Rescue Sidmouth Drill Hall

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This is the second, or relaunched, campaign aiming to rescue Sidmouth Drill Hall. It is necessary because the first effort diverged into considering wider community interests and it was decided in February 2016 that the directors could no longer work to preserve the building.

Unfortunately the decision was not widely known, and it was December 2016 when it became obvious that the only options were either leaving it to its fate or someone else trying to save the building: the result is this website and the new Drill Hall Rescue Group. I do hope you will go to the righthand side of this page and sign up to be a member, you’ll then receive the newsletters. If you are one of the Friends of Sidmouth Drill Hall you do not need to sign up again.

sidmouthdrillhall.com is still maintained by Matt Booth but the 4 remaining directors of what was Sidmouth Drill Hall Hub have changed the name and are no longer connected with the website or attempts to save the hall. They are now called Sidmouth Coastal Community Hub. For the purposes of clarity I must stress that the endeavours of Matt Booth and these four directors are no longer linked.

I am Mary Walden-Till, I trained in Three Dimensional Design at what is now the High Wycombe Campus of Buckinghamshire University and then became a teacher. I have always been interested in buildings and how they affect people’s wellbeing, from the psychological effects of their scale and mass, through historical development, to the problem of ‘sick building syndrome’. For many good reasons I love Sidmouth Drill Hall.

Some of these reasons can be found here,  ‘A special space’ on my Sidmouth Drill Hall Research site, which is the site where I record facts about the Drill Hall. I try to keep my bias to a minimum there but here I will taking the opposite tack, this is where all the intangibles will be explored … in as much as intangibles can be!

One of the reasons I want to rescue Sidmouth Drill Hall is the way the space inside makes me feel. In some part the feeling is of course tied to the experiences I had there, the ceilidhs and concerts of the International Folk Festival in the 1970s and onward, but I believe that the space helped create the success of those events. It is a space of the type we are fast losing to dark, small, low ceilinged public spaces.

I particularly remember the summer of 1976 when the hall was NOT ideal, it seemed the only way to get air into the place was through the front doors and possible the small windows in the toilets. I believe the small round window on the north did not open by that time and if any of the side windows did then I can’t remember it. All I really remember is heat and sweaty bodies, and the music … but we were all young and resilient then and we loved the place.

Apart from 1976 my strongest memory is of the first time I entered the Hall. The bright sun outside ( yes, it was a sunny day during Folk Week! ) gave way to a dark hallway with a blaze of light streaming through another set of double doors in front of me. As I passed through these doors the feeling of containment gave way to one of expansion, rather like entering a church but homely rather than holy. It was a welcoming space, wooden floors, wooden rafters, matchboarded ceiling. Although it was rather utilitarian, once the people were in it was obvious how well it had been designed to hold a crowd. The floors were solid and dependable even when it was packed with people all leaping and landing on the same beat, unlike the floors which were laid in the marquees; which bounced and sprang their nails to catch unwary feet. (Does anyone but me remember Stewards patrolling with hammers to drive them back down? ) And the acoustics were good, it didn’t echo nor did the sound get lost, this was before all music was amplified to a painful level. I and my group of friends practically lived in the Drill Hall for the week every year and it felt like home. It still does.