Building specs

We have a great deal of information about the materials used in the building of the Drill Hall and also about the colour scheme. Newspaper reports are obviously referring to things which were common knowledge at the time but needed some work for me to make sense of.

On this page I hope to provide information which will allow you to make complete sense of the details given in the papers. The newspaper reports themselves can be found here.

The Drill Hall wasn’t designed to be the plain building we see today. We are lucky to have photographic evidence of the evolution of the exterior from how it appeared sometime between 1903 and 1905  into the 1970s when it looked much as it does now. We also have newspaper articles describing it from its planning stage through to its opening.

The Sidmouth Observer gave details not mentioned in the Gazette but taking the two sources together gives an almost full picture even though I have not managed to track down the original building plans.

From a report of the laying of the Foundation Stone in the Sidmouth Observer, April 1895

‘In the basement will be large stores, which are intended to be used for storing boats and as dressing-rooms. A reading-room and a store room will with the drill-hall, be on the ground floor. The main hall will measure 60ft by 32ft in the clear, and will be 21ft high. Opening on to a balcony will be four French windows, and all necessary exits to ensure the safety of the public are provided. Over the reading-room, store-rooms and entrance will be a Club-room, 22ft by 17ft’
‘The drill-hall is to have an open timber roof, with hammer beams and tie rods, and a match boarded ceiling’

From the Devon and Exeter Daily Gazette reporting the opening of the hall, Wed Oct 16th 1895

The Drill Hall also has an ‘armoury, Committee-room, a spacious reading-room, and such-like’
‘The front of the new Hall is in the Italian Rennaissance (sic) style. It is made of the best pressed bricks.’
‘It has box ground Bath stone dressings, and has curved oriel and bay windows, glazed with plate glass. In a pedimented gable is placed a large clock’.
‘The inside woodwork is painted white, with a pale pink relief and the exterior has been done in two shades of Quaker green, the window sashes being white.’
‘The rubber brick carving and the lettering (on the inscription plaques) was done under the superintendence of Mr Rogers of Exeter.’

From The Sidmouth Observer of the same date we are told of the Drill Hall

‘We doubt if any other rifle corps in England can boast a better, or a hall nearly so handsome or commodious as the one just erected for our local company. Scarcely another such will be found in any town of the dimensions of Sidmouth’
‘ The main hall is entered by two massive doors, the upper portions of which contain Cathedral glass: next come the screen-doors with panels of Glasgow muranase glass, and we may here say, that all the fan-lights are of the same kind of glass, which, give a very effective appearance, especially when the hall is lighted. On each side are rooms, with oriel windows’ …….. ‘they are coloured green, and over them is a Club-room, which should be a very warm apartment. It is entirely match-boarded. The main-hall, is also coloured green’ ……. ‘ it is efficiently lighted by eight incandescent (gas) lights.’
The front facade is of the Italian rennaissance style, with Bracknell brick (bricks from the famed Bracknell brick works ) arches and Bath stone dressing, which give it a smart appearance. In a pedimented gable a handsome clock, supplied by Mr Passmore, has been placed.’
‘The structure is altogether handsomely and substantially built, and reflects great credit upon the workmanship of Messrs R. Tucker and Sons.’

From these reports it can be seen that no expense was spared. This building used high quality materials drawn from all over the country and was in the latest architectural style.

The use of oriel and bay windows was only newly permissible; before the 1894 London Building Act fire safety requirements specified that windows should be recessed. Although the Act was titled London Building such Acts seem to have applied to the whole country.

Plate glass was more expensive than the more common cylinder glass, it was also stronger and heavier to allow greater pane size. This heaviness meant that until the weight levy tax on glass was removed in 1845 that plate glass was prohibitively expensive. Once the levy was removed then glass became an important element of design; the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851 stimulated production techniques in clear glass. The structural properties of glass were probably more widely understood in the second part of the 19th C than they are now. The fact that there are no newspaper reports of the curved plate glass windows in the Drill Hall being broken during extreme storms suggests that Jerman’s design was nicely judged.

It isn’t just the use of plate glass which is of interest but the use of Cathedral and Muranese glass. In 1847 James Hartley introduced a rolled ribbed glass but patterned glass was not produced until 1888 by the Chase brothers.
Cathedral glass is rolled glass with an obscure, irregular finish and an unpolished surface, this would also be resistant to showing any storm damage or abrasion from sand.
Muranese glass was even more expensive and fashionable. It was not produced abroad but in a Glasgow factory sited on Murano Street in the Maryhill area. It was a daisy patterned glass made by rolling between two rollers, both of which bore the pattern to be imprinted on the glass. The extensive use of this within the building would have greatly increased the overall cost.

Bracknell was a famous brick works owned by Thomas Lawrence . They produced a range of bricks for different situations but their red pressed brick were one of the best bricks available in the country. Pressed bricks were subjected to reforming by mechanical means once they were partly dried, this gave a less open internal structure and increased their hard wearing properties. It also produced a very smooth surface. Red Bracknell bricks were used in many important buildings. They were used to build Westminster Cathedral, the Albert Hall and 10 Downing Street, amongst other prestigious buildings; they were also used in restoration work at Hampton Court and Windsor Castle. They also produced a high quality deep red rubber brick (suitable for carving) which I presume were the rubber bricks used. Certainly the rubber bricks on the Masonic Hall are deep red.

Box ground Bath stone was very fashionable and very durable, it should have stood up well to its exposed position,

As far as the decoration of the hall is concerned it seems quite confusing to me. It is clear that all the internal matchboarding in all rooms was painted green, but what then to make of the report of the internal woodwork being white with pale pink detailing? I can only assume it refers to the inside of the French windows, the other windows and the doors. Quaker green is not a colour name used now, it seems to have been what we would call olive green or perhaps khaki green.

The materials used in the building were sourced from all over the kingdom, this was not a low cost local construct but a ‘statement’ building showcasing the patriotism, modernity and wealth to be found in Sidmouth.