Mr Radford bought part of The Ham meadow in 1888 and other parts were sold for building. Glen Isla Terrace (now Glenisla Terrace) and Riverside Road were built on two of the building plots.
The Ham at that time sloped down to the level of the Sid river on the east and to the beach on the south. The demarcation between The Ham and the shore would have been the high tide mark. The Esplanade also dropped to sea level at this point.
Old photographs and prints show that the Esplanade, as a high bank promenade, first existed at the west end of Sidmouth. As the popularity of the town as a health resort increased then the walk was continued eastward. When the York Hotel was built on the east side of Fore Street, along with the rest of the terrace of 4 buildings, the walk was raised in front of it. Before these buildings were erected the land was used as a ship building yard and the boats were launched from the shingle. A smooth rather than a sharp drop was helpful in launching!
The original Lifeboat Station stood on the west corner of Ham Lane rather than where it is now on the east corner. Opposite that station there was a launch ramp which at one stage was the end of the Esplanade. Then when the Manager of the Gas Works built East Cliff House as his home ( where the Sailing Club building is now) the Esplanade was extended again.
In 1895 the Drill Hall was built, and the road was extended to be level with the entrance. The seaward part of the sea front was a rough tumble of land and there was a very steep slope from the Drill Hall entrance down to sea level at the hall’s eastern side. A retaining wall stopped this slope on the northern edge, to protect access to the boat storage under the hall.
This is the earliest photograph I have of the Drill Hall. The new Alma Bridge was built in 1900 and the old bridge is shown here. This photograph must therefore have been taken during the first four years of the Drill Hall’s life. The sharp shadow cast by the retaining wall on the north of the slope is clearly visible, as is the height of the piled ground at the end of the Esplanade.
Most people seem to think that The Ham is just the grassed area including the children’s playground but it stretches much further. The ‘old boat park’ or ‘Weirfield’ where there is now the paved area and newly planted sensory garden is also part of The Ham.
When Mr Radford gave the land to Sidmouth Urban District Council it took a year from the announcement in the paper ( at the same time as it was announced that the land was being given for the Drill Hall ) until the Conveyance was completed. The Drill Hall land was given in Jan 1895, building started in March and the Hall was opened in October.
In contrast the Conveyance was completed in early March 1896. One can only assume that the Council wanted it on their terms and not on those which Mr Radford wanted. It seems to be a continuing story!
In the early years of last century Mr Sampson, a noted local architect and member of the Council, suggested The Ham should be turned into a car park. Fortunately, the terms of the Conveyance were considered to prohibit this. Now our Council is being party to a suggestion that the Sailing Club boat parking should be built on; and the boats parked on The Ham instead. Don’t they learn from the past?
I have been trying to get a definitive statement of the Sidmouth Town Council’s position on The Ham since the 3rd July this year, after having been mentioning my concerns for over a year. I also wrote to all the East Devon District Councillors with Portfolios even slightly related to the Local Plan to ask that the boundaries of ED03 be corrected. None of the EDDC Councillors even bothered to return the ‘read receipt’. There has been nothing but silence from them.
If our Councillors won’t respond then is it unreasonable to think that we are being ignored?
I believe that the changes to the front were an attempt at modernisation and not a necessary repair job because there seems very little wear showing on the many photos just prior to the change.
If the windows were rotting it would be very surprising considering how similar windows all along the Esplanade have survived the elements. If they were not rotting then why replace them and change the single oriel window upstairs into two smaller plain windows?
The curved glass in the windows had not broken in storms, even the ones of 1924/25 when the seawall gave way. Newspaper reports say that some glass was broken in the doors so surely they would have mentioned if the windows had been damaged too?
The ‘cutting edge’ architectural style at that time was the International style, a plain form of Art Deco. They took the gable wall of the Drill Hall down to half way and rebuilt it it would appear. This is not the action of an organisation trying to save money. If the windows and stonework had needed replacing it would have been a lot cheaper to take the stonework down leaving the brickwork untouched; and replace the projecting bay windows with flat ones occupying the same openings.
The major work at the Ham to lay it out as a municipal style pleasure ground happened in 1929, the toilets were built at the same time. It is not unreasonable to suppose that these works prompted the Territorial Army to ‘upgrade’ the Drill hall in keeping with the new project.
