Listed Building

The only legal part of the listing under the Planning (Listing Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 is the address/name of site. Addresses and building names may have changed since the date of listing – see 'About Listed Buildings' below for more information. The further details below the 'Address/Name of Site' are provided for information purposes only.

Address/Name of Site

Masonic Hall (former Drill Hall) including gatepiers, boundary walls and railings, Olrig Street, ThursoLB42009

Status: Designated


Where documents include maps, the use of this data is subject to terms and conditions (


Date Added
Last Date Amended
Local Authority
Planning Authority
ND 11460 68558
311460, 968558


The building was designed by David Smith and built in 1873 with late 19th century additions at the rear and further alterations, probably about 1909, to convert it to a masonic hall. It is a 2-storey, 3-bay L-plan Baronial style former drill hall, built of squared coursed rubble with tooled ashlar dressings, with rendering on the rear elevation. It is set back from the other buildings of Olrig Street at the corner with Castle Street. There is a small detached stone building at rear, added before 1904, which may have housed the armoury.

The principal (northeast) elevation has a central 3-storey castellated round entrance tower and the 2-leaf curved entrance door is set in a panelled stone architrave with a crenelated lintel. There are machicolated and corbelled bartizans with slit windows on the four corners of the building and the wallhead is corbelled and crenelated. The side gabled elevations are crowstepped with rose windows (that to the northwest gable is blocked).

There is 2-pane glazing in timber sash and case windows and there are grey slates on the roof. In front of the building are low boundary walls topped by spearheaded railings, and the walls terminated in round piers with corbelled and crenellated caps.

The interior, which was seen in 2015, has some good late 19th century surviving detailing. There is timber panelling to dado height, a number of timber panelled doors and one timber chimneypiece to a room on the first floor. The stairwell which is situated at the rear of the building has decorative iron balusters and a timber rail. The coved ceiling in the former drill hall and adjacent room are probably part of the original decorative scheme. There is coloured glass in the hall, some of which has masonic symbols.

Statement of Special Interest

Built in 1872-3 and opened in November 1873, the Masonic Hall (former Drill Hall) is an early example of a purpose-built drill hall that was built in the wake of the 1871 Cardwell Reforms. It was designed in a bold Baronial style with good castellated and carved stonework by the local architect, David Smith. The exterior remains largely unchanged since the late 19th century and there is some good surviving 19th century internal detailing. It still has a distinctive character and makes a good contribution to the streetscape in this area on the west side of Thurso.

It is shown on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map (surveyed in 1872 and published in 1877). Between this date and the date of the 2nd Edition (surveyed 1904-5, published 1906) an extension was made to the rear (southwest) elevation and a small detached building added at the southeast corner of the site, but since that date the footprint of the building has remained unchanged.

There were two companies of volunteers in Thurso, the Rifle Volunteers, for which this hall was built and the Artillery Volunteers. Both had been formed by the early 1860s with bugles presented in June 1861 to both companies and by the 1880s each one was about 100 men strong.

David Smith (c.1813-1879) began his career as a mason and builder in Thurso, later branching into design, and the drill hall may well have been the platform on which this branch of his practice was established. Arguably his most important work was the rebuilding of Thurso Castle (1872-78) for Sir Tollemache Sinclair of Ulbster, 3rd Baronet and MP, and the castle has many architectural features in common with the drill hall. Sir Tollemache Sinclair took a keen interest in the volunteers in Thurso and provided the site on which the hall was built, and was also probably influential in the choice of Smith as architect of the drill hall.

In the late 1850s there was concern in the British Government about the Army's ability to defend both the home nation as well as the Empire. Britain's military defences were stretched and resources to defend Britain needed to be found. One solution was to create 'Volunteer Forces', a reserve of men who volunteered for part-time military training similar to that of the regular army and who could therefore help to defend Britain if the need arose.

