February 2017 newsletter
I hope you all spent a pleasant Valentine’s Day and that the approach of spring is lifting your spirits.
The big news from the last month is that the consultants for the Port Royal scoping exercise have been appointed. They are Jillings Heynes from Exeter and they had their first formal meeting with the Reference Group on 21st Feb.
It is still unclear as to exactly when the exercise is intended to finish, perhaps the deadline is flexible to a certain extent? The report of the meeting, above, says it will be a 16 week exercise which would mean it ended in early-mid June. However I have been told several different dates, ranging from late summer to late autumn, by people ‘in the know’. It is clear that this year will likely be the last time we have the opportunity to make our feelings known and for them to be considered. The Councils intend to act on the recommendations of the Consultants, once they are produced.
Please keep your eyes open for opportunities where we could make a difference to the outcome and contact me at email@example.com so that I can pass the information on to those who would like to make representations.
If you remember, I did have some help from Consuelo. However, her workload is picking up and so she won’t be able to help from now on. She has finished her musical score which will accompany a presentation on the Hall. I would value the help of someone with media expertise. I can supply old photos for illustration and info for a script if someone has the software to put everything together.
At the end of January I went to art shops and teachers in Sidmouth to ask if they knew anyone who would be willing to help with artist’s impressions of the Drill Hall. They said they would ask their contacts and pass on my details. I have not had any response so far.
On Jan 27th I spent the day at the Sidmouth Neighbourhood Plan event at Kennaway House, I know some of you were there too. The Neighbourhood Plan is supposed to run alongside the District Council’s Local Plan and to be a guide in planning matters. If we could get a statement into the Neighbourhood Plan which said that existing buildings should be reused whenever possible it would help our case to save the Drill Hall.
Deidre Hounsom, the chair of the NP group, said at the meeting that it surprises her how many people still have not heard about the NP even though it has been going for some time and is frequently mentioned in the local paper. I feel the same about people not knowing there is a campaign to save the Drill Hall: backed by research! Councillors seem to be generally unaware of the website (although I have been working on that) and it seems not many other people are aware of my sites either.
It has been said to me that people don’t bother looking at websites, but I hope this is not true. Whether you produce a book, or give a talk, or put up a website, publicity is key; I need you all to keep up your efforts to talk about the information which is available on the Drill Hall sites and try to pique people’s interest.
About 2 weeks ago there was damage done at the back of the Hall where someone had broken two areas of the wood cladding from around the external stair and then smashed the door into the main hall. EDDC told the Herald they believe it was a rough sleeper who broke in.
I went down there as the workmen were boarding it up safely but unfortunately they would not allow me in to take pictures. However, I did receive a few anonymous pictures which I have put up HERE. Whoever got them for me, thank you.
They show that the past 4 years of neglect have not led to much change. The match-boarding on the walls is no longer there and the lovely brickwork arches are exposed. I presume this happened when the workmen were searching for asbestos in 2013.
I have had chats and a meeting with a representative of St John’s International School. I am hoping that they can fit some project work on the Drill Hall into their curriculum next term. Ideally I would like them to do things like collect oral history from the people of Sidmouth, but we will have to see what comes of the discussions.
Would any of you be able to collect people’s stories if they can not? If you are a member of a local club or group would you be willing to take a recorder with you, or use your phone if it records, when you next meet? Chats about the old days and the Drill Hall can be sent to me and I will use the information and eventually try to get it transcribed. Obviously I am not asking you to make surreptitious recordings!
If any of you have exam age or university children who are looking for projects in areas like sociology, history, art or design I could provide some ideas and assistance. I am a qualified teacher of Art, and Design for those age groups.
I have made useful contact both with Mike Osborne, and with the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS).
Dr Michael Osborne is an author of a series of books about military installations, of various types, which were created for defending Britain: including ‘ALWAYS READY: THE DRILL HALLS OF BRITAIN'S VOLUNTEER FORCES’. He was a volunteer-coordinator for the Defence of Britain Project recording the military structures of the Twentieth Century. He has visited every Drill Hall which still survives in Britain, is acknowledged as an expert by Historic England, and is willing to write letters in support of retaining our Hall.
I wrote to EFDSS to ask if they have any old pictures of the interior of the Drill Hall from past Folk Week events. They have said they will check their archives and they also put me in touch with Derek Schofield, the author of ‘The first week in August’, which is a history of the first 50 years of Folk Week. He and his collaborator, John Dowell who used to run Folk Week, have sent me a few pictures he used in his book. When we have sorted out copyright issues then details from these images, showing the architecture, will go up on the site.
The pictures were taken because of the performers, so only show the north end of the hall where the stage was. I still need wider views from different occasions, please ask your friends and family if they have any. The images given to me after the recent break-in show that some glasswork still remains in places, so earlier images are likely to show us even more of the original fabric. If we are unsuccessful in saving the hall at least we can create a memorial to it.
Historic England has recognised the importance of Drill Halls to our history but they can only protect the unique examples and unfortunately ours does not retain enough original elements to meet the criteria for listing. Historic England do, however, say it is an important part of the Conservation Area. The more evidence we have about the building the stronger our case that it should be preserved for the pleasure and use of residents and visitors alike.
The Home Front Legacy did not have a record of our Drill Hall, but it does now!
I have been talking to Sue Watts of Devon District Council Historic Environment Team and she has updated the information held, and shown online, for the Drill Hall. It can be found on the Heritage Gateway under Devon and Dartmoor; record MDV106723
At the Neighbourhood Plan meeting there were many suggestions raised about things which could be included in the Port Royal redevelopment, and most of them could be accommodated within the Drill Hall. Such as an aquarium in the basement and a much extended tourist information unit in the main hall. The latter incorporating information about the Museum historical walks around Sidmouth and information on the Blue Plaques as well as the Arboretum and other such initiatives which tend to get overlooked at the moment. Perhaps the geological information from both the Arches display and from the Museum could be housed there too?
Many of these offerings would be enhanced by being housed in an historical building not a new one.
Perhaps you could think of things which you consider would help tourists and residents appreciate what we have in the town and let me know your thoughts?
If you want an idea of the space available then floor plans are here, you can download and print them at A4 size, and draw on them. If you then scan your drawings and send them to me I’ll put them on the website for people to consider. They don’t have to be ‘good’ drawings just sketch ideas more or less in scale. The plans are gridded so it is quite easy to get things the right size.
The more ideas we have to show the more it proves we have really thought about saving the Hall and that we are not just having a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to possible change.
I intend to have another newsletter for you soon. Until then, kind regards, Mary