Preston's historic First World War huts could be knocked down amid fears of collapse

A unique piece of First World War history in Preston could be demolished amid fears it is in danger of collapse.

By Andy Williams
Thursday, 13th June 2019, 9:48 pm
Updated Thursday, 13th June 2019, 10:48 pm
The Voluntary Aid Detachment hospital was opened on Moor Park in January 1915 - they are now cadet huts on Strand Road
The Voluntary Aid Detachment hospital was opened on Moor Park in January 1915 - they are now cadet huts on Strand Road

The only surviving wooden buildings from the battlefield casualty hospital on Moor Park look doomed after being branded as unsafe for use.

The huts, home to the city’s sea cadet corps in Strand Road for more than 80 years, are now boarded up and a no-go area for the young recruits.

The charity has applied for council permission to knock them down after moving to a new purpose-built headquarters next door two years ago.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Moor Park Military Hospital Preston c. 1917

But the sea cadets could be sailing into a controversy after claims the historic structures have heritage value and should be preserved.

The Voluntary Aid Detachment hospital was opened on Moor Park in January 1915 - four months after the outbreak of war - to handle casualties from the trenches of the Western Front.

By the time the hospital closed in 1919 it had treated more than 3,200 wounded and traumatised soldiers. Among them were 70 casualties from the infamous Battle of the Somme in 1916 and many more from another bloody campaign at Gallipoli.

After the war the wooden huts were used as an “open air” school in the north east corner of the park until they were replaced by new premises in 1936/7.

Moor Park Military Hospital, Preston c. 1917.

A salvageable section of the hospital was moved to the banks of the River Ribble in Strand Road at that time to house Preston Sea Cadets and has since stood defiant against eight decades of Lancashire weather.

But now the buildings have been deemed unsafe for use and repairing them is seen as “not financially viable”, so the charity is planning to take them down and clear the site to make way for an extension to its new headquarters.

A spokesman for the Sea Cadets said: “Preston Sea Cadets’ former headquarters was donated to them in in 1936 and served as a home to the unit and thousands of young people over 81 years.

“However two years ago the unit has moved all of its activities to their adjacent purpose-build centre which was donated to them by the National Lottery in 1999.

A plea for support from the Sea Cadets on the side of the building

“The previous building, now 100 years old, has become unsafe and no longer fit as a training environment for young people.

“The timber frames which provide the structural support have signs of rotting and the roof is coming away in places. Together this means that a repair is not financially viable.

“Many feasibility survey and structural surveys have been conducted over the years – and the conclusion of those were that it is unfit for purpose. The building was deemed unusable in 1976, over 40 years ago.

“Asbestos and rotten beams mean that it’s simply beyond repair and under the stress of poor weather the building would likely collapse.

“Therefore it seems more appropriate to dismantle the building in a safe and controlled manner.”

The Sea Cadets say membership is on the increase and the unit has plans to build a replacement on the same site.

The charity is seeking heritage funding for a new building that will be “in keeping the with the character of the former building” and part of it will be “dedicated to looking back at the historical context of the unit and of the city of Preston.”

Preston Mayor Coun David Borrow said an “urgent” solution was needed, with the current no-go area “restricting” the organisation.

“The Sea Cadets have a long history in the city,” he said. “I visited the site a few months ago and have seen the extent of the structural damage in the original part of the building that’s not being used at the moment by the cadets.

“If it can’t be repaired, it may have to be rebuilt as a new wing.

“It’s restricting what they can do as an organisation, so I will be doing anything I can as mayor to back them, whether that is repairing or rebuilding.”