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  • Norman Cross

    The Depot at Norman Cross was the first purpose-built prison for French prisoners of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815). All the many sea and land battles made such a place necessary. Hitherto old forts and prison hulks had been used.

    The Norman Cross site was picked as the first Depot - they were not yet called prisoner-of-war camps. It was close to the Great North Road and the Fenland waterways by which it could be reached from the coast. On the other hand, it was so far inland that escape and rescue attempts were thought unlikely. Finally, it was considered a healthy site, in a good area where farms and markets were thought capable of coping with a large population of prisoners.

    The first prisoners arrived in April 1797. The prison part of the Depot had four quadrants surrounded by wooden fences, in each of which there were four two-storey prisoners' barracks. Watch was kept from an octagonal blockhouse armed with cannon in the centre of the Depot. Round the whole lot were a wide ditch and a wooden perimeter fence. This was later rebuilt as a brick wall after 500 prisoners pushed sections of the fence over while trying to escape. The prison had a 'black hole' isolation cell, while the real troublemakers were sent to the grimmer prison hulks.

    The Depot was a crowded prison with 500 men crammed into each 22ft x 100ft prison building, the men sleeping in hammocks. At its height it held over 7,000 prisoners, mainly French sailors and soldiers. It was said to be very cold in the Depot during the winter, and the French government refused to fund prisoners' food. Eventually the British gave them uniforms - all yellow but with a red waistcoat to make sure they were easily seen and recognised. More than 1,000 prisoners died from typhoid in 1800 and 1801 and as many as 1,800 prisoners died during the life of the prison.

    Prisoners at Norman Cross relieved the boredom by making ornaments from wood, bone and straw marquetry. These were often sold - there was a regular market beside the prison gates. Many of the objects made are on show at the Peterborough City Museum and Art Gallery where there is a gallery dedicated to the Norman Cross Depot.

    The Depot closed in 1814, the buildings and materials were sold and the site cleared.

    At the site of the Depot, earthworks mark the perimeter fence. The Depot Agent's house and Barrack Master's house are private homes. The Entente Cordiale between Britain and France came in 1904 and in 1914 the Entente Cordiale Society put up a memorial column to the memory of the 1,800 prisoners who died at Norman Cross. The column - a Napoleonic Eagle - was an imposing sight for people travelling along the A1. However, in 1990 it was vandalised - the column was knocked over and the bronze eagle was stolen, never to be seen again.

    The Norman Cross Eagle Appeal committee has raised money to restore the memorial. When the A1 was rebuilt in 1998, the memorial column was re-erected on its original base on a new site close to the site of the Depot. A bronze eagle, created by sculptor John Doubleday, was unveiled in April 2005.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/history/...0_prog5a.shtml
    Last edited by Post Captain; 06 Dec 07, 04:50.
    Never Fear the Event

    Admiral Lord Nelson

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    • #3
      Very interesting. Thanks.
      My avatar: Center of the Cross of the Légion d'honneur (Legion of Honour) of the First French Empire (Napoleonic Era), 3rd type (awarded between 1806-1808). My Légion d'honneur. :-)

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      • #4
        http://www.blacksheepancestors.com/u...oor_page.shtml
        Interesting link concerning Dartmoor prison, built to house Napoleonic POWS, both French and American.
        Never Fear the Event

        Admiral Lord Nelson

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