The Drill Hall – Abertillery

The Drill Hall – Abertillery

The Original Drill Hall – Abertillery.
During the late 1890’s the Drill Hall at Abertillery was in a room above and which was part of the Castle Inn, Castle Street, Abertillery (as seen left, centre of the image). The Castle Inn and the old Drill Hall was opposite where the entrance into Tesco is today. It was used by the 3rd Battalion of the South Wales Borderers Volunteer Brigade “H” Company, a precursor to the Territorial Army. The room where many meetings, parades and functions took place was owned by Mr & Mrs Priddy of the Castle Inn, they hosted and provided meals for the various organisations who used it.

The Old Volunteer Brigade.
The Abertillery Drill Hall at the Castle Inn, Abertillery, housed the 3rd Battalion of the South Wales Borderers Volunteer Brigade, made up of men from the volunteer brigade under the command of Captain Lichtenberg.

In May 1897 the Abertillery Battalion were augmented by the Victoria 3rd Battalion based at Ebbw Vale. The Victoria Battalion suffered resignations within the company and the men from the battalion transferred to Abertillery. They also transferred the Victoria Armoury. At this time there were 117 men enrolled for active service at the 3rd Battalion Volunteer Brigade, Abertillery.

Mr Thomas Edmund Powell.
In 1901 Messrs Thomas Edmund Powell, director of the of Powell’s Tillery Colliery Co following the death of his father Mr T. W. Powell, was a keen supporter of the old volunteer brigade, he wanted the men to have a proper purpose built drill hall and offered financial support in getting one established. The country were at war in various parts of the world, many thousands of troops were defending the British Empire and a well structured military force was needed to defend Great Britain against the possibility of an invasion by foreign forces. Any building in connection with the military was under the jurisdiction of the war office and there were not that many reports or updates on the progress of such institutions under construction.

The New Drill Hall.
In January 1901 Messrs Powell stuck to his promise and offered to give £100 towards the erection of a new drill hall along with money to construct a gymnasium at the Powell’s Tillery Institute, though sadly Mr T. E. Powell passed away before the donation was received. Mr William Stewart the manager of the Powell’s Tillery Collieries received a message from the Powell estate to confirm that any money promised would be granted. After this report of money being donated for a new drill hall no other reports followed. The old volunteer brigade were struggling to keep their force together, they had no proper artillery or medical corps. The whole institution needed updating.

The Cwm Cottage Road Site.
In July 1902 the need for a new drill hall was again brought to the attention of those in power and tenders (as seen above) were invited for the construction of a new drill hall at Abertillery. The site (as seen in the image left next to the Cwm Hotel) was said to have been south of the town close to the board schools, the same piece of ground it occupies today. Plans and specifications were held by Mr F. R. Bates, architect, 26 Westgate Chambers, Newport. Though after searching many local newspapers there was no other mention of this project. It seems that the building of this new drill hall never took place and the old volunteer brigade were still resident at the Castle Inn.

Members of the Volunteer Brigade.
In March 1907 there were 120 men listed in the old volunteer brigade at Abertillery with no resident officers.

Captain E. H. Fawckner at Abertillery.
In 1908 Capt E. H. Fawckner became captain of the Volunteer Brigade at Abertillery. Mr Fawckner was one half of Habershon & Fawckner, architects of Newport. He had been captain of the Newport force though they had been disbanded in the same year. At a public meeting held at the institute Abertillery in this year, Mr Haldane put forth his plan to disband the old volunteer brigade and to replace it with a territorial army, the territorials would serve as home defence, as patriots it was their duty to defend their country in time of need.

Captain Fawckner spoke of when he was initially asked to command the Abertillery Volunteer Brigade Companies he felt honoured, the town had won a name for itself in many respects. They had a good reputation in the world of rugby football and one of the best gymnastic teams. The town was way ahead in the building trade and had a growing population, he thought he would have no trouble in raising 250 men. He recalled of how the old volunteer brigade were very efficient and the strongest in camp and hoped the new companies would be the same.

