Impact: Lofthouse Park Revisited: Locals and Aliens during World War One

On 10th September 2017, the ‘In the Wrong Place, at the Wrong Time’ team held a free heritage open day for the public at Lofthouse Gate Working Men’s Club. The purpose of the day was to explore the hidden history of Lofthouse Park, one of Britain’s internment camps during the First World War. Now comprising a combination of housing estates, car parks and convenience stores, the site of Lofhouse Park is virtually unrecognisable from its World War One era incarnation. Dr Claudia Sternberg and David Stowe organised the day to provide descendants, local people and World War One history enthusiasts with the opportunity to engage with this difficult and often forgotten history.

David Stowe led a guided tour of the sites that would have comprised the former Lofthouse Park Internment camp where Germans, Turks and Austro-Hungarians were interned during the war. Participants in the tour were introduced to the testimony of Paul Cohen Portheim. They were also shown the sites of South Camp, North Camp and West Camp and told about the organisation of the institution, particularly the daily routine of its prisoners, many of whom were from the social elite of early nineteenth century, Anglo-German, German and European society. There is currently no commemorative plaque to mark the camp, but Claudia, Dave and illustrator Louise Atkinson have put together a map of Lofthouse Park to encourage members of the public to engage with its First World War history.

The day also included talks by descendants of internees such as Corinna Meiss, who spoke about her ancestor, Gustav Wiesener, who suffered with a muscular coordination medical condition and was interned in a number of camps including Stratford, Lofthouse Park, the Dalston German Hospital and Alexandra Palace. Introducing a new engagement initiative with local residents, Dr Claire Corkhill and Chris Kolonko spoke about the national archaeology project ‘Home Front Legacy, 1914-1918’. Chris and Claire plan to return to Lofthouse in spring 2018, in order to encourage residents to excavate a one metre squared archaeological dig in their gardens. The aim is to try and uncover some objects from the former Lofthouse Park internment site.

The day ended with the performance of a short fictionalised monologue based on factual accounts of the experiences of those interned at Lofthouse Park. ‘The Wife’s Tale’ told the story of a German Professor’s internment and experience of ‘barbed wire’ disease. The story was told from the perspective of the Professor’s British wife who endured the stigma of social marginalisation beyond the walls of the camp. It was also great to meet Eva Göbel, who is leading the ‘In the Wrong Place, at the Wrong Time’ partner project on Ruhleben Camp, Germany.

On 11 November 2017, the ‘In the Wrong Place, at the Wrong Time’ team will be launching an exhibition and community authored Lofthouse Park book at the Local Studies Library, Wakefield.


Feedback from participants who attended ‘Lofthouse Park Revisited’:

“A complete revelation. I have lived within 6 miles for 60 years and knew nothing!”

“Fascinating insight to a part of local history that I never knew about.”

What you liked: “Finding out about local history I knew nothing about. Seeing how long immigration has been going on in Europe – extremely relevant re Brexit disaster!”

“This is a quick note of thanks for organizing the Heritage Open Day. I found it fascinating. Also great to meet the German contingent!”

“It was so interesting and informative and your hard work is very much appreciated. Please thank Dave Stowe (aka ‘The Oracle’!) for his knowledgeable and fascinating tour of what was Lofthouse Camp, as well as the wonderful staff at Lofthouse Gate [Working Men’s] Club.”

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