History of the Drill Hall

1905 postmark detail 1913 postmark, detail

We are always on the look out for any information about the history of the Drill Hall from anyone that used the building or knows someone that may have done so. We are especially always on the look out for photographs. If you have any stories or photographs then do please get in touch

Please also visit the brilliant and fascinating new Drill Hall research website created by local historian Mary Walden-Till that is looking at the history of the building. Mary is working with a local architect on designs for the building and immediate area. These plans will be published here and on Mary’s website soon.

‘The Territorial Drill Hall, at the Salcombe end of the Esplanade, erected in 1895 on a site given by the late J. George G. Radford, is a neat edifice of red brick, and has on the ground floor a drill hall, 60 by 32 feet, with a clock over the entrance; the building also includes an ante-room, and an armoury.’ (Kelly, 1914)

PR1905-WW2det

There were two inscription tablets, one each side of the entrance.

The left inscription read:

‘The site of the hall was presented to the Volunteers of Sidmouth by J. Radford Esq of this town. The foundation stone was laid by Miss Constance Radford, on April 14th 1895. The opening ceremony was performed by Mrs Kennet-Ware on 15th October 1895’.

The right inscription read:

‘Volunteer Drill Hall for ‘B’ Company 3rd V.B.D.R. Sir John H Kenaway Colonel; J. Albert Orchard, Captain ‘B’ Company; George H Vallance. Fred J Potbury. Lieutenants ‘B’ Company. James Jerman (Exeter) F.R.I.A’.

Honorary Architect R. Tucker & Sons (Sidmouth) Contractors. Cost £1,300.

During the First World War the Drill Hall was the headquarters of the Sidmouth and District Volunteers. Those that did not enlist and go to war armed themselves to the guard the coast. In the 1940’s it was the HQ for the Sea Cadet Corps, the Air Training Cadet Corps and in 1952 The Army Cadet Corps. Surviving soldiers returning from the battle at Dunkirk towards the end of the Second World War were given refuge in the Drill Hall.

Sidmouth Drill Hall has since its construction also been used as a cinema, sports hall, roller skating rink, dance hall and from 1964 as accommodation, site office, and a music venue by Sidmouth Folk Festival.

Ernie Barry croppedDrill Hall Folk Week 1983Drill Hall Folk Week 1974

The building was closed and boarded up in 1994 and has remained that way ever since.

The significance of a drill hall within a community – courtesy www.drillhalls.org

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.

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