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First World War: Drill Halls

From the middle of the 19th century, Drill Halls were a common sight in every town and city. They were usually purpose-built meeting places where Britain's volunteer forces met to practice military drill. They also served as administrative centres and armouries for the units, and also acted as important social centres for their members. The architectural finish of many Drill Halls reflects the local pride in these forces.

At the outbreak of war in 1914, there are thought to have been around 500-600 drills halls in England, of these around 300 are thought to survive. Some volunteers served on home defence duties in England, but large numbers volunteered for overseas service.

Many drill halls have been lost while others have found new uses as community centres or business premises; their large open halls and smaller ancillary rooms well-suited to a variety of functions. Some today have retained a military function as Reserve Forces Centres. Many of the surviving halls are important, not only architecturally but also for their commemorative associations.

Headquarters,  St George's Rifles  56 Davies Street, London
The St George's Rifles were formed in 1859 and moved into their Headquarters at 56 Davies Street, London in 1890 - a fine building designed by the architect Stanley Peach and almost entirely destroyed by enemy action in November 1940. (BL10956)
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Drill Halls

Please click on the gallery images to enlarge.

  • Room within the drill hall headquarters, St George’s Rifles, 56 Davies Street, London Many drill halls, especially urban examples, had a comfortably furnished Officers' s Mess and some had billiard rooms or other spaces for relaxation. The domesticity of the room seen here at Davies Street is, however, still striking. (BL3473)
  • North Gloucestershire Militia Armoury, Cirencester, Gloucestershire The North Gloucestershire Militia Armoury was built in 1857. The Militia, created in 1757, was a part-time volunteer force which existed along side, but independent of, the Territorials until 1908 when it was absorbed to become the Special Reserve. Buildings created for the Militia display many of the same stylistic developments as early drill halls, the castellated style seen here being a particularly popular motif. (BB98/13827)
  • London Scottish drill hall, Buckingham Gate, London The London Scottish drill hall was built in 1886 by the architect J. Macvicar Anderson and was famously the location for the inquiry into the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912. 59 Buckingham Gate was demolished in the 1980s but part of the hall was rebuilt in the new drill hall on nearby Horseferry Road. (BL08589)