History of Pennylands
The Pennylands Camp site has a rich history covering 20 years. An Allied & British Troop Training Camp, POW Camp, Polish Forces Repatriation Camp and a Housing Camp. There was a slight overlap across each of these phases.
Pennylands Camp derives its name from Pennyland, a small estate which along with other small estates, merged with the larger Dumfries House Estate in the early 18th century. Pennylands House, which had housed construction workers during the building of Dumfries House in 1754, was demolished shortly after this time. Pennylands House lay to the east of the Gothic Temple. A small 19th century cottage named Pennyland is all that survives. This is known locally as the Gamekeeper's Cottage and is situated in the north-east corner.
At the north-west corner is the Temple, an architectural feature which was originally planned as the grand entrance to the estate and two porters’ houses either side. Owing to a land dispute with Lord Auchinleck, whose land had to be accessed, the Temple was never used for its original purpose and left to ruin.
The Ministry of War was granted permission by the Marquess of Bute around 1939 to accommodate British and Allied troops under canvas in the fields around the Dumfries House Estate. By 1942 The Ministry of War had requisitioned the 12 acre Pennylands field, about 1/3 of a mile to the north of Dumfries House. Accommodation for around 750 was built and consisted of a mixture of Nissen huts and Ministry of Works and Planning Standard Huts (MOWP huts), pre-fabricated pitched-roof buildings of different sizes and purposes.
The camp had one main entrance, the Avenue which run from the Barony Road further north and bisected the camp. There was also a secondary entrance to the east and led to Auchinleck cemetery. As you came into the camp a large parade ground was situated to the west, with a section for officer and admin section to the north. To the left and right of the parade ground were the battalion accommodation sections and beyond these, further south were the service areas and just outside the perimeter, to the south-east, was a shooting range. The camp was surrounded by 10-foot-high barbed-wire fencing and all movement in and out of the camp was controlled through the guard-rooms with a moveable swing gate barrier and large gates.
During this period the 72nd Anti-Tank Regiment, 5th Inniskillings, London Irish Rifles, 511th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, the Canadian Active Service Forces and 3rd and 4th Free French SAS were among the troops who trained in and around Pennylands. These training sessions lasted up to six months before troops were sent to the front line. George VI inspected some of these troops and visited the Camp in 1942. The Free French paratroopers were billeted at Pennylands from January to June 1944 so there is likely to have been some cross-over between the camp being used as a Training Camp and as a POW Camp.
Sometime in 1943 the camp was converted to a POW camp, possibly only the southern section which seems to have been partitioned off from the main camp by an additional barbed-wire fence. The British and Polish soldiers who guarded the POWs and most likely the Free French SAS, would have been billeted separately from the POWs perhaps in the officer and admin section to the north. This is still unclear and further research is required.
In the early morning of 20th April 1944 Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, Commander in Chief of 21 Army Group reviewed a parade of SAS soldiers at a parade ground in Cumnock. He then moved on to Galston via a short stop at Sorn Castle, to review the remainder of the Brigade's troops in a ﬁeld close to the old Loudoun Kirk. It seems that
The first influx of POWs were Italians, swiftly followed by German POWs when the Italians were moved elsewhere. Both Italians and Germans were sent to work on farms in the surrounding countryside, the Italians being sent with a guard to work while the Germans were dropped off and picked up at the end of the working day. All POWs were paid for their work between 5s 6d and 2s 6d per week according to the Geneva Convention .
Pennylands Camp 22 was a POW base camp, at which German POWs were interrogated and graded according to their commitment to National Socialist ideology – popularly known as ‘white’ ‘grey’ and ‘black’ prisoners. POWs were then assigned to other camps across Scotland – northwards, to, for example, Cultybraggan, for ‘black’ POWs.
By November 1945 the Red Cross had produced a report on the conditions in what was now a German POW camp which confirmed that the capacity was 4,000 but the actual number of prisoners was 2,431. By this time the partitioning had been removed and conditions in the camp were generally good. The camp provided a bakery, infirmary, library, canteen, football pitch and offered religious services, a choir, theatre group and several educational courses.
By mid 1946 the German POWs were being repatriated and the camp started to empty. The camp remained under the care of resident caretakers for a few months to give time to prepare the camp for Polish Repatriates.
Despite the efforts of Ayr County Council and Emrys Hughes, MP for South Ayrshire requesting the War Office to hand over the camp for civilian housing, 800 members of the Polish Resettlement Corps moved into the camp at the beginning of November 1946. It might be worth noting that reporting during the war period was very restrictive and this embargo wasn’t lifted until around 1946.
Although these troops were not prisoners as such, discipline was kept in the camp and the surrounding area by Military Police, British soldiers and the local Police Force.
Soldiers in the Polish Resettlement Corps had to survive on the equivalent of British army pay and had to seek permission from the Home Office to take up paid local employment. This is reflected in the many petty crime and disturbance reports in the local press involving the Polish repatriates.
