The History of Whittington Barracks

Tuesday night 22nd December saw a well-attended Christmas meeting enjoy a spirited talk on the history of Whittington Barracks from Ted Green, the Secretary of the Staffordshire Regiment Museum. First, we had a quick but information packed excursion into the history of the regiment. Space forbids a full exposition here, but if there's one date to remember, it's March 1705 when Lillingstone's Regiment of 38th Foot was raised in Lichfield, with the King's Head in Bird Street serving as recruiting office. However, this was not a regiment of many Staffordshire lads; most recruitment took place in Ireland and it was a full 80 years before the regiment was back in Staffordshire! The 38th Foot didn't formally become the Staffordshire Regiment until the early eighteenth century and its home base at Whittington was established during the Napoleonic Wars when the Marquis of Anglesey sold land at Whittington Heath to the War Office for that purpose. Many of the older buildings we see there today are however of late nineteenth century construction, in part a product of the Cardwell army reforms which established county bases and battalion structures. So we can date the "modern" regiment from 1881 when it moved into its new barracks.

Ted gave us a tour of the barrack buildings and their various histories. These included the keep (armoury), the 66 bed hospital, married quarters, department blocks, recreation rooms and of course the historic Garrison Church. The barracks was truly a town in its own right at the time of its building; it must have overshadowed the much smaller city of Lichfield. One interesting piece of information was that what is now the Whittington Inn was built by the War Office as accommodation for the Medical Officer managing the hospital!

Used as a training centre in World War I, it was utilised by the US Army in World War II, when it became the subject of international notoriety because of the cruelty inflicted on US soldiers imprisoned there. Refurbished in 1948 as a Training Depot for the newly formed Mercian Regiment (which included the Staffords), it was the subject of yet further regimental reorganisations in the 1980s before settling down as the Army Training Regiment base in the 1990s, specifically for the Royal Engineers and Royal Signals. What of the future? Well by 2007 we are told that its role will change again. Major rebuilding will turn it into the national training centre for Army Medical services. The Regimental Museum will remain on site and, hopes Ted will be further developed, subject to bids for funds to the likes of the National Lottery, where the Museum has met with failure in the past. Where are the Staffords now? Well they form part of the Mercian Regiment based at Colchester.

Roger Hockney
December 2006