From soldiers to sports

The Enfield Society explores the history of Enfield Drill Hall

The miners strike of 1920 saw reservists called up by the government and men flocked to Enfield Drill Hall to enrol in defence units (credit Enfield Local Studies Library and Archive)
The miners strike of 1920 saw reservists called up and men flocked to Enfield Drill Hall to enrol (credit Enfield Local Studies Library and Archive)

Members of The Enfield Society recently had the pleasure of visiting Enfield Drill Hall at the bottom of Old Park Avenue.

It was built in 1901 for the Enfield Company of the 1st Volunteer Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, whose roots go back to The Napoleonic Wars. At that time, volunteer rifle corps were formed in response to the threat of invasion. In reality their creation was as much to do with the fear of civil unrest after the French Revolution.

In 1803, the Enfield Volunteers had difficulty raising funds and recruits despite having support from the local gentry.

By the mid-19th Century they had become the Middlesex Rifle Volunteers, headed by Colonel Somerset who lived in Enfield Court (now Enfield Grammar Lower School). They had a fine band that must have been funded by Somerset because when he was transferred to the 9th West Middlesex, financial backing was lost. However, the band became The Enfield Brass Band.

In 1881 a new corps was set up with 40 respectable men. Parade nights in Market Square were unfortunately disrupted by local youths mimicking the sergeant major’s commands, much to the amusement of onlookers, but to the chagrin of officers.

A new lease of life was injected into the corps when Henry Ferryman Bowles became Colonel of 7th Middlesex in 1901. According to the battalion’s history his tenure will always be associated with the acquisitions of drill halls in Highgate – and Enfield.

Officially £2,400 was raised by subscription to go towards the cost of building the drill hall but it’s thought that Bowles (who lived at Forty Hall) financed the cost himself.

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In January 1912, the Enfield Observer lamented that out of a population of 56,000 there were only 168 volunteers, but two years later the First World War saw a 7th Middlesex full complement march from Hornsey to Enfield Chase Station for embarkation to the Western Front.

Enfield Drill Hall as it looks today (credit Joe Studman)
Enfield Drill Hall as it looks today (credit Joe Studman)

They saw action at various battles to great cost. On 15th September 1916, the 7th made two desperate assaults on Bouleaux Woods. The battalion lost 40 officers, 782 other ranks, and 153 invalided out.

During the miners strike in the 1920s the middle classes flocked to Enfield Drill Hall to enrol in defence units. This was reminiscent of the original Volunteer Rifle Corps.

The Second World War saw the drill hall become the base of the Home Guard. Mirroring Dad’s Army, our local force got into hilarious scrapes. One local oral history tells us that a recruit turned up late one night, apologising that he had forgotten his ammunition. “Don’t worry lad, it didn’t fit the guns anyway,” was the sergeant’s response.

In 1960 the drill hall was handed back to Enfield Council and it became Enfield Drill Hall Sports Club. Today the venue is run by trustees who have put it on a sound financial footing and lease it out for sports and social events.

The Enfield Society visit to Enfield Drill Hall was one of our many activities. You too can enjoy its benefits from as little as £5 per year:

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