The History of Glen Parva Barracks
Many of us had family members who fought in both World Wars and a great number of those relatives would have passed through the gates of their local barracks, many with a one-way ticket. In the case of the Leicestershire Regiment (the Tigers) this would have been Glen Parva Barracks.
With the current interest in the First World War I thought readers who don’t live locally may be interested in a little information of the Barracks at Glen Parva and some pictures of what remains of the barracks today.
The barracks were built four miles south of Leicester, to accommodate around 500 soldiers and were completed in 1880 on a 20 acre site formally owned by Glen Parva Grange. They were bordered by Glen Parva Grange to the north, Saffron Road to the east, the old Midland Counties Railway line to Burton on Trent to the south and fields to the west.
The buildings were built in red brick and surrounded by a high red brick wall. As you entered the gates the Guardroom was on the left and the Orderly Room/administration block on the right, this adjoined the Quartermaster’s house, making it quite a large building, the next building was the huge Keep, where all the weapons and ammunition were kept along with the Quartermaster’s Store. Beyond the Keep were the Officer’s Mess and their accommodation. The last building on that side of the barracks was the Hospital, this had two wards, one upstairs and one downstairs, and much later an isolation ward was added at the rear.
Returning to the gates, just behind the Guardroom was a small ‘Fire Station’ where a mobile water pump and hoses were kept, immediately after the Guardroom was the Parade Ground and a number of large accommodation blocks that reached down to the southern wall. Also in this area were the Gymnasium, Cookhouse, Post Office and Barber’s Shop. The large sports field was next and behind this was the 30yard firing range, pigsties and vegetable gardens.
The large red brick church of St Thomas the Apostle, just down the road in South Wigston, became the Garrison Church but later the Padre also had a small chapel erected in the barracks, next to the hospital building.
During the First World War Glen Parva Barracks were so busy many new recruits were billeted out to live with local families, this helped the local economy very much as the families were paid quite well for this, especially if they had more than one soldier billeted with them. Between 1914 – 1918 it became a regular sight to see troops marching to the railway station on their way to the Western Front and often crowds would gather to watch and cheer them on their way. There were also many wounded soldiers returning to the barracks for treatment and recovery.
After 1918, life at the barracks returned to some normality, until the build up of troops in preparation to World War Two. At this time a large hutted camp was built onto the west side of the barracks, this was accessed through the main barracks. This extension doubled the size of the barracks and even crossed the railway, via a steel footbridge, reaching right down to Little Glen Road. The road entrance to this section being what is today the driveway to the left of the telephone exchange building (opposite Richmond Drive). The footbridge is still in use today as a public right of way.
After 1945 some normality once again returned to the barracks and due to the merging of regiments and closure of some of the barracks Montgomery’s WWII Grant Tank arrived at Glen Parva in 1960 and was mounted on a concrete plinth close to the main gates. At about this time Glen Parva Grange was acquired and demolished to make way for the Sergeant’s Mess and Married Quarters, only the two gate lodges of the Grange were spared. The roads in this complex were named after the Leicestershire Regiment’s well-known battle campaigns.
Due to further Government defence changes and cutbacks Glen Parva Barracks closed in the late 1960s. Sadly, the name of the Leicestershire Regiment also disappeared through the merging together of several other regiments.
Today the area looks very different, the original gates into the barracks have been bricked across and many of the buildings have disappeared. Some new buildings were erected and a new access road named Tigers Road was put through to the newly built Young Offenders Institution which was built on the site of the WWII hut encampment. Some of the old buildings on the barrack’s site were taken over by the Army Pay Corps and the TA occupied the old Officer’s Mess. A number of other Government Departments moved onto the site, but many of these have now changed or moved and the buildings sold to private businesses. In just the last five years even the regimental sports field has also been built on.
The houses in the married quarters were all sold and the old Sergeant’s Mess is now occupied by the Salvation Army and has been modernised as a church and conference centre.
Brian Johnson Vice Chairman, Leicestershire and Rutland Family History Society.
The Leicestershire and Rutland Family History Society often have open days and WW1 themed open days at their Research Centre at Pilot House in King Street Leicester to assist you in finding your WW1 Heroes or general family history enquiries. These open days are usually publicised in the local press, on BBC Radio Leicester and the society’s website. www.lrfhs.org.uk