Many Polish soldiers found themselves torn between returning to their homeland and facing persecution or remaining in the west. Many expected a collapse of the communist regime in Poland but this was not to happen. A fair number of the Polish soldiers married local women and remained happily in Scotland, found employment and raised their families while others returned to their homeland now controlled by the Soviet Block.
By the end of 1947 as the Polish were either repatriated or settled within Britain, Ayr County Council again requested the War Department for permission to use the camp for civilian housing as the housing shortage across Scotland had become severe. But the War Department were slow in their response to the questions raised by Emery Hughes in the House of Commons regarding this.
Sometime in 1948 the camp was abandoned by the authorities and the camp was unofficially occupied by around 20 families. By January 1949 this had risen to 85 when the War Department took the families to the local court for trespass. Emrys Hughes appeared in court on behalf of the families involved and sentence was deferred for 2 months.
By mid-1949 the situation had been resolved and Ayr County Council took over rental of housing in the camp and organised leases for existing and new residents. In the first valuation roll of 1949/50 for Pennylands Camp there were now 123 huts rented, each at £9.5s per annum. The rents stayed the same throughout the lifespan of the camp.
In the Third Statistical Account for Scotland (1951) it is reported that there was now a population of 380, 122 men, 115 women and 143 children. Housing conditions were not ideal. The huts were cold, draughty and most had no running water, toilets, gas or electricity but the tenants were well organised with a camp committee, shop and recreational hut.
As new council houses became available locally, the residents slowly moved out. By examining the valuation rolls for the period it becomes clear that when families moved out very few families moved in. By 1957 the empty and derelict huts were being sold off by Ayr County Council and by 1959 there were only 8 huts occupied. The camp closed soon after the remaining 3 families were re-housed and the site abandoned and left to ruin.
During this period what remained of the camp was demolished and left to ruin and decay – a playground and curiosity for local children as it slowly disappeared from public memory, excepting the few local people who had lived or worked there in its 20-year heyday. The camp reverted back to the possession of John Crichton Stuart, the 5th Marquess of Bute
The last person to call Dumfries House home was the wife of the 5th Marquess, Lady Eileen Forbes. She moved there after she married in 1932, but moved out during the Second World War when the House was requisitioned by the Army. Lady Eileen returned after her husband died aged 49 in 1956. She regularly held community events at the estate and was popular with locals until her death in 1993.
Her son John Crichton Stuart the 6th Marquess of Bute married Beatrice Weld Forester and had Sophia, Eileen, John and Anthony. On the death of her son, John Crichton Stuart the 6th Marquess of Bute the same year, Dumfries House passed into the hands of John Crichton Stuart, the 7th Marquess of Bute, better known as former racing driver Johnny Dumfries.
After the death of Dowager Marchioness Eileen, the house fell into limbo until 2007 when after many deliberations, John Crichton Stuart the 7th Marquess of Bute decided to put the house, its contents and the estate up for sale. A consortium led by HRH Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay used £20million of his own charitable foundation’s money and personally brokered a £45million deal to secure the house and its collection of Chippendale furniture. The idea was to restore the House, and its contents to their former glory with the express aim of making it more accessible to the public. The Great Steward of Scotland’s Dumfries House trust was formed to create a sustainable business, through the estate, that would provide a platform for heritage, sustainable living, education and entertainment.
Due to recent plans for the erection of new buildings on the 12-acre site, archaeologists were called in to examine and record the physical layout, various uses of the camp and its numerous buildings.
Today when you enter the Dumfries House Estate from the north via the Barony Road you walk through what was once Pennylands Camp. The road through this part of the estate is the original road called the Avenue which bisected the camp.
On the 12-acre site you can now find several new buildings and features.
The Tamar Manoukian Outdoor Residential Centre - provides two wings accommodating 22 young people and 3 staff on each wing, a central dining area for 50 and a soft seat relaxation area for films and presentations. The Outdoor Centre has access to a parade square and a half acre activity area incorporating a ten stage obstacle course and leadership zones, as well as the development of two new facilities which include an archery range and an indoor sports hall with feature climbing and traversing wall. More information on the Dumfries House Estate website HERE
Valentin’s Education Farm - Officially opened in 2017, the Education Farm is designed to complement horticulture and food lessons already in place on the Estate, the new facility aims to give children a genuine farm-to-fork experience, while also focusing on native livestock conservation. The Rare Breeds Trust worked closely with Dumfries House, introducing animals that would thrive on the Estate. Breeds include Landrace pigs, Scots grey chickens and the Cröllwitzer turkey. More information on the Dumfries House Estate website HERE
The Temple – This spectacular Category A listed gate house was doomed from the start as a day to day part of the Estate, as access from it to the main road was denied by the owner of the interceding land. As it no longer had a practical use, it began to be referred to as the Temple and simply became a decorative feature. It was then used as accommodation and latterly it fell into disrepair.
The tree-lined Duchess of Rothesay Avenue leads from Dumfries House’s Arboretum to the Temple Gate which has now been restored after a 10-month restoration project that was completed in 2016. The Temple is situated at the north west of the former Pennylands Camp.
Home Farm - A working farm on The Dumfries House Estate. This now occupies the south west corner of the former Pennylands Camp.