Bridge Street

Bridge street,, Wednesbury was the location of H Company's fine martial drill hall; it also provided premises for the ammunition column of the South Midland Brigade, Warwickshire RGA, based at Saltley in Birmingham.

As is often the case, this drill hall was sensibly located within easy walking distance of the town's two railway stations.

The Drill Hall's original occupants were 2nd Volunteer Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment. An interior plaque (see photograph) unveiled in the opening ceremony records that it was opened on 6th November, 1893, by the Earl of Dartmouth, assisted by the Mayor of Wednesbury, William Henry Lloyd JP. The military personnel present included Lieut Col C E Smith and the officers of 2 VB.

The frontage of the drill hall has been demolished, but a picture published in the Express and Star shows what a fine imposing building it was. It was built in 1893 at a cost of 3,000, and was described in the Blackcountryman as being '87' x 44', with a gallery at one end, an armoury plus Officers' and men's quarters, beside the Sergeant Instructor's house.' (Kelly 1912)

The architects were Wood and Kendrick and the builder was R Merton Hughes.

Though the caption to the Express and Star's photograph says that the drill hall has been demolished, it has been suggested that this mistake can be explained by the fact that the original Drill Hall frontage used to come right up to the street. From the outside, passers-by could not see the back - the hall - at all. All people could remember was the two-storey frontage. When this was demolished and replaced by a new showroom, what people saw was a whole building, no part of which they had seen before.

They saw a new building, with a modern frontage, a modern roof, car-parking space, suspended ceiling, flush-fitted fluorescent lighting and so on. People simply did not know that the main "hall" part of the building was retained. But there are clues, such as the old bricks, the cars parked inside on a very expensive parquet floor, and the plaque.

A local man recalls that when it was first converted and used as a motorcycle showroom, the internal walls were still cream-painted brick and one of the internal doors had a "Sergeants" sign written above it.

Many thanks to Tom Morgan, who runs the Hellfire Corner website and Tom Morgan Military Books, for the photographs, for illuminating the confusion and for expanding on the current use of the remaining part of the drill hall structure.
Photograph: Tom Morgan

Photograph: Tom Morgan

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The Drill Hall Project - Charting a neglected legacy