A landscape through time

Belhus Park, Essex

Last year, Historic England archaeologists used ground-penetrating radar to confirm the remains of Tudor and Jacobean formal gardens at Belhus Park in Thurrock, Essex, the site of a manor built in the medieval period and rebuilt in the 16th century. The house, surrounded by parkland that was remodelled in the 18th century by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and Richard Woods, was demolished in 1957. Now new Historic England analysis of more than 300 aerial photographs has revealed that the area also underwent significant transformations during the Second World War.

One photograph (ABOVE), taken in April 1944, shows a camp used to house troops preparing for D-Day operations – members of follow-up force ‘L’, which landed in Normandy shortly after 6 June. Headquartered at Belhus House (in the left part of the image), the camp featured clusters of temporary structures (possibly washing and food-preparation areas), visible along the main paths, as well as over 300 small, circular bell tents used as soldiers’ accommodation. Some of these latter structures appear as pale specks in the bottom half of the image, though many are hidden under the tree canopy. A football pitch, with worn grass around the goal areas, can also be seen to the far left.

By the time the camp was photographed again in July 1944, many of the bell tents had disappeared, though further temporary structures had been erected, suggesting that military activities continued in the area after D-Day. Then, a year after the end of the war, in May 1946, RAF reconnaissance captured another new camp layout (BELOW), with rows of tents which may have been home to soldiers awaiting demobilisation, or which may have housed displaced persons or prisoners of war. The park suffered bomb damage during the war: large craters can be seen in the top left portion of the 1946 image.

Historic England would love to hear any memories of, or further information you may have about, this Grade II-listed site; you can share these via the ‘Enrching the List’ platform at https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/enrich-the-list/.

Text: H Blair
Images: Historic England Archive (RAF Photography)
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