The 3rd Battalions Companies.
In April 1909 the Territorial Force of the 3rd Batt Mons Regiment was established, sixty-nine men of the old volunteer brigade had transferred to the new territorial force. From this date the local newspapers reported on the 3rd Battalion Monmouthshire Company’s “E” and “F” Companies. It was stated that Abertillery was the only town other than Newport to have been allowed to have two companies.

In May 1909 the 3rd Battalion of the Monmouthshire Regiment were advertising for band members. Applicants for the battalion band had to reply to the Bandmaster Mr J. Griffiths, band practice was every Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Recruits were trained at 10.00am and 7.30pm, the morning times were for night shift workers.

Requirements of the New Territorial Army Companies.
It was stated that men were wanted to join the companies, if one was part of the territorial army you were knows as a “terrier” and would be a part of the “torials”. To become a terrier, men would have to be between 17 and 30 years of age and over 5″ foot 2″ inches in height. Men of the territorial forces would be supplied with two suits, one of khaki and also another of scarlet, described as being the same as the regular soldiers uniforms. All those who were signed as a “torial” would require to attend at least 32 drill’s per year or 60 drills per 2 years, failure to attend would result in a fine. Men also had time at army camp and it was said that the large fine for non attendance at drills was to put off the time wasters who only signed up for camp.

In the first year eighty new recruits were enlisted, the second year saw an increase eighty-four men and by 1910 the figure rose to 246 men including the band. At this time one of the oldest member of the battalion was Col. Sergeant Instructor Steward, he was joined by Mr Bradley and Mr Gorman, the latter not resident at Abertillery.

In March 1910 the members of the territorial army were invited to sign army form E-624, an agreement for service outside the United Kingdom, up to this time all members of the territorials were classed as home defence, though by signing this form the men could be shipped abroad if necessary. It was recorded that ninety-eight men signed the relevant forms for imperial service.

The Abertillery Territorials often completed route-marching, this was done on regular occasions in full uniform along designated routes such as – From the Drill Hall, up Oak Street, into Blaenau Gwent, down to Alma Street, Tillery Street through town and back to the Drill Hall via Somerset Street and Castle Street. At this time Captain E. H. Fawckner was the commanding officer of the Abertillery detachment with Sergt Hailstone, Corpl G. Meredtith and Bugler G. Smith. Other names associated with the company were – Sergeants – Gill, Cooke, Pole, T. B. Martindale and W. Davies. Corporals – Bennett, Powell, Dando, Smith, Treharne and Johnson. Buglers – D. Francis and James A. Gibson.

The Presentation of Imperial Service Medals.
In October 1910 Capt E. H. Fawckner attended the old Drill Hall, Abertillery to present the men who had signed up for service abroad with their Imperial Service Medals. Their names were as follows –

E Company – Col. Sergeant F. Deacon: Sergeants – J. Cooke; J. Gill; W. Hailstone; T. B. Martindale: Corporals – W. H. Williams and W. J. Hanney: Lance Corporals – D. T. Blake; W. J. A. Edwards; W. John Edwards; R. C. Jones and A. J. Gatfield: Privates – T. Banks; R. Blake; W. Bowles; R. Bumford; A. G. Cleaves; A. Curtis; A. Dean; O. Elliott; J. Evans; R. Green; J. Handford; J. Harvey; J. Hayden; G. Hinder; W. Holmes; E. Howells; A. W. James; I. A. Jones; J. Jones; W. Lavender; W. J. Lewis; D. C. Llewellyn; E. Mason; G. R. Powell; A. Skuse; T. Scott; C. A. Tovey; L. Vaughan; J. G. Wilkes; G. R. Williams; W. Williams; W. Smith; T. J. Hawkin and C. Jones:

