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Thursday, 18 July, 2002, 15:24 GMT 16:24 UK
PoW camp becomes monument
Murals painted by POWs
The camp features murals painted by prisoners
A former prisoner of war camp in County Durham has become the first to be declared a monument.

Harperley PoW camp, near Crook, was built in 1943 and retains 85% of its buildings and has unique internal fittings, including stunning wall paintings done by former inmates.

Arts Minister Tessa Blackstone announced on Thursday that Harperley is to become the first PoW camp to be declared a scheduled monument.

The camp was originally built for Italian PoWs but soon housed 900 German prisoners identified as "low risk".


Harperley has an important wartime story to tell and as an educational resource has enormous potential

English Heritage

Some 1,500 POW camps were built in Britain, and about 100 like Harperley were purpose-built.

Inevitably, the remains of the vast majority have disappeared.

Dr Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage, said: "The survival of Harperley is remarkable and extremely unusual.

"Piecing together the history and original layout of the camp has involved careful detective work.

"But it should be possible eventually to recover the full ground plan and the nature and function of individual buildings.

"Harperley has an important wartime story to tell and as an educational resource has enormous potential."

'Real people'

Baroness Blackstone said: "The camp provides a fascinating time capsule from a period in our history that has been largely forgotten.

"This is a perfect example of the way in which real people's experiences can transform otherwise ordinary buildings into a living part of our heritage.

"The owners are to be congratulated on their commitment to the camp, and I know that English Heritage will work closely with them to present it to the public in an imaginative and sensitive way."

About 50 structures survive at Harperley, in varying states of preservation, although many internal fittings have been lost.

POW mural
The pictures are being preserved

Despite its occasional use for agricultural storage and chicken sheds in the past, the site is still largely intact, principally because it remained in single ownership until 1999.

What remains has largely been mothballed since the War.

Encouraged by the camp commander, its one-time inmates set about providing themselves with some rough-and-ready home comforts.

There is a theatre in one of the standard huts, complete with stage, orchestra pit, prompt box and even tiered flooring for audience seating.

Indications are that the walls were decorated with dyed hessian sacking and there are the remains of cuttings from German magazines on the walls backstage.

Life for the prisoners was harsh and they were taken to work locally on agricultural, forestry, dam, road and other construction projects.

Some 400,000 German and 100,000 Italians were held as British PoWs.

Depending on their skills they could earn up to six shillings (30p) a week, at a time when British agricultural workers earned 75 shillings (3.75).


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02 Mar 02 | England
01 Mar 02 | Entertainment
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