North Sea Camp (History)

Stafford to Freiston Shore

Photo by Barnes collection

The long march - 1935

HM Prison - North Sea Camp is today a Category D open prison but let us start at the very beginning.

One sunny morning in May 1935, a farm worker hoeing in a field near Boston paused in his work to observe an unusual sight - about thirty lads in their teens, uniformly dressed in dark blue shorts, grey open neck shirts and wearing boots were marching vigorously along the road which led to Freiston.  At their head was a rather tall man of military appearance; his name was W W Llewellin who became the first governor.  The long march started at Stafford Borstal, a total of 110 miles.  Throughout the march the feeding and sleeping arrangements were carried out by branches of Toc H.  They spent the night of the 30th May in St James’ (Freiston) Parish Rooms and on the Friday morning, 31st May made the short last leg of their journey to Clayhole Farm where their future camp would be.

Inmates at work

Photo by Barnes collection

'New Accommodation'

Although under construction the buildings at the camp were incomplete so the first accommodation for boys and staff was tents.  But eventually the boys got down to work and built roads, their accommodation and other essential buildings.

Gossip in the local area said the Government purchased the land for £3 per acre, and agricultural land at that time was worth £100 per acre.  Clearly there was a profit to be made as the proposed wall could be constructed economical without the use of expensive machinery, but the locals considered this would be an impossible task due to the high speed of water in the numerous creeks during spring tides.

In the winter of 1935 work began on the marsh.  In charge of the work on the marsh was an engineer named Lands.  The men called him (not to his face) Stakey Land, for he had a thin angular appearance and was frequently engaged in driving in stakes to make the line of the wall or the limit from which soil could be dug.

Housemaster and boys dug the land, which had been marked and filled.  Strongly made steel trolleys were lashed on rails up a ramp to the top of the wall, where the trucks were emptied.  Sometimes, the rails had to cross creeks’ to accomplish this task; a bridge was made from stout balks of timber.  Occasionally, a bridge would collapse or a truck would overturn, depositing all the earth into the creek.  Such misadventures were annoying, but they added variety to the work.

The work was measured by the engineer each week and the gangs of inmates, of which there were three, were paid according to the gang’s efforts.  Wages ranged from sixpence (old money) to ninepence, which they could spend on sweets, cigarettes, hair cream etc in the canteen.

It was a difficult task for the engineer to calculate the work completed by each gang.  One could easily measure the amount of soil, but the engineer had other factors to take into account, for example, the distance from the wall to the area of digging, which of course may be covered by the tide in the early part of the day.  Another gang may have been employed turfing the side of a wall to prevent erosion.  This, of course, led to inmates complaining about their wages.  One boy stated “last week we had eightpence for an easy job; this week, only sixpence for a hard one.”  Nevertheless, inmates realised the harder they worked, the better the reward.

In March 1936 there were often cold wet winds blowing from the east, but the rule was work must go on as normal irrespective of the weather.  Only once in the early years did that tradition waver.  The telephone rang in the Governor’s office, the engineer stating the conditions were atrocious and the boys could stand it no longer; they were handing in the their spades and going back to Camp.  Llewellin informed the engineer he would join them at work.  No-one was dressed for work on the marsh, but they met the boys and Llewellin simply said “We have come to join you”.  The boys turned without saying a word and returned to their work.  Later, the staff counted the damage to their clothes and footwear, but tradition had been upheld.

From time to time, special problems arose when the wall had to cross large creeks.  Bundles of brushwood faggots were supplied by the contractor.  When the tide was out the creek dry, the brushwood would be laid in the creek at great speed and treaded in; it was a race against time and tide to complete the filling of the creek before the tide flooded in.

In 1963, the Camp changed its role from Borstal to Detention Centre and the reclamation work continued; also introduced were draglines which would enable the bank to be built at a faster rate.

The work was completed in 1979 about 970 acres being enclosed.    The reclaimed land was used for farming before being sold in 2004.  The sea is at bay over a quarter of a mile from its former boundary, the ‘Roman Bank’.  At first, the land was drained, levelled and then put down to grass for a four year period.  This was used for silage, hay and casual grazing.  The grazing helps add valuable humus that in turn assisted the upgrading of quality of the reclaimed land.

The farm provided food for distribution through the Prison system, thus contributing to the easement of the financial burden to the taxpayer.  The farm also had a large herd of sheep, over 500 pigs and rare breeds.

The Criminal Justice Act of 1982 introduced a variety of sentences of between three weeks and four months, this being a far cry from the stability of the thirties, when each inmate stayed at least one year.  The short sentence laid extra pressure on the staff who was not only concerned that tasks should be completed, but also the highest standards of Health and Safety at Work were kept.

In 1992 the following crops were grown; cauliflower, brussel sprouts, onions and potatoes plus several other varieties.  The expected yield from the land was cabbage - 5 tons per acre; onions - 6 tons per acre and potatoes to yield 15 tons per acre with 200 acres being allocated for potatoes.

In 1988, North Sea Camp became an adult Open Prison.  Work on the sea bank remains, the Works Department have the task to maintain the bank, ensuring the sea cannot reclaim what once belonged to it.

  • Filling trucks to make the bank

    Photo by Barnes collection

    Railway Trucks

    Mention should be made of the little railway used for the reclamation; from the camp the line ran northwards to the seaward side of the bank to Freiston Shore, the line then curved seaward along an embankment to a point where it crossed and a branch line left here and went to the mud flats.  Two loco sheds were provided, one being used as a mess room.  One shed contained two locos and a number of wagons fitted with winches for rescuing equipment from the mud.  Rolling stock in November 1978 consisted of 6 Lister Engines, 10 tippers plus an assortment of flat wagons.  There were 6 closed man rider vehicles and a further 3 open manriders, constructed on chassis.

For up-to-date information of HM Prison - North Sea Camp refer to their website.

Compiled by J W and Mrs J Barnes, most of the information being given with the kind permission of the Governor of the Camp in 1999.

(last updated July 2008)