[Norfolk Record Office Photo Archive]
Drill House 150 is a Heritage Lottery supported project to explore the history of the York Road Drill Hall in its 150th year.
Since the summer of 2017, SeaChange Arts has been unearthing a rich 150 year history of the Drill House. Working with local residents and volunteers we have discovered a wealth of fascinating archive materials, photos and memories of The Drill House and its part in the history and development of Great Yarmouth.
Oral history recordings have been collected, talks posted and tours hosted, models crafted and artwork created, dances danced and a wealth of other heritage learning creative endeavours carried out. A final exhibition of creative interpretations on the resources we have gathered will be presented at the upcoming Festa Fiesta on June 9.
Here is a catalogue of upcoming and key past events celebrating 150 years of The Drill House’s military, social & leisure heritage.
Drop-in Reminiscence Session
In October 2017, we invited the public to drop in and share their memories, photos and stories.
We collected a variety of recorded histories from oral to written learning about the variety of people that had used the Drill Hall in the past.
We learned that Physical Culture was a well-known and popular activity that had taken place in the Drill Hall over several decades. Glenn Johnstone visited us to share his good memories of going to ‘Physie’ in the 1980s: “They had a big gymnastic trampoline. You could really jump high on it, not like the ones on the beach that sagged in the middle. It was like PE at school but better because you did different stuff and they had equipment that the schools didn’t.”
An engraving of the Drill House
Soldiers returning to the Drill Hall from the Boer War [Percy Trett Collection]
In November, Leslie White visited SeaChange Arts to tell us the story of her family that had lived in the rooms upstairs that are now used as the SeaChange offices. Leslie’s family lived in the Drill Hall for three generations.
Leslie gave us a very generous donation to our Drillaz Circus School. For her generosity, we named a child-sized trapeze hoop ‘Beauchamp’ in honour of her grandfather who was resident caretaker of the Drill Hall from 1902 to 1937. Beauchamp can be seen here outside the building with his shirt sleeves rolled up.
[Above] Leslie White standing outside The Drill Hall [Below] Leslie’s Grandfather standing outside The Drill Hall
Heritage Open Day: The Drill House & Ice House
Great Yarmouth Heritage Guides carried out two tours to discover the fascinating histories of the Drill House and the Ice House, currently Seachange Art’s storage facility.
Audiences were guided into learning about the history and architectural features of the Drill House and the Ice House, specifically their utility in the town.
Drill House Talk
Local historian Roger Silver joined us at The Drill House in March to take us on an illustrated journey through the construction and legacy of this Grade II listed building.
Uncovering the history of those that helped fund the building and of the Volunteer Rifle Regiment who were based here, the talk explored the significant role The Drill House played in some of the town’s major moments over the last 150 years.
Drill House Open Day
In October 2017, we also hosted an open day for the Drill House giving the public a chance to discover the exciting events that SeaChange Arts currently offer and develop at the Drill House as well as a special Drill House storytelling with Tilly the Talespinner.
Throughout the day there were a variety of workshops for the community to participate in with the aim of learning about the Drill House and its history in an interactive setting.
Our regular animation workshop produced ‘Ghost of the Drill House’ figures to represent The Drill House’s varied history.
Other workshops include a 3D model creation workshop where the community created 3D model representations of The Drill House and a circus workshop from Hikapee.
The Ragroof Tea Dance
In November 2017, we hosted our very first Tea Dance with The Ragroof Players. Attendees polished off their dancing shoes for an afternoon of vintage delights. Enthusiastic dancers boogied out to The Charleston Stroll, Whirling Waltz, Tempestuous Tango, Mambo Jambo & Scintillating Swing!
The Ragroof Players Tea Dance are specialists in reminiscence work frequently working with arts and heritage projects. The Tea Dance, hosted by SeaChange Arts was an opportunity for the community to visit the building and learn about its social history through re-creating a World War 2 style tea dance.
Following it’s premier success, The Tea Dance is now a regular monthly event at The Drill House for 2018. The current dates are as follows:
Sat 23 Jun 2018
Sat 21 Jul 2018
Sat 18 Aug 2018
Sat 29 Sep 2018
Life's a Beach
The South American circus spectacular, Life’s a Beach launched our anniversary heritage project in July 2017 as we transformed The Drill House and York Road into a beach resort with a programme of performance and participation.
