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

Former Drill Hall, 21 Sinclair Street, ThursoLB52381

Status: Designated


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


Date Added
Local Authority
Planning Authority
ND 11537 68192
311537, 968192


The building was possibly designed by Donald Leed about 1882, with alterations made by Sinclair McDonald and Son about 1938-40. It is a 2-storey, 7-bay approximately rectangular in plan, early Renaissance style former drill hall and now in commercial and domestic use, 2015. It is built of squared coursed rubble with polished ashlar dressings and there is a string course and an eaves course

The central bay of the principal (southeast) elevation has a deeply moulded chamfered doorcase with the outer moulding rising over a panel above the door (now unreadable) and terminating in label stops. Above this is a large, round arched window, also with hoodmoulding and label stops, and there is a wallhead chimney stack above. The windows have slightly raised margins with chamfered architraves and some have stone mullions and there are round arched doors flanking the central bay. There is 3-pane glazing in timber sash and case windows on the ground floor and 2- and 3-pane glazing mainly in timber fixed light windows on the first floor, the roof is of grey slates and there are corniced chimney stacks.

The interior, partly seen in 2015, largely dates from the late 19th century. The hallway and most rooms including the drill hall on the first floor have timber boarding up to head height. The roof of the hall is supported by a delicate iron frame and the ceiling is also timber boarded. There are good surviving 19th century chimneypieces in the hall and in the adjacent room on the first floor. There is a good staircase with iron twist balusters and a timber rail.

Statement of Special Interest

The former drill hall complex in Sinclair Street is an good and relatively early example of a purpose-built example of a drill hall with offices, which was built at the beginning of the most intense period of drill hall building activity from 1880 to 1910. The exterior has not been significantly altered since it was built in 1882 and has good early Renaissance details such as the round arched windows and doors. The plan form with offices on the ground floor and a hall on the first floor overlooking the street is unusual. It is a prominent and important part of the streetscape, in a largely residential area of central Thurso.

This former drill hall was designed for the Artillery Volunteers in Thurso and seems to date from about 1882. It does not appear on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map (surveyed 1872 and published 1877). There is also no sign of the hall in the 1875-76 Valuation Rolls but it is in place by the time of the 1885-86 Valuation Rolls. Newspapers indicate that the Artillery Volunteers made use of the Old Free Church (formerly located in Traill Street, which meets the northern end of Sinclair Street) in the 1870s before the new hall was built. It has also been suggested that they shared the Rifle Hall with the Rifle Volunteers but this seems unlikely.

The two companies of volunteers in Thurso, the Rifle Volunteers and the Artillery Volunteers, were formed by the early 1860s, and bugles were presented in June 1861 to both companies. The Artillery Corps of various towns in Caithness were consolidated as the 1st Caithness Artillery Volunteers in 1880 and the headquarters moved from Wick to Thurso in 1882, so it is possible that the hall in Sinclair Street was built to accommodate this larger consolidated brigade. However in the 1885-6 Valuation Rolls the tenants of the hall are listed simply as the 3rd and 4th Batteries of the 1st Caithness Artillery Volunteers. In 1882 George Peter Alexander Sinclair, 15th Earl of Caithness, was appointed Lieutenant Colonel and commanding officer of the brigade and it is possible that he instigated the building of the new hall.

No architect has yet been identified in documentary sources for the hall but there is a strong case for supposing that the hall was designed by the Thurso architect Donald Leed (1844-1903). Leed was born in Thurso and trained as a house carpenter, but later branched into architecture. As yet only a few buildings by Leed have been identified.

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 Volunteers 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.

Listed in 2016 as part of the Drill Halls Listing Review 2015-16.



Canmore: CANMORE ID 183484


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.


National Records of Scotland. Valuation Rolls 1885-86, 1895-96, 1905-06

Printed Sources

Aberdeen Free Press (25 May 1885) p.6.

Aberdeen Journal (28 December 1891) p.7.

Beaton, E. (1997) Caithness. Edinburgh: RIAS, p.83.

Gifford, J. (1992) Buildings of Scotland: Highland and Islands. London: Penguin Books. p.134.

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

John O' Groats Journal (28 March 1872) p.2.

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

Online Sources

Dictionary of Scottish Architects. Donald Leed at [accessed 08/02/2016].

Grierson, J. M. (1909) Records of the Scottish Volunteer Force 1859-1908.

Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons at [accessed 08/02/2016].

About Listed Buildings

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Former Drill Hall, 21 Sinclair Street. Front of building, looking northwest. During daytime on an overcast day.

Printed: 21/02/2024 10:52