Statement of Special Interest
The War Memorial Hall, designed in 1891-2 by the prolific Inverness architect John Robertson, is a public hall which was converted to drill hall use and later returned to its original function. It has good Italianate style detailing in the round arched windows and deep overhanging eaves. The exterior, apart from the addition of the war memorial, has not been significantly altered since 1892 and the interior retains many late 19th century details, including the good hammerbeam roof. It is an important part of the streetscape in a prime position in Fort Augustus, close to the Caledonian Canal.
The 'Scottish Highlander' of 27 February 1890 announced that 'Mr Kenneth Onslow, Brighton, shooting tenant in the district, is to present the village with a new Public Hall. A site has been obtained on the banks of the Onich'. A competition for the design of the hall was held and the winning design was selected before 6 March 1891. Contracts for the new hall were advertised later in the month and the foundation stone was laid on 3 September 1891 by Mrs Rufford of Inchnacardoch Lodge at a formal ceremony, although by that time building was already underway and the walls partially erected. In April 1892 a sketch of the building appeared in the 'People's Journal' and it may have been completed by that date. From 1900 the hall was used as a drill hall by the Imperial Yeomanry Regiment established by Lord Lovat. The footprint of the building remains almost unchanged from that shown on the 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey map, surveyed in 1899 (published in 1900), apart from the extra stone walling containing the war memorial on the front of the porch, which was added just after the First World War.
This hall is interesting in that it was not purpose built as a drill hall but was used as one for a number of years around 1900, before reverting to its original use as a public hall, when a new drill hall was built elsewhere in Fort Augustus at this point. Fort Augustus was a small community (only about 600 people at the beginning of the 1890s) and so it is not surprising that the hall was not purpose built. Some sources claim that it was built by Lord Lovat himself, but 'The Scottish Highlander' of 27 February 1890 states clearly that Mr Kenneth Onslow was to pay for the construction of the hall. However, Lord Lovat was almost certainly instrumental in obtaining the hall for use as a drill hall by the Imperial Yeomanry Regiment established by him in 1900, although the hall is still marked as a public hall on the 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey map.
Simon John Fraser, 14th Lord Lovat, having served initially in the regular army, joined a volunteer regiment in 1897 and in 1899 raised the Imperial Yeomanry volunteer regiment (later the Lovat Scouts), and served as their second-in-command in the South African War, where he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in 1900. Fort Augustus was in an almost central position in the Lovat estates and the town was a natural recruiting centre for his Yeomanry regiment. Lord Lovat's father, 13th Lord Lovat, had taken a keen interest in the establishment of the Roman Catholic College at Fort Augustus by giving the site. The site for the public hall, however, was secured from the Commissioners of the Caledonian Canal.
John Robertson (1840-1925) designed the drill hall in Fortrose built in 1881 and this is one of his earliest designs in independent practice, while the public hall in Fort Augustus followed ten years later. Both are designed with a prevalence of round arched door and window openings, the style termed 'Romanesque' in the case of Fortrose and 'Italian' in the case of Fort Augustus. Newspaper reports state that the style had been adopted to 'secure perfect acoustic qualities at the least possible expense'. By the 1890s Robertson had developed his own distinctive architectural style, favouring hammer-dressed masonry contrasted with polished ashlar, unusual convex mouldings and occasionally rounded angles. These contrasting masonry types are found at the Hall in Fort Augustus as are the unusual convex mouldings at the window openings. Robertson also seems to have favoured hammerbeam roofs and used them in the hall in Fort Augustus, as well as in Fortrose church and the Fortrose 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 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: http://canmore.org.uk/ CANMORE ID 104373
Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1871, published 1874) Inverness Mainland Sheet LXVIII.14. 1st Edition Map. 25 inches to the mile. Southampton: Ordnance Survey
Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1899, published 1900) Inverness-shire - Mainland 068.14 (includes: Boleskine and Abertarff). 2nd Edition Map 25 inches to the mile. Southampton: Ordnance Survey
Gifford, J. (1992) Buildings of Scotland: Highland and Islands. London: Penguin Books. p.173.
Historic Environment Scotland (2016) Scotland's Drill Halls Preliminary Report. Unpublished.
Inverness Courier (6 March 1891) p.4.
Inverness Courier (20 March 1891) p.4.
Inverness Courier (27 March 1892) p.1.
Inverness Courier (8 September 1891) p.6.
Inverness Courier (29 April 1892) p1.
Scottish Highlander (27 February 1890) p.6.
Abbey Cottage website. War Memorial Hall at http://www.abbeycottagelochness.co.uk/eat.php?place=War%20Memorial%20Hall&nearby=325&longitude=-4.680326&latitude=57.145396 [accessed 16/02/2016].
Dictionary of Scottish Architects. John Robertson at http://www.scottisharchitects.org.uk/architect_full.php?id=201337 [accessed 16/02/2016].
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Printed: 28/10/2020 16:57