A clean sweep: Lofthouse Park’s forgotten history

A clean sweep: Lofthouse Park’s forgotten history

People from South Leeds, Rothwell, Lofthouse, Outwood and Wakefield are being offered a chance to discover what went on in Lofthouse Park, between Wakefield and Leeds, between 1900 and 1919.

The park was transformed into an internment and prisoner-of-war camp for German and Austrian civilians and officers in the First World War. Lofthouse Park was part of a large British network of camps for male civilians of fighting age.

As part of a Heritage Open Day event on Sunday 11 September, historical documents and a guided neighbourhood walk will help visitors find out about ‘enemy aliens’, individual internees and POWs, life in the camp and the odd getaway.

The event is part of a research project overseen by the University of Leeds – In the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time – funded by the Centre for Hidden Histories. Led by Dr Claudia Sternberg of the University’s Legacies of War centenary project, it brings together historians, internees’ descendants, residents, students and school pupils from Britain and Germany.

But the camp itself is not the only focus of the day, as Dr Sternberg explained:

‘We hope to bring to life the experiences of Lofthouse Park Camp, but would like to know much more about the local communities at the time – whether they had dealings with the camp or not.

‘This Heritage Open Day is an opportunity for anyone to come and share knowledge, stories, and documents such as letters and photographs relating to the area at the time. Perhaps residents from Park Avenue, Park Square and Park View, or those working for Peter Duffy Ltd, have found objects that could be dated back to the time of the camp?’.

The free event is open to all and takes place at Lofthouse Gate Working Men’s Club (12 Canal Lane, Lofthouse, Wakefield, WF3 3HN), from 11am-4pm (drop-in) on Sunday 11 September.

In addition to looking at documents on display and going on a walk led by independent historian David Stowe (11.30am and 2pm), visitors can try their hand at reconstructing Lofthouse Park Camp in a mapping workshop at 12pm. A short creative presentation by Heritage Corner’s Joe Williams and Leah Francis at 3pm will put Lofthouse Park Camp in the wider context of civilian internment during the First World War. Internment affected tens of thousands of families in Britain, Germany and beyond.

The venue and guided walks are child-friendly and fully accessible. Pre-booking is only required for groups, but advance signing up for the walk on the day is appreciated. Children’s activities are offered throughout the day and refreshments are available.