The Field Stores

By Paul H. Vickers, Friends of the Aldershot Military Museum

In the Victorian era maintaining a camp of some 15,000 soldiers, wives and families, and thousands of horses and mules, was a major logistical operation. To sustain the supply of necessary goods, and keep equipment in good repair, required an effective stores organisation.

One of the benefits of concentrating many units in a large single camp was efficiency in procuring, storing and issuing supplies, including food, equipment, barrack furniture, fuel and other essentials. Provisions could be bought in bulk, not only providing better value for Army stores but also allowing goods sold on to the men to be priced more cheaply. In the early years supplies were the responsibility of the Commissariat, and commissary stores were established in the south-east corner of the camp, just east of Thorn Hill. The Commissariat established its own bakeries, purchased cattle for slaughter, set up its own butcheries, and issued bread and meat rations across the garrison. A contemporary description said that the establishment consisted of “a large building of wood and stone called the bakery, a spacious iron erection called the slaughter-house, and a number of wooden huts for the accommodation of the various officials in charge of the place. The bakery contained six ovens and a like number of brewing coppers on the ground floor; the upper floors being used as flour and bread stores.” Unfortunately a fire in April 1857 destroyed the first commissary stores, but they were rebuilt on the same location.

In 1860, General Knollys, General Officer Commanding at Aldershot, wrote: “I cannot speak too highly of the conduct and exertion of the Commissariat Corps in the field and in their hut quarters at Aldershot. At a late inspection I made of them I found them as a military corps in the highest order as to discipline, conduct and equipment, and as workmen, butchers, bakers, etc,”

After the Army Service Corps was formed in 1888 it took over responsibility for barrack stores. Part of the barrack officer’s duties included being in charge of the “expense stores”, where items such as furniture, bedding and utensils were kept for issue to units, and coal yards from which fuel was distributed. As a result it was not uncommon to find a junior officer, subaltern or captain, with direct responsibility for barrack stores worth several hundred thousands of pounds. Military stores, including weapons and ammunition, were the responsibility of the Ordnance Store Department, renamed the Ordnance Store Corps in 1881 and the Army Ordnance Corps in 1896.

By 1892 the large stores complex was known as the Field Stores and consisted of two main buildings, No. 1 and No. 2 Stores; a tent store; mobilization store, which included the harness store and blanket store; wagon shed; an iron shed for empty cartridge cases and old clothing; a receipt shed; the grand magazine and a small armourers shop; and 17 other smaller buildings. An office block accommodated the Ordnance Store Officer in charge, cash office and local purchase office; plus a number of officers’ quarters. In addition to military personnel, there was a civilian workforce of around 12 men and 20 women. By the main gate was the guard room, from which a sentry patrolled the depot after working hours.

Around 1896 a store for camp equipment was added, along with two more wagon sheds and new workshops. From 1898 the civilian staff was considerably increased by the addition of a large number of temporary civilian labourers to cope with the increased work during the summer months. Although these were discharged during the winter months, this was the beginning of the large civilian staff who were later permanently employed at the Field Stores. The expansion proved vital during the South African War (Second Boer War) of 1899-1902, when thousands of soldiers passed through Aldershot on deployment to South Africa and needed equipping for war. In the reforms after the war, the Field Stores were expanded once again, with a new clothing store added in 1901-2, which was the first building to be equipped with automatic fire extinguishers. A large bakery and bread store was built, which had a doughing room on the first floor from which loaves were delivered by a chute to the ground floor, where there were eight two-deck ovens. The bread store held 22,400 2-pound loaves, equivalent to 44,800 rations. Another store for camp equipment was added in 1903, plus an extension to the mobilization stores. All these improvements were to prove their value during the First World War (1914-1918) and again in the Second World War (1939-1945).

Within the Field Stores were workshops for the repair of guns, limbers, wagons, saddlery and other equipment. The first Army workshops were established in 1857, housed in temporary wooden buildings until replaced by a permanent workshop in 1879. The First World War saw a great increase in mechanisation which continued after the war, so in 1929 a bigger and better equipped workshop, the Aldershot Area Workshop, was built on Ordnance Road. In these workshops were blacksmiths, fitters, machinists and welders, who not only had to maintain the equipment but often manufacture the parts needed. This would become the REME Command Workshops during the Second World War and continue, under various designations, until the early twenty-first century.

Because so many tons of goods of all kinds continually passed through the Field Stores, efficient transport was essential. In June 1890 the War Office signed an agreement with the London and South Western Railway (LSWR) for an Army branch line to be built into the Field Stores. The civilian LSWR line into Aldershot had been opened in 1870, and the Army siding came off this half a mile east of Redan Hill. This branch became known as Government Sidings. It was extended in 1889 and 1890 to meet the needs of the Second Boer War, and a passenger platform was built for entraining soldiers departing for the front. The passenger terminal was used throughout the First World War for the movement of troops and stores, the passenger platform was extended, and such was the volume of traffic that the single track was made into a double line.

The Field Stores were closed on 1 September 1968, following the rebuilding of the garrison and introduction of more modern methods of procurement and supply. The lines of Government Sidings which had serviced the Field Stores were lifted, except for 1,200 feet which British Railways required as a refuge siding, with a buffer stop just to the east of Ordnance Road. The stores buildings were demolished in 1985, to be replaced by the Goose Green married quarters estate. In Goose Green Park are roads named ‘Field Stores Approach’ and ‘The Sidings’, the last reminders of the huge stores complex and the railway which serviced it.


Article originally published in the The Garrison, Spring 2023

Copyright © Paul H. Vickers. This article, including the accompanying pictures, may not be reproduced or republished, in whole or in part, either in print or electronically, including on any websites or social media sites, without the prior permission of the author.