’. Over the years the rumour seems to have been changed to ‘India’. The distinct look of the barracks, with its iron verandahs and basement levels, was a deliberate design feature because of the need to make the barracks low-lying so that it did not present a ready target to an enemy assaulting Gosport from the land. It needed to be restricted in height so that it was not seen from a distance towering above the ramparts that surrounded Gosport town. The only way to achieve this was to build a basement level and give the barracks a flat roof that could be covered with earth, hence the distinctive style of the buildings. Perhaps it was the iron railings and verandah that gave the barracks its ‘Indian’ look. However this was a popular design feature that was used in other barracks and quarters around Gosport, such as the married quarters in Baden Powell Road (off Pound Lane) and the other married Quarters in Military Road at Elson Fort, both now destroyed. This design need was explained in a newspaper report on 16th May 1857.
The new Barracks to be erected on the field extending from the gate at the top of High-street to that leading to the Railway Station, will be commenced on or about the 1st June. The contract is to be completed within twelve months. The barracks will be of three stories in height, one of which will be underground, in order that the building shall not much exceed the elevation of the lines. From the gate leading to the railway station, there will extend to Weevil a line of building for ‘hospital purposes. The new barracks will accommodate 1,000 men, and we understand the hospital will contain about 200. The latter building will only be a few feet above the elevation of the lines.
The Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle etc (Portsmouth, England), Saturday, June 25, 1859 reported:
The new barracks at Gosport with accommodation for one commanding officer, two field officers, 34 other officers, eight staff sergeants, 1,008 non commissioned officers and men, 60 married soldiers and six horses will be complete in their barrack stores and furniture and ready for occupation by the 1st July.
In June 1859 the newspaper again reported:
In the course of a discussion on the army estimates in the House of Commons on Friday last Mr S. Herbery, in reply to Sir H. Willoughby who had spoken of the ‘accumulating expense for barracks,’ said:- ‘The new barracks a Gosport were estimated at £85,000 but the amount voted was £177,000.
The whole of that sum had not been expended on the barracks.. The votes were sometimes granted so late that the building season was over before the money could be applied to the purpose for which it was intended. The result, however, was that the work had been executed several thousand pounds within the estimate.’
In a publication History, Gazetteer and Directory of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight dated 1859 the barracks are mentioned for the first time. It records that the barracks had been built ‘at the north end of the town – at the cost of about £100,000. They comprise an extensive and handsome range of white brick buildings and have room for more than 2,000 men and also separate apartments for about 60 married soldiers and their families. More than 10,000,000 bricks were used in their erection.’
The barracks which at the time were referred to as ‘Gosport, Barracks’ were first occupied by the 86th (Royal County Down) Regiment of Foot on 20 August 1859.
The magazine ‘The Builder’ published a letter on 14 May 1859 which criticized the barracks and in view of its content it is reproduced in full;
`Sir, Your columns have contained many well-merited strictures on the way in which the public money is squandered on ill-contrived and badly constructed barracks; and after all that has been written on the subject, it is from bad to worse the authorities are going in respect of barracks for our troops. Of all the barracks that have been constructed, those now being finished at Gosport outdo them in a display of reckless waste of public money and blundering on the part of the directors. In the first place, these barracks, were intended to be bomb-proof, [in this context the writer refers to mortar bombs and not, of course, aerial bombs], which they never would have been had they even been constructed as originally intended; but the design could not be carried out; for, had the arched roofs over the buildings been loaded by earth, etc, as proposed, the• sustaining walls must have been crushed, and the buildings would have been a heap of ruins. One building the Commanding Officer’s house, was so rent by half the weight intended to be put on it, that the authorities were obliged to abandon their fallacious scheme for rendering that building bomb-proof; and it was not until after that failure, it was found out, by your scientific men, that the whole beautiful system of rendering Gosport barracks bomb-proof must be abandoned.’
The letter was signed ‘One in the Secret’.
