The Drill Hall

Many Penge residents of a certain age fondly recall attending the old Drill Hall – or to state its correct name, ‘The Penge Territorial Army Drill Hall HQ building’- throughout its various incarnations and usages. The Drill Hall is situated at 101a Parish Lane, Penge, SE20.

What many do not know us that former Penge Territorial Army Drill Hall is a Bromley locally-listed building:

– ‘Built as Headquarters of the Royal West Kent Regiment and mentioned in the 1915 Street directory.  This charming building is one of the few structures in the borough built to serve the troops during World War I.’

Architectural and Historic Interest – local list.

As the Drill Hall Register tells us:

‘The Drill Hall is at the heart of any Volunteer reserve unit. Since the formation of the Territorial Force it is the facility that has served as both as training establishment, administration centre and social club to generations of territorial soldiers. The impressive facades and convenient town locations have rivalled churches, railway stations and town Halls in acting as a key marker to the stranger in the town. The local Drill Hall has also played its part in promoting good relations with the civilian community with its cavernous interior, ideal for meetings, exhibitions, trade fairs and social events.’

The stuccoed Penge building certainly does have an impressive facade, with a central (triumphal?) arch and, although no longer having a cavernous interior, served as central meeting point for over fifty years of Volunteer Reserve activities.

Local resident and archivist Peter Halliday’s research:

‘The Parish Lane Drill Hall & HQ building was opened on 3rd June, 1914, by Colonel Edward Satterthwaite (later Mayor of Bromley) as Headquarters of  “D” (Beckenham & Penge) Company of the 5th Battalion of the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment as well as “C” Company of the Kent Cyclist Battalion.

On 6th August 144 volunteers of Company D marched from their Drill Hall to join up with 1/5th Battalion. (1/5th were volunteers for foreign service, 2/5 were this who were too young, too old or too infirm for foreign service and served in England). 1/5, to their disappointment, were sent to India to relieve regular troops to fight in Europe. Later they fought the Turks in Mesopotamia.

During World War I the drill hall was used by 3rd Volunteer Battalion The Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment (WWI equivalent of WWII Home Guard) and 1st Cadet Battalion Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment.

After WWI the Parish Lane Drill Hall became HQ for “B” Company of the 5th Battalion of The Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment and 208th Battery, 52nd Kent Medium Brigade, Royal Artillery (the Kent Cyclists were disbanded in 1921 and the 208 Better replaced them). The 208 Battery later was converted into an Anti-Aircraft battery. In addition the Army Cadets & Invicta Rifle Club were based at the Drill Hall.

During World War II the 5th Battalion served in Belgium & France before being evacuated from Dunkirk. Major H.J.D. Combe, C.O of A Company was part of the rear-guard at Dunkirk. They then served in Egypt and then Italy (including at Monte Cassino). Meanwhile the 208th Battery served with the Home Forces during the Battle of Britain before joining the 1st Army in North Africa in 1942 and then to Italy during the following year. During WWII the drill hall continued to be used by the Army Cadets and by “D” (Penge) Company of 57th Battalion Home Guard.

After WWII the TA was yet again reorganised (4th & 5th Battalions QORWK amalgamated) and the Parish Lane Drill Hall was HQ of “D” Company of the 4 the Battalion of The Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment in 1948 as well as B Battery Kent Cadet Battery Royal Artillery and Invicta Rifle Club. The Q Battery of 458 (M) H.A.A. Regt. R.A. T.A. had moved to the new Drill Hall in Penge High Street.

The Parish Lane Drill Hall was closed early in 1961. It was reopened as a Youth Leisure Centre in 1966 with the HQ building being converted into five flats which remain in use.  The Youth Centre closed and was demolished in 2011.’

There was much local disappointment when the Youth Centre (known as The Drum) closed despite a lengthy campaign to save it. Fondly remembered as a venue for local bands, discos and general fun gatherings which kept the youth off the streets and gave them somewhere to go.

The Parish Lane building still remains as an iconic, well-designed symbol of late Victorian grandeur, indicating the concerns and aspirations of a bygone age. It is one of several buildings representing Penge’s ‘lost heritage’ where a blue Heritage Trail plaque would be most appropriate.