F Company – Col Sergeant A. Gooder: Sergeants – W. Davies; H. E. Howells; W. Pole and E. Cowley: Corporals – T. Mercy; T. Powell and T. Smith: H. Dando; Lance Corporals – H. Mould; A. E. White; H. Hoskins; W. Risdon; B. J. Samuel and F. Sharp: Privates – C. Gooder; S. W. Guest; S. Halford; A. Harris; A. E. Hawkins; W. S. Hawkins; S. J. Holborn; J. H. Insull; F. Jarrett; G. Jenkins; J. Phillips; F. A. Powell; G. Roberts; G. Tombs; G. Watkins; P. H. Williams; W. Wright; D. Francis; F. Jones; G. Prosser; E. J. Webster; J. Hartwell; G. Cox; R. E. G. Watkin; F. Smith and F. Hockey: The medals were described as being 2″ inches silver plated with the words “Imperial Service” upon it and surmounted by a crown.

The New Drill Hall at Cwm Cottage Road, Abertillery.
In 1910 plans were put forth and tenders invited (as seen right) for the construction of a new drill hall at Abertillery to be built on ground at Cwm Cottage Road at the north of the Cwm Hotel, described as being adjacent to Princess Street. This vacant piece of land was called Judd’s Ground, after the landlord of the Cwm Hotel, previously used for holding fairs, fetes, sports and circus entertainment. This is the same piece of ground which was previously proposed in 1902, for the construction of a drill hall secured by the War Office though all construction had been postponed for eight years.

The Contractors and Architects.
The contractor was Messrs John Jenkins, Ltd of Newport. The architects were Messrs Habershon, Fawckner and Co with Mr G. Rosser clerk of the works.

The Official Opening of the Drill Hall.
On Monday 19th December 1910 the new Abertillery Drill Hall was officially opened. The opening ceremony was presided over by Major General Francis Lloyd, C.B., D.S.O. of the Welsh Division of the Territorials. The local detachment assembled in the new Drill Hall under the command of Captain Fawckner, Lieut. Bradley and Second-Liet Gorman and Major General Lloyd. Upon inspection, Major-General Lloyd noticed several of the men wearing medals won in the South Africa and Egyptian wars and complimented those on their honours. There were many named officers, men and other dignitaries who attended the opening of the new Abertillery Drill Hall, too many to write in this report, if anyone wants to know any individual names for family research purposes please ask.

After the opening ceremony all were invited to tea and in the evening the officers attended a smoking concert at the Cwm Hotel, Abertillery.

Description of the Building.
The building was described as being on a commanding site on the junction of Cwm Cottage Road and Princess Street. The main elevation facing Cwm Cottage Road was made of blue Newbridge stone and Forest of Dean stone dressings. Each side of the entrance hall were rooms used as orderly and store and armoury rooms, above these were the officers and non-commissioned officers rooms, the latter being 20′ feet by 15′ feet in size. Adjoining the armoury, entered from the Drill Hall was the recreation and lecture room also 20′ feet by 15′ feet in size. The main hall was 80′ feet long by 40 foot wide with a height of 16′ feet to the top of the walls and 25′ feet in the centre, the roof was an open type boarded on the inside.

In addition to the main entrance at Cwm Cottage Road, the Drill Hall had large doorways leading to the parade ground and to Princess Street. Adjoining the Drill Hall buildings an Instructors House was provided with three bedrooms and a bathroom etc, was so arranged as control of the Drill Hall could be kept from the house. The total cost of the new Drill Hall was £3,000.

The Old Drill Hall and the Scouts Movement.
After the 3rd Battalion of the Monmouthshire Regiment had moved from the old Drill Hall above the Castle Inn, Castle Street, Abertillery the Scouts used it for a short while to hold meetings etc (as seen left). 

