First World War barracks turned venereal disease hospital turned church turned social centre to become part of new museum
The people who provided the First World War uniforms and filming location for Downton Abbey are dismantling a former community centre so it can become part of a museum.
The company Khaki Devil supplied 10 acres of battlefield and three-and-a-half acres of trenches – constructed on land near Ipswich – for series two of the ITV period drama.
After it aired in 2011, the military reproduction firm had so many calls from people who wanted to look around the site that its leaders decided to create another.
As the Ipswich site was unsuitable, the new Great War Experience museum will be based in Hawstead, Suffolk, not far from Bury St Edmunds.
The educational site will show how trenches evolved during the course of the First World War. Planning permission has also been granted for 11 replica First World War army barracks on the site – one of which will be Tring’s former New Mill Social Centre.
The community hub closed in 2012, so owner Tring Team Parish could build six new houses there instead.
The hut was built by the Royal Field Artillery in 1915 as a barracks for soldiers who were training in Gadebridge Park, Hemel Hempstead, where it was then based.
It is one of eight Great War training huts from across the UK that Khaki Devil’s directors have procured so far for their Hawstead museum.
Director Taff Gillingham (pictured) said: “Out of all the ones we have got so far, we know more about this one than any of the others.”
Workmen are in the process of dismantling the Tring hut piece by piece, so that it can be rebuilt in its new home – at a cost of about £5,000.
The work will have to be finished soon, as property developers need the site cleared by Monday so that the new homes can be built.
The centre will be the second of the eight to be moved to its new home in Hawstead. All of them had been scheduled for demolition in the next 18 months.
Mr Gillingham said: “These buildings are in danger of being destroyed. If we do not save these huts now, they will be gone forever.”
Work on reconstructing the first hut at the Hawstead museum site will begin in October. It is anticipated that the Great War Experience could open to the public late next year.
By 1918, the Hemel Hempstead barracks was no longer needed – so it was converted into a military hospital for soldiers returning from the war... with venereal disease (VD).
Mr Gillingham said: “There were 50 times as many cases of VD as trench foot in some areas of the Western Front.
“This can happen when you have all blokes together going to France with a few francs in their pocket and they meet some French women with loose morals.”
After the hospital closed in 1920, the hut was sold off and relocated to New Mill, where it became home to St George’s Mission Church.
It was at some point after the Second World War that the hut became home to New Mill Social Centre.