The Artillery Volunteers’ Hall


The Artillery Hall was built in 1880 on an open piece of land off Nelson Road Central. Originally the area was known as Somerset Place and was later renamed Artillery Square. The Drill Hall was built of red brick with York stone settings and was 73 feet long by 40 feet wide. Orderly and committee rooms were attached, each 17 feet by 13 feet. The architect was Mr. Arnott of Hall Plain. In 1906, an extension of two stories was added to the west of the building. Several large openings were cut through the west wall to give access to the extension. A new external

doorway was provided at the north end. The concrete floor of the extension was designed, with grooves and a channel to clear horse droppings, to allow horses to be accommodated in that part of the building. The first floor of the extension was divided into rooms with access by a metal staircase in the north-west corner of the original building. At the rear of the extension an external metal staircase was provided from the first floor. This was made by local iron founders, Pertwee and Back. This staircase was replaced in 2005. The building was used by the military until the 1950s. Internal partitions and ceilings have been added by subsequent users, but the main fabric of the building remains.

In 1858, the country appeared to be on the verge of war with France and, in May the following year, the Government authorised the formation of Rifle and Artillery Volunteer Corps. These forces were in addition to the Militia, who had been re-formed five years earlier. The Volunteers were liable to be called out in case of actual invasion. Each man was required to attend 28 days drill or exercise in a year. The Artillery Corps were raised to man coastal guns and forts in Great Yarmouth.

On 28 September 1859, a Garrison Artillery unit, known as the 1st Norfolk Artillery was formed in Great Yarmouth. Although a Rifle Volunteer Corps had been formed a few weeks, earlier there was no lack of recruits for the artillery. By 1867, the Rifle Volunteers had raised enough finance to build the York Road Drill Hall. By the end of the year, 65 men had enrolled in the Artillery and it soon became possible to form two Companies or Batteries of Garrison Gunners. Volunteers had to raise the money to buy their uniforms. The dress uniform worn by the Artillery Volunteers was a dark blue tunic with sky blue facings, edged with white cord and was worn with a bearskin busby with a white plume. The Battery's first headquarters were at the Corn Hall in Howard Street, at the rear of the Duke’s Head Hotel. Two outlying detachments were formed, in Ormesby and Reedham, each with their own 32-pounder gun.

The Artillery Volunteers were authorised to fire the guns of the North and South Batteries for firing practices. A week’s annual camp was held, often on the South Denes, with other volunteers attending from other parts of the country.

By 1879, the Artillery Corps had raised enough funds (about £600) by selling shares of £1 each to build their drill hall, which was completed in 1880. The hall could be used for other purposes, for example, for exhibitions and concerts. Later that year the Volunteers from Great Yarmouth, Norfolk and Suffolk were united into a single corps: the 1st Norfolk Artillery Volunteers and the Drill Hall was used nightly for drill practice.

In 1889, the artillery were provided with four 16-pounders guns and limbers and were now a mobile horsed unit. The horses were hired as required. At the 1894 annual inspection, 128 men were on parade with their 16- pounders and they fired at targets in the sea 1,400 yards away.

Over the years the Artillery Volunteers were reorganised and renamed. Several men enlisted to fight in the Boer War. Following a series of fund raising events an extension to the Drill Hall, giving more floor space with offices above, was completed in 1906. When war broke out in August 1914 the Battery was mobilized and served in France, Egypt, Palestine and Jordan. The Battery continued into the 1930s with exercises and camps and became motorised. Their drill hall was now inadequate and new premises were built in Southtown Road in the late 1930s. During the Second World War, the original hall was used by the Home Guard. After the war the hall was used by National Service men and cadets. In the 1950s, the building was handed over to the borough council and was used by various bodies. Finally, in 1997, First Move Furnishaid occupied the premises.