Book IntroductionMay 23, 2019
DRILL HALL IDENTITY – INTRODUCTION
Drill Halls [originally Drill Sheds] started in 1859 as bases for the Rifle Volunteer Corps, forerunner of the Territorial Army. From the Victorian times onwards they were a common sight in most British towns, thus very well known to most of the population. Although often run by volunteers, their primary function was as a recruitment centre, where people were enlisted during wartime and where the Home Guard or its earlier manifestations were based for training. Soldiers were enrolled, equipped, trained and paraded while many townsfolk watched. Weapons, from small arms to artillery, were stored and thus often a caretaker lived onsite to take care of the premises and what was contained therein.
However, in time the Halls came to have a social function too. At first, entertainment for soldiers’ families took place, parties were held to celebrate the end of wars and fund-raising events such as jumble sales were common. In other words, Drill Halls became part of the community, just like pubs, churches, schools etc. They were spaces used for all sorts of occasions.
After World War Two most Drill Halls closed as the TA was reduced in size and the military need for such buildings was much less. Many were demolished and fewer than 1500 of the buildings still survive today, mostly with completely new functions.
One interesting example is in Lincoln, where the large Victorian Drill Hall was used during the first half of the 20th Century by both the military and for entertainment, the latter increasingly after WW2. Rock concerts were held there from the 1960s to the 1980s but then it fell into disrepair. It was deemed unsafe and closed in 1999 and was almost demolished but demand from the community and a £2.6m grant saw it turned into what is now a major arts centre with a theatre and café/bar, but still called Lincoln Drill Hall, a superb example of enterprise and investment.
A few new halls did continue to be built into the 21st century, though often more like bland warehouses. In Southall, London, this design was used:
Whereas, in Liverpool, one more functional Drill Hall, built in 1990, still has a military use as a Field Hospital although leisure activities are held there too.
Here in Dalton, we were rather slow in starting. Whereas many Victorian Drill Halls had been used for recruitment for World War One, it was ten years after the end of the “Great War” before ours was built. Before this it appears that Dalton Castle had been used by the Dalton Battalion of Rifle Volunteers who had their armoury there. But a need was felt for a more suitable building and plans were drawn up for a purpose-built construction which was eventually opened on Nelson Street in 1928.
This book aims to trace the history of the building from that date until its present form as the Dalton Community Centre. There will be sections on the T.A., the King’s Own Regiment, the Home Guard and the Army Cadet Force; we will also cover its use by Nelson Street School and later Dowdales School, plus the youth clubs and its period of decline before Dalton Community Association took it over, raised funds and created the wonderful facility we have now.
I hope you enjoy reading about our Drill Hall, as Dalton Community Centre will be called by locals for some years yet.
Ron Creer, May 2019