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Blackburn Drill Hall

A Grade II Listed Building in Blackburn, Blackburn with Darwen

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Latitude: 53.7437 / 53°44'37"N

Longitude: -2.4851 / 2°29'6"W

OS Eastings: 368105

OS Northings: 427590

OS Grid: SD681275

Mapcode National: GBR CT24.SQ

Mapcode Global: WH971.S5TB

Plus Code: 9C5VPGV7+FX

Entry Name: Blackburn Drill Hall

Listing Date: 14 October 2016

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1436740

Location: Blackburn with Darwen, BB2

County: Blackburn with Darwen

Electoral Ward/Division: Wensley Fold

Built-Up Area: Blackburn

Traditional County: Lancashire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Lancashire

Church of England Parish: Cathedral Church of St Mary the Virgin and St Paul Blackburn

Church of England Diocese: Blackburn

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A drill hall for the Rifle Volunteer Corps, opened in 1870 and designed by Stevens and Robinson of Derby, and with later alterations, comprising an armoury block, domestic accommodation and a drill hall adapted from a skating rink of 1876, with associated boundary walls.


A drill hall of 1869-70, by Stevens and Robinson of Derby.
MATERIALS: buff sandstone with slate roofs.

PLAN: a two-storey armoury building of five bays facing the street (S), with a single-storey drill hall to the E and other buildings around the parade ground to the N. C20 buildings around the parade ground were not inspected.

EXTERIOR: standing on the corner of Canterbury Street and Freckleton Street. The two-and-a-half-storey front elevation faces S and is built of random-coursed, squared, rock-faced buff sandstone with ashlar dressings. Buttresses frame the symmetrical elevation, which has a sloping plinth and a dentil eaves cornice. The central bay projects slightly, with a two-centred arched entrance with drip mould and double timber plank doors, triple-lancet window with transom, and the badge of the 2nd Lancashire Rifle Volunteer Corps in a gable. Triple lancets flank the central bay, lighting the dining suite, with smaller windows below; one to the left, three to the right. The domestic quarters to the left have a single window per floor with a square eaves window; the armoury block at the right has similar triple windows at the eaves and first floor, with three small windows at ground floor matching those to their left. The roof is hipped with ridge stacks. The left return is also symmetrical, with flanking buttresses and two windows per floor. The rear elevation has stair windows to both sides (non-matching), and a projecting crenellated tower of three storeys plus an attic stage, with an entrance arch matching the front. The armoury building arches over the passage between its front and rear arched entrances, with an identical arch in the centre, and identical doorways in each of the four sections of wall thus created. The doorways have stone surrounds with eared lintels, and are chamfered with stops at the base of the jambs. At the left the ground floor is partly obscured by a flat-roofed extension*. The E elevation is obscured by the attached drill hall, but continues the dentilled cornice.

The drill hall’s rear (N) elevation is partly obscured by a later extension*, but visible above the roof of this are the pink sandstone segmental arches of two large openings, matching that which is fully visible to the left, beneath a later canopy*; this arch is quoined in buff sandstone, and now infilled* in similar stone with a timber double door*. A glazed clerestory* runs between the two end bays, above a stone coping. This is punctuated by iron eaves brackets aligned with the internal trusses. Towards the right is a stone corbel with some attached brickwork. The roof is of natural slate, with a raised ridge lantern. At the left the elevation is obscured by a C20 block* to the NE. The E elevation is blind and in random rubble with a gable stack and quoined. The S (front) elevation is in the same stone as the armoury block and has a clerestory* to match the rear, with inserted square windows* at ground floor. In the right-hand end bay is a semi-circular-arched entrance with a dripmould matching that of the armoury’s entrance, now part-glazed* and partly infilled* in stone. To the left are two original windows, with an eaves stack above.