Drum Head Service.
In May 1912 Abertillery witnessed its first Drum Head Service at the Park Abertillery. Accompanying the 3rd Battalion of the Territorials Band were the Six Bells and Abertillery Ambulance Brigades, the Abertillery Fire Brigade and the Boy Scouts and the Boys Brigade. Also present were the The Battalion Band and the Abergavenny Bugle Band headed by Drum Major Ames. At the close of service Col. W. D. Steel, V.D. presented efficiency medals to six members of the Abertillery detachment, each of whom had completed twelve years service. The recipients were as follows – Sergeant W. Pole; Corporal T. Smith; Corporal W. Derrick; Lance-Corporal Croker; Lance-Corporal G. Gibson and Private R. Bumford:

Entertainment Venue.
In 1912 the Abertillery Drill Hall became a popular venue for parties, balls and other functions. The Abertillery Male Voice Choir held their annual dinners there. The organisers of the functions would hire Powell & Jones of the Bon Marche to decorate the hall and use various caterers to provide the food. There were many dances held at there, organised by the police force, at one “Non Stop Dance” held in the early 1930’s it was reported that it was a first in the history of the district that a “diffused lighting system” was installed in the hall to light up the dancers on the dance floor. The report stated that four lights were used in the system each of lights were described as being 1,000 candle power.  

Dancing Classes.
In 1913 dancing classes were held and boxing competitions took place at the Drill Hall, Abertillery. The boxing contests were encouraged by Major Herbert for soldiers discipline, though betting on bouts was strictly forbidden.

The First Annual Dinner.
On Thursday evening 22nd January 1914 a dinner for the 3rd Battalion Monmouthshire Regiment was held at the Station Hotel, Abertillery. The date was chosen to coincide with the anniversary of the Battle at Rorkes Drift, Natal, South Africa. Lieut D. B. M. P. Gorman (Officer in Command of the Abertillery detachment) presided. Lieut Gorman was supported by Major-General Sir Ivor Herbert C.B., C.M.G., M.P.

Major Herbert was a veteran of the war in Egypt in 1882, the war in the Sudan, a commander of troops in Canada and finally served throughout the Boer Wars.

Rorkes Drift Day.
Following on from the annual dinner held the previous year, the Territorials at Abertillery held a Rorkes Drift Day, this was arranged to become an annual event to be held at the Station Hotel, Abertillery.

The Drill Hall and the Great War.
The Drill Hall was the main centre of activities in the run-up to and during the Great War 1914-18 and men were encouraged to enlist from there. This was the main centre throughout the war in connection with enlistment and troop movement, to and from Abertillery.

The Navy at Abertillery.
In April 1921 the men from the Battle Ship H.M.S. Malaya veterans of the Battle of Jutland during the Great War were sent to Abertillery by the Admiralty to protect the collieries during the strike and lock-out of 1921. The Navy men called the “Blue Shirts”, docked at Newport and 290 of them were billeted at the Drill Hall, Abertillery.

(Later information to come)


Notes of Interest – Messrs Habershon and Fawckner, Architects.
Mr William G. Habershon.
Mr William G. Habershon, born 1819 at Middlesex, London was the head architect based in London. Mr Habershon was later in partnership with a Mr Pite as Messrs Habershon & Pite, Architects.

Mr James F. Fawckner.
In the 1850’s Mr James F. Fawckner, born in 1829 at Plymouth, Devon, joined the firm as an architect’s clerk, he was later made a partner and the firm became known as Habershon & Fawckner, Architects. Mr Habershon sent Mr James F. Fawckner to Newport to take control of the South Wales area and Tredegar Park Estate with offices at Newport and Cardiff as well as the main London office.

In the 1891 Mr William G. Habershon passed away at Kent, the firm of Habershon & Fawckner was taken on by Mr James F. Fawkner who was now living at Newport with his wife Mary Fawckner.

Mr Edgar H. Fawckner.
Mr Edgar Hinton Fawckner, born in 1868 at Newport, the son of Mr James F. Fawckner, trained as an architect and joined his father in the firm. Mr Edgar H. Fawckner had a brother Alfred Fawckner who was also a trained architect, its unclear as to whether he also joined the firm. Mr E. H. Fawckner became a captain and was the commanding officer of the Abertillery detachment of the volunteer brigade at Abertillery and later the territorials.

In 1898 Mr James F. Fawckner passed away at his home at Newport. It was reported that his sons were to carry on the firm as Habershon & Fawckner.

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