Stoughton Barracks: A History

Stoughton Pages’ History of Stoughton

One of the most imposing and memorable landmarks in modern day Stoughton is what was the ‘Keep’ of the old Stoughton Barracks, now a part of the residential development called Cardwell’s Keep, but was originally built as the home of The Queen’s Royal (West Surrey) Regiment who occupied the barracks from their construction in 1876 until 1959.

Following the Crimean war (16 October 1853 – 30 March 1856) and the hardship experienced there were concerns raised over the condition of the British Army at home and overseas. A Royal Commission in 1857 had ‘examined the barracks and military hospitals of the United Kingdom, and found their sanitary condition as to overcrowding, want of ventilation, want of drainage, imperfect water supply, sufficient to account for most of the excessive death rate from which the troops occupying them had suffered’. This less than satisfactory treatment of soldiers made it difficult to enlist new recruits in to the army.

Edward Cardwell, Secretary of State for War, introduced significant army reforms in the 1870s. Under one of his two major pieces of legislation, the Localisation Act of 1872, he divided the country along county boundaries and population density and reorganised regiments in to these areas. He then commissioned the construction of new barracks, with a design offering much improved conditions. One of the features of the new design was an imposing central ‘keep’, which served as an armoury.

Stoughton Barracks single men’s quarters

Stoughton Barracks in Guildford was one of the first of the new barracks to be built in Surrey. Completed in 1876 the depot, later named Stoughton Barracks, was designed to house 300 Queensmen and be the headquarters of the 2nd Surrey Militia. Originally it was named ‘The 48th Brigade Depot’ but this was changed when it became home to The Queen’s (Second) Royal Regiment who were renamed as The Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surrey) in 1881, by which time there were 500 servicemen and their families in residence. The barracks remained the home of the regiment until 1959.

Stoughton Barracks in Guildford was one of the first of the new barracks to be built in Surrey. Completed in 1876 the depot was designed to house 300 Queensmen and be the headquarters of the 2nd Surrey Militia.

Allegedly over four million bricks were used to build the barracks, the bricks being supplied by a Mr W Wells of Rydes Hill, Guildford. In 1876 the licensing authorities approved an application to build The Royal Hotel (also built by William Wells’ company). It was to become a favourite ‘watering hole’ for many Queensmen during the occupation of the barracks.

Between 1905 and 1936 various buildings and extensions were added to the original barracks layout.

All regimental depots, Stoughton Barracks was no exception, were recruiting offices for their own and other regiments. During peacetime thousands of young men passed voluntarily through these gates, having chosen a career in the Army.

In wartime, thousands reported here either to enlist or to rejoin as reservists. Soldiers would receive their weapons, equipment and uniforms from the Quartermaster’s Store situated in the Keep.

The majority of the non-commissioned officers and men stationed at the barracks were single and were housed in the two main blocks. Each block contained 4 large barrack rooms with a smaller room for a non-commissioned officer (NCO).

Stoughton Barracks married quarters

Originally the barracks had no dining halls and meals were eaten in the rooms in which the men slept.

Across the green, facing the single men’s blocks, was the accommodation allotted for the use of the married soldiers. This consisted of two blocks providing accommodation for around forty families.

Stoughton Barracks hospital (c1905)

Before the provision of married quarters, the married men and their families were accommodated in the same rooms as the single men, with only a blanket hung between them for privacy.

Between 1905-1910 a brick extension was added to the Hospital building and remodelling of some buildings took place.

3rd Battalion Queen’s Royal West Surreys move off for service in South Africa (c1899).

In 1936 there were major alterations to the original barracks; with a new officers mess, a sports pavilion and a new two storey block built at the north end of the site which was also extended to the north (where the sports field was established).

By 1937 each barrack room was approximately 50’ x 20’, and had 15, evenly spaced, beds on either side of the room. Each soldier had a box at the foot of their bed containing their kit. Behind the bed was a shelf and three pegs on which hung web equipment and the soldier’s great coat. This was the full extent of the recruits possessions; civilian clothes were not permitted once enlisted.

Furniture comprised of two six foot tables and four bench seats placed at either end of the barrack room. There was also a metal coal box and a bucket. A bumper (hand operated floor polisher) a broom, coal shovel and a poker were the only other items stored in the barrack room. An open fire place at one end of the was cleaned out daily and the hearth whitened with a hearth stone.

In addition to the main toilet blocks and bath house, were the wash rooms and night time toilets, outside at the end of the barrack room. This room consisted of six wash basins set in a black slated slab.

During the late thirties a new wooden hutted complex was built to provide extra accommodation in anticipation of the outbreak of the Second World War.

On the 29th September 1945 The Borough of Guildford bestowed its highest honour on The Queen’s Royal Regiment by granting a ‘Scroll of Rights’ or Freedom of Guildford. This granted the Regiment permission to march through the town with ‘bayonets fixed, colours flying and bands playing’. This honour was transferred to The Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment and then to The Queen’s Regiment and finally in 1992 to the present successors The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment. The Freedom was last exercised in September 1994.

Post War years brought some improvements, rooms were partitioned into smaller compartments, (about 4 beds to a compartment) to give a degree of privacy and lockers provided to keep personal kit. Both barrack blocks were connected by the addition of more modern wash rooms, bath and toilet facilities and each soldier had his own bedside locker and light.

In 1959 the barracks ceased to be a regimental depot.

In 1958 the barracks were used as a location for the comedy film ‘Carry On Sergeant’ and in 1959 the barracks ceased to be a regimental depot when the Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surrey) was amalgamated with the East Surrey Regiment, although the Keep was still used as a pay office and a record office until 1983 when it was sold to the developer Countryside Properties. It remained empty until the 1990s when it was redeveloped into modern housing. The building is now known as ‘Cardwell’s Keep’.

The Keep itself was converted into flats as was the Officers’ Mess, now known as King George’s Lodge. The Administration block, which housed the Orderly room and offices with the Quartermasters and RSMs quarters at each end is now known as Queen Elizabeth’s Mews. Peterborough Block renamed Queen Mary’s Mews has also been converted into flats. Tangier Block, all married quarters, the medical centre, MT sheds, sergeants’ mess and the accommodation blocks built to accommodate the militia intakes in 1936-37 behind the MT and drill sheds, have all been demolished as have the dining hall and NAAFI.

New attractive two, three and four bedroom houses have been built in their places. The large trees which were such a lovely feature of the barracks have been preserved.

An aerial view of the Barracks (1935).