Visit to the Whittington Barracks Garrison Church

A Sunday in August saw over twenty members and friends take advantage of a rare opportunity to visit the Garrison Church on the Whittington Barracks Campus. Arranged by Major Ted Green, who spoke to members last year on the History of the Staffordshire Regiment, it proved to be a most interesting visit. Ted started his military life as a recruit at the Barracks and so our trip through the site to the church was, in fact, a guided historical tour, together with an update explaining the Barrack's present use as national centre of excellence for Defence Military Services.

Whittington Barracks was constructed around 1877, as part of a nationwide series of new barracks, consequent upon the army reforms promoted by the Secretary of War, Edward Cardwell. Prior to his initiative, the army was largely run by wealthy aristocrats, who raised, and paid for, their own regiments of foot. Training was perfunctory, pay poor and disease during campaigns rife. Cardwell launched a new, professional, army that was properly staffed and funded. Whittington Barracks, along with 28 other depots, was the fruit of this initiative, becoming headquarters of the South and North Staffordshire Regiments.

The Garrison Church of St. George was built in 1881 in the early English style. Constructed of brick, it is a Grade II listed building. It is largely unaltered since built, when it served as a schoolroom in the week and a church every Sunday. It is one of the few Cardwell reform churches remaining largely unaltered. Entering the church, one is first struck by its size; no small chapel this. It then becomes apparent that this is a physical repository of the history of the Staffordshire regiments, as well as those regiments with which it became associated as amalgamations or rationalisations have proceeded. The Regiments' history is on the walls. Many plaques commemorate heroic deeds, Victoria Cross holders and military campaigns. Regimental standards hang from the ceiling. The main altar is superb, as is the side altar. The church also possesses a superb collection of stained glass windows.

Leaving the Church and walking through the site, we were impressed by the care displayed by MoD architects in conserving a number of the Cardwell buildings for the site's new use and the sensitive manner in which the new development had been integrated with them. Despite the soaring temperature, the visit proved to be a most rewarding one to a site not easily visited. Ou thanks go to Major Ted Green for making the arrangements.

Roger Hockney
August 2018