Hidden in Plain Sight: Belfast Trusses and Huts
Sometimes the remains of the First World War are closer than you might think. This case study will highlight two of the most distinctive buildings from this period which may remain in your local area.
Documentary research is key to identifying buildings used during the First World War. However, there are a some common buildings and features to look out for when out and about.
Disclaimer- Always gain landowner/occupier consent before accessing any sites or structures on private property. Do not enter any structures in a dilapidated or derelict state. For more information on basic health and safety while on site take a look at our ‘Site Safety’ section. The Council for British Archaeology and project partners are not responsible for any issues that may arise during your field work. The sites featured in this case study are private property and are not to be accessed without prior consent.
The Belfast Truss-
One of the most distinctive architectural features in use during the First World War was the Belfast Truss. This clever roof truss design had many advantages which helped speed up production of buildings. The Belfast Truss could be manufactured from short lengths of low quality timber, at a time when quality wood was in short supply. The Belfast Truss could also be constructed by unskilled labour relatively quickly, which made it perfect for building construction in wartime.
Belfast Trusses are frequently associated with Royal Flying Corp/Royal Air Force airfields as they were used in the construction of General Service Sheds; an early form of hangar. The truss also saw widespread use elsewhere; within factories requiring additional space for war work and storage, Temporary War Buildings, through to Convalescent Hospitals; such as the Recreation Hall at Woodcote Park Convalescent Hospital.
A lattice work of timber strips that creates a shallow, curved roof (See images above & below)
Constitution Hill Belfast Truss building-
Although the origins of this building are not clear, it does incorporate a Belfast Truss roof. It is a possibility that this truss was sourced from a nearby factory or airfield in the Post-War period. Basic regressive mapping shows the structure was built some time between 1929 and 1969.
The Hut has to be by far the most common type of military building constructed during the First World War. They were quick, easy and cheap to build and could be used for a number of different functions. They were most commonly used as accommodation huts for soldiers within training camps. However, they could also serve as mess halls, housing for munitions factory workers, hospitals, Temporary War Buildings for the government and YMCA, and a plethora of other uses!
Following the war many huts were sold by the Government and military. These huts were often re-used as village halls, libraries, reading rooms and even sports huts. This is where many still survive today, and many remain to be re-discovered. If you do spot what you think might be a First World War hut you will still have to confirm it’s origins. Making contact with the occupier/landowner is the will help in confirming the structure’s origins. Archive research is also key to confirming a huts’ origin.
As many of these huts were built by local contractors, methods of construction and dimensions may differ, but a number of distinctive features can help you identify First World War huts.
The huts could be constructed from wood, corrugated metal (known as ‘Wriggly Tin’) or asbestos sheets, with an internal frame made of wood.
The original windows were very distinctive and referred to as ‘Hopper Type’ windows, as the top portion opened inwards, like a hopper. Six windows were present on each side of the hut. Note that these windows may have been replaced and the number of windows increased. (See image of Clipstone Camp huts below)
The huts were frequently supported by a series of brick, stone or concrete pillars or pads.
These huts often measure approximately 5-6m in width and 18m in length.
Bingham Women’s Institute hut-
The Bingham Women’s Institute hut is constructed from two First World War Accommodation huts, most likely sourced from the nearby Clipstone Camp after the war.
At least one accommodation hut survives close to the location of the Sheffield Pals’ Lodge Moor training camp.
The interior structure of the Redmires accommodation hut highlights the typical roof bracing used in such huts.
What do you do if you do find a First World War Belfast Truss building or Hut? Simply register to access our on-line recording app and start recording! You can also find out more about archaeological field recording and how to use our recording app in our Site Recording Guide.
The Great War Huts project is currently restoring surviving First World War huts. Be sure to check them out.
You can find out more about Belfast Trusses and Huts in the ‘The Home Front in Britain 1914-1918’ handbook that accompanies this project. Copies are available through Oxbow Books