Volunteer Street

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Volunteer Street seen from Pepper Street in 2018. The white building is the frontage of the former Drill Hall.

The area where the Drill Hall was built was originally the former rear gardens of the Albion Hotel on Lower Bridge Street. Several streets of terraced, working class houses, Albion Place, Albion Street, and Volunteer Street, were laid out in the mid 1860s around the Drill Hall, erected 1869, and Steele Street was built in the 1880s. Public subscription paid for the Drill Hall. It was built in a castellated style, using red sandstone, stone-dressed brick and a slate roof, though now the facade is largely painted white. The drill hall was designed by James Harrison, but completed after his death (1866) by Edwards and Kelly.

The blue plaque on the building reads:

  • "The Drill Hall. This was built in 1868 as a training hall for the Royal Garrison Artillery and the Chester Rifle volunteers. The cost of £2,500 was raised by public subscription. The Drill Hall was demolished in 1983, but the façade has been retained."

A description of Chester, 1874, states:

  • "The DRILL HALL is entered from Pepper street, and contains a lofty and spacious room, 100 feet long and 60 feet wide, lighted from the roof; the floor is concrete, which is well suited for the purpose of drill. It has a castellated front, with tower on the left side, through which is the main entrance, sufficiently wide to admit the Volunteers in full marching order, four abreast. The tower contains apartments for the armourer, and on the basement a small powder magazine and the armoury, in which are 770 stand of arms. A Reading Room, Committee Room, and other offices, and Orchestra overlook the large hall, which is convenient for banquets, concerts, &c. Messrs. Kelly and Edwards were the architects, and the late Mr. Robert Bell is the builder. The cost was about £2,000."
The troops head off to Connah's Quay to guard German internees.

The 6th Cheshire Rifle Corps originated in 1859 at a time of impending war in Europe between France and Austria (as part of the Second Italian War of Independence); and the 2nd Company Cheshire Artillery Volunteers followed shortly. This corps was the successor of the volunteer corps raised in Chester by Roger Barnston (of Forest House in Love Street) in 1803. At a public meeting on 6 June 1859, with the mayor as chairman, it was decided to appoint committees, open subscription lists and confer with the lord lieutenant. At another public meeting held on 28 Nov. 1859 a general committee was appointed to increase the strength of the rifle corps already formed, and a finance committee was appointed on 30 Nov. 1859. Captain Richard Brooke of Sweeney Hall, Salop was chosen as commanding officer of the rifle corps which became known as the Earl of Chester's Rifles, while the decision to form a volunteer company was taken at a meeting held on 2 Dec. 1859. According to Committee Files records held by Cheshire County Council,

  • “They used the cockpit outside the Newgate for training until the volunteer drill hall was built in Albion street in 1869. After 1871, these units were renamed the 2nd (Earl of Chester’s) Volunteer Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment and the 1st Cheshire and Caernarvonshire Artillery volunteers. In 1907, they became part of the new territorial army under the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act, 1907.”

In the early 20th century, the building was extended through to Duke Street and almshouses and two courts were demolished. The drill hall itself was demolished in 1983. The front elevation survived as a redevelopment into residential apartments in 2000. The site of the bulk of the interior became a rather tatty-looking park at the end of Albion Place, while the part of the building on Duke Street became Bridgegate Chambers.

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