The layout of the barracks was dictated by the surrounding ramparts which restricted it to an area of land between the bastions and the old town of Gosport. The section south of the main road into Gosport from Forton consisted of a large barrack block on two levels. At the southern end was a recreation room, straw store and stables. At the northern end was the canteen. Nearby were two skittle alleys which provided more recreation. On the other side of the soldiers’ barracks adjacent to Ordnance Road was a large gymnasium and the sergeants’ mess. A small corrugated iron garrison church was added post 1891. The section north of the main road consisted of the officers’ quarters and a series of married quarters. The guard room stood in the middle of the two sections adjacent to the main road from Forton. The barracks were surrounded by iron railings, which thankfully survived the World War Two scrap drive. To the west of the soldiers’ barracks was the recreation block and stables.
A careful examination of the south wall of the present day Officers Quarters now converted to apartments reveals a large crack running down the wall and it is considered that this was the building referred to in the letter as being ‘rent’. Although later used as an office building and Officers Mess the old bell pull at the entrance still showed the original marking which reads `Field Officers’ Quarters’.
Since the barracks were occupied in 1859 there has been a continuous occupation from that date up to the present time and a list of the Gosport garrison, the accompanying list of occupying regiments or units is shown here, up until 1919.
St George Barracks
New Barracks, Gosport changed its name during the Second World War, in 1941, when it was handed over to the Royal Navy and used as a ‘New Entry’ barracks for the Royal Navy in the Portsmouth area. At this time the barracks were named HMS Victory IV Barracks but were then renamed HMS St George.
In 1947 the barracks were returned to the military and with their occupation by the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment during that year became known as St George Barracks.
The last occupation of the barracks was by the 2nd Maritime regiment from 1971. In 1977 they received the honorary Freedom of Gosport. The M.O.D. declared the barracks surplus to requirements in 1991 and the site was sold for development as housing.
The Myth of the swapped plans
Due to the unusual construction of the barracks, the flat roof of which was to be covered by earth, the verandah with railings, and the lower floor deliberately constructed below ground level, many local rumours grew concerning the design. One story that was still prevalent until the start of the Second World War was that the barracks had been designed for construction in India and that the plans of the barracks had been mixed up and ‘New Barracks had been built at Gosport instead of India’. There is no truth in this. The plans bear the Title ‘Gosport New barracks’. They were designed by officers of the Royal Engineers and questions concerning the construction cost were asked in Parliament. If the plans had been mixed up it would have been reported widely in the press. Why the myth has such longevity amongst Gosport residents, despite the overwhelming evidence that it is not true, is a mystery.
It was also said that the ‘English’ barracks, intended for Gosport, had been built in India although non-one was ever able to say at which station in India the barracks had been built. No plans of such a barracks have come to light.
To quote Major Harfield of the Royal Corps of Signals who has researched the history of the barracks in great depth:
It is a most unlikely story but worth recording at this stage as at some time in the future the story may come to light again and researchers may waste time trying to establish the true story, whereas the truth is that the unusual design of Gosport Barracks had not previously been seen in the United kingdom and the local civilian population thought that a mistake had been made.
The barracks remained in military hands until the 1990s when they were put up for sale for housing.
The skittle alleys and the old sergeants’ mess are all gone.
The barracks, officers quarters, N.C.O.s quarters, married quarters and wash block have been converted to apartments. The gymnasium is now offices. The sergeants’ mess has been demolished and replaced by modern apartments although its gateway in the iron railings was left intact. The small iron church still survives.. The guard room is now a nursery school. The canteen (now named as the Sergeants Mess) also survives as modern apartments, so does the Recreation Block. The iron railings surrounding the barracks are mostly intact with their original gateways.
The Canteen (later used as the Sergeants’ Mess) is a Historic England Grade II Listed Building.
Sergeant’s Mess and Attached Basement Area Railings, St George’s Barracks
The gymnasium is Grade II listed
Gymnasium St George Barracks
The main block and attached railings is Grade II listed
Main Barrack Block and attached area railings
The Recreation Block (later the hospital block) is Grade II listed.
Hospital Block to west of main block St George Barracks
The boundary railings to the north of the gymnasium are also listed.
A gallery of St George Barracks Gosport after conversion to modern housing