In 1859 the Rifle Volunteer Corps (and Artillery Volunteer Corps in defended coastal towns) were formed and the Volunteer Act of 1863 provided more regulation on how the volunteer forces were run and it set out the standards for drills and a requirement for annual inspections. Most purpose-built drill halls constructed at this time were paid for by a major local landowner, the subscriptions of volunteers, local fundraising efforts or a combination of all three. The Regulation of the Forces Act 1871 (known as the Cardwell Reforms after the Secretary of State for War, Edward Cardwell) gave forces the legal right to acquire land to build a drill hall and more purpose-built drill halls began to be constructed after this date. The largest period of drill hall construction, aided by government grants, took place between 1880 and 1910. The Territorial and Reserve Forces Act 1907 (known as the Haldane Reforms after the Secretary of State for War, Richard Haldane) came into force in 1908 and the various Volunteer Units were consolidated to form the Territorial Force. The construction of drill halls largely ceased during the First World War and in 1920 the Territorial Force became the Territorial Army.

In the 20th century changes in warfare and weaponry made many of the earlier drill halls redundant and subject to demolition or change to a new use. Around 344 drill halls are believed to have been built in Scotland of which 182 are thought to survive today, although few remain in their original use. Drill halls are an important part of our social and military history. They tell us much about the development of warfare and the history of defending our country. They also, unusually for a nationwide building programme, were not standardised and were often designed by local architects in a variety of styles and they also have a part to play in the history of our communities.

The requirements for drill halls were basic – a large covered open space to train and drill as well as a place for the secure storage of weapons. The vast majority of drill halls were modest utilitarian structures. Most drill halls conformed to the pattern of an administrative block containing offices and the armoury to store weapons along with a caretaker or drill instructors accommodation, usually facing the street. To the rear would be the drill hall itself. Occasionally more extensive accommodation was required, such as for battalion headquarters where interior rifle ranges, libraries, billiards rooms, lecture theatres and bars could all be included.

Statutory address and listed building record revised in 2016 as part of the Drill Halls Listing Review 2015-16. Previously listed as 'Olrig Street, Masonic Hall'.



Canmore: CANMORE ID 173950


Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1872, published 1877) Caithness Sheet V.11. 1st Edition. 25 inches to the mile. Southampton: Ordnance Survey

Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1904-5, published 1906) Caithness-shire 005.11 (includes: Thurso). 2nd Edition. 25 inches to the mile. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.


1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901 Census records

National Records of Scotland. Valuation Rolls for Thurso, 1885-86, 1895-96, 1905-06, 1915-16

Printed Sources

Aberdeen Journal (28 June 1891) p.4.

Beaton, E. (1997) Caithness. Edinburgh: RIAS. p.88.

Caithness Courier (14 November 1873).

Directory of Scotland 1907.

Gifford, J. (1992) Buildings of Scotland: Highland and Islands. London: Penguin Books. p.132.

Historic Environment Scotland (2016) Scotland's Drill Halls Preliminary Report. Unpublished.

Inverness Advertiser (14 November 1873) p.2.

John O' Groats Journal (26 September 1872) p.10.

John O' Groats Journal (20 June 1861) p.3.

Online Sources

Cashmore, S (n.d.) Victoria's Loon Comes to Thurso at [accessed 08/02/2016].

Dictionary of Scottish Architects, Entry for David Smith [accessed 08/02/2016].

About Listed Buildings

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

We make recommendations to the Scottish Government about historic marine protected areas, and the Scottish Ministers decide whether to designate.

Listing is the process that identifies, designates and provides statutory protection for buildings of special architectural or historic interest as set out in the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997.

We list buildings which are found to be of special architectural or historic interest using the selection guidance published in Designation Policy and Selection Guidance (2019)

Listed building records provide an indication of the special architectural or historic interest of the listed building which has been identified by its statutory address. The description and additional information provided are supplementary and have no legal weight.

These records are not definitive historical accounts or a complete description of the building(s). If part of a building is not described it does not mean it is not listed. The format of the listed building record has changed over time. Earlier records may be brief and some information will not have been recorded.

The legal part of the listing is the address/name of site which is known as the statutory address. Other than the name or address of a listed building, further details are provided for information purposes only. Historic Environment Scotland does not accept any liability for any loss or damage suffered as a consequence of inaccuracies in the information provided. Addresses and building names may have changed since the date of listing. Even if a number or name is missing from a listing address it will still be listed. Listing covers both the exterior and the interior and any object or structure fixed to the building. Listing also applies to buildings or structures not physically attached but which are part of the curtilage (or land) of the listed building as long as they were erected before 1 July 1948.

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Masonic Lodge (former drill hall), principal elevation looking southwest, during daytime on an overcast day with black and white railings in the foreground

Printed: 18/06/2024 09:28