Troops rallied in fight to save Ripon’s priceless military heritage
Last updated Apr 22, 2024
The demolition bridge in Ripon. Pic: Ripon Military Heritage Trust

‘Heritage Worth Fighting For’ is the battlecry of Ripon Military Heritage Trust, as it steps up its campaign to save priceless elements of the city’s world war history from the bulldozer.

The trust, which was established last year, has created a website to raise awareness of its work and attract support from the public and interested parties locally, nationally and internationally.

The heritage items that they are fighting to save include buildings, bridges and other structures that help to tell the story of the strategic role that Ripon played in two world wars and other conflicts.

Each of the heritage assets are located on the Ripon barracks site, where the 1,300-home Clotherholme development led by Homes England – the government’s housing and regeneration agency – is due to begin in 2026, when the Royal Engineers vacate the base that has been their home for decades.

Guy Wilson (fourth from left) is pictured with fellow trustees Lt Col (Retd) Bob Lisle, Jane Furse, Stuart Martin and Michael Furse. Picture RMHT

Chairman of trustees Guy Wilson is, along with fellow trustees, using the website to make a passionate rallying call.

Mr Wilson, who was previously responsible for bringing the Royal Armouries Museum to Leeds in 1988, told the Stray Ferret:

“We need help and support from the public in a number of ways. Most urgent is our need to wake up those in positions of power and influence to the importance of saving Ripon’s unique World War Two heritage.

“Currently the landowners — the Ministry of Defence — and the local planners have taken a Pontius Pilate attitude and washed their hands of any active involvement leaving the trust to deal on its own with the developers — Homes England — who have so far refused to contemplate any change from the submitted development plans.

“If this situation continues the heritage will be lost. Instead ,we need positive engagement and with that we believe that a group of barrack buildings can be saved in a way which would benefit both Ripon and the proposed development.

Mr Wilson added:

“If people want to help they should get in touch with us via our website and be prepared to write letters to their MP, to the planning authority, to the Ministry of Defence and to any relevant contacts they may have. There is also talk locally of organising petitions and other direct actions to show support for the heritage and we expect more to develop on this front soon.”

D-Day for decision makers

Mr Wilson said the forthcoming 80th anniversary of D-Day on June 6 presented an opportunity to make the case to a wider audience because of the link between the threatened heritage in Ripon and the success of D-Day.

He added:

“We hope to encourage debate both locally and nationally about the mismatch between the occasional official rhetoric about the debt we owe to the ‘finest hour’ generation and the stark reality of official indifference to the fate of highly significant historic assets that remain to us from that period.

“So we will be encouraging all parts of the news and media world to get involved and to cover the story, we’ll be writing letters to newspapers and journals ourselves, and  we’ll be reporting on our success, or lack of it , in seeking the  engagement of all relevant parties in a proper and constructive process to save Ripon’s military heritage.”

The Royal Engineers’ vital role in the Second World War

During the Second World War, the School of Military Engineering was relocated from Chatham to Ripon. With it came the ancillary training establishments which taught critical skills such as bomb disposal and anti-tank warfare.

Combat engineers, both British and allied, were trained at Ripon in such skills as bridging and mine clearance. US Army Engineers came to the city after Pearl Harbour to learn how to defuse unexploded bombs and then a US section of the School of Military Engineering was established in Ripon so allied forces could be taught the same things.

On D-Day, some 25% of the troops that landed in Normandy were engineers, far more than normal for combat, but essential as the engineers had so much to do to get the troops safely ashore and moving inland.

British and allied forces were taught in Ripon how to install Bailey Bridges, such as this one in Imola, Italy, which is being crossed by a Sherman Firefly tank. Picture: Wikipedia

Mr Wilson said:

“Not all of them were trained in Ripon but what happened in Ripon influenced every one of them. And there is still much we do not understand and need to find out. For instance, there was an organisation called the Experimental Anti-Tank Establishment.

“We know it was testing anti-tank mines at Ripon. And in a lecture given in December1945 Major General Inglis noted that in 1942  “a number of curious devices such as snakes, flails, rollers and ploughs were being developed by the Anti-Tank Experimental Establishment. This suggests that the Experimental Anti-Tank Establishment and thus Ripon may have had a hand in the early development of what became known as ‘Hobart’s funnies’, those altered ‘engineer’ tanks which proved their worth on and after D-Day.”

Funding for the trust’s work

Mr Wilson added:

“Currently the trust is looking to raise only sufficient money to fund our continuing public relations campaign. A modest £5,000 will see us through this year. Beyond that we cannot start any campaign until we know what we are allowed to do.

“The what and where and how has to be agreed before we can cost any project and start fund-raising for it. And currently no one will properly engage with us to produce the first, essential requirement – a thorough assessment of the significance of the Ripon site and its surviving heritage assets.

“We are, therefore, stuck at the starting post and the danger is that, suddenly the development plans will be passed and demolition will begin before we have had tine to develop a proper scheme to save what is most important.”

Support from Ripon City Council

The leader of Ripon City Council, Councillor Andrew Williams, said:

“We are unanimous in our support for all that the trust is doing and fellow North Yorkshire councillor Barbara Brodigan and I have attended a number of meetings that the trust has held with Homes England, to make the city’s feelings known.”

He added:

“The military heritage within the barracks site must be maintained. It not only belongs to the people of Ripon, but to the nation and is a unique reminder of the part that our Royal Engineers played in fighting for our freedom and the liberation of Europe.

“As well as being a means of educating future generations about the horrors of war, the assets on the barracks site are part of Ripon’s wider heritage dating back 1,351 years to the establishment by Wilfrid of the cathedral and can play an important role in our development as a destination for heritage-based tourism.”

What Homes England says

In a previous statement Homes England, said:

“We remain committed to delivering a military heritage strategy as part of our wider proposals for the site and continue to discuss options with the local planning authority and the Ripon Military Heritage Trust.”

The government housebuilding agency added:

  • Details for the heritage strategy, its funding, and potential use of the existing military structures continue to be fine-tuned as part of the planning application process.
  • As part of ongoing discussions with North Yorkshire Council, Homes England and The Defence Infrastructure Organisation have committed to spending £100.000 towards the progression of the submitted heritage strategy. The council has asked Homes England / the DIO to continue engagement with Ripon Military Heritage Trust over the submitted heritage strategy and a number of options are now being explored as part of those discussions.


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