Sir John Jackson Limited – Engineering Contractor to the War Department – Salisbury

A gang of workmen employed by Sir John Jacksons Ltd.’s pictured with the Queen Mary saddle tank engine on the Larkhill Military Railway during the construction of army training camps on Salisbury Plain, c.1915.

Contractor Type & Function:

War Department Contractor – A national civil engineering and construction company engaged in the building of Great War army training camps north-west of Salisbury in 1914 and 1915.

Brief History:

Sir John Jackson was a leading British engineering contractor born in York, England in 1851.

His initial education was undertaken at Holgate Seminary in York and thereafter, in 1866, he became apprenticed to William Boyd of Spring Gardens Engineering Works in Newcastle upon Tyne. In 1869 he left his employment to take up studies in engineering at Edinburgh University. Following his graduation, he returned to Newcastle and worked for his brother, William Edwin Jackson, who was 22 years old and already a well-established contractor.

By 1875 John had established his own engineering and construction company and at the age of only 25, he landed his first major industrial contract for the construction of Stobcross Docks in Glasgow. From here on his company went from strength to strength. John further diversified his industrial interests by becoming the owner of his own shipping company, the Westminster Shipping Company Limited.

Sir John Jackson

John received a knighthood in 1895 after his company had successfully completed the last 8 miles of the contract for the Manchester Ship Canal in only two-thirds of the allocated contract time.  In 1898 his construction company became incorporated, thereafter trading under the title Sir John Jackson Limited (Sir J. J. Ltd.).

Later in life John also went into politics, becoming the MP for Devonport in 1910. He continued to serve as an MP until a year before his death in 1919.

In early October 1914 Sir J. J. Ltd. was awarded a contract by the War Department for the construction of 15 hutted army camps in and around Codford and possibly a further 6 camps at nearby Hettesbury, north-west of Salisbury in Wiltshire. Other similar army training camps were constructed by the War Department in and around the Salisbury Plain area.

A map of the Codford area showing the location of Sir John Jackson Limited’s Army Camps, c.1920.

Sir J.J. Ltd.’s contract required the company to take on a sizeable workforce (numbering into the thousands) most of whom travelled to and from the work sites daily on special workmen’s trains which ran from Salisbury to Codford, leaving the former at 6:00 am and 6:10 am daily. Travel passes were issued to the company’s workers to allow them free or subsidized travel on these crowded trains.

Some of Sir J.J. Ltd.’s construction worker’s pictured at Codford Camp in 1915.

Initial progress on the camps was delayed due to the shortage of skilled craftsmen, many of whom had joined the army at the outbreak of war. Further delays resulted in February 1915 due to a strike of Sir J.J. Ltd.’s workforce. The weather at the time was very poor and the workers wanted full pay on those days when they were prevented from working effectively due to the cold, wet and muddy conditions on-site.

By November 1914 approximately 33,000 British soldiers, who were already camped out in the area north of Salisbury, started a phased movement into their new camps as they were released for use. Others were to follow once the camps had been completed prior to their dispatch to France. The 10th Essex Regiment were one of the first groups of troops to pass through the camps and referred to the barrack blocks scathingly as “Sir John Jackson’s Mansions”.

A picture-postcard view of Army Camp No.1, Codford, c.1915 to 1918.

From 1916 the camps were also used in the training of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs).

A picture-postcard view of Army Camp No.4, Codford, c.1915 to 1918.

During 1919 the camps acted as a staging post for ANZAC troops returning from service in France prior to being shipped home.

A group of ANZAC troops pictured at Army No.3 Camp, Codford on 3rd February 1917.

Today remains of the rows of temporary wooden huts can still be found at Codford to the north of St. Mary’s church stretching along the eastern side of the Chitterne Road. Also clearly visible are the earthworks associated with the Codford Camp Railway that linked the civilian station with the campsites. The track running from the Chitterne Road into the Punch Bowl further served the New Zealand Military Hospital that was established there in 1916.

A landscape momento, in the form of the ANZAC’s “Rising Sun” cap badge, cut into the chalk banks of “Misery Hill” on Lamp Down, Codford by the 3rd Training Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force in 1917. Now maintained as a permanent memorial to the ANZAC’s who passed through the area during the Great War.

It is likely that Sir. J.J. Ltd. were also responsible for the construction of a further 6 camps to the north-west of Codford at Heytesbury in 1914. One of these, Knook Camp,  was built for the Royal Artillery. Nearby Heytesbury House (later the residence of the Great War poet Siegfried Sassoon) was taken over by the War Office at the same time for use as officers’ quarters.

A group of Australian troops pictured at Heytesbury Camp in 1918.

As at Codbford, many battalions passed through these camps on their way to France including ANZACs

Location Details:

Salisbury, Codford & Heytesbury in Wiltshire, England

Associated Token, Check & Pass Issues:

Type  I

Function: Worker’s Railway Travel Pass (Note 1)

Material: Brass

Design: Bi-facial with plain edge and pierced for suspension

Shape & Size: Circular,  51.3 mm

Obverse: A raised legend in three lines across centre field reads SIR J.J. LTD../ WAR DEPT / WORKERS TRAIN plus the incuse identification number 183 stamped into the lower field all within an outer circular border.

Reverse: A raised legend in four lines across centre field reads SALISBURY / TO / CODFORD OR / HETTESBURY  (sic),  all within an outer circular border.

Date:  1914 to 1915

Maker: Unknown

Published References:  None Known


  1. These railway passes were issued to Sir J.J. Ltd.’s workmen for free (or subsidized) travel on special work trains which took them to and from Salisbury to the military camp construction sites at either Codford or Heytesbury.

Workmen employed by Sir J.J. Ltd. waiting at Codford to catch their works train back to Salisbury at the end of their working day. c.1915


2 thoughts on “Sir John Jackson Limited – Engineering Contractor to the War Department – Salisbury

  1. Compliments on a brilliant site; I just noticed two things: 1) that the caption to the first picture spells Salisbury as Sailsbury.

    2) In the Brief History, “In 1896 he left his employment to take up studies in engineering at Edinburgh University” I assume the year was 1869?


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