The Drill Hall is at the heart of any Volunteer Reserve unit. Since the formation of the Territorial Force it is the facility that has served as both as training establishment, administration centre and social club to generations of Territorial soldiers. The impressive facades and convenient town locations have rivalled churches, railway stations and Town Halls in acting as a key marker to the stranger in the town. The local Drill Hall has also played its part in promoting good relations with the civilian community with its cavernous interior, ideal for meetings, exhibitions, trade fairs and social events.
In 1907, the War Minister Robert Haldane's revolutionary plan for the reserves of the Army depended on the Territorial Force footprint entering every town and reasonably sized village in the Kingdom, thus reaching out to the community that it would recruit from and if called upon to do so, protect.
It was the fledgling Territorial Associations that had the task of providing the necessary accommodation, particularly difficult in both the City and County of London where space was at a premium. The provision of accommodation that afforded space for gun parks, stables and waggon lagers in addition to the standard facilities of Drill Hall and armoury proved a challenge.
The Territorial Force had replaced the Volunteer Force, who themselves had operated from Drill Halls and although the obvious course of action was for the Associations to take over the volunteer estates, this exercise was fraught with problems. Most buildings lacked the required facilities, some were in a state of neglect or disrepair whilst others were tied to complicated leasing contracts or were actually owned by the Volunteer unit.
In some cases the transfer of responsibility ran smoothly. The Enfield Drill Hall in Old Park Ridings was built with the aid of public donations and a grant from the local council and was simply leased to the County of Middlesex Association, whilst the owners of 27 St John's Hill, the Montpellier family, simply transferred the lease to the County of London Association at a peppercorn rent.
In 1937, the estate in London was expanded to accommodate the new Air Defence Units of the Royal Engineers. The design specification of these new 'super' Drill Halls called for more training, garaging and workshop space – therefore, they were built away from the County of London, in the then open spaces of Middlesex and Surrey. Grove Park, Barnet and Edgware are but three of the several artillery Drill Halls still in use, plus Tottenham Drill Hall, once home to 609 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment Royal Artillery until 1962, which is now a sports centre. The original architect's artists drawing published in 1936 give the impression of a 5-star hotel rather than a Military facility.
In 1947, the estates added former POW camps and Anti-Aircraft sites to the list of locations, however the ‘Sandys Axe' of 1958 closed units overnight and left many TA Centres empty. The sites that these buildings had occupied, some for more than 60 years, had become more valuable than the buildings themselves.
The Drill Hall register in the following pages lists all known sites including those still occupied by the Reserve Forces. All have been photographed where buildings still exist including the Drill Hall in Prospect Road Woodford Green that has served as a church for many years, and the magnificent 12th London's Drill Hall in Chenies Street, now occupied by The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
It should be noted that the main aim of the register is to list all the Drill Halls within the Greater London area that are active, decommissioned or demolished. Records of the units that were stationed at each location can be difficult to list with any accuracy and the timeline of units is therefore restricted in most cases to the first and last unit in occupation unless additional units can be listed with certainty.
Drill Halls are now frequently referred to as the ‘lost heritage' and sadly, where Drill Halls have been demolished, there are very few images of the original building. Even more unfortunate is that there is never a ‘blue plaque' style indicator to mark where the building once stood and the important role they played in national defence and indeed service to the community.