Trust member, Sue Austen, historian and film authority, has very generously taken the time to research when the Westgate Hall was built. In the process, Sue has discovered the following which brilliantly sheds light on the life and concerns of the residents of our district 100 years ago. And we discover how we are following in the footsteps of those who built the Hall.

A poignant reminder of some of the young men who trained at Canterbury’s new Drill Hall (on the left hand side of the photograph), a great many of whom left Canterbury from 1914 to 1918 and never returned. (Kentish Gazette 1914) 

The Westgate Hall in 1913

Adelina and Imogen asked me to try to find out when the Drill Hall was built. They knew it was between 1911 and 1914 and want to celebrate the centenary of its opening. I know my way around the Kent archives but the timing was frustrating as the Centre for Kentish Studies and Cathedral Archives were both closed at the time and even the local history collection from the Beaney Institute was in storage. So I turned to the local newspapers of the period and settled down to work my way through the microfilmed copies on an ancient reader (with an even more ancient bulb in it!) at Herne Bay Library.

I scrolled painstakingly through 1912 one afternoon. I’d already reached November without any luck, when I thought I’d found what I was looking for: an article about the formal opening of the new quarters of the Canterbury Church Lad’s Brigade, on 21 November 1912, providing a recreation room, gymnasium and DRILL HALL. But as I read on, the location seemed to be wrong as this drill hall was in North Lane.

I finished 1912 and started on 1913. The edition of the Kentish Gazette from 9th January included a very thorough round up of everything important that had happened in Canterbury the previous year. Brilliant! I abandoned 1913 and requested the films for 1914. I worked my way through all the January editions. No round up for 1913.

I carried on, scanning the pages for any mention of the hall, and started to find orders for the local regiments to go there for training. So the hall was definitely in existence in early 1914. I went back to January 1913 and worked on through the year. And then I found it – the first reference in the local paper to the Drill Hall, in June 1913.

The article described a concert, which took place in the ‘New Drill Hall’ on Wednesday 25th June 1913. It was supposed to be outside but rain forced a last minute change of plan and the concert was relocated into the Hall where the decorators were still working and the walls were bare. I’ve transcribed the article here.

I hope to continue my research now that the other Kent archives are reopening and find out more about who built the hall and details of other groups who met there and events they enjoyed.


Excellent Programme at the New Drill Hall

There was only one fault at the promenade concert given at the New Drill Hall, St Peter’s Lane, Canterbury on Wednesday evening by the Permanent Band of the Royal East Kent Mounted Rifles; we refer to the length of the programme. Many may regard this as a pardonable mistake, for undoubtedly the organisers endeavoured to give the public value for money. That they succeeded in this no one will attempt to deny. Indeed especially considering the low fee for admission, the fare provided was admirable and the band is to be congratulated on the excellence of its performance.

The concert was to have taken place in the open but Wednesday’s showers drove the decorators to prepare the Drill Hall. The cold evening which followed proved the wisdom of their choice. An array of flags and kindred articles relieved the hall of its bareness, while the platform was encircled with palms and flowers. 

Lieutenant Colonel, the Earl of Guilford gave his permission for the performance, which is the first of its nature organised by the band. The proceeds were to be devoted to the funds for the bandsmen’s outing. The attendance was large, the spa-cious hall being well filled. Chairs were not found to accommodate everyone and many had to stand. The Mayor and Mayoress (Mr and Mrs G. mount) and Captain the Hon Cuthbert and Mrs James were among the audience.

The programme, which opened with Wagner’s Grand March Rienzi included some very difficult, though well know compo-sitions. Friedmann’s Rhapsody Slavonic, Tchaikovsky’s famous overture Solonelle 1812 and Rossini’s equally celebrated William Tell were among the renderings, while to introduce more modern and perhaps more popular melodies The Choco-late Soldier music and The Rosary were played.

Everyone agreed that the performances merited every praise. Although formed so recently as October, the performers are no novices, in fact with the exception of two, each of the nearly 30 instrumentalists has served in regimental bands in the Regular Army. That they knew their work was apparent by the manner in which expression was infused into their playing.

Interspersed with the band music were other items, which proved equally popular. Miss Kitty Terry, a local vocalist was applauded on taking the platform, but the applause was much more hearty after she had left it, and an encore for each of her songs was not to be denied.

Trooper Turner, who is a tenor at the Cathedral, was also heard to advantage and he was each time recalled. Bandsman Forrest was encored for his xylophone solo, Band Sergeant Acres was heartily clapped for his dainty piccolo solo while the clarionet quartette (Sergeant Mortimer, Bandsmen Coventry, Whatley and McCabe) also met with favour.

Bandmaster E. Blake conducted with skill, Madame Kebbel accompanied on the piano for Miss Terry’s songs, while Mr Turner was accompanied by a friend. (the full programme is then listed and the article ends thus)

The Mayor lent the palms for decoration, flags were loaned by the Chamber of Trade, the platform by the Reverend Father Sheppard, chairs etc by Mr Davis, Mr Gurden and Mr Twyman. The coloured illuminations were by A.E.G. Electric Co., and Messrs Godfrey and Co. lent the piano.


Grand Christmas Fair promotional picture 1955 smallWestgateHall1944,2WestgateHall19441914 Soldiers marching to the front