INTERIOR: the accommodation has a cellar in the NW corner with stone flag floors and stone shelving, with the floor of the kitchen and pantry (which also has stone shelving) above exposed and comprising stone flags supported by cast-iron T-beams. Several interesting features survive including (in the guard room to the W of the main entrance) shutters, built-in shelving either side of the chimney breast and an Art Nouveau fireplace in an earlier surround, and (in the first-floor bathroom) a bell-pull and built-in cupboards. Some plaster mouldings, fireplaces and cupboards also survive in the bedrooms.

To the E of the entranceway, a modern kitchen* has been inserted in the SE room, but the open-well staircase with late-C19 lobby survives in the NW room, with ramped banister and newel pendants. This gives onto a landing from which is accessed the principal suite, probably the officers’ mess. A lobby at the first floor of the tower, now accessed through a door* within the infilling* of a large stone archway, has decorative skirting and cornice and is lined with coat-hooks. Via an ornate doorcase with double doors this gives onto the double-height dining room, which has decorative skirtings, mouldings, frieze and a coved ceiling with two Regency-style ceiling roses set within octagonal surrounds, with brass chandeliers. There is a robust black marble fire surround at the W end. At the E end, set within what might have been an original larger opening, are double doors to the adjacent room which is half the length of the dining room. This has the same skirting and dado rail and a matching fire surround and chandelier, but a suspended ceiling* and may retain the high-level plasterwork above this. At the E end is what was probably the sergeants’ mess, which contains a secondary stair that is accessed from the balcony of the drill hall, reached by a central door in the E wall. Above this are further rooms in the attic, which are also reached by the main stair, and retain at least one decorative fire surround. There is a stair to the tower roof but the access is blocked.

The hall retains its parquet floor and a timber-fronted central balcony at the W end supported on ornate brackets and reached via a steep stair with turned balusters and newels. Inserted rooms at the E end retain a timber frontage and windows (one a sliding sash), while the late-C20 rooms* on the S side have no features of interest. The roof structure is exposed and is of the Belgian-truss type with arched ties and ornate corner brackets, and a ridge-purlin with cruciform columns to a lower purlin at tie level. The walls are all plastered except for part of the W wall, which is the exposed E wall of the headquarters block, now painted. Below the balcony is a wide six-panel timber door, with a decorative vermiculated plaque at the base of the wall.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: the boundary wall along Freckleton Street is of the same stone as the principal buildings, with a Tudor-arched yard doorway adjacent to the headquarters, large square gateposts to the left and roll-top copings. A later brick wall* has been raised above the wall for much of its length. The stone wall returns E along the River Blakewater, which is canalised here, and has some missing sections on this northern boundary.

* Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the aforementioned items are not of special architectural or historic interest.


Drill halls originated as a building type following the formation of Rifle Volunteer Corps in 1859. Also known as ‘drill sheds’, and commonly identified on modern Ordnance Survey maps as ‘TA Centres’, they can be defined as dedicated training facilities for the army’s volunteer units. In the mid C19 the Government made a concerted effort to create a reserve of men with military training, arranged along the lines of the regular army. Voluntary service (as opposed to enlisting into a paid semi-professional militia) was opened up to the general population in 1859, and by the end of 1860 more than 120,000 had signed up. This vast new force needed accommodation, and existing local barracks and depots were unable to take the strain. Most units were, at first, private organisations with no access to central funds. Although many of the early volunteer groups adapted existing buildings such as village halls, a purpose-built drill hall was considered the most desirable option.

Drill halls slowly began to emerge as a distinct building type and, although no two are identical, they generally comprise two or more of three basic elements. These combined to form a characteristic layout whereby the offices, armoury and stores were accommodated in an administrative block fronting the street, with a large hall positioned at right-angles behind (often with an indoor target range to one side and viewing balconies at either end). The third element, accommodation for a caretaker or drill instructor, might be included within the administrative block or placed adjacent to the other buildings. Whilst there are countless variations upon the basic layout, the most common is the side-by-side arrangement, with the hall running along the street beside the administrative block. In addition to their standard functions, drill halls acted as focal points for events within the wider community. Many were designed with this in mind and boasted of their suitability to host concerts, dances and meals. The units were a source of local civic pride and the architecture of their drill halls often reflected that.

