Historian Alan Roberts looks at the sporting and training facilities at Raikeswood Camp for the imprisoned German officers during WW1

1914 and war had broken out with Germany.

A wave of patriotic fervour swept the country and Bradford was no exception. Young men queued to join the new Pals battalions, but basic equipment and facilities were in short supply. Land for a training camp at Raikeswood in Skipton was purchased for the Bradford Pals by a group of prominent West Yorkshire businessmen. Training could now begin in earnest. A priority was to improve the fitness of the recruits. Long route marches, drill and practice at digging trenches saw to that. The Pals at Raikeswood were in due course replaced by other units including the Leeds Bantams and the Black Watch.

In 1917 the camp was repurposed to securely hold German prisoners of war. International agreements determined that prisoners were not to be punished for taking part in the war, after all they had only been doing their patriotic duty. Camps in Britain and Germany were subject to regular inspections, and suitable facilities had to be provided. Unlike the Pals’ battalions, the German prisoners needed space to exercise within the camp. Prisoners of war had to be treated humanely.

Accordingly two acres of north ward recreation ground were leased from Skipton UDC. The rent was fixed at three pounds 10 shillings (£3.50) per acre per year. No buildings were to be erected; a fence and the trees between the two fields were not to be removed. The main gates to the ‘rec’ were to be dismantled and reinstated when the camp closed. The military authorities were also to provide a road allowing access to the remaining part of the recreation ground and to an adjoining meadow.

In February 1918 and without any prior notice, the camp authorities closed access to today’s Raikes Road Recreation Ground to both members of the public and the council’s employees alike. Belatedly the Commandant Old Etonian Colonel Hunter asked for permission to close the ground, but the council maintained it did not have the necessary powers.

The camp’s sports ground can clearly be seen on the left-hand side of the bird’s eye view of the area. Raikes Road lies to the north of the woodland on the right-hand side of the drawing heading to the left of the hills in the background.

In the meantime Colonel Hunter had received a report from the chief constable about the ‘unseemly behaviour of females’ whilst on the roadway adjoining Raikeswood Camp. The police suggested that this section of Raikes Road should be closed. This would also deny any public access to Raikes Road Recreation Ground. The German officers reported that young women from Skipton had been only too pleased to promenade themselves on part of an adjoining footpath until their view of the camp was masked by some suitable screening. The Craven Herald remained silent on the matter due to wartime restrictions, but later condemned the ‘morbid curiosity’ exhibited by locals wanting to see the prisoners and called for a ‘more becoming and dignified attitude on the part of man, woman and girls’.

In December an invoice was sent to the military authorities for the lease of the original two acres plus a further two acres they were said to have commandeered. There was a deduction of one pound 10 shillings (£1.50) for the ‘eatage’ taken from this newly acquired land. The German officers received permission to use a meadow on the far side of the sports ground (and presumably outside the barbed wire), but Skipton Council strongly objected and permission was swiftly withdrawn by the camp authorities.

Skipton council’s officers were tenacious in their pursuit of the unpaid rent. Finally after six months or more the military authorities relented and the proverbial cheque was said to be ‘in the post’. A curious committee chairman and municipal surveyor attended the sale of surplus buildings in June 1920, almost two years after fighting had ceased on the Western Front. When would the army leave? Finally in October the military authorities announced they would be vacating the land at the end of the year. The council detailed the work needed to restore the land to its original condition. The army maintained that it had insufficient men to spare, and eventually paid the council £75 to complete the work on its behalf.

In a return to happier times Ermysted’s Grammar School asked for terms to erect goalposts and use the recreation ground for football on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. The committee refused the request, but said the boys could use the ground at any time alongside members of the public.

An information board about Raikeswood Camp has been erected on a triangle of grass between Raikes Road and Raikeswood Drive. Although the footprint of the camp can be traced by the property boundaries shown on modern maps, visible signs of the camp are remarkably few and far between. However it now appears that the short lane leading from the grassed area past the entrance to Raikes Road Recreation Ground was constructed by the army when it extended the camp grounds to accommodate the German prisoners.