In our research surrounding the Drill House we had discovered a photograph of a human pyramid performed by the 2nd Norfolk Regiment, a Royal Norfolk unit who’s training base was the Drill House. Together with the local community, our Drillaz Circus School and two professional circus companies, Circolombia and Circo en Breve; we recreated this photograph as part of our Drill House 150 celebrations.
A Latin jamboree of celebrations as part of this year’s Great Yarmouth Arts Festival.
Festa Fiesta formed a day of fun and festivities for the community. York Road and the surrounding area were enhanced with a variety of visual treats, from street arts to workshops.
In The Drill House we set up numerous sound installation booths which played oral histories of The Drill Hall that we had recorded over the year.
Here is a select sample of what was played:
1) Tia Marsh – Drillaz + Romeo & Juliet
2) Leslie White – Drill House Memories
3) Ron Punchard – Rifle Club
4) Joe Mackintosh – Chief Executive, SeaChange Arts
The oral histories that were recorded will be archived at The Time & Tide Museum in Great Yarmouth
Other materials produced for Drill House 150
The Great Yarmouth Heritage Guides produced a brief history of the Drill Hall in a leaflet that was available at numerous Seachange Arts events throughout the year.
A comic detailing a creative narrative of reminiscence was co-created by young people taking part in a series of workshops hosted by Creative Collisions and facilitated by EssentialSequential, a not-for-profit organisation specialising in community based comic creation.
Did You Know?
Here is a bunch of facts we have collected over the past year about The Drill House and its prominence within the community.
Families and Communities
- The construction of the building was paid for with funds raised by the local Volunteers and public subscription- through various events such as shooting contests
- The Drill Hall was the home of community group PSNGY (Portuguese Speakers Network Great Yarmouth) for some years before it disbanded
- When the building was used as a drill hall it would have a caretaker live there full time. From 1902 to 1937 local resident Leslie White”s father, Beachamp White, was the caretaker and lived there with his wife and children. 4 of his 5 children (Leslie”s aunts, uncle and mother) were born in the drill hall. They always kept cats which they trained to catch mice and mew in time to a rhyme. There was a lot of poverty in those days and the Beachamps would bread and jam to neighbouring children who came to the building.
- The Drill Hall was venue to many community events over the years including dog shows, cooking lectures, dances, flower and fruit shows, classical concerts, theatrical performances and presentations of Poole”s Myorama.
Sports and Fitness
- The Drill Hall was the main place to play indoor sports before the Marina Centre was established.
- Sports were regularly played at the Drill Hall before 2012 include badminton, five a side football, basketball, netball, and gymnastics.
- Physical Culture Club was a weekly sports and gymnastics club for the young, which took place in the Drill Hall. It began in 1930 and continued on into the 1980s. It is well remembered by generations of children who grew up in Gt Yarmouth as a place to learn gymnastics skills including trampoline, club swinging and pommel horse.
Circus, Arts and Performance
- SeaChange Arts took on the building in 2012 and changed its purpose once again into the working hub of the organisation. SeaChange operate as an independent arts development charity dedicated to delivery outstanding Circus and Street Art events. Seachange’s focus and output grow naturally out of the seaside town’s rich performance heritage. Overseeing £1 Million worth of renovations, SeaChange Arts has transformed the Drill House into a leading creation space for circus and outdoor arts.
Military Training and War
- The Drill Hall was the training base to the 2nd Volunteer Battalion Norfolk Regiment
- The hall continued to be used as a training centre after WW2 for army cadets up until the 1960s
- In WW1 the drill hall was prepared as a make-shift hospital, with many camp beds made up for the wounded when an attack on the town was anticipated.
- Following the German Zeppelin air raid of Jan 19th 1915, the bombs, including the unexploded one that hit the house on St Peter”s Plain, were put on display in the Drill Hall
The Building and its Architecture
- Designed by a local architect – J T Bottle
- The Drill Hall was built in 1867
- It cost £1300 to build
- The trusses that support the roof are a construction of laminated timber (several layers of thin planks of wood compressed together). This was an unusual and surprising method to use and rather pioneering. This type of structure offers the benefit of added strength with reduced weight.
- It is amongst the largest and earliest purpose built drill halls still standing
- Evidence of rifle practice can be seen on one of the walls where there are pock marks where bullets fired have hit and excavated small holes into the brickwork.
- In the 1970s and 1990s when the fire service went on national strike, the army provided emergency service cover and locally were based at the drill hall with their famous â€˜green goddess” engines.
- The building has been altered very little inside.
- Local Craftsmen were employed to build the Drill Hall – Mr Legget was the builder and the Carpenter was Mr Want.