Drill halls’ architectural treatment can be divided broadly into four periods: 1859-1880, 1880-1914, 1914-1945 and 1945 to the present. The Canterbury Street drill hall belongs to the first period, in which a lack of central regulation tended to result in small buildings which were somewhat eclectic in design and style. Many of these were substantially altered or demolished as they became increasingly unfit for purpose, and relatively few survive. Drill halls of this period are characterised by the use of the mainstream Gothic Revival style. The majority were fairly modest, almost domestic in appearance, but often included decorative touches such as polychromatic brickwork or lancet windows, whilst the builders of larger drill halls were inspired by medieval castles to create structures which dominated their surroundings. The arrangement of the internal space is of particular interest. Billiard rooms and reading rooms are often referred to and viewing galleries would once have been a common sight but many such facilities have been lost.

Blackburn’s 2nd Lancashire Rifle Volunteer Corps (LRVC), whose badge appears in the gable of the front elevation, and the 3rd LRVC, were among the earliest volunteer units in the country to be raised, both officially formed on 4 October 1859. These two corps merged in February 1860. Earlier barracks are mentioned in newspaper reports of the Volunteers’ activities (probably the drill hall on King Street, which as it was reported to be ready for occupancy in June 1860, must have been one of the earliest in the country), but the foundation stone for the Canterbury Street drill hall (known as the armoury or barracks) was laid on 2 October 1869 by Lt Col Le Gendre Starkie, accompanied by the military band, and a company of Freemasons. The architects were Stevens and Robinson of Derby, and the local builder was Richard Hacking. The ceremony was followed by the presentation to Captain Whitlock, of both a silver tea and coffee service from the Volunteers, and the medal awarded to him by the Royal Humane Society, for saving the life of two of his men who got into difficulties in the sea at Cleveleys (Capt Whitlock was later awarded a second medal, for similar actions at Le Havre).

The current hall’s footprint is identical to that of a skating rink marked on the 1893 Town Plan, and it appears that the volunteers later took it over. The rink opened in December 1876, at the height of the first boom after the invention of the guidable, wheeled skate. It abutted the armoury block, and had a separate curtilage projecting rearwards into the parade ground. The demise of skating is implied by newspaper reports that in December 1895, a concert was held with the aim of raising funds to support the newly-formed gymnasium established at the rink, and this seems to have been linked with the Volunteers, who in September 1898 were advised in a local news advertisement to enter for drill sessions by the front door of the gymnasium. By the 1911 1:2,500 OS map, the land all appears to be in single ownership and is all marked ‘drill hall’. The hall’s gallery, stairs and doors into the armoury block, and the ground-floor rooms in the E end, are thought to date from the late-C19 adaptation of the rink for the Volunteers, while the upper E end room and the two storeys of rooms on the S side are later. The 1893 plan also shows the parade ground extending across the River Blakewater at part-width, and this is also shown on the 1911 1:2,500 map, but not the 1931 1:2,500. The 1911 map indicates that much of the parade ground was covered (the SE corner of the roof probably resting on the stone corbel in the NW wall of the hall), but this is no longer shown on the 1931 map. The last unit based at the drill hall was the 93 (East Lancashire) Signal Squadron (Volunteers), disbanded in March 2010.

Reasons for Listing

The drill hall at Canterbury Street, Blackburn, a volunteer reserve headquarters of 1870 by Stevens and Robinson of Derby with later alterations, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Date: built prior to the 1871 Regulation of the Forces Act (which gave volunteer units the right to acquire their own premises for drill halls) the building is a rare surviving early drill hall;
* Planning: although originally lacking several components of the ultimate ‘standard’ design, the alterations to this drill hall illustrate several aspects of the evolution of that standard;
* Design: as an early example of the martial Gothic style which became very popular for drill halls in the late C19, and for the good quality detailing, in particular of the interior;
* Degree of survival: of the relatively unaltered principal structure, key interior features and adaptations to the 1876 skating rink.

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