Thompson Smith and Puxon’s new office (January 2013) is Stable 6, Stable Road, Colchester, Essex, CO2 7GL and is pictured.

Stable 6 was originally Stable Block A, part of the Le Cateau Barracks, (formerly the Royal Artillery Barracks) which was built in 1874-75. Stable 6 has been restored and refurbished by Lexden Restorations. Before embarking on the restoration project Lexden Restorations commissioned the Essex County Council Field Archaeology Unit to produce a report on the history of the building, and the detail and pictures that follow have been reproduced from that report with the kind permission of both. Stable 6 is Grade II listed, which recognises its national importance.

The History of the Colchester Garrison: Colchester has been a military town since the Roman Invasion and the first Garrison was established in AD43. The Colchester Garrison, as we know it, was built between the 1860s and 1930s on the southern side of Colchester town centre. The Cavalry Barracks and Le Cateau Barracks were the first permanent barracks to be built in Colchester and pre-date many others in the country.

At the end of the Crimean War a Royal Commission was set up to look at sickness and mortality rates in the army. The Commission recommended improved heating, ventilation and sanitary arrangements in barracks. These recommendations were incorporated into the Cavalry Barracks, which was the first brick built barracks in Colchester (1862 – 1864)

Soon after the Cavalry Barracks were built, the Army Sanitary Commission concluded that quartering men over stables was unhealthy and unacceptable; however this did not stop the Royal Artillery Barracks being built to the same design 10 years later!

Click here to download a map showing the position of The Cavalry and Le Cateau Barracks.

Le Cateau Barracks: After World War One the Royal Artillery Barracks were renamed “Le Cateau” after the British victory over the Germans during the retreat from the Battle of Mons in 1914; more information on this battle can be found by clicking here.

The design and innovation of Le Cateau were more advanced than the earlier Cavalry Barracks so far as ventilation and fire safety were concerned, and incorporated strong decorative and architectural themes reflecting the position of the Royal Horse Artillery, an elite force in the military hierarchy. The architecture is therefore the best of any of the Colchester Barracks – Gothic and Classical themes are used within the Victorian context.

The Barracks were based on a layout similar to permanent cavalry barracks at Aldershot, which were demolished in the ‘60’s, so Cavalry and Le Cateau remain the last of this form of development, and therefore have more importance through their rarity value.

The stable design included projecting wings, a high jack-arched fire-proof ceiling, and advanced ventilation system.

Layout of the Le Cateau Barracks: Originally there were six stable blocks arranged in two groups of three either side of the parade ground, with officers’ accommodation at the head of the parade ground. As well as the Stable Blocks and the Officers’ Quarters, a Canteen, Sergeants’ Mess and married quarters were among other buildings included in the layout.

Click here to download a PDF of the layout of the Le Cateau Barracks.

In 1962, when the buildings had become too large for the modern army, plans were submitted to demolish both Le Cateau and The Cavalry Barracks; however only Le Cateau was affected, with buildings at the north end demolished (including four of the six stable blocks) to make way for the Butt Road car park and an extension of Goojerat Barracks.

What remained of the Barracks buildings then became an Army Training Centre and changes and conversions were made to the buildings; gables and roofs lost some of their architectural detailing and chimney pots were reduced and capped; internal changes were also made.

The Stable Buildings: Each stable has two storeys with stabling for the horses on the ground floor and barrack rooms for the soldiers above.

Each stable block contained four “batteries”. A battery comprised the men and horses required to operate and transport a gun and its ammunition. 31 horses and 46 men were housed in each block with two Sergeants and their horses too. Each group of three blocks was self-supporting, containing functions common to those on the opposite side of the parade ground.

In Stable Block A (now Stable 6) the wings at each end contained harness rooms, a wheeler’s shop, a shoemaker’s shop, a forge and an officer’s stable. The shoemaker’s room / shop had a large window as it needed lots of natural light. Originally there was no access to it from the stables as this was not necessary for the stable to function. There was also no internal access between the stables and the barrack rooms above (we have had this access added)

The Ground-floor Stables: Originally the horses were kept singly, accommodating 16 horses at one end and 15 on the other end. The horses stood facing the windows and each individual stable was quite tight as the horses were quite large; they had to be as they were required to pull the gun carriages.

Horses nowadays perform more of a ceremonial role in the military, and the modern army enlarged the stalls from what they were originally to create more space for fewer animals.

The stable bays are defined by tall columns with angular fluted ends (which have remained in place) and the ceiling is tall and jack-arched, which gives the building a sense of grandeur.

The Barrack Rooms: Each of the two barrack rooms was built identically to accommodate 23 men. Beds were arranged against the opposing long walls and heating provided by fireplaces set at each end and centrally. The Sergeants’ quarters were positioned centrally so that an eye could be kept on the soldiers. Barrack room décor was limited and simple, suiting the practicality of its function; however there are doorways out onto the balcony for relaxation.

A PDF showing the layout of each floor can be downloaded by clicking here.

Thompson Smith and Puxon would like to thank Jonathan Frank of Lexden Restorations and Mark Atkinson, Manager of the Essex County Council Field Archaeology Unit, for their kind permission to use the text, detail, plans and photos from the Historic Building Report commissioned by Lexden Restorations in 2008, a full copy of which can be downloaded by clicking here.