This section contains examples of text which we have used to frame comments about the following aspects of planning applications effecting drill halls:
These observations are informed by our research project which aims to record the Drill Halls of the Territorial Army in the period 1908 – 1914 before they are lost to redevelopment.
This building is described in Kelly’s Directory, 18** or 19** [correct date]: [quote entry]. Its construction was a natural development in an era which had seen the presence of Volunteer soldiers in [town or county] for the previous hundred years [or, if not known: since the 19th century.]
In their heyday, drill halls were places of some considerable importance in the community. Apart from the primary occupants’ role as the developers and producers of a part-time army, the social benefits were manifold. The Volunteers (and later Territorials) were predominantly populated by working-class men who saw a better life, a sense of purpose and belonging and a fortnight camping in an unfamiliar location. Given that most people at the turn of the twentieth century would not have the opportunity to travel anywhere distant, this represented a significant benefit for the Volunteer. They also developed skills and discipline, and a sense of camaraderie outside the mill or machine shop where they spent their working days.
The local community would use the drill hall for fetes and functions, exhibitions and lectures, and it would become another village or church hall – a large space for whatever indoor event was at hand, from dog shows to flower arranging, and the use of a drill hall as a venue for a boxing match was popular in the 1950s and 1960s.
In more recent times, they offered a clear space for many different occupants. Places of worship, bus garages, industrial units, latterly dwellings, the drill hall offered a ready-made solution for people seeking a large covered space. One frequently reads of enterprises which regard a drill hall as a found space in which to mount an exhibition, create a gallery or erect a performance area. The letters pages of local newspapers covering towns where a drill hall has been demolished often reflect the community’s retrospective dismay.
The building per se
is irrelevant; it is merely bricks and mortar. The significance of the building is a more contentious issue. It is a building of historical and (generally) architectural importance. It provides a large covered area usually constructed from quality materials, and given sympathetic and timely maintenance will remain standing as a useful space. It will see a number of occupants and roles in its lifetime, but will generally be referred to as the ‘[old] drill hall.’
The inclusion of any features of its past, such as foundation stones or regimental insignia should be fought for as a major part of its heritage, but where remodelling or religious sensitivities are issues, the careful removal of such items for safekeeping elsewhere should be imperative. The indelicate obscuration of such significant detail is vandalism.
If appropriate – in the case of proposed removal of plaque, insignia, date-stone, crest, etc:
There are records of Volunteer soldiers in [town name] since [date]. The drill hall at [town name] dates back to [date] and one of its most interesting features is [the crest above the front door / plaque /datestone, etc]. The [crest / plaque / stone] includes [described as appropriate].
[Town name]’s [plaque / crest / stone] is the genuine work of a long-gone craftsman who, long before the era of mass-production, invested time and talent in creating a piece which remains proudly on display to this day. It appears to be in good condition and is a feature which adds considerably to the interest of the building. It speaks eloquently of the origins of the building and was meaningful to the social community which used the drill hall in so many ways.
We would wish to make the strongest case for its preservation in situ. There is no architectural or aesthetic reason for its removal or obscuration. It does not interfere with the practical needs of the proposed re-use of the former drill hall. Any attempts to hide, remove, or erase it would detract from the authenticity and authority of the building; the [crests / plaques / stone] is architectural and archaeological proof of its origins both for us and for generations who come afterwards.
Removal of [crests / plaques / stones] for sale as architectural salvage encourages the destruction of old or historical buildings and cannot be condoned. It is, unfortunately, fairly common. The potential for the resale of this [crest / plaque / stone] must realistically be borne in mind and we would suggest that a restriction is placed to safeguard it for the future.
The Drill Hall project would include a list (and often photographs) of examples, such as:
- Examples of sensitive or appropriate preservation of crests, insignia and plaques where the drill hall has been demolished
- Examples of sensitive or appropriate preservation of crests, insignia and plaques where the drill hall has been re-used
- Examples of drill halls reused with no features retained to indicate their past
On the latter, we might make this sample comment:
It is always disappointing to track down a former drill hall and discover that nothing remains authoritatively to indicate its heritage and significance. Indeed, deciphering its former use may at best be inconclusive. This is significant to those tracing family history as well as people interested in military, architectural or social tradition. Often the result is not aesthetically appealing.
