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Where the Navvies Lived: Part 2

For the ten thousand navvies at work on the London Extension, contractors erected temporary hutted camps that consisted of a range of cabins made of wood and corrugated metal. The camps were built beside the contractor's depots and at strategic locations along the route, such as Quainton Road, Charwelton, Helmdon and East Leake. Unmarried navvies lived in dormitories of perhaps fifteen men, whilst foremen and those with families were given a hut to themselves. Although simple by modern standards, these cabins were comparatively comfortable given the harsh conditions that navvies had previously endured. Many were decorated with pictures and ornaments, and most were kept with a diligent pride that observers forty years before would have considered unthinkable.

Although these camps were distinct communities in themselves, and many were even given land with which to grow their own food, most were not totally cut off from society. Local businesses were doubtless very grateful for the opportunity to sell their goods, and the camps were well served by bakers, travelling merchants, grocers and butchers. There are even cases of local people helping navvies with reading and letter writing.

Like the navvies themselves, these unique camps have become a largely forgotten episode in British history. Apart from the numerous myths and tales that continue to linger in the villages touched by these illustrious invaders, evidence of their communities has long since been swept from the landscape.

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This is page 4 of Navvies: The Men Who Built The Railways.
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By the end of the nineteenth century the navvies' employers were far more willing to provide their workers with suitable accommodation. Photographed around 1897, these purpose built, temporary wooden huts formed part of the Barley Fields navvy settlement in Oxfordshire. On the right are the garden allotments in which the navvies could grow their own food.

By the end of the nineteenth century the navvies' employers were far more willing to provide their workers with suitable accommodation. Photographed around 1897, these purpose built, temporary wooden huts formed part of the Barley Fields navvy settlement in Oxfordshire. On the right are the garden allotments in which the navvies could grow their own food.
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Photographed in July 1897, this small white cottage in Bulwell was given over to use as navvy lodgings. The sign on the wall reads 'The Navvy Mission Good Samaritan Home. One Night's Free Lodgings - Given Only To Navvies In Tramp'. Despite great improvements in navvy accommodation, some were clearly still enjoying a more nomadic existence.

Photographed in July 1897, this small white cottage in Bulwell was given over to use as navvy lodgings. The sign on the wall reads 'The Navvy Mission Good Samaritan Home. One Night's Free Lodgings - Given Only To Navvies In Tramp'. Despite great improvements in navvy accommodation, some were clearly still enjoying a more nomadic existence.
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This photograph, taken at a foreman's hut near Calvert, illustrates the significant advances that had been made in navvy accommodation during the nineteenth century. Although comparatively primitive by today's standards, this well kept timber cabin would have been superior to many other working class dwellings of the period.

This photograph, taken at a foreman's hut near Calvert, illustrates the significant advances that had been made in navvy accommodation during the nineteenth century. Although comparatively primitive by today's standards, this well kept timber cabin would have been superior to many other working class dwellings of the period.
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