Next to our house there is a football pitch, where, now, the players – and the groundsmen – are the ewes and their lambs; and beyond that a number of wooden buildings. These buildings were once the Elan Valley Police Cadet Camp. My knowledge of the history of the Camp is sketchy and built from surmise and a number of conversations with previous attendees and tutors. I would appreciate any comments to correct my suppositions.
We frequently see people, often tall, grey haired men, but also some ladies, looking at the sheds, with dreamy looks and clearly re-living memories. When we have got into conversation it has transpired that these are ex-policemen and women, who did part of their training as Police Cadets, in the Camp.
Because the Estate had been owned by Birmingham City, who purchased all the land draining into their proposed reservoirs, and the area which now contains Elan Village, I presume that the Camp was originally for that city’s Police Force; but, it would seem, that the Camp was also made available to other forces.
Googling the camp led me to a review by Rob Jerrard Please of a book by John Tomlinson “So You Want To Be A Policeman” published by The Memoir Club in 2004. Please writes ” Some 30 pages are devoted to time spent at a cadet camp at Elan Valley …. This was an Outward Bound type of camp as the author states, run by the Birmingham City Police. … The reviewer must now reveal a secret. He was a visitor there and over a period of some years he had the responsibility of sending cadets to Elan Valley. One thing that all returned cadets made a point of making public, was the sweeping of the football pitch with hand-brooms. This is not mentioned in the book. It does call for a little explanation. Much of the centre of mid – Wales was purchased in the 19th century, with great foresight, by the Birmingham City Council, with a view to providing water for that City by damming the valleys. … The vast acreage of grassland around the water was ideal for sheep and at one time Birmingham City Council was alleged to be the largest owners of such animals in the country. Obviously the ground at the bottom of the valleys was the most fertile and the flat football pitch and drill area was nibbled to leave a surface that would have done credit to many good club sides. There was, however a problem, namely the sheep droppings, which is where those attending the course came in. Every little speck had to be cleared. There must be many police pensioners alive today who look back with fond memories of the time they spent at Elan Valley.”
Once the Camp ceased to be used by the police it was for almost ten years leased by the Warwickshire and Birmingham Wing of the Air Training Corps to provide a base camp for cadets to undertake adventure training in general, and expeditionary training specifically. They say on their web site “The surrounding area is mainly below 1500 feet and therefore provides eminently suitable non-wild terrain, ideal for both junior cadets as well as those with more experience. It allows us to set `base camp’ routes in both Non Wild and Wild country, and is therefore appropriate for Duke of Edinburgh’s Award expeditions at all levels.
The ATC Wing had to terminate their lease in 2009 and permission was sought, by the Elan Valley Trust, to demolish the buildings, however, demolition has not yet been effected. One of the smaller buildings was demolished last winter by a tree falling on it, and generally the buildings do not look as picturesque as the rest of the village; however a considerable number of young people were able to experience the beauty of the Valley by staying in them; and, clearly it was a very special place for them as the memories still live on.
Here is a comment we received from Paul Mac (Paul McElhinney):
Hello folks, I read your page concerning the police cadet training camp, let me explain. Back in the days when the police service was not a well paid job they struggled to recruit officers at 18 years and 6 months old. Consequently they came up with a new recruitment method, police cadets. catch them at 16 and they’ll join when they are 18 and a half. Police cadets spent most of their time doing physical training at the Tally Ho training centre in Edgbaston, Birmingham and at a nearby college doing a course which no one was interested in. Everyone was required to do a 4 week camp the summer after the year when they joined. That was up until 1982/83. In that year the force decided that cadets should do a “camp” for every year that they are in the job. I was one of the first bunch of cadets to have to do a second camp. Oh how we laughed. Despite being very, very fit (I could run 4 miles in 24 minutes making me an average runner) camp was very tough. The toughest days were “PT & A” days – PT and assault course. The entire day would be training. There was an assault course on the banks of the river Elan just behind the huts. It was very tough and we might have to do that six times in succession, time being given between attempts to get one’s breath back. We’d also do a four mile run up Ty’n Y Pant whilst wearing walking boots. There was another run through Llanwrythll that was nine miles, easier than Ty’n Y Pant. When on camp we’d sleep in 8 man tents adjacent to the football pitch. We’d also spend time canoeing on the reservoirs and River Wye, rock climbing in North Wales when we had a rare treat of a half day in Towyn, walking in the Brecon Beacons, We’d do a “three day trek” and a “four day trek” when we’d sleep in two man tents and cook our own food, dehydrated rubbish. I remember walking over elephant grass to Cwmystwyth, Afonystwyth, Abergwesyn. The senior officer on camp was an Inspector who was the camp commandant. There was a sergeant then various constable instructors, some from the cadet training staff, others who were ordinary bobbies who had a certain skill eg top runner as a PTI or rock climbers, canoeists. It was intended to be character building and I suppose it was. Some people couldn’t take it and resigned, some were beasted by the PTIs because they weren’t natural athletes (wrong in hindsight.) We didn’t get to go into Rhayader, we couldn’t drink. We used a phone box up a footpath from the camp onto the nearby road to ring home. Lights out at 10pm each night. We slept on duckboards, so uncomfortable. A brief insight into what our camps were all about. Best wishes, Paul Mac.
Memories from Mike Checksfield – Police Camp 1963
Have just read with interest some comments on the cadet training camp. I came from a rural police force (Berkshire) compared with the others and was viewed as a bit of a country boy. My first experience on arrival was a cold shower and having my head shaved. I teamed up with a lad from Birmingham and one from Liverpool I believe. They were both Catholic and it was my first experience of religious persecution by other cadets and some staff. I was not much of a runner but I was an unarmed combat instructor in my school ccf. This meant that I could hold my own with most of the bigots from Birmingham. We had regular tent collapses in the night and a few accidental falls into the stream. We felt sorry for the other three lads in our tent as they never came to terms with the problems and one just packed up and left. Once we became established things went ok. The final four day hike was part of my Duke of Edinburgh Scheme. On the day before the final parade we went rock climbing and in the days before health and safety it was a bit gung ho. I was just about to start my decent as a patient on a stretcher when a rock hit me on the back of the head and knocked me out. I missed the last day and after forty years I was told that I had damage to the top of my spine from a badly healed vertebrae. Oh for those good old days.