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31/07/2021

WATCH: The Extraordinary Story of Springtown Camp

#SpotlightSunday features a short documentary about the poverty and deprivation faced in Derry during the 1960s

The Extraordinary Story of Springtown Camp is a short documentary about the poverty and deprivation that forced people to move into vacated American Navy camps after World War Two. 

Springtown Camp was a United States military camp in Derry city, which was in use during World War II.

It was sited outside the western part of the city, off the Buncrana Road in an area now covered by an industrial estate.

After the United States Navy had evacuated the camp at the end of the war, local people living in over-crowded terraced homes, sometimes three families living in one small house, broke into the camp and squatted in to the huts in August 1946.

The huts although without running water, electricity or any means of heating, they still provided the families with space, which was lacking in their previous homes.

After a public outcry the Londonderry Corporation who were Unionist/Protestant in the majority and who only obtained power by vote gerrymandering, granted "temporary" rentals to the new occupants and charged rent.

This agreement was supposed to last 6 months after which the families were to be housed in proper house in Derry City.

But this never happened due to discrimination, as the residents of Springtown Camp were over 90% Catholic/Nationalist.

The quality of the accommodation was poor, however, and over time, children grew up, married and were obliged to live with parents, resulting in over-crowding.

The conditions, in the tin huts deteriorated due to lack of repairs and became very unsafe, led to a sustained campaign for rehousing.

The Corporation resisted this campaign for years but after a "silent" protest march by the residents from the camp to Derry's Guildhall, pressure was mounted on the Londonderry Corporation to act.

They again refused to re house the people of the camp, fearing the movement of so many Catholic/Nationalist to different areas of Derry could jeopardise their grip on power.

However the residents protest gained so much support the Londonderry Corporation was forced to move on the rehousing of the people.

Eventually all the residents were rehoused when on 11 October 1967 the two last families were finally housed to make way for the Springtown Industrial estate.

Springtown Camp which was to provide temporary housing for the people for a maximum of six months was in existence for period of over twenty one years.

Filmed and edited by Gavin Patton.

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