Aldershot was mentioned in the celebrated Domesday Book of 1086. Apart from the odd highway robbery on the turnpike road nearby, for hundreds of years it remained a sleepy hamlet centred around the 12th-century St Michael’s church. Even by the census of 1841, Aldershot had a population of just 677 people.
But things changed significantly during the Crimean War. In 1854, Britain’s first purpose-built military base since Roman times was established in Aldershot on either side of the Basingstoke Canal — the North and South Camps. Soon the small town soon became known as the ‘home of the British Army’.
The initial living and service buildings were made of timber, but these soon gave way to more substantial brick structures. First, a series of permanent barracks, and then in 1856 the Royal Pavilion, which the Royal family used when visiting the camp. By 1861, the population of Aldershot had ballooned to more than 16,000 people, and by 1870, it even had its own railway station.
The pioneering Cambridge Military Hospital was built between 1875 and 1879, to a design of pavilion wards linked by corridors to provide fresh air to the patients and prevent the spread of infection. In the First World War, it was the first base hospital to receive casualties from the Western Front. Later, it would become the first place in Britain where plastic surgery was performed.
Many residents in Aldershot and the surrounding communities have strong connections with the Cambridge Military Hospital and near by Louise Margaret ward, with many of them either being born or having children who were born there.
Aldershot Garrison was the home for all kinds of military specialisms. In the 1890s, a factory for balloons and airships was set up. The Royal Army Veterinary School was established here, as was a military dental surgery. It was a hub and a home for the army, a place for martial training and medical discovery.
As the years went by, the base developed strong connections with the Canadian Army, who were stationed in Aldershot during both wars, and the Nepalese Gurkhas, who served alongside the British Army over many decades.
The next major development of the site came in the 1960s, when a series of textured concrete buildings, using the prevailing technologies and designs of the day, was constructed. The role and needs of a modern army was changing, and the new layout and ideas reflected this.
After the Cambridge Military Hospital closed in 1996 and the British Army was reduced in size, the Garrison’s South Camp gradually moved to new, more modern facilities in the North Camp.
Rushmoor Borough Council began listing the significant Victorian buildings in 2001, recognising the important role that the town had played in modern history. The Aldershot Military Town Conservations Area was established in 2003, and a large part of South Camp was given permission for redevelopment.
In 1854, Britain’s first purpose-built military base since Roman times was established in Aldershot