- Examples of drill halls re-used as places of worship
- Examples of places of worship re-used as drill halls
- Examples of Listed drill halls
- Examples of drill halls at risk
There is a pattern of disused chapels being re-used as Volunteer drill halls, particularly towards the end of the nineteenth century. This reflects the development of the Volunteer movement and the need for premises. Where a company lacked funding, a chapel which was superfluous to the community’s requirements offered a substantial building which could be relatively easily transformed into a drill hall.
We see the process of recycling taking another turn as drill halls come on to the market, sometimes being bought by faith groups and altered for their own needs. This means that an historic building with strong community associations is retained and reused; we strongly support this, though would argue for the protection of the essential features of historic buildings, particularly where they offer insights into the military past.
We offer some examples:
[list from the Project’s database]
We understand and are pleased that the proposals for the former [town name] Drill Hall do not entail the demolition of the building. [Amend as appropriate] Nevertheless, we offer some reflections.
Any number of drill halls were demolished without any trace remaining. For the historian or researcher, the incorporation of part of the former drill hall into the replacement building is especially valid. To find that the characterful drill hall was demolished and replaced by a visually characterless facility such as a bowling alley, a charmless supermarket or an uninspiring estate of standardised housing is depressing. In many cases, lack of adequate records means that we can only speculate about the interest and appearance of what has been lost. The fact that these buildings were, or became, Government property meant that the 1960s saw redevelopment on a grand scale, with bland concrete telephone exchanges and mail sorting offices rising from the ashes of formerly magnificent drill halls. Ironically, many drill halls were used as sorting offices during the Christmas period before their subsequent demolition.
The existence of the drill hall may now be marked only by a road name, such as Yeomanry Court in Market Harborough and Drill Field Road in Northwich, or possibly the name of a public house or a civic office.
Yet these buildings were part of the infrastructure of the community. Every neighbourhood is anchored in its buildings, which include its churches, civic buildings, premises connected with utilities, schools, shops and hospitals, which have had to be deliberately planned for and provided. In the era prior to and including the Great War, the list of cornerstone buildings included the drill halls and this is part of their significance and importance.
Contemporary archive material includes articles which convey the considerable pride with which towns regarded their drill halls and the immense public support which they attracted. For example, they may have been built with generous gifts of money from the public and land from benefactors.
Once the buildings were complete, local newspapers carried spirited reports with profuse enthusiasm: typical plaudits included ‘fine building’, ‘admirable’, ‘greatly increased facilities’, ‘cannot fail to ...benefit’ the town, ‘Altogether we think that not only the Volunteers but the town in general are to be congratulated’, ‘very striking and effective appearance’, ‘skilfully carved [stonework]’, ‘magnificent proportions’, ‘acoustic properties…simply perfect’, ‘very special feature’, ‘comfortably and completely furnished’, ‘everything has been provided for and nothing has been overlooked’.
And this is before one reads the descriptions of typically high quality fitments and décor, often including extensive use of mahogany, oak, carefully glazed brickwork, ornamental cast-ironwork, revolving shutters, beautiful chairs and even perhaps a library and gymnasium. It is clear that the improvement of the men’s lives by exercise and education was considered a valuable part of their military training.
There is also evidence of planning for community use as well as their primary military functions. For example, a typical drill hall could be used for entertainments, shows and bazaars, while Lincoln drill hall was even fitted with a soup kitchen so that ‘in times of great distress in the city, when it becomes unfortunately necessary to feed many poor people and children… the hall shall be used for the purpose, without any fee whatsoever…’.
Drill halls were buildings which mattered to every community in a way we cannot imagine now. Reports exist of a very well attended three-day bazaar to fund one town’s drill hall, with the drill hall decked out as an army camp; it is difficult to imagine a local fund-raising event today lasting three hours, let alone three busy and packed days.
It is hard to tell how many of the population gave much thought to the truth that their proud buildings were part of a scheme which could ultimately mobilise on a national scale every man in every community to fight in a war, if required. The drill halls were a vital part of local young men’s journey to the battlefields of the Great War and for many of the men on local war memorials, the drill hall would have been their last point of contact with their home. Whether the drill hall was a simple covered space or a crenellated toy fort, they are a poignant and profound link with the past.
The [organisation / community / owners] are now the current guardians of [town name]’s historic drill hall within the traditional process of recycling and preserving buildings. We sincerely wish them well with the development of the Drill Hall. We trust that the planning decisions eventually taken will safeguard the character of the building and preserve its [crest / plaque / stone / notable feature] in its current prominent position so that it remains visible to passers-by as it was yesterday, for today and for tomorrow.