14 Aug 2020
Downhill Farm, West Boldon
West Boldon, South Tyneside
This is a
Current status is
Still in use as a dwelling.
'Downhill Farm is the only farm in the Borough with substantial remains of its original buildings intact. The farmhouse and adjoining outbuildings, the lime burning kilns, Downhill Cottages and Downhill House are all grade II listed buildings. The outbuildings are of magnesian limestone construction with pantile roofs. Close to the farmstead is a disused magnesian limestone quarry, part of which is designated as a site of Special Scientific Interest. The farm contailns a virtually complete restored wheel house with machinery attached to a two storey threshing barn. Restoration work started in 1987 to the threshing barn, gin-gan and storage barn.'
Also, to the rear of the farm in the old limestone quarry was an Italian POW camp during the second world war.
'In West Boldon was the site of a Second World War prisoner of war camp.Each POW camp was allocated an official number during World War Two within a prescribed numerical sequence, ranging from Camp 1 (Grizedale Hall, Ambleside) to Camp 1026 (Raynes Park, Wimbledon). The West Boldon camp was Camp 605. Not all of the sites were true Prisoner of War camps, many were hostels situated some distance away from the parent site or base camp. It is not known what category West Boldon Camp was.(Thomas 2003)
As can be seen from photos today nothing remains of the camp and its buildings with the only things remaining are the quarry's high wall and the ridge of trees that can be seen from the road.
The aerial photograph below (Reproduced by permission of Historic England Archive) from February 1946 show 14 Nissen Huts located in the centre of the quarry with the back of the quarry rising some 100ft high providing a natural barrier. There is also a collection of other buildings at the entrance of the quarry nearest the road. Hopefully further research in the future my reveal the function of these buildings. Although the natural terrain provides a unique location for the POW camp, it is a little strange considering RAF Usworth was less than a mile away across the fields.
POW's were often put to work mostly on farms to replace the locals who were off fighting the war.There are plenty of in the immediate area Such as Locky's farm mentioned in Bryan Lockey Memories located elsewhere on the site, but maybe these POW's were also used to maintain the Airfield nearby? The fact that this photo was taken in 1946 and still showed the nissen huts would seem to indicate that as history has recorded in other areas that not all Italian POW's were repatriated until a year or two after the war with some electing to stay making britain their new home.'
- Boldon Wartime Memories http://www.boldonwm.uk/dqpow.htm
The two maps above illustrate Downhill Farm from the latter half of the 19th century. The 1862 OS map further above illustrates the farm on the country lane from West Boldon. The area is dense with quarries thanks to its rich limestone deposits, there one even being in the farm's back garden. There was also a tannery nearby, producing leather for saddles, clothing and the like.
Little has changed in the 1898 map except the tannery is now unlabelled. The quarry is now marked as 'old' so clearly disused, though some exist in the area and one to the south.
This map shows the area just before the outbreak of WWII, though published a year after the way. The area is relatively similar though a reservoir has been constructed for the nearby towns of South Shields and Sunderland. In only a few years this area would have dramatically transformed as the old quarry became an Italian POW camp, working the farmstead.
Undated photograph of Downhill Farm, likely turn of the century. A number of workhorses can be seen as well as a variety of figures including children. The farm was relatively substantial so all were perhaps the same family.
Retrieved from Boldon History, Facebook
Aerial photograph of the site from 1946. The photo illustrates well the layout of the POW camp in the former quarry, and Nissan Huts are dispersed all over the land. The actual farmstead can be seen to the south on the country lane. As noted above, it seems to indicate that not all the Italians were repatriated straight away.
Retrieved from Boldon Wartime
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