The situation in the Crimea was threatening, and the British Army was woefully out of practice. It was decided to hold two one-month training camps on Chobham Common.
In the Spring of 1853 sappers arrived to prepare the site. They dug wells, converted the former Burrowhill workhouse to an hospital and erected a slaughterhouse and canteen.
The first session started on June 14th and lasted for a month. Each session involved 8,000 men and 1200 horses.
How the regiments were arrayed on the Common.
The Kings Royal Irish Dragoon Hussars.
Note the round sleeping tent and the large rectangular canteen tent. Also that the soldiers had no furniture and hence only the earth to sit on. How did they remain spick and span for a whole month?
|Feeding and watering 8,000 active men and their horses before electricity, gas or motor vehicles were invented must have been an arduous task.
A typical camp kitchen
Cooks feed logs into the oven along the tubes whilst women peel the potatoes
An endless stream of carts poured onto the Common.<align=”left”></align=”left”>
3000 kilo of meat were supplied each day. Each week there were delivered 600 sacks of corn, 80 loads of hay and 60 loads of straw for the horses. There were 3 mails each day (only 2 on Sundays).
The army complained that they could not get supplies locally and nearly all had to be obtained from London merchants. The probable sad truth was that Chobhammers had no spare food to provide.
The troops practised manoeuvres. Charges and advances followed by planned retreats were a popular tactic of the time.
Dragoons retreating after a charge.
The Engineers practiced bridge building by making a pontoon across nearby Virginia Water.
During her second visit to the Camp the Queen watched from a decorated barge
A summer camp must have afforded many opportunities for relaxation.
Many quiet hours must have been spent doing the ‘house-keeping’; polishing boots, cleaning rifles, etc.
The Scots seemed to have a great sense of fun.
The camp became a great tourist attraction.
Chobhammers were fascinated by what was happening on their common. Spectators travelled down from London on the trains from London to Chertsey and Woking. On one day alone, 100,000 came.
Very smartly dressed visitors viewed the manoeuvres from the higher ground.
Contemporary illustrations show the public picnicking on the hillsides watching one of the greatest armies in Europe practising simulated battles. Must have been quite a sight.
For Chobhammers it was useful extra income. “The parochial authorities, backed by the lord of the manor, are using every endeavour to turn the occasion to pecuniary advantage”. There were many stalls selling to the public. The Parish charged £3 per foot of frontage; and 5s per foot of rear space.
‘Punch’ poked gentle fun at the locals
“The chief part of the visitors to the camp on Saturday and Sunday were the ruddy-looking peasants of the surrounding districts who on foot and on all sorts of vehicles, market carts, vans, drays, formed a most motley but apparently well satisfied crowd on the rude and barren heath of Chobham”
Heads of State came from all over Europe, but perhaps the most important visitor was Queen Victoria herself who visited both of the camps.
She travelled from Buckingham Palace to meet the train at Nine Elms and then onto Staines. From there a horse-drawn carriage took her to the camp.
The Queen rode side saddle whilst reviewing the troops. No mean feat on the very rough Common and mostly done with just one hand on the reins – the other saluting the troops.
was set up on the hillside so that the Queen could view the manoeuvres.
When the manoeuvres were complete, the whole Camp, complete with bands, marched past. Eventually the Queen was allowed to retire to a carpeted gazebo for a spot of no doubt much needed lunch.
When each camp broke up the soldiers and cavalry rode and marched all the way back to their barracks— some as far away as Winchester.
Great dust clouds must have been visible for miles as the cavalry trotted off on the unmade roads.
|A year later the army was fighting in the Crimea. How much the Chobham Camp improved their effectiveness is unknown. We do know that one of the visitors to the camp was Lord Cardigan who was to figure so conspicuously at the charge of the light brigade in the Crimea – maybe he was so enthralled by the site of the British cavalry charges on Chobham Common he thought it might be a good idea to do it in the Crimea?
The Camp was regarded as such a success that decided to build a permanent camp on the heaths at Aldershot – it eventually developed into the home of the British Army.
When Queen Victoria died in 1901, the people of Chobham still fondly remembered the visit of their Queen. In her honour, they erected a monument on the Common and set up a cannon in the High Street.
Celebrations at the unveiling of the monument.
The Old Cannon
Donated to Chobham by the War Ministry and in turn donated by Chobhammers to the war effort in 1941
A replacement installed by Chobhammers in the 1970s – see the page describing this.
The monument erected in Chobham Place Woods for the Camp’s 100th anniversary
All these monuments can still be seen—why not visit each of these reminders of the Great Camp.