The picture from 1909, shared yesterday, shows that the current interior has changed very little.
The exterior was modernised in 1931, I have a postcard showing the changes being made! This postcard is a Frith’s production and so can be dated accurately by its negative number which is shown on the postcard.
I think that this modernisation, in the International Style, has resulted in an ugly building. However, in most Drill Halls (according to Historic England) the exteriors have remained unchanged while the interiors have been cut about. Our Drill Hall is the opposite way round. Apart from the changes of the windows, from French windows to much smaller windows, the interior has survived more or less unchanged since 1895. It is in remarkable repair considering the neglect it has suffered.
This photograph is from February 2017. It shows the same corner as yesterday’s photo of the distribution of Easter Buns.
A Drill Hall interior shot! Flash photography was very basic in 1909 and most interior pictures came out too dark. This newspaper image is an exception.
The portraits on the walls were of the great and good of the town who had been so instrumental in getting the hall built and paid for. Unfortunately I have not been able to trace where the portraits went. They were probably returned to the families when the hall was modernised in 1931.
This is the south west corner. The line of glazing you can see at the left was the ornamental internal door which led straight to the double doors to the Esplanade. The door behind the people is to under-stairs storage, where the stairs rose to the first floor front room.
All the bricks used in constructing the Drill Hall were very high quality, from the same firm which supplied bricks for No.10 Downing Street. Sidmothians had their pride!
As we remember Passchendaele it is appropriate to remember that for centuries we were always on a war footing. The Drill Hall in Sidmouth was built so that the Volunteers had somewhere to practice drill …. after they were thrown out of the Market Hall by the Council of the time who wanted the room.
Sidmothians, both native and incomers, raised the money for the building and the land was given by J.G.G. Radford. The architect, James Jerman, a prominent Exeter citizen and architect to the Earl of Iddesleigh, gave his services for free. Jerman also designed the Masonic Hall in Sidmouth High Street.
The building was designed to be a space for the town as well as for the Volunteers. Dinners and balls were held there as well as meetings and lectures. It was a building constructed of the best materials and meant to be an ornament to the town.
Some of the details of the original front can be seen in this picture of the Volunteers.
In Folk Week last year I annoyed local councils by producing a leaflet which showed the area ED03 from the Local Plan, and pointed out it would mean the loss of the Lifeboat Station, the Sailing Club, the Drill Hall and the toilets. I was vilified by Council and Councillors statements in the local press and in StreetLife forums.
Yet Lo and Behold; one year on I am being insulted once again for commenting on their ‘proposals which aren’t proposals’ which envisage the loss of all these buildings.
The winners were Turner Architects, they have worked with people who have managed to find funding for ideas such as theirs. They think most elements of their design are realistic. Yet none of their expertise and experience has been tapped in this Scoping Exercise. Why?
The spaces they envisaged would be the sort of thing Folk Week needs for display areas.
Whereas this proposal (which isn’t a proposal), illustrated below, closes down the Hub making it a shadowy area with little place for people to stand and watch; and incidentally creating a wonderful wind tunnel effect! I am sure it will be much appreciated given how miserable the current area can be on a bad day.
Not to mention how the wind will rip at the Ham marquee!
Get your radio out for Radio Devon and your TV tuned to Spotlight TV BBC 1; tomorrow morning Thurs 27th July for the radio and later in the day for the TV.
The Sidmouth campaigners are linking with Exmouth and Torbay to form a support group which will be called something like Save our Seafronts. The name is not important at this stage but the joining together is.
Our Devon economy depends on tourists and yet our seafronts are under attack by people wanting to ‘maximise the potential’. We have all seen the results of that. Whether it be Benidorm or Kong Kong, huge buildings sap all the individuality and charm out of an area.
‘Pack ’em in and stack ’em high’ is not an aspiration for the people of Devon so we need to oppose such proposals.
Listen to Alan Griffey from Torbay in a radio interview with Sophie Pierce, followed by a live interview with our own Matt Booth back in the studio. Tomorrow morning, don’t miss it! Perhaps we will make the phone-in at 1 pm and you can have your say too?
Then write to your Councillors to say we want to reuse, and not demolish and build a block like this.